This week, and for the next few weeks, you're going to take a little side step. You're going to be presented with the voices of the different cultures of Mythras.
I know, you've already got The Primitive Voice, The Nomad Voice, and so on, from the Core Rulebooks. But these Voices are different.
A Connected World
These voices assume two things: one, that fantasy worlds are connected places, where that which affects one person, one place, affects other people, other places; and two, that the world is not always out to get you. Unlike most roleplaying books, if you reach out your hand to help, they're not going to cut it off at the wrist. The worlds of roleplaying games have become bitter and cynical since 1991's Vampire: the Masquerade attempted to make it cool to be an edgelord. Spoiler: it's never been cool to be an edgelord.
In these fantasy worlds, if you meet beings with pointy ears, or fur and tusks, they're not sent there to try and kill you, nor are you expected to have to try and kill them. There is no automatic assumption that encounters are solely combat encounters.
Roleplaying has evolved away from wargaming. We're not beholden to the lineage of That Guy Who Invented Roleplaying In The Seventies to continue to play the games their way, when we can honour Greg Stafford's memory and play a much more shamanic, connected, mysterious, and often magical game, where mysteries are to be explored, secrets revealed, and the characters belong to peoples and cultures who are just living their lives.
Ask any anthropologist, and they'll tell you that primitive cultures are anything but "bang two rocks together, wear animal skins, ugh, everybody afraid of sky." That's a racist holdout from colonial days, when Westerners would descend upon isolated villages and immediately denounce the locals as "savages" ripe to be converted to Christianity. "Primitive" meant "lacking in brain power, unlike us," and primitive peoples were depicted in the popular media as clumsy, filthy, crouching, beastly people, little better than animals.
Converted natives would be branded "the Noble Savage," and depicted as clean-shaven, tall men, standing straight, wearing very civilised loin cloths to hide their modesty - modern fig leaves, echoing the Biblical Adam after he had eaten of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and thus, somehow, lost all their innocence. They were painted as wise men, cunning men, in tune with "savage Nature," with their ear to the ground - this being the literal origin of that "ear to the ground" trope. These wise men could literally put their ear to the ground and somehow discern the movements of all living things within a few miles by the sound their feet and hooves made in the ground.
Often, civilised people would be depicted in comics as slumming it. Robinson Crusoe roped in Man Friday; Lord Greystoke became Tarzan, and Sheena became Queen of the Jungle. Somehow, all it took was a bit of civilised nous, and Westerners could fancy themselves as lords of the savage land, always charming, perfect teeth, not one hair out of place or speck of dirt on their oiled-up, flawless supermodel bodies.
The Primitive Tech Level
Lest you imagine otherwise, primitive cultures continue to surprise us Westerners. They have art, musical instruments, knowledge of how to make jewellery, and trade. Modern anthropologists maintain that the marks of emerging sentience include evidence of first aid and attempts to heal injuries through surgery, including trepannation, and tattoos on ancient bodies which seem to be road maps similar to acupuncture meridians (as well as tattoos placed on modern bodies to tell radiotherapists where to focus their beams).
Others cite the invention of bags as a mark of emergence of civilisation, rather than weapons. Bags allow people to carry tools with them, in anticipation of their future use. Bags allowed primitive workers to carry the tools of their trade along with them - awls, scrapers, drills. Bags could be used to carry a variety of items - medicinal herbs, firemaking kits, knives for cutting, bows and arrows to hunt food.
Other technologies have made it through the centuries. Leather burnishers are traditionally made from bone; there is no other material, natural or synthetic, which comes close to what bone can do when used to burnish leather and seal in the pores. People still use bits of flint to create fires, even though those flints are now found in Zippo lighters.
Sure, tools such as knives could be used as weapons against other people; but primitive people also carried trade goods, which meant that they travelled between communities, sometimes looking for work, sometimes looking to trade. Ores of tin from Cornwall and malachite from North Wales were dug up, and there was a brisk market in those ores, essential in the making of bronze. Those people who knew the secret of smelting were close to magicians.
And they were impressive artists. The Mold Cape is a garment of solid gold, some 3600 years old. Nobody knows how it could have been made using the technology of the day, or even the technology of today; but make it, they did.
The Beaker People, also, showed remarkable sophistication. So-called because of the containers (beakers, jugs, jars) found with their bodies, the Beaker People showed a highly sophisticated knowledge of medicinal preparations, clay working and pottery and, going by the mead and ale residues in the bottom of some of these beakers, brewing.
Mead infers beekeeping, and beer infers agriculture; which means that primitive cultures had developed a symbiotic relationship with the land. The ability to anticipate the regularity of winters shows that early humans had learned about the seasons, and could count the days and moon cycles, and perhaps came up with primitive reasoning such as "three moons full, hot days go away and leaves turn brown; three moons full after that, days are short and snow starts to fall."
The Oral Tradition
Until the written word obliterated the need to retain long memories, there was always the oral tradition. Modern people cannot imagine what it was like to carry the equivalent of several books around in a person's head, nor how much time and effort was needed to train people to recite the sacred knowledge, word for word, intonation for intonation, until they could sing the same songs as their ancestors did, even after generations.
Primitive, barbarian, and nomadic cultures specialise in having long memories. Traditions such as memory palaces are nothing compared to the mnemonic techniques which were developed by ancient cultures - techniques which we have, quite literally, forgotten.
Oh, yes - let's also not forget that thing with the big stone monoliths. We atill can't figure out how they got those big sarsens of bluestone from the Brecons all the way to Wiltshire to build an observatory at Stonehenge. It's not exactly like they carried those stones around with them in their pockets.
So there is much more to primitive cultures than Clan of The Cave Bear or The Flintstones, or even Stig of The Dump. Bearing that in mind, I am closing this little rant with ...
The Primitive Voice
The days and nights are endless.
We have much to learn.
Once, my Mother said,
My birth was announced
By the spirits of the storm.
The storm brought with it
Wind and rain,
Thunder and lightning.
The spirits howled to us
"Among us is born
A Great Spirit."
I give no credence to that.
I only recount
What Mother says.
I do know
That when I came of age,
The Rite of Ad'aan.
The Elders took me
Deep into Orna's Forest,
To the darkest place,
And forced me to survive there,
With nothing but woad on my body
And a knife of obsidian.
The food was good.
I built a fire.
I found honey in an old tree,
And the bees fell asleep
With the smoke from the fire.
When I was weak,
I dug up talla roots
And ate small eggs from a nest
High up in a tree.
I left most of the hive,
the biggest root,
And the largest eggs,
Because I knew
That the world only gave me
What I needed,
And that if I took it all,
Mother would not feed me again.
When the spirits came for me,
I was ready.
When the elders came for me,
To see if I had passed the Rite
They were surprised to see
That I had built a shelter,
And the Spirits had provided
Medicines from the Forest
Medicines for the sick
For the women with child.
"So young," they said.
"Truly, the spirits were right."
And they left me there,
In the darkest part
Of the Forest.
But it is no longer Orna's Forest.
It is the Forest of the Healer.
It is the Forest of the Child of the Storm.
And they say of me
"Listen to her,
The Child of the Storm.
Take her medicines.
Listen to her
If she comes to the village."
The days and nights are endless.
We are not afraid of what they have to teach us.
Edited by Alex Greene