OSR: Class: Barbarians

So Fighters get to fight really, really well. Better than anyone. They also get camp followers.
And Knights get to fight but, more importantly, they start in the Second Estate.

What do Barbarians get? It can't be just fighting (because we've got a class called "Fighter" already). And how do we make them fit into the feudal system?
In the same year, for our sins, there came unknown tribes. No one knew who they were or what was their origin, faith, or tongue, and some people called them Tartars, while others called them Taurmens, and sill some others called them Pechenegs. Some say that these are the people of who Methodius of Patar spoke and that they came came from the Yetrian Desert, which is between the North and East. [...] Only God knows who these people are or from whence they came. The wise men, who understand the Books, know who they are, but we do not.
In this way did God bring confusion upon us and an endless number of people perished. This evil event came to pass on the day of Jeremiah the Prophet, the 31st day of May. As for the Tartars, they turned back from the Dnieper, and we know neither from whence they came nor whither they have gone now. Only God knows that, for he brought them upon us for our sins.

-The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016-1471, covering the arrival of the Mongols in Russia. The entire section is worth reading. Basically, the Mongols turn up and nobody knows who they are. Old enemies are forced to work together in a desperate alliance and still lose. And the invaders just... leave. I can't overstate how interesting this bit of history is from a storytelling point of view.
Secutor, Chenthooran

Class: Barbarian

Starting Equipment: heavy weapon, leather armour
Starting Skill: Foreign Parts. Also, see below.

A: Rage
B: Danger Sense, A Taste of Home
C: Feat of Strength, Die Hard
D: Tough

You gain +2 HP for each Barbarian template you possess. You get +1 Stealth if you possess 2 Barbarian templates. 

You can choose to enter a rage at the start of your turn, or in response to taking damage. While in a rage, you have +1 Attack stat, all your melee attacks inflict +1 damage, and are immune to pain and fear. You might froth, or stare in battle-focus, or merely let a facade drop and give in to your ancient urges, brutal warrior training, or religious fanaticism.

While raging, you cannot do anything defensive, curative, or tactical with your allies. All you can do is attempt to kill things. Spellcasting is not impossible, but all your spells must be damaging spells, which deal +2 damage (if single target) or +1 damage (if multiple targets). Mishaps and Dooms may be more severe. While raging, you cannot stop fighting until you kill, subdue, or drive off all enemies. You can will yourself to stop raging with a 2-in-6 chance of success at the start of your turn as a free action. If one of your allies has injured you this fight, they count as an enemy.

Danger Sense
If you are surprised, you have a 50% chance to act on the surprise round anyway. If you encounter a creature no one in the group has seen before, you can roll under your Intelligence to remember a detail or weakness, provided the creature is not unique.

A Taste of Home
You can consume a special ration to regain 1d6+1 HP. This takes 1 round. Examples: an alcoholic drink, a strange fruit or vegetable, an unusual herb. One use costs 1gp and can be purchased in any trading city. 3 "doses" fit in a single inventory slot. You cannot do this while raging, but you can immediately enter a rage after eating the ration. If you have any Lethal Damage, you instead heal to 0 HP. If an ally waves the ration under you nose, you can Save vs Constitution to wake up. You may play a theme tune (or a leitmotif, if you're classy).

Feat of Strength
Once per day as a free action, you have 22 Strength for 1 round. Can also be used in combat (your Strength Bonus is 4).

Die Hard

You have 4 rounds to remove all your Fatal Wounds, rather than 3.

Reduce all incoming damage by 1 point. You gain a +2 to Save vs mind-altering spells.

Mechanical Notes on the Barbarian

Fighters are all about damage output. Knights are tanks with high defense and the ability to attract attention. Barbarians soak damage instead. They have high HP and the ability to heal in combat. They also usually go first. with a side ability of "knowing really obscure stuff." Rather than oiled-up illiterate goons, Barbarians can come from many backgrounds and use many skills. The generic feudal setting I'm using is based on 10th-14th century France, England, and Germany. Barbarians could be based on almost any other "foreign" culture, from Scotland to Syria to Mongolia to even more unlikely locations. The core of a Barbarian might be their ability to fight, but the real advantage is their association with the unknown.
Paladin, Yoon Seseon

Starting Skill

1. Mountaineer, 2. Raider, 3. Horses, 4. Soldier, 5. Sailor, 6. Unusual

You are from Foreign Parts. The language of the people Around Here is strange to you; their customs are unusual and sometimes amusing. You might worship the Authority as they do, but you might also be from a heretical sect or a pagan. Unless your background states otherwise, you can a start as a member of the First or Third Estates, or as an Outlaw. Barbarians can be male or female; they do things differently in Foreign Parts. To a certain extent you bring your own laws and customs with you.

You cannot wear chain armour or plate armour.
1. You lived in the high alpine passes. When you weren't farming goats you were feuding with your neighbors. Start with 1 goat and a set of winter clothes.
2. You were a prince of a great nation who lived in valleys between mountains that cut through the clouds. You are innately superior, and know how to behave like a noble. Gain the "Courtesy" skill, 1gp, and the starting Noble Rank of 1 with an upkeep of 12gp/month. Your clothes were fancy in your homeland.
3. You were a great skirmisher and high-pass fighter. Start with 50' of rope, a grappling hook, and a weather-worn face.
4. You lived in the back of a great glacier or on a trackless snowfield in the north. Start with a pair of bone snow goggles. Each morning, if you wake up above ground, you can Save vs Wisdom to tell what the weather will be like that day.
5. You are a mercenary and a guide. Sometimes, you lead armies to their death. Sometimes, you lead them through impossible terrain. Start with 1d10sp and a spare sword.
6. You searched the mountains for rare beasts. Start with fur robes worth 50gp that you wouldn't sell even if threatened with a horrible death. You killed the animal yourself. Feel free to a name and describe it.

You cannot wear plate armour.
1. You were part of a mercenary army, brought here to fight a conflict and shattered by the result. You do not know the way home. Start with a horse and a shield.
2. Your appearance is so outlandish even educated and well-traveled people will stop to stare at you. The difference might be minor to modern eyes. You gain a +2 bonus to Charisma in situations where your novel appearance or dress might provoke interest (court, seduction) and a -2 penalty to Charisma when it would cause fear or discomfort (peasant gatherings, church services).
3. Your culture rewards death in battle against impossible odds. You must Save to retreat from a fight. You may reroll a failed Save vs Fear if your immediate response, if you succeed, is to rage and charge.
4. You were an expert looter, raiding caravans, cities, and travellers alike. Start with brightly coloured clothes made from the torn silks of your enemies.You can evaluate the worth of looted treasure (as a Thief).
5. You know how to frighten the weak-willed and inexperienced. Start with a pot of war paint. It takes you an entire round to enter a rage, and you must spend that round chanting, dancing, or displaying your weapons. You can maintain this pre-battle rage-chant for as many rounds as you need to without attacking. This may force your enemies to make a Morale check or Save vs Fear.
6. You are an expert slave-catcher. If you make a Combat Manuver and grapple a human-sized target, you can also disarm them.

You cannot wear plate armour.
1. You are completely at ease in the saddle of a horse. You start with a bow and 20 arrows, but no horse (it died recently, and you need to earn enough to buy a new one).
2. You have a riding animal of an unusual breed (a six-legged horse, a camel, a giant centipede, a huge bird). It is identical to a horse in all mechanical respects, and too weird for anyone around here to buy. If it dies, you can try to buy a replacement at a major city for a minimum of 200gp. You can also ride a normal horse but it's just not the same.
3. You can instantly evaluate a horse's condition and worth just by inspecting it. If you sell a horse, you always get a good price.
4. You were part of a knightly order in Foreign Parts, sent here as part of a failed diplomatic effort. Your master might be dead, but you have committed no crime, and see opportunities in these lands that would be denied to you at home. Gain the "Courtesy" skill, 1gp, and the starting Noble Rank of 1 with an upkeep of 12gp/month.
5. You are part of a vast warrior nation that lurks just beyond the horizon. You were exiled for a shameful crime and can never return to your homeland. Start with a horse and a ceremonial dagger.
6. You are an expert on riding on any terrain. Start with a horse. While riding, you never need to make checks to move over steep slopes, uneven ground, small streams, etc.

Druzina, Even Amundsen

1. You were born into a mercenary family and have know no other life. Start with 1gp and 1 Camp Follower.
2. You have fought in half a dozen wars in places most people can barely imagine. Your long and loyal service was not rewarded, but your amazing tales will earn you friends.
3. You were an expert night-raider, and took many captives by the light of the overcast moon. You can see as well in dim light above-ground as most people can see in daylight.
4. Your tribe's battle-rage is terrifying to behold. If you kill an enemy,  you can spend the subsequent round defiling the corpse, shouting, or holding your bloody weapon over your head to force a Save vs. Fear or a Morale check among your enemies (and potentially your allies).
5. You came from a tribe of brawlers. You can throw any solid object to deal 1d6+Strength bonus damage, with a -1 penalty to attack for every 10' past the first.
6. You have fists of steel and callouses like iron plates. Your unarmed attacks deal 1d6+Strength bonus damage. You can also crush walnuts and skulls with your bare hands.

You cannot wear chain armour or plate armour.
1. You can swim, even in leather armor. Unless you're a fishling this is a rare skill indeed.
2. Your ship was half-wrecked in a storm and you drifted for months. You have no idea how to get home, but you prefer it here anyway. Make up 1d6 ludicrous lies about Foreign Parts.
3. The horrifying things you saw while you were at sea convinced you that dry land - any land - was better and safer. Gain +2 to Save vs Fear.
4. You kissed a mermaid once. Water elementals will not harm you unless seriously provoked. The first time you would die due to drowning, you are instead tossed to the surface with 0 HP.
5. You raided a monastery from the sea but underwent a miraculous conversion. You will not harm any monk or nun. Start in the First Estate with a great deal of residual guilt.
6. You guarded a merchant who died on a sea voyage. Start with 1d10gp. You can speak a dozen languages.

You gain the skill listed, not the "Unusual" skill.
1. You were a holy warrior, fighting for a cause no one Around Here even knows about. Gain the "Religion" skill.
2. You know a secret ritual to call the souls of your victims back into the living world. Once per week, you can cast speak with dead, targeting a creature you personally killed. The creature's head must be intact. If the creature really hates you and has sufficient willpower, it can Save to return fully, becoming a ghost, an embodied undead, or possessing someone nearby. You don't know this can happen. Gain the "History" skill.
3. You have hardened your soul. If a spell requires you to Save, unless it is a Save to Dodge, you gain a +2 bonus to y our Save. If you are aware the spell is being cast and do nothing but prepare yourself, you gain a +4 bonus instead. Gain the "Religion" skill.
4. You are a natural leader, although you are not a noble in any way. Hirelings can reroll failed Saves vs. Fear or Morale checks if they can see you. Gain the "Siege Warfare" skill.
5. You were dispatched from Foreign Parts to fulfill some ambiguous prophecy. If a suitably dramatic event occurs, you can declare that the prophecy is fulfilled. Gain a +2 to all Saves for the rest of the encounter and a sense of emptiness if you survive. You can only do this once. Start with the "Farmer" skill.
6. You cannot lie under any circumstances. Your oaths are very powerful. Start with the "Solider" skill.


  1. Nice work! It works even to create a Castilian jinete wandering the lands after the Pyrenees. :)

  2. This is very, very good. I would only quibble with the opportunity to start as a member of an estate. These are alien people and should be treated with: fear, hostility, xenophobia, contempt. They should always start as Outsiders.

    Really excellent work.

    1. There's a surprising amount of scholarship on this topic, as it turns out. The general consensus is that it's less who you are and more how you act, and how people of your equivalent Estate treat you.

      A common argument might go, "Yes, he worships a heathen god, wears pyjamas, and carries a sword like a can opener, but he's the brother of a King." If you are a member of the 2nd Estate and you act like it - if you display that "sovereignty of nature" and knightly bearing, then all other details become less relevant. The 2nd Estate will close ranks to protect one of their own - to leave you prey to the mob would be to weaken their own position.

      The First Estate has a broad base. A monk from some wind-whipped Irish rock could meet with a priest from Egypt and have a mutually intelligible conversation. The language of the Church, and its rituals, provides common ground stronger than culture.

      In the Third Estate, someone from Foreign Parts is unlikely to be accepted as a farmer (they don't own land Around Here) and their status as a merchant will always be in doubt (without a social support network to back them up), but as a soldier, society has a niche for them.

      So yes, fear and distrust and staring... but not necessarily contempt.

  3. I've been granting characters with skills knowledge and competence in basic tasks related to their skills, aside from making skill tests. However, a few of your skills listed in the backgrounds are tricky, notably the Barbarian. What exactly differentiates Siege Warfare, Soldier, and Raider?

    1. In my head, if it ever came up.
      Siege Warfare: construction (but not fancy construction, like "winch and big nails" construction), tunneling, not starving, looting, and patience. Patience is a good skill. You are a step above the common soldier. You can also do math, maybe.
      Soldier: looting, finding shady people, ingratiating yourself, evaluating loot, spitting really far, and disappearing whenever volunteers are required. You've seen all kinds of stuff. You're big on "whats", not "hows" or "whys."
      Raider: running in and stealing stuff in a hurry, knowing how to plot a route through rough terrain, build a camp, hide a body, or set an ambush. You know how to burst into a room and figure out who needs to die first before anyone else has their boots on. You can also probably ride a horse.