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Some notes on barbarians

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Spike:
Oh sure, Conan's just a bog standard fighter archetype when you actually read the books. Maybe its all the artwork depicting him on top of a mound of corpses looking angerous swinging an ax like he's got a score to settle with an entire forest.

Or maybe Hasbro/WotC just really thought that adding more classes was the Way To Profit, and couldn't think of anything to set shirtless barbarians apart from iron clad fighters other than a good case of Rabies.

Ashakyre:
Conan is a great character, but not because of his stats.

He can best any mortal man is single combat, and fears only the supernatural. He's drawn to the riches of city life and disgusted by the weakness its comforts bring. The hairs of his neck rise when he feels the presense of the supernatural (often left out of games, by the way.) He chases gold, and then spends it all on drink and women. He leads men, until he grows bored, and then abandons them. He is a thief, a tomb raider, a mercenary, and a bodyguard. When he grows weary of civilization he makes for wilder lands, and there grows weary of strife and war. He sees nobility in cutthroats and baseness in learned men.

Long story short, Conan is a living critique of civilization and its interplay with barbarism. More specifically, the spiritual weakening that occurs as a people shifts from nomadic to settled life. To capture the classic barbarian you need to include the barbarian's various foils: the scheming advisor, the cruel slave master, the wicked sorcerer.

Historically, until fairly recent times nomadic peoples eventually got the upper hand. Another way to classify barbarians might be:

-Living only in contact with other nomadic tribes
-On the frontiers of a settled civilization, often used as a buffer against wilder barbarians further afield
-Recent conquerors of a settled people, now semi-civilized, and set up as a ruling caste above them
-Corrupted and weakened by civilization, ready to be conquered by the next wave of barbarians on the frontier

The soul of the barbarian is wandering and conquest of space. Other places where the barbarian spirit lives on:

-Pirates (wandering the seas)
-Explorers (wandering new lands)
-Shamanic Elders (wandering spiritual planes)
-Esoteric researchers (wandering intellectual fields)

Other models worth considering: nomadic native American tribes, the Bantu expansion, the Polynesian settlers.

In a sense the wandering hero of the RPG is already a barbarian, so his role is usurped, and he has no way to stand out.

Hope this helps.

Bren:

--- Quote from: Ashakyre;1112685 ---Historically, until fairly recent times nomadic peoples eventually got the upper hand.
--- End quote ---
But only temporarily. Historically, settled agricultural civilizations defeat nomadic pastoralists over and over. Sometimes the nomads win and are absorbed into settled society and no longer are nomadic. Sometimes the nomads lose and are slaughtered, enslaved, or turned away to retreat into less fertile lands.

Ashakyre:

--- Quote from: Bren;1113467 ---But only temporarily. Historically, settled agricultural civilizations defeat nomadic pastoralists over and over. Sometimes the nomads win and are absorbed into settled society and no longer are nomadic. Sometimes the nomads lose and are slaughtered, enslaved, or turned away to retreat into less fertile lands.
--- End quote ---

Almost every agricultural society's ruling class comes from people who were outside that society, invaded as pastoralists, slaughtered the old aristocracy, and set themselves up to rule. Not every, but many. And history abounds with examples. If you call being ruled by the descendants of your conquerors a win, just because they adopted some of your customs, we're just playing around with words.

Meanwhile, there are no pastoral societies ruled by the descendants of agricultural conquerors. There was never anything like a Attila and Ghengis Khan that sprang from a tiny agricultural society and conquered all pastoral peoples.

Much of agricultural society's victorys against barbaric people was against semi-nomadic people's, pre-weakened by their contact with civilization, but not absorbing its riches. Also, if you dive into how agricultural societies fought against pastoral peoples, and dig in on the details, witness usually by employing other pastorals to fight them. So many of those victories on behalf of agricultural society weren't won by the agricultural society. Generally, as long as the agricultural society could play one nomadic tribe against the other, they were fine. But when a great pastoral leader emerges, historically, and agricultural societies ran out of barbarian mercenaries to hire, there was very little they could do.

So we have a dynamic where the military prowess of pastoral people's, man-for-man, wins out, and the riches of agricultural culture, wins out. One produces stronger people, the other produces seductive material culture. This dynamic is more important to Howard's writing.

Meanwhile every great Eurasion empire met hard territorial limits when it butted against nomadic peoples. And these borders persisted until modernity. Only industrial society was able to defeat and ultimately absorb pastoral society.

Bren:

--- Quote from: Ashakyre;1113535 ---Almost every agricultural society's ruling class comes from people who were outside that society, invaded as pastoralists, slaughtered the old aristocracy, and set themselves up to rule. Not every, but many. And history abounds with examples. If you call being ruled by the descendants of your conquerors a win, just because they adopted some of your customs, we're just playing around with words.
--- End quote ---
You are playing with words. While the Mongols conquered China, its been many, many generations since anyone of pure or even mostly Mongolian genetic descent ruled China and far, far longer since anyone who was culturally Mongolian ruled China. To put it more generally, once the conquering nomads of tribe X no longer are nomads and no longer are members of tribe X genetically or culturally, it's a semantic game without substance to claim that tribe X is still in charge of anything. Tribe X as a culture and as a people has ceased to exist. Defeats don't get much more final than that.


--- Quote ---Meanwhile, there are no pastoral societies ruled by the descendants of agricultural conquerors. There was never anything like a Attila and Ghengis Khan that sprang from a tiny agricultural society and conquered all pastoral peoples.
--- End quote ---
There are two reasons for that.

[*]It's difficult to bring nomads to battle so they can be conquered. They just run away.
[*]They don't have that much of value to loot so the value gotten from conquering them doesn't justify the effort and resources required to force them to come to battle so you can conquer them.
[/LIST]


--- Quote ---Also, if you dive into how agricultural societies fought against pastoral peoples, and dig in on the details, witness usually by employing other pastorals to fight them. So many of those victories on behalf of agricultural society weren't won by the agricultural society.
--- End quote ---
Using one group of nomads as your pawns to defeat a different group of nomads definitely counts as a defeat of the nomads by settled society, it's the victory of brains over brawn.


--- Quote ---So we have a dynamic where the military prowess of pastoral people's, man-for-man, wins out, and the riches of agricultural culture, wins out. One produces stronger people, the other produces seductive material culture. This dynamic is more important to Howard's writing.
--- End quote ---
Ironically, Howard's barbarians (unlike the historical Cimmerians) usually aren't pastoralists. They, like the Roman era Germans and Gauls that he had in mind, are agriculturalists.

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