On Lunar Barbarism

I'll get this out of the way so it doesn't immediately tackle the thread off a cliff and into a bottomless pit:

In 3e you can play a Lunar who was born and grew up in Nexus, who joined the Guild and made a fortune in business, who regularly attends high-society galas in expensive imported Calinese silk gowns, sips tea with her pinky out, and who thinks the centralized welfare state is a pretty great idea. This is just as viable as Solar Conan. Good? Good.

That said, there's a default stone-and-leather slant that colors Lunars. This is your guide to not freaking out: what's going on and why.

Let's start by looking at the idea of "barbarism," because people conflate a lot of stuff into that word. Let's split it up into three sub-concepts:

• Ideological barbarism - barbarism-as-philosophy, barbarism as a deliberate rejection of civilization

• Political barbarism - barbarism-as-lifestyle— the daily socio-economic-technological realities of groups we identify as 'barbarian' in Exalted

• Stylistic barbarism - the visuals and tropes conjured up by the word 'barbarian' for us, the audience, mostly composed of fantasy readers

We'll start with that first one, because it's the one people are scared to death of. Ideological barbarism is some kind of intentional "barbarian ethos," of the sort that people sometimes think Conan espoused because of quotes that get tossed around— and to be fair, Conan did say things like "barbarians are much more polite than civilized men, since civilized men do not think, as a matter of course, that they may have their skulls cloven in twain." Ideological barbarism is a deliberate rejection of 'civilized comforts' on philosophical grounds— a demonization of city-dwelling folks for being 'soft' and 'weak' and 'false' and generally 'non-people,' and thus valid targets for abuse. It's a platform for glorifying the lifestyle of the "political barbarian" (see below) and justifying the superiority of his way of life.

In First Edition, the Lunars were built around ideological barbarism. It was their rock, their way of life, and their thesis as a splat.

Now forget about that completely for a moment— pretend it has never crossed your mind, because we're going to look at political barbarism as something fully divorced from that concept.

Political barbarism is "real" barbarism (as your average fantasy-fiction-consuming American would understand the term) — i.e. it's the daily realities of "barbarian" type peoples. In the real world, this is an incredibly diverse grouping that you really don't want to generalize about because it runs the gamut from the historical Mongols (who almost conquered the world) to the plains nations of North America to the Mayans and Olmecs, who had incredibly complex and sophisticated societies and empires, despite that they never really did much of anything with metallurgy or the wheel.

We're going to simplify it down to "guys who don't really build cities, or sustain themselves primarily on sedentary agriculture, or have really good metallurgy or at least not the capabilities for large-scale application thereof." I.e. the wilderness-dwelling, furry-underwear, we-call-our-boss-a-chieftain crowd.

These are extremely diverse groups in Creation, as in the real world, but there are some generalities you can lay down that won't be hilariously wrong too often. Generally they're located in resource-poor regions and are exploited or marginalized by more powerful neighbors. Generally they have much stronger ties to the local spirits than 'civilized' folks do, because they have much greater need of divine protection and assistance. Generally they are impoverished in comparison to their 'civilized' neighbors. Generally some degree of predation on other communities is necessary to handle the necessities of life (you'll notice everything keeps tying back to the fact that these are people situated in resource-poor or otherwise undesirable locations).

Notably, the political barbarian is usually not an ideological barbarian— like Conan, give him the chance to fill his pockets with jewels and indulge himself in wine, women, fine clothing, and to otherwise reap the benefits of a high-sophistication society, and he'll jump at it. There's a reason these guys raid settled, built-up locations: They want the shit those guys have.

Finally, stylistic barbarism is kind of our tentpole here— there's a definite aesthetic vibe to sun-darkened skin and rippling muscles, which are on display because the character in question is just wearing some animal skins; to a character well-versed in the ways of the wilderness, with honed instincts and practical wisdom; to the idea of fast living, easy violence, and living in the moment. This often doesn't actually mesh with the realities of the political barbarian, but it's the imago that guides our attempts to categorize him, above.

So what about Lunars?

The idea in First Edition was that each splat was a dedicated aesthetic and stylistic package, except for Solars, who were highly versatile. Solars could do most everything, but if you wanted a custom-crafted experience FOCUSED on one thing, you went to the other Exalts: DBs were there for decadent political intrigue, Abyssals for gothic melodrama, and Lunars for barbaric savage fantasy. As a result, they were modeled after the stylistic barbarian, and to really hammer the experience home, were built as ideological barbarians. They were philosophically anti-civilization and anti-intellectual. They were barbarians because "civilization makes you weak."

3e Lunars are not ideological barbarians. Many of them were not born to barbarian peoples (although many were) and have no particular fondness for or attachment to a minimalist frontier lifestyle. They enjoy luxury as much as any other Exalt.

3e Lunars also can't quite be said to be political barbarians. I mean, some of them were! Because political barbarians are marginal peoples, they often don't have much in the way of resources to exploit— the Realm often looks at them as nuisance groups or potential slave labor pools rather than subjects to be assimilated and exploited. This often pushes them even further out into the wilderness, away from the Realm's sphere of influence. Alternately, those in resource-rich environments (such as the forests of the deep, deep East) are often living in hostile areas that are difficult for outsiders to reach. What that all adds up to is, "a Lunar living in a barbarian society is often much more difficult for the Wyld Hunt to quickly and efficiently target than one living in the Lap." There's natural selection at work there.

But think back to what we said earlier— the political barbarian is a dude who comes from certain circumstances. He's not usually ideologically married to his lifestyle— even if he says "being dirt-poor is a virtue!" he is generally saying that because he has no way to change his situation so he may as well take some kind of pride in it. Given the sudden ability to go out and grab whatever he wants from the world, he will generally do so— his outlook and ambitions won't remain limited and provincial for very long. So even Lunars who are born of barbarian cultures will usually get a perspective bigger than that culture in short order— either by moving outside of it directly, or by taking it over and transforming it and starting to bump into their political and supernatural neighbors, necessitating a bigger-picture view.

They are, however, intended to partake of stylistic barbarism— they're designed for it from the ground up and many of their problems in Second Edition came from a deliberate attempt to reject this, I think as a result of conflating it with the other two kinds of barbarism. The fact of the matter is, to the degree that the Exalted splats echo other source material, Lunars are werewolves, tribal legends, and pagan culture-heroes. They're supposed to look rough-edged compared to the more refined Solars; their Attribute magic is supposed to look raw and powerful compared to the deft, polished sheen of Ability magic; their shapeshifting points to a primal font of imagery and aptitude— their archetypes are "warrior, trickster, shaman."

You can put a twist on this and have Lunar who emphasizes polished sophistication (same as you can have a heavily-armored Sidereal)— you absolutely can! The Vikings were one of the earlier cultures to have both lawyers and lawsuits. Nothing up there says Lunars have to be simple or dumb. But there's a lot of stuff in the Lunar design that pushes toward a powerful, primal, nature-saturated set of iconography.

The trick, of course, is answering the question "Well, why?" If they tend to get a bigger view of the world and a greater ability to achieve their ambitions than the average tribal dude, why would they continue to hang around and mess with margin cultures? 1e answered "because they are barbarians on an ideological level— they have a philosophical devotion to the SUPERIORITY of that lifestyle."

That's not the answer 3e is going for. There are some things about 3e Lunars we're not ready to reveal yet, but in general, what we're looking at is to retain some of the baked-in barbarian iconography— it's a VERY strong wellspring of concepts and images to play with, and I think we'd be fools to discard it in favor of something more amorphous or shallow— and to maintain the setting phenomenon of heavy Lunar involvement with politically barbaric cultures (note that "heavy" is not "exclusive"). The impetus to such involvement in 3e comes from the history that has shaped the Lunars, and the realities of their current position in Creation. What that means is that, yes, a Lunar may decide to burn down a city or tear up a road— but if he does so, he has a specific reason for it, because Lunars aren't motivated by the idea that "cities and roads are bad."

Why even do it this way at all, if there are so many thorns to navigate around? Mostly because it's cool. I've been working on Liminals for most of the day today, basking in how awesome it is to get to play with all these peripheral themes branching out from the core idea of Frankenstein— clone stories, alienation stories, stories about belonging— and reflecting, occasionally, on how the werewolf gets an even broader range of stuff to play with if you blow it up enough— never mind bringing in things like the Anansi stories or Robert E. Howard's evocative writing to back it up. All Exalt types need a strong well of iconography to draw on, and it would be foolish not to go mining in a vein as rich as the one the old school Lunars offered up.

I was going to go into the particulars of Lunar-barbarian involvement in 3e in this post but it's already like, jesus, almost 2,000 words long? If I keep going much more I'll have to revive Ink Monkeys and make it a blog post. So how about instead, I open the floor to questions and discussion? If you want to know more about why Lunars are positioned the way they are, shoot. If you don't like the idea of barbarian anything, let's look at the reasons why it may not have been presented in an appealing manner in the past. The shorter and simpler your post, the more likely it is to get a response. Also, before posting it, scroll back up to the top and read the second paragraph again, because it didn't stop being true over the course of the last 1700 words.

Let the posting commence!

I guess my first question would be, can you possibly give an example of a politically barbaric Lunar?

It would be tough to do so, because it doesn't really apply to Lunars— it's not that Lunars are politically barbarian so much as that some of them come from that background, and many of them interact with such groups. But like all Exalts, they're individuals that are bigger than their backstory, or very quickly become that way.

The takeaway here should not be "Lunars are barbarians," that is false. A Lunar interacting with a barbarian culture is generally going to be moving through it as a hero or patron or god, standing above the barbarian peoples, rather than among them.

edit: A true "Lunar barbarian" is probably going to be about as common as a Sidereal patriot. That is to say, it's possible, but not tremendously likely— their post-Exaltation experiences are going to exert a lot of pressure to distance them from their cultural background and push them toward a bigger perspective.

The British considered the Chinese to be barbaric backwards people speaking gibberish. The Chinese considered the British to be uncultured smelly barbarians. Ultimately the word is a slur meaning "you're too stupid to appreciate my cultural values, which are the correct ones." But that's not a useful position for us because we're proceeding from the desire to capture a set of aesthetics and moods (which neither the Chinese nor British fit, and which are kinda culturally insensitive, but still hella fun to play with and deeply rooted in the pulp fantasy source material of the game).

Plenty of civilized places are also like "fuck the Realm," usually because it has its boot on their neck. Very few places actually like the Realm. The Lunars have a far more personal grudge against the Realm, and marginal tribal groups are one of their primary weapons of choice against it because it fits very well with their collective aptitudes and attitude, and the strategic necessities they find themselves facing.

(Ironically, one of the best tools by which a Lunar can harness a barbarian culture into a weapon is by cultivating or stressing a purist barbarian ideology, which the Lunar in question probably doesn't really buy into. Just about no culture really has the kind of PURE barbarian ideology shown in the 1e book— anything like that is generally an expression of cultural superiority, and is particular to THAT culture, not to that culture and all other cultures vaguely like it.)

In any case, I think a sidebar on this might be useful in the 3e Lunars book, especially if there are any Lunars who still spout Ideological Barbarism around.

There probably are. But note that these aren't terms/categories you'll probably ever see me mentioning again— certainly they won't show up in a book. I'm mostly breaking it down this way to get people accustomed to not automatically conflating "barbarian" with "frothing lunatic looking to burn down all the cities and make everyone sleep on the ground."

As John pointed out to me recently, the native American nations are kind of a good example of a "barbaric" group with some ideological elements. Note that the various nations enthusiastically adopted the horse, the gun, and various other European things that either provided them with luxury or made supporting their preferred way of life easier, but then wanted nothing to do with anything that would shift that lifestyle into some radically different mode (i.e. they were not interested in milling, mining, share-cropping, etc) — to say nothing of having their culture or traditions paved over or relocating themselves.

But that's still a very far cry from "tear down all the cities, salt the earth where they stood." Probably you'll see some Lunars like that— Exalts are prone to extreme expressions of their favored ideology because they can actually implement those expressions— but you won't see a majority of Lunars like that.

(The Native American nations are also kind of a funky subject of examination because they violate one of the major tenets of the sort of 'barbarism' we're talking about— and this also applied to the big Mesoamerican empires. Specifically, even though they had mostly stone age technology, they were not occupying marginal, resource-poor land situated next to much more powerful, wealthy, and successful neighbors. They were, in fact, far more comfortable and successful than the European settlers for a good long time— they had plenty of food, comfortable shelter, and all their ducks in a row while the colonists were still shitting into their water supply upstream from their settlements and then wondering why they kept getting sick and dying in droves. The Indians didn't wipe them out as soon as they appeared because to them, the colonists looked harmless, primitive, and kind of half-retarded at first. It took generations for the colonists to build up enough infrastructure to turn the tables on the natives.)

I was merely curious how does that help in making daiklaves or repairing the weather controls in Rathess or in any other thing that requires a bit more specialized knowledge than "hammer, nail, hit" assuming a Lunar would not be out of place doing any of those things.

Shapeshifting doesn't help you with those things. (Well, I mean, maybe you could turn into a mouse to crawl inside a sky mantis tower and jigger some delicate parts back into alignment by hand? I dunno. Mostly it doesn't.)

It's not like Lunars have some kind of special brain damage that makes them less-able to learn things than other Exalts. They can study Lore, Craft, Occult, sure. Their magic isn't the best in the world at building stuff, although they have stuff to help with it. They're certainly not the peers of the Solars in that category or anything (but then, who is?).

Generally speaking, as a group, Lunars are less dependent on external props than anyone else— from artifacts to infrastructure— and this is one reason why they tend to favor simple, robust tools that are either very difficult to break, or which are easy to replace.

That said, keep in mind— they have Intelligence Charms. You will, from time to time, see Lunar Tony Stark building amazing shit in a cave, out of scraps. But as a whole they don't trend toward sophisticated big-scale manufacturing projects, in large part because the majority of Lunars don't like doing anything that requires them to set up an immobile and semi-permanent base of operations, like a fully-stocked-and-kitted artificer's workshop. It's more common to see a Lunar set up a temporary work site, build a daiklave or some armor or some similar piece of personal kit for himself or for someone else, and then break down the site, hide any of the components he can't easily replace, and then move on until he needs it again some years later. Most Lunars operate on wartime footing at all times, and they are all priority targets.*

*There are exceptions to all these things, and they tend to be interesting subjects in their own right.

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