Barbarians and their Strongholds (and Nomadic Barbarians)


The explained rules for barbarians in the “Player’s Companions” says:

At 9th level (Warchief), a barbarian can build or claim a chieftain’s hall and seek to rule on the strength of his axe. (…) Barbarians’ halls are otherwise identical to fighters’ castles, as detailed in the Campaign chapter of the ACKS Rulebook.

Well, This is unconfortable to me for few (but powerful) reasons:

They are Barbarian, so they should say: "ey, what’s the engineering? it looks like civilized sht". I mean, they are not civilized, so they should not be able to build a civilized Castle. Well, in some circumstances (open-minded barbarians) they would contract a civilized engineer for their builds… but then the barbarians are becoming civilized!

*The barbarians can be a nomad people: "Barbarians from Skysostan (or related steppe nomads) are preternaturally precise shots. Barbarians from the Ivory Kingdoms (or other regions similar to Central Africa) are swift and tireless runners)
In this case, the idea of “build” a permanent settlement is really strange to them, and I cannot imagine them thinking about build a Stone Castle.

  • I think the income from the domain calculated in ACKS rulebook doesn’t fit with the barbaric people. They don’t know the civilized agrarian technology. I think for settled barbarians the rules can be used taking into account they have a very low population density. But if you are using nomadic barbarians…

I have some ideas about how to “fix” these situations, but I really want to know the ideas and opinions from veteran players and the “Autarchs” themselves about it.

So, my home made rules would be:

  • They live in small close-knit communities, and their are suspicious people with the foreigners. So, spies and thieves operating against the domain suffer a -2 penalty to their proficiency throws.

  • For settled barbarians, the cost of stone structures and their constuction time required are doubled (they have a poor construction technology, and they lack a developed stone industry: quarrys, poor roads to transport the stone, etc.), but they don’t need a engineer for this task. In consequence their stone fortress would be smaller than civilized ones, and they would prefer to build wood castles. In the other hand, the most of their people are fierce warriors (even their womans!), they know how to protect themselves in the wild and they use natural defenses for their settlements. So:
    1- their domains are considered “borderlands” ever, even when their are claiming a new “wild” domain. And they never can have a civilized domain (so, their maximum population is 250 fam. per 6 miles-hex).
    2- The minimum stronghold value to maintain a domain is divided by 2 (11,250 gp per 6-mile hex). Their limited resources causes they increase in population as if they were one category larger (table in p. 129).
    3- The Garrison cost is the half (1.5 gp per family per month)
    In addition, due their lack of urban improvements (sewers, aqueducts, etc.) their urban settlements are limited to 2,499 families or less (market type IV). However, the barbaric people needs a lot of weapons because their form of life, so, you can consider any market as two types bigger for weapons and armors availability (but maybe the Judge would limit the availability of “civilized” weapons and armors, like crossbow, arbalest, siege weapons, banded plate or plate armor).
    Finally, the barbaric people works the land in very poor ways (They don’t have the technology to build mills, effective irrigation system, etc.). So, their domain income is divided by 2 (like in chaotic domains with beastmen population).

  • For nomadic barbarians the cost of wood structures and their construction time required are doubled. The cost of stone structures and their construction time required are multiplied by 10. In either cases they don’t need a engineer. In consequence, their strongholds will be small, made in wood, strongholds (permanent markets, temples, forts to protect strategic sources, like oasis or dwells, vigilance towers in hills, etc.). Only the most powerful warlords would able to build stone structures. In the other hand, the most of their people know how to protect themselves, and how to travel by the safest ways. So:
    1- Due they doesn’t settled in the same place for a while, their domains are considered “wilderness” ever. In addition, their hunting and recollection techniques doesn’t provide enough food for large populations, So, their maximum population is 125 fam. per 6 miles-hex.
    2- The minimum stronghold value to maintain a domain is divided by 10 (3,000 gp per 6-mile hex: they doesn’t occupy the land, so they don’t need a large strongholds). Their limited resources causes they increase in population as if they were two categories larger (table in p. 129).
    3- The garrison cost is the quarter (1 gp per family per month), and the most of the “garrison” will travel with their leader.
    They don’t have “Urban Settlements” beyond 249 fam. and their are very rare (Again: maybe a strategic resource, “permanent” temple or market can attract a few families, but they don’t like (and don’t know how) live in larger settlements. However, their biggest nomad groups are like “urban settlements”. So, instead build a “urban settlements”, they can “build” nomad towns: the rules are the same than “urban settlements” but they cannot grow beyond 1000 families (market IV). For porpoises of weapons and armors, consider this market 2 levels bigger (a Market IV will be Market level II). The Judge would limit the availability of “civilized” weapons and armors, and those that require a lot of metal, like crossbow, arbalest, great axes, two-handed swords, siege weapons, ringmail armor or better, etc. For porpoises of livestock, horses and related items, the market counts as 3 levels bigger (only if you are thinking in like-mongol barbarians, of course, nor subsaharian people)
    In addition, a Nomadic town cannot be in the same region for a while beacuse they hunt and recolect everything, exhausting the land very fast: The maximum time they can stay in the same 6 miles-hew is one month if they have 250 fam. or less, 2 weeks if the have 500 fam. or less, or 1 week if they are 1000 fam. or less. They cannot stay in the same 6 miles-hex until the next season (3 months later). Travel fast through this regions doesn’t count as “stay”.
    Finally, the nomad barbaric people doesn’t work the land, and their recollection and hunt is a very poor production way. So, their domain income is divided by 4.

Well, what do you think? Do you see a easier way to manage barbaric people?

In my campaign, barbarian cultures worship and/or live in fear of the Chaotic Wyld spirits of nature. As such, they have a religious obligation not to increase the influence of Lawful civilization. Changing wilderness hexes to borderlands or civilized hexes increases the influence of Lawful civilization, so barbarian cultures choose not to build domains larger than 15 hexes or urban infrastructure worth more than 25,000gp. Barbarian realms that choose to exceed these limitations become civilized realms (like Skyrim) and/or face destruction at the hands of Wyld forces. I don’t change the rules to make barbarian realms anything but than a bunch of crappy, poor, wilderness domains, and I don’t limit the kinds of strongholds PC barbarians can build. When worldbuilding, however, I usually choose to limit barbarian domains to one wilderness hex with a stronghold consisting of palisades, moats, ramparts, and wooden and stone buildings; no towers, keeps, or castle walls in barbarian lands unless they have taken over and refurbished an old ruin.

Ahskar, those are very detailed mechanics, and I think they would have your desired effects. Certainly pla ytest them and let us know how they play out.

From my point-of-view, I see barbarian nations as simply the opposite of city-states, that is, they are agrarian or pastoral realms with dispersed settlement patterns. That’s how I’d model them in ACKS. I wouldn’t necessarily impose any punitive rules on them regarding their ability to craft, work stone, etc. More than that is a greater level of savagery than I think is needed or merited.

Historically, barbarian had 3 meanings:

  1. One not a Greek.
  2. One living outside the pale of the Roman empire and its civilization, applied especially to the northern nations that overthrew them.
  3. One outside the pale of Christian civilization
    Historian Christopher I. Beckwith summarizes, “the word barbarian embodies a complex European cultural construct for a ‘powerful foreigner with uncouth, uncivilized, nonurban culture who was militarily skilled and somewhat heroic, but inclines to violence and cruelty’ – yet not a ‘savage’ or a ‘wild man’.”

ACKS is more-or-less set in Late Antiquity, and barbarian is therefore going to refer to (2) with the addition of Professor Beckwith’s adjectives.

Depending on your frame of reference, who the barbarian is can change dramatically! For instance:
The Romans were considered barbarians by the Greeks.
The Anglo-Saxons were considered barbarians by the Romans.
The Vikings were considered barbarians by the Anglo-Saxons.
The Lapplanders were considered barbarians by the Vikings.


I didn’t think about the barbarian relation with chaos forces, but this is a very interesting idea.

Did any of your players used a Barbarian? did he rule a domain?

I see your point.

When I was thinking about barbarians, I had in mind the German barbarians described by the Romans in the late republic/early empire (i.e. “De Bello Gallico” - Iulius Caesar). They Didn’t build in stone and they didn’t live in large cities because their agrarian technology was very limited.
When I proposed the “stone castles” limitation I was thinking in the Anglo-saxons invaders of Britannia and their typical “forts” (

For the Nomad barbarians I had in mind early Mongolian or east europe hordes (like Hunos or Magyars).

I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to test this rules in my campaign. Until now, my players don’t seem interested in barbaric classes (Barbarian, Shaman, Witch). Maybe in the future, or if they want to travel to the eastern steppes or to the wild woods and mountains where the highlanders live.

Anyway, I like to know the ideas of veteran people about this matter :slight_smile:

We do have a Barbarian, and he does rule a domain. However, he went the Conan route and took over an existing domain rather than establishing his own domain in the wilderness. And the domain he took over is a decaying underground city inhabited by drug addicts, so it doesn’t really serve as a good model for anything.

WOW! really?

I love your campaing :smiley:

Lol. Wish I could take credit, but it was Tom Moldvay’s idea. I started the campaign with module B4 The Lost City, and the players haven’t wanted to leave.

The Celts were barbarians. They also have the earliest archaeological evidence of chain armor and wide-spread iron use in continental Europe (the La Tene culture), and ruled realms from Spain to the southern coast of the Black Sea (from Galicia to Galatia). While some of their swords were poor quality, the Romans greatly loved Noric steel, and adopted the Celtic long blade for their cavalry. If they had had a written language, I don’t think they would fit the modern concept of barbarian as much as they seem to; the reason they seem so primitive is because all of the writings about them were written by their enemies. It would be like a historian in the year 4000 relying solely on Soviet histories to get an idea of what 20th-century United States culture was like.

I assumed that structurally, a Great Hall was very different from a castle- it was only identical to a castle for game purposes. (In much the same way as the spoiled son of a noble might be a 0th level human and statistically identical to a commoner, despite looking and acting very different.)

If the barbarians in question were from the cultural mishmash that’s accompanied by the modern incarnation of the word barbarian, then I’d probably write up a handful of trade modifiers similar to the demihuman list. More furs and animal parts, fewer gems.

I agree with you, and I didn’t have the Celtic people in mind when I wrote my post :). In fact, I think the standard rules are the best to model people like them.
As you can see, my rules try to model a less technologically advanced people, closer to Saxon invaders in Britannia, early vikings, Germanic people from early roman empire (or late republic), Slavic pagan peoples from eastern Europe in the early middle ages…

Yep, you are right about trade modifiers.

About the great wall… well I think the same rules than a castles are not “identical”. i. e. you cannot siege the great wall because the defenders have a free supply ways :slight_smile: