Wemic Culture and Society
Wemic cultures are in some ways strikingly similar to Human ones, and in other ways, shockingly alien. They are perhaps most similar to the varied non-agricultural nomadic herders in the Real World -- the North American Plains Indian, the Bedouin, the Mongols. Wemics are wanderers, following the herds, living under the sky.
Distinctive Societal Characteristics Common to All Wemics
FOOD PRODUCTION. Wemics are huge and active carnivores. They need to eat a lot to stay alive. To satisfy this necessity, Wemics have to stay near vast herds of large herbivores -- herd animals like the buffalo of the North American Great Plains, or the caribou of the Arctic Tundra. These herds supply the biomass Wemics need to live. This basic characteristic shapes every aspect of Wemic Culture. Consequently, all Wemics are typically:
Nomadic. Because herd animals need to move around (migrating from grazing area to grazing area), Wemics move around too. They cannot make large settlements in one area, because they would soon strip the settled area of all food sources.
Non-Agricultural. Naturally, as meat-eaters, Wemics do not grow domesticated plants for food. But why don't they grow crops for beer and wine, for cloth and baskets, for flavoring or medicine? Because they do not stay in any one place long enough for a complete growing season. So when Wemics want plants for these purposes, they either gather wild varieties or trade with non-Wemic farmers.
Scattered. Large numbers of Wemics typically do not live together -- even with herd animals to use for food, it is difficult to support communities of hundreds, much less thousands of huge meat-eaters. It is far more common for groups of a dozen or more to form close communities that live together. And where food is harder to come by, wandering groups are even smaller and farther apart.
Proud. As is often the case for cultures that live on the edge of survival, under conditions of harsh competition, in which wits and strength are paramount, Wemics make necessity into virtue. They are forced by biology to be nomadic, so they tend to scorn settled folk as lazy, slow, and filthy (and in truth, most cities visited by Wemics are dirty and unsanitary). Wemics must hunt and fight to stay alive, so they glorify bravery, persistance, and aggression. Their success at carving out a niche and thriving is evident in their pride.
TECHNOLOGY Ore deposits are scarce on the plains inhabited by Wemics, and the nomadic life does not lend itself to the development of smithies and forges. So Wemic culture is neolithic; most Wemics have developed a culture that is, by Human standards, primitive in its material objects. Typically, Wemics' work is limited to:
Stone. Used for knives, javelin/spear heads, hammers, club heads, etc. Some Wemics settle for short times near rock outcrops.
Leather and Fur. Used for clothing, armor, shields, travois, tents, etc. Some Wemics settle for short times near rock outcrops.
Fibers. Plant fibers and animal hairs is used for rope, rough cloth (woven on hand-looms), baskets, etc.
Clay and Glass. Some Wemics may have developed these heat-based technologies, but they are generally crude at best. A common use is for vessels and hair beads.
Metal and Wood. All metal is beyond Wemic technology, except that a very few Wemics may fashion gold crudely, since it is the easiest to find in pure form (not ore), refine, and work. Wood is used when it is available, but trees tend to be scarce on the plains and savannahs Wemics prefer.
ORAL TRADITIONS Wemics have not developed towns or cities, aside from a few longer-term encampments and holy sites. In the absence of dense concentrations of individuals, Wemics have had no need for the complex accounting and governance systems that usually lead to writing.
As with many oral cultures, Wemics often maintain a tradition of specialists who are trained to remember epic tales and lays for posterity. These specialists, commonly called bards, fill many roles in Wemic cultures:
- Rememberer of myths, histories, lineages, laws.
- Messenger and newsbringer.
- Judge and arbitrator.
ORGANIZATION With so much energy going into food production, there is little opportunity for Wemics to develop a class of specialists who do not have to hunt or herd. In newly developing agricultural areas, there is enough food produced that some people can specialize -- not so with Wemics. So there is no large priest or noble class -- priests and chiefs have to be hunters too, just like everyone else. (Bards are an exception to the specialist rule, but there are not many bards, especially where it is hard to stay alive.
Because Wemics generally can support few or no specialists, there are no large groups of bureaucrats, nobles, priests, etc. Therefore, Wemic political organization tends to be simple. Wemics tend to group themselves like this:
Loner. Individual Wemics may roam alone, as outlaws or exiles, hermits, curious bards, or adventurers.
Pride. The basic family unit is the pride, usually with four to twenty adults.
Clan. A number of prides may swear fealty to a chief, or less formally, just acknowledge one pride as the leader of others in the area. Prides form into clans for common defense (of hunting grounds, for example) and for social and mating opportunities. Usually a clan consists of all the Wemics in a common area.
Nation. Very rarely, and only when a herder lifestyle provides some kind of food surplus, clans will join into a nation. Such organized groupings usually exist to defend against a great threat, or in support of an ideology, or in the wake of a strongly charismatic leader.
OUTSIDE INFLUENCES As mentioned, Wemics usually look down on settled folk, such as humans, as degenerate and soft. But that doesn't stop them from trading! Wemics are usually happy to trade, especially for metal blades from knives to greatswords. Beads, mirrors, combs and brushes, fine cloth, and tools are all very welcome. Wemics usually trade in furs and ivory, but Wemic crafts are often considered valuable.
In Real World examples, contact with a more technologically advanced people has usually been to the disadvantage of the more "primitive" people. But Wemics have several advantages unknown in the Real World: Invader-born disease does not spread as easily between different species as between different human ethnic and racial groups; Wemics have physical advantages over humans, who are physically weaker; Wemics have been quick to adopt typical fantasy-level technology when possible, primarily in the form of iron weapons; and the technology gap in typical fantasy games is not as drastic as was the gap between, for example, the Spanish conquistadors and the Incans, or between the British and the Australian aboriginal peoples.
Two Wemic Societies: Hunters and Herders
FOOD PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY. The problem of food production is harder to solve for carnivorous cultures (like Wemics) than for omnivorous cultures (like Humans) because, in order to sustain a given population, carnivores at the top of the food pyramid require greater biomass in the ecosystem than full or partial herbivores. Please forgive the quasi-scientific pedantry -- what that means in a nutshell is that the same ecosystem can generally support more humans than Wemics.
For example, 80,000 pounds (four tons) of wild grain biomass in an ecosystem can support 8,000 pounds of grain-eating humans (about 50). Or that 80,000 pounds of grain can support 8,000 pounds of antelope, and that 8,000 pounds of antelope can support 800 pounds of Wemic (about one Wemic). The same ecosystem that supports 50 humans can support only one Wemic!
[By the way, I didn't actually pull this 10-to-1 ratio out of my head -- that's the way it really works! Each time you rise one level up a layer in a food pyramid, there is an efficiency of just 10 percent, and 90 percent is wasted. That's a coarse oversimplification, though, because there are no food pyramids, really -- interconnected food webs are a more appropriate analogy. But it remains true that the farther up the food chain you go, the more biomass the system needs to sustain a top carnivore population. That's why ardent vegetarians correctly tell us the earth could support more people if we all ate plants instead of meat -- it is more efficient to be a herbivore than a carnivore.]
That means there aren't really very many Wemics in any given ecosystem, on a human scale of numbers, that is. And the great Human innovation for increasing population -- agriculture -- doesn't work as well for meat-eating Wemics. But another human innovation does bode well for Wemics: Animal Domestication for food production.
DOMESTICATION AND FOOD PRODUCTION. Some Wemic cultures have domesticated animals to use as food. Common types have Real World analogs: the wild auroch that gave rise to modern cattle, oxen, horses, yaks, and caribou are all options. Even goats, sheep, and smaller herd animals are possible. Domestication of herbivores for food (and milk, fur, bone, etc) allows a greater population density of Wemics. This lets us divide Wemics into two groups: Hunters and Herders.
HUNTERS Hunter cultures have not developed domesticated animals as food. Perhaps there is no good local candidate for domestication. Perhaps the ecosystem is not favorable for domesticated animals that have been tamed elsewhere. Or perhaps there is a historic or ideological reason for the persistance of a hunter lifestyle -- Wemics often romanticize the hunting way of life as more "pure."
In any case, Wemic hunter cultures are more impoverished than herder cultures. Their numbers are smaller, their prides more wide-ranging, their food production more inefficient. There is no food surplus to allow specialists, so all Wemics are hunters, and most are jacks of all trades. Skills like tracking, stone tool and weapon making, food preserving, hides and fur working, and weaving are common.
Hunter cultures tend to be less welcoming to strangers, and can be highly protective of territory, especially hunting grounds. Since they often live in marginal lands, they live harder, shorter lives than herder wemics. They have cruder technology, suffer more from drought and storm, and are more susceptable to disease -- you would be more irritable, too!
HERDERS Wemics who have domesticated herd animals live easier lives because their food production strategy is more efficient. Herder Wemics do not suffer as much as hunters from famine, and because they don't have to spend as much time on survival, they have more leisure. This lets herder Wemics develop art, music, and better technology, such as pottery and even glass-making. But even herder Wemics remain nomadic, since they must continually bring their animals to fresh pasture.
With their greater population, herder cultures tend to create somewhat more stratified societies, including primitive nations. Some herder culture wemics may specialize as priests, artisans, and warriors, in addition to the bards that exist in both hunter and herder cultures. But even these "specialists" will devote some energy to food production, that is, to care and protection of their herds.
Greater numbers, better organization, and higher quality goods make it more likely that herder Wemics will succeed in confrontations with other intelligent races. It is even possible to envision a Wemic king exchanging ambassadors and entering into treaties with other nations.
But even the most sophisticated Wemic herder people tend to glorify and romanticize the hunter life. Hunting remains important (more for ideology than food production) to herder Wemics, and herder Wemics still tend to look down on agricultural and settled peoples.