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Utgardloki
11-21-2010, 09:46 PM
I am working on a new D&D setting, and need to define a culture for the "barbarians". I am looking for ideas and ways to clarify my ideas to write up in a description for players considering a barbarian character.

I've decided that the "theater" of the setting has a few civilized kingdoms and outside the kingdoms are settlements of "barbarians" ranging from nomads with no permanent or long-term residence to somewhat permanent villages with simple cultivation and animal husbandry. I would like to avoid saying "these are like the huns (or the goths, or the vikings, etc)"

I am a bit inspired by the Asterix comics, and thinking of using the Celts as a starting point. Perhaps instead of chariots, though, they are skilled horse riders. In fact, they have animal totems, and (those who take a specified feat) can tame a wild horse to be their mount. They tend not to actually ride their mount into combat, however, for fear of their horse getting hurt.

I am thinking that they should be passionate. I am thinking that Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be a good example of how a typical guy from this culture might act. The characters in the Asterix comics are also quick to change moods.

The barbarians would be divided into many tribes, each of which may have their own ideosyncracies. Perhaps one tribe is fastidously clean. Another tribe favors keeping a stiff upper lip. Usually it is some aspect of human behavior, elevated to supreme importance.

Religion-wise I am committed to having them employ druids as their clergy, and not having a pantheon of gods. Instead, they worship the spirits of the natural world.

For attire, I am thinking they would typically wear leather, or homespun fabrics like linen and wool. They prefer wearing clothes they made themselves or made in their own communities, over exotic fabrics that come from faraway places.

tesral
11-22-2010, 02:55 AM
I am working on a new D&D setting, and need to define a culture for the "barbarians". I am looking for ideas and ways to clarify my ideas to write up in a description for players considering a barbarian character.

I've decided that the "theater" of the setting has a few civilized kingdoms and outside the kingdoms are settlements of "barbarians" ranging from nomads with no permanent or long-term residence to somewhat permanent villages with simple cultivation and animal husbandry. I would like to avoid saying "these are like the huns (or the goths, or the vikings, etc)"

I am a bit inspired by the Asterix comics, and thinking of using the Celts as a starting point. Perhaps instead of chariots, though, they are skilled horse riders. In fact, they have animal totems, and (those who take a specified feat) can tame a wild horse to be their mount. They tend not to actually ride their mount into combat, however, for fear of their horse getting hurt.

I am thinking that they should be passionate. I am thinking that Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be a good example of how a typical guy from this culture might act. The characters in the Asterix comics are also quick to change moods.

And the wings on your helmet will reflect your mood as well, don't forget that. :)


I think you have a good start on it. And remember horse peoples are not limited to the Asian steppes.

Keep in mind something I said in another thread. "Barbarian" and "savage" are pejoratives used by people that didn't like them. No society will see itself as inferior.

I agree with not using "Like the X" as a descriptor. However that means you need to follow through with a good description. Something I do with my races could be useful to you. A simple outline.
The Life: Describe the culture's typical life beginning to end. What are the condition of childhood, adulthood and old age. The customs of marriage, coming of age, status within the society of such age groups and those that do not conform as well. Things I include are the degree of body modesty and conversation distance preferred. These vary between peoples.
Art & Culture: What arts and crafts are they good and or known for? Likewise is there something they do not do and must trade for?
Politics: The role of politics, who can participate, impact on the whole.
Religion: Religions practiced, and to what degree. Is religion important or not?
I would add: Relations: How do that get along with/do not get along with other tribes/societies?

Last, make sure the players read this stuff.

whollibaugh
11-24-2010, 07:08 AM
will your characters start in the civilized kingdoms, or would they start in or around the barbarians?

often when kingdoms encountered barbarians or lesser cultures they would either conquer them or take their land. either using the defeated barbarians as slaves or killing them, blah blah blah (think romans vs germanic ppl, europeans vs africans, and usa vs native americans):usa2:

maybe a kingdom is invading and the PC's need to unite the various tribes to drive back the kingdom. or the PC's are the kingdom and are sent in ahead of the army to learn about the barbarians' weaknesses, then eventually lead armies in taking the barbarians

geography is an important factor. it would be cool to have various tribes not just with different traits, but totally different ways of life. for example some tribes are more plains type, and have an affinity with the earth and soil and plains animals, their druids would be more interested in animal reverence and crop and farming type stuff. while another tribe would live in a colder harsher mountains area. maybe even use griffins instead of horses. their druids would be more in tune with the air and cold. and then there could even be another tribe of hotter jungle or desert types. with their beliefs changing from respect of the forest/wild(jungle) to living off the land with as little as possible/survival (desert)


...i guess you were talking more about the culture, hehe. but in my opinion the geography is the most important. think first of the physical geography(plains, mountains, etc.) then think of the political geography(other kingdoms, tribes)

if they are more western then tribes tended to be more individualistic. if they are more eastern(Asian) tribes tended to value community and harmony with others (tho there was a lot of killin over there too) than they valued individual thoughts

anyway lots of stuff to consider, hehe. tell us what ur thinking ^^

Scribe of the Realm
11-24-2010, 08:49 PM
I agree that the Romans used "barbarian" as a pejorative term for just about anyone other than themselves, even when it really was not appropriate. As I recall, the Germanic tribes were using soap hundreds of years before the Romans (who probably followed the Greek tradition of using olive oil, but I need to check on that).

Barbarians can be technically advanced, as well. For example, the late Romans adopted some of the armor and weapons of the Germanic tribes (actually I simplify a bit, because that trend was rooted in technology, tactics and cultural shifts in the outlying Roman provinces). Another example is the respect that the Greeks had for Scythian crafted gold, despite their fearsome reputations as horsemen, archers, mercenaries and cannibals.

I ask one thing when a player chooses a barbarian character. In what one thing does his or her culture excel? As a DM, I want to have something tangible, one point of great pride that stands apart from the Conan stereotype. I don't ask the players to be slaves to a particular historic tribe or to a particular romanticized idea of "barbarian". Just give me enough detail that our ideas of "barbarian" can converge. It's a label that is loaded with a huge range of connotations, so it needs a little definition to get everyone on the same page.

Utgardloki
11-24-2010, 11:38 PM
I like the idea of griffon-riders. I think I will use them.

I sketched out a rough map that shows a variety of terrains, although all kind of temperate-coolish. I could arrange a hot-spot if desired, and perhaps should do so.

I actually plan for the campaign to take place in the civilized kingdoms, but in this case I made the kingdoms rather small (about 40,000 square miles on average), with much of the land given to wilderness and "barbarians".

nijineko
11-30-2010, 01:31 AM
the various native american groups are a prime example of technologically advanced peoples who were called and treated as barbarians because of the differences between culture and outlook. i can provide specifics if desired.

Riddlekin
12-09-2010, 04:40 AM
Have them greatly prize eloquence since they have an oral tradition, and have idiosyncratic bards that suit the culture. Give bards a high status among them as historians and diplomats.

If they use the kind of garments you described then have them herd sheep or goats or something; among people like that how many herd animals you have is a mark of status.

One of the things that makes barbarians interesting is that basically you are talking about a different style of culture from citybuilding. So this could actually be a form of great civilization but just not one that the more feudal kingdoms recognize as such, with the griffon riders being a kind of paramount tribe.

When we think of countries we tend to think of the nation state and of racial groups, but what if they don't? What if they are generally all the same kind of people but see themselves as being utterly different, so that the feudal folk misunderstand who they identify themselves as? For example the Romans thought of the Gauls as Gauls; the Gauls did not; they saw themselves as a number of different peoples, some of whom were so hostile to one another they allied themselves with Rome to fight their enemies.

Also you should have some counter balances to the griffon riders, like say a tribe that governs a sacred place and has powerful priests. I'm imagining a place where the body of a god is literally believed to be, and that the god is either really an ancient artifact, a primeval monster or some kind of demon their devotions hold at bay.

tesral
12-09-2010, 08:47 AM
Personally I would see the griffin riders as an elite among the various tribes. A tribe of entirely griffin riders is kind of like farming lions. Trying to keep top predators in one place.

Consider the question. Griffins are not domestic critters. To bind one to you you need to steal the egg from the nest and get away alive. You must raise it. That makes you special right there. The man or woman daring enough to try snaring a griffin, and bold enough to pull it off is special and worthy of respect simply sitting there on a griffin.


Have them greatly prize eloquence since they have an oral tradition, and have idiosyncratic bards that suit the culture. Give bards a high status among them as historians and diplomats.

You just described the Celts and the Norse. Must oral cultures celebrate the eloquent. As literate cultures celebrate the writer.

In Celtic culture the Bards where second only to the Druids in importantce. They were often judges of disputes as well as entertainers. They were neutral, traveling for tribe to tribe, so were reliable messengers.

Utgardloki
12-09-2010, 11:21 PM
I saw something Egyptian on TV and thought about putting some pyramids in this setting, but not a quasi-Egyptian culture, because that's been done many times. I could have these barbarians build pyramids. They always make good conversation pieces.

Tony Misfeldt
01-24-2011, 08:21 PM
One good source for ideas on creating your own barbarian cultures is the 2nd Edition book, The Complete Barbarians Handbook. The gaming rules in that book (barbarian abilities, kits, proficiencies/skills, etc) may be obsolete, however the advice given on how to create barbarian cultures translates very well to 3rd, and even 4th Editions.

The types of skills, weapons, clothing, and religions all have a great deal to do with their homeland terrain. Do they live near a riverbank? In the mountains? In the plains? In a dense, temperate forest? A thick tropical jungle? These all have a great deal to do with how they dress, fight, and behave. Those that dwell near a riverbank likely get most of their food by fishing. Their weapons of choice are likely spears and tridents. Their shamans likely pray to water spirits, etc. Meanwhile, mountain dwellers are likely hunters and trappers. They probably fight with axes and clubs, wear furs, etc. Their shamans likely pray to either earth spirits or ancestral spirits. And so on and so forth.

You may also wish to consider how your barbarians consider trade and commerse. Do they value gold and silver? Or are their concepts of wealth different? Do they have a simple barter system? Do they live in a socialist society, where everyone pitches in and everyone reaps the benefits of their successes, or suffers through their failures. Do they consider a sharp knife more valuable than a bag of gold, a well balanced spear and a sturdy shield more valuable than a bag of precious jewels? Or do they covet gold and jewels just as much as their more civilized counterparts?

Are they male or female dominant? If male dominant, then the female members of the tribe likely outnumber the men three to one, as it's the men who hunt dangerous animals, go off to war, etc. If female dominant, then the numbers are likely reversed for the same reasons. How do they regard family and marriage? Are they monogomous or polygamous? If male dominated they might be polygamous, to ensure that each woman in the tribe births at least one child. Do they consider marrying within the tribe to be incestuous, like the North American Natives, or do they simply marry whomever they like?

What are their relations like with the other tribes? Friendly? Neutral? Hostile? If friendly, how friendly? If hostile, why?

Are the tribes peaceful? Warlike? Nomadic? Agriculturally advanced?

These are all questions asked in The Complete Barbarians Handbook, and gives suggestions on how to answer them. If you're like me and never throws away anything D&D related, then dig this book out of your D&D library and give it a look through. If not, start looking through your second hand bookstores and any games/hobby shop which sells previously used D&D books and try and find a copy. I'm sure you'll find it very very useful.

DMMike
01-25-2011, 12:05 PM
Sorry - but I'm fixed on the Druids part. Ut, if you're putting magic in the culture, that should pretty much be considered technology, which all but eliminates the "barbarian" aspect. Granted, druid magic isn't as flashy as wizardry, but those pyramids aren't so mysterious once you find out there's a druid casting Bull's Strength on the laborers.

To keep them at the lowly, savage barbarian level (sarcasm, anyone?), make sure those clergymen can't do much more than pull fake intestines out of a sick tribesman.

tesral
01-25-2011, 12:58 PM
Keep in mind that anything outside of butt naked is technology. "Barbarians" often had high tech for the day. The Mongol horse bow comes to mind. Barbarians invented the stirrup.

The term is a pejorative for anyone that isn't of your civilization. Romans considered the Celts barbarians and the Celt arguably had as good a technology as the Romans.

Give them Druids. One Druid a tribe is not enough magic to warp the culture into civilization. And build the pyramids with bull's strength? One: How many can you cast a day? Two: 4 points of strength are an advantage, but not an over whelming advantage for a mere fraction of the work day. You would save that kind of thing for the tricky bit that requires extra control.