The characters' primary aim depends on class. Clanspeople seek survival; tribesmen, victory; brigands, ambush; traders, new wares and places to swap them; guardians, the unknown; antiheroine, establishing a base from which to exact retribution.
GM means game master. He or she is the referee for the role playing game (RPG).
PC is player character. Each is played according to rules as applied by the GM.
NPC stands for non-player character. A NPC is a character run by the GM.
Character Classes and Progression
Characters gain greater competency as they accomplish tasks toward their goals.
Clanspeople form the the overwhelming majority of the population. Aside from beseeching tribes for help against brigands, they usually have minimal roles in the game.
Tribesmen start as tenderfeet, boys trained in skirmishing but unfit for battle, grow into chasers, the equivalent of infantry and at high risk of death, before maturing into hunters. As implied by the title of the latter, tribesmen spend the preponderance of their time not at war but prowling the forest in search of prey, whether that be beasts or brigands. Experience with killing adds to tribesmen's prowess. Older characters may progress to the high rank of gesith, if they can distinguish themselves sufficiently.
Members of tribes (particularly males) tend to be significantly taller than other characters, unless the latter are involved in fishing (and thus have a more nutritious diet than is typical). Also, tribesmen are more muscular than others, save some guardians.
Tribesmen adhere to the Rules, which dictate decorum, discipline, and domination. Stoicism and perseverance form the lifeblood of a tribesman. The benefits of tribal society are security, order, and high morale. The detriments are a dearth of liberty, cleverness, and acceptance of new ideas.
Female members of tribes are slaves, though at the GM's discretion, extraordinary types (the equivalent of royalty) may exist. Despite their status, females do know how to defend themselves and, in some cases, can affect the outcome of a conflict. (It is possible for a person without upper body strength to wield deadly force, but how this could apply in war is a riddle for the GM and/or PC to solve.)
Brigands are initially children with high levels of violence and mortality. Clashes are as clumsy as they are common. Brigands are infantile in their decision making and often display incredible stupidity. They advance largely by dumb luck in various acts of aggression. The success of their incursions depends on surprise alone.
Unless experienced, brigands often quarrel among themselves. A band of brigands will brawl with another for any reason whatsoever. Melees need not always be deadly, for brigands are cowardly and have a poor understanding of pugilism. Usually, they live either within or near a clan to which they belong. Brigands can re-disorganize into mobs for brief riots, especially against unrelated clanspeople who form sustained defiance.
Brigands detest tribesmen and try to kill them if their party is small and weak. Notably, some foolish brigands even attack strong tribesmen; the former usually end up dead.
Traders generally begin as young clanspeople, kids who are incapable combatants but excellent runners. They must find trinkets, e.g. amber, only locally until an established trader takes them under his or her care. Then, they learn stick fighting and, on rare occasions, archery. As traders find new gewgaws and more places to deal in them, they grow in ability. Too, as they spar with other traders using the staff, their vulnerableness diminishes.
Traders abide by the Code, which demands stealth, resourcefulness, and honest negotiation. Reputation and concealment are the sine qua non of a trader. The pluses of trading culture are freedom, ingenuity, and openness to alternative ways of thinking. The minuses are an absence of protection, a central organization, and an esprit de corps (particularly for traders who are not part of a company). Not lionhearted, traders will go to great lengths to avoid or escape assault. They are keen on evading tribal tracking. Only under clamant circumstances (and without their packs and wares) will traders work with a tribesman. They are averse to one and dread more.
This fear has a solid foundation. Tribesmen will think of an unencumbered trader as merely the clansperson he likely is. So, their working together is possible, but unlikely. What is certain is that tribesmen will see a trader with merchandise as a miscreant, a poacher -- at least as bad a brigand -- and will treat him accordingly.
Guardians are typically veteran traders who have established their own exchange. They gain in potency by attracting new traders to their emporium, demonstrating proper management, and, most important, discovering and inventing novelties. They are responsible for storing and accounting for goods, for calming contentious traders, and for organizing physical contests among them (to settle arguments and to entertain).
Guardians supplement the Code with their own restrictions. Guardians are secretive to a fault, and their nature, while affording security by obscurity, usually prevents them from creating more than a modest market.
Guardians are not necessarily sedentary. If a guardian has muscular development, the player must explain what in his/her PC's daily routine demands (or at least allows for) it.
The only possible way a guardian could work with a tribesman is if one of them has duped the other: either via disguise or, if a guardian, by his or her using magic (quod vide).
Ambitious guardians who expand their marts quickly or to a large size will eventually attract the interest (plunder) of a tribe -- thus ending their careers and their lives.
Antiheroine has the toughest requirements for advancement. She is a trader, but her true goal, revenge, is -- for the foreseeable part of her existence -- unattainable. What is possible, in a variety of ways, is finding a home, whether it be with a clan or a crew of traders or guardians, from which she can scheme. She is austere, self-centered, and spiteful, so none of these people will be eager to work with her. Compounding her troubles, she speaks either dialectual Kurgan (see below) or none at all. Therefore, she is at best hard to understand (at least until she gains some fluency in standard Kurgan.)
Antiheroine, while aware of both the Rules and the Code, follows only the latter. She is a tough bargainer, incurring a blend of jealousy and irritation among her counterparties. She hates tribesmen and will never willingly go near them. She is arrogant and misanthropic toward everyone.
She is good with the staff and masterful at archery. She has additional, unarmed, but highly effective defensive skills but only if discretely describable/demonstrable by the participant playing her.
A party of characters should only have one antiheroine, except in special circumstances (which necessarily would involve a lot of rancor and campling over chiefly trivial issues).
Each character has six aptitudes. To determine each of these for the adult character, roll two six sided dice (2d6) and add six to the sum. If creating standard clanspeople (i.e. without another class) or NPC brigands, use three six sided dice (3d6). For juvenile characters, the GM will modify strength and wisdom downward and allow the character to grow into his or her full abilities. The attributes follow.
Strength represents the maximum amount of physical power a character can apply. A greater score indicates a better ability to inflict damage if a strike hits. Young characters never exceed a strength of ten. As they mature, the GM will determine gains in strength up to what was initially rolled as the maximum. Female characters subtract five from their ultimate strength score to impose a lower, natural limit. (E.g. if a female character began as a child and the player rolled 18 for her strength, she would start at ten and progress to thirteen.)
Dexterity measures the ability to deliver or dodge blows. It is the most important attribute for tribesmen and brigands and a useful one for traders. Female PCs add two to their dexterity (but it may be no higher than eighteen).
Constitution reflects physical fortitude but also the mental toughness that allows for grueling labor and the concommitant stamina. It is the most important attribute for traders.
Intelligence shows both critical and creative thinking. It is the most important characteristic for guardians and a useful one for traders. Female PCs add two to their intelligence (but it may be no higher than eighteen).
Wisdom gives not only a resistance to deception but also an ability to dupe (both others and oneself). Thus, a high wisdom is crucially important for those (guardians and perhaps traders) who wish to employ magic. Childish characters never exceed a wisdom of ten. As they mature or gain experience with magic, the GM will determine gains in wisdom up to what was initially rolled as the maximum. Female PCs add one to their wisdom score (but it may be no higher than eighteen).
Charisma is a combination of attractiveness and leadership. A high charisma allows for easier earning of trust and better chances for raising one's rank in a tribe. It is essential for those who wish to become gesiths.
More on abilities
Experienced guardians have lower dexterity and constitution, but higher strength and intelligence than traders. (Guardians' attributes change accordingly as they progress from upstarts to old hands.) One guardian (or more) of outstanding wisdom is the hallmark of a good exchange.
The GM may wish to adjust strength and constitution downwards for NPC clanspeople and brigands to reflect their scarcity of training and self-control. Though female NPCs also have their strength adjusted downward by five, the result can never be lower than three (which would reflect either a young child or someone too infirm for normal activity).
The language of tribes, and by extension of the land, is standard Kurgan. It is the main or only tongue of most PCs. Some clanspeople and brigands speak it and/or semi-intelligible dialects (such as Gibberish and Blatherskite). These are impossible to understand without experience, and even with it they are cumbersome means of communication for non-native speakers.
Influenced by Kurgan, the endemic languages are still spoken among clanspeople and brigands.
Finally, foreign languages (e.g. Gobbledygook) are very rare, unrelated to either Kurgan or aboriginal languages, and known only to such as, say, a singular tribesman or a tiny minority of traders.
With the exception of tribes (and perhaps parties of characters), groups are ethnically homogeneous, and acrimony toward those with dissimilar ancestry is always a serious complication.
The primary ethnicity is (indigenous) Barbarian. The secondary, (nomadic or semi-nomadic) Kurgan. All other ethnicities are mostly on the move and have importance if and how the GM sees fit.
Clanspeople are Barbarian. They often display a distinct dislike for tribesmen and to a lesser degree all Kurgans.
Tribes are largely Kurgan, but gladly accept children of any ethnicity so long as they possess remarkable capability. Therefore, tribesmen are indifferent to ethnicity among their own. Note, the absence of bigotry toward other tribesmen does not preclude its expression toward those outside the tribal system.
Brigands are predominantly Barbarian. They are hostile to all ethnicities, even their own, but may view Kurgans with especial malice.
Traders can be of any ethnicity. Relations among traders of unlike ethnicities is anything but harmonious. Traders' concealing clothing and habits help to hide their heritage, though.
Guardians can be of any ethnicity. They must occasionally engage themselves over quelling and preventing ethnic squabbles. On the rare occasions guardians deal with those from another exchange, relations are stiff and formal and may be further hindered by any prejudices.
Antiheroine is Barbarian. She cares not about the ethnicity but rather the utility of others to her.
Note: A wisdom score above eleven combined with experience, enables a PC or NPC more easily to surmount or limit the hindrance that bigotry causes. Thus, behavior and clothing can replace ethnicity and become prominent markers of sociopaths. Otherwise, a PC or NPC will have a hard time distinguishing, say, a Barbarian (who is not necessarily violent) from a brigand (who is).
Trust is crucial to tribesmen, traders and guardians. It is an influence countervailing bigotry.
Tribesmen rely on each other to form solid squads, platoons, and centuriae. All other things being equal, the higher the level of trust in a tribe, the more successful it is likely to be in its ventures.
Traders need to have confidence that their counterparties are on the level in their dealings. Too, traders require that guardians account for trades fairly and store goods securely. The more faith traders have in guardians (and other traders), the more the former will deal with the latter.
Guardians tend to be open and inviting early in their careers, requiring nothing more than a working relationship or a good reference. As their exchange grows successful, guardians become increasingly unwelcoming to newcomers, only accepting those with impeccable reputations.
PCs build trust by acting responsibly and reliably.
Though a character with a high score in an ability has a serious advantage over one without, experience mitigates some (but not all) of the detriment of a shortcoming. Thus, a slow but seasoned trader can confidently fend off a nimble tenderfoot. But the trader would just hold his own against the like were he a chaser, and would barely (if even) stand a chance against the same were he a hunter.
Experience can either reduce or intensify bigotry, depending on productive or destructive encounters with those of other ethnicities.
Experience can have a similar effect on trust.
As for dealing with magic, though, experience has a more complicated relationship.
Magic is the ancient art of bamboozling people into believing that supernatural events, while scientifically unsubstantiated, are true and have consequences. All characters have the mindset of very young children, and therefore are inherently susceptible to magic. Few characters can use magic, for it has several prerequisites.
First, a character must have the intelligence to conceive of it or, less likely, have a mentor confide it to them. Second, a character must have the wisdom to apply it in a duplicitous manner. The power of magic comes not from itself but from its context, e.g. being associated with a benefaction or bane to which it has no physical relation in reality. Third (and easiest), a recipient of the magic should have a average to low wisdom or experience.
High wisdom alone begets curiosity about how an act of magic works. Experience without a high score in wisdom affords no safeguard against magic and may intensify its coercion, depending on how a character has been conned in the past. Wisdom and experience combined may lead to partial immunity to magic, provided that the would-be victim has caught mistakes in the practice of prestidigitation. This insusceptability is not communicable among crowds, who will be completely credulous.
Because characters flee pain and seek pleasure, experience combined with high wisdom generally allows for holding in suspicion magic with negative outcomes but not positive ones. Characters who use magic (guardians and perhaps a few of their favored traders) are skeptical in proportion to their experience.
Crafters of magic (guardians) are hypocrites who only believe in magic so long as the circumstances are highly unusual.
A PC who wishes to apply magic must explain its derivation and explicitly describe and/or demonstrate it to the GM's satisfaction (requiring research on the part of the player).
Tribesmen are both wary of magic and supremely swayed when the impact is indisputable. For example, were a guardian to curse a tribe, its members would await the results. If they did manifest themselves, the tribe would be greatly motivated by the imprecation, not only to do the guardian's bidding but also to kill him or her -- and burn the corpse.
Distinct from magic, Tricks are real but much harder to develop. Other than poison, Tricks require a variety of materials only available to guardians. Tricks have some parallels to animal defenses, so a bit of study will turn up examples. A PC who is shrewd enough to conceive of a Trick still faces two substantial hurdles. One, he or she must assemble its ingredients and concoct the Trick. Two, the Trick should be inherently (and to a degree related to its effectiveness) a danger to its user. Thus, its application is problematic. For example, a character who works with poison must never do so in haste, or risk the probability of killing himself/herself.
Because of the challenge of creating and working with Tricks, they should only occur in high level game play and/or by NPC guardians.