Thursday, June 21, 2012

Western Baronies: The Ko'Manna

Wow, it's been a while since I talked about my fantasy-western setting, The Western Baronies. Some people asked me about it, so I'm putting up more new information about the setting, starting with the part of it that's the most sensitive to deal with.

You see, every western setting needs Indians to go with the cowboys. But making a caricature of real-world Native Americans is about as palatable as the way most Gothic-horror settings add in gypsies without thinking about the connection to the real-world Roma people. Still, it's tough to write about western expansionism without talking about the oppression and destruction of native peoples. As long as the analogues to Native Americans are portrayed as complex and deep rather than walking "red man" stereotypes, I think it's possible to write that sort of thing without offering offense to anyone--and to ask interesting questions about right and wrong in the context of imperialism.

As well, the Ko'Manna offer an intriguing opportunity to create a cross-cultural pollination that didn't occur on a large scale in the real world, with people from the imperial side joining the natives en masse. This also gave me the chance to add something to the setting that isn't seen often even in Western games set in some version of the real world: Mormons. That is to say, a religious group that has a strange and complicated relationship with both the imperialist side and the native side of the struggle, and isn't entirely accepted by either.

For some other interesting portrayals of this question, I thoroughly recommend Totems of the Dead for Savage Worlds and the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard.

With that said, here are the native folk of the land the invaders call Marikuhl...



Though they are widely regarded as the natives of the west, the Ko’Manna and their many tribes are more properly eastern folk, driven beyond the Corundum Mountains by the colonization of Galatea seven hundred years ago.

Originally, the Ko’Manna lived in the forested hills and low mountains of eastern Galatea. They had dwelled there since time immemorial—the Ko’Manna keep only verbal records of their history—and had learned to live in harmony with the land and its natural resources. Their technology was primitive by the most generous of standards, utilizing stone tools in their lifestyle of hunting and gathering. Most tribes subsisted on the land in a basic fashion, wandering across their territory and occasionally trading with other tribes. While tribes sometimes fought over resources, such conflicts never blossomed into anything that might be considered a war.

When the pale men and women in their tall ships arrived, the Ko’Manna greeted them as neighbors and friends. At first, the new folk were not hostile, gladly teaching the Ko’Manna their languages and trading with them. Many of the early settlements survived their first hard years only through the aid of the Ko’Manna. After a decade of new arrivals, though, the Ko’Manna began to become concerned; already the new folk were using more resources than the land could comfortably renew, and the addition of even more would strain the area to its breaking point.

These concerns were dismissed by the newcomers when the Ko’Manna mentioned them, and gradually the natives came to realize a bitter truth: the settlers had no intention of moving on once they got on their feet—they intended to seize the land they inhabited and then to expand out of it. Trade between the two peoples became rare, and typically fraught with distrust and anger. As the settlers pushed further into the continent, the Ko’Manna began to respond with force.

From the viewpoint of the Ovidian settlers, the Ko’Manna response was unwarranted and irrational. Obviously, the land they were settling belonged to no one, since they had never bothered to put villages or towns there, and they certainly weren’t depriving the Ko’Manna of farming land. Many believed that since the Ko’Manna were nomadic, they should just “move on” and let “civilized folk” use the land they had been squandering for so long. This haughty and arrogant attitude of superiority finally led to all-out conflict between the settlers and many of the Ko’Manna tribes.

When the dust settled, the superior technology of the invaders had killed or driven away all of the hostile Ko’Manna tribes, leaving behind only those that had grown enamored of Ovidian culture and technology. Several tribes joined the colonies, becoming accepted as citizens and equal members in society. Many Ko’Manna purists regarded these groups as collaborators or traitors, but the fact remained that the Ko’Manna could no longer remain in the lands of the east.

One significant benefit the Ko’Manna received from the settlers during this period was horses. Before the arrival of the Ovidians, Ko’Manna carried all of their possessions on their backs, or utilized trained dogs as pack animals. A few tribes in the north had domesticated wooly oliphaunts as well, but the shaggy behemoths were hardly suitable for moving at speed. The Ko’Manna bonded with horses in a way they never dreamed possible, and the addition of the horse to Ko’Manna society changed them in fundamental ways. Now they could move at great speed, carrying the whole tribe and its possessions, across vast distances. Knowing they would soon have to do so, the Ko’Manna became extremely attached to their horses.

As the settlers continued to push east, the tribes consulted. For the first time in history, the leaders of each Ko’Manna tribe came to a single location to hold palaver. As they held truce and spoke, thirteen long months passed, the settlers coming closer to the last of their pure hunting grounds each day. Finally, the shamans and chieftains of the tribe were granted a vision. A great raven appeared to them, and it told them that their destiny as a people laid far to the west. As they traveled, the raven said, the animals would aid them in their journey in exchange for remembrance and the service of their strong and wise. The shamans and chieftains agreed, and the raven vanished.

The next day, the many tribes of the Ko’Manna began their long journey to the west. The trip took years, and many hardships were endured, but each time disaster loomed over the journey, it seemed, a powerful animal would appear to offer hope, aid, or direction to the travelers. Each time, those that had seen the animal or had benefited from it would dedicate themselves to its memory. In this manner, the Ko’Manna destroyed their former tribal allegiances, becoming one people, and in this way they divided themselves again: a tribe to serve each of the animals that had aided them in their journey.

Finally, the Ko’Manna made their way over the great wall that was the Corundum Mountains, a few staying behind in the foothills to act as sentinels for the rest. Beyond the mountains, the land they found was not as green as their former home, nor as easy, but it would be theirs. They spread to all corners of the land and made it their home. In return, the land forced them to become strong and brave, forging them into warriors and survivors. Generations passed in this manner until the pale men from across the sea became little more than a myth.

Next Time: The Return of the Imperials

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