Friday, December 18, 2015

Tools, Treasure and Improvements in Tech 5 Culture

I'd like to finish my description of primitive culture, or tech-5, with this post.  I have three things to talk about: tools, treasure and improvements.

Tools & Treasure

Several members of the clan will carry a stone blade for cutting and general purpose work.  This won't be as sharp or as balanced as a dagger and probably half its length, so think of it as 1d3 for damage.  The primary weapon for most warriors will be either a spear with a stone head, flint axes or stone hammers, neither of which will be good for throwing (they will do full damage for these weapons, however).  Spears and javelins will be rare in desert cultures but there will be enough wood to make effective flint axes.  No one in the tribe will be armored in any way, including a lack of shields.

The density of population in these areas is so low (and most dangerous beasts as well) that there's no practical value in carrying a shield for months on end with the chance it might be used.  Even if armor could be made of leather, the same argument carries.  These are not peoples who gather together for the purpose of war; even interpersonal conflict is rare, usually occurring only when individual clans of separate tribes may chance to dispute over a campsite (more about that in a minute).

Certain persons in the clan would carry certain tools that would double as treasure (the weapons above would also be treasure of a sort).  This would include a steel and flint, drums, the clan's standard (which might be ransomed to the rest of the tribe or to any survivors), found mushrooms and any boats for fishing that may exist.  Beyond this, most of the tribe will carry a zahato, also called a bota bag or goatskin bottle (similar to a wineskin), the nozzle of which will be made from horn.  Some may carry hatchets made of bone (for cutting soft wood) or bone scoops used for digging.

The value of these things will be unremarkable.  A more valuable treasure will include the fur or buckskin that every member of the clan wears (desert clans will wear fleece gathered from killing wild sheep or goats), which will have some value when sold in bulk.  Some members of the tribe will carry gold, silver or copper nuggets, gathered from rivers (placer deposits) and sometimes beaten flat into rough jewelry.  As superstition and mysticism are central religious ideas, as mentioned by kimbo on another post, there would be a number of pieces that would be traded or possessed for purposes of enhancing one's social status or prestige.  This might be small idols shaped like people and animals, rattles, flutes made of bone (not especially musical), carved disks, attactive stones, crude cups, parts of animals (teeth, patches of hair, pieces of horn) and fairly anything else that might be imagined.  Most of these things would have moderate value if sold in the nearest market - but some would be very valuable to a collector in a part of the world far from where such objects could be found (said collectors would reside in places of exceptional tech level, where universities would be located).


An 'improvement' is a permanent change on the wilderness wrought by the culture and there wouldn't be many of these.  However, as the clans would follow along behind wild herds or denude the immediate area of forage, there would be pressure to move from place to place, seasonally or sometimes over a period of years.

Certain tribes, made of a half a dozen clans or more, would occupy vast areas of the region and would travel over the same ground year after year, generation after generation.  As a result, a series of regularly used campsites would be used by these clans, sometimes once a year and sometimes only in years where usual food supplies were thin.  As the clan members do not herd or ride animals, nor employ vehicles, the only necessary path connecting these campsites would be a narrow trail.  As a trail like this would only be cleared at the convenience of the clan passing through, it may be difficult - even for a ranger - to follow the trail if individuals were unfamiliar with it.

In deserts, the 'trail' would be a series of recognized features in the distance or 'boundaries' made by the edges of stone or sand fields that must be circumnavigated to reach the next oasis or well.  A stranger that did not know yon pile of rocks was the best way towards a water source could wander in a desert until death while unknowing that life was a mere two miles to the right or widdershins.  Thus the importance of obtaining a pathfinder (possibly from a clan) who would know the way to go.  Such 'obtaining' might prove interesting when dealing with a close-knit culture that doesn't use or appreciate traditional wealth.

These routes or trails would be important improvements for these peoples.  The campsites above would be tailored year after year until they were quite comfortable.  Crude wells (little more than deep holes dug in soft earth, subject to regular collapse) and ditches would be redug, certain familiar trees used for building larger shelters for long stays and last year's growth would be cut down and cleared away to make a safe, open site.  Pits would be built of stones for fires and there would be existing tree stumps, logs and stones that would be used for sitting and work by a dozen generations.  The camps themselves would be picked for their defensive value, so that one side of the camp might be a defensive outcropping of rock, the edge of a cliff, a waterfall and pond (with fish!), a loop of river or a mound giving a good view of the surrounding distance.  Large flat stones may be employed (and improved over time) as slaughtering tables, tanning or speaking podiums for when whole tribes gather.

Each camp would have a feel of 'coming home' for the clan.  Each would be different in its own way - small and cramped or expansive and convenient for two or three tribes.  Where a 'settlement' appears on one of my maps, the 'campsite' is so convenient and practical that there is almost always a few clans spread within a dozen yards of one another.  This is an opportunity for boys and girls to meet (allowing crossbreeding between clans), share fetish articles and other treasure, trade for a better knife, compete in games of some kind, access the rare shamans and elect new tribal leaders.

Some camps would encourage some clan members with artistic skill to carve art into the stone or carefully paint stones protected by caves.  These artworks would develop a sort of fetishism of their own, so that specific campsites might be travelled to specifically to see these works - in the way of a primitive pilgrimage.

A party might come across one of these campsites - empty - and wait for months before a single clan showed up (though a clan might appear the next day, too).  If a clan has just left such, the locale will be denude of all forage and the hunting extremely poor - even a high level ranger will be hard put to come up with so much as a hare.  The food has simply been eaten, the herds driven further upstream or downstream by regular hunting.  The 'dead spot' may be as wide as ten or twenty miles, depending on the size of the clan and how long they remained in the area - remember, these clans would know perfectly well the location of every berry patch, every beehive, every nest, every good fishing pond and so on.

I think this experiment has been useful.  I have some ideas for posts in the immediate future that might prove valuable for most readers in helping describe for their players environments such as these mentioned above.


  1. Wow Alexis, I wasn't too sure where you were headed with the tech level setup, but this really great.

  2. I'm hanging on your every word, especially as it might give a glimpse into future posts on higher tech regions.

    I've read that pre-agriculture societies effected change on their environments at significant levels, almost on par with early agricultural groups. Things like clear-cutting (or burning) of large areas, allowing for the growth of desirable plants; intentionally discarding plant scraps (to include seeds) with the understanding that the plant will appear in that area the next time they pass by; that sort of thing. Have you considered these possibilities?

    For example, players are in a tech 5 region and stumble across a patch of forest where the trees are suspiciously similar: most are apple or acorn trees. Part of the reason is animals - seeds deposited by accident or in droppings - but part of the reason is intentional - seeds dropped by clans and tribes that travel through the area.

    Or is that too fine a distinction? Or would it count as tech 6, being similar to actual agriculture?

  3. A bit fine, perhaps Ozymandias. I think I'd consider it part of the 'foraging' skill, as that increases the amount of available food and these are people who would forage every day.


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