Might expand this at some point.
The Bone Smoke Tribe
The Bone Smoke tribe can exist in any fantasy campaign that has extended wildlands and spirit-based magic. Despite the name, there’s more than one tribe of them; in fact, they’re probably on the verge of becoming an actual people, or nation, or whatever exists in your campaign. And they also have their own names for themselves, although most Bone Smokers will answer to ‘Bone Smoke’ readily enough. It’s accurate, after all.
Bone Smokers have been gravitating away from a nomadic, hunter-gathering existence for some time now, but are only beginning to take up regular agriculture. They tend to be more herders and stockmen than actual farmers; the average Bone Smoker sub-tribe will have a few permanent structures at various places in their typical range, typically for storage and extreme weather conditions.
In appearance, Bone Smokers look terrifying. They’re human (or Human), but starting at puberty Bone Smokers of both sexes will submit to extensive scarification and tattooing. Of particular note is their habit of using human finger bones as piercings: every Bone Smoker has at least one, and the older one gets, the more they acquire. They also routinely use human bones in their art and architecture: skulls for lamp bases, spines and leg bones to make chairs and tables, the usual horror-tinged obscenities.
…or perhaps ‘obscenities’ is an unfair term. The bones used by Bone Smokers come from their own tribesmen and women: when one dies, the tribes carefully remove the skeletons from his or her corpse and then use the bones to commune with the deceased person’s spirit. Bone Smokers do believe in an afterlife, but their dead are apparently not in a hurry to travel there (at least, not for a century or so). Instead, the spirits of their dead remain close to their bones and can freely communicate with anybody who carries one.
Which is why Bone Smokers typically use finger bones as piercings: it gives them access to a friendly spirit who doesn’t sleep and who might have useful things to say. Any one particular spirit can usually manage to keep track of about two or three people at a time, which makes them a good but not invulnerable communications relay: and, of course, having a spirit around is handy for teaching purposes. Spirits cannot actually perceive each other except through the link with a living Bone Smoker, which is another reason why older living Bone Smokers wear more than one bone. As for the scarification and tattooing? Well, they like the look.
Bone Smokers are… actually rather reasonable people, by most cultures’ standards. They are, as the sage once said, hospitable to travelers: and the tribes like quiet borders, because quiet borders are a great way to have a lot of people grow old, die, and spend the next century or so advising their relatives. As warfare against the Bone Smokers typically ends up being more trouble than it’s worth – having incorporeal spies is often a vicious advantage in a fight – most of the Bone Smokers’ neighbors are willing to accept that. Essentially, they’re treated as civilized, but deeply, deeply weird.
Which makes them a reasonable choice for player-characters. Give them whatever appearance disadvantage is appropriate for your campaign (unattractive at best, hideously ugly at worst), and let them use the points to buy extra skills and/or whatever version of danger sense exists in the game. They’ll also have a ‘racial’ desire to have their bodies returned to Bone Smoker lands if the player-character dies in-game, which may or may not be worth extra points there. Just make sure that the player doesn’t weasel out of being ugly. He or she can be nice, but he or she has got to be ugly.
2 thoughts on “Snippet: The Bone Smoker tribe. (Character ‘race’ concept)”
Sulik in Fallout 2, although his nose piercing is a lot bigger than a finger bone, is a good example. The intel “Grampybone” provides isn’t all that useful “This be a bad Place”, ” A person can get lost here real easy”, etc.. I’ve run into them in other games(Gamma World, Traveller, D&D, to name a few) but no one ever codified them before, so you’re on to something here. Most long time gamers already know them, but it’s nice to see it in writing. A side note: they are known for their loyalty to their companions once you help one of them out your their friend, forever! I can’t remember a single instance of one of them turning on me, ever.
Reminds me of a character in Holly Lisle’s A Fire in the Mist. Not so much using bones for piercings, but an outlandish character from a culture that combines ancestor worship and necromancy.
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