You know what time it is. Come on and grab your friends! One of the things that drew me to tabletop gaming was the idea of building a character and having them go on wild and crazy adventures. In order to do that, I guess it might be a good idea to figure out what and adventure really is. That may seem like a duh-thing at the outset, but keep in mind that not everyone's idea of a good time is the same. To emphasize the point, when I was a kid I thought that running around the back yard with an old broom handle, 'slaying' dragonflies and defending a pillow fort was an adventure. Not that I wouldn't do that now (or haven't), but my definition of adventure has expanded over time.
Back then, adventure was a thing of going on quests, slaying dragons and rescuing distressed (distressing?) damsels. It still is in some regards, but sometimes it also includes car chases. Sometimes it's purely political and dialogue driven. Other times it's purely about retrieving fat lutes from Windex-drinking mages, or silver monkey statues from hidden temples. So what really goes into adventure? I don't know, but I'm about to speculate. Or regulate? I don't know that one either...
Let's Get Dangerous
By definition, adventure is an unusual or exciting experience. For some, excitement and adventure is all about the peril. Lot's of action set-pieces, high flying adversaries, and death-inducing traps work very well to emphasize that you are not safe. The idea that you or, more specifically, your character could die at any moment is enough to call it an adventure. No doubt in my mind that adrenaline induced craziness can separate the mundane from the exciting. Just look at Indiana Jones or Uncharted as examples. Who would say that the possibility of being crushed by a giant boulder or falling out of an airplane isn't adventurous? I think this is by far the easiest way to declare 'this is an adventure'.
I mean we're not even talking combat at this point. Environmental hazards like traps and dilapidated architecture work well enough to keep PCs on their toes. I'd even go so far as to throw players onto the outside of a moving object or vehicle to get them hyped. Who doesn't want to dangle a thousand feet off the ground by a rope attached to a zeppelin in flight? And how often do you get to ride a collapsing building to the ground? While it's on fire?
Then Go Looking For Trouble
As humans, we often fear the unknown. We can counter this with curiosity, the drive to find out and explore. To do so is bold as the perils discussed above lurk everywhere. Just by going out and looking for stuff we are now more brave than the average person who sits at home. This can be empowering in its own way. Even if the peril is nowhere to be found, because we pursue something we are adventurous. I once again turn to Indiana Jones, patron saint of adventure, for guidance. I also look to films like National Treasure and The Goonies. While there is still peril aplenty, the focus is more about the hunt. The treasure is the goal and the adventure is getting to it. It might not even be about glittery treasure, but perhaps the pursuit of knowledge that drives the party. This is a big focus in games like Hollow Earth Expedition, where the main theme is exploring the hollowed core of the Earth and find out what the heck is down there.
Even real life explorers were adventurers. The discovery of new lands across the seas was a big thing for a very long time in history. Those people found plenty of peril in minor things like starvation and thirst, let alone having to deal with natives once they reached the shore, if they did at all. Nowadays, we look to the stars and under the oceans for adventure. Plenty of fodder for sci-fi campaigns right there. Space is the final frontier after all.
Now Let's Discuss This Rationally
Even the socially minded roleplayer can find adventure. Here we get a bit farther from the standard definition of the term. In a more social campaign, the perils are less about physical danger (although I wouldn't rule it out entirely) and more about the larger impacts of what is being said. Still, just because you're mostly talking doesn't mean you won't be adventuring. Think about this one: Being a diplomat means traveling to foreign places and talking with people from a vastly different culture. How strange would it be to be in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and mingling among gnolls and goblins and whatever else and trying not to get yourself killed not due to combat statistics but from mere social faux-pas? A different spin to be sure from the average campaign. I've often thought that the threat of violence can be more of a deterrent than the violence itself. The idea of being beheaded if negotiations break down can often inspire one to keep things civil. At least one hopes.
For some examples of social adventures, maybe take a look at the history of the Silk Road. Plenty of stuff went on while kingdoms rose and fell along this trade route. Or for the more economically minded, the anime Spice and Wolf makes for a great example of a low action adventure. They call them 'business ventures' for a reason, I think.
Where We Go From Here, I leave Up To You
I'm still convinced that there is more to it, or perhaps less. Either way, adventure comes in all shapes and sizes. From here, we might go all out and try to find it in more unlikely places, or just stick to the usual ones. You may find it just hanging around the inn, or by simply walking from here to infinity. The road may not be as long, but the trip should always be worth it.
How simple or complex are your adventures? How many pillow forts have you seen in tabletop gaming? Did they have real dragons in them?
Now go forth and Stay Classy!