From Whence Warriors?

One thing often not covered in discussions of warrior cultures (or in some cases, only covered in passing) is where they came from. After all, cultures with complex ideas about where the warrior stands in them and what constitutes a warrior don’t just sprout fully formed from a field full of dragons’ teeth—for one thing, even with the dragons’ teeth Cadmus had to plow the field—so what factors combined to create this society, with this code, in this place and time? In short, why is the warrior culture a warrior culture?

Most often, the culture’s warrior emphasis is due to a politically unstable environment that requires people to be ready to defend what’s theirs. You’ve got your fractured mess of city-states, small kingdoms, barbarian tribes or similar political units perpetually taking bites out of each other, and the only way for people to turn the dynamic in their favor is to be able to bite back. Fighting is important. It doesn’t have to be in the present, though—in fact, you’re likelier to get a cleaner warrior code if they’ve since stopped fighting, but kept the tradition alive anyway. You can get a similar effect from an environment in which just about everything is a hazard, particularly one that has improbably many predators; it gets people constantly fighting, even if they’re not necessarily fighting each other.

Then there are the places that need their warriors so they can expand (or defend themselves, particularly when another culture too powerful for them to swallow takes offense at having nearly been expanded into). Hereabouts you’re likeliest to get legion-type warriors, the ones who work just as well in a group as they do alone, or even fight exclusively en masse.

Sometimes becoming a warrior culture is a defense mechanism. You begin with a peaceful—even pacifistic—culture: no expansion, no constant invasions, no interest in fighting at all. Then they get occupied, usually unpleasantly, and like a rubber band snapping, they go straight from the way of the whatever they are to the way of the warrior. With these groups, the numbers of true noncombatants are generally fewer (if you’re physically able, you’re going to Do Something), and the code often favors the individual (as it’s really hard to muster organized numbers and training when you’re trying to kick people out of your homeland).

Knowing where a warrior culture came from doesn’t just give it more depth; you can also use it to help figure out those last tricky parts of the code or to come up with motivations and plot arcs for its characters. Look to the cause!

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