The clever China Mieville quote at the beginning nails the adventurer even better than the one I offered up last time: "Anything for gold and experience..."
“…Apparently, there’s a few serious adventurers in town right now, claiming to have just liberated some major trow haul from the ruins in Tashek Rek Hai. Might be up for a little paid work.”
Derkhan looked up. Her face creased in distaste. She shrugged unhappily.
“I know they’re some of the hardest people in Bas-Lag,” she said slowly. It took some moments for her to turn her mind to the issue. “I don’t trust them though. Thrill-seekers. They court danger. And they’re quite unscrupulous graverobbers for the most part. Anything for gold and experience…”
- China Mieville, Perdido Street Station
All over the world there are found catacombs, tombs, ruined underground cities—dungeons. These dungeons are full of wealth beyond imagining—hoards of gold, silver, and jewels, and magical artifacts of a lost civilization much more advanced than the current one. Obtaining these treasures is seldom easy. Dungeons are also full of deadly, inhuman creatures in a bewildering array of forms—strangely an even greater variety than in the world above.
Still, there are many brave—or foolish—enough to try. They are called adventurers, and they are the legends, folk-heroes, or folk anti-heroes of their world. They're the Robin Hoods and Sir Lancelots of their world, but also the Jesse James, Doc Hollidays, and Bonnie and Clydes. They challenge the horrors of the depths, and wrest glory and riches from them.
Boomtowns grow up around the entrances to newly discovered dungeons. Merchants, harlots, and entertainers seek to supply the needs of adventurers or relieve them of their loot. It is a fluid, chaotic age in many ways; the old stratifications of society are loosening, leading to opportunity and uncertainty.
And there are gains to be made beyond wealth and status. Such was the wisdom of the ancients that they were able to discover a fundamental trait of the universe. The quickest way to ascend to levels beyond the mortal realm, to gain the power of a demigod or even a god, is through the challenge of adventuring.
Quick isn’t easy. Many more adventurers end their careers with their bones moldering in the underdark—the victims of monsters, traps, or fellow treasure-seekers.
Adventurers are philosophical about this. After all, it just leaves more for the survivors.
ADVENTURER: An individual who utilizes his skills in magic or force of arms in the pursuit of wealth in various dangerous ways. The term is often used pejoratively by common-folk, but just as often tinged with envy or awe. It is commonly known that adventuring played an important, perhaps central, role in the rites of the GODMAKERS. This does not endear the activity to religious or temporal authorities, though there is a degree of hypocrisy in their attitudes in that many of society’s leaders are former adventurers themselves, or at least the descendents of such.
ASCENDED, the: IMMORTALS who were once mortals.
ALIGNMENT: The name given to the moral “colors” of the spectrum of magical energies emanating from the Outer Planes of the GREAT WHEEL and infusing the PRIME MATERIAL PLANE. These are envisioned as matrix of the interactions of two axes—Good (eusocial, empathetic) versus Evil (antisocial, egoist), and Law (rules-based, stable) versus Chaos (anarchic, mutable). "Neutral" generally describes a state not strongly attuned to the poles of either axis, but can also refer to energies of balance.
CLERIC: Originally, the name used for a priest of a religious militant order, many of which were established for adventuring in service of their temple. Their ritual investment allows the practice of theurgy, wherein the cleric acts as a conduit for divine energies to cast spells. Over time, the term came to be applied more broadly to any theurgist, including non-militant priests or even laity.
DELVER: An ADVENTURER involved in exploring (i.e. looting) a DUNGEON.
DEMIHUMAN: Subspecies or closely related species to mankind, which are generally amicable and take part in human societies. DWARVES, ELVES, GNOMES and HALFLINGS are the most prominent examples.
DEMON: The colloquial name for the beings of the Abyss, primordial beings aligned to chaos and evil utterly devoted to the ultimate dissolution of matter.
DEVIL: The colloquial name for the hierarchical, egoist beings of the Nine Hells who seek to overthrow the current order of the multiverse. Legend holds that devils were initially soldiers for the gods in their war against the DEMONS and other chaotic forces in early creation before rebelling against their former masters.
DUNGEON: Most common name for the seemingly artificial, subterranean complexes found throughout the world. Most dungeons are ancient (from the time of the EMPIRE OF GODMAKERS, or before), though some date to known historic times. They are frequently inhabited by multiple species of exotic monsters, some found in no other environment. The monsters seem to be imprisoned there, hence the name. Some sages have pointed out the obviously magical nature of these environments, noting that the creatures residing in dungeons often have no visible means of sustenance, ensconced torches often seem to burn perpetually, and traps have been found to “reset” themselves after a space of time. The Godmakers believed the dungeons to be essential challenges for heroes on the path to apotheosis.
DUNGEON MASTERS: The putative beings or culture responsible for the creation of the majority of ancient DUNGEONS. They may or may not have been the same as the GODMAKERS.
DWARF: A DEMIHUMAN species with short stature and stocky builds. Dwarves are adapted to colder, mountainous climes, but often are at least semi-subterranean. As a group, they are known as fierce warriors and great artificers.
DRUID: Adherents to ancient cults in the service of the balance of nature. Druids are able to channel energies in the manner of CLERICS, though they serve an ideal or force rather than an IMMORTAL.
ELF: A DEMIHUMAN species close enough related to mankind to interbreed. Elves are theorized to have been magically uplifted (perhaps by an IMMORTAL patron) from base humanity—they are longer lived, more graceful and beautiful, and adept at arcane arts.
GODMAKERS, EMPIRE OF: An ancient hegemony spanning most of the known world. The central rite of Godmaker society was the creation of new IMMORTALS by several paths their sages had discovered. Ultimately, the machinations of these Immortals and the erstwhile seekers of immortality caused their culture to collapse and led to large areas being devastated by arcane weapons of mass destruction. Historians argue over whether the DUNGEON MASTERS were of the same cultural lineage as the Godmakers, or preceded them.
GREAT WHEEL: The common model of the structure of the OUTER PLANES. While it in no way accurately represents the reality of these realms, whose actual structure is multidimensional and beyond human understanding, it conveys the metaphysical relationships between them.
HALFLING: Child-sized DEMIHUMANS often living close to human settlements.
HUMANOIDS: Anthropoid sapients mostly inimical to humankind. This includes orcs, goblins and related species.
IMMORTALS: Gods and god-like beings. The ASCENDED are Immortals who were formerly mortal, but acquired god-level power through various means. Some philosophers have hypothesized that all Immortals are ascended, but theologians ridicule this idea. Whatever there origins, all gods derive their magical abilities from one of the OUTER PLANES and must adhere to its ALIGNMENT.
MAGE: A practitioner of the art and science of ARCANE spellcasting, often also referred to as a wizard. Mage’s research and collect formulae for harnessing the raw energy of the multiverse for thaumaturgic purposes. These are formulae are ritually reduced to sigils which the mage imprints upon his consciousness to later released in a casting. Mage’s are barred by the interference of the Immortals from spells of healing or resurrection.
MONK: Generally refers to a member of a monastic religious order, but in the sphere of ADVENTURERS it refers to a member of an esoteric religious or quasi-religious sect which practices unarmed martial arts.
ORC: A humanoid species generally inimical to humans and DEMIHUMANS. Orcs are capable of interbreeding with humans, and half-orcs are often found among the ranks of ADVENTURERS.
OUTER PLANES: The thirteen conceptual realms idealizing the ALIGNMENTs. They are home to OUTSIDERs, which may appear on the PRIME MATERIAL PLANE.
OUTSIDER: Sapients from the planes other than the Prime Material; Ultraterrestrials.
PRIME MATERIAL PLANE: The universe, or set of universes, which are home to humanity. Based on the Great Wheel cosmology, it is literally the center of the multiverse.
PSIONICS: A paranormal power directed by the minds of gifted individuals and creatures. Its metaphysics is poorly understood save that it emanates from the individual, not from extraplanar forces, and that it is undetectable by means used to perceive arcaneSo you get the idea. While not comprehensive, it gives an overview of several of the common D&D touchstones, reinterpreted through the conceits of the setting. It obviously something of a rationalized setting, in that many things are "explained" or given a sort of scientiftic veneer, as opposed to one which portrays the fantastic in an irrational or inherently irreducible manner. This won't be the everyone's taste, and it's not to my tastes in every campaign, but it's what I wanted to do here.
Another question it might raise is from what "stance" is it written? Is it a document as might be read "in world" or a scholarly text looking at it from on outside perspective? On that issue, I've never completely made up my mind. I suspect that this is mainly "player"--as opposed to "character"--knowledge. I think educated characters would be aware of most of the information presented above, but probably wouldn't understand it or conceptualize it the same way.
And looking back on it now, I think my conception of the setting, and where I want to go with it continues to change--in no small part due to it moving from an off-hand idea of mine to something others are interacting with and putting through its paces in play.