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I'm building a medieval fantasy setting for a tabletop RPG, and have had the idea to make an introductory mission framed as the PC's final test in their training, prior to being licensed as adventurers (kind of like the "Superhero School" trope).

The part I'm questioning is how an adventurer's college could ever actually make sense. In real life, free companies and mercenaries were not organized or licensed, and were often a menace when not actively employed (indeed, they'd make a good villain). Likewise, privateers were licensed, but they operated at sea, not within their employer's borders. They could serve as the ruler's "black ops" teams, but that would cut my PC's off from the iconic RPG shenanigans and mission types. Small stuff like bandits or border disputes can be better handled by a professional army, not murder-hobos. In theory, a guild could fit the bill, but again, how would that not cause instability?

Does anyone know of other settings that have world-built something like this and done a good job, or real-world examples, or even just armchair pontificating on the subject?

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    $\begingroup$ Privateers were licensed in the sense that they applied for permission to go and take enemy merchant vessels, promising to give the king ecks percent of the booty. They were not licensed in the sense that they needed to show proficiency at pirating; nobody cared whether they were good at it or not -- it was their ships, their blood and their lives. (And there was no such thing as a kingdom-wide guild. Guilds were by definition associations of tradesmen in a city. Being a guildsman in Paris gave you no special rights in Lyon, and vice-versa.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 6 at 13:11
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    $\begingroup$ What I would suggest is make the introductory mission a test of skill required by the master of the adventuring team they want to join. "So you want to go adventuring under my command, grasshopper? All right, bring me the Jewels of the Black Ogre of Endor and I will accept you as probationary lookout third class." $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 6 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is obviously ok: there is always demand and supply or the free market if you will. I'm assuming you do not have an actual historically accurate medieval social construct in fantasy (never seen that before), I'm guessing that this is ok: you obviously have people purchasing the services (the players) and this makes it ok for people to sell it. It's not very medieval, but you had schools in antiquity and you have things like that today. There was no demand in the middle ages for adventure schools, but if there was, it's only logical to assume that they would exist $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Sep 6 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ There's a book about this topic for DnD 5e: Acquisitions Incorporated. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Sep 7 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ Is the college undergrads or graduate level? In other words, do they train you up to a 4th-level fighter or wizard? Or are enrollees already 4th level and they teach Contract Negotiation, all the various sources of healing, in-game make you memorize the Monster Manual... . $\endgroup$ – Owen Reynolds Sep 7 at 5:52

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Think of it as a Guild.

The Guild got a royal (or ducal, or imperial) warrant which graciously allows them to organize dungeoneering parties, see to their training, and come down like a ton of bricks on any freelance amateurs. A team of journeymen should be well-trained to handle such interlopers. The Sovereign doesn't do that themselves, that's what the Guild is for.

So the only way to become a dungeoneer is to apprentice with a Guild Master. At some point, the apprentices are examined to gain Journeyman status. By the time they could strike out without Guild approval and survive against monsters and guild enforcers alike, they're well on the way to becoming Masters themselves.

But it isn't all a protection racket. The Guild provides pensions and apprenticeships for surviving spouses and orphans, and it takes care that nobody goes into a dungeon who cannot tell a ward from random graffiti.


Note after a suggested edit: Journeyman is a guild rank and not suitable for translation into less specific but gender-inclusive language. If widows should become surviving spouses in general is a question about the setting, I'll accept that edit. And I should have thought that there are Queens, Kings, and designations in between.

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    $\begingroup$ Guilds were pretty common in medieval times. It was basically how different crafts were regulated. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 6 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ One requirement for this is that the monsters be concentrated in locations -- such as dungeons -- so the Guild can control access. (Ice wolves attacking the sheep will bring out all the villagers out, license or no license.) $\endgroup$ – Mary Sep 6 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Another thing is that Guilds tended to restrict entry, favoring their families first and then connections of theirs. You can have this, or you can have the other Guilds be scornful of the way this one takes all comers (but have to tolerate it owing to, well, monsters). $\endgroup$ – Mary Sep 6 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ You're only a dungeoneer if you trained in the Dungeon region of France. Otherwise, you're just a sparkling murder-hobo. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Salda007 Sep 6 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary the Guild could also just as easily function by controlling access to rewards - quests, basically. A town has issues with ice wolves? Sure, call on the militia for immediate defense, but the extermination request (to clear out the cave they live in) must be sent through guild channels and be issued to a guild-approved team of guild adventurers, otherwise there'll be hell to pay (anything from "no guild-approved adventurer may help this town anymore" to "since the king has given the guild this power, you went against the king! that's treason, off with your head!") $\endgroup$ – Syndic Sep 7 at 9:25
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Real-World-Example : Some US States require bounty hunters to have a license.

For the government, it makes perfect sense to limit the trouble/collateral damage that adventurers cause by:

  • selecting people who look like they won't cause trouble (no criminal record, psychological evaluation, ... )
  • teaching them how to interact with civilians and authorities in the course of adventuring without causing trouble
  • indoctrinate them with a professional codex
  • threaten them with revoking the license in case of codex violations
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Salvage company.

Salvage company.

https://magazine.boskalis.com/issue04/amazing-race

Adventurers work for the Company. The Company sends out scouts to investigate lucrative opportunities, or receives news of such opportunities. Then the Company will assemble and outfit a team to go claim what they can. Company intel on the opportunity will determine who might be in the party, what sort of party they send and how the party is equipped.

Company assets are at stake. If the team members get killed or screw up or come home empty handed it is a loss of time and resources for the company. They want their employees to succeed because that is how they succeed.

This would be great for a role playing game because the Company will also be part of the plan - handlers, armorers, possibly non player characters who accompany the team either to fulfill a role or as observers. There are other companies who compete for opportunities and in addition to the hazards posed by the adventure / salvage site, there is the possibility of one or more teams from other companies arriving at the site. Competitors are not necessarily enemies. Your adventurers might fight these other teams, or trick them, or thwart them, or join forces.


That linked salvage company website is great. It really does look like exciting work. Landing on top of a dead ship and descending down into the darkened hull sounds like a real life adventure.

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    $\begingroup$ Or the company might force your company to to bring with you a completely useless companion, to certify that your group follows all the company rules. A member that is completely useless and your team needs to protect on every encounter. Until that time when it turns out that it had some (odd, unexpected and powerful) power, unbeknownst to everyone. $\endgroup$ – Ángel Sep 7 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Ángel you mean like Sam, Merry and Pippin? The team was made of 9 elements and ONE THIRD of them were a liability. $\endgroup$ – Duncan Drake Sep 8 at 10:02
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Armchair pontificating you say? That's my specialty, don't you know.

The main fictional example that comes to mind is The Witcher series where the monsters of the world are such that Witchers were created to give humans a fighting chance against them. While fantasy is littered with farmboys-turned-dragon-slayers and similar things, it seems odd that essentially normal humans could take on some of those monsters with any real degree of success.

One could argue that the Elenic Knightly Orders fill similar roles in the Elenium and the Tamuli. Although these are theoretically churchly orders with special dispensation to practice heretical arts, they seem to tick all the classic adventurer boxes at various times. Of course what we mostly see in the books relates to the champions of the Elenic orders, but there are hints that even those champions occasionally do work that isn't directly at the order of the Church or the state.

Back to the pontificating though...

Honestly, anybody who thinks that even a well-trained normal human with some fairly easy to acquire gear would do anything more than annoy an adult red dragon is mildly hilarious. Of course not all adventurers are out there providing handy foil-wrapped snacks for big bad monsters, and there's plenty of other work available for a trained and licensed "adventurer" class, or classes.

It turns out that armies a damned expensive to maintain, and if you don't send them out to do battle frequently they end up being useless when you need them. And if you're already at war with someone then it's unlikely your armies are going to be sitting around idle when it comes time to root out a group of bandits who are making life tough for your merchants and lower classes. So inevitably you're going to get private guards and - for those without the economic clout or constant need - guards for hire.

Imagine you're a merchant who really wants to make a profit on a shipment of rare spices or some such, but the only really profitable routes are beset by bandits. You get this opportunity maybe 4-5 times a year, so it's not worth the expense of maintaining a guard detachment. Much better to hire the guards as needed, pay them for their work and maximize your own profits. Who are you going to hire? A bunch of murder-hobo types or some certified and licensed professionals who are guaranteed not to just kill your wagoneers and take the goods for themselves? You're going to pay a visit to the local Guild of Adventurers, naturally.

But adventuring isn't just guard work, it covers all sorts of activities from theft to theological matters. And the Guild can either provide the manpower you need or find someone who can. Not just because they have a good health plan, but because they have schools training people to do the work. And if you want to do the work you do it under the guild, because murder-hobos are obviously not trustworthy.

To get to a system of colleges and formal training you'll need two basic things:

  1. Demand - an environment with enough need for guards, thieves, tomb raiders, spies and so on to supply sufficient demand for not just warm bodies but trained warm bodies.

  2. Competition - because nothing drives innovation and quality like a good trade war between competitors. You don't get really advanced schooling infrastructure without a good reason, and competition is a good one.

If the setting has enough work - banditry is common, easy monsters that the hunters aren't capable of dealing with, lots of old ruins and valuable loot dotted around the mountains and so on - and is gritty enough that your kingdom doesn't keep a standing army of elite soldiers just in case they're needed, then having a variety of adventuring guilds is probably not implausible. You might need to travel a few days to get to the nearest town large enough to have a guild chapter, or perhaps just send the job details to the guild house by runner to get the right team for the job.

The guilds aren't just there for the customers though, they're also providing vital services to their contractors. The best smiths also trained at guild-run schools, and if you need something special for a job the guild outfitters can probably get it for you. For a price. And when an adventurer walks into a new town it's nice to know that their guild papers will get them a reasonably-priced room and the opportunity to make a living. Just as long as their certifications are relevant for the locally available jobs.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, the reason that farmboy-turned-dragonslayer makes for a good story is that most of the time when a farm boy decides to try their hand at dragonslaying, the result is the nearest dragon gaining a brief snack and a slightly used rake to pick its teeth with. $\endgroup$ – Shadur Sep 7 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Shadur Yeah, but I like reading things that surprise me more than story lines that could have been generated using a dartboard and some post-its with a bunch of tropes written on them :) $\endgroup$ – Corey Sep 7 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ Particularly the training for rogues -- if you can pick locks, it really helps if you can prove you learned it to deal with ruins, not to liberate items from law-abiding subjects. $\endgroup$ – Mary Sep 7 at 16:09
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A college for licensed adventurers? Probably not... but licensed adventurers? Oh, yeah.

@BlueCloud771's example of bounty hunters and @Willk's example of salvage operators are great examples. I can add to them the most common "licensed adventurers" of all:

Fishing & hunting guides

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fishing and hunting guides are engaged each year to give (mostly) amateur hunters and fishers the adventure of a lifetime. But let's add to that, too.

Tourist guides

These are people who range from travel agents to locals who know where all the parties are.

My point is, what's an adventure? In your world, you're likely thinking about strapping a two-handed sword to your back and some stolen gently-used chain mail and engaging the local licensed member of the Monster Slayer's Guild to help you get that dragon head you've always wanted hanging over the mantle. But compared to climbing El Capitan or white water rafting Victoria Falls or touring East Los Angeles, it's just another adventure! They're all the same.

Now, not all tour guides need to be licensed. In fact, here on Earth most guides aren't licensed. I'm not a fan of big government, so I don't think that's a bad thing, but I can see if you planned to tour Bolivian mines and set off some dynamite that it would be nice to know if your guide was an experienced miner with safety credentials that would rival a Boy Scout's merit badge sash — or the town drunk who happened to score some blasting caps.

But a college?

But if you think about it, there's not any place in the world (that I know of, to be fair) that trains tour guides. Tour guides either have (a) bookoo experience or (b) tons of training in a related field (like mining). 99% of the time, it's (a). Therefore, I can imagine the National Organization for Killing Indigent Demons, Dragons, and Ingenious Nomadic Goblins (NOKIDDING) imposing licensing restrictions to ensure the greatest safety and quality a tourist's money can buy.

All you need to do to become a member of your local chapter is to prove your worthiness by bringing the dripping heads of four monsters, demonstrate your proficiency with sword and bow before a panel of accredited judges, and pay your membership fee. That's the really important part... the fee....

TL;DR

Licensing? Yup, that's completely believable. College? It's your story, but pretty much all examples of guides, hunters, etc. here on Earth don't show a college that churns them out. But in some cases those guides benefit from college experience in related fields.

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Aside from the excellent points people provided here, I have to add 2 things.

Effective, governmental or otherwise, control.

This is the biggest problem and the crux of the issue. If this is a normal setting with no magic that can aid the government then normal banditry is an actual issue as there no effective policing so treasure hunting is even worth as there is no chance to actually lose anything.

So point is before even giving a license a chance a TH, treasure hunter, has to ask: But why should I bother?

So in video games you can go to the nearest dungeon or portal to hell, get a lot of loot, walk to the nearest town and exchange that for a lot of gold.

In this model there is 0 incentive to get a license.

But contrast that with unlicensed hunting in a developed state. The risk of doing that is much higher and the government can track and apprehend the person way more effectively.

So you have to figure out a compelling reason why a TH has to get a license.

I would suggest something like taxes or proof of wealth or something similar. This is difficult in the medieval world but if your TH can't sell those gems he acquired from a dungeon in the nearest town without a license then a black market exists or they have to get licenses.

Colleges has to be justified, but make them fit.

If you want then make it. I'd go with a place where rich adventurer seeking nobles go to learn about treasure hunting and be trained under experts.

Mind you this has to be highly specialized and they have to offer something real and useful.

Consider a son of a lord. He grew up in wealth with access to a fencing master and riding instructor and tutors on all subjects. So why would he bother going to that college unless it has to offer something he simply can't find at home?

This also runs into: if I have enough wealth I can simply gather a large enough party of men at arms, basically knights in all but name, and get what I want.

So the college has to offer stuff not available to the wealthy enough to be able to afford it.

Magic or enchanting or specific dungeon related things might come to mind

High risk high reward

It can be a way to move people up the social ladder.

This is similar to a lot of armies. Finish a 15 years service contract and you are reward with a piece of land. Congrats you are now a landowner, we all know this model.

So maybe the college exists to do something like that. Perhaps A bunch of originally poor THs gathered and made the college so that even the poorest with noble hearts and steady arms can make their fortune.

So the college can offer the poor a chance to be rich if they pass the trails and get a license and work the dungeons. Or just continue living.

Now the length of the contract and rate becomes a matter of balance.

You want them to bring in a steady supply of money but not be something like 90/10 split otherwise this is just stealing.

You can even tie this is with more dangerous contract offering better TH ratio but at the risk of being very dangerous.

Probably the most effective method of insuring that the TH does not run away with the chest of gold they found in the dungeon is magic. As this is a thing.

Armies have effective methods of dealing with desertion. DEATH.

You can also link the two

So lets assume that the world holds enough dungeons so it is actually viable to get rich by raiding them. And so the government and college set up a system where only the licensed THs can legally own the stuff from the dungeons. And since you can only get the license after the college clears it, then you have to go there.

This seems like a corrupt system, politics is corruption basically, but you can make it somewhat better by actually teaching the people how they handle dungeons and not die and so on.

Maybe your world actually requires that. Like new dungeons constantly appear and maybe even offer a threat. And thus a living can be made from clearing those.

I also use dungeon for stand in or as an example for other stuff.

Replace it with Dwemer ruins or Orc parties or haunted places or whatever you feel like. I only offer ideas to expand the subject and you can pick and choose.

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Monster suppression as an occupation

It's hard to survive if you've got monsters killing off your farmers or even just stealing your food. In a setting where monsters are fairly common, you're going to need to have people going out regularly to kill off all the nearby monsters that they can. It's not the glamorous, epic adventures you hear stories about, but it's absolutely vital for the health of the town.

Now consider some of the things this force would be most concerned about:

  1. Staying aware of any places that monsters love to inhabit (i.e dungeons) and periodically clearing those out
  2. Staying aware of monsters in the area and reducing their numbers
  3. Finding out if stronger monsters move in nearby, which may require preparing a group to specifically kill them
  4. Helping injured members to recover to full strength as quickly as possible
  5. Training new members to replace any members lost to retirement or death

Depending on the fantasy setting, some of these goals could be accomplished in different ways. You might have a healer that can instantly cure wounds or even raise the dead. Paired with long-distance communication that could evolve into a sort of death insurance where dying just means that the next time they try to speak with a member and find they can't, they'll raise the member from the dead.

This all leads fairly easily into an Adventurers Guild. Part of the training would involve some of the simpler work, such as participating in the regular clearing of a dungeon or just going out and killing whatever monsters they can find nearby. Once they've gotten strong enough to be considered done with the training, they can either stay and keep the town safe, or start to go out wandering. Those who go wandering would hopefully come back after becoming much stronger and become some of the people who are able to take care of the stronger monsters that sometimes show up.

It's not too hard to imagine a guild like this spreading from town to town, especially with the death insurance. Each time an adventurer entered a town they would check in with the guild, make sure they're paying their guild dues, and if they die they'd be resurrected at a guildhall (it could make sense for them to be able to request which guildhall they want to be resurrected at). Any time an adventurer dies, the guild can get valuable information about potential dangers in the area (whether it be "OMG THERE'S A HUGE GROUP OF TROLLS GATHERING" or something more mundane like "the bridge broke while I was crossing it").

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Why would you hire an expensive licensed electrician when you could just watch a few videos and fix up your wiring for free?

Well, for one you could easily electrocute yourself. For another, you could burn your house down, and if you’re really unlucky you could burn the whole neighbourhood down.

Hiring a licensed professional means hiring somebody who has been accredited by a reputable body - a reputable body of experts that has an interest in maintaining their reputation. The job is guaranteed to meet their standards, or they will harshly penalise the professional for harming their reputation. Disreputable organisations attract only disreputable professionals.

Adventuring can be dangerous, not just for the adventurer but for the community too. A band of common vagabonds might drive off the pack of ice wolves threatening the town, sure. But they might not actually be up to fighting Ice Wolves and simply flee with your money. Or worse, they could also destroy the whole town when they fail to realise that starting a giant bonfire will just attract every ice wolf in a hundred kilometres.

A reputable adventuring guild will instead assess the threat and ensure your adventurers are both capable of the work and supported with expert advice on the best way to handle ice wolves. Pricier, sure, but you know they’re not going to do anything stupid and get everyone killed.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, the wizard living two houses down the street would be quite angry at you if your unlicensed electrician caused any kind of downtime to his home. Or that the gems that were brought by the unlicensed party you contracted to kill a dragon, actually caused a few angry dragons to come into the city asking^W burning what happened to their son (which used to have^W hoard those gems). $\endgroup$ – Ángel Sep 7 at 23:47
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Coding Bootcamps

You can do the "final school test" without the "Guild of Adventurers."

Make it a bootcamp. Your players paid money - maybe all the meager cash they had on hand - to go through a certification process. Quest givers have many options for their murder-hobo needs, so having a certification from an "Adventure Bootcamp" can help them stand out from the other rabble.

We all know the best adventurers are trained by Carnegious Mellonous, but who has that kind of money?

Basically, crib from the University > Trade School > Certificate hierarchy that exists for professional training in the real world.

This also brings in a bunch of interesting narrative options. How did the players get the money for their certs? Did they pick really sketchy school? Maybe the school is super interested in their careers, because they need someone to be successful every now and then to stay in business.

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Certain monsters require specific qualifications to dispatch properly

Vampire ogres can't simply be killed, but require intense clerical training to seal their souls to prevent them from regenerating after several days. Offering to kill the local zombie troll without being properly qualified to burn the body with eternal fire of damnation is fraudulent and would have good reason to require a license.

Perhaps different monsters that litter the world have these kinds of specific qualifications, some overlapping, others not. Thus, adventuring parties tend to form in order to cover gaps in abilities.

The Witcher is a good example of a fictional licensed adventurer.

Witchers aren't licensed by any crown, but they are few in number due to painful mutations that kill 7 out of 10 boys exposed. Though humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings could dispatch many of these monsters, their lack of superhuman mutations and broad monster knowledge can make it very difficult to deal with them.

It's not illegal for others can't try to do a Witcher's job, however Witchers are certified and trusted to deal with necrophages, specters, and other such dangerous monsters and have an amulet to prove it.

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Modern military operations can consist of large forces (whole armies) or small groups. However when we think of medieval armies we tend to think of them as "most men win" kinds of groups. The downside to this is that they are NOT very mobile (Like how Rome got sacked while its army was trying to head home to defend). This is where your "adventuring" party can come into play. A fast response force to deal with "small" threats. Those bandits hit a village? Can't send the army they'll all be gone weeks before they show up! You need to send a small group that can carry their own supplies or live off the land. Preferably with horses to increase their response time (or make that an upgrade later).

"Does anyone know of other settings that have world-built something like this and done a good job"

I'm drawing a lot on the Queen's Riders in Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce. It makes logical sense to me. Also one of my favorite books/series I highly suggest checking it out.

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The question isn't really whether or not this makes sense... the question is why would it exist, and if it did, what benefit is there for both the adventurers and the organization that will vouch for them.

The Adventurer's Guild has been alluded to repeatedly above and it might be the best example both in existing literature and conceptually in world-building. An adventurer's guild would be sanctioned by the government to make their earnings taxable, control the space adventurers could venture into (you may not enter the province of Snordgaard, or assault the Caves of Anvor), justify the harassment and imprisonment unlicensed adventurers, and so forth. It would benefit the guild because they would ostensibly control the adventuring economy including the acquisition of gear, payment for services rendered, and distribution of spoils (though they wouldn't have to mandate everything, depending on your vision for the organization). It would benefit the adventurers because they could be readily paired with people who want or need their services, and it would benefit the clients because they have some assurance that the people they hire aren't going to "take the money and run."

This can be implemented to varying degrees depending on how strict the government is or how crooked the guild leadership is, etc. Think of the bounty hunters in The Mandalorian; it's a loose structure with loose rules - you're not "licensed" per se but you gain status and bounties by building a reputation. At the other end of the scale, it can be fully endorsed and monitored by the local leadership, even being part of the government and managed by nobility.

To this discussion in particular, I'd like to introduce the idea of an Adventurer's Consortium made up of a governing board with representatives from each guild or school that participates: the militia, the school of mages, the beggars' guild (thieves), the temple of whatsit, the order of artificers and apothecaries, the local equivalent of the teamsters, and anything else that might apply. There could be an administrative position (the seneschal, etc.) that manages the day to day duties of the Consortium, manages individual and party licensing, farms out jobs, collects and distributes payment, settles disputes, and all the other stuff, which holds most of the power but is answerable to the board.

This could also permit "freelancers" who are not part of the consortium and are treated with a certain amount of disdain. They'd have more difficulty navigating the system but aren't expressly illegal.

Lots and lots of ways to make this believable. I'd even look at creating a history that explains why the consortium was created in the first place. Maybe a Medieval Avengers scenario and the government recognizes the value of having experienced teams ready to deploy at need.

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