Barbarian Tribe
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Basic Information

The Barbarian Tribe isn't just one stock character - it's a whole pack of illiterate, uncultured, evil warriors. They descend upon helpless villages and towns, stealing whatever isn't nailed down and burning the rest.

Of course, that's what those effete wusses in the more "civilized" lands say. Crom's teeth! If they're stupid enough to put great big crosses on the buildings with the most gold in them, they shouldn't be surprised when those buildings get sacked!

Barbarian tribes have their own ethical codes, based on combat and upon honor. After all, the Barbarian Hero has to come from someplace. They even have an appreciation for culture; just not other peoples. Sometimes the Barbarian Tribe might even be regarded as Noble Savages.

Just try telling that to the guy whose barn is burning.

Stock barbarians are usually migratory and based on either the Mongols or one of the mid-European tribes that invaded the Western Roman Empire during the age of migrations. Technically vikings probably fit this trope as well. The obvious corrollary is for the civilised people to be invading the barbarian's territory - as in many periods of American history and for most of the Colonial Era worldwide … the barbarians then may be sedentary or semi-nomadic as they no longer need to commute to raid civilisation.

"Barbarians" also crop up in After the end settings, in which always chaotic evil is usually applied in spades (and often with a spade) as they usually then have no culture, practice or means of support other than descending on more civilized groups of survivors and slaughtering them.

Also noteworthy is that most clich├ęd barbarian tribes tend to be brutal despotism where "the chief" rules with an iron fist and Klingon promotion is the default method1. Those familiar with tribal societies will tend to observe significant flaws in this model.

Related Tropes:



Game and Story Use

  • They are usually Mooks, and serve as the faceless horde of heavies in settings where actual inhuman Orcs would seem out of place.
  • On the other hand, if you play RuneQuest, there's an above average chance that this is where your character comes from, whether they're a really primitive hunter gatherer or one of the slightly more advanced, but still uncivilised cultures like the Heortlings.
  • Speaking of Bronze age type settings, it's entirely congruent for a low conflict environment to exist where civilised city states or small nations are surrounded by a ring of barbarian tribes with whom they have a mostly beneficial relationship, with the tribals trading wild goods for items manufactured in the city.
    • Come to think of it, the same model also covers European colonies on the North American coast
  • Cyclical passage and raids from the roaming Tribe of Barbarians could be a recurring theme in your setting. Perhaps there's a certain time of year where cities lock up there gates and smart people don't travel the countryside.
  • The general theme of conflict between settled people and nomads can be brought in here - the civilised people happen to have settled across a route which the nomads use to migrate. Resource clashes are likely, especially where water is an issue, and nomad herds may very well devastate the crops of settled farmers.
  • Subvert by having the PCs in the role of raiding barbarians - either in the classic furry loincloth mould or as more advanced primitives (the ravaging of Peking by Allied forces forces at the end of the Boxer Rebellion would make an interesting "What the Hell Hero" moment).
  • Again, things are less clear cut when the PCs are entering barbarian territory - but it still allows them to reprise pretty much any Western movie, Zulu and similar works (or Zulu Dawn if you want to start the PCs on the back foot).
  • Post lapsarian barbarians come in many editions - the Fallout series includes endless tribes of mook "raiders" (although by New Vegas the Great Khans tribe are in the process of evolving into a culture and there are other, non-evil "tribals" kicking about as well); likewise the Mad Max movies feature lots of them from the unusually aggressive Biker Gangs of the first film to the outright tribals of later editions (although we don't know if that's simply them on the warpath and they have some fairly sedate villages somewhere); also the TV version of The Walking Dead features "The Wolves" - a deliberate feral tribe of raiding savages.

Building This Character

Character Level

  • Low level, except for leader-types. Unless they're the scourge of the known world, in which case you may make even the lowliest grunts mid-level.

**Character Class

  • Notice the word "Barbarian" in the title? Just sayin'.



Special Abilities

  • A Feat or Edge that boosts health or stamina is in order, as is anything that makes you harder to kill.
  • Reputation, or even something that just literally makes their Battlecry more horrifying. It should be very unnerving to have the hordes of crazy barbarians charging down at you.

Flaws and Hindrances

  • The standard Barbarian education definitely has some holes in it. If the game has a way to penalize for that, it'd be appropriate. Otherwise, just play it up. Illiterate, beer-swilling, bloodthirsty killers with no appreciation of culture.
  • A distrust of, and sometimes phobic reaction to magic is traditional.

Combat Role


  • Nature Barbarians - A horde that lives off the land more than off its conquests will have skills that reflect it.
  • Horsemen Barbarians - Based very loosely off the Mongolians or horsemen of the Russian Steppe - or, indeed, late period plains Indians.
    • Riding becomes the most important addition. Animal Handling and Animal Training become common as well.
    • First Aid becomes more common - for falls from horseback, and for keeping your horse in good shape.
    • Archery starts to matter more. Skirmishers have the ability to scout along an harass larger or more technologically advanced enemies, making the bow so practical it overcomes any notions of not being manly enough. See also Parthian Shot. Other cultures may use javelins or similar weapons from the saddle.
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