Barbarian

With each scar comes a lesson

LORE

Barbarian, LARP character Icon

The concept of the barbarian is as old as civilization itself, finding its origins as far away in history as the founding myths of the great city of Uruk, thousands of years before any Roman or even ancient Chinese used the epithet to mock the people of their periphery.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Humanity’s oldest recorded tale, we are introduced to the character of Enkidu, a feral man raised in the wild by beasts, who serves as the foil to Gilgamesh’s virtuous existence. Both a rival and a companion, this character exists to contrast itself with what is deemed the norm of civilized life. While not a bad or evil man, Enkidu is lacking, like the rough sketch of a person. In a way, this is the essence of the barbarian, a caricature created by larger, more organised, and more influential cultures to depict those who do not share their worldview and their values.

Over the span of History, the term barbarian or savage was used to describe people as diverse and numerous as tribalistic hunter gatherers, pastoral herders, nomadic steppe riders, northern warbands, desert nomads, hill shepherds, and even intricate agrarian societies like the Celts or Iroquois. As a descriptor, “barbarian” might tell us more about those who use it than the ones it is used against. Still, this imagined other isn’t shapeless, no matter if it is translated into reality or not.

Two representations of the barbarian have been dominant over time: the noble savage and the uncultured brute. The former is a romanticized myth, uncorrupted by civilization, good natured, virtuous, and independent minded, yet made strong of body and mind by their life in the untamed wilderness. The latter is a dehumanized caricature, violent, primitive, driven by their most basic instincts, plagued by superstitions and brutal traditions.

This barbarian is either a threat to be feared, or an inferior to be subjugated. While both visions are still relevant in modern times, the contemporary barbarian is the synthesis of these conflicting ideas, as exemplified by the famous character of Conan, certainly violent and brutal, but also heroic and inspiring.

Characters

In LARP, barbarian characters can be very diverse, for the concept of the barbarian is incredibly wide in scope. The most iconic ones are loosely inspired by history and mythology, furious fighters driven mad by anger and rage, like the Norse berserkers or the frenzied Celtic Woad warriors of the British Isles. There is also a massive primal influence over the whole concept, with feral and animalistic features being a core aspect of the barbarian trope, to the point of alluding to cavemen in some cases. While not all barbarians are tribalistic, nomadic and hunter-gatherer lifestyles are clearly a core element, no matter if the tribe dwells in thick jungles or icy mountains.

However, while a barbarian is never at home in the city or civilization, they might not be strangers to it. Exiled or antisocial characters that fled the constraints of civilisation can also be very interesting takes on the barbarian theme, with stories of marginalisation, crime, or revolt forcing them into a harsh life in the wilderness, living off the land or as brutish raiders and outlaws.

In all cases, the conflict with civilisation can always be explored with barbarian characters, who can have strong opinions about people from more settled backgrounds. They might perceive peasants as domesticated and weak, bending the knee to undeserving and pampered masters. City dwellers may appear soft and morally decadent, hiding behind their walls in their own filt, counting their worthless coins. Nations and empires could be seen as threats to be stopped, a tide menacing to trample ancient lands and erase ancestral traditions, or on the contrary, as plump prey ripe for plunder.

LES ARTISANS D'AZURE

Valkyrie Armor

Discover the Valkyrie armor

LES ARTISANS D'AZURE

Destroyer Armor

Discover the Destroyer Armor

Costumes

Barbarians are warriors, first and foremost. They might be hunters, leaders, or have some kind of occupation beyond smashing their enemies' skulls, but combat is their defining activity, and that should be represented in a barbarian’s attire. Aggression is widely favoured over defense, and any armor worn by a barbarian is expected to be light or nonexistent, with leather often being the type of choice. Chain mail can also be seen, but full plate is rare and should only be worn if it is heavily used and damaged by combat, like something scavenged from a fallen foe more than anything made for the wearer.

Large intimidating weapons are the way to go, with greatswords, two handed axes, massive war hammers, and clubs being the most iconic. Wielding two weapons at a time, like a pair of axes, is also a good choice for a nimbler and more frenzied take on the trope. Shields can also be used in battle, but like with the Celtic Woad warriors or the mighty African Zulus, they are carried to compensate for the absence of armor, not to focus on defense.

The clothes and accessories of a barbarian vary widely according to their particular backstory and the type of culture they come from, but warrior’s bracers are often associated with strength and martial prowess, making them a good start for any barbarian set. Trophies are also a great addition to any costume and a good way to flesh out a character’s past exploits. They can be bones, claws, or teeth worn on necklaces or as trinkets, or even grimmer mementos like skulls, ears, and scalps. If the climate justifies it, furs are always an awesome boost to a barbarian costume and can give an impressive appearance when worn over the shoulders.