Need Guidance? Shaman Your Tribe

by Chuck Cooley

Art by Art Today

Need Guidance? Shaman Your Tribe It was three seasons since the Monolith had fallen. Three seasons since the Old Ones had gathered in its shade to discuss the tribe and its future. Three seasons of hardship without their guidance.

First there had been the hyena that had carried off Chya's little one. Then the disastrous warm season when not one hunter brought back a scrap of meat and all the spearheads were broken. And now, as Graht sat among the smoldering coals that had been the Forest resting his deformed leg, he thought, "Why was there no one to advise us of all these things? Are the Spirits angry?"

Dreading the trek to new lands now that the Forest was no more, Graht looked up at the night sky. A star fell from the sky and streaked to the east, glowing brightly before it burned out just above the horizon.

Graht was stunned. The spirits had spoken to him! They had told him where the tribe must go! He climbed to his feet and hobbled back to the tribe, with joy in his heart. The spirits had chosen to speak again, and they had chosen to speak to him!

He would become the new Shaman, advisor to the tribe. He would watch the shapes in the sky for signs. He would read the entrails of the animals the hunters brought to the tribe. And he would find a new Monolith, and make sure it was properly venerated.

Besides, as a Shaman, he probably wouldn't have to walk around so much.

In general, a Shaman is simply a different kind of Crafter. When in doubt, any rule that applies to Crafters would apply to a Shaman. This includes Learning a Craft, working as an unskilled Hunter, and Child Care. Unless the Shaman has trained someone, there should only be one Shaman in the tribe. More than one Shaman in a tribe is not simply unproductive; it could lead to contradictory results or even Conflict.

Just like anyone else, a Shaman must Work before he could Eat. The Shaman's work consists of looking for portents in the environment, making sacrifices to the Spirits, and entering trances to commune with them. A Shaman who spends the season Meditating sacrifices 2 Food and rolls one die on the following table:

1. Nothing Happens -- The Shaman's meditations are fruitless.
2. Good Sky Omens -- Vegetation is lush; each uninjured Gatherer brings home 4 Food in addition to whatever else they do this season.
3. The Spirits Are Pleased -- Game is abundant; all Hunting rolls this season are made at +1. Injury is less probable and the +3 cap does not apply.
4. The Earth is Generous -- The Shaman finds ideal raw materials; each Crafter makes one item of their choice in addition to whatever they do this season.
5. Glory Season -- Fertility is high; +1 to all Conception rolls.
6 The Ancestors Provide -- The Shaman chooses one of the above results. Also, the Prophecy is guaranteed to be right (if using that option).

Other Benefits of a Shaman

Need Guidance? Shaman Your Tribe A Shaman can speed the Healing of someone who has been Injured by Chance or while Hunting. This is mostly a matter of good nutrition, so it costs 1 Grain. Once that cost has somehow been paid, the Shaman rolls one die. Unless they roll a 1 or 2, the person is Healed, and may Work at half effectiveness (round up). For example, Nog the Gatherer was Healed and rolls a 10 on the Marsh table; he brings home 4 eggs, instead of the usual 7. If he had a basket, he still gets his second roll, but it is also at half effectiveness.

The Shaman's role as repository for the traditional lore of the tribe makes him more effective at Gathering than Hunters or other Crafters (but not as effective as a lifelong Gatherer). A Shaman rolls on the Gathering table at -1 (not -3). Note that this precludes any Healing or Meditating.

A Shaman's knowledge also makes childbirth less risky. If there is a Shaman in the tribe who is not off Gathering, all Birth rolls are at +1. (However, only a natural 17 results in twins.)

Clearly, there are benefits to the tribe if the Shaman stays well fed. But can they afford to do so?

Other Variants

Since Tribes is as much a social experiment as a game, here are a few more variations you might try. Be sure to clarify before the game begins exactly which options are in use.


Under this option, during any season the Shaman chooses to Meditate, he also receives what he believes is a vision of the future. The Shaman rolls on the Chance table immediately; this is what the Shaman predicts will happen. When it is time to roll on the Chance table for real, roll one die:

1-3. Prophecy was wrong -- roll on the Chance table as usual.
4-6. Prophecy was right -- do not roll an Event; use the event the Shaman rolled instead.

The Prophecy results should generate some interesting discussions. Does the tribe plan for an event that may not occur?

Advanced Prophecy

Instead of simple 50% reliability, the Prophecy can be made a little more complex. Compare the "real" Chance roll to the Prophecy roll, and use the higher one. For example: Graht has an ample supply of food, so he chooses to Meditate. After rolling on the Meditation table, he also rolls on the Chance table for his Prophecy and gets a 10 (hyena attack). At the end of the season when the tribe rolls "for real," they roll a 7 (fire). Since his roll was higher, the hyena comes -- just as Graht predicted!

Good News and Bad News

If you aren't using the Strength option, the extreme rolls of 3 and 18 on the Chance table come to naught. Try these as replacements (which can significantly effect "victory"):

3. A Curse on the Tribe -- a child of this season is sickly and counts as an extra child to be watched when the hyena comes. Use the same procedure to select the chosen one as with #18 below.
18. The Signs are Right -- a child of this season will be favored by the Gods. The child counts twice for Victory purposes. If more than one is born, the child with the highest Birth roll is the favored one. If none are born this season, then favor the highest Conception roll. If no one is even Conceived, then there is no favored one during this cycle of the stars.

Secret Conception

This option provides a method for preserving the mystery of fatherhood. It also tends to result in "marriage" laws. Before play begins, gather two sets of dice: big and small, red and white, it doesn't matter. What is important is that you can tell the "boy" dice from the "girl" dice but you can't tell the "boy" dice apart. Give each male character two "boy" dice, and each female character two "girl" dice.

During the Reproduction round, the male characters give the "boy" dice to the female characters via whatever "mating rituals" the tribe has evolved. Once all exchanges are complete, each female character then rolls any "boy-girl" pairs she has managed to collect. Conception is determined normally (a 9 or better means success).

Two successes do not indicate twins; that is still determined at Birth. The "boy" dice are returned to the males at the end of each round.

However, what is written on the Birth Record? That is a Good Question, likely to bring on heated discussion among the tribe. The only indicator of fatherhood is circumstantial evidence. Under this variant, male "victory" becomes a very thorny topic . . .

Risky Childbirth

Historically, delivering a baby is one of the most dangerous things a woman can do. If using this option, a roll of exactly 5 (4 if a Shaman is available) at Birth results in the woman being Injured. While realistic (if still generous), this rule increases the disparity between the sexes.

Hyena Surprise

Instead of automatically taking the youngest of the poorly guarded children, let the die roll choose. If a guardian is watching 3 children and the hyena die comes up a 3, it is the oldest child that is lost. A 2 would indicate the middle child and a 1 the youngest. Of course, if the die comes up with a number higher than the number of children, the guardian has successfully fended off the hyena.

Kindness to Crafters

Some Tribes players (especially males) find Crafting unprofitable. Experiment with giving Crafters +1 on their manufacture rolls (making baskets becomes a certainty) or letting them roll twice. Crafters might alternately wish to consider a sideline as day-care providers.

Hints for Play

It often isn't easy to gather enough of the right people to make a good game of Tribes. When you do, you want to make the most of the time. Here are some ideas that can help ensure you get through the whole game in an evening.

Four Dice At a Time

When making Hunting or Gathering rolls, put an extra, different colored die in your hand, and use that die to determine if your spearhead or basket survived the season. There's that much less time spent shaking the dice, plus you won't forget to make the roll for the item.

Colored Pencils

Select a different colored pencil for recording each character's parenthood on the Birth Record. This makes keeping score much easier; you can tell at a glance how many children everyone has.

Die-Roll Summary

Some players get confused by the varying number of dice you roll for the various types of rolls; here's a quick summary:

Hunting -- 3 dice, refer to the table relevant to the current Area.
Gathering -- 3 dice, refer to the table relevant to the current Area.
Crafting -- 1 die, 2 or more succeeds on a basket, 3 or more succeeds on a spearhead.
Craft Training -- 2 dice, 10 or more to become trained.
Conception -- 2 dice, 9 or more is success (10 or more if she's nursing).
Birth -- 3 dice, 5 or more is success (17 means twins).
Child in Danger -- 1 die, more than the number of children watched is success.
Conflict -- 2 dice with modifiers, 8 or better is a hit.

(Many thanks to the Lafayette Tribe that helped Chu'ug playtest this: Nog, Thor, Chya, Graht, Ayla, Gronk, Erk, Mukluk, and especially Lana.)

Article publication date: October 22, 1999

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