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  1. And so it's the turn of civilised cultures to come under the spotlight. The words "civic," "civil," "civilian," "civility," and "civilisation" come from a Latin root, "civitas," city. It can be argued that a civilised nation is one which has reached a sufficient level of sophistication as to require urban developments - the formation of communities into cities, plural. Throughout history, there have been a good many examples of civilised societies, each of which thought itself the pinnacle of human societal development. Until they weren't. What, then, makes a civilisation? The cities? The languages? The landmarks? The wonders? The songs? It could be argued that it is consensus and consistency alone which define a group of people as a civilisation or a society - the agreement that all members of that society share a common identity, history, language, and so on, and the independent standardisation of the stories the members tell of themselves, how they came to be, and who they are. Arguably, it's the consensus which defines a civilisation. No civilisation ever declared itself to be the barbarians. Strange Nations This time, this blog looks at the civilisations you create for roleplaying games, rather than real world historical civilisations. The Earth has so damn many civilisations and societies that to chart them all, from their origins to their downfalls, would fill the syllabuses of entire universities. As, indeed, it does. You don't need a doctorate to create a culture for Mythras - not a Primitive, Barbarian, Nomadic, or Civilised culture. Going by what's on the market, most roleplaying game settings just set up civilisations as backdrops for adventures, with a cursory paragraph or two defining the known history of how the city came to be, and so on. Few settings ever take the time to write long and detailed historical essays about their settings (Kelestia Publications' Summa Venariva, which defines the history of Venarive, Northwest Lythia, for the Harnworld setting, is one exception), and fewer readers will pay good money for such a book, apart from diehard completists. Settings are presented as is, with stock tropes of Nomadic, Primitive, and Barbarian outsiders coming to the relatively static Town to sample the food, the ale, and the willing nightlife. As a Games Master or setting creator, you are not bound to follow any logical structure for defining your civilisation; but for verisimilitude, here are some guidelines. Water Water is the hidden element which defines where the centres of civilisation will set up. Crop plants will only grow where there is an abundant supply of water. Plants can grow in desert conditions, but not without some source of water coming from somewhere - the Atacama Desert is described as the driest place on Earth, and the only plant life which grows anywhere in that most arid of wastes exists because of the fogs which blow over the barrier mountains from the Pacific. Without the clouds bringing airborne moisture, there'd be nothing growing there at all. Water enables plant growth. Abundant water brings herbivores, carnivores, and eventually humans. Those who decide to settle in these places of abundant water eventually found the communities which grow into cities. Agriculture A society develops into a civilisation when it can move out of basic subsistence farming, where intensive labour provides only just enough to satisfy one's immediate needs. Advances in farming technology, such as the Archimedes Screw, the mouldboard plough, and selective breeding of grains and domesticated animals for different characteristics such as food animals for their meat or milk, or other herd animals for their skins or wool, yield a surplus of goods which can be taken to a city for trade with its every-growing hungry population. Other forms of domestication include apiary (beekeping), domestication of birds for their meat (chicken in particular), and even silkworms to produce silk. Just don't ask how they go about extracting the silk from the silkworm caterpillars' cocoons. You'll never touch silk again. Surplus means trade - trade for better equipment, for money, for labour to improve on the buildings of the holdings - and even time, because if you have a stock of goods you can sell, and some way of preserving them from rot and vermin, you won't have to labour so hard to fill your stocks - and that means time to begin to pursue leisure pursuits not related to growing crops or animal husbandry. Trade Of course, trade goes both ways - goods come in, goods go out. Coin is a useful guide to measure the worth of something, but many civilisations exist for centuries without a currency, just going by honouring debts and bartering. Currency can be food, equipment, labour or more abstract things such as artworks. The independent publishers WMB Saltworks have published a book listing 108 different forms of currency, and some of these are historically relevant - such as salt, which was so valued to the ancient Romans that it was used to pay the wages of the Empire's soldiers - hence the word salary, which derives from the Latin word for salt, and the modern phrase "Worth their salt." One harsh note here - a lot of ancient and not so ancient civilisations considered disenfranchised people a form of currency, too. The history of the world is a lot darker than the history books would have it, because many of the monuments and cities listed in those books were likely built, and maintained, but never run by, slaves. Communications Travelling along the trade routes with the cargoes would have been information; gossip, news, songs, jokes, and stories. Instructional information - planting advice, recipes, and so on - are also transmitted along these trade routes. In time, they become a corpus of information which, at least in civilisations, become solidified on paper - which leads us to:- Writing and Arithmetic One of the earliest signs of a civilisation, though not a definitive sign, is the adoption of a writing system to abstract trade, turning words into symbols to represent cargoes and consignments of trade goods, and number systems to quantify amounts. Gradually, writing systems expand beyond their remit of facilitating trade to encompass the transmission of stories, poems, and so on. Laws and Standards As a development from trade, civilisations develop standardised weights and measures to determine the standards by which traders must follow, in an attempt to establish universal consistency across the market places in all parts of the overall community or polity which shares the common cultural identity. Lawmakers arise, to press their stamp on fair trading standards on things like the length of cloth, standard weights of grains, the prescribed formulae of medicines, and so on. Trade guilds form to codify the authorised procedures which members of the guild must apply to their work, and set the standards of quality of goods, and the market prices. The highest forms of laws governing such topics as crime, enforcement, trials, and punishments, srise from the earliest trade laws. It does not take long for the law to change to forbid murder, once some landowner starts killing off their neighbours to take their land. Shared Resources This, then, is where civilisations develop, when there is a shared experience of history, carried down through the generations both orally and in written form; where systems regulating trade develop into bureaucracies, and all that leisure time develops into arts and crafts, songs, poetry, myths and legends. Every culture develops its cultural identity through art, but civilisations do what they can to preserve the material forms of those expressions - artworks, books, journals, recipe collections, history books, and so on. Biijs, including libraries of scrolls, enable people to learn what once had only been available to a selected few who'd been entrusted to keeping the oral records through recitation. Community and Identity In the end, it is the people who define their society as a civilisation. It is people who are responsible for maintaining the histories and creating their own, for sharing their dreams and composing new songs, for forgetting stories only to have mystified future historians dig them up down the line. Most other cultures generally have little time for such things as professional dancers, artists, and philosophers - and there is a threshold through which a society must pass in order to be considered a civilisation, something which does not depend on inventions and technology, but on the ability of its individual members to live out entire lives pursuing abstract goals unrelated to living out a life making or growing things just to survive. It is the move away from subsistence which provides the roots for the consensus and consistency which define that which is shared by the civilisation. The Civilised Voice Here, then, is the alternative Civilised Voice. This one is set in Fioracitta, the Heart of Power. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ My name is Zurhan al-Turaph, and this is my journal. I have been asked to provide a regular journal of my daily activities and musings. A man in Lascha East swears to me that my written thoughts can be a source of much luchre from an ever-increasing, demanding audience, so I cannot deny him his ambitions, however vain they seem to be to me. After all, what harm can it do to write about my life? The hardest thing for me to write about is contemporary idiomatic speech. What exactly does it mean when somebody is rolling in the pigs? It is an expression much used among the young to denote someone who has come into wealth. Personally, I cannot see the metaphor. Pigs are inedible to me, carriers of parasites, dwellers in their own filth. Although, now I've written down those words, perhaps the metaphor does describe the rich, and their behaviour once they have money. I cannot exactly exempt myself, since my home in Degianna appears to be the most expensive home of this party of Adventurers to which I have become attached, and I am considerably wealthier than all of them put together. Perhaps this is a timely warning to myself not to allow myself to follow suit and "roll in pigs." I would introduce the other members of this expedition, but they have all requested that I refrain from dropping names. They are all, in their own way, charming and peculiar. One, a Latolian, was once seen by myself as they emerged from the staff entrance of The Painted Mask in Lascha East District, before crossing the piazza to attend services at the San Tamaggia opposite. Until then, I had never met a more beautiful - looking person. I was assured by my employer that they are definitely human, unlike my Bestia and Longane colleagues. I am not startled by the sight of Bestia, Longane, Monacielli and Serpent People roaming the streets - my old mentor was a Besti - but these two companions of mine are a rare breed. I had never seen anyone swim that lake as quickly as my Longane companion. I swear, she must have mystical capabilities. The other two are as human as I am, though they have not got, nor can they imagine, my history. My story is unique. As with the Latolian, I am not certain of the sex of one of my colleagues - I swear, they are male one moment and female the next, or so it seems in the dark of this place we are exploring. A trick of the light, perhaps. The other, a well-dressed and refined man, reminds me so much of myself in my impetuous, cocky, callow youth. So, then, these are the people I am to work with. And a fine assembly they are. I watched them from the vantage of the rowing boat which bore me to the boat dock of the house we are to explore. My boat was last, of course, and apart from my rower I was alone; but I watched the others as they sat in pairs in their boats, chatting and gossiping excitedly. I have not yet told them about the destination, this house in Escharro we have to explore. Namely, that I think I may know its layout better than they can imagine. It is tied to my story - for this is the home of my old mentor in the Arts of the Benedittara. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ If you want to know the rest, see if there's a space available in "A Race Through Dark Places" at GenCon on the 17th and 18th of September, at GenCon Online. Or you can wait till I publish the fanfic afterwards ...
  2. 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. Epic Scale 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. Nomad Lifestyle 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. Wealth 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. Diet 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. Diversity 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. Trade 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. Diplomacy 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. Survival 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. Exploration 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. Conflict 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.
  3. Continuing my look into the four basic cultural backgrounds from the Mythras Core Rulebook. What, exactly, is a barbarian anyway? What distinguishes a Barbarian culture from a Primitive, Nomadic, or Civilised culture? The answer, shockingly, is nothing. "Barbarian" is a political definition - basically, it's "any culture that isn't ours." Technically, "barbarian" just means "foreign," or "outsider," just like "pagan" just means "country bumpkin" and "mundane" means "man of the world." It's only in gaming that barbarians are conflated into a generalised image of some shirtless, woad-daubed warrior types with braided beards and hair and helmets with horns. Technically, there really should be no Barbarians - just other people. However, fantasy games demand that barbarians exist, so what can you do? Barbarian Culture A Barbarian culture is one which does not follow the laws or mores of the civilised culture next door. That does not mean that they are Primitives, though it is feasible to have a culture which leans towards Primitive or Nomadic, yet retains an identity which is identifiable as Barbarian. Languages Barbarians could speak their own language, heavily accented, and either plain speaking or laden with idiomatic expressions. Half the fun of dealing with a Barbarian party encountered in the wild is figuring out which tribe they are, and which language and dialect they speak. Language defines territory, for the most part, and an Adventurer familiar with Barbarian cultures may have to fine tune their Lore to cover, for example, the Northern Lake People from the Northern Mountain People and the Northwestern Trading Tribespeople, even though they could all be classified as "The Northern People" to people from the Southern lands. Social Structure Generally, Barbarian cultures tend to be led by Chieftains, Thanes, and tribal leaders with similar titles. Rulership does not have to come at the end of a sword, nor does the title always go to the strong. A weak man may win the mantle through guile; a woman can rise to prominence as a great leader, uniting disparate tribes through trade and diplomacy yet also enforcing the accord between tribal nations by commanding strong armies, leading from the front. Clans and lineages of ancestry are common, with extended families being led by a Matriarch or Patriarch, and revered elders frequently making journeys to attend a Parliament, or Thing (pronounced "ting") of the tribes, to lay down the new laws for the year and to settle disputes between individuals and entire tribes. Knowledge of The Land Your Barbarian culture is highly likely to have just as extensive knowledge of Locale as their Primitive cousins. They are likely to have Animism as their primary source of magic, with some Mysticism and Folk Magic. Their literature, carried mostly in the head with the same oral traditions which sustained the Primitives, may tell of ancient gods and even older demons, those demons being the Primitive gods who were rendered obsolete by the new deities of the Barbarian tribes. The oral traditions are also likely to form the basis for their Locale and Lore skills - knowledge of where the healing herbs are, knowledge of how to cultivate crops, make the proper sacrifices to the land to allow travellers to pass without incident, and the best seasons to plant and to reap. The oral tradition ties the Barbarians to the land, perhaps even more deeply than it does the Primitive peoples. Laws Laws are kept in the minds of Lawkeepers, and mostly have to do with the placement of borders and bounds between the lands of different tribes, or matters of inheritance. Again, do not assume that only men may be Lawkeepers - imagine a Barbarian, tribal culture dominated by their women, ruling each tribe with a Triummulierate (the term for a Triumvirate of women) and laying down laws regarding the need to be honourable in conduct, whether that be in trade, diplomacy, or warfare. Some of the highest laws in Barbarian cultures concern hospitality. Many Barbarian tribes dwell in wilderness regions which would be considered inhospitable to a "civilised" citizen, and even to other Barbarians who are used to the land, to be exiled from the comforts of the hearth is effectively a death sentence. The presence of a warm hearth nearby can mean the difference between life and death - so there are laws of hospitality proscribing the conduct of both hosts and passing strangers. The offering of hospitality to a stranger who arrives in a storm is one of the highest expressions of the Barbarian culture's ethos. Hospitality is sacrosanct, and hosts are expected to offer a warm bed, hot food, and a place by the fire to strangers. Likewise, a stranger may accept hospitality (they'd be a fool not to), but they are required to behave with dignity and grace, and to express gratitude to their hosts (rather than try to seduce or murder them). Good feasting, good poetry and song, and - if the stranger is a healer - treatment of the sick of the household for free, are generally accepted as a cause for celebration. A stranger who can entertain the hosts, or help them, or stand with them and defend them, is considered a gracious visitor and their good reputation will spread. Trade and Diplomacy The same drives behind the treatment of strangers applies to trade and diplomatic relations. Representatives of other tribes, including "civilised" cultures, are feted like visiting kings, because the hosts are bound by the laws of hospitality. This extends to visiting bands of Adventurers passing through Barbarian territory: these are Barbarians, not bandits or brigands, and the Games Master should take great care not to just turn an encounter with Barbarians as just another random combat encounter. It's a cliche, it's been done to death, and you can do so much better. The Barbarian Voice So here, then, is my take on The Barbarian Voice. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ We stumbled across the ragtag party of Southerners, close to sunset. They were still building their encampment in the worst possible place - exposed, high on a windswept hill particularly vulnerable to cold, high winds, and right next to a field of burial mounds prone to nightly hauntings. I ordered my men to stay silent and refrain from laughing. These Southerners seemed little more than children; and they seemed to be ill-equipped to handle the elements. They certainly had no awareness of the land, nor its hazards: one of them sought to pitch her flimsy tent right on top of a nest of firegrubs, and one of the party, a fancyman, was trying to erect their tent next to a tree ... on a hill prone to being struck by lightning in a storm. Indeed, there was a storm looming, and so I approached these wayward children, bringing with me one of my lovers, a man called Shanto - which means "Speaker of Truth in Many Tongues" - to ask the wanderers if they would like to share our fire tonight. Their response was predictably hostile. At our approach, they drew swords. The fancyman gestured to the sky, in a vain attempt to summon lightning to his aid. I did not have the heart to tell him that his vulgar sciences will not work on this sacred hill, if the spirits do not permit it. Instead, I let Shanto speak for me. I offered these frightened, ignorant children the chance to sit at our fire and share hospitality; a mark of respect, even to those who know not how to respect our highest laws. Fortunately, the fancyman knew both Shanto's language and his tribe, and spoke to him in greeting. Shanto told the fancyman to insist on speaking directly to me. It took some coaxing - apparently, the fancyman prefers the company of other men, or something- but eventually, he turned to me and stated his intent to seek out some treasure which was reputedly buried in the grounds of a ruined Southerner fort, abandoned to the wilds some two generations before even the summers of my Grandmother. I nodded, silently, and spoke to Shanto in my tongue, for him to translate, as was our custom, and made our offer. The young children gratefully accepted, and struck their tents and abandoned their futile attempt to light a fire on Windspirit Hill to join us at our camp. On the way back to the camp, Shanto spoke to me in my tongue, to let me know the strangers' plans, which they thought they could conceal from us by speaking in their Southerner tongue. I reminded Shanto that I could overhear them just as well as he, and that I was aware that they planned something nefarious with the artefact they sought. I also told Shanto that, should they survive the wilderness and the beasts which lurk around the Southerner fort, to return home with that prize they sought, that they may do what they like with it once they return home. In the end, if they are tested by the land and survive the tests, they would not need any artefact to seize power back home. They would be entitled to power in and of themselves, because the land will have tempered their strength beyond the capabilities of their fellow Southerners.
  4. 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. Primitive Cultures 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, I underwent 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 Or perished, 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.
  5. So how come fantasy football is accepted and even advertised on TV and radio while fantasy role-playing is still often considered a strange activity participated in by strange people? When was the last time you heard a radio spot offering you instant cash to role-play? Why can't Hasbro cough up money for TV spots for D&D 5th when these fantasy football leagues are recruiting during prime time? I mean, pretending is pretending, right? They are both numbers games with colorful logos and fanatical fan bases. Games Workshop did real fantasy football in 1987 with Blood Bowl. That other hobby, while conceived in 1962, didn't hit the big time until 1997.
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