Tapping into your inner tribal goodness
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
One of the more common tropes in fantasy RPGs is the tribal theme. Far away from civilization lie villages untouched by the corruptions of greed and magics, or something like that. There are a bunch of ways you can use the tribal theme to your advantage as a game master.
First of all, I guess we have to figure out what tribalism is. In its purest form for RPG games, tribalism is a style of living in which creatures live in an organized society without the added complication of advance technology or magic. Often times, tribes are primal, placing their faith in gods to explain occurrences. However, how you use tribalism in your game can vary. A tribe in a standard fantasy RPG world would be a matter of primitive creatures using basic tools. But tribalism in a future-esque sci-fi universe may be similar to how we are now as a world. It all depends on context.
Another thing that is important to decide is what races are likely to follow in this tribal pursuit. Is it limited to one or two races? Why? In classic RPGs, the two most likely tribal races are humans and orcs. This is because traditionally, their societies are often guided by religious practices.
One of the bigger aspects of tribalism is how significant the tribal culture is in your world. Is it few and far between, or does it run rampant? How often is one expected to run into a tribe? All these things must be considered before getting into the nitty-gritty of tribalism.
Speaking of, some of the more detailed aspects of tribalism can be quite tricky. A tribal government could consist of anything, really—but generally speaking, it’s easier if you keep it consistent. Do all the tribes in one area have a strong leader? Or do all the tribes in the area have an elected counsel? Maybe the tribes in the area are led by a priest of the faith they are loyal to?
Next, pick something unique about your tribe or tribes that would distinguish them from the rest. Tribes are boring if they don’t feel unique. Depending on the world, this could be of a micro or macro scale. If your world is inhabited by tribes, then perhaps groups of them have the same distinguishing factor. If tribes are more uncommon, then start separating them tribe-by-tribe. For example, being nomadic. If one tribe is nomadic, and another isn’t, it opens the world for your players to explore. Why is the tribe nomadic? Why is the other one not? This leaves options for you to continually shape and create this tribal society.
Remember that tribes are complicated. Even the primitive barbarians that raid and pillage have their own eccentricities that set them apart from everything else in the world. Get creative! If the players can guess every detail of the tribe within five minutes of description, you’ll probably want to re-evaluate the tribal system’s value in your world.