Thursday, 2 October 2008

Great Blog Posts, and Lessons of History

There was a brilliant post on d21 gaming the other day about Pizzaro and the conquest of the Incas, and what that has to say about D&D and pillaging/tomb-robbing/ethical considerations in general. It's a thoroughly thought-provoking read, and the kind of stuff that makes having my so-big-it's-positively-unwieldy google reader list worthwhile. The author makes the point that:
In D&D parlance, we are expectant of a similar truth [to that which the conquistadors believed in]– there’s gold and jewels and magic just lying around in dark and dangerous places. It’s all yours, you just have to go get it yourself. A necessary evil of this conceit is the necessity of evil: adventuring companies are good, because monsters are evil.

The necessity of evil: almost a motto for D&D itself, you might say.

Now, I don't wish to get into the ethical argument here. It depends very much on the kind of game you want to run. I can see the value of a campaign in which the moral ambiguities of 'adventuring' are addressed, and I can see it being fun and interesting. But I equally enjoy the straightforward 'adventures' of long tradition, where moral ambiguities are ignored, and wouldn't want to give those kind of games up. There is room for both.

What I want to talk about is the concept of adventurer as well armed entrepeneur, in the words of Kim MacQuarrie.The d21 Gaming author sums it up as follows:

The Spanish conquest, plunder, and colonization of the New World was hardly an organized affair. It was not carried out by career soldiers, and indeed Europe had been bereft of such ever since the Roman legions ceased to be. Rather it was carried out by adventuring companies, who applied for and were granted charters by the government to explore blank areas on the map; rather not unlike getting a fishing license. Would-be adventurers typically hailed from the poorest and meanest regions of Spain – Extremadura (best region name ever!) and its surroundings produced not only Cortes and Pizarro, but also Balboa, Ponce de Leon and de Soto.

A novice adventurer would sign on with a seasoned band of leaders who were recruiting a new company, themselves likely veterans of the same system. Such a company might have a few hundred members – what could reasonably be transported and deployed with a few ships. The charter would detail the value of what each member was contributing in material value – weapons, armor, horses, tack, other provisions, and the proceeds of the expedition were to be divided among any surviving members in proportion to what was “put in”. Basically these were commoners or thugs with not a shred of practical experience...

...just like 1st level D&D characters.

So this has me thinking. A few months ago I was toying with the idea of an Adventurer's Guild - a central, semi-organised authority on the edge of a great wilderness, which adventurers would join for special benefits, in return for handing over a tithe of all their findings. The idea of a conquistador company is remarkably similar - the only difference being that the Adventurer's Guild is static, whereas the conquistador company is mobile. So what if we merge the two ideas and come up with a static Adventurer's Guild which was founded by a conquistador company? I think that's a capital idea.

The early colonial era is my favourite period of history, but my favourite explorers were mostly Portuguese, rather than Spanish. It was the Portuguese who did it first, after all. So my Adventurer's/Conquistador's Guild is going to be based around the Bandeirantes - the 'colonial scouts' of old Brazil, who struck deep into the rainforest, seeking mineral wealth and pushing the boundaries of Portuguese rule from the coast right through to the borders with Peru. Unlike the Spanish conquistadors, the Bandeirantes were mestizos and Indians much more than they were Europeans, and their main language was the Tupi-based Lingua Geral, not Portuguese. There is plenty of moral ambiguity about them if you look for it (they were motivated as much by the capture of slaves as they were by finding mineral wealth), but if you are willing to ignore that aspect, what you have is jungle explorers somewhat akin to Indiana Jones, striking out into almost impenetrable rainforest in search of gold and magical artifacts, and you can't get much cooler than that.


  1. I dunno. Traditions of fiction aside, what purpose would an adventurers guild have? How would it reward/enforce membership and adherence to its standards?

    A market crowded with Adventuring Companies would be more believable to me. A map is found, an opportunity is discovered, a team of cut-throats too greedy or psychotic to get real jobs is assembled...adventure time! Now think up a situation that multiplies those opportunities by a thousand. A newly discovered, unexploited continent populated by dangerous subhumans is perfect, but anything similar would work fine.

    You could also just imagine landgoing Pirates that are not always tied to ships, with the result that "crews" are more slightly more fluid and less trustworthy.

  2. The adventurer's guild would have tangible benefits:

    a) Access to the guild's library of bestiaries, maps, and possible even spell books;

    b) A ready pool of sellswords to hire for adventures;

    c) An easy way for potential clients to contact likely crews;

    d) A way for wider society to keep untrustworthy scum all together in one place.

    Adventuring Companies would be fun too, of course. But an old fashioned Adventurer's Guild is perfectly believable.

  3. In keeping with the historical stride of things, I think you might want to consider that an Adventurers' Guild or Company would be managed by, or at least strongly overlooked by, the Royal Crown. Perhaps it's only semi-private, a company chartered by the monarchy to be its clearinghouse of adventure-related activities. Similar to Fannie May, or the New York State Thruway Authority. (In other words, totally corruptible...?)

    That's not necessaily a bad thing; it opens the doors to related activities such as state-sponsored piracy (ahem, privateering), spying, espionage, etc. But your players might feel that that's too much of a food-pellet system and chafe against the apparent lack of freedom and liberty, too...

    Anyway, you have to strongly consider the rationale for _any_ powerful and public group to exist independent of crown control. It wouldn't stand. At least a Thieves' Guild is at least in the shadows. Real European guilds helped create the Middle Class en route to the overthrow of the monarchical system, so an Adventuring Company might exist, perilously, somewhere along the political ebb-and-flow of such a timeline.

    Thanks for the positive comments on my original article!


  4. martinsz: A Letter of Marque system, like in the privateer era, would work well. The adventurers would be more or less independent, but granted permission by the crown to essentially rob, destroy, pillage, etc., provided they concentrate the damage on the crown's enemies (i.e. orcs, etc.).