Barbarians, Berserkers and Savages
By Kered Rose
During my many hours in various libraries around the cities of Mikona, Deglos and Elysia I have read of many strange and interesting traits among those who inhabit this world. One of the most peculiar of these is the ability of some individuals to go into a terrifying battle frenzy. This is most commonly described as a barbarian rage. I will attempt to investigate these strange and terrifying individuals to enlighten us all as to their motivations and explain the occurrence of such folk, commonly known as barbarians.
The vast majority of barbarians are fierce warriors raised in the wilds far from "civilized" areas. Life in the harsh wilderness has taught them to be physically tough and resourceful. Others from more familiar regions have been known to develop the ability to go into a similar frenzy however. A notable example is the Notter Brothers, a pair of famous tavern brawlers in Mikona, known for incredible feats of drinking and fighting, none of which they ever remember the next day. The ability has also been seen to develop among those somehow isolated from their peers for long periods. There is known to be a dwarf by the name of Terho Bootneck currently residing in Mikona who grew up alone in the mines of Deglos, fighting for survival on a daily basis, who developed this ability.
Most common however are the humans of Tyedu. The barren tundra of Tyedu breeds a different sort of human. Here life is very harsh because of the climate and the terrifying creatures that lurk everywhere. Humans in this land have no concept of nobility... might makes right. All Tyeduans bow to the notion that the strongest survive, and the strongest should rule. Individual tribes dot the land, usually led by their toughest warrior. These warriors are often accompanied by a powerful shaman. While barbarians often come from this land though, it is important to remember that not all humans from this land are capable of entering this state of rage. Although most adults in this land are capable fighters, many find roles as fighters, rangers or shamen of some type. Non-humans are rare in Tyedu, but not unknown. For a time the city of Mikona was home to a halfling named Kanga who had journeyed from his home of Ferrell to the White Bear clan of Tyedu to learn to control his personal demons of rage.
Others known to be able to harness this ability do exist but are rarer. Rumours have reached this writer of male children abandoned at birth in the forests of Jechran, lizardmen dwelling in the wasteland between Drotid and Jechran who have displayed the capacity to harness their inner strength in this way. As children, all of us heard hair-raising tales of fearsome half-orcs and giant kin eking out a savage existence on the fringes of the great Orcish nations in the West.
Physical Characteristics & Appearance
Great strength is one of the attributes most commonly associated with berserker furies. It is hard to say whether the ability to enter a rage leads to overdevelopment of the muscles or whether it is the overdeveloped muscles and the resultant reddening of the blood that gives rise to uncontrollable furies, but it seems fair to say that all barbarians are possessed of greater than average strength and are usually capable of feats of strength beyond normal men.
A barbarian's agility however often ranges from the sublime acrobat, whirling and dealing death to his enemies in a display of technical prowess beyond all but the most nimble of warriors, to the dunderheaded oaf who is too fumble-fingered to successfully guide a spoon to his mouth or to tie his own bootlaces.
A barbarian is almost always of iron constitution. They eat what they find and carry on regardless whatever injuries or illness they pick up. This breeds a hardy individual. Those who succumb easily to sicklyness will not survive long in Tyedu or the wastelands, as while they convalesce they will not be finding food. The tougher a barbarian is, the longer he can sustain his rage and the more powerful an opponent he will be.
The tough life a barbarian faces also offers some other physical benefits. As well as the ability to enter into the well known terrifying rage they can sustain a greater pace of travel for longer periods of time than other folk. Their reactions are legendary and the most powerful are able to shrug off minor damage altogether.
Almost all barbarians therefore are of imposing physical appearance. Muscles commonly ripple as they walk, unless they have succumbed to the temptations of city life; beer, rich food and an easy life. Many a Tyeduan has finished his life as a pathetic relic, washed up on the streets of Mikona, victim of a life they are unable to adjust too.
Traditional clothing is simple and normally made of the animals they hunt and eat. Furs and leathers are common. They are unlikely to wear metal armour, partly because of the weight but also due to the time required to maintain it. Time spent polishing armour is better spent resting or hunting. The many hours taken to learn the craft of forging armour are also rarely considered time well spent by barbarian artificers. Better to make more weapons or join the others in a hunt.
As a barbarian journeys in other lands they may well adapt to the folk around them. This is rarely a flawless procedure though. Barbarians who adopt more city-like tastes tend to favour gaudy designs and rarely show much refinement in their selections.
Almost without exception barbarians are blunt and have little time for subtlety or nuance. Their ability to enter a rage tends to be mirrored by an impetuous nature. Barbarians tend to be impatient and rush to take action. It is quite common for barbarians to need restraining by wiser fellows. They are will rarely be an asset in a situation where cooler heads are likely to prevail.
Barbarians often have a reputation of being unintelligent. Stereotypes often have their basis in fact but it is unwise to be lulled into a false sense of security that you are a barbarians intellectual superior. Many barbarians are possessed of appreciable intelligence, though their aptitude is usually for improvisation rather than planning. The harshness and brutality of their homelands dictates this.
Words normally seem to them to be a waste of time. In their home lands might is right and for this reason they often find it hard in more refined lands to gain fame for their wit and charm. Those barbarians who grew in isolation will not have learnt the basic social etiquette the rest of us take for granted but conversely they may have a greater affinity with nature, perhaps outmatched only by druids and rangers.
All said and done, a barbarian's recklessness makes him well suited to adventure.
Weapons and Armour
Barbarians favour melee combat so as to be able to take advantage of their strength and rage ability. Further to this they generally favour weapons which enable them to use their huge strength to their advantage, so large weapons requiring two hands to wield are a firm favourite. They may occasionally use a shield but such thoughts of protection and defence are generally scorned by anyone in the sort of uncontrollable rage a barbarian enters. Barbarians from a typical background have little opportunity to make use of heavy armours. Unless they receive special training or move away from their path then they will be unlikely to wear any armour heavier than a breastplate. This is particularly true as the barbarian's ability to travel fast is particularly valuable in the wilds they tend to inhabit and this ability is lost when they wear heavy armour.
Some berserkers have been known to augment their already fearsome spasms with drugs such as bloodfury crystals and brownsmoke seeds.
Barbarians in general worship a variety of gods. Most Tyeduans worship a Tyedu Spirit God. There are thousands of these gods and each represents some aspect of nature. They usually represent some other aspect of life such as strength or battle however. These gods are typically not very strong. Information on Ra-Ghul, one of the most successful Tyedu gods, can be found in the final volume of (N'uquerni-Delothion's An objective review of the Divinity of Avlis.) This inspired collection cannot be recommended highly enough and is required reading for anyone with an interest in matters spiritual, religious and deific.
Intrigued to speak to someone who actually underwent this process I spoke to Terho Bootneck. I have written his answers out here in his own charming vernacular to better preserve the feeling of his answers.
Terho, you've agreed to talk to me about your ability to go into a berserker fury. First some questions about your background. I am led to believe you grew up alone in abandoned mines in Deglos. Is that correct?
Aye me did grow up in da abandoned mines uv Deglos. Me family was slaughtered by a group uv water elementals when me was but a wee lad. Me managed ta escape and found meself lost in da mines deep in Deglos. Me grew up eatin goblin stew and kobald soup. Me be quite da chef fer dem critters. Me was down dere fer bout twenty years on me own fendin fer meself, till one day me came up by da iron ore mines near da wilderness. Me stepped foot in da outside world fer da first time den. Me likes da world out 'ere, be a big place wit lots uv nice lads and lasses.
Obviously this was a dangerous environment. Could you tell me how you first came to enter one of your rages? Was it something that developed gradually, or did something inside you just snap one day?
Aww ha aye da first time me entered me rage. Now let me tink bout dis one fer a second, be abit 'ard ta member. *pauses for a few moments in thought* Aye now me members. Me was in da mines bout five years ago and me sees a group uv kobalds. Me no tink dey 'ad weapons, but it seems dat dey did. A few uv dem took some shots at me wit dere crossbows. Dis angered me much so, so much me could no 'old me anger nomore and me all uvdden snapped. Me found meself yellin out at da top uv me lungs "No Quarter" den me run up and swung me battle axe me made frum ingots and sum twigs me found in da mines, and me got rid uv da lot uv dem one by one.
I'd like to delve into the emotions involved in your rages. Starting with prior to the rage? What sort of emotions do you feel before a rage? What thoughts go through your head in the moments leading up to a loss of control? Is it a sudden process or a gradual build up? Is it a conscious decision, or something over which you have no control?
Well when me first got inta me rage it be like da snap uv da fingers type uv deal, but now me can control me anger tanks ta lord Gorethar. Now days ifn me wants ta slip inta me rage me just tinks back ta when me family was slaughtered and 'ow badly it messed wit me upbringin, den me gets so mad me slip inta me rage. Aldoe sometimes lads er lasses say sumtin bad uv me lord and dis can also lead ta me rage aswell. Me no like lads er lasses make fun uv me 'eritage er me lord. Me 'ad an encounter wit a lass awhile back, me no mention any names, but right befer me 'ad no clue who dis Froag lad was until later, but at da time 'e looked uv a begger so me was bein kind and me gave 'im 1000 gold pieces.
Well next ting me knows me come inta da road ta Mikona and dere 'im and dis lass were discussin 'ow stupid me was fer givin 'im me gold and da lass said she like when dumb dwarves get ripped off fer dere gold. dis angered me very much. me kept me anger off fer awhile until me could andle no more. Master Ayren was dere luckily fer 'er as me 'ad 'er on 'er knees ready ta give 'er me last blow when 'e disarmed me, and was able ta calm me down 'e was. me respects Master Ayren very much and was sadden dat 'e witnessed da 'ole ting as 'e seemed ta be frens wit da lass and me no want ta make any trouble fer 'im.
What about during the rage? Can you think and plan? Does the world appear any different to you? Do you even remember what happens to you during this period?
Well durin a rage me can member certain tings but not all as me sorta blacks out but at da same time knows what me is doin, but 'ave no control over what me do till me calms down.
And afterwards? Exhilaration? Shame? Peace? Do you feel powerful, or tired?
Afterwards me feels abit tired and at da same time at peace wit me soul. Me tinks it be good ta get yer anger out. Most da time when me enters me rages me be alone wit nuttin round me, me rather it be dat way as so no ones gets 'urt and also so me no gets 'urt.
Moving onto you yourself Terho, I have heard you described and rash, impatient and impulsive, even reckless. How do you respond to that?
Me never knew dat lads and lasses tot dat uv me. But it no botter me, me no care what utters tink uv me, me just try ta be kind ta all until dey do me wrong er me lord wrong. A fine example uv dat would be when me and Sydney 'ad a little duel, afterwards me 'elped 'im up and shook 'is 'and and now we be frens. 'e may be uv da order uv me orders nemesis but me can no not be frens cuz dey no like 'im till 'e do me wrong. 'e be a really nice lad ta me, never says anyting inappropriate around me so me sees no problems wit 'im.
Finally Terho, your ability obviously indicates a loss of control and a certain element of chaos in your soul. How do you reconcile that with your faith in Gorethar and a commitment to his cause of law and order? '
Gorethar be da creator uv me race, me follows 'im strictly fer dat reason, but me do like ta up keep peace and da law when need be. Me may be abit chaotic but den again so is everyone at times. Me might be abit more den utters but me love me lord and me sticks ta me beliefs dat Gorethar be me way uv life.
Before we part, do you have anything to add?
Aye me do, me is goin on me vacation ta Galdos so ifn ye be wonderin where me be dat be where me is fer awhile. Me want ta see me cousins as me 'as never been ta Galdos befer. me no know 'ow ta get dere but me will be searchin fer it. So ta all me frens me would like ta say safe travels and me will sees ye all when me gets back ta da elves and 'umans lands.
As fer takin me out fer dat da be okay but ye may 'ave ta wait abit till me gets back frum me vacation. When me gets back me will be lookin fer ye so ye can take me out, maybe ye can add at da end a to be continued quote, den follow up wit all yer observations er maybe take me cousin Fifur BoulderShoulder out bashin, 'e may do it ifn ye ask 'im. 'e be a great Barbarian. me idol 'e is.
Safe travels master Kerred and may Gorethar protect ye.
And you Terho.
I hope you have learnt as much reading this as I did writing it. I am not sure if answered the questions I had when I started, but I certainly provided plenty to think about and I feel I can say I better understand what really drives those who either succumb to, or take advantage of, these frenzies.
The blessings of the nine on all of you.