Something that has been bothering me for a while, is why do wizards go adventuring?
Now if you are a big geek like me, you’ll know that practically every adventuring party has a wizard. But these wizards are incredibly unprepared for exploring dungeons and have a shockingly high mortality rate. In the dungeons and dragons* of my youth, a starting wizard had a mere 1 to 4 hit points and was equipped with dagger (or is they were luck a staff). Did these budding Gandalfs get armor? Of course not, they faced ogres and basilisks in the fantasy equivalent of sweat pants.
The statistics of a starting wizard meant that they could easily be killed by a house cat. Also they had just one spell. Cast “light” so that your party could see in a cave, and you were done for the day. If you had the most destructive spell of the first level wizard, you would fire a “magic missile” that always hit, but did a miserable 2 to 5 (1d4+1) points of damage. So if jumped by above mentioned angry house cat, you literally had a 50/50 chance of killing it before it killed you**.
So why do all these highly educated, highly intelligent wizards leave their ivory (or mithril) towers and trudge through cold, dank dungeons with groups of characters that generally make the knights in Monty Python and the Holy Grail look like Seal Team 6 in comparison?
Why does every early career academic pursue elusive gold and put their common sense and lives on the line? Why…? To get tenure of course…
This is the only logical explanation.
In fantasy worlds there must be a grueling tenure system. Fantasy worlds are not known for academic grant-giving, and clearly in order to provide large overheads to keep wizarding schools open*** and administrators in their comfortable, affluent lifestyles**** early career wizards are sent off to go adventuring to bring back thousands of gold pieces in order to secure their tenure.***** This ultimately leads to a high mortality rate (initially from goblins, kobolds and, of course, house cats), but this does reduce competition for permanent positions in wizarding schools.
So think yourself luck that if you are going up for tenure, you just have to deal with back-stabbing academics, not literal back-stabbing (for an extra +4d6 points of damage plus poison !) by thieves and assassins. Or the chance of being consumed by a dragon.****** Or death by a very angry house cat…
*The original dungeons and dragons “basic” set, FYI.
** A cat had up to 8 hit points (1d8 HD).
***Just look at Hogwarts. That school must cost an absolute fortune to keep going. The bathroom repairs from troll attacks alone, must come to thousands a year.
****Anyone who has read Terry Pratchett will know that senior wizards typically have sumptuous feasts that last most of the day.
*****You never see fantasy wizards writing publications or complaining about impact factors or h-indexes, so clearly funding is THE major criterion for tenure. Teaching clearly is a requirement, although considering the poor tuition provided by Snape (and especially Hagrid) clearly this is just something you are obliged to do (and Dumbledore never set foot in a classroom), but you are not evaluated on the quality of your teaching. Gandalf spent a lot of time in committee meetings, so service is probably a requirement too.
******Bilbo Baggins was clearly not a wizard, or he wouldn’t have brought back just a measly chest of gold. Plus, there would be no way that he would agree to give away most of his funds to the the local host community, i.e. Lake Town. To secure his future, he’d have lugged back every single copper piece.