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Author Topic: Historical fantasy game: need a new term for adventurer  (Read 1269 times)
Living Legend
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« on: September 05, 2011, 09:06:21 AM »

Hey everyone, heard about The Forge at Gencon this year.  I was hoping you all could help me.  I've been working on an historical fantasy game for a couple years now.  Work has really picked up this summer so I haven't had much time to work on it the last few months, so I'm concentrating on little issues I can work on in short bursts of spare time. 

One issue I can't solve on my own is this: I have been looking for a term to replace the standard "adventurer" used in so many fantasy games.  I could just use the term 'mercenary', but that has a connotation of being involved in a military.  Sellsword or gunslinger would both work, but my setting spans multiple eras of history, so I was hoping to find one term to use in all eras.  I was hoping to use a new term, or just re appropriate a historical term that most people wouldn't have heard of.  Some of the ideas I'm looking at are:

Privateer: a historical term used to describe basically legal pirates that rulers would give permission to attack enemy merchant ships.  I would hijack this term and use it for my own purposes.

Harrier: it has several meanings: a persistant attacker, an annoying person, a hawk that feeds on small animals.  All of these fit, and the fact that some are derogatory makes sense, as professional soldiers would likely look down on these types and apply a debasing term to them.

What you do you think of these terms?  Got any suggestions?  Am I over thinking this, should I just stick with mercenary and leave it at that?

Thanks
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killxo
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« Reply #1 on: September 05, 2011, 07:24:29 PM »

i like the Harrier name. i'm one to agree that names are very very important.

the best thing to do to come up with new names is too look up synonyms , and even combine words.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 05, 2011, 08:28:22 PM »

Hi,

Let's back up a little. The problem with "adventurer," as I see it, is that historically there aren't a whole lot of examples of the default concept for characters in fantasy role-playing games. Historically the word "adventurer" is usually quite negative, referring to someone who's insinuated themselves into a social or military situation, seeking personal profit. A good example would be Albrecht von Wallenstein during the Thirty Years War in the early-mid 17th century. 

Whereas the heroes of myths and sagas and romances all have back-stories, whether some injustice in their family or political history, or deep ties to the immediate community, and similar. The whole point of someone like Gunnar in Njal's Saga is that he is not an adventurer, but a family man who's put his foot in a bear trap via marriage.

Nor do are they found too easily even in the most direct fantasy literature underpinning early D&D, specifically The Hobbit and The Eyes of the Overworld. In those books the protagonists are people who would very, very, very much rather not be out there in the wilderness dealing with monsters or high-toned goals or scary wizards. Alternately, more proactive and danger-seeking protagonists, like Ged in the Earthsea books, have deep social and metaphysical roles that they have chosen to honor; they aren't randomly poking staffs into 10-by-10 alcoves. If we go by the real Howard stories instead of the constellation of rotten knockoffs, then Conan is in some stories an "adventurer" in the negative sense but with certain admirable and charismatic features (much like D'Artagnan in the actual books, not the adaptations, of The Three Musketeers) or, in other stories, a rather responsible and socially-connected member of the local power structure.

So what I'm saying is that "adventurer" as a concept in modern role-playing is its own animal, with its own standards and motifs and underlying assumptions. The concept is easily ported to different genres or at least the skin-deep appearances of genre, such that the "free trader" or merc of Traveller is the same thing. That's carried over into dozens of modern or futuristic games if not hundreds, particularly via Shadowrun.

Some game texts have struggled mightily to try to reconcile this game-specific "adventurer" concept with any shred of reasonable setting content. One way is to establish an in-setting maturation ritual, kind of an official wanderer status, with or without license to loot ruins depending on how important that is in the game. One of the earliest and most influential examples is Drenn status in the game Jorune, which probably serves as the primary model for many other games. Another way, repeated across many games, is to enforce a squad of some kind via an employer, trustworthy or not as deemed most likely to foster unity.

OK, I didn't post all that merely to lecture or to invite 800 aggrieved attempts to refute me. If you (anyone reading this) find a counter-example, fine - I'll accept there may be a few. I'm trying to highlight the rock solid specificity of the concept as found in modern role-playing, and its disproportionate presence in the games in our hobby, as opposed to the rare and usually nuanced versions we might found in the source literature.

And the reason I'm trying to highlight that, is to ask you this: what, in your game, does the "adventurer" by any name do? Is it, actually, the same old RPG adventurer? And if so, which is fine, then why fuck around with pretending to name it something else? That's like having elves but calling them Goriarions (I just made that up) or Moon Children (ditto) or whatever instead. And if it's not the same old RPG adventurer, if indeed you do have an in-setting reason or context for the player-characters to be active seekers after danger, and if it's not merely an excuse have adventurers after all, then let us know what that is, so we can give decent suggestions.

Or maybe "adventurer" in the historical sense does fit, as your post sort-of suggests that it might. If so, then cool - "adventurer" would indeed be the term, and it might be fun to see an actual RPG acknowledge the historical, non-RPG use of the term and explain it.

If you're interested in some ideas backing up my points here, check out this 2002 thread, The class issue. If you go by my four-level breakdown of "what is my character," then I'm saying that we should carefully consider the difference between the second and the third.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 05, 2011, 08:51:34 PM »

Oh right, I forgot to talk about the term "mercenary," which in retrospect is probably the only thing I should have talked about.

Because it's a perfect example of the difference between the historical and the RPG uses of the same term.

Historically, there are tons of different kinds, but all more-or-less based on troops for hire, especially outside their own area of origin. So from European history, we can talk about Swiss pikemen or Italian condotierres or the privateers you mentioned, or the French Foreign Legion, or in our modern U.S., the more corporate and more state-centric Blackwater. What strikes me about this, for purposes of contrast, is that individual mercenaries are not for hire, but rather the company or squad or army as a whole, via its leaders/managers.

None of which matches at all to the Traveller, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020 "merc," also seen in any game derived from any of these, which probably number in the hundreds. This RPG-merc is ... ta da, the D&D adventurer, all over again, who above all is an individual free agent, or a voluntarily-involved member of a small squad.

So, my re-stated version of my question is, if you do go with the term "mercenary," are you using it as a stand-in for the D&D adventurer because that's what you're talking about, or are you aiming instead at the historical mercenary, which is to say, a soldier in an army who fights where and when he's told.


Best, Ron
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Roguelantern
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2011, 12:55:41 AM »

How about 'explorer'?
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contracycle
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2011, 06:33:28 AM »

Basically, what Ron said.  I dislike it when games posit "adventurer" as a known, in-game occupation. Makes no sense to me.  But that rather begs the question of whether this is a term you intend to be used by people in the world to describe others, or whether it is a just a term used by players to each other, and by the author of the game text to the reader.  I have no problems with D&D referring to PC's as adventurers, I do have a problem when there is a store selling adventuring gear.
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http://www.arrestblair.org/

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Living Legend
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« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2011, 04:04:00 PM »

To be more specific I want this term to represent those that make a living by risking their lives in dangerous situations, usually involving violence, in the hopes that they will get rich or become famous doing so.  This setting isn't littered with ruins filled with monsters that have treasure, so if you want to make a good living doing this you need to work until a big opportunity comes along, whether it's stealing from a defeated opponent, or getting a big payday for pulling off something few others could have.

Not every character in this setting will be a (replacement for adventurer), but this is what most people who find their talents lean towards violence end up doing, even if only until something better comes along.  This term would be used in game, where NPC's would be searching for independent, freelance, guns/swords/spells for hire.  The term doesn't have to be awe inspiring, but it needs the proper connotation.  Adventurer implies someone looking for adventure, like what you might find on a white water rafting trip.  This term needs to describe someone, who may be good or evil, but most likely somewhere in between, that uses violence to make a living.
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contracycle
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« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2011, 04:22:25 PM »

To be more specific I want this term to represent those that make a living by risking their lives in dangerous situations, usually involving violence, in the hopes that they will get rich or become famous doing so. 
Quote

I suppose an individual who lives by violence is essentially a man-at-arms.  Although of course this usually carries implications of being in institutional employ, because thats the alternative to banditry.  But at its root its just the desciption of someone who makes a living through the exercise of warfare.  Otherwise, something that might be a bit closer to your intent is condottiere, or "contractor", which doesn't specify but does imply military skills.
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http://www.arrestblair.org/

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 07, 2011, 07:59:43 AM »

Ah geez! I broke one of my own rules, for the same reason other people break it: I got distracted by an interesting topic and forgot one of this forum's requirements.

Specifically, please post a link to any sort of site or external document concerning the game, which we can all use as a reference. It's OK if it's in extremely basic or startup form.

Best, Ron
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Daniel36
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Posts: 63


« Reply #9 on: September 07, 2011, 09:50:52 AM »

I would go for Explorer...
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Roguelantern
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« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2011, 10:23:13 AM »

Would 'bounty hunter' do?
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Living Legend
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2011, 01:05:57 PM »

Bounty Hunter might work, as long as I redfine the concept of 'bounty' to be about more than just bringing criminals to justice
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2011, 11:55:04 AM »

I need to make myself more clear now.

This thread cannot continue - not one more post - until a link appears to some external game content for reference.

Best, Ron
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Living Legend
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« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2011, 04:35:02 PM »

To be more specific I want this term to represent those that make a living by risking their lives in dangerous situations, usually involving violence, in the hopes that they will get rich or become famous doing so. 
Quote

I suppose an individual who lives by violence is essentially a man-at-arms.  Although of course this usually carries implications of being in institutional employ, because thats the alternative to banditry.  But at its root its just the desciption of someone who makes a living through the exercise of warfare.  Otherwise, something that might be a bit closer to your intent is condottiere, or "contractor", which doesn't specify but does imply military skills.


Condotterie works but sounds very ethnically specific, which is why I'm leaning towards privateer
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Living Legend
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« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2011, 04:43:47 PM »

I need to make myself more clear now.

This thread cannot continue - not one more post - until a link appears to some external game content for reference.

Best, Ron

Sorry Ron I just read this. I don't have my work available online anywhere.  If that is a problem I will have to bow out.
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