Gaming - In General
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August 7, 2012, 10:43 pm

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First Encounters with an Unknown Tribe


The great Wall Mounts have been scaled, or your ship's technology has reached a level in which it is possible to cross the oceans. And when the PCs or NPCs find other people, unknown people, what happens? Carnage.

In first time meetings between Europeans and other people unknown to the Europeans at that time, the first ones were marked by bloodshed. For Example, the first meeting between the Norse (for you uneducated people out there, the Vikings- but these guys right here are the more peaceful side) and the Inuit (Native American tribe that spread to Greenland) ended with the Norse attacking and killing the Inuits they met, because of the advantage of the Norse having iron weapons and armor. But why did they attack? Besides all ready being predjudiced against them (the Norse, when they first aw evidence of other peoples, termed them skraelings, which meams wretches)? Because first encounter scenarios are simply scary. It is not a matter of simply walking up to the unknown culture, shout hello, and start using sign language. During them, the other culture perceives that this stranger may be a threat to them, and hurt their people. Each side is carefully watching to make sure that the enemy isn't going to start attacking, because you know you're ready to start fighting. Neither side knows the other's language, so you can't simply say that you don't want to fight, or anything like that. With the Norse-Inuit, this was the first European-native american encounter. The Norse had no experience of first encounters, nor did they have written accounts telling them what to do. Europeans would eventually develop those texts, so that they could set the groundwork during that first encounter for later exploitation. In modern first encounters (with unknown tribes in the Amazon, New Guinea, etc), the situation is still very scary, even though the modern people have guns, and hundreds of years of such experience.

When this is applied to the FRPG, make the above true. If this is the very first first encounter, then it should develop into combat. Unless one side has very, very high charisma score, then their should be no dice rolling for if their going to fight. Only dicing rolling for the when. If one does have a very high charisma roll, then I would give it a 1-5% of no fighting (assuming the person with the charisma doesn't want to fight). If the PCs do want to fight, then feel free to make the nations they inadvertantly represent, who might just want good trade relations with the new culture(s), not like them (and just maybe hand them over to the new culture they just upset...). And even later, if the PCs survive a few first encounter situations, or have read a book on them, make sure there's a chance of the meeting end in bloodshed. After all, the other culture might just think with their axes...

Example Meetings:

Cast of Characters

Snugladuuc Tribe:

Religon: They believe that people are all members of a hive, like bees. But in ages past, the god of chaos decided to destroy the harmony of the peoples living in order and perfection under their Queen (who's a goddess). And so the god of chaos, after tricking the Queen into leaving, closed off the portion of the human mind that allowed the entire hive of humans to be a hive. Things would have been fine afterwards, since the Queen (when she came back) would have turned it back on, if the god of chaos then handed a small group of humans, who lacked food, clubs, and told them that other humans had food. And thus the first war took place. When the Queen returned, she mourned each humans passing, and thus, for the rest of eternity, humans attempted to achieve an impossible peace.

Outlook: Peaceful, but prepared for war, since bandit tribes rove to take the food from the farming tribes (like the Snugladuuc).


They consist of a fighter (who's the leader. He'd rather have peace than violence), a cleric (who's ordered by his god to convert the new tribes previously unknown, that were living on the other side of the Wall Mounts), a thief/rogue (interested in the money), a wizard (who thinks the tribes might have some new spells), and a ranger.

The Meeting (Violent):

The Snugladuucians are in their village, farming and beekeeping, when the PCs stroll in. Since the Snugladuuccians have never seen them before, nor recognize their armaments, the fighters meet, with their weapons at the ready (the weapons consist mainly of clubs, spears, and bows. The two groups meet in the village center. Both sides quickly realize that they do not share a language, so the talk consists mainly of sign language. The Snugladuuccians are tense, and ready to fight, because they don't know whether or not the strangers are a threat for them and their families. The PCs, though not wanting to fight, recognize the battle readiness of the Snugladuuccians, and ready themselves for the combat. The PCs, after a few tense minutes of trying to sign 'peace' to the Snugladuucians, draw a sword to draw a picture in the dirt. The tense Snugladuucians take this to mean that the PCs are attacking, and attack first. The PCs themselves see the attacking Snugladuuccians, and turn the sword from drawing in dirt to bloodshed. Though the PCs have the advantage of high levels and steel, the Snugladuuccians have numbers, and the PCs retreat into the forest, with the Snugladuuccians searching the woods behind them, but giving up after they couldn't find the PCs.

The Meeting (Peaceful):

The PCs are walking along one day and see a new tribe (the Snugladuuccians). They then hold a conference amongst themselves on how they want to deal with them, and the general consensus was peace. The PCs then, after noticing a lack of wizards among the Snugladuuccians, decided on 3 magical items they have that are the worst. They then approach the Snugladuucians the first day, demonstated one of the items the first day, draw a quick picture that shows them coming again with a new item, and leave with the item on the ground behind them. They do the same thing the second day. On the third, they give the last item, and open communications with he Snugladuucians. Now, instead of the Snugladuuccians being tense and battle ready, prompting the PCs to be tense and battle ready, the Snugladuucians trust the PCs to some degree. If the PCs were to draw a sword for a peaceful purpose, the Snugladuucians might become wary, but that is it.

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Comments ( 11 )
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Voted Dossta
August 2, 2012, 18:11
I'm not convinced that a first encounter must always involve combat. Here are several reasons why:

In SciFi/Fantasy, you often have access to either a universal translator or to a "speak languages" spell. Communication is suddenly very possible. Expect your players to use this to their advantage.

Second, if you have a relatively small group of people making contact (say the PCs and few others), they can do lots of things to mitigate their "threat level". What about leaving obvious gifts -- food, jewelry, clothing -- on the ground as a peace offering? Or how about sending in a single, unarmed diplomat to appear as non-threatening as possible?

You can also play with the power balance. Have the tribe discover the party after a shipwreck, or have the PCs happen across a village that has been decimated with illness. Sure, the two groups may find each other still threatening, but there are lots of reasons NOT to throw the first punch in these cases.

So while I agree that combat certainly COULD happen in a first contact situation, I don't believe that it necessarily should. Instead, I would use the occasion to let the group flex their roleplaying muscles. If they come up with a plan -- peace offerings, magic, body language, etc -- to avoid combat, then the GM should at least try to roll with it, instead of automatically letting the whole thing go down in flames.
August 2, 2012, 20:24
Yes, it should be possible to avoid combat. But it should be very difficult. Even with communication, you still have to account for if the other people view how your translating as evil ("a demon is in their metal case. They must be evil. Die!" or "it is unnatural for people to be able to speak my language without learning it. It must be devil magic. Die!). Even gifts could be taken as an insult (especially if you offer petty trinkets that both parties know are worthless). And a single, unarmed diplomat could appear weak, and easy prey. Yes, they are all ways too avoid combat, but they should not be taken as instant, automatic best buddy devices. Both parties must want to be friendly for lack of combat. All that helps, but if they think that you're a devil's spawn and must die, there's not much you can do about it.
Voted Phaidros
August 2, 2012, 21:09
Even with communication, whether by spell or translator, there are lots of possibilities for conflict. Yesterday I have read an article on the Smithsonian site called "Sleeping with cannibals". Even while it was possible to talk with that tribe, the Korowai of New Guinee, their beliefs in witch-men impersonating loved ones, or that white people where ghosts, made the trip quite dangerous.

The Korowai also belief that their main god forbids contact with the white men. Seeing how many tribes suffer after first contact, might this be a smart move of a canny shaman?
Voted valadaar
August 3, 2012, 8:54
I do not think it _should_ be difficult at all, depending on the situation, unless your intent as a GM is to add a war to the game. If that is your intent, then I think it should happen off-camera with NPCs at fault, rather then have your PC's do what you want them to do.

It really should be situational and depend on the nature of the explorers and the other people.

There are examples of this in the south pacific - there were tribes that were very non-confrontational, and others that were quite bloodthirsty.

Frankly, it seems you are trying to force an outcome that involves combat, and to my mind, not a very nice one. I agree with Dossta - first contact should be a opportunity to use skills other then combat, since you can only first contact once, but you can fight anybody.
August 7, 2012, 22:48
I am not trying to force any outcome. I am simply saying that first encounters are not easy to do peacefully. If the PCs do something brilliant to get peace, then let them get peace. If they don't bother doing anything special, or do something that is simply a pathetic effort toward peace, then give them combat. History is littered with failed attempts at such first encounters (before europeans wrote books on the subject, as I wrote in the article)
Voted Strolen
August 5, 2012, 8:17
While I may also disagree with the finality of the statement, I actually like the thoughts behind it and if you put all this in a specific scenario then I think it could be a great post.

Might even be cool to do one for each scenario and how it might go. "Peaceful Encounters with an Unknown Tribe" and "Fighting Encounters with an Unknown Tribe" and play them both out.

I like the core idea if played out! I am not as much against it as the others if used more of a thought creator on how an encounter may progress.
August 5, 2012, 17:06
putting the scenarios for each possibility is a good idea. i'll throw in a few such examples when i come up with them.
August 5, 2012, 19:49
Update: Added a scenario
Voted Kassy
August 7, 2012, 7:32
I also agree with those above me, combat should not be a part of most first encounters.

August 7, 2012, 22:43
Update: Added Peace meeting
Voted Moonlake
February 6, 2015, 21:12

After the edit, a solid article. I like how it starts off from a real life situation and then moves into gaming with the scenario.

HoHed this for revoting

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