Tuesday, January 23, 2024

More on Careers - Barbarians!

 What does it mean to be a ‘barbarian’ in the Far Future?

Merriam-Webster defines barbarian as “a person from an alien land, culture, or group believed to be inferior, uncivilized, or violent”. Let me emphasize some of those words.  Inferior. Uncivilized. Violent

OED has several definitions. The most relevant two are:

A foreigner, one whose language and customs differ from the speaker's

A person living outside the pale of the [Roman] Empire and its civilization

With the general idea being simply ‘you’re not one of us, and that fact makes you inferior’.

For many fans of adventure fiction, ‘barbarian’ brings to mind Conan the Cimmerian. He wears hides & fur, and wields a sword. If you read Howard’s works, you find that the differences between Conan and the ‘civilized’ people have little to do with technology. Conan despised ‘civilization’ because he saw it as morally bankrupt. He was not jealous of their fancy toys.

This is an AI generated image
This is an AI-generated image.

We readers can also see Conan as ‘primitive’. Compared to 20th/21st century technology, Cimmeria was primitive. Compared to Aqilonia, they were not that far behind. Lack of sophisticated technology does not make one a barbarian.

Here’s another definition. Civilized is defined as “At an advanced stage of social and cultural development, usually marked by the existence of organized communities and an adherence to established conventions of behaviour; highly developed; refined and sophisticated in manner or taste; educated, cultured”


a relatively high level of cultural and technological development”

A modern New Yorker, with his smart phone and digital everything (TL 8-9) might think of the poor rural dweller in, well, anywhere that isn’t NYC, to be a primitive. He doesn’t have a smart phone and a Tesla model 4! He does have other accoutrements of TL 7-8 life, though. Cable television, modern medicine, new model cars, and a comparable public education.  All that it takes is one TL of difference. The label barbarian may be all in the eye of the beholder. Small-town man does not think of himself as a barbarian, or inferior to fancy-pants city man.

In my Church and Empire setting, from the Talaveran point of view, all the residents of the Corridor could be considered barbarians. Their tech is lower (how uncivilized!), sometimes far lower. They don’t speak Talaveran. They do not hold to Talaveran customs of behavior. Thus, barbarians. Barbarian can be no more than a term of snobbery, a means for looking down upon one’s fellow man. Pride of race/culture. I don’t present the Corridor worlds that way, and my play group has not adopted this attitude, I’m pleased to say.

Keep in mind, that Stavanger is TL-12 and Lanzhou is TL-13. Almost as good as the Empire, but still behind. But do they therefore not meet the definition of ‘civilized’? Of course they do! Mavramorn and VanGoff’s World at TL-10 out-do modern America. Yes, they’re civilized.

What I’m getting at is: think beyond the stereotype of the pidgin-speaking, melee-weapon, primitive barbarian. A barbarian can come from any world, at any tech level. They are a group apart, separated for whatever reason from the main government and society. They might come from a Subordinate world, or live out on the edge in Ungoverned Space.

Let us now consider the Barbarian career, both what it states, and what it implies.

Supplement Four’s definition:

Barbarians: “Rugged individuals from primitive planets accustomed to hardship and well-trained in wilderness and survival situations”.  By that brief description, they are not very different from the Hunter career.

First is the lower tech level available to the barbarians. However, Supp Four is not specific about how low the TL of a ‘primitive’ planet may be. No vehicle skills for barbarians. Is this an assumption of tech level capped at 4? Why would that be?

Going with what I said above about broadening our view of what a barbarian can be, this career path can be easily re-skinned as the Colonist career. Brave explorers opening up new worlds for colonization and resource discovery! Substitute Survival for the automatic sword skill, and there you are.


·         physical bonuses

·         carousing – social skill

·         brawling – indicates warfare

·         blade combat–indicates warfare

·         bow combat – indicates warfare

·         gun combat – indicates general familiarity with industrial age devices

·         mechanical – also indicates familiarity with technology

·         survival – indicates a life lived outdoors, away from indoor plumbing

·         recon – indicates warfare

·         streetwise - indicates familiarity with organized societies – there’s that civilization thing.

·         medical – inhibited by lower TL possibly, but still relevant

·         interrogation

·         tactics - indicates warfare

·         leader – see the post on this skill

·         instruction - always useful!

·         JoT – also indicates familiarity with different TLs

What other skills could be patched in for the barbarian career? A quick glance through the Big Skill List brings me to: vehicle, bribery, equestrian, demolitions, gambling, hunting.

Automatic skills in sword, blade and leader imply a life full of fighting and warfare. Leadership can mean organized warfare. Another sign of civilization.

Strength is the key attribute for the barbarian career. It modifies everything except promotion. There INT is key, but with the DM coming in at INT/6, that’s easy to get. Promotions will not be easy, but they are not out of reach.

Note that there are no restrictions, reductions, or limitations on a Barbarian’s EDU stat. This says to me that people from these cultures can and do interact with the dominant culture. Barbarians can learn “the ways of civilization”. Conan the Cimmerian, BTW, could speak around nine languages. How many can you speak?

Survival can get easier in subsequent terms. Table 1 includes a lot of chances to improve STR. It is noteworthy that barbarians get the only +2 STR on any of the 18 Personal Development Tables. Get STR above average (8) and the survival throw drops to 4+, or 92% likely. Which is at odds with the implied situation of barbarians, living a life of constant violence. Then again, nothing breeds winning like winning.

Enlistment is not difficult, in line with the other careers. Reenlistment throw is not high, again in line with the other careers.

One would assume that rising in Rank would bring with it a rise in Social Standing. Chiefs are leaders of men, the powerful people. But the barbarian career makes no mention of SOC at all. The SOC characteristic is noted this way: “A measure of social class and an indication of the level of society from which the character comes.”  The Referee can of course, bump the SOC score of a Chief-5 or Chief-6.

Mustering Out Benefits

Cash is minimal, by a wide margin the least cash of the twelve careers in COTI. The only career that can’t net a 5-figure payout in one roll. Physical benefits are Passages, Low and High, and blades. Remembering that you can convert 2 receipts of Weapon into a skill level. It's one more chance to up your skill total.


What do I think?  Barbarians are a viable and worthwhile career. I can’t say that all of them will attain combat prowess as high as Mr. Singh, but it’s possible. A barbarian, especially one with decent INT & EDU should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Travellers from high tech worlds and engage in adventure and thrilling heroics. 


By the way, guess who else qualifies as a barbarian, if one only considers their inferior tech level?  John Carter of Mars.  You want to try calling him a barbarian? To his face?

Carter happens to have canonical Traveller stats. Here they are, from the bonus section of  Supplement One:

Heroic Adventurer (John Carter, Warlord of Mars) CCC78F   Immortal   

Cr Unconcerned

Broadsword-6, Blade-6, Dagger-6, Leader-5, Gunnery-2, AirIRaft-4, Tactics-3

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