The biggest problem with RPGs, for me at least, is one of believability. It’s nothing to do with the existence of magic or dragons, that I can understand and take to heart because they’ve both those things have been engrained in stories for thousands of years in all societies. In fact, with the majority of the human race being religious, most people seem to believe in magic and mythical creatures anyway.
I simply can’t get my head around why adventurers go on adventures, because it really is an alien concept. I have heard of no one in my 20 years on this Earth whose career is based on doing random tasks for strangers they meet in taverns. I understand that that is boiling it down to a basic level but, on any level, I cannot see how adventurers fit into a believable world, even one with dragons and wizards.
Of course, if you hadn’t guessed it by now, I am mainly ragging on Dungeons & Dragons, and it is literally the only part of D&D that I don’t enjoy. It’s a tiny, asinine and ultimately negligible part of the experience though. Even if I am trying to roleplay then I know that, if I find my character face to face with a lich trying to suck out his immortal soul, or perhaps on the dodgey end of an assassination attempt, the how and why doesn’t really matter in the moment, all that matters is getting out of that situation with all your limbs still attached to your body. However, the problems lie before and after, and it’s kind of the reason that I like being a Dungeon Master.
As a DM I don’t have to think about this point and thus the only part of D&D I dislike is removed. That said, recently getting the chance to properly play has forced it to the forefront of my mind. I’m basically trying to treat myself as a mercenary. I wrote a whole backstory for my character which has helped to shape how I think about things going into each campaign but I still get the feeling that, after one quest, I should be done.
Take the Lord of the Rings for example. Everyone in The Fellowship had one quest and, while they all had to do different things to achieve their end goal, they had but one thing to do and once it was done they didn’t try and find something else to do. You then look to people like Aragorn, who have a great deal of backstory, but you still get the feeling that his goals make sense. Before he met Frodo he spent his time helping Gandalf, learning how to be a king under Elrond’s protection and flirting with Arwen, among other things of course, but even so, it makes sense because he stands to gain from these things and the more obscure things he does, like scouting for and with the elves, he does because he is protecting Middle Earth.
Gandalf would be a good other example because he has been a busy man for all of his 2019 years in Arda. Why does he do it all? Because he’s a demi-god tasked with protecting the species that live in Middle Earth. To me that is a good blanket-reason for almost everything he does. However, you can’t just go around making your D&D characters demi-gods so you have to think more creatively than that.
One of my friends has a good one that I may have to steal. Her god is a very strange version of Clavicus Vile from The Elder Scrolls series. He’s basically a halfling version of him that enjoys brutality and sacrifice and is also incredibly racist to non-standard races. Halflings, Dwarves, Humans and Elves are all cool by him, but Orcs, Tieflings, Undead, etc. are all a bit questionable in his eyes and would probably be better off at the end of his subject’s swords than in their shops spending their money and living peacefully.
All I have, however, is a loose backstory for the half-elf; Krunt Thockbutt. It’s not a particularly elvish name, but there is of course a reason for this. You see, Krunt’s mother had an affair with an elf one night but, on account of his entire family possessing barely 100 IQ points between them, they didn’t notice his pointy ears, his naturally thin, willowy figure or the fact that he was the smartest among them by a good few miles. However, he loved them just the same, so when his brothers one by one went adventuring and got themselves employed as mercenaries, guards, brawlers, entertainers and bard around the globe, he always wanted to go with them, but his mother forbade it. He went to wizard’s college, did very well for himself and, after getting bored of working as an enchanter, he decided to hitch up with a group of questionable people he found in the bar one night and head out into the wild with them to seek his fortune.
So, basically, it’s wanderlust brought on by jealousy of his brothers. It’s plausible but I feel like it’s a bit limp as far as ideos (reasons) go so I want something more. So far however, I think the campaigns that I have been playing have scratched my character’s itch. We went and investigated a genocide in a town and found that it was the possessed suit of armour of the local lord and we won a competition to win the honour of fighting a dragon in someone’s name. However, both of these things should really have been done by the army or knights.
I think therein lies the true problem. No matter how good your reason, as an adventurer, to go on a quest to go kill a dragon or sort out a lich, there will always be a better reason for someone else to do it, and said reason will be mundane and predictable.