Numerous random discussions online combined to raise a weird question in my mind: What if adventuring was more like making a TV show?
I don’t mean that it’s entertainment – there are games that cover that idea – but rather, what if it was something that had a very visible element (the show/The dungeon crawl) but also had a large “offscreen” presence in the form of the production crew. It’s not a 1:1 mapping of course (no writers) but the idea works in a general sense, especially because it’s not based on how TV shows are actually made, just the crazy impression I get from John Rogers’ stories of Portland.
Imagine for a moment the town near an ancient dungeon. Inside it are powerful monsters and, more importantly, treasure enough to profoundly destabilize the local economy. Somewhere in the Capital city, a young sage hits on some research about this dungeon and takes it to the guild and presents his findings.
They think it sounds promising, so they give it to one of their officers who is given a certain budget. The expectations is that there will be a substantial return on this invitation based off the treasure in the dungeon. Historically, this would mean walking off to a nearby tavern and telling a bunch of heavily armed nutjobs about the Dungeon. Thankfully, things have gotten more civilized since then.
Today, the officer and his staff gather the talent for a venture. This includes a crew of adventurers on the guilds approved list. Adventurers are the stars of this – they’re very well paid and well treated in the whole endeavor, and assuming their contract has been well negotiated, they’re generally due a flat fee and a percentage of the take (and some have magic item riders). They travel in style, but behind them become several wagons of crew. Quartermasters, subject matter experts, accountants, appraisers, smiths, laborers, guards and others all make up the production staff.
This caravan rolls into town. Maybe they buy out the inn or set up tents, but whatever the case, they stat doing the legwork. Local maps are updated, the route to the dungeon is surveyed, nearby dangers are mapped. This is a boon for the town – the caravan spends a lot of money on food and housing, and local talent gets recruited for scouting and mapping.
If any of the local dangers represent a hazard to the venture, the Adventurers can be brought in to deal with it. This can be the basis for some negotiation. Most adventurer contracts have language about helping access the dungeon, but interpretation of what that means can be a bit problematic if, say, a den of trolls is near enough to threaten the camp, but not actually impeding travel to the dungeon. The Officer (aka Director) gets to deal with these things, and one of the trade offs of bringing very experienced adventurers is that while they’re great at what they do, they’re a lot less likely to be arsed to help unless they must.
One everything is in place, the adventurers go into the dungeon. and much of this is familiar, but with the qualifier that they have a support staff on hand. They have substantial supplies to fall back on, expertise to draw on (remember that Sage? He’s got a producer credit and a chair on “set”, and he’s available to answer any questions). As areas are secured and mapped, crew may establish a secondary base in the dungeon itself, and there are extra hands for hauling and inventorying loot, documenting ancient runes and looking for secret doors. Experienced directors are hesitant to send crew into the actual dungeon, but an experienced crew of adventurers understands how important it is to clear things to allow for crew safety. It’s good for them, and death payments are often taken from their bonus.
If all goes well, the dungeon is cleared and inventoried. Persistent magical dangers are documented and sealed as appropriate. Everything is surveyed and measured and delivered to the local lord, with whom terms have been reached to offset the tax burden in return for securing the area. The whole thing goes back to town where payments are disbursed – most everyone gets a flat amount (adventurers get a lot, but it’s a decent payday for everyone involved. Venture work pays well, but it’s not consistent)) but key players (adventurers, the director, producers) get a percentage based on their contracts.
Now, if the adventurers die, then this is a bad turn. Depending how far they got, the venture may yet turn a profit, but the whole production packs up and moves on (usually quite quickly, in case whatever killed the adventurers comes out). On paper, the director is supposed to just head back in shame, though occasionally some will attempt to salvage things with resources on hand – either using local talent or calling in favors. This is risky, since it can mean extra cost, but sometimes the payoff is worth it. Alternately, the guild may review the final report and determine it’s worth another Venture, but that’s rare. By that point, the site has probably been descended upon by independents.
And there are independents aplenty. Some are fly by night operations, just a crew of adventurers and maybe a minimal support staff. Some do it because it’s the “traditional” method, but most often these are just adventurers who couldn’t get a guild contract. A successful independent adventure can be extremely profitable, but they job is much risker, especially in the more dangerous dungeons.
A lot of successful adventurers start out as independents, working local gigs, cleaning out goblin warrens and mayoral tombs, hoping to catch a break. A particularly good turn can draw the attention of the guild, and into the world of contract venturing. And that’s the dream. (At least for a while. Adventuring is a dangerous job, and the smart ones become interested in directing ventures themselves.)
It’s good work, if you can get it, but there are only a handful of really valuable dungeons discovered each year (as well as the blacklist dungeons – those which are well known, but which have been the death of numerous production companies) and competition for them is pretty fierce. But it only takes one big dungeon haul to make for a fairly profitable year for the guild, so it continues to be willing to take some risk.