What's "adventure"?

edited July 2009 in Story Games
In terms of standard D&D style fantasy tropes, what are the qualities that make a situation an Adventure?

Consider three scenarios:

1) A chick with a sword and a dude who can do magic descend into some mysterious caves in search of treasure. The caves turn out to be full of monsters! It's touch and go for a while, but they eventually manage to kill all the monsters and get the treasure.

2) A chick with a sword and a dude who can do magic decide to see what's on the other side of those mountains no one's ever been over. The mountains turn out to be really tall! It's touch and go for a while, what with the cold and the avalanches, but they eventually manage to cross the mountains and make detailed maps of the valley beyond.

3) A chick who makes swords and a dude who quietly studies magic are minding their own business when suddenly their village is attacked by bandits. They fight back, but it's really scary! They watch their friends and loved ones die! It's touch and go for a while, but they eventually manage to kill all the monsters and turn to the grim task of burying their dead and rebuilding what's left of their community.



In standard D&D fantasy, #1 would absolutely be an adventure.

In The Real World, "adventures" throughout history have been much more like #2, but in standard D&D terms, crossing some mountains doesn't sound very adventure-y.

Thinks like #3 happen all the time in The Real World, but only a clueless dick would call them adventures. In D&D, I don't think that scenario would be considered adventure either, would it?

So what is it, again in standard D&D fantasy terms, that distinguishes Adventures from just plain Dangerous Situations?

Comments

  • To be honest, in my experience with D&D the adventure is whatever scenario the DM has planned, or if it's a more sandbox game, what the plyers go do that involved some sort of challenge with the expectation of reward. I'd say that all 3 of the above situations would easily be counted as adventures in the traditional D&D sense. I mean, sure, #2 and #3 are more non-standard than #1, but since they involve danger and a thing that needs to be done, they're an adventure. There really doesn't need to be anything adventurous in the modern sense about it.
  • I'm going to take a bit of a Hero's Journey point-of-view on this: An adventure occurs when the Hero(s) leave the Ordinary World and enter the Special World.

    #1 and #2 are adventures under this approach; #3 probably isn't.
  • edited July 2009
    I'm confused. Are you asking "what makes a viable D&D adventure, that's fun to play, as opposed to a Dangerous Situation, which may be more realistic but is actually dull in play, either because the system isn't suited for it or players simply do not find it compelling"?

    I'm personally not keen on playing travelogues and would probably not be enthusiastic about #2, but I think D&D 4E handles situations like that quite nicely with Skill Challenges. I'd be more interested in playing #3 than #1, frankly - with a nicely crafted set of encounters, I think it could be quite a fun starting "adventure".

    Is that what you're asking?
  • 1, 2, and 3 are all Adventures, but only 1 and 3 are probably playable adventures. 2 is proably just some narration and maybe some skill rolls in the middle of some other adventure...

    Is it fun to play? Then it is an adventure!
  • Doh! I just thought about Mouse Guard, and how that game makes 2 a playable adventure too. Check it out, if you haven't yet.
  • I think having a win condition (or ability to triumph)

    I think 2 is just fine as an adventure (I dont think we need to kill monsters to be called an adventure)

    that said, I may enjoy playing moppy emo goth kid or the guys who just had the village destroyed by bandits but I dont think either count as adventures. Conversly if I give myself a task I can win at after the genocide (like say revenge or something) that seems a lot more like an adventure.
  • edited July 2009
    Weird, I just started writing an article about this a couple days ago!

    When it's done, I'll post it, but here's the thrust of it:
    The protagonist is from somewhere. He has a Home. Home defines him in some way, whether that means he lines up with Home's qualities, or deviates from them, or rebels against them entirely.

    Then, the protagonist ventures out (etymology attack) from Home. He enters a place that is Not Home. The rules here are different. There's something out here that the protagonist wants, but in order to get it, he's going to have to come up against conflict, springing in some way from the clash between Home (represented now solely through the protagonist himself) and Unhome (represented through his entire environment).

    The amount of attention paid to Home varies, as does the actual nature of Home and Unhome -- sometimes they're places, sometimes circles of people, sometimes more metaphysical, philosophical, or abstract. But that basic principle holds. It is what unites Homer, JRR Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Robert A. Heinlein, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, James Fennimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others under the single banner of "adventure."

    EDIT: to be clear, the article is about using D&D to do adventure Story Now
  • I should have been more clear: I'm not talking about an adventure, in the "adventure module" sense. I'm talking about adventure itself, as in "the thing that adventurers do."

    I'm asking because it seems that, for me, "adventure" is one of those things like "pornography" or "role-playing", where I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.
  • Marshall: That's good stuff, right there!

    The venturing out has to be on purpose, right? If you're forced to go to Not Home, or if Home somehow becomes Not Home, that's something different from adventure?
  • In terms of D&D, yeah, (1) is an adventure, and (2) is now that 4E has brought us a usable conflict-based resolution system (which incidentally is pretty much independant of the system, and portable to any trad system with skills in it). (3) really ought to be, but you won't get your D&D group playing it.

    In terms of 'story', (3) is right on the money. The protagonists go through a series of trials and emerge changed at the end of it. (2) has a few possibilities for this, (1) probably has more, but (3) is the daddy for 'Hero's Journey' goodness.

    But, in terms of (1), the heroes emerging changed is reinforced completely by the system (if we're playing D&D)... they probably found some kewl magic items, and maybe gained a level, and some kewl feats / powers / etc. And as much as we may sniff at this being 'meaningful character development', it's how meaningful character development is defined within many systems. So let's not be too sniffy about it.

    I guess they're all 'adventures'; the Mouse Guard reference supports (2)'s case. I's rather think: (1/2/3) is the adventure. How do I make it rock?
  • Well.... Hm...

    Ok, take Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's an adventure novel. The adventure starts when the kid protagonist gets, as you might expect from the title, kidnapped.

    Or The Odyssey by Homer. The adventure starts when Odysseus is trying to get home and is sent radically off course by Poseidon into utterly uncanny places. (Odysseus is still "at home" while packing up from war to return to Ithaca. That's within his range of expected stuff. Although, interestingly, in The Iliad, Achilles' adventure began when he went to Troy despite having been told by the Oracle that he would die -- the invincible Achilles enters Not Home when he gets to a place where he can be killed.)

    However, note that in both of those examples, the protagonist is trying to get back to Home.

    But, whatever, it's not just going from Home to Not Home that makes adventure. It's having something you want, and trying to get it, and facing conflict sourced from the Home/Not Home clash. (Just as Odysseus faced, say, Polyphemus the Cyclops, which was a pretty damn Not Home kind of situation.)
  • Actually, you know what? Odysseus made the choices that led to his adventure in full knowledge that the gods were likely to fuck with him. David Balfour in Kidnapped left home a bit before he was kidnapped. So, maybe you're right: the Home/Not-Home switch should be deliberate?

    Oh, shit, no, wait. What about The Wizard of Oz? It's a very standard fantasy adventure novel, but the adventure pretty much happens to Dorothy. Hm.
  • Is this another one of those useless "definitions" discussions? Just asking. There seems to be a kernel of something here that I'm interested in, and Marshall's dialogue with himself is touching on it, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why it's useful for us to define what an "adventure" is in broad, generalized terms.
  • Definition schmefinition. All the stuff that I'm saying is just my personal opinion, informed by a very very large amount of reading. I started writing about it because I had a thing to say about a certain way to play D&D to which this adventure stuff was related -- and then I posted part of it in this thread because it seemed relevant to what Ron was talking about.

    I don't wanna define shit. I'm just discussin'.
  • It's useful to me because the game I'm writing for Jake's Awesome Fantasy Game Contest is a fantasy adventure game. It says so right there my introduction: "This is a fantasy adventure game."

    I realized, though, that despite the countless number of adventurers I've pretended to be over the last quarter century, despite the countless number of adventures I've pretended to have, I don't have a clear concept of what actually makes something an Adventure. It seems both disingenuous and futile to tell people they should roll dice this way and manage game currency that way in order to create make-believe adventures until I can nail down what I think Adventure actually means.

    So yeah, I didn't mean this to be one of those random "let's argue for 30 pages about what 'roleplaying' or 'game' means" that crop up on RPG forums all the time. I actually hope to (and already am) get some real insight out of this discussion.
  • Posted By: Marshall BurnsActually, you know what? Odysseus made the choices that led to his adventure in full knowledge that the gods were likely to fuck with him. David Balfour inKidnappedleft home a bitbeforehe was kidnapped. So, maybe you're right: the Home/Not-Home switch should be deliberate?

    Oh, shit, no, wait. What aboutThe Wizard of Oz? It's a very standard fantasy adventure novel, but the adventure pretty much happenstoDorothy. Hm.
    I've somehow managed to never actually read or see the movie version of Wizard of Oz, if you can believe that.

    But I have read all sorts of (usually godawful) "ordinary person gets transported to a world where MAGIC is REAL! Can they find their way home?" fantasy novels, and in most of those I can remember, the protagonist usually finds some kind of safe place in the fantasy world -- a Temporary Home -- that they then choose to leave in order to do the dangerous things in Unhome that will eventually get them back to their real Home.
  • The intention on part of the adventurer is bs. Accidental adventure happens all the time in fiction and real life. The protagonist doesn't have to venture out - adventure can find the protagonist.
  • #3 is an adventure, but the pair who fight back are not adventurers, since their choice is to return to normal, not continue to face adversity. It could be a D&D one shot. Or some other system. A town banding together despite the tensions running through the community, hoping that this latest visit from the fanatical warrior-priests does not devolve into wild-eyed accusations of demon-consorting and yet more shootings...
  • Posted By: Ron Hammack the protagonist usually finds some kind of safe place in the fantasy world -- a Temporary Home -- that they then choose to leave in order to do the dangerous things in Unhome that will eventually get them back to their real Home.
    Now THAT is fascinating. I think I'm going to have to re-read the Wizard.
  • Adventure literally means arrival, but in the modern sense refers to unusual or novel experiences. Therefore, an adventurer seeks out adventure. Therefore, adventure is what adventurers seek out. And round and round we go.

    Bilbo was an adventurer. Frodo went on an adventure. Both experienced things barely imagined by their peers.
  • You know... I've seen an awful lot of people over the years start banging the "Hero's Journey" drum and I've got to say... I generally don't buy it. That doesn't mean you _can't_ do a Hero's Journey using D&D or other systems, just that there's very little of it going on. Especially in most D&D games.

    D&D characters and an awful lot of other types for that matter are stuck in the Road of Trials stage. While individual "Adventures" (modules) might try and follow the Hero's Journey pattern, the _character_ doesn't ever actually grow. That's because part of the goal of D&D play is the opposite of the Journey: to keep on going. Part of the Journey in the mythical sense is that it ends. They've transcended and become Master of Two Worlds. The goal has been met, the McGuffin has been acquired, there's no reason to continue on.

    D&D on the other hand is "keep going". You continue to acquire more and more power, the McGuffins are ways to tally the scorecard and by and large... characters don't retire. They're killed. Again, not saying that there aren't people out there that don't retire characters, just that it's not the _goal_ of the game usually.

    What's an "adventure" for D&D? It's people that are shaking up the status-quo. They're ridding the land of some ancient evil, they're pillaging places that no sane person would ever venture, they're landless in a medieval-inspired world, they're armed and prone to violence and law-breaking in societies that value law (as a general rule), they're using magic stuff which is a fundamental violation of the status quo... they're an awful lot like various Trickster gods.

    That's one chunk.

    Then there's the whole other chunk, where people are wanting to emulate Lord of the Rings. Nobodies that are "heroes" because they (again) buck the status quo, but aren't actually special (unlike D&D and an awful lot of myths) and in theory are able to die at any given point in time.

    And of course, let's not forget the role that death plays.

    Star Wars (always popular with the Heroic Journey crowd) would be a rather different trilogy if you had Luke Skywalker actually killed at his Uncle's farm and had 4 more people show up to carry on the Skywalker role in the first movie and then kill each one. Number 5 gets to learn that Darth is his father and gets his hand whacked off. For Empire, let's go ahead and kill Solo a couple of times.

    Lord of the Rings? You'd have so many people dead, you could walk to Mordor on their corpses and never touch dirt. The Taltos novels? I'm not sure they'd be quite as popular is Vlad got killed and replaced a couple of times a book.

    The Heroic Journey can provide some interesting ideas in terms of constructing rpgs and adventures, but... D&D isn't really about the Heroic Journey.

    I think "D&D adventure" generally means "violence and violation of the status quo".
  • Because we know that in star wars and Lord of the Rings, their were in no way uses of violence to keep a minority down or violence against people of colour or parables of such. (That would be those shifty evil yellow skinned bastards with the elephants and everything the empire did against every non human race more or less ever). You want to look at mythology for less violence and keeping of the status quo? Good Luck.

    Basically yeah, Dnd (and most adventure games ) do have to kowtow to playibility over being a finely written novel, in that automatic success is not terribly fun, and they have to manage several players as apposed to a writer who only has to manage himself and whose "players" always show up on time and never dies unless he wants to (don't bring up the my players have a life of their own bit).

    I really don't think what you accuse Dnd Adventure of is terribly that different from the regular sort you see. Here's too more examples for you. Lets try Indiana Jones and Doctor Who. Seems to be a lot of violence and violation of the status quo, complete with some cheesy we gotta save indie/the doctor threw horribly shiny Machines of god (literal McGufferins or Regeneration also known as , Hey we gotta get a different actor for the doctor because we've been playing so long). I mean look at that warehouse full of McGufferins at the end of ?Raiders of the lost ark? (where they put the ark of the covenant). Its almost like the Mcgufferin is just one of many...

    But Yeah, I think you could do a lot worst for the definition of an Adventure than "violence and a violation of the status quo". I would probably put down something like "intentional violence and intentional violation of the status quo" because I dont think the Shire had a particular adventure when wizardly dude fucked with it for revenge. You could definitely catch lots and lots of myth and pulp under the definition, which I think is promising.
  • edited July 2009
    1) A chick with a sword and a dude who can do magic descend into some mysterious caves in search of treasure. The caves turn out to be full of monsters! It's touch and go for a while, but they eventually manage to kill all the monsters and get the treasure.
    This isn't really an adventure. If they were trying to find an amulet to save their village, it would be an adventure. If they're just killing things and taking treasure, it's not an adventure. It's common in D&D, though.
    2) A chick with a sword and a dude who can do magic decide to see what's on the other side of those mountains no one's ever been over. The mountains turn out to be really tall! It's touch and go for a while, what with the cold and the avalanches, but they eventually manage to cross the mountains and make detailed maps of the valley beyond.
    This is not an adventure. It would be an adventure if they found something good on the other side of the mountains, like an amulet to save their village.
    3) A chick who makes swords and a dude who quietly studies magic are minding their own business when suddenly their village is attacked by bandits. They fight back, but it's really scary! They watch their friends and loved ones die! It's touch and go for a while, but they eventually manage to kill all the monsters and turn to the grim task of burying their dead and rebuilding what's left of their community.
    This is an adventure, but it's phrased badly. At the end, they need to mourn the dead and begin the happy task of rebuilding their community, free from bandits. Then it's an adventure.

    Graham
  • There's so much character death in D&D because everyone's so stupid that they always fight to the death. STUPID. Fucking learn to run away and surrender and beg and negotiate!

    ...Hm. Ahem. What I mean to say is, the only reason adventure (I don't give a crap for the "Hero's Journey") doesn't really happen in D&D is because the folks doing the authoring aren't doing it right.
  • Adventure to me, is an exciting series of events that leaves its protagonist changed in some way.

    In RPG's, the details of this adventure should make the people at the table say something like, "Shit, that is cool," be those details giant frog men, monsters in pits, thorny relationships or messy families.

    Or thorny relationships with giant frog men in pits who you are related to...
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