Continuing the exploration of the different Cultures from the Mythras Core Rulebook, this time looking at Nomads.
Nomadic people have coexisted with settled peoples since the dawn of humanity. There has been a dichotomy between settled people and nomadic travellers since the first humans left Olduvai Gorge to fend for themselves when it became too crowded. Some humans settled in new places ... others, kept on going.
Going by the fossil records, hominins evolved bipedal locomotion (walking upright) millions of years before Homo sapiens arrived in the world. Fossil evidence of Homo foot and leg bones show that the early ancestors of modern humans literally walked around the world - many thousands of miles, in all directions. They picked a direction, and only the oceans stopped them.
And when they invented sailing, even the oceans ceased to be a barrier.
The earliest nomadic lifestyle is also the oldest actual lifestyle. Early humans were hunter-gatherers, regularly following the migrating herds and seeking out locations where seasonal plants and game could be found. Pastoral nomadic tribes raised cattle and drove them across the land in order to ensure that their herds never overgrazed in any one given area.
Of course, the herds themselves knew where to go to find the best food sources, and the nomadic tribes supplemented their mostly-meat diet with whatever vegetables, fruits, and grains they came across in their travels.
Nomadic peoples usually measure wealth by their herds. Since their wealth is mobile, theft is discouraged through a culture of fear from reprisal. A code of honour is a necessity, particularly when different nomad tribes' routes intersect, for instance at their regular overwintering stops.
Ironically, many nomadic tribes suffered from lactose intolerance. They usually got around this by fermenting milk, from cattle or horses, since fermentation destroys lactose. There is, of course, no problem with consuming the herd animals' meat, which is often served boiled, in a broth.
Grains which grow quickly and easily, requiring little labour to cultivate, are also common. Millet, fennel, oats, and spelt are staples, often served boiled or roasted. Millet and fennel can provide sustenance to keep people on their feet for days.
Clothing and Art
Every part of a nomad's life has to be portable. And that includes art. There is little need for heavy artefacts such as statues or paintings. Personal adornment is common; jewellery and other forms of artistic expression, possibly including tattooing, were common. Clothing tends to be practical and designed for endurance; clothes would be worn until they fell apart. It has been argued that horse nomads invented the first trousers, to spare their inner thighs from chafing from riding over long distances. Trousers could be tucked into boots, providing extra protection to the extremities from exposure to the elements.
Nomadic peoples also adorn their tools and equipment. Those wanderers who travel in wagons traditionally decorate their vehicles - which are also their homes. The symbolism of their art can tell a story of the family, painted and carved into the wooden sides of their wagons, or adorning the fabric of their tents. Rugs, carpets, and other items of furniture such as cushions are also highly decorative items in and of themselves, as well as being functional in keeping out draughts and providing soft surfaces to sit and sleep on. These items are bundled with the tents, or stowed in the wagons, as part of their homes, and are designed to be as portable as the homes' structures themselves.
There is archaeological evidence to suggest that many nomadic tribes were accomplished at working copper, bronze, tin, silver, and gold. Some are expert craftspeople at woodworking and leatherworking. In Britain, wandering metalworkers may have driven the trade in ores from the tin mines of Cornwall and the malachite (copper ore) mines of the Great Orme in North Wales, responsible for driving the Bronze Age.
Across The Sea
Oceans did not offer a barrier to people, either. Nomadic people often take to the water for trade and to conduct diplomacy between people living on the land. The Pacific Ocean hosted an entire culture of people who regularly travelled between the Polynesian islands on sailing canoes.
Nomadic cultures are diverse. Historically, the Eurasian Nomads were different to Amerind Nomads, and the most famous Nomads of all - the Mongol Hordes - were among the most aggressive people on Earth, until the United States.
Nomads In Your Fantasy Game
Your fantasy roleplaying game can be based around your characters belonging to a Nomad culture tribe, wandering between towns, meeting other cultures. Of all the different cultures, Nomads are the likeliest to encounter and interact with every other culture - Civilised, Barbarian, and Primitive - on a regular basis. This gives the Nomadic campaign a perspective that has not often been explored in many fantasy roleplaying games.
Here are some example themes for a Nomadic campaign, using an example setting introduced in the last article, The Barbarian Voice - Alternative, where the Southern peoples are Civilised, and the Northern nations are small Barbarian cultures.
Characters can be hired by a caravan of the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople to provide protection for the wanderers from raiders, both of their own people and from barbarian, primitive and civilised robbers. Examples: mercenaries hired to travel along the dangerous West Coast Road between the Southerners and the wintering grounds of the Northwestern Trading Tribes. The greatest danger comes near the end of their epic journey, when the caravan has to cross through the territory of the Northern Mountain People.
On the road, the characters can learn about the Traders. At first, they hardly interact at all with the Traders; but as the journey unfolds, they find themselves becoming assimilated into their wandering culture, ultimately going native. They discover that this is how the Traders keep going - through a steady influx of strong, hardy men and women they collect along the way.
There is often little in the way of a centralised Nomadic leadership. However, on occasion a conflict may arise between individual tribes - and there are rules in place to smooth ruffled feathers and ensure harmony between the tribes. One of these is the provision of moots, gatherings where the conficting tribes meet in a neutral place, under a flag of truce, in order to negotiate peace and to offer diplomatic trade - horses, cattle, husbands, wives.
The characters can be drawn into one such moot, either as hired hands (in which case they get to see very little of the trade, only to become involved in an investigation when things go wrong and someone begins killing the Elders in their tents), or as members of the tribes themselves, getting together and resolving their differences to fight against a raiding party of outsider brigands.
The characters can begin a campaign out in the wilderness, starving, freezing half to death, only to be picked up by wandering Nomads. As they travel, and earn their Culture, Locale, Language, Lore, Navigation, Survival, and Track skills, and gradually assimilate into the Nomadic way of life, the reason for their stranding can become clear - they were robbed, and left for dead, by Southerner brigands who operate in the area, taking from lone wanderers. The brigands have left hundreds of people lying dead on the side of the road, and the Nomads are familiar with these brutes, so much so that when the characters next neet those brigands, they have plenty of opportunities to mete out justice for themselves, and for their other victims.
And this time, the Travellers won't be alone.
The characters are Nomads, and they have reached sufficient numbers - along with their spouses, families, and herds - that the caravan of which they are a part can no longer sustain such numbers, and part of the caravan must hive off and forge their own road in an unexplored territory to the Northeast. This is a story of exploration, of survival, and of conflict. The characters are responsible for their people as they carve out a new path to a land nobody has heard of before - a land of tumbled ruins and ghosts, but also abundant plants, game, and water. Along the way, they may find primitive peoples, and trade with them.
There is so much potential for conflicts. Internally, a Nomadic people can be at war with its own identity. Opportunities can arise for people to settle down and form a sedentary community. If this internal faction does settle down while the characters keep moving, can the sedentary settlers ever be called Nomads again? And will they extend the same hospitality when their wandering cousins return along their route, looking for a spot to overwinter?
Externally, the most obvious conflict is one which, sadly, is echoed in the real world. Bigotry is prevalent in many Civilised cultures, and often as Civilised cultures degenerate they turn to nationalism, populism and racism, painting a romanticised illusion of hearkening back to some "good old days" or "glorious Empires" - and wandering peoples, from Travellers to Rroma and Sinti peoples, are often picked upon by these governments, enacting harsh laws which criminalise them for just existing - something which is not confimed to history books talking about World War II, but which is actually taking place in Great Britain and Europe in 2021.
This is an ugly theme, one of the ugliest themes you will encounter - and it is included here only as a reminder that the real world is often a harsher place for footloose people than any fantasy world can ever be. Games Masters may wish to explore this theme, but bear in mind that it always brings out the worst in people, and it can lead to conflicts around the table - so this is a theme best left alone, unless everybody around the table is comfortable with wanting to explore this theme.
The Nomadic Voice
Here, then, is the alternative Nomadic Voice, from the Lands of the Southerners and Northerner Tribes.
The road had never been this rough before. Our cattle were complaining, the horses were complaining, and every single baby began squalling at the same time in the nursery wagons. We were all on edge as we entered The Valleys of Pain, just north of the dreaded Forest of the Storm Child.
They say that a great spirit of pain dominates this entire region, and that not a single valley is free of its influence. People are afraid to sing here. Afraid to love, or to laugh, or to compose poems or tell the stories. We must cross through these valleys in order to reach our wintering grounds to the North, and everybody hates this part, the worst leg of our route.
I spotted the first corpse, lying beside Hovath's crossroads. A piece of broken steel protruded from the body's chest. A sword, snapped off halfway up the blade. The dead man must have been in agony in his last moments.
It wasn't long before Davvo saw another corpse beside the one I saw. Then Matti saw a dozen more in a field nearby. But we had already sent for Affric, our leader, long before.
No wonder the Pain Spirit was strong. There had been a war here. A major one, by the looks of it. We used the Southerner loan word for war in our speech, because there is no equivalent in our language.
Most of the dead were fringe Southerners, in their fancy armour and shields, all shattered. One or two of their weapons were intact, and some in need of repair. Matti crowed in triumph as he unearthed what looked like one of the Southerners' fancy new firearms, a black powder musket.
But then we heard Vrida's keening lament. She recognised some of the bodies. They were Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, three of her cousins from the Bariski Clan; and Sardi, the only nephew of her late brother, who had settled in with the Southerners. By the looks of it, they had met here and been forced to kill each other without even recognising that they were kin by blood and birth.
Affric told us all that the rules were clear. We could not profit from slaughter. Moreover, since the fancy weapon had belonged to Vrida's nephew Sardi, there would be a blood curse upon any of his kin by blood and birth who took that gun from Sardi's body.
We buried all of their weapons of war, along with the bodies, in a single mass grave near the edge of the Gorimir Forest, and left a marker to future Trading Tribes caravans who will wander along here. Some treasures are to be left alone.
We could not do much more for them. We were in the last days of Autumn, and we could not stay for long, if we were to make our wintering camp site in time. The night before we moved on, we defied the Great Spirit of Pain with singing and festivities, honouring the dead and releasing the spirits of Sardi, and the cousins Gailo, Fendi, and Tamon, who had ended up dying at Sardi's hand before Sardi fell at their hands.
But in the morning, we slaughtered one of our herd, a sickly thing, and prepared it for a feast in honour of the Pain Spirit. We left it there, on the corner of Hovath's crossroads, in the hope that there could be peace between it and the travelling tribes which crossed through its land.
After all, hospitality is our highest virtue, and we never exclude family from our feasts.
Edited by Alex Greene