I like drawing little diagrams in my notebook. Over the weekend I tried to make one for dungeon design that would make it possible to easily improvise the sorts of things I was just talking about with “acceptable losses” in a dungeon.

I looked back at B/X and 2e Dungeons & Dragons to try and figure out what kind of ratio there ought to be when determining risk-in to reward-out. It meant figuring out why adventurers take risks at all. I tried to answer this question…

Adventuring is a good source of experience, but “growing more powerful” is a difficult motivation to quantify in game terms. How does a PC know that doing just about anything will garner them experience points toward character advancement? It’s just so abstract as to be almost ridiculous.

How about adventuring for treasure? I think comic books have taught us that the stuff heroes invent is almost always worth more than whatever they get out of fighting crime — see also: “adventuring.” I’ve seen tons of players recognize this and set up businesses instead of adventuring — it’s more profitable.

One of the answers I’ve made the most progress with is the idea that most PCs are thrill-seekers or have a death wish, however cognizant they may be of that trait. Yeah, the dungeon is a dangerous place, and the rewards are almost never worth the risk, especially when you have a whole gang to divide loot between.

So, I basically failed to answer the question. I decided to take another approach.

What does adventuring represent, regardless of the reason for undertaking the adventure? What do you do every time you adventure, no matter who you are? Well, I figured, “you enter the dungeon.” That initial risk is at the core.

You open the door. You explore the passageway. You take the challenge.

It doesn’t matter who you are, or why you do it — whatever your reason, you decided to risk everything to see what was behind the door. So on my little diagram, I wrote the word “door” at the top. It’s basically that binary choice between “hitting or staying.” Will you ever make up your losses? Who knows?

Part of the point of adventuring, I figure, is to acquire the means to continue adventuring. Everyone adventures “at a loss,” because no matter how much they get out of a venture, it’s really only enough to continue adventuring — unless of course you die. That would be the uh, “ultimate loss.”

Could it be then, that the fun is in losing?