Monday, November 11, 2013

Why we delve

The typical 250 point Dungeon Fantasy delver is a highly competent person: all of them are veteran armsmen, at least, and most of them have a wide variety of other employable skills. A wizard can make absurd amounts of money with just the Continual Light spell; a cleric is a trauma surgeon beyond the greatest abilities of 21st century science; a knight is very skilled soldier, warrior, and leader of men with a noticeable talent. In short, delvers are the kind of people who should be able to get hired and maintain a good standard of living without having to risk life and limb by journeying to the bottom of the Sewers of Eldritch Stank and grubbing copper coins.

Some of the templates have hints as to why a delver might not have a respectable and safe job in Town. A wizard who is obsessed with becoming a lich needs to find a presumably banned grimoire and who knows what kind of creepy magical components. It's not the kind of research that's compatible with casting illusions at the Princess Royal's 5th birthday party while working as the Court Wizard. Similarly, a thief with the Trickster disadvantage is quickly going to get bored with matching wits with the Town Guard, and go out looking for a dragon to bamboozle. Holy Warriors may have a divine mandate to go destroy demons and undead.

Every delver should have to take a -10 or -15 point disadvantage that explains why the delver can't maintain a steady job in town. Examples include:
  • Berserk [-10]. Madmen who sometimes go off and kill people are not acceptable soldiers.
  • Code of Honor (Xia) [-10]. If you're a pseudo-Chinese knight errant, you need to be out and about, righting wrongs and defending poor peasant villages.
  • Fanaticism [-15]. Clerics and Holy Warriors may be under divine compulsion, or what they think is divine compulsion, to go out and fight Evil.
  • Obsession [-5, -10]. Whether it's the need to become a lich, demonstrate mastery of unarmed combat, or kill the nine-headed cubic triger, people with obsessions can't keep jobs in Town.
  • Phobia (Crowds) [-15]. Barbarians, Druids, and Scouts can't work in Town if they panic while there.
  • Trickster [-15]. Bards and thieves who are compulsively looking to fool dangerous opponents need to go out and get challenged.
  • Vow (Ninja Secrecy) [-5] and Vow (Own no more than what can be carried) [-10]. Ninja delvers have to delve because of orders from the clan.
There are a few disadvantages that aren't by themselves sufficient motivation to become a delver, even though it seems like they would be:
  • Greedy [-15]. Obviously, greedy delvers have a sufficient need to go and earn money, but they don't have the requirement to do so. There are plenty of other ways to earn money in town.
  • Social Stigma (Criminal) [-5]. Publicly known thieves and forgers can still earn money in Town; it's not so much harder as to justify delving.
  • Social Stigma (Outsider) [-10]. A foreigner martial artist or barbarian might not be able to get a job in Town, but there needs to be some explanation of why they aren't living wherever they came from and getting a job there amongst people who don't think them strange and unlikable.
  • Sense of Duty (Coreligionists) [-10]. Absent a direct threat to Town, it's hard for a Cleric to justify looting the Lost Castle Amber instead of staying in Town, healing the sick and directly tending the needs of the flock.
  • Social Stigma (Almost Monster) [-15]. An orc, troll, or half-ogre might be prime material for the Town Guard, but if everyone in Town hates them, they still need to find some other way of earning money. Of course, they could just stay with their tribe and earn money there.
Some of these disadvantages can be combined with other disadvantages to explain why a delver has to delve. A troll with a Gentleman's Code of Honor probably isn't welcome in troll society, either, and has to find some other way of earning a living.

One other disadvantage that seems appropriate but limiting is Sense of Duty (Friends). If all of a character's friends are going delving, the character might go with them to protect them, even though
he doesn't want to go delving for himself. This is a bit tricky to me, since the delving band needs someone who needs to delve for the point of delving, and if that character dies or retires, any characters who don't have an inherent motivation don't have a good reason to continue delving.

There's one disadvantage that was introduced in Monster Hunters: Champions that is appropriate to this discussion: Compulsive Behavior (Thrill-Seeking). The need to go out and do dangerous stuff is a good catch-all disadvantage for explaining why someone is a delver and is noticeably appropriate for swashbucklers and other physical types.


  1. I think none of the delvers in my game have any of those disadvantages. Well, one NPC has them, and the two scouts both despise city-dwellers in general. But their drive to adventure instead of work has a lot more to do with potential reward than mental issues - they're entrepreneurs and risk-takers instead of misanthropes. Although Vryce's player's explanation is that Incompetence (Shield) made him a bad soldier, and the rewards of delving keep him coming back. Even so, all of the PCs in my game except Raggi (an NPC) could maintain a job if they wanted to. I suspect it's the extent of the possible reward (fame, fortune, and glory) that draws them in.

  2. I tend to use the disadvantage stage to "make” the characters story. A couple of weeks ago, l made a scout, and used CoH(Solder's) and Social Stigma (Disowned). So, that gave me the idea that, while away at war, a rival relative took over his place in running the family business. Rather than live under the rival, he went out into the world of adventurers. To live a life similar to what he had in the military, with companions and enemies, and enough adrenaline to make him feel alive. Things he would not get shuffling paper, or teaching raw recruits, or even standing guard somewhere.

    Any disadvantage can be the key to why the adventurer adventures, the delver delves, the murder-hobo hoboicly murder.

  3. While I applaud your goal of quantifying what makes elite professionals risk their lives in highly dubious adventures, I think this is just a general RPG genre assumption, like "Not a reluctant killer."

  4. Gotta put in a plug for J├╝rgen Hubert's DOOMED SLAYERS, which frames delving for the purpose of monster-slaying as a Code of Honor and sets up ideas for a society in which it makes sense as a career option:


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