Continuing our Bureau of Labor Statistics series: Pack Bearers.
Porters, pack bearers, and related trades
Nature of the Work: Porters* carry various burdens for adventurers, typically in a dungeon, cavern, tomb, or other underground setting. Ideally these will be iron rations, flammable oil, and other consumable goods on the way to adventure and recovered loot on the way back. They may also be expected to take turns at campsite watch duty, and defend themselves from monsters**.
*”Porter” and “pack bearer” were once distinct professions represented by separate guilds but since the two job descriptions have been amalgamated by the Hireling’s Guild, these terms will be used interchangeably throughout this report.
**Some employers will expect hirelings to open questionable doors, chests, and otherwise probe for possible traps. This falls outside the the job description and should be reported to your steward, if possible.
These experienced Porters share the load. Note the metal helms, mail waders, and most importantly one hand free to hold a weapon. They are ready to drop the chest and flee or put up a fighting retreat. They have belted swords and hold throwable hand weapons (a hand axe and a dagger).
Work Environment: Porters usually find themselves in extremely hazardous environments and face a high on-the-job mortality rate. The casualty rate is high because porters and pack bearers usually lack armor, experience, and weaponry, and also because they are carrying heavy burdens which encumber them and reduce their movement rate. Moreover most porters are considered a convenient source of protein by monsters.
In the dark days before the Hirelings’ Union, unethical employers often made unreasonable demands of their Porters. (Not my figures; reposted from catalog site. Ral Partha did a similar chariot but with just two yoked men.)
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement: Porters and pack bearers generally require very little training, although the ability to lift at least 500 GP or the equivalent is required. Experienced pack bearers are likely to develop skills in self-defense and quickly dropping burdens and fleeing. After a series of successful dungeon delves, a pack bearer may expect to be promoted to potion taster, scroll caddy, or muleskinner. In rare cases, the death of employers may even result in porters being promoted from non-player character (NPC) to player character (PC) which can lead to vast increases in standard of living, ability to express free will, and further advancement opportunities. In other cases, deaths simply add “human hearse” to the job description.
Job Outlook: Porters and pack bearers are in relatively high demand among optimistic adventurers and in games that have detailed encumbrance rules. Employment opportunities depend to a large extent on the nature of the local adventure sites and adventurers. Logistics-heavy, old-school games are more likely to have call for this profession. However, newer-school games may have less call for treasure porters due to storytelling technologies that de-emphasize logistics, and the general promotion of missions rather than looting expeditions.
A pack ape. One must admit the superiority simians enjoy regarding physical strength. Their inability to speak coherently and primitive minds suit them to subservience. For little more than the price of a few bushels of bananas, a pack ape will transport huge weights in any non-marine environment.
The Hirelings Union is trying to raise awareness of the pack ape’s propensity for poo flinging and running amok — known as ‘going apeshit’ in technical terms. Accept no simian substitute, hire only accredited professionals!
Earnings & Wages: Despite the relatively valuable cargo ported by bearers, the supply of willing workers tends to outstrip demand and cause relatively low wages. The modest requirements to enter the profession (average physical strength, stoicism, and greed marginally exceeding cowardice) allow the market to be somewhat crowded; however, the most capable and best-equipped job seekers can demand higher pay. Like most dungeon-oriented professions, though, even relatively low wages for the industry are much better than the rewards of honest labor in other industries. The typical porter earns 1-3 gp per day. This is sometimes pre-paid as a bounty of 50 or 75 gp at the beginning of an expedition. Certain non-human or demi-human porters may command higher or lower wages. For example, Dwarves are notoriously strong-backed and may make up to 5 gp per day, while Halfling porters are lucky to make 1 gp per day in this profession. Wages are also depressed by the prevalence of Pack apes (who work for bananas and have the highly valued skill of climb extremely well) and Undead or Unseen servants created by magic users, which have a slightly higher initial cost to make but work for zero pay. Other pack animals are available as well, which effectively provide slave labor but do require expensive specialist muleskinners.
Undead servants. They rarely unionize and work tirelessly, making them the scourge of the profession. The Hirelings Union would like to remind all adventurers that Necromancy is frowned on in most municipalities and higher planes.