The singer, the shaman, and the priest: A society cannot be run by warriors alone. There are various other professions, which are obviously needed, but there are a couple which are obviously more well geared towards the player character. Singers, ie, the Celtic bard or German scop, are entertainers, genealogists, and historians. They record the oral history of the tribe as well as guard the traditional wisdom and lore for their people. These memories often take the forms of poetry, story, and song and thus make an ideal candidate for your barbarian horde to contain bards or skalds. Low barbarians, may each have one of these historians per tribes, but high barbarians and nomads, would likely have one among noble retinues, or traveling story tellers which would bring news of other camps, and would be treated as the asset that news of the outside was.
Barbarian mystics fall into two general categories, the priest and the shaman. The priest(ess) is educated in the lore of the gods — who they are, what they want, and what they require from mankind be it sacrifice, rite, or law. It is possible that if the tribe has a settlement these priests would be attached to a shrine, or other monument. It is not uncommon among the landless to have sacred landmarks such as trees, springs, or mounts. Nomads priests carry sacred images such as totems. Priest(ess) serve the gods as a warrior serves his lord — out of personal loyalty. As they are often the best educated of the barbarians they often guide and advise the nobles. These are the oracles and the clerics of the tribe.
The shamans, are those who seek the gods, in the form of their arcane secrets. Whether this magic takes the forms of trances and visions, secret lore, or charms and spells – they are often views with profound respect within the tribe. Although the tribesmen respect them, they also live in fear of magic and the terrible things it has been known to do. Superstitions (as discussed earlier) run rampant, some going as far as to say that all things the shaman touch are infused with the darkness that only they can control, until it finally consumes them. Barbarians are known to shun other magic users out of fear and ignorance. These are the sorcerers, the bloodragers, the shaman, or even the witch. Under no circumstances should a tribe have a wizard.
A word about women: Were they equals or were they chattel? The truth is complex, much as it would be for a pirate society. Certain barbarians, ie. Brythonic Celts, gave women full civil rights while the Goidelic Celts, reserved these rights for noble women. Others, like the Germans, treated women as “second-class citizens.” But — and this is important — no barbarian society can afford to treat all women as the early Romans and later Christians could. When small groups must survive harsh conditions each member of the tribe must generate economic value. Helpless, fluttering women, such as the classic damsel, would be considered a nuisance at best. Only the wealthiest men could afford a slave or a concubine, and even these weave, spin, cook, or produce some other contribution to the household, and since they do even they would be protected by tribal law. Woman had to be capable of self-sufficiency, particularly given the risk of widowhood. Glorifying war doesn’t come cheap: Archaeological evidence shows that the average death-age of barbarian men is twenty-four, but over forty for women. If men were the only source of economic stimulus this would have led to collapse quickly, thus, what women earn is theirs, not their husbands – and as such are able to fully enter into legal contracts, own property, and be trained in necessary skills.
Often, the barbarian tribes that gave women full rights were those where women could be warriors, such as the Brythonic Celts. Even among the Germans and the Goidelic Celts, women could rise from their rank and become full-fledged tribesmen. History supports this view as women warriors are well documented among the Greeks and Romans. Tacitus repeatedly says that barbarian women fought alongside men, and that the Roman soldiers found them much more frightening. Good women warriors could even be generals, such as Boudicca in Britain.
These barbarian women should never be damsels and dupes for the handsome adventurer and in turn should be independent persons capable of demanding respect — often at sword-point.
How does history fit into Porphyra: It is absolutely necessary to look at history when developing a world to play in. Yes there’s magic, dragons, mutants, living mountains, and gods galore but for the average society that doesn’t change much. Yes, it’s possible for a society to achieve great things through magic (such as the Netheril or the Thay) but it’s just as possible for tragedy to strike (Spellplague). By modeling societies into a realistic frame, you account for the blessed rains each ruler is likely to wish from his court wizard, while accounting for the curses by a ruler living next door. Magic giveth, and magic taketh away. There are various barbarian tribes who are known through Porphyra from the cursed ice warriors in the north ranging to the eastern desert peoples. To understand how these tribes would have to develop in order to survive these harsh environs allows the DM to paint a world full of realism and fantasy, blurring reality in fiction, to help everyone suspend their disbelief – which makes for a more dynamic world as well as better character development.
Ug thanks you for listening, he hates being forced into the square hole of “big dumb brute” when Ug is in fact a sensitive and noble barbarian who wishes only to bring honor to himself and his clan.