Tribal roleplay

When creating a character from a virtual tribe (undocumented), it is important to give consideration to various elements to ensure a well-rounded explanation of the tribe you want to portray. 

Here are some useful pointers to assist in doing this :

Where are they from?

Think about the geographical origins of the tribe you’re introducing. It will add an extra layer of depth to your character as well as make them feel even more authentic. You do not need to give an exact spot for a camp location; however, you will want to give a general area, such as the grasslands, the desert, and perhaps the forest.  Think about the forageable food, animals, and resources surrounding the area, as it would be a good solidifying point as to why they frequent there. Remember that tribes will often move around so that they have access to fresh land and allow the previous campsite to regrow, both plant life as well as animals.

What do they visually look like?

Visual elements can add a lot of depth to your character and help bring them to life and the tribe you are portraying them from. 

Tattoos, for example, often hold deep cultural and sometimes even spiritual meaning within a tribal hierarchy. They may symbolize the individual’s lineage, status, or achievements, and they can also represent that the person inked with them has gone through rituals or rites of passage.

Clothing is often a significant aspect of cultural identity. Tribes can use clothing to express their heritage, values, and beliefs. Different patterns, colors, and designs may symbolize specific rituals, ceremonies, or social roles within the community, not to mention to symbolize what tribe the individual is from. 

If you intend to have more than one person be a part of your tribe, consider genetic similarities. Members of tribes will share a common ancestry and may have a limited gene pool due to such, which will lead to a higher degree of genetic similarity among individuals, resulting in shared physical traits, such as the common trait of having similar hair, eye, or skin color.

What are their customs?

Customs play a large role in promoting social structure and cultural identity. Tribes will develop customs for many reasons, which often serve both practical and symbolic functions, such as the preservation of cultural practices, rituals, and historical lore that often reflect the people’s understanding of the world. Customs can communicate within the tribe through symbolic gestures, ceremonies, and rituals that may convey important messages about social status, relationships, or events, such as mating, funeral rites, introducing a new child to the group, or coming of age. Such can spread over a large manner of things, from speaking words of prayer before hunting to hunting barefoot with nothing but a stone in hand to prove the strength of the new hunter.

What is their social structure?

Tribes will always have some social structure that determines social roles, responsibilities, and interactions within the tribe. It is the norm for each individual to be placed where or skills within certain areas would benefit the tribe, such as hunters, gathers, makers, warriors, etc. The elderly of tribes will hold positions of respect and authority as they are the ones who pass the knowledge of the people down to the generations under them.

Tribes often organize themselves around immediate family ties, usually within three or four generations, being that of the mother, father, grandparents, and. Whilst there may be many different families within the tribe, they will still come under the tribe name.  If the tribe numbers are in the hundreds, it is not uncommon for families to have additional names underneath the main tribe name, such as having large family tents for one family tree of the last few generations to all be together. This is more commonly seen with those that have many children.

What are their beliefs?

Tribal beliefs can vary widely across different cultures and regions. They may include having an animal that the tribe feels a deeply rooted connection to or perhaps a plant or divine higher being that they believe in. It is also not uncommon for them to give thanks and praise to the ‘founders’ of the tribe and follow their teachings as they are passed down through the ages.  The specific content of these beliefs will likely be deeply influenced by the tribe’s history and culture, developing them as a way to make sense of their world, such as addressing commonly asked questions: the origin of the tribe, the purpose of their existence, and their connection within the world. They can provide comfort and security, particularly in the face of uncertainties and challenges like death and illness. They are usually expressed through rituals and traditions, which help transmit the beliefs from one generation to the next and provide a sense of stability within the people.

Do they have a spiritual animal or being?

In tribal culture, quite a lot of tribes will have a deity in some way, shape, or form, be it an animal that young hunters will brave themselves to go and hunt, tame, or have a bond with or one they will protect at all costs. Spiritual animals are often chosen based on their symbolic significance; for example, a tribe might associate a particular animal with strength, wisdom, cunningness, or other traits that are considered valuable. Members of the tribe may look to these animals as guides or sources of inspiration, that these animals possess unique qualities or power that the tribe seems to embody or draw strength from, looking to said animal for assistance in their troubles.

How long have they been a tribe?

Are they a new tribe with only a few dozen members currently, or are they a large standing tribe with thousands?  Have they been around long enough that they have a rich history, and if so, what? Always take into consideration that a larger tribe would have a lot of background to them, as an established tribe, things that would be solidified in time as a large grouping of people.

Do they have special names or words for things?

Many tribes have different words and names for various things, from common everyday items to the hierarchy within the tribe itself.  These can be names for their rankings in their society or simply a different word from the ‘norm’ for greetings or partings.  Perhaps something that they will regularly be heard saying.