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The Drifter

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"There's a voice, that keeps on calling me.
Down the road, it's where I'll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend.
Can't stay for long, just turn around and I'm gone again."
The Littlest Hobo theme song

Like a gust of wind, The Drifter quietly blows into a troubled town. He's low-key, and usually The Quiet One that's not looking for trouble. He has a Mysterious Past and may even have a Dark and Troubled Past. He'll rarely raise the interest or curiosity of the townspeople or the Big Bad that's been slowly draining the town of all life and money. Usually, he just wants an odd job to make ends meet before leaving again, the implication being that he's running from someone or Walking the Earth for the fun of it or for finding a good home for him/her/itself. Occasionally The Sheriff and his deputies, or a Quirky Miniboss Squad of the Big Bad (sometimes one and the same) will visit the Determined Homesteader employing the Drifter or him directly, to try and extort some money.

Then the gloves come off.

By this point, he's either got a personal stake in helping the meek townsmen chase off the Big Bad, like saving a hostage or other love interest, or will do it just because it's the right thing to do. An interesting twist on the above is that the Drifter is not just pretending he is Not Left Handed in terms of martial skill, but is also concealing his true purpose — to depose the Big Bad and his goons — hiding in plain sight as a mere Muggle to get information to bring him down.

In some variants, he'll be approached by the meek townsmen and appointed The Sheriff (the previous one having been run off or killed). He usually requires some convincing, in which the Big Bad helps out by kicking a few nearby dogs in The Drifter's presence. Once the Big Bad is defeated, expect him to lay down his badge, perhaps passing it on to one of the townspeople who showed some backbone in the fight. This is a hero who often faces the "Leave Your Quest" Test and agonizes over it each time.

He's a strange combination of traits: A Guardian Angel come to help a town that can't help itself, rarely grim but usually has a bit of The Stoic in him, or at least values few words. Sometimes a Technical Pacifist and former Gunslinger Walking the Earth. Though he's not a Knight in Shining Armor, he's usually several clicks above an Anti-Hero or Ineffectual Loner, being motivated by more compassionate standards than the Well-Intentioned Extremist. Once he's done, he'll probably have to go.

Also known as the Stranger archetype, from Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.note 

Fairly common in After the End settings, where he'll get a scavenger sidekick. Occasionally joins up or becomes the leader of a band of Hitchhiker Heroes. Closely related to the Knight Errant, who wanders the land actively seeking wrongs to right. The Flying Dutchman is often pressed into this role (though not always as a protagonist) by means of a curse.

If he has a Loyal Animal Companion, pack animals like horses, camels, and llamas are the obvious choices, especially in Wandering Culture settings, followed closely by dogs and the occasional bird.

Subtrope of Mysterious Stranger.

No relation with Multi-Track Drifting at all, even if he is a Badass Driver. Nor with Thok, the white Piraka.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Guts was this at the beginning of the series, wandering around looking for Apostles to kill. After the Golden Age prologue, we learn that he did so thinking Casca was safe, not considering that she needed someone to be with her.
  • Ran from Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran. ("Kazemakaze" translates into something like "Carried by the wind", a colorful way of describing a carefree wanderer.)
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, after being expelled from the Demon Slayer Corps over being pointed as the escape goat for a string of factors that ranged from Muzan escaping to his own older twin brother betraying the Corps to join Muzan himself, Yoriichi Tsugikuni at first went back to the home he lived with his late wife Uta, but upon first meeting and making friends with the poor couple that had stationed there, Sumiyoshi and Suyako, Yoriichi decided to give that home to the Kamados ancestors, and going on to become a drifter, a Rōnin in all but name, to kill any number of demons he can find for the rest of his life as a tragic act of self-appointed atonement over failing to kill Muzan for good.

  • Goku from Dragon Ball became this after he was told to Walk the Earth by Master Roshi. In the filler in-between the end of the Red Ribbon Army Saga and the next tournament, Goku is shown going to town to town, helping people along the way, and then leaving as soon as his task is completed. He was also like this during the previous saga when he was looking for his grandfather's Dragon Ball.
  • Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star fits this trope to a tee, especially at the beginning of the series. He wanders the post-apocalyptic landscape from town to town looking for his kidnapped lover, has his sidekick in Bat, is theoretically not looking for trouble, and yet somehow always leaves behind body counts that range from dozens to hundreds.
  • Van from GUN×SWORD is this, both pre-series and during.
  • Wilfried Jeremiah of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, a mysterious travelling scholar that initially meets the Saint Princess Olivie when Ried happens to come across the princess's carriage while it was being attacked by bandits. Despite having been given a stable place to live in Prince Claus' castle, Ried would still randomly disappear to walk the earth for months at a time.
  • Rokusho of Medabots fits as well. He wanders into storylines and back out, always willing to help the helpless or the righteous without any need for reward.
  • Tohru from Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid rarely stayed in one place for too long prior to moving into Kobayashi's apartment. If she didn't, humans would often come and try to slay her.
  • Dr. Tenma from Monster (1994). However, any troubles are almost always connected with the "monster" Johan.
  • The protagonist, Ginko, from Mushishi (a sort of mononoke-ologist)
  • The sisters and their maid in Popotan. They travel through time, befriending someone they meet in each period, before having to move to the next.
  • Princess Mononoke: Ashitaka becomes entwined with and takes a stake in the outcome of the conflict between the various factions he encounters during his travels. As Eboshi says when asked if she saw him come around: "Came, and went."
  • Karasu Tengu Kabuto: The titular character is a ninja who wanders around Feudal Japan fighting demons and evil overlords.
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • The titular character purposefully became this after the war and settled down starting in the first episode. We see him comment that with the friends he makes, he may stop wandering. Also, "Rurouni" can be translated as wanderer.
    • After being defeated by Kenshin, Seta Soujirou decides to follow Kenshin's example and go wandering, giving himself time and freedom to resolve the moral conflict he's now facing.
    • In the Jinchuu arc, Sanosuke decides to leave the main cast temporarily and relieve some stress, which he does by wandering back into his hometown. He then takes this time to save a town, beat the shit out of two hundred men, and terrorize the local yakuza. His stress being relieved, he then leaves town and returns to Tokyo. And nobody even knew his name (except his dad). Amusingly, the fallout from this adventure later causes him to need to flee Japan, so given his temperament, he probably goes around being this in countries where no one can understand a word he says.
  • Samurai 7: Kanbe shows signs of being a wanderer, although the town actively recruits him and he puts up a lot of resistance.
  • In Sekirei, Mutsu had shades of this in his backstory. After leaving the Discipline Squad, he took to Walking the Earth and only came to the capital after beginning to react to his Ashikabi. Though he complained about not wanting to cause trouble, he intervened in a violent mugging and rescued Mikogami. Any efforts to avoid taking part in the Sekirei Plan were dashed since his master was Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life.
  • Trigun: Vash the Stampede is a wanted outlaw and an immortal superhuman. Since his setting is Western-inspired and he has mad gun skills, Chronic Hero Syndrome, and multiple issues with settling down, he does a lot of this, especially in the anime which put off the Cerebus Syndrome a lot longer, although most of the story is consumed by the plot happening. He only stops the drifting thing during his 10-Minute Retirement after he inadvertently shot the moon, when he grows a Beard of Sorrow, changes his name, and doesn't kick the asses of the creeps who come to his new hometown and start killing everybody who annoys them. Which is kind of extreme restraint, given the town couldn't build enough coffins to house all their dead. Interestingly, that situation gets resolved by Wolfwood drifting into town looking for him the same day Vash's adopted family member is kidnapped, and then both of them kick ass and walk off into the sunset. Vash's But Now I Must Go costs him a lot more than usual this time.

    Comic Books 
  • Ghost Rider: Johnny Blaze stands out from other bearers of the mantle due to his nomadic lifestyle, a preference gained from being raised in a traveling carnival. His adventures have taken him everywhere from famous big cities to lesser known small towns, and is one of the few superheroes in the Marvel universe to actively defend civilians living in some of the more undervalued corners of civilization.
  • Bat Lash: Wanted by the law, Bat keeps moving; never staying in any one place for too long. Needless to say, he finds trouble wherever he goes.
  • The Chimp With The Brown Hat: The titular character travels from town to town, trying to solve the mystery of who he is.
  • Douwe Dabbert always ends up helping and protecting people wherever he goes and never stays anywhere for long.
  • Groo the Wanderer. Played with in that he's always looking for a fray.
  • Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk. While he's had a fixed abode a few times in the comics, most of the time he's Walking the Earth either looking for a cure, running from people looking to destroy/control the Hulk, or both. One of the most common Hulk stories is the basic Drifter story — Bruce arrives in town, finds trouble, ends up Hulking Out to deal with it and then is forced to move on because either the authorities are hot on his heels, and/or the townsfolk he just saved see him as a bigger threat than the one he just saved them from.
  • Kid Colt: The main character is a wanted man who keeps drifting from town to town so the law doesn't catch up with him.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The comics spun off of the original The Legend of Zelda give this sort of backstory to Link, who happens to wander into Hyrule from his native Calatia just as Ganon is starting to wreak havoc.
  • Robin (1993): Tim Drake is happily based out of Gotham but he befriends an odd retiree who can use Extra Dimensional Shortcuts who has no real set home and wanders quietly from place to place helping people where he can.
  • The heroes in Sin City have the demeanor of the drifter (quiet loners with troubled pasts), even if they tend to stick to the city limits of Basin. Wallace might be an aversion since his story seems to indicate that he is relatively new in town. He doesn't seem to grasp how corrupt the city is and despite his deadliness, he is a relative unknown.
  • In the Star Wars Legends comic Nomad, Darca Nyl ends up giving this impression. He's actually trying to track down the man who killed his son, but along the way, people keep thinking that he's a Jedi, and needing his help. And he gives it, and it's the only good thing he's felt in a long time. In the end, once he kills the man, he decides to take up this trope/become a Knight Errant.
  • Supergirl story "Supergirl's Big Brother": Biff Rigger drifts into Midvale, prepared to convince the Danvers that he is his deceased son in order to con them out of their money; but since he has always been a wanderer with no family or home, Biff ends liking the lie of being Fred and Edna's son, and even sacrifices himself to save their adoptive daughter's life.
  • Superman: In "Superman: Truth", when his secret identity was exposed, he'd lost most of his powers and he was a fugitive from the US government, Clark Kent was one, travelling from town to town on a Cool Bike righting wrongs before moving on.
  • Usagi Yojimbo: The titular character, Miyamoto Usagi, is a Rōnin whose travels form the plot of the comic. Also Inazuma (another ronin) and Chizu, who's on the run from her former clan.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The animated film Kung Fu Panda starts off with a dream sequence where Po fits this trope PERFECTLY. Of course, this is just his dream self, but it does show how caught up in stories he is. Po's actual experience with being a warrior involves trouble coming to find him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Card Counter: William Tell, real name William Tillich, moves from city to city making a living by deliberately only winning modest sums at casinos. He lives out of two suitcases and stays in motel rooms. It's later revealed that he is atoning for war crimes committed while deployed in the Iraq War.
  • One of the films Clint Eastwood directed is called High Plains Drifter, which plays with the conventions of this trope a bit, mainly in that The Stranger (as he is credited) is hinted at being the ghost of a man murdered by the townsfolk (indirectly) years prior and thus brings on a little vengeance by turning the town's folk against each other, manipulating and scaring them into giving him absolute power and pretty much ruining the town's economy (by blowing up the hotel, tearing down the barn and not paying for any of the many goods and services he takes advantage of, such as buying everyone in town a drink from the bar at the bartender's expense. In fact, he's barely in the town for ten minutes before he kills three men, drags a woman to the barn, and rapes her.
  • John J. Macreedy in the classic film Bad Day at Black Rock, although he arrives in the titular town with a specific purpose in mind (which is not to clean the place up).
  • The first paragraph describes fairly accurately John Rambo in First Blood, right down to being harassed by the law. Only his subsequent actions are not to help the town at all...
  • Pete and Joey, the main characters in the 1970 Canadian movie Goin' Down the Road, who move from small town Nova Scotia to Toronto in search of work, leaving the city (and in Joey's case, his ex-girlfriend and unborn child) when things go south.
  • In the films based on the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child, a retired military police officer with no fixed address drifts into a town or city, rights wrongs committed by a Big Bad and then leaves town on his way to somewhere else.
  • The title character of Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar is a former gunslinger turned travelling musician. As he states at one point:
    Johnny Guitar: I've a great respect for a gun, and besides I'm a stranger here myself!
  • Max from the Mad Max films. Shane in black leather.
  • At least three of The Magnificent Seven were drifters at the start. Chris was drifting towards the South when the villagers hire him, Vin is just wandering from place to place when he meets Chris, and Britt was traveling to no place in particular when Chris tracks him down.
  • In The Man from Earth, John Oldman is moving away, which he says he does every decade. He reveals that he has been doing this for 14,000 years because people start to realize that he doesn't age.
  • In Murder at Yellowstone City, Cicero is an ex-slave who has been roaming the Wild West since the end of the American Civil War, looking for a place where he belongs.
  • Sartana is a subversion; while he does go from town to town for adventure, he is definitely not the silent, brooding type.
  • Shane: Shane, a laconic but skilled gunfighter with a mysterious past, is a drifter who rides into an isolated valley in the sparsely settled Wyoming Territory, some time after the Civil War. He is hired as a farmhand by local rancher Joe Starrett who lives as a homesteader with his wife Marian and their young son Joey. Shane soon gets caught up in helping the homesteaders fight the attempts of the local Cattle Baron to drive them off their lands. When the land war is over, Shane mounts up and rides off again.
  • At the start of Siren (2010), Marco has been travelling the world for two years, trying to "find himself".
  • The hero of 3-Iron gets along by breaking into homes that are empty and temporarily unoccupied. He does not steal from the homes like any typical run-of-the-mill burglar. In a bizarre, parasitic manner, he lives off the food resources and physical amenities provided by the homes, yet leaves them in a better state than when he first broke in, repairing damaged appliances and washing dirtied clothing thrown around by its owners.
  • Comrade Sukhov from White Sun of the Desert. A retired soldier who just wants to go home, he walks the sands of Turkestan and gets into trouble.
  • Sanjuro, in Kurosawa's Yojimbo (the prototype for For a Fistful of Dollars) and Sanjuro.
  • Also Zatoichi, hero of a long-running series of Japanese films. In each film, he wanders into a new Adventure Town, where he at first pretends to be a simple itinerant masseur and gambler. But when some local yakuza boss or corrupt official threatens him or the group of innocent commoners he's befriended, he reveals himself to be a master swordsman and all-out badass. Oh, and he's blind, too.

  • In the Ben Snow series, Ben is a wandering cowhand looking for work who keeps stumbling into mysteries. It doesn't help that he is sometimes mistaken for Billy the Kid.
  • In Devon Monk's Dead Iron, Cedar. He's been around this particular town long enough that he thinks it may be safer to move on.
  • Orson Gregory from The Dreamside Road travels constantly across the chaotic, destabilized world, helping Adventure Towns, fighting Monsters of the Week, and is drawn into various adventures as he goes.
  • Jimmy Hedgecock from Gunfighter's Ride helps people while he delivers the mail.
  • Jack Reacher, in the novels by Lee Child, about a retired military police officer with no fixed address and no possessions beyond the clothes on hos back. Each book starts with him drifting into a town or city, finding something that catches his attention (a mystery or a person facing injustice from a Big Bad) and ends with him catching a Greyhound bus on his way to somewhere else.
  • Harvey from Kieli, who has spent the last 70 to 80 years Wandering the Earth and makes a living beating people in poker because he thinks getting a job is a waste of time.
  • The titular Kino of Kino's Journey, travelling the world on her talking motorcycle, with a strict rule to never stay in one country for longer than three days.
  • Stephen King:
  • Joe Christmas in Light in August. The surly, psychopathic Christmas has been on the run for years, ever since at least injuring, perhaps even killing his strict Methodist adopted father. Although he has light skin, Christmas suspects that he is of African American ancestry. Consumed with rage, he is a bitter outcast who wanders between black and white society, constantly provoking fights with blacks and whites alike.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rangers of the North have few if any permanent settlements and most of the men's time is spent wandering the wilds of Eriador patrolling for servants of the Enemy and safeguarding the villages and roads, even though the people they are protecting regard them with suspicion and fear.
  • The Man with the Terrible Eyes: The Man eventually becomes one after quitting his job and fleeing the city. He, Dog, and the beetles travel around the country to keep from being captured again by Iotech, and in the process encounter a wide variety of strange beings tormenting people.
  • Frank Chambers of The Postman Always Rings Twice starts out as a drifter who gets work at a small California diner/gas station. He is far from heroic, however.
  • Bill Door, aka Death, in the Discworld novel Reaper Man.
  • Insomuch as Star Wars: Kenobi is a Space Western, Ben Kenobi plays the role of the Drifter — first appearing in a Big Damn Heroes moment, then trying to stay quietly out of the way but unable to avoid solving the problems that appear in front of him, making friends and enemies in the process. His attempts to remain apart from the inhabitants of the Pika Oasis only increase their curiosity in him. He doesn't drift on when the story is over, though — his mission requires him to settle in as The Hermit instead.
  • Jon Shannow, the Jerusalem Man, in the Stones of Power series by David Gemmell, often three or four times a novel.
  • Barnaby Gold, the protagonist of The Undertaker series of novels. Originally planning on travelling to Europe following his father's death, he goes on the run after killing Floyd Channon in the first book. He roams the West after that, staying one step ahead of the bounty hunters who are after him.
  • Malik ibn Ibrahim, the protagonist of the ebook anthology Wandering Djinn, never actually looks for trouble during his wanderings, but will do what he knows is right if necessary.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team:
    "In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team."
  • Branded: In the 1880s, Jason McCord travels the country trying to prove he's no coward. He needs to do this because the military career of this West point graduate came to an end when he was thrown out of the army after being accused of cowardice.
  • Bronco Layne from Bronco, a Spin-Off from Cheyenne. A former confederate soldier wanders the old west, and meets such famous characters as Jesse James, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, and Theodore Roosevelt.
  • This is an absolutely perfect description of Cheyenne Bodie from Cheyenne. After the Civil War, nomadic adventurer Cheyenne Bodie roamed the west looking for fights, women, and bad guys to beat up. His job changed from episode to episode.
  • The Doctor in Doctor Who does this throughout time and space.
  • The Fugitive. Dr. Kimble is on the run from the law and trying to find "the one-armed man" who killed his wife—which doesn't keep him from solving other people's problems when he can. The show's success led to several other series with similar formats.
  • The title character of Heres Boomer is another drifter dog. The series followed the adventures of Boomer, a stray dog that traveled around helping people in trouble.
  • It might take a bit longer than other examples, but Immortals in Highlander: The Series have to move around every decade or so when people begin to notice that they don't age.
  • The TV version of The Incredible Hulk (1977) was based on the Fugitive template of a wanted protagonist helping people during his travels, with the twist that Dr. David Banner's usual method of solving problems was turning into a green-skinned monster with Super-Strength.
  • Eiji Hino is only said to be a drifter before Kamen Rider OOO starts since he stays in the same general area for most of the series, but he goes back to that lifestyle in the end — only now he has a group of friends to stay in touch with.
    • If Eiji counts, the passing-through Kamen Rider Tsukasa Kadoya does too, though he quickly acquires companions and could probably not be called low-key.
    • Before either of them, we had Yuusuke Godai, who like his partial Expy Eiji only stays in the same general area over the course of the series because of the circumstances regarding the Gurongi and his own sense of responsibility as the one bearing the power of Kuuga.
  • Kung Fu (1972) was another series influenced by The Fugitive. Its hero, Kwai Chang Caine, is a Chinese martial artist who's on the run from the authorities in The Wild West. He's a kind-hearted man who's always willing to help out total strangers, usually while reciting Koans and/or reluctantly kicking ass.
  • The unnamed hero of The Littlest Hobo is essentially a drifter version of Lassie whose lack of visible problems that would realistically be associated with Walking the Earth may be justified, as well, since it's a dog. It can find a river to dunk in, and scraps lying around, and only the pure evil would hurt him.
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto have no set base of operations, but instead roam The Wild West, seeking out injustice whether it lurks.
  • Wade Norton, protagonist of The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Guests", as often lampshaded by both himself and the other characters. He's a handsome, well-intentioned youth who's Walking the Earth while Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life.
  • Nick does the same thing as OOO in Power Rangers Mystic Force; blow into town as the Naïve Newcomer in the beginning, leave again at season's end with a new set of True Companions to show for it.
  • Jared from The Pretender is on the run from an evil organization that held him prisoner from childhood, but finds time to research and uncover injustice and save people's lives wherever he goes.
  • Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap. His drifting is to different time periods as well as different locations.
  • The main characters of the series Route 66, who are driving across America more or less aimlessly. They'll stop in a town, encounter someone who needs help, do what they can, then be on their way.
  • The titular heroes of Sliders, with the Science Fiction twist that they had to fix things in a different Alternate Universe each episode.
  • In the backstory of Smallville, Jor-El briefly and explicitly fell into this role, after his father sent him to Earth as part of a right of passage. He ends up falling in love with a local farm wife, but flees Earth after she is accidentally murdered by a hitman trying to kill him.
  • In Supernatural; The Winchesters and most other hunters as well. The Winchesters have less of a home base than the majority of hunters and are unusually kind and personable...even if they are violent maniacs with no respect for the law who lie like they breathe.
  • Then Came Bronson: Michael Parks and a Cool Bike. James "Jim" Bronson, a newspaperman who becomes disillusioned after the suicide of his best friend Nick (Martin Sheen), and with "working for The Man" after a heated argument with his editor. In order to renew his soul, Bronson becomes a vagabond searching for the meaning of life and seeking experiences that life has to offer.
  • Gai Kurenai, the main character and human form of Ultraman Orb, is a homeless drifter who spends most of his life hitch-hiking across the world. Word of God states that the character is partially based on the archetypal drifter cowboys as portrayed in Clint Eastwood westerns.
  • Steve McQueen in Wanted: Dead or Alive: a wandering bounty hunter he doesn't just chase and capture only men on wanted posters. He also settles a family feud, frees unjustly jailed or sentenced men, helps an amnesia victim recover his memory, and finds missing husbands, sons, fathers, a fiancée, a suitor, a daughter who had been captured many years earlier by Indians, an Army deserter, a pet sheep, and even Santa Claus.
  • Laconic cowboy Dave Blasingame — the protagonist of The Westerner — wanders the Wild West with his faithful dog Brown in his unending quest to become rich enough to buy his own ranch.

  • For songs where this is a Discussed Trope, see Wanderlust Song.
  • Modest Mouse's "The World At Large" even goes so far as to mention that the narrator relates to songs and books written about drifters.
  • The Whitesnake song "Here I Go Again" fits this trope. It even has the line "Like a drifter, I was born to walk alone".
  • "Space Cowboy" by Kacey Musgraves is written from the perspective of the girlfriend who let her own lover go using the imagery of this trope. Said imagery is portrayed in a bittersweet manner: On one hand, the relationship between them is over and they likely will never see each other again... but both of them no longer love each other and are moving on with their lives.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Judaism: Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) according to Jewish myth. He wanders the earth witnessing or provoking acts of charity and kindness and blessing those who perform them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, such characters are too often played to the point they have become a cliche, earning the pejorative murderhobo. Treating them as what they are (i.e., vagrant serial killers) is a DM's delight. The trend is believed to have been started in reaction to the Killer GM using complicated backstories to hurt characters far worse than merely killing them: a PC whose only function is to kill things and take their stuff until he dies is far more easily replaced than a unique character with crushable hopes, breakable dreams, and a 5,000-word backstory.
  • One of the playable archetypes in Feng Shui is The Drifter. He even has the ability to show up exactly where and when he is needed. In game terms, he announces he wants to show up, and everyone picks a reason for how he got there. He chooses the one he likes the best.
  • This is a typical trait for Prometheans in Promethean: The Created. If they settle in any one place for too long, Disquiet starts to take hold in the townspeople and Wastelands bloom up under their feet. Hence, they're constantly on the move, only staying long enough in any one town to enjoy contact or refresh supplies without polluting the land or warping people's minds.
  • Wanderhome casts every player character as a downplayed example of the Stranger archetype. The party is going from place to place and encountering each location's problems. However, the game warns the players that it is not their characters' place to solve these problems, because they are only travelers in someone else's home, and the home's inhabitants are the ones who must solve those problems. The most that the players can do is to alleviate the problems and move on.
  • Warhammer has Wulfrik the Wanderer, a Chaos Champion who lives only to challenge and defeat other mortals in single combat. To help him, he has the gift of tongues (and the ability to enrage anyone into fighting him) and a flying teleporting ship.
  • A villainous version is Typhus the Traveller of Warhammer 40,000: he goes around the galaxy to spread disease and contagion wherever he goes.


    Video Games 
  • Medoute in Blaze Union. She winds up settling down with the rest of the party for a while after realizing she needs to take responsibility for influencing some of their important decisions, but towards the end of the game, she remembers that the whole point of her journeying was because she didn't want to have to deal with responsibility and starts chafing. In most of the endings of the game, she leaves and goes back to Walking the Earth.
  • Dillon and his partner Russ from Dillon's Rolling Western drift from village to village, only staying long enough to help defend them against the Grock before moving on.
  • In Dragon Age, most of the Grey Wardens spend their time Walking the Earth, searching for any sign of darkspawn.
  • Similarly to Fallout, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion allows you to wander the countryside, picking up whatever quests you want, joining any/all of the five main factions, or whatever else you can think of that has nothing to do with the main story. In Skyrim, the Dragonborn wanders the countryside in-between/on-the-way-to/during battles with Dragons.
  • Nearly every Fallout game has you playing some variant on this character type... unless you prefer evil karma, in which case you become a Doom Magnet.
  • Bartz from Final Fantasy V starts off as one of these, with his pet Chocobo, Boco. This was actually his deceased father's last request.
  • Shadow from Final Fantasy VI actually has a chance to just take off and leave your party after every battle.
  • The Sundown Kid, from Live A Live. Also an example of a Gunslinger, both Type A and B.
  • The new Prince in Prince of Persia (2008) ends up in Elika's kingdom while caught in a sandstorm.
  • The player is essentially this in virtually any Pokémon game: a stranger who wanders into town, helps people with their problems, then leaves.
  • You're pretty much this way in the Rune Factory games even with your monsters and friends and neighbors. But when you want to go beat the snot out of wild monsters, who helps you out? No one.
  • Shiren the Wanderer fits this well. All of the Wanderers (not just Shiren) are always on the move. In fact, it's a gameplay feature: if the player stays too long on a single floor they hear a gust of wind, telling them to move on or suffer a Nonstandard Game Over. Also, backtracking is rarely a good idea, because no items spawn in the level and you end up fighting more monsters. It's all there to ensure that you always keep on the move...
  • Spud's Adventure has the titular Spud, a wanderer who just so happened to be in town when Princess Mato was kidnapped. He decides to go off again at the end of the game.
  • Sans from Undertale is initially played off as a comic relief character, but his actual role in the story fits well in-line with this trope, especially once the gloves come off.
  • While they be called Dream Chasers, Mercenaries, Wanderers, or yes, Drifters, these make up most of your PCs in the Wild ARMs series.

    Visual Novels 
  • Even though Lily from Daughter for Dessert settles into a job at the diner, she eventually leaves to travel the world again.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • New York Magician: The Djinn, certainly.
  • The Reconstruction Series's Isaac Benjamin fits this to a T. He wants to stop drifting, and the story has to pull this to get him back in action.
  • The ISTP in the post-apocalypse on Oddly Developed Types. Notable that he keeps doing this even after settling down, but since that part of the world is taken over by bureaucrats by then, he actually has to do distasteful things like paying taxes (as a "freelance executioner", the closest job description the bureaucrats could find) and asking for invoices. Ugh.

    Western Animation 
  • The episode "Zuko Alone" of Avatar: The Last Airbender pegs Zuko squarely into this role, or at least when he's not busy interrupting the above-mentioned plot with flashbacks about his Dark and Troubled Past. In a subversion, the inevitable I Am Not Left-Handed moment reveals to the rescued townsfolk that said drifter is Fire Nation and they promptly shun him, leaving him to thanklessly drift on.
  • In Gravity Falls, Soos hilariously gets this role when the apocalypse hits, entering the realm of legend despite the fact that the apocalypse has only been going on for three days.
    "I've been wandering the plains like a desperado, helping strangers. I guess there's some folk songs about me now?"
  • Wirt and Greg play this role in Over the Garden Wall, drifting through various settings and — sometimes inadvertently — solving everyone's problems.
  • Samurai Jack: The show follows "Jack", an unnamed Japanese samurai who, after nearly defeating the ultimate evil being known as Aku, using a magic katana capable of cutting through virtually anything, is sent forward in time by him to a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical shape-shifting demon. Jack, who is brought to the future with only his robe, sandals, and sword, quests to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku before he can take over the world. Jack's search for a way back to his own time period transcends Aku's control, but Jack's efforts are largely in vain due to the ways back to his home being just out of his reach.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Maggie briefly takes on this role when she and Santa's Little Helper decide to seek out a kidnapped Homer in a neighboring town.
  • The titular protagonist of Xavier: Renegade Angel is a parody of this kind of protagonist mixed with Surreal Humor. He sees himself as a soul-searching wandering hero with a dark past who helps people with words of wisdom, but he's actually a moron who causes many devastating accidents and most of his dialogue is nonsensical Ice Cream Koans.
  • The eponymous Wander of Wander over Yonder is all but stated to be this. He's a nomadic alien who roams the galaxy with his noble steed Sylvia, helping anyone in need, but moves right on once he's done his job. He's implied to be homeless in the second season, claiming he lives "wherever the stars take him," and it's revealed he helps others because he knows what it's like to be helpless himself. It's also implied he doesn't have a family of his own, hinting he's the Last of His Kind.
  • Surprisingly enough, Frosty the Snowman of all characters is depicted as this in Frosty Returns. After showing the citizens of Beansboro that winter is special and should be celebrated, and convincing Corrupt Corporate Executive Mr. Twitchell to pull a Heel–Face Turn, Frosty goes to quietly make his exit, and when asked, says he plans to move onto a new town and make some new friends. Though, true to form, he does promise to come back eventually.


Video Example(s):



Bertie has been an outcast because of her obesity and extremely tall height, thus she has no place to call her home.

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Main / TheDrifter

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