Friday, March 2, 2018

Putting More Class In Your Setting. Part III: Variations By Setting, Class, and Level

In Part I of this essay, I evaluated arguments in favor and against the notion that classes have standing as social structures, and then, in Part II, I examined reasons why this is likely to be so. Now, in this concluding section, I will look into how class structures are likely to vary depending on the class in question, the type of setting, and situational factors such as the level or power of particular characters.

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The insistence on the universal applicability of class abilities and the character's right not to be implicated within social structures are both resonant with rejecting playstyles that may lead the GM to restrict or alter the class lineup for a campaign. All published character types, the argument goes, should be appropriate for any campaign, so long as it is within the fantasy genre. The insistence on a single, generic fantasy style into which any character can fit so long as its build does not depart from the existing mechanics seems to promote openness, but actually constitutes a limiting of styles to a single supermarket-variety blend.

Supermarket-style settings have a right to exist, and are attractive to some players because their default assumptions about what they may find there - towns with taverns, markets stocked with readily available goods, frontier areas with dungeons and monsters, authority structures somewhere far from the frontier, and mundane populations generally prove to be accurate, leaving them free to worry about other things. But even in a generic setting - Forgotten Realms, or Sigil - City of Doors, where characters may come a wide range of cultural backgrounds, social structures and class structures can still exist, and be influenced by the multicultural environment in a variety of different ways. This concluding section lists examples of how setting type may influence class structure, and the relationship between classes.

1) In general, the degree of class organization, from tightest to broadest, can fall into these four categories:
  • A formal organization, with specified positions and offices, regulations and initiations (modeled by the Knights Templar, the Naqshbandi order of Sufi mystics, or the Sword Coast's Purple Dragon Knights). These organizations can model a distinct class, or specialization within the class.
  • A collection of possibly unconnected people bound by a teaching, technique, belief, ideal, or patronage of a deity or other powerful entity (modeled by the Buddhist sangha [monastic community], literate mages recording spells in writing, initiates into the Mithraic mysteries). It is entirely possible that adherents of a particular religion or the priesthood of a particular deity constitutes a distinct class).
  • A broad social class, estate, or caste, as discussed in Part II. In this case, classes can roughly correspond to backgrounds, and as such, can include, or even be numerically dominated by, people without any special abilities.
  • People from vastly different societies who perform broadly equivalent functions or have comparable skills, who may find affinities with others because they use magic, are trained in arms, are concerned with honor, etc.
2) Generally, the larger, "traditional" classes - fighter, rogue, possibly cleric and wizard, will tend toward looser class structures, whereas the more specialized classes that started as subclasses (ranger, paladin, druid), prestige classes (bard), or "unusual" classes (monk) will tend to have tighter forms of organization. However, this may be true only if certain standard assumptions about what a fantasy social environment is like obtain. It is entirely possible to imagine settings where basic classes are differently organized, or even do not exist at all. 

The cleric class, for instance, was designed to model the warrior archbishop Turpin or monastic fighting orders (before the advent of the paladin). Its heavily armed and armored demeanor, and its spell list, strongly influenced by Old Testament imagery, is hardly representative of priesthoods worldwide. 2e actually went some way toward disaggregating the cleric class, and replacing it with a priest class that was far more generic, but subsequent editions, including 5e, restored the centrality of the more traditional cleric. It is quite possible to have the cleric class as a tightly organized, militant grouping if one's setting resembles a disintegrating Roman Empire, where the Church seeks to defend itself and promote conversions in a sea of paganism. Other priests in this environment would likely possess an entirely different class, without armor proficiency, and without the ability to turn undead.

It is similarly possible to imagine settings without fighters, or with fighters organized as a highly specialized class that stands out from the rest of the population. It has been hypothesized that the Harappan civilization was a civilization without war, and if there is no war, there are likely to be no (or at best, very few) warriors. Perhaps warriors have intruded on this sort of peaceful culture from outside. The same thing might be true of a setting that resembles Hy Brasil from the Erik the Viking film, where the only fighters were the vikings who sailed to the island in their dragon ship. Even if the warriors did not all come in one ship, it is likely that they would feel a great deal of kinship with other warriors in such an environment, and would at least attempt to organize themselves - for conquest, to prevent undue conflicts, to develop some sort of warrior code, etc. This would constitute a highly unusual setting, very different from generic fantasy, yet definitely an attractive campaign setting.

Given the changing assumptions about what constitutes an arcane spellcaster over the years, the notion that studious and literate wizards are generic "magic-users" may be outdated. Sorcerers with raw talent are actually better suited for the role, whereas wizards may be a newer group that recommends itself to the populace precisely because they are more responsible with the Gift, and have more control over other members of the class, because they subject them to long years of study.

Conversely, it is possible to cast the more specialized classes in generic roles. For instance, druids may be members of a generic ruling class of priest-kings who battled other clans or tribes for primacy (this actually quite accurately models the situation in much of northern Europe in the centuries and decades prior to the coming of Christianity). Monks constituted the ruling elite of Tibet until the mid-20th century. 

3) The more style-specific the setting, the tighter the organization of individual classes (and vice-versa: the more generic the setting, the looser the class structure). In a cosmopolitan setting, many people and many members of elites might be transplants from distant lands. As such, aside from having a vague sense of affinity with those who also have combat training, or magical training, or training in the manipulation of symbols, they may have nothing in common with others who technically represent the same class and possess similar abilities.

Yet no setting is ever completely cosmopolitan. We can delineate two distinct varieties of cosmopolitan settings. The first type represents capitals or major metropolitan areas (like port cities) in expansive empires, which use openness to facilitate expansion. This means that it has a ruling elite class (or occasionally, several classes) which is in fact a coherent group bound by shared training and a common set of values. More likely than not, it is one of the "basic" classes outlined above. Other classes might be rag-tag, but given their power, it is quite likely that the ruling class will be trying to organize them into a recognizable group, or at least several recognizable subclasses. In fact, an attempt to bring 'lone wolf' characters under the control of a class group to which they have been administratively assigned may constitute a major theme of a particular campaign. Alternatively, a character belonging to one distinct class (e.g. a sorcerer) may be pressured to submit to another (e.g. a wizard, which may involve opportunities to learn new spells, but also attempts at "erasure" of existing properties, like channeling wild magic surges (obviously uncontrollable by the powers that be), breath weapons (unnerving to the mundane populace), etc. The example of Ashurbanipal's library in Nineveh models roughly this sort of cosmopolitan environment (the ruling class here was obviously a warrior one, with a typically martial approach to streamlining other classes).

Muslim warriors inspired Christian chivalry while living near Crusaders
in the Levant
A different type of cosmopolitanism obtains in shared frontier areas between powerful realms. Examples of such may include large urban trading emporia, or an extensive area of badlands, mountains or deserts featuring overland trade routes, bandit fortresses on mountaintops, and isolated oases preserving the remnants of ancient elites whose writ perhaps used to extend over much larger areas. Here, although diverse groups may enter into contact and even learn from one another, they still feel that they belong to distinct groups in their homeland, even if such groups do not heavily figure in the course of a particular campaign. Crusaders and ghazi represented distinct frontier forces on either side of the Christian-Muslim frontier, though over time, they came to resemble one another to some extent. Perhaps at a certain point they might come to resemble rival archetypes of a single ranger class, and the longer the frontier persists, the more indistinguishable from one another they become (as even rivalry fades into the background, since both groups feel more in common with one another than those enjoying the soft life in metropolitan areas in the cores of either civilization). Classes that form diasporas stretching across frontiers will also proliferate as political confrontations become more systemic. And unique classes or subclasses will hide beyond walls of oasis cities, offering their unique services to one side or another - for a price. Foreigners may also marry into a fossilized, diasporic, or frontier class, perhaps even turning away from their own people to join an elite on the other side.

Initially, when coming into contact with one another, functionally similar but culturally foreign classes may have important secondary features that divide them more than shared features unite them. Different groups of fighters may use different weaponry and armor. Casters may have unique, and not mutually comprehensible magical scripts, and perhaps even component types. If a character belonging to a combat class that allows its members a proficiency with heavy armor comes from a culture without such armor, its in-game acquisition may, at GM discretion, be accompanied by a process of cultural assimilation that aligns the character with foreign NPCs belonging to the same class. In some cases, it may make sense to design (or select) a wholly distinct class, however.

Conversely, when set in a non-generic fantasy culture, most classes are likely to have a tighter organization - legendary exemplars and founders, heraldry, training manuals, formal codes of conduct, etc. In extreme cases, different classes may constitute distinct castes that ought not come into direct contact with one another. That might call for a one-class campaign (in which the various characters represent different subclasses or archetypes, or belong to different races, to increase variety and the party skill range). Alternatively, some members of the higher classes may have to undergo special rituals during downtime to remove the "pollution" accumulated from long-term exposure to adherents of other classes.

Since non-generic settings and unique lands are rarely hermetically sealed, it may also make sense for the GM to outline foreign classes which may be present in such a setting. In the Lukomorye setting which I write about on this blog, there is no native tradition of literate high magic among the residents of Nor'. Yet wizards from wealthier and richer lands to the west and south do appear from time to time. They may be ambassadors, or in the employ of local princes (who have links to the fighter warrior elite). They will rarely interact with others of their class, but their activities are surrounded with class-specific accoutrements brought from home - star charts, kabbalistic diagrams, alchemical alembics, and so on. Similar provisions are made for paladins and monks, which also do not figure among the setting's main classes.

4) The higher a class is in a given social hierarchy, the more tightly it will be integrated, because with the highest power come the most stringent gate-keeping mechanisms. Formal training to advance levels requiring the expenditure of money and time will most likely apply to elite classes, while formal training for rogues would probably look silly in most circumstances. Ruling classes would also be more likely to have at least somewhat explicit rules of conduct and oaths or vows to uphold them. Failure to uphold these vows would likely result in concrete punishments that affected class powers and advancement. For instance, fighters who habitually flee from battle may be barred from training for higher levels, wizards that share secret knowledge may be barred from mysteries and initiation rituals, and members of any given class can be berated by superiors to such an extent that further advancement in that class becomes impossible - at least for a time. It may be that certain rituals, performed by higher-level members of the same class, are required to open access to a certain tier. This admission may allow not only the standard class powers like spell levels, but also social perks, such as the right to hold the office of bishop. In the Lukomorye setting, the priest class has a built-in hierarchy requiring the attainment of a particular level to hold such offices, but also to perform socially crucial rituals, most of which actually have a concrete mechanical impact on the game (for example, the ability to anathemize another straying priest or priestess, which strips them of power until they atone). Given this class' social prominence, there is also a built-in system that privileges them on Charisma checks - at least in environments where their leading role is recognized. Clearly, in non-generic settings, some classes will require at least a partial redesign to reflect their higher social power. But that is right and proper - settings and campaigns that stress social interaction more than those who tilt in a more default combat-heavy direction will be balanced (yes, balanced!) differently, and the most obvious way to rebalance is through adjusting class design.

For weaker classes, structure and identity will be much less evident. It is often argued that characters will use multiple designations to refer to themselves, and of these, the class name may appear as merely as one among many, or perhaps not at all. Thus, fighters may think of themselves as gladiators, guards, knights, or soldiers, rather than fighters. This may in fact be so, but it doesn't take away from the structural reality of class. Not only commoners, but full members of a given class may use different titles to refer to the same group (or even the same title to refer to different groups). But a sense of class belonging may be situational. Like the proverbial Ibo in Lagos, who becomes a Nigerian in London and an African in New York, a sense of solidarity with larger groups may develop in unfamiliar surroundings. A person may think of themselves as a member of a particular mercenary group back in their home town, a member of the Champion subclass in an imperial capital, and a fighter in a frontier region between multiple empires. Alternatively, in the company of spellcasters, two fighters would definitely think of one another as martial types, in opposition to the rest. In the company of rangers and paladins, they would quickly begin to emphasize the differences, and begin wondering why these others spend so much time in the woods, or in temples, rather than just honing their fighting prowess. And in the company of all fighters in the barracks, subclass differences would suddenly seem very important, as tactical commanders begin to complain about the show-off Champions who specialize in single combat. The initial lack of awareness of membership in a class early in life does not mean the class doesn't exist.

5) Class structures gain more weight as characters advance levels in a class. No matter how important to their self-understanding at the beginning of their career or adventuring life, mundane professions and regional origins will fade into the background, while class membership will loom ever larger. Characters will become famous for their exploits, and will attract others who would sit at their feet. Conceivably, successful characters could attract followers belonging to other classes, but given their skill-set, there is a limited amount they could teach them. Assuming they are in good standing, they will also receive offers to take up official positions or leadership roles within elite structures, because their fame now reflects well upon the group, and gives it greater legitimacy. On the other hand, success will attract rivals, perhaps those who have been passed over for special consideration, and now want to show up the winner of accolades as a fraud. Within tighter class groups with a secretive structure (e.g. because of official persecution) a limited number of top spots at top levels could require combat or other competition to advance to higher level. Such limitations existed for druids, monks and assassins in the 1st Edition rules. They may not work for everyone's setting, but it is hard to argue that as narrative elements they necessarily detract from a campaign: old-style characters spent a lot of time preparing for such ritual contests. It is also possible that certain powers, and spells, are only possessed by the highest-standing members of each given class, and finding them (to learn an 8th or 9th level spell) would constitute an important part of driving a high-level campaign forward. Offers to warlocks to displace one's patron, and to become a patron in their own right may constitute another class-driven plot device. The strain between fulfilling one's destiny (or saving the world) and taking up a position of power within one's society could be an interesting source of dramatic tension. Fear of being expelled from one's class for some real or purported transgression could be another.

If advancement implicates one ever more within class structures, what does that mean for multiclassing? The issue of multi-classed characters constitutes a key point of contention between those who downplay class structures, and those who emphasize them. If multiclassing is a birthright, and a character can always change class to any class upon gaining a level, classes certainly seem very fluid, and devoid of in-game substance. If, on the other hand, multiclassing is a customization option that is available "with the DM's permission" (PHB, p. 163), then the situation starts to look very different. I don't want to rehearse common arguments regarding the reasons for multiclassing. Most fans of multiclassing will insist that they do it for character-driven reasons because they like options, rather than for reasons of power optimization. Both surely have their place as explanations, though given the stigma against powergaming, the former will almost always be emphasized, including by powergamers themselves. But the key question is, to what degree does the insistence on multiclassing respect the narratives constructed by the GM? If class is regarded as a calling, the idea of multiple callings does present difficulties, as a calling is the driving element of a character's life. Some insist that a character should be a Renaissance genius, since we play the game for fantastic escape, and most of us do not measure up. But a quick glance at fantasy as literature reveals that heroes are rarely this type of person. There is no built-in assumption that most characters should be such.

In older versions of the game, there was a built-in narrative for multiclassing. Typically, the option was available to non-human characters who had very long lifespans, and ample opportunities to immerse themselves in various callings. A character began as a multiclass character, and advanced in all the chosen classes simultaneously. For humans, there was the option of dual-classing, but it was rarely taken, because the abilities associated with the old class were not fully available until the level attained in the new class exceed that attained in the old class. Thus, a prolonged period of training was modeled. In the 5e rules, the dual-class structure is adopted as the model for multiclassing, but all the powers of all the classes are immediately available to a switch-hitting character.

I am in principle open to multiclassing, provided that a character's backstory indicates such a propensity from the start. A nobleman from a society ruled by a martial elite may incline toward magical studies, but the foundation for combat training was probably laid into such a character at a young age. Similarly, a charlatan who was trained as an illusionist has plenty of reasons to consider switching to rogue at some point in her life. But simply picking up a level of another class for the purpose of "dipping" into an ability gained at low level does not strike me as justifiable, though a long period of downtime may make learning a new class possible. Even so, there is every reason to suppose that doing this will result in growing pressures from one's old class-mates. A fighter may have been marked for a leadership role, but now attracts suspicion from members of his order. A member of a class with very high social standing may meet with disapproval from "dipping" into a class with a lower social standing. A cleric picking up a level in rogue will turn heads, and a cleric picking up a level in warlock may risk expulsion (so she would do best to keep this new departure secret). A highly successful multi-class character may successfully break old molds, but they have to prove their success, and withstand social opprobrium. Subsequently, they may come to be regarded as demigods (or mythic founders of new archetypes); but the road to that happy end is a long and difficult one.

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Ultimately, every GM will decide for themselves whether their playing experience will benefit or suffer from connecting class to setting social structure. As for me, I have laid out my case, and my own conclusion is unequivocal: get your ass with the class!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Putting More Class In Your Setting . Part II: Why Classes Form

In Part I, I discussed opposing takes on the existence of classes as in-setting elements. In this installment, I will examine the question why societies in which magic and unusual powers are highly efficacious are likely to organize their wielders into groups and institutions that more or less resemble classes.

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The first and obvious question to consider is the social character of power. In itself, power - the ability to wield authority, control or influence over others - is socially corrosive. Because it rests on domination of others and is unevenly distributed, power generates social imbalances, which in turn breed social instability: these imbalances make those who lack power question the benefits they derive from belonging to groups and orders in which they are ostensibly participants. Thus, to perpetuate power, those who have it need to offer ways to distribute and regulate it. To be sure, in fantastic worlds, certain beings can have much greater individual power than an average member of society in comparison to our own, so that even strength in numbers might not guarantee a mechanism of control over the powerful. But even in fantastic societies, godlike beings require worshipers, which presupposes at least a minimal amount of buy-in by people without power into whatever recognizing the gods' paramountcy.

If distributing and regulating power is demanded by the powerless, who seek some guarantees and assurances of noblesse oblige so that their own interests will be respected to some extent, doing so is also in the interests of the powerful. Even fantastic cosmoi are not typically static, which means that power fluctuates: those who have it today may not have it tomorrow. Those who have it today will therefore do what they need to in order to still have access to the same power tomorrow, or better yet, that their right to that power is recognized as legitimate, so that they will not have to take undue risks to defend it. This means power has to be monopolized, protected and hidden: others have to be kept from acquiring it, from gaining access to knowledge that allows them to possess it. This further means that the powerful will construct laws and norms that prevent others from learning their secrets, punishing those who do so illegally, instituting specialized training techniques and secret societies that conceal the methods of gaining and exercising power, and so on. The idea that middling professions - carpentry, smithing, pottery, etc., are organized into guilds (as is suggested by the existence of the "guild artisan" background), but that warriors, arcanists, priests, and others who wield high levels of power lack their own organizations and orders just boggles the mind.

Power can be protected, monopolized and socialized in a number of different ways. One traditional way is to pass it down within family or clan structures, because real or imputed blood bonds typically create a higher level of trust between people who share power. This method of regulating power usually prevails in environments where a (smaller) group has conquered a (much larger) group of foreigners or outsiders, and maintains its grip on power by maintaining its identity as a distinct ethnicity, or a hereditary aristocracy. Societies that organized power along such lines generally had restrictions against non-aristocrats using weapons (or riding horses), because democratizing control over such implements of power would have led to their own downfall. Learning to protect themselves through techniques of unarmed combat - as was the case with Shaolin monks, for instance - was a 'weapon of the weak' that allowed the lower orders to fit into an existing power structure while generating a new technique of power of their own.

Meritocracy, though it is often seen as somehow fairer than aristocracy, represents another approach to monopolizing power. In societies without deep divisions of ethnicity or estate, some people can still rise to positions of great power and influence either through putting in the hard work of learning techniques of power, or through being born with inordinately large amounts of raw talent (or both). In either case, securing one's right to possess power - economic, political, symbolic, etc. - requires certification at the hands of established meritocrats, who administer systems of examinations and bureaucracies that require demonstrations of accomplishments before one is allowed to rise to the next power level. Examinations and bureaucracies are also schools of a professional ethos - how does one properly practice one's skill, treat those who are not in the know, and behave toward superiors and underlings? Exceptional candidates who are hard to entangle in such administrative boondoggles do crop up from time to time, and do undermine such systems of control, but the point is, meritocrats always try to control them, and, assuming a society does not collapse as a result of being challenged by upstarts, they generally succeed. At best, the upstarts are able to create and institutionalize a new form of power.

The social order of Latin Christendom
Simple schemes like hereditary aristocracy or meritocracy do not typically exist in pure form, or function in a vacuum. In most societies, they exist side by side, perhaps differentiating different power-holders, or elites, from one another. Most societies have multiple elites, and the various elites protect their power not only from the powerless, but also from one another. This may be demonstrated by the example of new and old elites, e.g. the Germanic warrior aristocracy, which had its rule legitimated by the Christian clergy that had taken control of the Roman Empire in the preceding century. These two elites became, respectively, the Second and First Estates of the medieval European political order. Similarly, the Tariqat, Shariat, Siyasat division of the Dar-al-Islam into a Persian-language scholarly and cultural elite, an Arab-language religious and judicial elite, and a Turkic-language warrior and political elite reflected compromises between old and new ruling classes in Islamic society as well. The origins of the Indian caste hierarchy is more shrouded in controversy owing to its greater antiquity, but some scholars regard it as another example of a compact between recent invaders and more established elites. The caste (more precisely, varna) system constituted an extreme instance of different elites protecting their power by differentiating oneself themselves in training, abilities, language, symbolism, etc. - as much as possible, to the point where the castes to have minimal physical contact with one another. In the European case, conversely, the First and Second estates interpenetrated one another to such an extent that while first sons of elite families inherited the family domain or realm, the second sons strove to become Princes of the Church.

The lower orders, numerous but subjugated and unorganized, often generated counterelites that challenged the established social order as well. Various "social bandits", including pirates, hejduks, uskoks, Cossacks, and Shaolin monks were not simply outlaw gangs, but groups that shared an ethos and a measure of support from the surrounding populations living within the law. The infamous ninjas were recruited from specific lower-class townships, while many of the Yakuza belonged to the burakumin outcaste, from which tanners, butchers and executioners also hailed. In medieval Russia, the izgoi - a term translated into English as "rogue" - were also members of an outcaste with no legal standing and no right to own property. They were not necessarily criminal, but they were literally outside the law, and dependent on their wits, rather than a master or any kinds of legal protections, for survival.

Some elites may cluster in specific geographic areas. These can include frontier areas dominated by tribal groups with special abilities, marcher elites on the margins of sophisticated (though frequently politically fragmented) empires, as well as merchant elites, which gravitate to commercial emporia that promote cross-border (or cross-wasteland) trade between empires. Though the designation may have been meant a joke, or simply an attempt to formulate real-world political forms in terms of D&D classes, the Companion Set DM's rules  characterized a republic (i.e. that form of government that prevails in interstitial commercial emporia) as "a democracy with elected rulers (or thieves)" (Mentzer, 1984, 11). Since then, of course, the term kleptocracy has become commonplace political vocabulary, though for some, it is only a specification of a republic, not its antithesis.

Common classes - fighters, rogues, priests, and possibly certain kinds of magic practitioners - would thus likely overlap with broad estates or castes. The commonality of the basic (or traditional) classes is accounted for by the near-universality of certain types of monopoly control - over violence, over symbolic power, and over the economy - of the imperial or quasi-imperial societies that serve as baseline models for most societies in the fantasy literary genre. Geographically localized elites, on the other hand, would likely represent the less common classes, like barbarians, or specializations within one of the larger classes. Many contemporary classes began as subclasses of the "Big Three" or "Big Four" with functional specializations - armed companions of a ruler or a monastic fighting order (paladins), a military outfit charged with the defense of a frontier (rangers), or a dethroned priesthood (druids). Some of the minor classes - meditative secret societies promoting communal self-defense (monks), or musical confraternities (bards) fit into this mold as well.

Magic, if it exists as a distinct force, would constitute an additional form of power that could be universally monopolized in such societies. However, almost by definition, magic is a superhuman force that people cannot regulate. That may be said for symbols (created by Thoth to represent the thought or speech of Amun, as the Egyptians had it), violence, or love (generated by gods such as Mars and Venus), but magic - the least stable and definable type of power, would have the most destabilizing social effect. Controlling magic would be one of the main functions of social institutions, or goals of social life in general. It was difficult enough to do in actual societies: Ashurbanipal's construction of the Great Library at Nineveh in order to discipline, regulate and professionalize divination has been compared to the Manhattan Project in the extent and importance of the undertaking; but how much more difficult would it be in an environment where magic had a much more visible and dramatic impact? One tactic, also paralleling what actually occurred in history, might involve differentiating divine from arcane magic: whereas divine magic leaves creation largely in the hands of the gods, and places only restorative power (healing, blessing, banishing evil spirits, in extremis - channeling divine wrath) in the hands of their human agents, arcane power is a hack - a mortal appropriation of the basic power of the cosmos. As such, it might be ruled out of court, as it for the most part was in societies dominated by Abrahamic monotheism; regulated at the margins, as was the practice of high magic like theurgy by university-trained intellectuals (at a time when the universities were controlled by the clerical estate); or forced to become handmaidens to imperial rule, as in China, where the shi scholar-administrators occasionally dabbled in alchemy, but only after they were brought under control by the system of imperial examinations, and the imperative to govern society on behalf of the Son of Heaven. A full magocracy might more resemble India - the Brahmin, although ritual specialists (hence priests) were often seen as superior to the gods, and therefore in full control of the creative power of the universe (though such power took purely non-material forms - otherwise it would be polluting); but precisely because it could be conceptualized as a society ruled by magi, access to that class was tightly regulated. It is perhaps no accident that a ruling magical caste is also depicted as essentially impermeable in the (otherwise forgettable) first Dungeons and Dragons film. Perhaps the wizards that rule such societies first take control over the cycle of rebirth upon taking power.

Varna (caste) in medieval South Asia

If some arcane casters can be policed by priests (and their divine masters), emperors (and their bureaucracies), literary traditions, and schools, what of those who possess natural magical talent (sorcerers), or those who cut a few corners by making a deal with otherworldly patrons in exchange for future considerations (warlocks)? Surely, as detractors like to point out, here we have two classes that can have no class structure at all, because there is no training, no techniques, and no necessary interaction with others who possess similar skills. Often, there is even no self-awareness and no individual choice about acquiring such powers - it just happens. To my mind, that represents less an inevitable conclusion than a simple failure of imagination. Those born with raw magical talent are typically scions of a magical bloodline, rather than simply freaks of nature (as commoners might think). An obvious course of development would be that a sorcerer turns to discovering her true family history immediately upon learning of her powers. Any social pressure - which is a likely response to individuals being born with raw magic - would almost certainly result in the isolated individual looking for allies - preferably among one's kind: only they understand the character's plight, and can help manage the dangerous aspects of raw magic. It is also quite possible that society would put significant resources into tracking such births magically, in order to eliminate or control all wielders of natural magical talent (the sarcastic suggestion that a society would institute a census to locate individuals in a certain class doesn't actually seem to me to be supercilious - the dominant religion of the Western world is premised upon the existence of a census dividing people into archaic categories, and also the capacity of Magi to be able to locate such miraculous children). Conversely, if sorcerers are descended from gods, they would form a ruling elite, while dominant figures within their bloodlines would act as sorcerer-kings - managing their populations to ensure that specimens with talent would be born in the safest and most propitious environments. As for pact-making warlocks, given their likely rejection of legitimate pathways to power, they would also require networks of support, which they would most likely find among covens or like-minded people contracting with the same entities. All these approaches strike me as more propitious to involving sorcerer or warlock PCs in a setting than simply assuming that they are one of a kind.

It is often objected that if the goal is to implicate PCs in social structures, it can easily be done without involving them as a member of a class: there are so many other options for structures to which PCs can belong to, while class is best left to player interpretation. To me, this makes little sense. Class is by far the greatest source of a character's power, so specially class abilities would be primary loci of social regulation, and developing or managing class powers would occupy a great deal of a character's training. Inventing yet other social categories to take the place of classes would be redundant within the setting, and aesthetically awkward from the point of view of gameplay - a kind of reinvention of the wheel. It is sometimes pointed out that class in the game sense is not the same concept as class in the socioeconomic sense. This is true as far as it goes - not all classes should overlap with broad social orders, but that does not mean that the terms are entirely unrelated in meaning, or that classes cannot denote similar categories. Another common assumption  - that placing characters within a preexisting class structure would constitute a trap - is unwarranted if the GM is not being heavy-handed (and a heavy-handed GM presents problems to players across the board, not simply in terms of imposing class structures on them). Within class structures, there is still more than ample room for player agency. Do you like being part of the elite? How well do you fit in with your peers? Are you a rebel against those who trained you? Does your background predispose you toward more than one class (and how would you respond to lobbying from multiple leaders and elites)? Are you on the run because of your talent, despite the fact that members of your bloodline are rulers of your society? Ideals, bonds, flaws, and personal histories can shape answers and approaches to class, instead of obviating them.

The same applies to backgrounds in general. Does having classes eliminate the need for backgrounds? Does it make certain backgrounds necessary counterparts to certain classes? Are all fighters nobles or soldiers, are all rogues criminals or charlatans, are all clerics acolytes, and are all wizards sages? Even if there is a degree of overlap (especially for NPCs), supposing so would again be a failure of imagination. A brawny commoner could have been noticed by the local lord at a young age (e.g. by saving him from drowning), and then trained in the use of weapons, and made part of his armed retinue. A wizard struggling to find tuition for university borrows money from the local loan shark, and, in the absence of collateral, is made to participate in break-ins and eventually integrated into the local gang structure. An aging artisan strives to escape from the pressures of family by entering a monastery. In an extreme case, a captured and enslaved tribesman is trained in the use of arms to protect his master, and then formulates a new approach to being a warrior (with the GM's approval, the GM and the player cooperate to design a Mamluk Fighter archetype, or find one online that the GM deems acceptable for the setting). The existence of other social pressures and mundane lives does not eliminate classes: the wizard running heists for the loan shark still wants to finish her education, and to be deemed legitimate by her wizard peers. Coming from exceptional circumstances and being able to bend the rules are the veritable exceptions that prove the rule, rather than arguments against the rule. And being a leveled cleric in an ecclesiastical institution that includes multiple priests with no discernible ability to cast spells does not mean that mundane priests are the distinct social category in question: star software engineers are more definitive of institutions like Silicon Valley, which exists to provide support for their skill-set, than the vast majority of mediocre ones receiving a wage, whom no one has ever heard of.

It is precisely the relationship between various class mechanics, which are far from a randomly thrown-together "bag" that the "no concrete classes" set somehow reads into the rules that speaks to the social character of class. Members of powerful groups frequently receive training that has no clearcut and immediate advantages to the increasing power in the short term, but that establish legitimacy and create solidarity within the group. For some classes (druids, rogues) these are class languages; for others (wizards), they are texts that organize knowledge into schools, and require extensive study for entry; for others still (monks, clerics) monastic or priestly institutions, or oaths (paladins) that stipulate their responsibility to society at large. For some classes, their various abilities are articulated by disposition toward certain terrains (which are, after all, social settings, too). The people who chafe at these restrictions and "useless" abilities are typically the same people that don't recognize that classes have any social standing. But this gets back to the crux of the issue: should a character's class always be about power projection in any circumstance (and in a parallel fashion, the display of the character's untrammeled individuality)? What is the impact of this approach on the social character of RPGs as a hobby?

* * *

In the concluding part of this essay, I will examine variations of class composition and organization in different settings, and different stages of a character's career.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Putting More Class In Your Setting. Part I: Arguing About Class

I've observed and participated in debates about classes in fantasy-historical RPGs for about two years. Typically, a lot of people invest more time and energy in debating the game than playing the game. Disagreements commonly take the form of personal affronts, as if people who disagree with you are telling you how you should play. Or that they are dictating the terms on which you will join their game, which you will not accept. The fact that people are exploring variants and not asking you to play in their game is lost on many, many people. There is no earthly reason why every approach to the game has to be "for everybody" - to my mind, the more different playstyles and interpretations of the rules, the better.

The main stances in the debate - when it is a debate, and not a shouting match, boil down to these two positions. The first advertises itself as the more "modern" one in that it is willing to go beyond the letter of the rules, and thus, to promote player creativity. To gamers who hew to this line, classes (like fighter, wizard, rogue, and so on) are mere conveniences that have become ingrained in rule systems over the years. They have become refined over time by designers concerned that they are "balanced" and don't outshine one another, and that they should have plenty of built in options for players always looking out for new variants. Ultimately, classes are simply congeries of different mechanics that are grouped with one another for reasons of historical accident - once upon a time, thieves had various street-smart skills, and could effectively stab people in the back, so today's rogues are skill-monkeys who have sneak attack. Regardless of how little sense it makes to package these skills together, such players accept them with the proviso that they can portray the character who possesses such skills in any way they want, and that there is no imperative to play such a character as a member of a criminal underground. The notion that classes might be actual categories of people within the game setting strikes the proponents of this position as an anachronistic embarrassment - sure, there used to be names associated with every level in every class, and people would train to advance from a footpad to a cutpurse; but now, the game has evolved, and become much more complex. In the age of "player agency", we don't need built-in mechanisms in the rules to structure our relationship with the game world. My rogue can be a sleuth, my monk - a tavern brawler, and my warlock - a person who woke up with magical powers one day for no explicable reason whatsoever. The existence of monster statblocks, instead of NPC character sheets, for bandits and mages points to the fact that player characters are unique, as no class groupings into which PCs fit exist in the game world: class is a meta-game convention. So long as both you and I accept the mechanics - i.e. rules that stipulate how much damage I do, how fast I run, what spells I can cast - under particular circumstances - no one can tell me any different. And God forbid anyone suggests that a skill-based game may better meet this desire for flexibility - I'm playing this game - presumably, because there is a much larger pool of players available.

"Fluff isn't rules!"
The other position becomes, by default, the "traditionalist" position. Its proponents hold that what's inside the package called class should be, in varying degrees, reflected on the outside wrapper. The "story" part of the class - including membership in organizations (e.g. monasteries, thieves' guilds, temples, etc.), knowledge of class-specific languages (druidic, thieves' cant), explicit relationships with creatures granting powers (gods, warlock patrons, magical schools) - is no less a part of the "rules" than more explicitly "mechanical" aspects of the character. The notion that the two are separable, and the latter is freely jettisoned is a tendentious reading of the rules. Despite a more open design philosophy that allows playing against type, even the more recent 5e iteration, no less than the oldest ruleset (excepting the OD&D rules, where class remained undefined) stipulate that class is a profession - nay, more - a calling (PHB, p. 45). Adherents of this position often view ignoring the "fluffier" aspects of the class as a pretext to powergame - if you are not socially grounded in a class with a distinct structure, traditions, and training, then you can switch classes at the drop of a hat, to build a minimaxed machine - the real reason for the obsession with "mechanics", they aver. Even if a nominally classed character is built as a roleplaying challenge rather than an optimizer's dream, it can be aesthetically awkward. Since the game is a fiction, technically, everything can be reskinned - not only class, but race, weapons, skills, special abilities, etc. In extremis, the ruleset becomes a huge and clunky filter behind which the "real" character is concealed, and at that point, playing the character within that ruleset becomes rather awkward. An additional argument put forward by "traditionalists" is that characters in the setting - whether controlled by players or by the GM - should be able to get a read on someone's class by closely observing them - how often can a particular combatant strike in a given time period? What sorts of spells can a particular caster effect, and how many, per day? Since empirical observation of a character may provide verifiable data, that suggests that real in-game occurrences reflect real class differences, and not just metagame elements that are visible to players, but obscured from their characters behind a narrative veil.

Although my own take is closer to the latter position, I do not gravitate to it out of primarily "traditional" considerations. I also feel that much of the argumentation - on both sides, is quite weak. The idea that simple observation can generally yield accurate information on what class a character belongs to strikes me as quite faulty. Perhaps I can observe the kinds of spells someone casts - if I understand what they are doing (e.g. by making successful Arcana checks). I'm willing to allow that spells are cast pretty differently - they use different formulae and motions, the casting may have to integrate accurate astrological information and the position of the caster - all things that a non-expert would have a difficult time noticing. As for noticing that someone is "striking" several times in a six-second interval, that seems like a particularly weak argument. Hit points have always been an abstract measure, and being "hit" is not equivalent to sustaining a "wound".

But just because hit points or to-hit bonuses are abstract characteristics that should not have clearly defined counterparts in the game world, it does not follow that all in-game characteristics are of this abstract nature. Class seems to me quite distinct from characteristics that have simple measurements. Not only is it explicitly defined as a profession (or more), it is almost certainly the single-most important factor that determines what characters can do, and what makes characters different from one another. People can ignore classes as social structures if they like in their settings, just like some people (including myself) largely ignore alignment, but there is little support in the core texts themselves for treating class as just a bag of abstract mechanics. When the game's lead designers throw together a new variant, they are pretty explicit about the fact that they design the story elements first, and then throw up numbers to represent aspects of these elements. It is also not clear to me why only the "crunchy" elements should be regarded as "rules", whereas the "fluffy" elements are "optional".

Again, every group or GM can make their own decisions about this, but the uncritical "base-superstructure" reading, where numbers are primary, and mere words can be freely ignored, reflects a certain real-world philosophical positivism, and has nothing to do with how to properly approach the text of the rules. Why is the damage caused by a druid spell more of a rule than the druid's ability to speak the Druidic language (which a lot of "modernists" object to as an unnecessary sop to grognards, because their druid has nothing that binds them together with other druids, who may not even exist)? Typically, the "crunch first" positivism tends to run even deeper: ask most "modernists" if race, as opposed to class, is a "real thing" in the game, and they will usually say yes, because race is reflective of the belonging to an in-world biological group, and is therefore not just a "bag of mechanics" that can be interpreted in any way one wants. When you point out to them that they are transposing sociobiological "race realist" ideology from our world onto the game world, that nothing says that biological races in the game world are pure and have genetically hard-wired characteristics, and it's only one small hop away to accusations that you are a Social Justice Warrior, after which the game discussion inevitably breaks down. So, apparently, in D&D (!) race is real, and class is not, because Science.

But class is much more important than race, or any other game characteristic, in determining what characters can do. It is only in a class that one advances in level, and if level is better conceptualized as an abstract measure in many cases, a character's sense of advancement more broadly has a place in the game-world. The advancement is what draws a lot of players - its psychological rewards likely account for D&D's continued success in the face of competition from more "realistic" skill-based systems. While the psychological satisfaction from advancing in a class is felt by players, there is a case to be made that the purely qualitative advance in a class models in-game character satisfaction much better than simply increasing a score in a skill. Skills may be concrete know-how, but a class is an archetype, representing a heroic model developed by a hero, demigod, or important organization. Surely, the official use of archetype to refer to subclasses is not an accident - it represents the mythic quality of classes, meaning that the elements of a class are not some randomly thrown together abilities, but a particular archetypal pattern or style. And archetypes are culturally specific - the notion that every setting must contain exactly the same classes and subclasses - especially in this day and age, when variants are freely available and easy to make - is a bit silly. It may be objected that  non-official variants are not balanced - but that is really a misdirection. The official classes aren't perfectly balanced, either - you hear complaints about this constantly. Variants introduced in the Unearthed Arcana pdfs are in play-test mode, and have not been properly "balanced"; other designs deserve the same kinds of trial periods and considerations. And staking everything on balance does strike me as the kind of crunch-obsession that creative, role-play oriented types that want to redefine classes claim to be getting away from.

The notion that game settings should be open to all official (and semi-official) classes in order to accommodate player desires is a matter of taste, but there is no earthly reason why this has to be every GM's default position. Players do desire options, but there are few players who are committed to playing just this option in your game, no matter its flavor. If you explain your setting and present the new class options to new players, the vast majority of them will find something they like, and will often suggest several variants. There are people who insist that all Japanese restaurants should serve spaghetti and meatballs, but those who operate Japanese restaurants rarely build their menu around such expectations. It is similar with games - just make sure your setting is interesting and coherent, and that your class options work well together. And don't just take away options - provide new taste sensations.

Another argument against class as an in-game reality highlights the introduction of backgrounds as alternatives. If you want characters to fit into a setting - now you have a category explicitly designed for the purpose. The character can come from a noble, or artisan, or soldier, or hermit background. These place the character within a social category, and even provide guidelines for how they shape the characters' outlook on life, personality, and actions. But when it comes to classes, partisans of the no-class-in-the-gameworld approach insist that every character should be sui generis. But why should that necessarily be the case? As a fan of backgrounds precisely because they imbricate characters in society, I see no earthly reason why they obviate classes doing so as well. As characters grow in power, the background from which they originate fades into the background, while class becomes increasingly more important. Why does growth in power automatically make characters anti-social? Would not a real society put a significant amount of effort into regulating and institutionalizing power - regardless of the fact that these efforts would not prove 100% successful? Classes can be professions and callings - just of a different type than those represented by some backgrounds. They are professions and callings for those who wield a lot of power. People who wield a lot of power in our world may be special, but that does not stop them from belonging to (often special) social categories.

When it comes down to it, the underlying attitude of rejecting class as an in-game social structure stems from a real-world anti-societal ideology, rather than a disdain for old-school classes with their level designations as unnecessary crutches for a quality role-playing experience. The emphasis on mechanics (and the parallel belief in races as real in a biological sense) derive from a real-world worship of numbers and natural-scientific categories. But insistence that characters are bound by society is treated with suspicion: my character has completely untrammeled free choice in anything he or she does. In conjunction with the scientistic worship of crunch and race comes the Romantic cult of the genius: my character is a unique Renaissance Person, and possesses peculiar talents, not reducible to any training or structure. This is reflected in the common framing of "good role-playing": a good role-player is good at narrating his or her character's feelings, but not necessarily at figuring out ways to make a character part of the party, or the world. It remains a mystery, however, why people and monsters cluster around power-wielding people, ignoring the sea of mediocrity around them. It is similarly unclear how organized society survives in the face of their onslaught, or how monsters, who supposedly care not a whit for society, are sitting on piles of treasure that society produces and recognizes as valuable. Suspending disbelief to allow a very dense penumbra of powerful creatures around the PC party surrounded by a completely mundane world requires significantly more effort than just supposing that the world has classes to which a significant few belong. Moreover, the party is said to wield earth-shattering powers that developed completely spontaneously, and no one around them can have any sense whatsoever about what these powers are and where they come from - their attitudes toward the PCs can take the form only of overwhelming awe. It is curious that a people who are drawn toward D&D's high magic settings expend so much energy on spinning narratives that deliberately conceal magic's existence as a source of power.

The existence of monster statblocks is hardly a clinching argument in favor of classes being limited only to PCs. The statblocks are mere shorthand conveniences, because creating NPC character sheets is a more involved effort, and can be more difficult for a GM to manage during gameplay, since classes have become more complex, and have more whistles and bells than they did in many earlier editions, and since the GM is commonly managing multiple NPCs and adversaries during a typical encounter. But that doesn't mean they don't belong to classes. NPC statblocks are simplified variants of character sheets, and a glance at the spell powers of those monsters that are casters clearly shows that they possess spell slots, as would characters of a comparable level. On top of that, the DMG itself clearly cites "giv[ing] the NPC a class and levels" (p. 92) as one of the three main options for recording their statistics. The capacity of some people to misread the rules they cite as chapter and verse always astounds, (though I do allow that, as in poetry, religion and theory, there can be "strong" misreadings capable of generating creative approaches to the game).

In short, most of the typical arguments that modern (i.e. 5e) design militates against having classes as elements of game settings fall decisively short of the mark. Claims that even if the letter of the law does allow this (out of consideration for tradition), most people no longer play that way, has no substantial evidence behind it. One (admittedly unscientific) poll suggests that the community is pretty evenly split between "no", "yes", and "it depends" positions on "class in the game". A more scientific poll administered by lead designer Mike Mearls notes that 52% of GMs build their NPCs using the Player's Handbook - that is, with classes and levels. Having classes as in-game elements is therefore not atavistic or anti-modern, but neither does it have to be traditionalist. Every GM is within their rights to decide if the "traditional" classes are well-designed from a narrative point of view, and whether they fit into their settings. If some are found wanting, they can be jettisoned or replaced. Nor does the existence of classes as structures mean that everyone in the gameworld is clearly aware of them, or able to figure out the precise capabilities and levels of particular characters. In our world, the vast majority of the population doesn't really understand the difference between a molecular and a particle physicist, any more than a common peasant knows the difference between various spellcasting classes. But that doesn't mean that the differences don't exist in an institutional sense. Having classes also doesn't mean that they are all closed fraternities with their specific bylaws, symbols and chapter houses. Some classes are clearly more open along their perimeter than others. But again, that doesn't mean they aren't there.

* * *

In Part II of this essay, I will examine the setting-based reasons why classes are likely to be organized as concrete social groups.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Chapter 25– Walls of Bone and Flaming Skulls

Wherein some of the heroes negotiate the River of Fire, while others get burned...

The forest master demands a toll
Chonkorchuk returns from his search for the bridge to the sounds of his companions looking for trees to chop down. Though he did not find what he was looking for, his journey was eventful. An hour away, along the River of Fire and on the edge of the woods, he encountered a curious hairy man with small horns, wearing his clothes backwards, and bast shoes on the wrong feet. The man demanded tribute for trespassing through his woods, and would not countenance Chonkorchuk’s claim to be working for Baba Yaga, so the hermit decided it would be best to turn invisible and to make himself scarce. Along the way back to where he left his companions, he saw what appeared to be a storm drifting along the edge of the River of Fire. Divining the storm to be an intelligence of some sort, Chonkorchuk went deeper into the woods.
At the riverbank, his companions try to decide on a course of action after the Knights took away Plamen and Khurshid, and severed the rope across the River of Fire to prevent them from being followed. Raskel, who led the effort to build that bridge, is at a bit of a loss: his spellbook, and his casting ring have both been taken by the knights, and his abilities without them are limited. He can still summon Kutkh, and toys with the idea of having the raven fly him in fox form across the ravine, but then decides the plan is too risky, and initiates a plan to chop down a tall tree so that the party can somehow get it to stretch across the canyon. Unfortunately, no one has an axe. Across the river, he sees a large storm cloud, or whirlwind, moving quickly in their direction, and bids his companions to take cover deeper in the woods. That is when Chonkorchuk invisibly comes up behind them.
Chonkorchuk does have an axe – two, actually, one being a battleaxe he stole from the Knights. But there is no way to drag a huge tree to the ravine. Instead, Raskel has Kutkh carry Chonkorchuk’s fefila – much lighter than his fox form – across the ravine, and then has her fetch the severed ropes that dangle down into the chasm. The fefila proves surprisingly adept at tying knots, and after checking and rechecking the rigging, and refashioning the harnesses, the entire rest of the party, along with Katarina and Vasya, cross to the other side. The black rider passes somewhere nearby soon thereafter, and darkness descends, so the party breaks camp, deciding to leave off the search for their companions until the return of the light.
* * *
The darkness falls on the Knights and their prisoners at roughly the same time. They have not gotten far from the River of Fire, and also have no desire to travel through Baba Yaga’s realm in darkness. On top of that, Khushid, who is exhausted after his transformation, is useless to them until he rests up. They set up their camp, and release their mounts into the woods. Inside the prisoner’s tent, and under the watchful eyes of Hans and Franz, who do not speak the Noriki tongue, Khurshid and Plamen exchange words after the southerner’s nightly prayers. He informs his companion that he cannot perform the transformation until he has regained his strength, and therefore, does not intend an immediate escape. Plamen, for his part, tells Khurshid that he also can transform into an animal, but has kept this ability secret for the time being.
The following morning, the Knights break camp, load their prisoners onto one of the horses, and set off in search of Baba Yaga. Along the way, Plamen converses with a raven who is Kutkh, sent by Raskel to find his companions. Plamen informs the bird about the direction they are traveling in, but Father Sigismund grows suspicious, and Plamen is forced to break off, while Kutkh flies back with news for her master.
Baba Yaga seems to have a metal aesthetic
Surprisingly, they are rewarded after less than half a day’s travel. In a clearing in the woods, they discover a large roughly circular wall built of bones, with a padlocked gate made of femurs and tibias. Bone posts along the wall are crowned with skulls. Father Sigismund and Andreas inform their captives that it is time for them to do their job, and to find a way to enter the compound. They recommend that Khurshid perform his transformation trick again, but the Rakhman says that he cannot do so again until tomorrow. After toying with the idea of smashing the gate, he and Plamen decide to circle the compound under the cover of an obscurement the healer conjures up by burning some leaves. While they do so, the Knights keep an eye on them as best they can from under cover of the forest. Initially, all goes according to plan, but Khursid steps on a branch, and the skulls awake, and float up from their perches. One hovers over its post, and launches a fireball out of its mouth before the two prisoners are able to take cover. The fireball strikes Plamen directly, devouring his bearskin cover, scorching his skin, and sending him into shock. His companion is a bit luckier – he is blown over by the blazing heat of the ball, has his hair singed and his skin covered with soot, but he manages to keep hold of his senses, and drags Plamen back into the woods before the skull can pursue them, or other skulls arrive on the scene.
Unexpectedly, Father Sigismund and the knights turn out to possess healing abilities, and between three of them, they are able to restore their prisoners and stop their skin from breaking out in terrible blisters. The price of their aid – Plamen and Khushid must return to circling the compound to look for another way in. Plamen calls on his obscurement again, and the two continue to circle the wall of bone, hoping that their magical veil offers them better protection this time around.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Chapter 24 - The River of Fire

Wherein the party temporarily makes common cause with the Knights...
Chonkorchuk attempts to shroud the Knights in darkness, then turns himself invisible, and sends the fefila into their camp to try to free the prisoners. Raskel attempts to put them to sleep. Both efforts to stop them fail. One of the knights draws a radiant sword that effectively dispels the darkness, and Raskel's sleep spell fails to slow them. One of the knights compels Raskel to abandon any plans to escape, and their leader Andreas runs him down. The fox-man tries to distract him with questions about why he is in the Otherworld, and claims of allegiance to their faith, but Andreas is unperturbed, and bind Raskel, before forcing the prisoner to walk back to their camp.
Chonkorchuk has somewhat better luck. He has trouble getting away from the knights on account of the complete darkness of the Otherworldly night, and falls prey to the trees' craggy roots on several occasions. Still, he is invisible, and the two knights have trouble finding him and striking him down. He manages to get away, and enters the camp. There, the fefila has already sneaked into the prisoner’s tent unseen, though Father Sigismund detected it, and tried to compel it to depart. The fefila resisted his efforts, and hid underneath a rug. Meanwhile, Chonkorchuk finds his way into one of the empty tents, where he lifts a battleaxe, a fur cloak, as well as the Hat of Disguise and the Pipes of Fear the knights had taken from their prisoners earlier.
The other two knights, Hubertus and Dietlieb, return empty-handed. Sigismund is upset, but thinks Chonkorchuk can be made to cooperate. Andreas threatens to torture or kill the captives unless the missing party member submits. Sigismund calls him out in a booming voice, but Chonkorchuk convinces the Knights he can help them reach their destination if they leave him free. The stress of the fight has made his memories of his earlier sojourn with Baba Yaga return. He remembers that the River of Fire, beyond which her realm lies, is within two days travel, and he offers to lead them there.
The Knights allow Chonkorchuk to depart, and set up for the rest of the night, making sure they keep the rest of the prisoners under control. They finish interrogating Khurshid, whom they have been keeping  in a separate tent tent. They have found that he has facility with horses, and tell him they can use his skills to tend to Baba Yaga’s herd, so as to win a magical horse by performing this service for her.
The following day, the Knights call forth their horses, load their prisoners on them, and break camp. After traveling for only half a day in the direction indicated by Chonkorchuk, they find the River of Fire. It is 100 feet wide, and 300 feet deep, with liquid fire flowing at the bottom of the ravine. Chonkorchuk recalls there being a rickety wooden bridge here somewhere, though none is to be seen here. He also recalls a fire-breathing serpent living in the ravine. He then goes off in search of the bridge.
The Young Falcon flies across the River of Fire
After he departs, the Knights order the prisoners to find a way to cross the river. Kurshid admits that he can transform into a hawk, and does so. The Knights send him across the ravine with a rope. He changes back, and ties the rope to a small tree on the other side. The Knights’ archers shoot a bolt with another rope attached to the other side, and Khurshid fastens it to another tree. The effort of transformation has left him exhausted, and doubts arise about the quality of his rope work.

Raskel takes over the planning. He has Khurshid retie the second rope below the first, and then has the archers shoot over most of the rest of the rope, to create a thicker bottom rung for people to walk across. He then has Khurshid recheck the ropes on his side, and the Knights tighten those on their side. Finally, the moment to test the bridge arrives. Plamen and Katarina are the lightest, but ultimately, Plamen is chosen to make the first crossing. Raskel designs a harness for him to fasten him to both the top and the bottom ropes in case he slips or one of the ropes snaps. The half-polevik succeeds in getting to the other side, and helps Khurshid to tighten the knots again. Then it’s the turn of the heavily armored Knights. The archers are sent first. Hans watches one of the bottom ropes snap, but it is then shot back across and retied. He also slips, but the harnesses keep him attached. After Hans, Franz, Sigismund, Andreas, Hubertus, and Dietlieb all make it across successfully. At this point, Andreas decides that they have the two prisoners they need, and severs the ropes from their side of the ravine. The Knights then summon their steeds, and walk into the woods, leaving the rest of the party stranded on the other side of the River of Fire.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Sociology of the Murderhobo: Part III: Attitudes of Established Society

In Parts I and II of this project, we looked at constructions of the adventurer as a social type - in fantasy fiction in the former, and in the historical record of their own life experiences in the latter. In this installment, we shift the lens to look at adventurers from the vantage point of more established social groups in society. By virtue of their social weight these groups define social categories to a greater extent than the relatively shiftless adventurers (excepting the most successful examples). An overview of social attitude toward the adventurers' "craft" therefore gives us a general sense of how typical non-player characters will regard adventurers, with what justification, and under what specific conditions. The analysis will be divided into four sections, covering attitudes of the most populous classes (the "masses"); those of the elites and rulers; those of the middle orders (whose social attitudes are probably most resonant with those of the "murderhoboes" themselves); and finally, those of peripheral groups living beyond the margins of "civilization" (whose viewpoints most resemble those of the "monsters" of historical-fantasy RPGs).

The Peasants

When adventurers think about their relationship with the lower orders as a whole (a rare occurrence - the masses are typically providers of basic goods and services, and occasionally nuisances or colorful distractions), they typically cast themselves as Defenders of Civilization and its people. When they are met with anything other than adulation, the results are usually bloody - for the peasants in the shorter-term, and occasionally, for the adventuring party in the longer term.

Adventurers lead risk-filled lives, and as they commonly manage risk through the use of violence, any heightened sense of risk will lead them to lash out at its real or purported sources. When such risk emanates from the salt-of-the-earth commoners, it usually points to a trust deficit, which the adventurers then inflate to ludicrous levels. Peasants, like adventurers, also lead risky lives, though for different reasons. Rather than the danger of being murdered by enemies, the primary risks are of accidental death or maiming, disease, famine, fire, and other mundane hazards that can curtail already short lives, or make a person incapable of fending for one's own self. While adventurers attempt to ride the tiger of risk, commoners tend to be risk-averse: they lack the wherewithal to face the risk as individuals, and even as communities, peasants tend to be weak, disarmed, and isolated (hence, poorly informed, and without powerful allies).

Often, encounters with strangers who both appear to be dangerous, and who do not understand the plight, lifestyle, and culture of the typical peasant, will be fraught with danger. Even if the peasants are currently oppressed by a villain - a local landlord who sets very high tax-rates, a group of marauding monsters in the nearby woods who ravage the village with regularity, or impose an onerous tribute - the local oppressors are known quantities. From the peasants' perspective, these tyrants will probably still be there long after the adventurers have moved on to greener pastures. If the oppressors see the adventurers as a threat, they might take their frustrations out on the peasants after the adventurers have left. And the adventurers may, quite possibly, prove to be worse: it's not clear what social or legal force checks their behavior, and it will take time to adjust to their demands - an adjustment that has already been made with respect to evil overlords or harrying bandits. Moreover, reporting on, or perhaps even capturing, an adventurer, and turning him over to the local villain may actually lead to rewards, or at least to a lightening of the burden imposed on the village, or on a particular family. And if disobedience to a lord or bandit gang leads to a symbolic punishment for the ring-leaders (since indiscriminate slaughter would destroy a major source of income), who can be sure where a bloodbath unleashed by visiting adventurers will end? In play, once player characters feel that it has lost the trust of the populace, they rarely stop until the danger to their own lives is uprooted completely. And once they have had such an experience in one village, the attitude of complete distrust toward locals becomes an ingrained mindset.

Petrashevsky and his followers were also subjected to a
mock execution for their efforts
A 19th century example amply illustrates the rigid limits of do-gooder plans for improving peasant lives. Mikhail Butashevich-Petrashevsky (1821-1866) was a university-educated Russian aristocrat who picked up French utopian ideas during his residence in the capital. But as Petrashevsky was also a serf-owner, he actually had an outlet to put some of these ideas into practice. On his tiny rural estate, he ordered the peasants to construct a Fourierist phalanstery, where they would engage in communal and egalitarian living, and imbibe the latest ideas of modern science during leisure hours. Since Petrashevsky was their lord and master, the peasants dutifully complied with his orders to build a communal kitchen and rooms for winter work. But ordering them to move into the phalanstery was a step too far: they burned it down, knowing no good will come of it. Similarly, adventuring parties, who similarly often come with rather anachronistic ideas about how the peasants can improve their lot would probably meet a similar response even in the best of circumstances - that is, in circumstances in which one of them happens to actually be the local landlord.

* * *

In circumstances where important-seeming visitors are merely passing through, have wealth to share, or can facilitate connections to VIPs, locals can be considerably more forthcoming and generous. Consider this testimony from the German scholar Adam Olearius (1603-1671), who traveled through Russia on route to Persia in the 1630s and 40s. The "friend" referred to below is in fact a member of the Muscovite aristocracy, but given Olearius' attitude toward Russian women of any class, who "have lewd tongues, are given to Wine, and will not let slip the opportunity to pleasure a friend", and his reference to "Muscovites" in general, his characterization applies to peasants as well:

"The greatest honour a Muscovite thinks he can do his friend, is to let him see his Wife, to be presented with a Cup of Strong-water [i.e. vodka] by her, and to permit he should kiss her. Count Leo Alexander de Slakou gave me to understand so much at my being in Muscovy in the year 1643. Having dined with him, he made me withdraw into another Chamber, where he told me, that he could not make a greater expression of the respects he had for me, nor a greater acknowledgment of the obligation he had to his Highness, than to shew me his Wife. She presently came in, very richly clad in her wedding-cloaths, and follow'd by a Gentlewoman with a bottle of Strong water and a Silver Cup. The Lady bid her fill out, and having put it to her mouth, presented it to me, and oblig'd me to drink it off; which I did thrice together. That done, the Count would have me kiss her, which I the more wondred at, in regard that kind of civility is not yet known in Holstein. Wherefore I would have contented my self to have kiss'd only her hand; but he so kindly engag'd me to kiss her lips, that there was no avoiding of it. She presented me a Handkercher, embroider'd at the extremities with Gold, Silver and Silk, with a deep fringe, such as are presented to the Bride on her Wedding day. Afterwards I found a note fasten'd to it, wherein was the name of Stresnof, Uncle by the Fathers side to the Great Dutchess."

Despite these displays of Russian hospitality, Olearius nevertheless expresses a typical adventurer's distrust toward the locals, as he regards their attitudes toward foreigners as being reciprocal. He relates that they treat all foreigners who will not dress in the local manner with disdain, and consider any display of scientific knowledge as an instance of sorcery. As for their own talents,

Olearius looks in on a peasant enterprise
"[t]heir industry and subtilty is chiefly seen in their Traffick, in which there is no craft or cheat but they make use of, rather to circumvent others, than to prevent being deceiv'd themselves... And whereas cheating cannot be exercis'd without treachery, lying, and distrust, which are its constant attendants, they are marvellously well vers'd in these qualities, as also in the Lectures of Calumny, which they commonly make use of against those on whom they would be revenged for theft, which among them is the most enormous of all Crimes, and the most severely punish'd. To this end, they are so cunning, as to pawn at, or get secretly convey'd into their Lodgings, whom they would accuse, those things which they would have believed were stollen from them, or they thrust them into their Enemies Boots [...]"
* * * 

There are times, however, when peasants look past their xenophobia, open themselves up to foreign adventurers, and are even willing to accept their leadership. This happens during periods when society has been so destabilized that the peasants no longer accept the legitimacy of their elites, and look for any opportunity to revolt. In these circumstances, they will follow non-local charismatic leaders, but only provided that these leaders speak to them in a cultural idiom they understand, and tell them what they want to hear.

An example of such an antinomian time and place is Central Europe in the 15th and 16th century. Though the economy had gradually recovered from the near-collapse following the Black Death, the heightened expectations of the lower classes coincided with a nearly universal loss of faith in the elites (and especially in the Church), which, after all, failed to stave off the Plague. As a result, popular attitudes mutated into a heady brew of egalitarianism and the expectation of an imminent Millennium, which would lift up the lowly, punish the powerful and the wicked, and sweep away all laws and restrictions.

The Drummer of Niklashausen casts a spell over willing
peasant followers
In 1476, in the south German town of Niklashausen, within striking distance of Bohemia, where the millenarian revolt of the Taborites had only been crushed four decades earlier, and where apocalyptic sentiments remained strong, there arose a popular preacher named Hans Böhm (c. 1458 - 1476), himself likely of Bohemian origin. Böhm's background had been that of a popular marketplace entertainer (drummer or piper). At one point, Böhm, who was accustomed to summoning people to a dance, called them to assemble around a statue of the Virgin in Niklashausen, where all pious people were to assemble so as to be saved from God's wrath while He remade the world. Although Böhm initially preached a message of simplicity with the consent of the local priest, his sermons soon took an anti-ecclesiastical turn. He proclaimed that the killing of priests was pleasing to God, and would be judged as a meritorious act. Soon, he bade people to stop paying tithes, to fish, hunt, and pasture their flocks wherever they liked, and announced the abolition of all social ranks. Crowds of supplicants numbering in the tens of thousands flocked to the new prophet, who took credit for Niklashausen's bountiful harvest despite inclement weather.  Before long, the Holy Youth claimed the power to heal the sick by the laying on of hands, and to free any soul from Hell.

Eventually, the authorities, led by the Archbishop of Wurzburg accused Böhm of sedition, captured him (possibly naked, in a tavern), and transported him to Wurzburg Castle. Böhm's followers marched en masse to the castle walls to free their prophet, and when the castle defenders fired warning shots from their cannons, they decided that the Virgin was protecting them. However, when the cannons began to target the besiegers, most of them quickly scattered, while the rest were easily routed, though supplicants continued to make pilgrimages to Niklashausen (despite the fact that the authorities had the church where the Virgin's statue stood demolished).

The episode of the mystical ministry of Hans Böhm demonstrates that under the right conditions, peasants are prepared to follow charismatic outsiders. These conditions include appealing to local value-systems and simmering religious and political expectations, as well as continued demonstration of the leader's efficacy. Once a prophet fails, however, erstwhile supporters melted away, or even turn against him with vehemence that matched their earlier devotion. The latter transpired slightly more than two decades later in Florence, when the friar Girolamo Savonarola's (1452-1498) followers angrily abandoned him when he backed down after committing to undergo a trial by fire. In addition, as Böhm's case shows, charismatic outsiders are likely to be manipulated by local notables (who had scores to settle with the Archbishop), or other unscrupulous manipulators, such as the local hermit who saw Böhm's preaching as an opportunity to head up a major revolutionary movement, and acquired the same kind of power over Böhm himself that the Holy Youth had over his followers.

The Elites

Encounters between adventurers and established elites sometimes take place after the former have acted as disturbers of the peace (e.g. by slaughtering peasants), or when the latter are forced to step in to lay down the law and assert their place atop the social hierarchy. More frequently, however, members of the elite play the role of quest-givers. Why they do so requires a bit of explication. In principle, the legitimacy of rulers and the upper orders rests on their role as protectors of commoners against all manner of dangers. Not wishing to risk their life to drive back marauders, and preferring to let desperadoes handle the case might seem like an obvious rationale, but hiring outsiders to do your job is not always politic. Typically, the upper orders have something approaching a monopoly on the use of force, and have access to martial training that most commoners lack. Not every elite is a warrior elite, but in conditions where arcane forces may be equally potent on the battlefield (as is the case with many historical-fantasy RPGs), priestly, scholarly, and even moneyed aristocracies have access to some of the same kinds of combat abilities that adventurers exhibit as well. Additionally, a too-frequent resort to the use of mercenaries to solve problems will undermine an elite's standing, and over time lead to a proliferation of Hans Böhms who will attempt to enthrone themselves as a new elite. Wise elites are aware of these dangers, and approach the use of adventurers with great care, and only under certain circumstances.

The case of the 14th century English adventurer John Hawkwood (1323 - 1394), who headed the White Company of mercenaries in Italy, is particularly instructive in revealing the motivations of his employers (chiefly, Italian princes), as well as the measures they undertook to contain the damage caused by their association with adventurers when the relationship turned toxic. Sometimes, the princes' employed foreign mercenaries precisely because they were outsiders. Local commanders might be too deeply ensconced in the power structure, and would be far more likely to parlay their success into political leverage, whereas foreign mercenaries cared mostly about money. In addition, locals were often deeply implicated in strife between city-states, and between social orders within urban communes. A victorious local commander might have individual or political scores to settle, and was far more likely to engage in mass reprisals after capturing a city. Foreigners like Hawkwood were much less likely to upset a delicate political balance, and they were also desirable specifically because they trained to use less violent modes of conflict resolution. Their military offensives generally sought to inflict economic pain (though cutting off trade, or destroying crops and livestock), engaged in theatrical psy ops like mock executions, and targeted opposing unit commanders (by poisoning them), so as to cause the disintegration of enemy forces. They eschewed the systematic bloodletting of pitched battles when they could.

The White Company on a business trip
Nevertheless, dealing with mercenaries was still fraught with danger, so Hawkwood's employers put in failsafes to avoid the most common pitfalls. Relationships between employers and mercenaries were designated in detailed contracts called condotta, which testify to great levels of distrust that existed between the two sides. Mercenary commanders, as well as their lieutenants were made to individually and collectively swear on the Bible, not only making the lieutenants responsible for fulfilling the contract's terms even if the commanders were not, but also sealing the agreement with religious sanction (which, in fantasy environments, can bear magical force). The mercenaries were also made to swear not to molest women in the territory of their military operations. The division of spoils between the condottieri and the employers were also clearly spelled out: typically, the mercenaries were entitled to all movable property, whereas the employers would keep any immovable property captured (a policy that would make sense in many in-game situations). In case disputes between the two parties erupted, a panel consisting of representatives of both sides would attempt to iron out conflicts, though typically, transposing the disagreement onto legal terrain would yield advantages to employers, who had access to better jurists. The condotta were also time-bound and concluded on a short term basis - typically, six or eight months - allowing employers to stall, and then legally dissolve problematic relationships with their mercenaries. However, if at the end of the negotiations, the employers were seen as being in arrears in regard to timely payment, they could be targeted by vengeful mercenaries, who were only too happy to switch sides.

Foreign mercenaries, like mystic revolutionaries, could only operate and prosper under certain conditions. Late 14th-century Italy evinced a number of highly atypical features in comparison to a "standard" medieval European environment. It suffered from a high degree of political fragmentation, but most of the city-states and small duchies that competed for primacy, to a much greater degree than the rest of Latin Christendom, at the same time benefitted from inflows of great wealth as a result of being connected to centers of trade in the Muslim Near East. The surplus wealth, coupled with sharpened political conflict acted as a lodestone for military specialists from relatively more impoverished areas (like England), who no longer even had the luxury of going on Crusade to the Levant, as these had ended late in the previous century. Moreover, though the social hierarchy in Italy had been greatly shaken by the Black Death, the influx of wealth, and the struggles between patricians and plebeians in the cities, the old aristocracy was still secure enough atop the social pyramid to regard mercenaries as interstitial players rather than as a serious political threat. The monthly wages of an experienced and successful commander like Hawkwood could be astronomically high - 140 times greater than those of an average Florentine construction worker - but war was a highly speculative business, and failure on the field could result not only in financial losses, but in the loss of life. Wealth could thus be fleeting, and the best guarantee for maintaining or improving one's status was still a title of nobility, which is why many commanders of mercenary companies were in fact aristocrats. Those who were not knew that war ennobles - that is, their best chance of winning a title was to qualify for a land-grant from an employer through excellence on the battlefield. Hawkwood's own early biography is a bit murky - some sources claim that he was the son of a tanner, while others attest that his father was a fairly wealthy landowner. Whatever the case, his aristocratic claims certainly strengthened by the end of his career, when he married Donnina Visconti - illegitimate daughter of the ruler of Milan. But the age of the mercenary came to an end at the turn of the 15th century, when private foreign companies were replaced by permanent armies working with long-term contracts. The business of Italian power politics was too dangerous to be left to outsiders.

* * *

In situations where the elite is new and there are significant opportunities for social mobility, adventurers may be recruited on the basis of personal connections. Functionaries holding high administrative positions are probably surrounded by strangers and foreigners, and are looking to strengthen their own standing by bringing in relatives or old friends they believe they can trust. They may also feel a sense of debt to such people, and will be looking to set them up in lucrative sinecures.

The story of Abu Ali Hasan ibn Ali Tusi, better known as Nizam Al-Mulk (1018-1092), and Hassan-i Sabah, better known as the Old Man of the Mountain and the founder of the order of Assassins (c. 1034 - 1124) exemplifies this sort of relationship. Though the story is likely apocryphal, its popularity throughout the Persian- and Arabic-speaking worlds until our own days offers important insights on the conceptualization of associations between members of the ulama scholarly stratum and political administrators in the Muslim world. According to the story, the two men (as well as the famed poet-astronomer Omar Khayyam) were fellow students in a Nishapur madrasah, who made a pact, vowing that when one of them obtained a high position, he would help the others do the same. The first to rise was Nizam, who became vizier under the Seljuk conqueror Alp Arslan (and then de facto ruler of the empire under his son Malik Shah). At that time, Hassan appeared at the Seljuk court, and demanded that Nizam fulfill his pledge, which the latter gladly did. After acquiring a ministerial-level position in Nizam's cabinet, the friendship began to experience tensions. When the young Malik Shah ordered an audit of the Sultanate's economy in 1078, his vizier promised to complete the project in one year's time, but his protégé Hassan averred that he could do so in just forty days. Unsurprisingly, the inexperienced ruler chose Hassan for the task, undermining Nizam's position at court. The likely explanation for Hassan's connivance was that he had already converted to the Isma'ili form of Shia Islam while in the service of the Fatimid Caliph in Egypt, and thus, sought the opportunity to sow chaos and dissension among the Sunni Seljuks, who ruled over his Iranian homeland, and constituted the dominant power in the Dar-al-Islam. The canny Nizam struck back, however, and was able to insert altered records into the documentation utilized by Hassan. In the end, the report submitted to the Shah contained such absurd figures, that Hassan was expelled from court. Like the employers who hired John Hawkwood's mercenaries three centuries later, Nizam used his command of the administrative apparatus to manage (and if needed, eliminate) competition from upstarts.

The assassination of Nizam Al-Mulk 
The last blow in the struggle was struck by the hand of a killer in the service of the Old Man of the Mountain after he had already created the assassin network, and taken residence at the impregnable fortress at Alamut. The man, dressed as a dervish, laid low the vizier whose name meant 'The Order of the Realm'. Just over a month later, Malik Shah himself was poisoned while out hunting. While modern scholarship attributes his death to the followers of the assassinated Nizam (or to the nominal Sunni Caliph in Baghdad), legend has the Old Man taking the credit: "Here I am, at Alamut, master of all I survey: and more. The Sultan and the peasant Vizier are dead. Have I not kept my vow?" The message, instilling fear of the radical sect even after it had lost most of its power, couldn't be starker: people who were responsible for the affairs of state should steer clear of parvenu adventurers.

* * *

News of Musa's spending spree reached Europe
Peril from adventurers could come not only in the form of dark conspiracies or poisoned daggers, but also from the economic and social instability they brought in their wake. In historical terms, the equivalent of adventuring parties hauling in a dragon hoard into town and completely destabilizing the economy was an extremely rare occurrence, but it did happen. The most famous case involved the Malian king Mansa Musa (1280s - 1337), who went on pilgrimage to Mecca via Egypt in 1324. Musa was the ruler of a sizable empire, not an adventurer, but despite the fact that he brought 60,000 people with him to make his mark as a major potentate in the Dar-al-Islam, he was still regarded as a peripheral upstart, and was told to bow before Egypt's Mamluk sultan. Each person in his retinue carried an average of four pounds of gold bars, while each of the 80 camel in the caravan carried an average of 175 lbs. of gold dust. Overall, Musa's wealth has been estimated at 400 billion dollars in today's prices, which makes him the wealthiest man in all of recorded history. When he arrived in Egypt, Musa's people spent gold liberally, and the locals jacked up prices by a factor of five. As a result, the value of gold in the whole of the Mediterranean economy, of which Egypt was a key part, declined between 10 and 25%. The story goes that Musa had to borrow gold at exorbitant rates prior to his return, possibly because he and his people had spent everything and had nothing left, possibly because of his generosity and heart. But one wonders whether this punishment may have been imposed on him by his host Al-Nasir Muhammad as a sanction for creating economic instability, and as a way to put an upstart who had difficulty in recognizing his seniority in his place.

Polo in a Mongol caftan. Did he have
gems sewn into it?
An analogous fate awaited Marco Polo (1254 - 1324) on his way back to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan. On route, Polo carried a considerable hoard of coins, which was protected by the Khan's paiza - a passport that gave him the right to pass unmolested anywhere in Mongol domains. When he got to the Empire of Trebizond - a corrupt little remnant of the Byzantine Empire on the north coast of Anatolia, he found himself beyond the limits of the Khan's protection. Local officials then confiscated the equivalent of 4,000 gold hyperpyra, which apparently constituted the major part of the wealth the Polos acquired during 20 years of service to Kublai. As a result, Polo ended up converting the rest of his treasure into gems, and sewing these into his coat lining - an act every fantasy RPG adventurer should be able to identify with. Though Polo still had enough money to purchase a palazzo after his return to Venice, and died a wealthy man, he apparently found the seizure of his treasure in Trebizond so humiliating, he left it out of the autobiography he dictated to Rustichello da Pisa.

He's ki-rin (giraffe), brought
from the Horn of Africa as a gift
for the Chinese imperial
Sometimes, the threat of treasure-hauling adventurers was more sociocultural than monetary. The case of the famous 15th century 'eunuch admiral' Zheng He (1371 - 1433/5), who commanded Ming Dynasty treasure armada of over 200 ships, and nearly 30,000 people around the Indian Ocean and probably carried even more valuables even than Mansa Musa. He represented the most powerful state that existed in the world at the time, though as a Muslim and a eunuch, he was regarded as an outsider at court by the Confucian establishment, and his appearance in ports of call from Malacca to the Horn Africa must have been regarded as that of an adventurer. The treasure he carried was primarily intended for export and trade - to get rulers throughout the Indian Ocean area to recognize Ming suzerainty (though He had earlier played the decisive role in placing his patron Zhu Di on the throne as the Yongle Emperor, and had no compunction in using force in situations where bribery did not suffice). However, after his patron's death, He was marginalized. The scholar-administrators, and the Yongle Emperor's son and grandson, who shared their outlook, believed that the treasure fleet voyages counteracted the spirit of the dynasty's foundational documents, which rested on the principles of legalism, the strict observance of ritual, and austerity. After He's seventh (and largest) voyage, he died, and was buried at sea. His fleet was burned, all records of the voyages were destroyed, and the admiral's name was omitted from the dynasty records. In this way, a traditional elite asserted itself against an upstart deemed to be a destabilizing influence.

* * *

But the biggest threat adventurers could pose to established elites was as potential usurpers of their primary calling and source of legitimacy - as protectors of the people. Unlike in the case of the Drummer of Niklashausen, where an adventurer did become the head of a faction of counterelites, and had to be confronted directly in defense of the existing social order, in other instances, upstarts pursued a more typical trajectory of RPG heroes - they rose up to fight against evil invaders, specifically seeking to place rightful rulers back on the throne. But even in this expressly conservative role, they still constituted substantial dangers to the powers that were.

St. Joan of Arc - a People's
Paladin who ended badly
The story of Joan of Arc (c. 1412 - 1431) is perhaps as close as one can reasonably come to a narrative about an FRPG paladin in the historical record. At age 13, Joan saw visions, ostensibly of saints, who told her to drive out English occupiers from France, and to crown the Dauphin (later Charles VII) in Rheims Cathedral. She sought Charles out, convinced him of the authenticity of her visions and her seriousness of purpose. She donned armor, assumed effective command of French forces, and succeeded in capturing the strategically vital town of Orleans, after which she fulfilled the main part of her mission, and saw the Dauphin crowned. But the following year, while on campaign to capture Paris, she was taken prisoner by the Burgundians, who sold her to their English allies. The latter in turn put her on trial for witchcraft, and the presiding Bishop of Beauvais - an English collaborator - succeeded in having her condemned and burned at the stake. In the meantime, the newly-crowned French king did not rush to her defense before she fell into the hands of his archenemy. The evidence is somewhat murky, but his main advisor - the Grand Chamberlain Georges de la Trémoille had a brother who served at the Burgundian court. Even if, as recent evidence suggests, Trémoille did not betray Joan, he likely saw the charismatic youngster, and her adventurous foreign policy as a serious risk to himself and to the kingdom, and his master, through his failure to act, seems to have acquiesced. The paladin's main task had been accomplished anyway, and God's anointed king assumed his rightful place as the protector of the French.

The Middle Orders

Unlike commoners, who are either in need of saving or are victims of the adventurers' rapine, or elites who act as quest-givers (or agents of reestablishing authority), the middle orders are usually peripheral players in dramas where adventurers assume starring roles. Typically, these are providers of goods and services, informants, operators of establishments where adventurers meet to unwind or discuss plans, and, in rare instances, part of the supporting cast that accompanies the heroes on their missions. Despite acting as "extras", their interstitial positions in society make them the most similar to adventurers in their ideals and outlooks on other social groups, so representatives of the middle orders will generally display the greatest spiritual kinship with adventurers of any other NPC groups.

A good model for the interaction between skilled specialists from the middle orders and adventurer types may be found in the relationship between Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527), Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519), and Cesare Borgia (1475 - 1507). Borgia is as good an exemplar of a murderhobo as one can find in historical sources: he was a scion of a provincial aristocratic family trying to make a name for itself in big politics. Smart, opportunistic, amoral, and capable of monstrous violence when it advances his goals, he is treated with a great deal of understanding by these two representatives of the Humanist Renaissance, who are also reliant on him to advance their careers. For Machiavelli, his first impression of Borgia - his future model for a Prince -  is that of a lord who is

splendid and magnificent, and in war there is no enterprise so great that it does not seem small to him; in the pursuit of glory and territory he is unceasing and knows neither danger nor fatigue. He arrives at a place before anyone is aware that he has left the place he was at before. He is beloved by his soldiers and has in his service the best men in Italy. All this makes him victorious and formidable, particularly in light of his constant good fortune.

What particularly elicited Machiavelli's admiration was Borgia's single-minded determination to a cause, his uncanny competence, resilience of character, ability to draw on either force, guile, or intellect to get results, and his ability to make rapid and shrewd decisions - in other words, for what might nowadays be called his "professionalism".  As a diplomat and budding political advisor, the Florentine was excited by Borgia's unscrupulousness, disdain for half-measures, and simultaneous flexibility - qualities he saw lacking in his own Republic, which had by then become decrepit, and lacked the force or will to put its proclaimed principles into practice.

Leonardo's sketches of what is thought to be Cesare Borgia
We lack direct evidence of Leonardo's sentiments toward his condottiere employer, but Borgia's own treatment of da Vinci is well-documented. The 'Scourge of the Romagna' clearly respected Leonardo's superior intellect and treated him as a friend. He ingratiated the artist to enlist his services as a siege engineer by appealing to his vanity and keeping him well-dressed. Leonardo, for his part, preferred to overlook the purposes to which Pope Alexander VI's ruthless son was putting his designs - he preferred to extoll the human spirit that inhered in them, and to assert that his engines of war could only be put to evil ends by evil men. Whether he thought his own employer was evil is unclear, but sketches of a man regarded by art historians as Cesare Borgia suggest that Leonardo, like his Florentine compatriot Machiavelli, also perceived his boss' intelligence and rather empathetic to the cares etched on his prematurely aged face.

* * *

Modena's 'scandalous' Kabbalistic
dabbling continues to attract attention 
Not all representatives of the middle orders exhibit the genius or adventurousness of a Leonardo or a Machiavelli, obviously. The majority might evince much more parochial and nervous attitudes toward adventurers or adventurous activities. This is especially true regarding people who reside in highly regulated social environments. We can look at the autobiographical notes of Leon de Modena (1571 - 1648), a Sephardic rabbi who hailed from Venice and resided in various towns all over northern Italy. Although Modena's main professional activities were of a liturgical and pedagogical character, he also gambled, dabbled in Kabbalism, and was known to lay out horoscopes, occasionally in tandem with Christian astrologers. Modena's writing was replete with pangs of guilt regarding all the latter activities, which he experienced as addictions which he could not control. In the wake of bouts of gambling or engagement in magical practices, Modena always retreated back to the ghetto, to his main work, and to family life. The flings with the outsider Christian "adventurers" were to be atoned for by discipline, fasting, and prayer.

Peterhof - the German "ghetto" in Novgorod
Modena's discomfort with the "adventuring" life is not fundamentally different from that of the peasants discussed earlier. If he is to be thought of as a kind of adventurer himself, we may note that his bouts of adventuring activity were brief, and that the law forced him to live in special compounds apart from the bulk of the population. Special laws keeping adventurers apart from most of the populace - outside city walls, or within special compounds, might not be out of place in historical fantasy settings. In another instance, Hanseatic merchants who arrived in medieval Novgorod were to stay in a special settlement called St. Peterhof, where the Germans had their own churches, and were largely ruled by their own laws. But entry into the German district by locals was generally prohibited. While the two societies were linked by trade networks, the authorities at least attempted to keep human interaction between their representatives down to a minimum - and this in what was then one of the greatest commercial emporia in the world.

The Barbarians and the Monsters

As discussed at the outset of this series, the frontier mentality of rapidly expanding settled civilizations lies at the root of the fantasy RPG construction. The notion that that all those who live beyond the borders of settled lands (ruled by the descendants or appointees of the gods, of course) are bloodthirsty, ever-aggressive, and rapacious savages, reproduced in the image of every "monstrous humanoid" race that populates fantasy universes, goes back to the earliest agricultural empires. For the Egyptians, the Aamu (Amorite) "Asiatics", who populated the Sinai badlands just beyond their own frontiers, were early prototypes of the proverbial orc or gnoll.

The "wretched Asiatics" arrive in Egypt
"As for the wretched Asiatic, unpleasant is the place where he is, [with] trouble from water, difficulty from many trees, and the roads thereof awkward by reason of mountains. He does not dwell in one place, being driven hither and yon through want, going about [the desert] on foot. He has been fighting from the time of Horus, he never conquers, yet he is not conquered, and he does not announce a day of fighting, like a thief whom a community has driven out... But I lived, and while I existed the barbarians were as though in the walls of a fortress... I caused the Delta to smite them, I carried off their people, I took away their cattle, until the detestation of the Asiatics was against Egypt. Do not worry about him, for the Asiatic is a crocodile on his riverbank, he snatches a lonely serf, but he will never rob in the vicinity of a populous town."

The "monsters'" state of permanent aggression (but without deep social significance) may be a valid enough trope for the classic frontier-type setting in which murderhoboing adventurers are "heroes" simply because they hail from the "right" side of the frontier. World-builders who want to take a deeper look at the terrain occupied by adventurers will quickly conclude that the monsters' apparent state of permanent mobilization would obtain only in those cases when some of them had at least a halfway reasonable expectation of victory against the forces of civilization. In instances where the barbarians are clearly aware of being outmatched, a very different attitude toward representatives of the stronger side is likely to dominate.

* * *

Typically, small, weak groups of "barbarians" would avoid confrontation with the forces of civilization to the best of their ability. They would likely adopt a strategy of avoiding most contact altogether, by taking up residence far from civilized frontiers, and engaging in interaction only through intermediaries, or indirectly, The 12th century "silent trade" of Muslim merchants with the Finno-Ugric Iugra in what is today northern Russia is case in point. Traders would come and leave their wares (including weapons) near a large tree, and leave. If the goods were of sufficient quality and quantity, the nomadic hunters would take them, and leave a certain number of pelts of fur-bearing animals; if not, they would leave the merchant goods untouched, until their counterparts made necessary adjustments, or left without making a deal. No direct encounter with the representatives of "civilization" took place.

Arawaks greet Columbus, shortly before being designated
as "monsters" and slaughtered en masse
Alternatively, the weaker party would initiate the encounter with open arms. This generally happened in cases where the "barbarians"belonged to relatively egalitarian groups that practiced gift-giving and exogamy, and maintained a curiosity toward outsiders that had not (yet) been stained by bloodshed. The initial encounters between the Arawaks in the Bahamas and the sailors of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria featured displays of dancing, gift exchange, and not a few instances of sexual congress - until the latter decided the time had come to show the flag clearly demonstrate the power relationship between the two groups by engaging in wholesale butchery. At that point, the sailors' own chaplain, Bartolomé de las Casas, relates, the natives took to the hills, where the Spaniards began to hunt them down with dogs. Though they tried to hide from the invaders, on rare occasion the natives managed to kill a European as revenge for widespread acts of murder and rape, but the invaders would answer each death by executing 100 Arawaks. In Mexico, the resistance against conquistadors took more extreme forms, as refugees from Aztec cities fell upon their oppressors, and would slaughter Spanish garrisons until no one was left alive. This was the version of events that was impressed upon newly arrived "adventurers", who were told that the bloodthirsty natives attacked after refusing to accept the just rule of the conquistadors' God and king, whom, as las Casas justifiably points out, the natives had never before had the occasion to hear about, much less meet.

* * *

Greater barbarian militancy was exhibited in areas where the military and technological balance was not so decisively skewed in favor of the sedentary empires. The steppe frontier in Eurasia was maintained for nearly 2000 years because the diffusion of arms, the possession of a superior cavalry, and the potential to put most of the adult male population under arms gave nomads the possibility to compete with sedentary empires militarily while maintaining their own way of life. On occasion, they could even organize huge commonwealths that could conquer even the largest empires. Representations of Mongols, Gökturks, and Xiongnu inform the images of monstrous humanoids that threaten civilized life, but as Christopher Beckwith justifiably points out, in the relationship between Outer Eurasian settled empires and Inner Eurasian steppe "barbarians", violence and expansionism was typically initiated by the former. Chinese, Persian, and other administrators practiced a strategy of luring the nomads into a position of economic dependence on their far more populous and productive neighbors, after which they initiated policies of economic sanctions, followed by divide- and-rule tactics. Nomadic attempts to conquer sedentary kingdoms usually followed as a response, when negotiations broke down, threats proved ineffective, and migration was seen as undesirable or impossible.

China trapped the Dzungars, their last
serious steppe rival, on both sides
of the frontier
One aspect of the relationship between nomadic warriors and settled civilization that's overlooked by the racialized "monstrous humanoids" model is the diversity of the "barbarian" population. Typically, "civilized races" - humans, elves, dwarves and others, are counterpoised by the "monstrous races" - orcs, goblins, reptilian folk of various kinds, and so on. Aside from a few dubious urban half-orcs, the racial divide is largely congruent with imperial frontiers.  However, nomadic groups tend to be mixed, despite the emphasis on reciting lineage (which is often fictitious anyway). Not only does a nomadic lifestyle typically preclude endogeny, groups living beyond imperial frontiers often led healthier and freer lives, thus serving as magnets for sedentary peoples who devoted their lives to agricultural toil. It is frequently pointed out that the main function of the Great Wall of China was not so much to keep the barbarians out, as to keep the native population in. To be more precise, it was to keep the recently settled nomads living within the walls and allied with China from wandering back out onto the steppe. Along these lines, Thomas Barfield argued that China used a differential strategy on their "inner" and "outer" frontiers. Initially, the "inner" barbarians would be approached with gifts, which were given on the condition that they pledged to cease raiding Chinese towns, would not migrate beyond walls and join up with more distant nomadic groups and accept imperial seals. This meant that they would henceforth be recognized as imperial officials. Their military forces would then be marshaled to defend Chinese frontiers against the "rawer" barbarians that resided beyond the Wall. Chanyus and khans who concluded such treaties rarely felt bound by them over the long term, but reneging on deals with the empire gave China the excuse to cut off the flow of gifts (on which nomads had become dependent), to adopt a more aggressive military posture, and to conclude deals with the chieftain's rivals, thus further dividing nomadic confederacies internally. Thus, though nomads quickly became savvy to the Chinese diplomatic game, there would now be "barbarians" on both sides of the frontier, and over the long term, it became difficult to resist Chinese economic, bureaucratic, and cultural encroachment. Successful conquests of China only hastened the sinification of nomads. Conquering elites became new dynasties that had clients and alliances beyond the wall, which ultimately resulted in the movement of Chinese imperial frontiers further north. Later, the spread of religions such as Buddhism among nomadic populations further helped tie them to (Tibetan) cult centers under Chinese control, and to erode cultural links with other steppe groups. 

Cinematic depiction of True Son
Diversity on the "barbarian" side of frontiers was also promoted by demographic factors. Given the overwhelming superiority of numbers of the settled populations, groups living beyond the frontier had to replenish their losses from wars in any way they could, including by kidnapping children from towns and villages, and raising them as their own. The Light in the Forest - a story of a different frontier in 18th century North America, tells the tale of John Cameron Butler - a boy born to British colonists, but taken prisoner by the Lenni Lenape of Ohio, and raised as one of their own. In just four years, Butler, now called True Son, was so fully assimilated that he did not want to return to his family after a treaty with the British stipulated that all white captives should be returned.

The upshot is that in situations of a relative balance of power along the frontier, relationships between adventurers and "barbarians" may be quite multiform. Some "barbarians" may be treaty-bound to "civilized" authorities. They may be ready to abandon their commitments at the drop of a hat, or to affirm their newfound status to become "more Catholic than the pope" and join adventurers in an effort to downplay any connection between themselves as other "monsters". Conversely, monster groups beyond the frontier may seek to ally with powerful adventurers by offering them service, marriages, and gifts, or looking for ways to cause captive adventurers to "go native".

* * *

"Monsters" may thus relate to adventurers as potential trade-partners, in-laws, employers, negotiating partners, or even fellow adventurers dedicated to clearing the frontier of other "monsters" with which they are at odds, or no longer identify. They may try to avoid contact with adventurers altogether. However, at times, "monsters" may act in accordance with the traditional script, as implacable foes.

Varus commits suicide
In the example of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest, the allied Germanic tribes can easily be cast in the role of the "monsters". The Germans were lead by Arminius (or Hermann) (17 BCE - 21 CE), son of the chieftain of the Cherusci tribe, who had been taken as a hostage and raised in Rome. There, he had not only become a citizen, but also attained the rank of equite (knight). After being put in command of Cherusci auxiliary units beyond the limes in the first years of the Common Era, Arminius suddenly (or not) had a change of heart, and turned against his Roman overlords. The specific target of his plotting was one Publius Quinctilius Varus (46 BCE - 9 CE), a Roman official appointed as governor of newly conquered provinces beyond the Rhine by Caesar Augustus. Varus was another classic murderhobo - the scion of an ancient, though impoverished patrician family, he hitched his political wagon to Augustus, and as a result, was rewarded with appointments as governor, first in Africa, then in Syria, where he quickly acquired a reputation for harsh methods of rule and leveling high taxes. After being transferred to Magna Germania, Varus once again distinguished himself by his oppressive policies, which particularly included the practice of crucifixion against local insurgents. It was likely this conduct that set off Arminius, who, while working as Varus' advisor, began to secretly forge an anti-Roman coalition among heretofore disparate Germanic tribes. Under the pretext of recruiting additional native allies, Arminius led the three legions under Varus' command into a trap in Teutoburg Forest. There, during a rainstorm, the Romans were surrounded by Germans, who rained javelins down on them. After managing to escape and retreating all night, the legions wandered into another trap set by Arminius' allies, where they were trapped on the edge of the woods by German attackers behind a trench and a wall. After a desperate attempt to storm the wall failed, the remains of the legions were ridden down by German horsemen. Ultimately, over 20,000 legionnaires were slaughtered in the rout, and the 17th, 18th and 19th legions simply ceased to exist. Varus himself succeeded in committing suicide and avoided capture, which was for the best, for he did not live to witness the barbarians' monstrous reprisals. His body, along with those of many of his comrades were left unburied on the field of battle. Other captives or fallen solders had their heads nailed to trees, were hung from gibbets, ceremonially sacrificed to the Germans' gods, cooked in pots, enslaved, or, on occasion, ransomed back to the Romans.

In summation, it may be said that adventurers who acquire a reputation for terrorizing natives beyond the frontiers of civilization are likely to be considered as evil incarnate by the "monsters" who live there. This attitude will likely be shared by most rank-and-file monsters, who would gladly take any opportunity to completely obliterate or humiliate these adventurers, both to satisfy their own need for revenge and to build up confidence and élan among groups that generally consider themselves inferior. Thus, once they have set on such a path, adventurers can expect no quarter from the "monsters" on whom they build their careers. As the case of Arminius illustrates, they should expect to be betrayed by monstrous allies, even if these allies can fully express themselves in civilized idioms. Which will naturally only convince them to commit even more to their murderhoboing ways.

* * *

Although monstrous leaders may have a stake in stoking anti-adventurer rage among their rank-and-file, some 'boss monsters' may, contrariwise, seek to recruit adventurers to work for them.  They may do so in order to settle petty scores with various other monstrous rivals, to increase their own prestige, or, even, to proclaim themselves as players in a wider system of relations that include established "civilized" powers. There is no contradiction, from the point of view of these boss monsters, between working to make a deal that increases their fame and power, and manipulating their underlings to continue to hate adventurers along the lines outlined in the previous example.

A illustrative case of a relationship between such a boss and an adventurer is the association between Ivan the Terrible (1530 - 1584) and Heinrich von Staden (1542 - after 1579). Ivan's "monstrosity" is frequently overstated, including by authors of Russian-themed RPGs - the 16th century was a turbulent time in Western Europe as well, and the single example of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre makes Ivan seem fairly mild by comparison. My characterization of him as a monster boss simply follows the conceit utilized above - he was a ruler of a state beyond the boundary of a more powerful Germano-Latin civilization, but he attempted to assert himself as an imperial-caliber player within this sophisticated system. Ivan conducted an active, though ultimately unsuccessful diplomacy with other European states. Most famously, he carried on a correspondence with Elizabeth of England, in which he attempted to leverage the burgeoning trade between the two countries into a possible marriage with the Virgin Queen, a potential asylum (should his attempt to bring Muscovy under more stringent central control go awry), and most importantly, into a military alliance with England against his Baltic rivals Sweden and Poland. Ivan also sought to increase his realm's power and his personal prestige by bringing a variety of foreigners, of which von Staden is probably the most infamous, into his service.

Heinrich von Staden in the film Tsar'. Portrayed by the
Finnish actor Ville Haapasalo, von Staden was depicted
as a designer of torture and execution devices.
Prior to coming to Russia, Staden - a native of Western Germany near the town of Münster - had been a seminarian, a mason, and a merchant. He found himself in Livonia, near the borders of Ivan's Muscovite state, because he fled his native city after he was accused of stabbing a fellow student with an awl. Here, after raiding Muscovite-occupied territory and serving some time in prison, Staden despairs of Livonian lawlessness, decides to switch sides, and enters Ivan's service. Apparently, the foreigner's literacy and facility with languages made him an attractive servitor, and he was immediately taken on by Ivan's governor in Dorpat, and from there, conducted to Moscow. Here he received an invitation to the tsar's table, was granted a salary, a silk caftan, a village, and an appointment to the Service Land Chancery, which distributed land to the tsar's servitors. By this time, Ivan had placed a third of all Muscovite land under his direct control. This land, called the Oprichnina - 'the land apart' - was run by officials called oprichniks, who constituted something like Ivan's secret police. The oprichniks' main preoccupation involved uncovering plots against the tsar by hereditary princes and boyars, and, not coincidentally, seizing their property. Staden became a leading oprichnik, and accompanied Ivan in what the German, in his chronicles, later called plundering expeditions against his own people. Staden grew fabulously wealthy from this plunder, which in some cases had to be seized from monasteries, or involved axe-murdering hereditary princesses - an episode Staden relates with no small amount of glee. The plundering life in the service of the tsar did present significant dangers to a foreigner with few sources of social support. Sometimes, arguments broke out over how the loot was divided, but a bigger source of problems was storing the loot. Much of Staden's narrative is taken up with complaints against servants and neighbors who stole from him, or attempted to blackmail him (by claiming in court that Staden, contrary to the tsar's ordinance, planned to leave the country, for instance). His fellow Germans - seekers of fortune much like him - were among the worst offenders.  Ultimately, following the 1571 raid on Moscow by the Crimean Tatars, Ivan was forced to rehabilitate the hereditary princes and to dissolve the Oprichnina. As a result, Staden, after nearly dying in the raid, lost his holdings, moved north, and invested his not inconsiderable wealth into a successful fur trade. Eventually, he left Russia aboard a Dutch ship. After returning to Europe, Staden lobbied the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to conquer Muscovy, and presented him with a fairly detailed description of the wealth and defenses of the country of his erstwhile overlord and employer.

The relationship between Ivan and Heinrich von Staden provides a useful model for how boss monsters and adventurers might interact. After coming to Russia, Staden experienced dramatic upward mobility, because Ivan found his cleverness and ruthlessness useful. Despite becoming a highly placed official, Staden's life in the shadow of the Muscovite court was precarious. He was constantly preyed upon by proximate members of the lower orders (rank-and-file monsters) and his fellow adventurers, who also wanted to capitalize during an unstable time rife with wars, plagues, and invasions.. Despite being in favor, Ivan's protection was rarely enough, and Staden had to use his wiles and pay off competitors, neighbors, and compatriots to leave him be, at least until such a time as he could turn the tables on them. Boss monster Ivan preferred to have his henchmen's feet held to the fire. And when he needed to start relying on the established elite, Ivan cut Staden loose - though the latter repaid him by plotting to organize a Habsburg invasion of Muscovy.

* * *

This concludes the overview of the relationship between adventurers and established social orders based on historical examples, and the study of murderhoboes as a social type within game settings. In the concluding essay of this series, I will turn to look at the sociology of the adventuring party as a small group, and examine the question of how depicting such a group by players can be made into a deeper and more enjoyable experience over the course of a campaign.