Flintlocks & Fireballs
Harsh realities of employment
People choose adventurering as a career for the same reason they choose acting or singing or dealing drugs. They’re hoping that they’re going to be in the 1% who hit the big time and become rich, not the 99% who end up poor and hungry and dead. And in the meantime, they’re willing to put up with poor living conditions, regular risk to life and limb, and a generally terrible life.
Finding work as an adventurer is hard. Here’s why.
It is true that there do exist jobs best done by a small, talented, flexible group. Many of these are some sort of sub-rosa operation, where the employer doesn’t want things traced back to him: while it’s true that above-board work does exist, it’s also true that few people are willing to employ a group of complete strangers in order to get these done. It’s an issue of trust: how well do you know the people you’re hiring? They might recover the priceless vase that’s been stolen and that you don’t want to raise a fuss about, or they might run off with it for their own ends, or they might screw the job up nine ways from Sunday. That’s why when most people need private muscle, they go to people they know they can rely on. And that is why most adventurers work through a middleman, of some kind or another.
The Unassuming: Working with Unspecified Services
The Empire didn’t get to rule the world by ignoring its citizens’ needs, and so for this kind of job it has the organisation Unspecified Services. Unspec are sort of like an adventurer job agency, taking commissions both from private individuals and organisations and the Imperial government itself: they have branches in most large towns, keep tabs on groups of adventurers available for work, and dispatch them to where they’re needed. Jobs can involve anything from finding a lost duck through rescuing someone’s daughter from kobolds to complicated espionage, sabotage and assassination.
Technically Unspec are a branch of the government, which means that there’s a certain amount of rivalry going on with the Imperial Legions; Unspec agents see the army as a bunch of clod-headed ground-pounders who stomp all round with their big boots and mess things up, while the army see Unspec as a bunch of overrated, lazy, disorganised scoundrels who never have to deal with the consequences of their actions.
It’s certainly true that Unspec don’t have anything like the political clout that the Legions do. While some of the Empire’s celebrity heroes started with — and in some cases, still involve themselves with — Unspec, simply being on a job for them doesn’t give you any degree of authority within the Empire. Socially, most Unspec agents are accorded the sort of respect you’d give a plumber: they’re talented, and you’d be in trouble without them, but you’re not going to let them order you about.
The main barrier to working with Unspec is the screening process. Unspec are very prickly about who they employ — understandably so, given the sensitivity of some of their assignments — and so before a party of adventurers can be added to an Unspec office’s ledger they are required to provide various papers and proofs of citizenship. Even then, a lot of the time they’ll be doing pretty unrewarding work until they get the opportunity to prove their competence.
The Unsavoury: Working with gangs of criminals
Of course, the thing with hiring Unspec to do a job for you is that the Empire will find out what you’re doing, and a lot of the jobs people want a group of heavily-armed individuals to do are not the kind of things you want the government to know you’re doing. That’s why the other significant employers of adventurers in the Empire are gangs of criminals: thieves’ guilds, mercenary groups, and families of organised crime, and especially the Stellazzo. The pay is generally better, and fewer questions are asked; however, there’s the danger of running foul of the law, and Unspec can’t have your legs broken if you foul up a job for them. There’s also, of course, the moral aspect. Plenty of gangs will have some non-dubious work for adventurers, but the bulk of it’s going to be shaking down people for protection money, smuggling dangerous goods, or bumping off rivals. While gangs don’t tend to care so much about you having the right papers, they’re still eager to employ people they can trust, and often will want someone to vouch for you — or for you to demonstrate your loyalty — before they give you anything lucrative.
The Unyielding: Working for the nobility
A step up from criminal gangs are noble families and merchant houses. The Empire has a great deal of complicated politicking going on and a lot of its major players need their dirty work done at arms’ length: nobles need their rivals spied on and kept tags on, merchants need bandits or other undesirables eliminated quickly and quietly, all of them need embarrassments quietly disposed of and swept under the rug. The practicalities of working for these are very much like working for criminals, except that the need for good references and good manners is even greater and you’re a lot more likely to be thrown to the dogs if you cause problems with the law.
The Unsafe: Working for the rebels
Finally, you have the rebellion. The rebels are known to maintain an army of sorts, but it’s nothing compared to the Imperial Legions; most of the rebels’ military might is in the large number of independent agents they have working for them.
The good thing about working for the rebels is that you’re kept busy, you’re very likely fighting for something you passionately believe in, and there’s the tenuous promise of a position of power when the Empire finally go up against the wall — oh, and that they take absolutely anybody. These are about the only good things about working for the rebels. Insurrection doesn’t pay well, the odds are stacked against you, and a lot of the Empire want you dead.