Adventuring in Stormfell
Adventurers, from the noble to the greedy, heroic to the utterly despicable, represent the heart and soul of the Stormfell setting. In a world where law and justice have fallen by the wayside, adventurers often stand as the only hope for the common folk. When a dragon threatens your village, the conquering warrior’s motivations and ambitions are less important than survival. A wily rogue, brutal soldier, or mysterious mage, no matter how mercenary, is often a superior alternative to the local brigand lord or corrupt baron. Given the important and unenviable role adventurers play in the setting, they deserve a chapter devoted to their lifestyle, codes of honor, habits, and interactions with each other and society as a whole.
The adventuring vocation has a long, established, but checkered past. Over the course of time, adventurers have formed their own culture, created codes of conduct, set up neutral grounds, and earned reputations ranging from glorious to infamous.
The term “adventurer” encompasses a wide variety of careers, beliefs, attitudes, and habits. In simple terms, an adventurer is someone who seeks out trouble with the intent of eliminating a threat, recovering a lost item, or solving a mystery, regardless of his motivations for doing so. This definition illustrates the major difference between normal individuals and adventurers: normal people spend their lives avoiding danger; an adventurer actively seeks it.
In more specific terms, adventurers search for gold and jewels, slay dragons, explore ancient ruins, uncover sinister cults, and more. Their motives vary from simple greed to pure altruism and everything in between. Most adventurers, regardless of their motivations and goals possess a greedy streak, even if they keep it hidden. Adventurers often wander, rarely settling in one locale.
Adventurers go by many names; people around them use even more names, some edifying but many not. Common terms include mercenary, freebooter, troubleshooter, hero, ronin, rogue, blackheart, wanderer, waylander, sellsword, vigilante, landser, slayer, seeker, bravo, scar, and hunter. Adventurers view themselves one way, while viewing fellow freebooters with equal measures of respect and wariness. The rest of society has a likewise conflicted opinion towards adventurers: people see adventurers as impressive and heroic figures, while at the same time holding them in suspicion and fear. People sometimes consider an adventurer much like a vicious attack dog: when you need one, you’re glad he’s on your side. When you no longer need the animal, you’re just as happy when he’s gone.
Adventurers & Society
Everyday people carry a wide variety of opinions towards adventurers. These opinions range across a spectrum of emotions and beliefs. Some people view adventurers as heavily armed and dangerous thugs, while others hold a romanticized notion of brave heroes straight out of some bard’s tale. Not surprisingly, adventurers are just as varied as opinions about them. Some are bold, heroic, and noble of spirit. Some adventurers are scandalous examples of villainy, greed, violence, and savagery. Most freebooters, however, fall somewhere between the two extremes.
Adventurers maintain a somewhat confused and contradictory relationship with the civilian population. A few general tendencies remain true from kingdom to kingdom, although exceptions always exist.
For example, people living in small, remote, or isolated communities typically view adventurers favorably. In their eyes, adventurers are a brave and dangerous bunch capable of killing monsters, driving off bandits, and saving villages. Most adventurers, greedy or not, are a preferable alternative to the local noble, ruling warlord, or brigand leader. Citizens of larger, better-protected communities may feel less trusting of adventurers, even when they hire them.
As another example, many politicians and noblemen view adventurers as dangerous, unpredictable, and somewhat rabid dogs. Adventurers typically carry an arsenal of weapons and armor. They boast combat expertise and skill. They enjoy access to potent magic spells and items. Most worrisome of all, adventurers seem opinionated, independent, and disrespectful towards authority. At the same time, however, these attributes and attitudes make adventurers useful in dealing with troublesome monsters, meddling necromancers, and similar unusual challenges. A wise nobleman hires adventurers when he needs them, but keeps his distance at all times. Many nobles hire adventurers, but few willingly admit to doing so.
The various churches and faiths in power all hold differing views towards adventurers. The Church of Bahamut, for example, often hires adventuring companies to special missions, but insists on these companies observing appropriate codes of conduct. On the other hand, the Church of Pelor holds to the Lightbringer Edicts and considers adventurers nothing but a blight on the lives of ordinary citizens. Other churches sometimes hire adventurers to protect their members and property, but they often take care to hide the fact. A few churches, already considered out of the mainstream, happily embrace adventurers. The Faith of Avandra, for example, openly supports adventurers and hires them frequently.
A Brief History of Adventuring
In the early days of the Empire of Nerath, adventurers ranked amongst the most powerful, influential, and respected individuals alive. Dozens of adventurers fought alongside Lord Lightbringer on his famous Nine Crusades; many of their names remain beloved for their heroics. Centuries later, bards and poets still recite epics and ballads about the valiant deeds of these men and women. Unfortunately, the glory days of adventurers have faded into a bitter legacy.
As the Nine Quests came to their conclusion, Lord Lightbringer consolidated his hold on power. As one of his first acts, he established the “Lightbringer Edicts.” The edicts outlawed adventurers and “like-minded vigilantes” in all possible guises. The same edicts formed an independent organization known as The Lightbringers, an entity designed to replace fractious, opinionated adventurers with more reliable and loyal individuals of (supposed) high morals and upbringing.
Through the edicts and the efforts of The Lightbringers, many people slowly came to view adventurers as unwanted nuisances at best and violent outlaws at worst. Officers of the law, aided by several churches and the Lightbringers, diligently hunted down and imprisoned adventurers. Punishments for freebooters varied from imprisonment to beheading and everything in between. The Lightbringers went as far as to hire unscrupulous bards to “reveal” the “truth” about past heroes and their less renowned deeds. This propaganda campaign inflicted considerable damage on the honor and reputation of many great and noble individuals, and their names became tarnished.
Continued expansion of the Edicts affected other individuals. People that hired adventurers suffered hefty fines, banishment, and sometimes imprisonment. Institutions given to hiring or supporting adventurers suffered censure, fines, and harassment. Over time, the adventuring profession fell into disrepute and its practitioners became hunted fugitives.
The fall of the Empire of Nerath and the subsequent civil wars weakened the Lightbringer Edicts and brought renewed interest in (and need for) adventurers. Many towns and villages, no longer protected by imperial garrisons, have suffered from goblin raids, a rising bandit population, and marauding monsters. Local nobles and rulers, concerned with their property and power, offered little aid to their citizens. At the same time, local economies suffered and countless individuals suffered. Increasing numbers of people pursued the adventuring life in the absence of other opportunities. They soon discovered a growing need for their unusual services.
In the present day, adventurers and the public maintain a strange, confused, and conflict relationship. On the one hand, people remain fearful and suspicious of dangerous men (and women) clad in armor and bearing weapons. On the other hand, people know when they need help, and they know they can turn to adventurers to get it.
Laws Against Adventurers
As mentioned above, the Lightbringer Edicts imposed rules against adventurers and sanctions against those hiring adventurers. As long as the Empire of Nerath remained in power, the Edicts remained in force. Indeed, the Edicts eliminated many of the worst, most mercenary adventurers plaguing the land. In addition, the Lightbringer Edicts established a powerful and beneficial organization, The Lightbringers. For a time, the Lightbringers hunted monsters, slayed dragons, and saved villages. In essence, these men and women were sanctioned adventurers, paid and supervised by their organization.
Once Nerath suffered its final collapse, the Edicts seemed less important and less helpful. The Lightbringers became more interested in holding power and protecting their property than helping ordinary people. Adventurers, although still outlawed, have become increasingly necessary throughout the land.
As a body of law, the Lightbringer Edicts remained loose and open to interpretation, allowing local communities to enforce the Edicts as they wished. Overall, the Edicts forbade unauthorized individuals from taking the law into their own hands. Local nobles, elders, and law enforcement officials were able to expand their jurisdiction for the purposes of controlling or restricting adventurers. These laws also restricted the possession and use of weapons, magic items, and spells.
Finally, the Edicts granted wide-ranging punitive powers to local officials. With the Edicts, a town mayor could permit adventurers to slay a marauding dragon, and then turn around and fine those adventurers, confiscate their ill-gotten booty, and even imprison them for infractions of local law.
In the end, the Lightbringer Edicts accomplished precisely their intended purpose. These laws allowed local rulers and nobles to control and restrict adventurers with impunity. The result brought a widespread halt to adventuring; why risk your life saving a town if your only reward was a hefty fine and a jail sentence for a tavern brawl? The Edicts helped leaders to strengthen their power and better control those individuals threatening that power, i.e., adventurers. Lord Lightbringer wanted to control and suppress the people most likely to stand in his way. His Edicts proved successful at accomplishing his goal.
Although certainly an unintended consequence, the Edicts contributed tremendously to the evolution of an underground adventurer culture, including formation of the Code, creation of the Black Council, and the strange bonds of camaraderie forged between adventuring companies. Out of necessity, adventurers of all types, beliefs, and attitudes learned to tolerate one another, share information on occasion, and even cooperate when the need arose. Sellswords, freebooters, and wanderers throughout the land learned gained strength from each other, united by common persecution and the need for secrecy. This result was most certainly not what Lord Lightbringer intended.
Adventurers consider themselves part of a special fraternity (or sorority), something setting them above and apart from normal people. Although the notion seems curious, adventurers do indeed maintain their own secretive, underground society. Over many decades of dangerous exploits, freebooters have formed a unique and peculiar culture. They follow codes of conduct when dealing with one another, and they observe certain loose rules of honor.
Numerous reasons exist for the formation of an adventuring culture. One of the most important reasons relates to the critical value of information. In the freebooter’s line of work, knowing that trolls fear fire, orcs are hard to kill, and vampires avoid silver often means the difference between life and death (or undeath). Adventurers sometimes share their hard-won secrets with their fellows, either in exchange for other information or for gold. These nuggets of knowledge help hunters survive otherwise unbeatable odds. With all differences cast aside, adventurers must cooperate against a dark, dangerous world. This leads to the second important reason for the formation of a society: persecution and prosecution.
Given the attitudes of law enforcement and the persecution by the Lightbringers, there remains little surprise why adventurers formed their own secret, underground culture. Sellswords and freebooters rarely trust one another, but they take the word of one of their own ten times before trusting an outsider.
In the centuries since the Lightbringer Edicts, attitudes towards adventurers have changed out of necessity. Towns and villages, especially those isolated from outside help, increasingly must turn to freebooters for help in slaying monsters and dealing with bandits. Cities and communities with Lightbringer Guilds and organized militia, however, are often reluctant to trust or hire adventurers, at least publicly. The laws against adventurers, although still extant, are often bypassed or ignored for the sake of communal need.
Members of the adventuring society have different names for normal, everyday people, including civilians, mundanes, the lost, bystanders, the helpless, and (among the more cynical) sword fodder.
Adventurer Codes & Conflict
Most adventuring groups have little to no contact with one another, and there remains limited interaction between companies from kingdom to kingdom. Given the suspicious, secretive, and often greedy nature of most adventurers, when companies gather trouble becomes inevitable. Adventurers lie, cheat, steal, and murder each other all too often. Sometimes they commit these acts with good cause, but often they act or react out of passion and emotion.
How do adventuring companies deal with disagreements and arguments while avoiding mayhem? Going to the sheriff or pleading to the local magistrate are out of the question. Without a formal method for handling disputes, adventuring society would suffer ceaseless episodes of vengeance killings and punitive acts, bringing unwanted attention from law enforcement. For this reason, a group of visionaries formed the Adventurer’s Code and the Black Council.
The Adventuring Life
What is the life of the adventurer like? Should the hopeful freebooter expect a life of danger, excitement, glory, and wealth? Should he instead expect a short, brutal life filled with boredom but punctuated by moments of extreme terror? Not surprisingly, both sets of expectations often hold true at one time or another.
With the Fall of Nerath, the imperials abandoned hundreds of garrisons, fortresses, and outposts across the continent. Thousands of soldiers lost employment, while at the same time countless communities lost the only protection they had from monsters, brigands, and worse threats. This grim event led to two closely related developments: a desperate need for adventurers as well as a fresh wave of novice adventurers.
Many soldiers, bereft of employment, took to the adventuring life as one of the only alternatives available. For these former soldiers, the change in lifestyle proved challenging but often rewarding. For the towns and villages in search of adventurers, they faced different challenges. These communities found themselves hiring some of the men and women that, until recently, served as their protectors. The sudden change in roles proved difficult for everyone, and resentments developed quickly. In past, the empire paid for the upkeep of her widespread garrisons. With the empire’s demise, these settlements were forced to pay for mercenaries and adventurers. Many civilians looked upon this change of situation as a betrayal, further tainting relations between adventurers and the public they serve. For a time, even as the Lightbringer Edicts became outdated and even harmful, many people clung to these laws.
Like it or not, wherever they travel, every adventurer must deal with the Lightbringer Edicts. One town may entirely ignore the Edicts, while the neighboring community holds to them with fervent determination. Even though the Empire of Nerath is many centuries dead, the Edicts retain a measure of power and influence across the land.
In locations where the Edicts hold sway adventurers must take care in how they act and even how they interact with civilians. Unfortunately, most adventurers cannot (and often will not) hide their true vocation. When a stranger rides into town on an expensive warhorse, encased in steel armor, and adorned with an armory’s worth of weapons, everyone knows what he does for a living. The wise adventurer must be prepared to deal with the local leader, law enforcement, and nobles. These individuals stand ready to wield the Lightbringer Edicts like a weapon against the adventurer.
Fortunately, the wily adventurer has a few options to consider. First, he may attempt to pass himself and his companions off as mercenaries. The Edicts allow a loophole for the hiring of mercenaries, and treat “sellswords” as distinct from “adventurers.” Ultimately, the difference is one of semantics and convenience. The major differences involve loyalties and pay. A mercenary is expected to maintain a certain level of obedience to their employer, and the employer is expected to pay the mercenary an agreed upon wage. An adventurer passing his party off as mercenaries can look forward to regular pay, but on the downside mercenaries must obey orders – something many adventurers find difficult.
The second option is for an adventuring company to obtain a charter from the local nobility or government. A charter represents a simple contract between the adventuring company and the individual or organization granting the charter. The company registers its name, members, and “home base” with the grantor, in exchange for the privilege of fulfilling missions and contracts of benefit to the grantor.
For example, the Hell Hounds Company acquires a charter from Duke Amerac. The charter forbids certain acts, such as sedition against the duke, murder of innocents, or destruction of ducal property. The Hell Hounds pursue adventure opportunities within the duchy with the broad understanding their efforts are beneficial to the duke and his demesne. The Hell Hounds may eliminate an orc tribe, defeat a pack of ghouls, and break up a sinister cult. The duke does not pay for any services, but benefits nonetheless. The Hell Hounds owe no specific allegiance to the duke, but agree not to attack the duke’s interests.
Either party may break an adventuring company charter, although doing so carries risks, especially for the adventurers. Most companies maintain a number of different charts across the land, and keep copies of each on hand to show as needed. A charter in one realm holds on value or bearing in nearby domains, so adventuring companies must keep their agreements straight to avoid unnecessary trouble.
It should be noted that an adventuring charter offers no real guarantees or protection. The charter is, in some ways, a “gentlemen’s agreement” but not necessarily a legally binding document. Adventuring companies who are cautious towards the grantor and do not take too many liberties tend to enjoy a certain latitude. A company that causes trouble or offends the grantor is asking for persecution and harassment.
Beyond issues of legality, contracts, and interactions with the civilian public, several other elements are important to the adventuring lifestyle. These include the Cant, the Rogues’ Gallery, and the Thieves’ Market.
Adventurers have taken on many unusual and idiosyncratic behaviors and habits over the centuries. They have their own language, their own underground economy, a set of rules and codes of honor, as well as simple but effective means of enforcing those codes. Of all these peculiarities and more, perhaps the most unusual is the “adventuring name.” An adventuring name is simply a nom de guerre, similar to the stage name an actor might adopt. It can serve to protect an adventurer’s identity or help dramatize his exploits.
Most adventurers begin life as normal, mundane people with normal, mundane (and somewhat dull) names. Throughout the kingdoms, many families simply take the family profession for a surname (thus names such as Smith, Tanner, Mason, and so forth). Other cultures instead use patronymics or matronymics for surnames. Finally, noble families pass their family name down from generation to generation, the original meaning often lost or forgotten. Not surprisingly, many different kingdoms are filled with many similar last names, with little to distinguish them.
Many individuals entering the adventuring life take on an adventuring name, separate from their actual name. Some adventuring names are melodramatic or descriptive (e.g., Ghost, Blackdog, Scalper, One-Eye), while others are simply acquired nickname. A large number of adventurers carry names of famous (or infamous) places, such as “Svarn of Westfall.” An adventuring name might describe a person’s looks, voice, or even odor. An adventuring name might point out an exceptional talent, skill, or physical feature the individual possesses. Many names are imaginative, overblown, or simply false. Some adventurers prefer simple names, while others cling to names that would make the most audacious actor blush with shame.
The reasons for taking an adventuring name are twofold. First, an adventuring name sets a person apart and distinguishes him from others. When bards sing about an adventurer’s brave deeds, it helps enliven the story if he is known as Merrick the Black, rather than William Smith. Although many adventurers dislike ridiculous, lengthy, or melodramatic names, no adventurer wants a name that is too prosaic, or invites ridicule from everyone who hears it spoken.
Second, an adventuring name protects the adventurer and his family from persecution and prosecution. The existence of the Lightbringer Edicts combined with the somewhat public persona most freebooters acquire, an adventuring name helps hide the adventurer’s actual identity. This helps protect his family from notoriety, harassment, and embarrassment. Likewise, if the adventurer came from an infamous or ill-regarded family, such a name allows him to establish a reputation and a name without taint or familial influence. Many sons and daughters of noble families, desperate to escape their lineage and responsibilities, forego their given names in exchange for something more heroic, enticing, and unconnected with their former lives. A good, strong adventuring name helps convince the novice adventurer that he or she is cut out for this unusual and dangerous occupation.