The personal lives of Adventurers are an interesting case of sociology. In my experience, the vast majority of adventurers in fantasy worlds are unmarried, childless and homeless. They are philosophically aligned with “ends justify means” and use violence as a means to an end. They are constantly armed, often paranoid and generally incredibly rich compared to the peasantry, although their wealth is invested heavily in arms. They are generally vigilantes who make their own rules, although some are religious or political zealots who follow someone else’s rules.
Now, I don’t particularly think that’s bad or wrong. I think it’s usually a necessity of their situation. Fantasy worlds are usually unforgiving wastelands of a sort. It’s hard to follow a path of peace when you’re the target of random violence from the local savage beasts or evil cults. Adventurers are usually called to a life of fighting for wealth, power or – hopefully – the defense of the innocent people of the world, and that leaves little time for having a family and raising children.
I’m writing this article for a simple reason – are there alternatives to the paranoid, heavily armored lone wolves that make up so much of our D&D characters and such? Sure! In fact, it’s possible to have those characters without giving up any of the action, and I think most experienced DMs and players have seen it done.
Let’s talk about families and children. Defending your family is a fine way for an adventurer to start out. But why would you leave them once the immediate kobold threat is eliminated? Perhaps it’s the same reasons people volunteer to join the armed forces. Maybe the threat is obviously greater than a few kobolds, and the local militia doesn’t look like they’re solving the problem. Striking out with a few other skilled folks might allow you to strike directly at the evil wizard controlling the kobolds.
But a family is difficult – getting back to visit them can be difficult, and it really hinges on the Dungeon Master properly roleplaying your spouse and kids. Plus, they will inevitably be kidnapped by the evil wizard and used against you. That’s a given.
What about pacifism? There are rules about this kind of thing, but let’s ignore those for a moment. True pacifism isn’t really going to make for a great fantasy story. Action is a part of the genre, and action often means violence. Sure, an entire dungeon could contain only traps, but it doesn’t lend itself to the game for various reasons. However, a set of rules of engagement is easily accomplished. Whether it’s always challenging your foes and giving them a chance to surrender or simply never opting to kill them, I think most of us have encountered a character like that.
Homelessness? It seems like adventurers are transients until someone will give them a castle or stronghold or something. It seems odd to me, but I suppose it’s a part of the fantasy genre. Personally, I think a nice house or a shack somewhere can nicely tie a character or adventuring party to a place and given them direction when they might not otherwise have one.
As for wealth, most games are set such that characters get very wealthy but have a lot of that wealth tied up in magical items. There is nothing really wrong with this, but once he’s filthy rich, the “selfish treasure hunter” archetype starts to wonder why he’s still risking his neck if it’s just for a better sword and not the earthly pleasures of an opulent lifestyle.
In the end, I think it’s perhaps best to think of adventurers as the fantasy equivalent of an extreme sports fanatic. You might not even need to go that far – maybe a professional sports athlete is a good enough analogy. There aren’t many of them in our society, but some people live to do crazy things for whatever sponsors or money they can acquire. Similarly, there aren’t many adventurers in a fantasy setting, and maybe everyone else from the king to the peasant sees them as nutcases, but basically like what they do.
The funny thing to me is that if I met a guy carrying four guns and insisting he was about to go fight evil, I would not think that was a good thing. But to be fair, kobolds have never attacked my village.