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[SETTING] The Second-Oldest Profession

June 5, 2010


The world’s second-oldest profession may have been tomb robbery, a practice that threatened social order, for it allowed wealth to be recycled. Tomb robbery has obvious parallels in the looting of temple treasures and other practices, which demonstrated that ideologies and legitimations were not completely persuasive or coercive.

— Yoffee, Norman (2005) Myths of the Archaic State. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 36.

There is something very pleasing about the thought that the profession of dungeon-crawler is not only the second oldest in the world but practically inevitable. The psychology of tomb looters may be rare, but adventurers will appear as surely as wealth, inequality and sex.

The accumulation of wealth by adventurers, and the consequences of vast amounts of treasure entering the local economy, is also sometimes seen as a problem or a unrealistic consequence of D&D’s 1 gp = 1 XP mechanic. Yoffee’s observation, though, reminds us that this influx is another opportunity to make the sandbox dynamic.  Recycling the wealth plundered from tombs threatens the social order: the existing rich and powerful in a settlement will not be pleased at the arrival of wealthy adventurers. Their own positions are put under threat. Those the gods grant wealth will also garner power and influence, wholly illegitimate and disruptive to existing hierarchies.  Men who plunder sealed and cursed tombs clearly fear nothing.  They deny the right of rulers even to keep their own possessions in death, and thus throw doubt on all other privileges of rulers living, dead, or in ghastly state of necromantic lingering. This should provoke responses from those in power – from harassing lawsuits, attacks on slaves and property, assassination, to political intrigue rendering the PCs’ place in the community increasingly untenable. At the same time, the PCs may form the nucleus of political ambitions of others who have not yet gained an entry to the halls of power, or used as foils to further private ambitions. Apart from providing roistering opportunities, then, the very treasure adventurers bring back is disruptive, able to cause a cascade of events – further adventure – as precarious political relationships are upset.

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