Tuesday, July 7, 2009


This is a huge subject where it relates to D&D, since so much of the game relates to tactics, exploration or killing. Do not bad mouth the game for this – historically, the elimination of vermin and the acquisition of food was more a part of human existence than any other set of skills. Hunting is the first technology, the impetus for the creation of tools in order to kill meat and cut meat; the embracing of fire to cook meat; and finally the exploration of mysticism in order to express or explain the existence of meat and its intrinsicality to us, the eater.

There is a recently proposed argument (last forty years) that the larger portion of mankind’s food supply consisted of foraging and gathering; a small portion of anthropologists accept the theory that this foraging was done by women, while men time wasted ... thus supporting a feminist argument that women were once the breadwinner. Whatever that may be, the argument is founded on the premise – near as I can tell – that game meat is hard to find and hard to kill. This is the sort of developed argument that can only come out of a culture which has no experience with an abundant natural food supply – I doubt an anthropologist from the 19th century would accept this argument.

Early hunting cultures consisted of few people and an unfathomable access to game. The steppes of Africa and those of Central Asia once teemed with life, when humans were few and had not yet made their presence known. Your D&D world should reflect herds consisting of tens of thousands of animals, such as the buffalo of America, the wildebeest of Africa, the wild pigs of China and the wild sheep of the Persian-Anatolian highlands. Caribou, another hunted species supporting another hunting culture – the Inuit – still exist in these numbers. The largest herd of any sizable mammal in the world is in Canada’s Northwest Territories, consisting of two hundred thousand animals or more. It is only the largest because it is the most remote – it does not compare with what the herd was 500 years ago.

Also, consider that many huge animals in America and in Australia were hunted to existence only in the last 10-15 thousand years. It is estimated that the last mammoth in North America was killed just 3,900 years ago, in Michigan. In other words, such animals did not die out due to climate or lack of forage – but because they were systematically massacred.

Weapons developed by hunting cultures include the spear, naturally, as well as the axe and javelin – most throwing weapons, in fact. The bow was developed about 18,000 years ago, and therefore should be sophisticated for the most primitive of peoples in your world. There ought to be less emphasis on hand held weapons, since the practice of killing is something which is intended at long range. Thus, any group of hunters in your world should not close with the party in melee. The effort should be to attack by guerrilla tactics, approach to within 8 to 12 hexes, hurl axes and spears, then retreat to a cache of weapons kept nearby. Bowman should harass the party, blending into their environment. Even if this only annoys a strong party and does little damage, the hunters would be more likely to give up the attack than to ever close for hand-to-hand combat.

If they can drive the party in a direction, pits, snares and so on would be used whenever possible. Snares can be fashioned within a few minutes with a sufficient number of men. Pits need not be large; a pit small enough for a foot, fitted with spikes, proved very effective in Vietnam – easy to conceal and just as able to immobilize the victim.

Dogs and other domesticated animals (birds of prey, ferrets, various D&D creatures) were also an intrinsic part of hunting – being in the wild, it was possible to feed these animals scraps that could not be preserved, winning their friendship and willingness to aid in the hunt. Most hunting groups will have at least one type of animal in support, as is described for several humanoids in the Monster Manual.

The cultures themselves would be small, and would be very mobile. Tents or methods to build mud or snow housing on sight are mandatory. Thus, the ‘lair’ will always be present. These simple societies will have few valuables, if any the party can respect.

Virtually every member of the culture will have skill at hunting or weapons, including women and children (even as young as six). Newborn children will be quite rare – a woman would normally give birth in a hunting culture no oftener than once in 4 years. Moreover, death in infancy was common and infant mortality rates can be as high as 25%. In a group of 30 adult hunters, therefore, half being women and only two thirds of those being of childbearing years, there might only be 7-12 children younger than thirteen (taking into account pregnancy deaths and additional high death rates for each year of life). At thirteen, most children would be considered full adults in a hunting society.

I could probably continue, but I must confess I don’t find the topic terribly exciting. It is fairly straightforward for anyone willing to do research into the practice, how hunting can relate to natives in a given setting.


BlUsKrEEm said...

I just started work on my BXD&D based "Dawn of Man" game last week so these posts are realy helping to hget me into the mood for writing. Thanks.

KenHR said...

As always, great article with excellent ideas on how to apply developing technologies in a D&D context. One comment:

The "breadwinner" theory was one I learned in anthro classes, but the way I was taught wasn't quite how you present it (we may be referencing different theories). Based on observation of H/G and horticultural societies in Africa and the Pacific Islands in the '50s (the !Kung in the Kalahari, for instance), the caloric and nutritional content provided by, say, manioch(sp?) root raised by women was higher. Hunting, however, provides an abundance of food in a shorter time, as well as providing nutrients that can't be provided by horticulture.

Men did not time waste in such societies, at least not any more than the women (H/G societies as a whole engage in less than 20 hours of work per week).

Now, areas like New Guinea or the Kalahari aren't the most hospitable on earth, and one could make the argument that game is scarce there. However, the observational data seems to fit what has been found from the analysis of remains in other parts of the world.

This was taught to me by a professor (probably my favorite out of all of them) who would never hesitate to point out how feminist bias had affected the field of anthropology for the worse (our first class session included a detailed explanation on how the female could not attain the same physical strength as a male based on build, etc.). He commented that several films we watched in that class (including one following !Kung hunters on a giraffe hunt lasting days) were only available on crappy 8mm film because feminist sentiment kept them from being released in newer formats. The reason? They correctly showed division of labor in the societies under study..."neutral" observation had a male bias and shouldn't be taught, or something as nonsensical.

Of course, my information could be wrong and that wasn't the focus of your article. And I don't think what I'm saying contradicts you (chances are I learned a more moderate form of the same theory). Just anthro was my favorite subject back when, and I love seeing discussions of it in a game context; application to gaming was one of the top reasons I chose it as a minor. :)

Evernevermore said...

Fascinating string of articles. These will be getting factored into my notebook of campaign ideas and I may have to track down a list of all the items on the Civ tree.

Thank you again.