• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

An opinion on scale, culture and conquest.

Shaun b.

I have my concept which has started to form and build on itself thanks in some great part to my very patient and earthed partner. I have my story and some characters that are starting to walk into a more sapient form.

I'm a fan of reality in fantasy. I always find myself attracted more to the works with cultures heavily steeped in reality. I have decided to set one of my main POV characters in a culture that encompasses most of the cultures that we would recognise as Western European iron age. Namely Celt/Gaul and Germanic. Primarily because they have that savage and barbaric outward appearance. Which is very much how I would like my character perceived without living too much in the stereotype, more on that in a later post.

The land mass on which these tribes dwell will seem bleak, vast and hilly. The culture itself is tribal and animalistic in religion. Druids being the priests and advisors to the various clan chiefs. The land itself is not presided over by a single ruler. The chiefs of the five largest and most powerful clans will sit in council when needed. Disputes and law all fall under the jurisdiction of the clan. farms pay homage and tribute to smaller clans who in turn pay it towards one of the large clans. As a place holder I will call them the Barbarians.

The Barbarian lands are at an uneasy truce with a young yet very ambitious empire from across a narrow sea. They do not play a huge part in this particular story, however they are often referenced and will play a larger part later on. As a place holder only I will call this culture the Alphas.

I mentioned an uneasy truce. This is because the Barbarian land is vast and bleak without any cities to conquer. The political view from the Alphas is that they do not want to conquer the land because it is a worthless wet waste. However, the real reason is that it would be too expensive and impractical. In the earliest days of the conquest when they did try and expand into the Barbarian land, the townships and barracks that they set up fell afoul of small raids, theft of livestock and grain and that is before the weather wore down their spirits. When they tried a more aggressive form of occupation they found no army to fight, no cities which to lay siege. It seemed a fruitless and expensive pursuit. the small clans ran at the first sight of any Alpha army. Picking their battles wisely they would harass smaller units and pick at an army, using their knowledge of the area and the ability to survive in the harsher conditions. However a staged battle never took place. The Barbarians, as fierce as they were would not have been a match for the vast numbers and tactics of the Alphas. Hence the truce was struck for trade. The Alpha conquest must be young. The first reason being, if they were so well established they would invade anyway in greater numbers and through sheer stubbornness and wealth would still manage to conquer. The second being other larger, older and more established empires exist. They are still well known and referenced throughout the story however have no impact on it.

This all may seem very remedial and straight forward, however here is where I start hitting walls.

My first story starts as my main POV character returns to the Barbarian lands from a foreign war. I have thought and worked out his reasons for embarking on such a thing and also for his return. My questions are more about the reality of the setting. The war he partook in must have nothing to do with the Alphas. He must have travelled far enough that they would have no bearing on how the war played out and it wouldn't interfere with his own land. Therefore it must be a very distant land.

Would it be realistic or feasible for a mercenary recruiter to pick up levies from so far afield? could cultures different in technology exist in such a world? I stated earlier that my Barbarians are iron age in technology, however in order to traverse large oceans I think that ships would need to be a lot more advanced. Sea travel is by the traditional means only, no magic or flying creatures.

I'm trying very much to plot out the laws and workings of my world so any feedback or opinions would be greatly appreciated. thanks in advance!


Myth Weaver
Ok....going with the 'real world'...

ancient trade routes and the occasional ancient explorer did traverse vast distances using primitive vessels. One of the ancient greek mariners might have made it as far as Iceland; another purportedly circumnavigated Africa. As to more primitive technologies...well, the ancient polynesians sailed clear across the pacific ocean in dugout outrigger canoes. In medivial times, the monk St Brendan purported criss crossed much of the atlantic in a boat made of hides (or earlier mariners did, and the feats attributed to him).

Yes, cultures of even radically differing technology could easily exist in such a world. Technological development often comes about from local necessity: Hence, a culture in an arid area could easily develop windmills to pump water from aquafers, or a island culture could manufacture advanced ships.

As to the far away mercenary bit...if your character was a crewman on a ship making a long trip elsewhere, he could easily have jumped ship and taken up the mercenary life for a while in the far port.


He may have been exiled and had no other choice but to travel across the narrow sea. A warrior perhaps who disgraced himself, maybe he was close to the clan chief, perhaps it had something to do with the clan chiefs daughter? He's been across the narrow sea fighting for a living as a mercenary, hiring himself to merchants protecting their caravans or he joins a foreign legion? Now he returns hoping to set things to rights? or for revenge?.....


As another option, it is possible that natural barriers beyond oceans that could move a character far enough away from home.

1.Perhaps he traversed a massive ice sheet (ice bridge) in the frozen north and found himself on a smaller continent/large island fairly close to the main continent. The bridge melted to the point that he couldn't return the same way, until such time that the weather permitted the ice to form sufficiently for relatively safe travel.

2. He had to traverse the rugged peaks of a mountain range that basically seperates east from west or perhaps seperates the main landmass to a subcontinent (think india) and the weather in the peaks were such that he barely survived the first time. Even in the height of summer, snow several feet thick adorns the peaks, so he needs to engineer his return through the same pass to return to the land of his forebears.

3. Fresh, inland seas and an assortment of swamps along a narrower section of the continent serve as a barrier to easy travel, thus not too many people attempt it. The MC makes it through after his banishment and uses the same path back (fraught with danger of course)


It's not totally unfeasible that your character could travel that far. The Greeks traded with various 'barbarian' nations via the sea, Africans took entire Europe villages to be slaves and a few historians now reckon the Irish beat the both Columbus and the Vikings to America with primitive ships. The best example, however would have to be the Norse/Vikings. They traded all over the known world, the Arabs and Turks who they traded with even named Russia after them (Rus' men). The Byzantine Empire employed the vikings as their elite military unit - the Varangian Guard. Your Pov could be a former member of a similar unit. Alternatively he could start out as a trader and move into mercenary work.

Shaun b.

I thank you all for your input and ideas. Now I know that I can work it nicely into my story and I also have some great inspiration for the world map, even if its just reference at the minute. Thank you all again!