Tuesday, December 15, 2015

T5: People & Abilities

I have no idea if anything listed below will actually become useful in my game.  At present, this post is going to apply more to the meta game - talking about D&D rather than designing it - than to my campaign.  Still, something might come of out of this . . .

I've been trying to get a better handle on tech 5 culture.  I would far rather be working on tech 9 or 10 culture, since that's where one of my parties is at the moment, but it's easier to start at the most primitive culture and work my way up, rather than try a stab at the middle.  As I progress through each tech, like I did with the descriptions I wrote for the blog, I can assemble more elements and features that help describe more precisely how that tech works.

The easiest way to express my thought process here might be to describe the tech-5 clan as a sort of anthropological experiment.  This is a single unit of 25-40 humanoids.  It might be humans, hobgoblins, gnolls, goblins - for this experiment it doesn't matter.  My purpose will be to break down the unit into its composite persons, skills, habits, effect on its environment and probable treasure.  Most every social aspect of tech-5 life will derive from this most common unit's normal daily life.


To create the unit we should roll 5d4+20, giving us the range noted above.  Children, as I described on my tech 5 post, are discouraged - so our clan should include from 0-2 infants (age range 0-2), 1-2 children and 1-3 youths.  I'm defining the difference from 'child' to 'youth' in terms of their practically defending themselves, but if it makes the reader more comfortable, they might consider a 'child' someone between 3 and 7 and a 'youth' between 8 and 14.  I've been playing around with mortality rates of primitive cultures and I'm comfortable with the conclusion that more youths would be present than children due to the larger age range (7 years versus 5) and the likelihood that some youths might be collected from other clans defeated in battles or as foundlings (children being less likely to survive on their own).

As the reader can see, if I'm going to get this detailed about everything, then this is going to be a long post - or series of posts.

So, let's use convenient numbers near the average and say that our tribe has 34 members with 1 infant, 1 child and 2 youths.  This leaves 30 adult men and women.  I'm calling the ratio of males to females at 1.5:1 (there's an argument for this number but I'm not going into it now; the reader is free to do their own homework regarding primitive cultures) - so out of each 2.5 persons 1 will be female.  This makes 12 women and 18 men in our clan.

Incidental Skills

So what does each member of the clan do?  Well, I have a combination of my sage abilities and the actual tech levels to help break down that problem.  Let's start with skills or abilities that various members of the clan might have.  For no particular reason I'll start with incidental skills, those that won't define a specific 'role' that provides status.

These incidental skills include swimming, aiding rest, recognizing beasts and binding wounds - all of which I've covered on the wiki.   Although in my system characters gain these abilities through experience and levels, I've been careful not to define these things as dependent on level.  A 1st level character in my world begins with no experience and yet will have points in various sage abilities.  Therefore we can have ordinary persons who have no levels and yet have abilities. Obviously, these abilities are very limited at tech-5.

Not everyone in the clan will be able to swim.  The actual number will depend on how much water there is.  Desert dwellers will have no swimmers at all; a few may be able to paddle around in an oasis but chances are there'd be no reason to do so, since most lakes and oases in deserts are very shallow.  Infants and children who might swim naturally would forget the habit as they grew older.  On the other hand, in a boreal forest where crossing rivers or fishing is very common, as many as 1 in 4 persons may know how to swim.  Everyone would at least be able to keep their head above water well enough to be dragged across a watercourse without drowning (those who couldn't have already drowned).

Aiding rest would be something that was picked up by the more nurturing members of the clan, more probably women.  Binding wounds would be done with whatever came to hand - and arguably the members of a tech-5 tribe might be less susceptible to wounds (but I'm not going there for the game).  And recognizing beasts would be something people began to do as they got old.  Overall, the older a particular member of the clan was, the more likely they would be to have any of these skills.

Fighter Skills

Then we have a set of more defining sage abilities.  I've broken these down into their associated classes - but I wish to point out that the only 'class' that exists in a tech-5 system is fighter.   In every case for the below, the skill described is part of cross training, something that I've presciently had occur at random on my character background generator.

The most fighter-like of these abilities (beyond skills associated directly with the class, like proficiencies, strength, hit points, etc) includes standard bearing that I've described on the wiki and light fire - which I'm thinking deserves to be an amateur ability that fighters, paladins & rangers possess.  Hm, I may let druids light fires too.  Maybe.  It's harder than it sounds, requiring a flint, 'steel' and tinder - and we all know plenty of people who cannot start a fire with matches or a lighter.  I kind of like the idea of clerics, mages and bards having to wait for the fighter to get the fire started.

The standard being carried will likely be a very simple thing, but long enough for everyone to see.  It might be the dried carcass of an animal that proved hard to kill or the dress of a great warrior carried on a stick.  One person would be responsible for carrying this.  There might be only one or two flints and pieces of metal in the clan and specific persons would possess those.  Obviously, the flint and the steel would be treasure found on those bodies.

Druid Skills

Here are four skills that it would seem everyone might possess but which would, in fact, give one person or another a lot of status: detect land, mushroom hunt, locate self and locus infrastructure.

As tech-5 includes fishing, now and then a fishing boat will get out of sight of land - even if the participants would cling to land with all their might.  In such a case, those in the boat will depend most upon the 'sea dog' that possesses the greatest skill in getting them home.  I don't see the sea dog as a 'captain' - that would be too much infrastructure in the clan and it's likely that the chief might not even be out fishing when the danger arises.  Every skiff or boat, then, would have an eldest fisherman that acted as the group's sea dog.  There might be three or four of these in a clan and they'd all likely be older than 50.

The mushroom hunt depends on an individual being able to tell the difference between edible and dangerous mushrooms.  A clan may not even possess a member with this ability - but those clans that did would be better fed and probably bigger.  So we might say that the chance of such a person is 40 minus a d12 - if the result is equal to or less than the number in the clan, there is one person who possesses this skill.

Finally, the ability to locate self and identify the lay of the land is definitely a chieftain ability.  Robert Winston makes the point again and again in this series that the chieftain was the individual most able to locate food and lead the tribe; this makes knowing where one is in relation to things like the next probable camp or where we found food last near absolutely the province of the leader.  This is what makes a leader: knowing where we are.

Ranger Skills

I haven't even discussed these before - but this exercise is certainly helping me understand what a lot of those ought to be.  Some of these would also be possessed by the leader; but a few may be known by elders or by specific family heads (there would be about 5-10 groupings/families inside the clan, depending on the number).

Foraging - A substantial number would possess the ability to find vegetables, roots, fruits and nuts in the environment, by knowing where to dig, knowing what was poisonous and what the best source of food was (instinctive knowledge of calorie counts).  Most probably, this would be the five or six eldest members of the tribe.  The opening of this show is a good example, where a group of older women seem to be keeping a good find to themselves.  Foraging ability would double the amount of food normally found - or enable food to be found where inexperienced persons would starve.

Hunting differs from foraging in that it can produce no results for several days before yielding a great deal of food all at once - meat that must be eaten in a relatively short time or left to waste.  Where a clan relies heavily on hunting they can suffer from periods of starvation and an inadequate diet.  A select few from the tribe will be chosen as hunters and will be gone for days - these will typically be led by a sub-chief, or else the sub-chief will be left with the main group.

Pathfinding is a chieftain skill.  If the reader has ever found themselves in the bush and been forced to backtrack to find another route through, pathfinding would be the skill that made that less necessary in strange untracked areas - the person would just have a sense for which was the best way to go when attempting to cross a valley, desert or a river, climb, circumnavigate a feature, etcetera, in terms of distance travelled in a day.  We could call it an improved distance of 30% distance travelled over normal effort.

Sheltering chooses the best place to rest and avoid the elements.  It mitigates the effects of storms, lessens the chance of an encounter, locates the camp closer to fresh water, etc.  A person with this skill could tell from the lay of the land what the best place to shelter would probably be.  This is again a chieftain-type skill.

Make fire.  Different from light fire, this would be actually making the fire using dry tinder and friction.  One or two persons in the tribe would probably be able to do this.

Water discipline.  This is very important in desert cultures.  It is the skill of knowing when to drink in order to avoid dehydration; it is best to drink in steady amounts throughout the day and not waiting for thirst to force the person to drink.  This takes experience and skill and would probably be a chieftain skill, telling everyone in the tribe when to take a drink of water.  A few others may also have this skill.

Avoid encounter.  This might be a savant skill possessed by anyone in the tribe.  It is simply the ability to sense - by smell, detail or environmental features - that a particularly dangerous creature or monster may be in the vicinity.  This helps the clan avoid that creature.  The players may fit into this category, so that the avoid encounter ability would help the tribe avoid a confrontation with the party.

Bard Skills

Let me emphasize again that there are no bards, druids, rangers or clerics among the tech-5 clan we're describing.  Nevertheless, the creation of drums as instruments for the purpose of communication was common long before music became a thing, so I'm including it here.  I see drumming communication becoming a sage ability for bards, enabling signalling and communication between groups separated by distances up to 60-360 yards.  I know the movies like to make it distances of miles, but I don't see that working well for game purposes.  Perhaps I will figure out a way to measure the distance for different terrains and density of vegetation.

Cleric Skills

I'm going to end this post here without talking about the last ability on my list.  It is all wrapped up in religion and that's something I'd like to push into the next part of this series (yes, it's a series now) which will discuss the 'professions' of the clan.  I've already indicated what a lot of these would be but it won't hurt to sort them out and give the individuals titles.

After that I'll want to talk about improvements made to the land, tools and treasure.  Hope it all retains the reader's interest.


  1. Hei Alexis,
    just a thought for low tech (yet sophisticated) trade,
    have you considered something like Kula Ring ("Kula valuables are non-use items traded purely for purposes of enhancing one's social status and prestige") of New Guinea or the trading of stories (lore) or ceremonies (magic)as with Australian aboriginals?

    These are unfamiliar enough to be intriguing and rich in adventure potential for outsiders.

  2. kimbo,

    Looking at mysticism led me to fetishism - so yes, I did intend to include objects such as those you mention in the treasure section.

    We're on the same page.


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