A Primer on Tribal Role-Play

Started by Shabago, November 11, 2021, 12:45:07 PM

With full credit and compliments to Rathustra and on suggestion this should not be solely on the coded human tribes board:

An Introduction to playing a Tribal Human in Zalanthas:

Zalanthas is a harsh world, filled with dangers both mundane and magickal. In the face of such adversity, many of the peoples of the Known flocked together, drew a line in the sand with bricks and mortar and said: the wastes go no further; Here be civilization.

Your ancestors chose another path: Instead of trading a life at the mercy of the Known itself for one at the mercy of nobles and sorcerer kings, they continued to live as they had for generations – drawing a different line in the sand with blood, culture and history.

This primer is designed to help you, your character's player, to play a character with no ties to the cities of the Known World. Someone who was born and has lived their entire life as part of a culture that possesses few, if any ties to what those in the cities call 'civilisation'. The only thing that is set in stone, that is required by staff for play as a tribal is:

As a player in a human tribe, we expect you to play a tribal character – being part of this coded clan is not a background embellishment. It isn't a personality trait, or a gimmick that can be bolted onto another concept. Being a member of a tribe is a core part of your character's identity.

To a human tribal, the words 'Family' and 'Tribe' are interchangeable. The concept of the family unit that exists in the cities (parents, children and immediate relations) is meaningless when children are raised communally in spaces where several generations live side by side.

For a human tribal, their tribe is all that is familiar and safe. This goes beyond the individuals in the tribe: it is the particular accent that their people possess or the turns of phrase they use; the colours and style of clothing they wear; the traditions, rituals, habits and way of doing things they have and the stories, songs, dances and spirituality that they share. These things remind them of home and come naturally to them.

In comparison, things that are different are jarring. The more strikingly apart that some person or behaviour is from themselves, the greater the disquiet or culture shock that is felt.

This is before natural human curiosity of course – and the fact that some people are more outgoing and open to differences than others.

It still stands, however, that tribal characters will favour what is tribe and what is familiar instinctively over the alternative. This instinct is subject to reason – but this can be a difficult experience – weighing and overcoming a bias is always unpleasant. The response a tribal might have to alien traditions or concepts may result in rage, apathy, contempt, curiosity, and/or dismissal. Very rarely will a tribal 'accept' what is foreign to them, even after years of exposure.

Though it may vary from tribe to tribe, it is common for a tribal character to have a large family. Survival is not guaranteed in the wastes and the best way to have your offspring survive to give you a fruitful old age is to have many of them. This desire is of course tempered by the realities of living in an environment where your next mouthful of water may be your last – but often not even that can overcome the universal human predisposition towards propagation.

Your character's extended family will have been a constant presence in their life from birth. They would be their primary source of education, entertainment and comfort through adolescence and the ties that bind them to your character would be very, very strong. This doesn't mean that you necessarily like them though – it just simply means that such rivalries and petty disagreements would develop in a tightly-knit community where such things are addressed and resolved much more quickly – or swept under the rug for the sake of survival.

Who your character loves, as shown throughout literary history on Earth, isn't always who their culture expects. The way your character is raised can have a strong influence on the characteristics they seek in their partners, however – as previously discussed, what is familiar is favoured. Growing up in an isolated community means that your character's base attractions are viewed through the lens of what their culture considers attractive.

Layered on top of this are the expectations of the character's kin – that they follow the right rituals, pick a partner that benefits them the most, and so on. These are strong motivations, especially when the attitude of your peers is all you've gauged yourself by your whole life!

For most people, this mixture of expectation and socialisation overcomes the desire for the exotic. For others, the quirks of their personality or experience lead them to choose a different path. If you choose such a path for your character, it falls to you to ensure that your character experiences how going against tradition affects them – how their vNPC relatives react, their personal doubts and their struggle for acceptance. This may be easier or harder depending on the traditions of your character's tribe!

Personal belongings
In a society where everything a person owns has to be carried with them from one place to another, the ability to travel light is much prized; It isn't just that an excess of belongings would be difficult to transport – it's the fact that to become laden with belongings can be a liability.

It's also a fact that, for your character, everything they've needed has been shared – from birth things have been allocated as survival dictates. Greed and avarice, when they do occur, result in shunning and rejection, which help to keep the tribe cohesive.

You will find that many tribal cultures on Zalanthas have incorporated this into their belief systems.

Money, as a concept, is something that many tribal characters will have no experience until they first visit a settlement. Up until that point, the worth of something will have been inherent in what that thing is: a bow is valuable because of the meat it can provide through hunting, jewellery is valuable because it looks attractive and water is precious because it is necessary to live. Money upsets this – a tribal character will struggle to learn the value of money, or the part money plays in determining the worth of something.

Barter, on the other hand, is the preferred method for trade amongst those peoples that live apart from the settlements of Zalanthas. This shows that it is simply the function as money in trade that can be a difficult concept to understand – not the concept of trade in itself.

Furthering the potential for confusion is the intersection between money and banks. The jump from 'useless obsidian discs' to 'units of value' is much smaller than the jump from 'units of value' to 'a spoken number' – where the number is a bank balance. Adding to this negative perception is the fact that those who operate the banks of the Known are well aware of the opportunity that a tribal – who is not a citizen of any settlement, nor connected in many ways to the powers-that-be in any given settlement – offer. It is not unusual for deposits to go 'missing' when deposited by someone bearing tribal ink or even for an entire account to be lost if the clerk decides they've never seen the tribal before.

Rules of ownership can vary from tribe to tribe, but a good rule of thumb is: You only own what you carry. Beyond that it is safe to assume that if something is needed, it will be put to use. Collections of goods, arms and armours do no good hoarded away. From a young age a tribal character would find that when something is set down in a busy communal tent, it would be as quickly taken by someone else.

This isn't to say that jealousy, greed and associated emotions don't exist in tribal societies – they're just kept in check by the need to share, spread scant resources thinly and social factors such as the close relationships between those involved and the co-dependence demanded by the harsh environment in which they live.

While the tribe offers a tribal character a means through which to define themselves and find comfort and familiarity, such warmth is rarely afforded for the world outside of the camp. The very same scarcities that tie together a tribe work to turn them against the other.

Someone not of the tribe is an outsider by different degrees depending on the tribe in question and the origins and nature of the other.

Typically it is "better the devil you know" - those outsiders who match your character most closely are obviously easier to relate to conceptually. Other human tribals would share similar plights and experiences with one another, for example.

City-dwelling humans on the other hand seem as foreign in their manner of living as another race at first glance – their way of life being so utterly different. This doesn't mean that common ground can't be found – being human is still a big part of both peoples' way of life. It just increases the scope for misunderstandings, frustrations and avoidance.

At the furthest end of the spectrum are the other sentient races of Zalanthas. Chief amongst these are the elves. Whereas in the cities humans are able to meet elves on superior footing, in the wastes it is the tireless desert elf that has the advantage. This results in a fragile status quo kept strained by the occasional conflicts and thefts.

While elven tribes can at least be bargained and traded with, even that scant middle ground is lost with the other major presence in the wastes of the Known – the gith. The gith raid mercilessly and refuse all attempts at reasoning, save those entertained as a pretence for an ambush. An abject hatred for gith is not at all unjustified, given the circumstances.

Beyond elves and gith different species are treated differently just because they're different. Where trust and understanding might be built over time, between a tribal and a demi-human, such understanding is unlikely to spread far.

The World
The wilderness is not unfamiliar and foreign – it, or at least the part of it that your character's tribe inhabits, has been a constant presence since the day your character was old enough to walk. The distinction between 'city' and 'wilderness' isn't one that a tribal character would inherently understand – there are no borders or barriers between the camp and the wastes.

This produces a mindset that appreciates the lethal reality of life on the sands of Zalanthas, but doesn't seek to surmount those dangers – often the wilds are conceptualised as an entity that both gives and takes away. This isn't so unusual a concept when every boon – a good hunt, good weather, the safe delivery of a newborn – and every bust – the loss of a loved one, the tainting of a water source, the destruction of a prized tool – comes at the hands of the outside world.

The details of this mindset vary from tribe to tribe and from individual to individual: it can become a sort of pragmatism – recognising the folly of 'fairness'; it can lead to a grim, survivalist outlook – seeking to wrench survival from an uncaring world at whatever cost, and so on.

Similarly to tribal attitudes towards property and possessions is their attitude towards over-hunting. In a world where life teeters on the edge of complete destruction at the encroaching dunes of the deep wastes the management of what little water, meat and plantlife that manages to survive is a very real consideration for all tribes – even if they are not entirely conscious. Hunting for more than what is needed, wasting water – burning plant life – these are all wasteful actions that are recognised as being dangerous to the tribe's continued survival. This negative attitude towards waste goes beyond simply over-hunting and even applies to how every part of what is taken from the land is put to use. When the odds are against your continued survival, knowing how to squeeze every advantage out of what little you can afford to take is a vital skill.

Zalanthas is a spiritually bankrupt world. Magick – an unexplained, mysterious force – is forever burned into the collective psyche of the thinking creatures of the Known as singularly despicable thing that has ruined the world. The rulers of Tuluk and Allanak – the twin hearts of 'civilised' culture in the Known have proclaimed themselves 'gods' and superstition and distrust runs rampant in the wholly illiterate population.

In the wastes things are different. The mysteries of the natural world evoke a need for understanding that only the supernatural can answer. Outside of the dogma enforced in the city-states, tribes draw their own conclusions over generations, creating their own mythologies and belief systems. These systems vary wildly from tribe to tribe, but are what a tribal character will have been indoctrinated and educated with from a young age. They offer a system for rationalising and comprehending the horrors of a brutal and uncaring world – they define -why- as well as outlining the way of life.

Participation in the spiritual element of a tribe varies as much as it does in the real world. Tribal characters might observe and see their whole world through the lens of their belief – or they might not even be aware of it, simply living day to day and following their beliefs because it is so deeply embedded in everything they know.

Disbelief can also vary – from misunderstanding to outright dissatisfaction – but whatever the severity of disbelief, it always leads to alienation – a distancing of the disbeliever from the system of living that everyone they know and care about engages in. This struggle should be a source of internal roleplay for your character.

The above paragraphs deal with extreme cases where spirituality is core and ever-present. Not all (indeed not many) will be so – indeed, for most tribes, spirituality will exist as something unassuming and easily overlooked except for various instances that are important to the tribe's culture.
Nessalin: At night, I stand there and watch you sleep.  With a hammer in one hand and a candy cane in the other.  Judging.


This is amazing!

Thanks Shabago and staff!

Yes. Awesome. This totally backs up all the stuff talked about regarding overhunting and spirituality. Great post!