View Full Version : Barbarian tribe initiation ritual

2011-09-27, 01:18 PM
I'm planning on my players having to do something like this soon and I'm kind of having a hard time coming up with ideas about what it could involve.

Little bit of background and what ideas I have already: The PCs are going to be hired to convince the barbarian tribes to join forces with a city against an army marching on both their lands. The barbarians are very proud and refuse to join forces with the city because they don't think they'll need to.

The barbarian tribe consists of orcs, half-orcs, and humans. They greatly value physical strength and endurance. So far I've got a few ideas.

The first I have is that the strongest member of the party might have to face the strongest member of the tribe in single combat (alternately, the party might have to face a group of the strongest young people the barbarians have) but that's about it. Not combat to the death, just to exhaustion (0 or fewer HP.)

I also came up with the idea of the PCs having to run a gauntlet of some sort, but that would basically come down to a handful of stat checks, which isn't terribly exciting or interesting to do. Stuff like the party having to jump from platform to platform along a swift river, while barbarians stand on the shores and poke at the party with long sticks to mes them up.

I ALSO had the idea of the PCs having to retrieve an item from the nest of some monster (carrion crawlers, maybe? The PCs are level 2-3) A few barbarians would come along to pull them out of the fire if they're not successful.

Edit: This one just occurred to me; the party wizard might have to face the barbarian 'wizard' (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=195049) and see who impresses the tribe more.

If anyone has ideas for other tests, that would be great and I'd love to hear them.

2011-09-27, 01:36 PM
Public ritual circumcision; if you flinch, you fail.

That actually exists.

2011-09-27, 04:03 PM
Have a party member get willingly tied to a enraged animal ( such as a dire wolf or boar) by a chain around each of there waists. The way to win this test is to break the animals will by force, not by fancy tricks or magic.

Now, the fight is unwinable exept by the most skilled unarmed fighters( unarmed human vs. Dire boar? Realy!), but the point of the test is not to kill the animal, but to tame it. The most skilled and worthy of fighters often gets the beasts respect outright, and it is a truly great hero who can get the beast to willingly be its mount!

Of course, most contestents get gored in the guts within 5 seconds of the ritual, so there is aways a shaman on standby.:smallbiggrin:

2011-09-27, 05:08 PM
Well, in Pathfinder, their barbarians have some particular final rites of passage. Stuff like:
- Run from a wildfire to a river or some other firebreak.
- Get tied up and thrown into the ocean, escape, and swim *up* a fjord.
- Race through the mountains for several days
- Leap off a cliff and be snatched up by a tribe shaman just before you hit the ground.
- Enter a dark underground cave complex to retrieve a totem. The cave might just be full of dangerous creatures, or there could be fear glyphs all over the place ramping up the terror.

Hope that helps or at least gets the ideas flowing. :smallwink:

2011-09-27, 05:41 PM
There are groups who have a single rite of passage for initiation, while others are specific to the individual, and intended to help that person overcome a personal weakness. This second type is my favorite. After all, adulthood isn't something you just get like those "cultured" people seem to think it is. You have to earn that right. Is that character a mage? Send them off to fight something resistant to magic. Is the PC a type to just leap in? Send him off to do something he'll have to research first.

Some initiation rites that we use in the real world wouldn't work well in D&D... I guess Con checks for enduring the pain of being envenomed (I'm aware Fort saves prevent ability damage, but venom still hurts). It's D&D, though. I bet the barbarians have an actual dungeon they send people through.

brann miekka
2011-09-27, 08:58 PM
i've already seen alot of the things ide suggest, like finding a relic or wrestling the chieftain, but theres always the more spiritual path of "the great hunt". send them to find a mighty albino bear and bring back his pelt and heart then have a randomly determined character make con checks and eat said heart raw in front of the tribe to prove their power and that the newly gained spirit of the animal has accepted him (barbarians dont respect women that way) as his new host.

barbarians are my favorite npcs, merely because of how great of enemies or allies they can be (and because they're my favorite class but that doesnt matter) and how a "war" scenario can truly be changed by a few dozen screaming six and a half foot tall barbarians cleaving in from the enemies flank.

2011-09-27, 09:54 PM
My players joined a group of bandits once. The bandit initiation ritual was to walk on top of a 10 foot long fire. I ruled it as 2d6 damaged and you had to put the fire out afterwards. They were level 7 so they sailed through it.

If I were you I would do the slay monster idea. Or a wrestling match.

2011-09-28, 05:47 AM
When it's time for a child to ascend into adulthood it is sent alone into the wild where it must find its totem animal. Not before nature has sent its sign can the now adult return.

2011-09-28, 05:58 AM
In a DSA game, our DM ruled it a bit different.

Our "Fighter" was tied to a tree, aswell as one of the Orcish Warriors. The both got a Knife, and were ruled to battle till Unconciousness or pinned to the tree.

Another one, could be the one of the terrible new Conan movie...

Have a nice Day,

2011-09-28, 06:14 AM
I've seen an encounter like this happen a couple of different ways. One session involved a Barbarian PC who had to call the barbarian hordes and complete a spirit quest from a key tribal shaman.
Another session had our strongest PC pitted against theirs in a battle to the death because we crossed and defiled their holy ground (We knew it was some kind of sanctified ground and got greedy).
Yet another involved some intro work the DM did with a different Barbarian PC to flesh out his character. He had to enter the forest solo, hunt and kill a fearsome beast, and drag it back to camp where it was ritualisticly cut apart and choice pieces were prepared for him to consume raw. Bright side, how well he did determined the benefits of the ceremonial item received.

I'd split up the party to complete as many rituals that are required.

2011-09-28, 06:40 AM
It should involve pain and sacrifice, the public circumcision is a good example as long as the players are OK with it, though give the characters involved some time to recuperate or save it for last. If the Bible is anything to go by, it took significantly longer than three days (http://bible.cc/genesis/34-25.htm). No, I am not getting into the religious significance of this, it is only example of how potentially long healing up from having ones foreskin removed in primitive medical conditions might take. Magical healing would speed things up, but might not be allowed as part of the ritual.
It should also involve a feat that, while probably not deadly on it's own, still tests ones resolve and skills the tribe values, fighting an animal or a member of the tribe is a good idea. Going out alone for a certain time with minimal supplies is another.
Finally, it should also probably involve eating something gross and preferably narcotic and/or hallucinogenic.
The PC's, not the players.

Kol Korran
2011-09-28, 08:04 AM
some good ideas there. i'll addd up my own:

Test of Courage
courage is the mark of the warrior, no? the party are led to a pit, a dark one, where they (or some of them) are supposed to climb down, and spend a day/ two/ three/ retrieve something from it the pit however is unnaturally dark (a permanent darkness? not cast by anyone, just a relic of "old days") and the shadows abound... the "pit" is actually a series of small natural caves., with a lot of small holes in the walls, ceilings, floors...

the barbarians tell them that "the eater"/ "the voices of cowards" reside in the pit. as they enter, they hear whispers, mumbling, gibbering. from time to time they even see an eye or a tooth or a mouth through one of these holes..

other than the darkness, there is a very fluid Gibbering Mouther that lives in the caves, used to test the courage of new adults. the mouther triesto inspire terror and horror, and if it succeds, only then does it attack (it's a coward as well) since it's CR 5, it's a tough but winnable fight, and i think quite an experience.

Reading of the signs
the Shaman wants to test the wisdom of the group. it presents certain riddles, and certain questions to test the party, maybe even drawing some signs/ portents (cards? bones? and so on). there could be several themes:
- there is no right answer, but the shaman test for creativity
- there is no right answer, and the PC should admit she doesn't know- honesty is the basis of the tribe, as it leads to trust.
- the shaman describes a difficult situation, that puts a moral question, but not an obvious one, to test the character's loyalties, preferences, and beliefs.
some things that come come are- family vs. tribe, tribe vs. god, leader's decision vs. possible death of many people, matters of religious faith and more...

a certain twist is to bring the characters into "the dream haze"- they all enter a tent with the shaman, and smoke things/ eat things/ sweat a lot, till they enter a delirious haze, which the shaman uses to "create" situations.

alternatively (and this might be real fun) the haze can bring out their OWN personal issues (as dictated by background and personality), and they play these issues again, perhaps twisted, perhaps not, perhaps they make different decision, perhaps not. the shaman watches of course, and "nudges" events and characters to provoke more insightful responses. this works with players who like roleplay though.

hope this helped,

beyond reality
2011-09-28, 10:41 AM
Endurance battle. Any character willing to volunteer must engage in a battle (possibly fist fight, possibly armed) with the tribe's greatest warriors, each one stronger than the last. They get only brief breaks for healing and rehydration.

How far they get determines their new position in the tribe. They have greater authority than whoever they beat. So if they lose the first fight they're accepted as part of the tribe, but only as grunts and no one will listen to them. If they beat someone on the war council then they take his place, if they beat the current battle leader/general then they become commanders of the tribe's warriors in battle. If they beat the chieftain they take over entirely.

2011-09-28, 04:51 PM
Cracked did an article called "The 5 most horrible rites of manhood around the world." you might want to chek it out.

Also, I'd second the idea of having the participants take part in some kind of mystical hunt, could be interesting.

2011-09-28, 06:41 PM
I remember reading a series of books (printed in the 1920s) with information about customs and rituals from *everywhere* around the globe. Really nice source of information, given that not a few of the tribes described in the books have already disappeared, or discontinued their ancestral rituals. But I digress...

I imagine that getting "adopted" into a barbarian tribe, or getting the tribe to agree to what the characters want, would mean undergoing the rites of accession to manhood that that tribe has.

There is a LOT of ideas to be gleaned from the real-world rituals of manhood in aboriginal tribes and whatnot. Some examples, off the top of my head:

-The rite of manhood in certain Australian aboriginal tribes implied laying on your back on the ground, and let the tribe's witchdoctor knock off one of your front teeth with stone tools, like a chisel and hammer. You passed the test if you didn't flinch, didn't show pain for even a second.

-The famous rite (mentioned in "Cracked") from this Amazonian tribe wherein young men are made to wear special gloves full of bullet ants, which sting their hands and forearms like crazy. The men have to endure the pain without screaming or giving signs of discomfort (usually they are sort of "dancing" the whole time they have the gloves on, though). The ritual has to be repeated *20 times* before a youth is considered to be a man.

-In certain Melanesian tribes, young boys on the verge of manhood were made to carry a "little house" (like a mini-hut) on their backs, which is where they slept for a month. During that month they were made to perform increasingly hard tasks, culminating in dropping them off at night in the middle of a thick jungle/forest and having them come back to their village on their own.

-You also have your typical "go and hunt animal X, and bring it back to the village; don't come back without it".

-Then you have the extreme example of the Dayaks of Borneo, who were head-hunters (in the classical sense) and whose manhood ritual involved infiltrating an enemy village, killing someone and bringing the head back... (they don't do that anymore, of course). Interestingly, it seems that ancient Spartans had a similar rite for the young Spartiates (Spartan citizens with full rights): They were admitted as full citizens only after they had stalked and killed a Helot... I would imagine that this particular rite would fit in an "evil campaign".

Of course, for gaming purposes, possibly the lengthier real-world rites of manhood should be abbreviated. Also, in the D&D universe, for the rite of manhood to have meaning magic should be ABSOLUTELY NOT allowed --neither to help the person go through the rite, nor to heal any possible injuries incurred in it. The point is to do something hard, and tough it out by yourself, using only your own innate strength.

But, really, the real world is a great source of manhood rituals that can be adapted to your game.

2011-09-29, 07:54 PM
I would go with scaling a cliff to find a rare breed of flower, and bringing the (intact) flower back to the tribal elder. The flower is not only proof of having done the deed, since the flower only grows in one place, but is useful in certain superstitious/supernatural rituals.

If you bring it back flattened or torn, or in any way damamged, you have to try again in three weeks' time. The rite proves that one can be both strong and gentle, so that the man is qualified to rear children. An especially good lesson for orcs, who might not be gentle enough otherwise.

2011-09-29, 09:58 PM
^From Batman Begins, right?

I'm seconding the wandering to find your totem animal. After eating something which may or may not have been hallucinogenic, so they have fights with demons, spirits, whatever fits with the barbarian tribe's religion.

2011-09-30, 05:25 AM
Tests are all well and good...
...Or one of them could just kill the chief and take his place. (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0149.html):belkar:

2011-09-30, 05:36 AM
well if we are being commical, then someone could marry the chief. (or do other things in that realm).

Though i wouldnt suggest it to them. (i would however consider it if one of them suggested it)

2011-09-30, 02:20 PM
^From Batman Begins, right?

I'm seconding the wandering to find your totem animal. After eating something which may or may not have been hallucinogenic, so they have fights with demons, spirits, whatever fits with the barbarian tribe's religion.

Actually, no, I was thinking of Jungle 2 Jungle with some Gilgamesh thrown in, but your idea's cool, too.

2011-10-08, 11:29 AM
In case anyone was wondering, this is how it turned out.

PCs arrive and meet a barbarian near the outskirts of the village (the 'village' is mostly semipermanent housing like large tents- winter is coming and the tribe is settling in. They wander aroundt he plains for most of the year) who asks them what they want. They tell him they're ambassadors from the city and want to make an alliance.

The barbarian tells them that only tribe members can bring business like that before the chief, so they ask to become members of the tribe (but for that they'd have to talk to the chief- something only tribe members are allowed to do. The guy they were talking to offers to bring it up on their behalf, though.)

So the chief talks to them for a couple minutes and sends them off, along with a handful of younger tribe members, to the cliff to the north. The cliff is a pretty sheer rock face that's miles long and several hundred feet high. The barbarians climb up to a smallish opening and throw some ropes down for the PCs, and point to a totem made from bone in one corner of the cave they were standing at the mouth of. All they have to do is get the totem and return to the mouth of the cave.

The rogue runs in first and grabs the totem, only to be ambushed by a carrion crawler. The fighter and the sorcerer jump down as well while the NPC cleric hangs back at the mouth of the cave because the rogue said he was going to grab it and throw it to her. As the other two PCs jump down a second carrion crawler ambushes them as well.

After a crapton of saving throws vs. the crawlers' paralysis they eventually kill the monsters and exit the cave with the totem and head back to the village. There's another test they have to pass, though, and the sorcerer talks to the village shaman trying to get advice on the next test, and is told simply to "Do your best."

A couple days later the PCs are taken to a fairly large and swift river with a bunch of wooden platforms floating on it. They have to stand on each one, in order, and get the totem from the last one and return to shore with it. They can try as many times as they like but once they give up they won't be given another chance. The entire party tries and fails several times while the barbarians prods at them with long poles to mess them up (i.e. the DC of jumping from one platform to the next got incrementally higher), taking subdual damage every time they get swept away (the barbarians set up a net across the river so they didn't get swept too far.) Eventually the party is too exhausted to try any more, and the barbarians gather them up and they head back to the village.

The challenges weren't meant to necessarily be beaten, they were to see how determined the characters were. As the party worked themselves to exhaustion trying to get the totem from the river, the barbarians consider them to have passed- they never gave up, which is something they consider important.

2011-10-08, 02:56 PM
Awesome! Very clever work, there.