(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)
This is meant to accompany this post about egalitarian bands and this post about class conflict. If you like the exercises below, read those posts before working through them.
Let’s say you have an idea for a story that involves a society of people who don’t have a fixed home. Perhaps they are wandering cattle-herders, or perhaps they forage for roots and berries in the jungle, or perhaps they are wandering space-gypsies who survive off of volatile gases harvested with ramscoops. In any case, these exercises should help you flesh out your idea consistently, and understand how it can drive conflict and story dynamism.
- Spend a few minutes and list five possible reasons why your band chooses not to have a fixed home. (You don’t have to use all five in the actual story. Brainstorm.)
- What forms of wealth might be different between people? Try to list at least three. Does a given form of wealth tend to be dissipated over time, via feasting or gifting or divisions between heirs or another means? Or does it build on itself?
- What special status might someone in the band (or some family) have that others do not? Try to list at least three, remembering that not all special statuses need be in the same family. (For example, one family might be chiefs, another might be shamans, another might have the hereditary right to guard the Sacred Hospitality Blanket, and so on.) How might such status be gained or lost?
- How does the band handle internal conflict? Are there mechanisms for doing this? Would conflict threaten to tear apart the band? What is at stake?
- Why might outsiders come into conflict with your band? List five possible reasons. (“We raid their settlements and take slaves and plunder” is an acceptable reason! So is “They want to wear our sparkly purple skin as trophies.” What else?)
- Why does having a wandering band fit in this story? What aspect of such a band fits the theme or the conflict?
Suggestions for more? Let me know in the comments!