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Heroics and Nomadism
Crackpot Mailbox: Polymachus and James Discuss RPG Games as a Study in Heroic Values
RPG Classes & Historical Patterns
11:49 AM (7 hours ago)
I created an RPG but have always struggled with how character classes fit mythical archtypes. Your article "Power v. Strength and Truth" inspired me, and I wanted to say thank you.
Long story short I had certain groups referenced in the backstory / mythology of the game and I couldn't make them work as player characters. I'm seeing now that's because they need to stand in for the various stages of domesticated societies. The player characters must be heroes, and your writing helped me see how that fundamentally means wandering nomad, or connected to wandering nomads through oral tradition.
Understanding the historical symbiosis of the nomadic people who borrows technology from a settled people to become their elite warrior class, until fading into the domesticity of their society, helped me understand why a certain kind of magical power must inevitably fade into the land.
There's a lot more but it all springs from thinking of magical power as a metaphor for tradition and the differences between the traditions (or anti-tradition) of nomads, agrarians, moderns, and post-modern. From this perspective it's obvious only nomads can be capital H heroes and that frees me up, creatively, to represent the other groups in other ways.
It also gives me ideas of what kinds of magical power are available to players-as-nomads, as well as NPC agrarians, moderns, and post-moderns, and what they draw their power from.
It was also interesting because a certain possession took over when I wrote the game's backstory in 2014 and I'm still working out consciously what I intuited back then.
-What helps a people move into other lands is the nomad's power.
-What helps a people remain in place is the agrarian's power.
-What gives mastery over nature, what shrinks the world, is the modern's power.
-What destroys the traditions of the above, is the post-modern's power.
In a game, there are sources of power that might be important to the NPCs (great story devices) but remain inaccessible to player characters.
Thank you for the insights.
For RPG inspiration, who had the purest, unconquered-by-nomads agrarian civilization? And what other eras of globalization can you point to?
In Search of Meat
I wandered, at first, in search of meat.
Now I serve the journey.
I then grew crops to ease my wanderings,
Now I serve the crops.
I built machines to harvest wheat.
Now I serve the machine.
I told a lie to grease the cogs.
Now I serve betrayal.
I twisted my body to live the lie.
Now I serve the twisted body -
and our twisted bodies are served.
James tries to Keep Up
"Goddamn a potato."
-Chief Wakashi
I loved this take on nomadism and the hero and agree with your displacement scheme, only noting that the missing cyclic lynch pin is the following, between the fall of modernity and the beginning of the next cycle, that modernity will be eroded and survived by a resurgent primitive mentality.
I see one oversight, the hunter-gatherer, who is distinct from the nomad in that he does not domesticate animals. I do consider domestication of canines as becoming nomadic in the conquering sense, as the creation of the dog only permitted conquest of other hunter-gatherers. The nomad is then defined as the warrior of any tech level who has domesticated herbivores and possibly omnivores like pigs, in the cause of maintaining geographic mobility without facing the crisis of finding new food sources in new lands, but bringing those livestock with them. Live stock is the key term here, meaning mobile.
However, the life of the nomad is an adaptation of the life of the hunter-gatherer who relied on large herds of game in similar grassland settings, making grass their ocean and their horses their sailing ships. There is furthermore no conceptual difference in the heroics of the hunter-gatherer and the nomad, with the idea of the hero passing into civilization via the nomad, ultimately from the hunter, the source. Even in stone age hunting societies such as the Plains Indians who have established home ranges, one sees in the vision quest of the lone youth or aspiring chief a reenactment of His People's migratory trek, as he goes into the wild alone and deprives himself of sleep and sustenance and often uses pain infliction and chanting and dancing as methods of replicating the cadence of te migratory trek and the suffering of the migrants. This may be in an attempt to connect internally or astraly to those who did this, the Grandfathers. Moses' trip up the Mountain, Jesus' meditation on the mountain above Galilee and Mohamed's time in the cave, all reflect this deep tradition.
For at least 2000 years in Europe, agrarian societies coexisted adjacent to hunting societies which they failed to displace, borrowing ideas which. ironically, made them compatible metaphysically with the nomads who would soon conquer them. Once these nomads conquered the valley civilizations, the people of hills and forest were relentlessly displaced by the destruction of the forest to produce more grasslands until finally they survived only in legend as various mythic demi-humans and humanoids and were regarded as the faerie in Ireland, the Garlic Eaters in France and survive as dwarves and elves in fiction to this day. Contact with this remnant folk—whether with isolated survivors or their spirits haunting their final ranges—became the responsibility of the hero and the sorcerer, with both Arthur and Merlyn tasked with this contact, as were Beowulf, Enkidu, Gilgamesh and Ulysses.
The entire process of primitive root extinction persisted until the 1890s, well into modernity. Therefore, the actual presence of primitives, who will provide metaphysical journeys for civilized heroes and sorcerers and who would provide their own hero type, typified by Enkidu in ancient times and Tarzan in modern times as wild man archetypes, should not be overlooked. Noting the problem that gun-armed Murucans had eradicating the Indians in North America, imagine what a pain in the ass this was in Europe before firearms and whipsaws?
Note that one of the most ancient cults of Zeus, at Dodona in Epirus was centered around a sacred oak tree, which must represent the Aryan recognition that his conquest of the settled folk [I think, currently represented in modern trace DNA as "Sardinian"] was an actual projection of heroic hunter resistance against the agrarian life.
Civilized Expressions of Heroic Nomadism
-Imperial conquest, engaged in by nomadic and post-fusion nations maintains the heroic, which is to say the migratory quest.
-Exploration and trade also maintains this, a reflection of deep primitive traditions in resource exchange.
-Maritime expeditions of plantation, colonization and conquest retain the full force of the nomadic hero experience.
-Exploration in search of untarnished peoples, which was the mania from mid 1800s to mid 1900s, is the purest form of hero quest in search of the ancestral past.
-Space exploration is the remaining expression, which has been stifled by the primacy of the agrarian aspect in modernity which only comes to the fore once earthly expansion and adventure into the unknown is no longer possible. Thus imprisoned humanity, stuck once again in the garden of a Malevolent God, journeys inward on the tide of chemical suicide. I see role playing as a possible alternative to drug death.
Pure Agrarian Civilizations
Due to the lethality of the horse-mounted and hound-assisted Aryan warrior of the nomadic tradition, sedentary civilizations are found in the Old World only in deep history and pre-history. Most of these will be beyond the reach of the Eurasian Sea of Grass. Even Ireland was conquered by chariot-driving nomads by sea! Let's go from eldest to most recently conquered.
-Look into Graham Hancock's work on submerged ice age civilizations who would have occupied the coasts of India, Japan, above the habitation line in the Andes and other poorly explored regions of the world.
-The Jomon culture of Japan back to 20,000 B.C.
-Northwestern Native Americans of the Pacific Coast had rudimentary civilization based on exploiting abundant seafood resources and developed slave traditions similar to old the Old World agrarian societies.
-Minoan Crete, prior to 1,600 B.C.
-Pharaonic Egypt, before the Hyksos invasion circa 1,600 B.C.
-Chimu Culture of Peru and the succeeding Inca
-Olmec Culture in Mesoamerica
-Mayan Culture in Mesoamerica
-Chaco Canyon Culture in American Southwest
-Mississippian Culture wiped out by Soto in A.D. 1543
-Amazonian civilization based on fishing and gardening.
-The Aztecs do not qualify, as they were an Uto-Aztec nomadic group named "Sons of the Dog" who took over an earlier Civilization, which also seems to have had nomadic elements, possibly from maritime contact with European or Chinese societies which Cortez blatantly exploited.
-Polynesian cultures extant until the 1800s, including the Kingdom of Hawaii, may serve as the best examples of river valley civilizations which predated their conquest by nomadic warrior societies.
I do not know enough about Southeast Asia to comment, but suspect that the antiquity of the yam could point to the world's most antiquitous pure agrarian civilizations in that corner of the globe.
Thank you, sir.
By the Wine Dark Sea
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