Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Amazons
In Columbus’ report of his exploration in the New World, he mentions a curious encounter on an island inhabited entirely by warrior women, one where the only men to be found were those that were kept as breeding stock. This story bears an uncanny resemblance to legends from ancient Greece that tell of the Amazons, a society of female warriors whose matriarchal culture left them at odds with the male-dominated Greek world around them. Although many have been quick to dismiss these reports as the fanciful exaggerations of explorers, the truth of the matter is that a tribe of Amazons, descended from those who inspired the legends of Greece, does inhabit the island of Martinique and the unexplored depths of the Brazilian jungle, just beyond the reaches of the “civilized world” around them.

Tales of the Amazons from ancient Greece are sketchy at best, and highly skewed by cultural bias in any case. The various authors who have written of the Amazons have disagreed on certain important details, though most of them have managed to pass on at least a kernel of the truth.

The facts of the matter are these. The first culture that could be considered Amazonian arose in the vicinity of what is now known as the Black Sea during the middle of the third millennium BC. Unlike many of the cultures that developed around them at that time, theirs was strongly matriarchal and matrilineal—that is, women held the power in the affairs of government, and property rights were passed on through the female line. Women held all positions of authority, including religious, military and governmental posts. Indeed, men were essentially confined to the home and had little influence outside of domestic affairs.

At first the Amazons were able to live free from conflict with their neighbors; outside of the annual meeting for the purposes of breeding, they had little contact whatsoever with those who lived around them. This all began to change, however, as the more patriarchal Greek tribes began to gain in power. These cultures, who traditionally had gender roles opposite to those of the Amazons, saw their matriarchal culture as a threat to their own social stability and reacted as they saw fit. War soon erupted.

Although the legends that describe this conflict are numerous, the reliable details are difficult to discern. According to the tales, the Greeks struck the first below with an attack led by none other than the famed hero Herakles himself. The stories have it that one of this warrior’s twelve labors was to lead an expedition into Amanzonian territory and to steal the girdle of their queen, Hippolyta. Some versions also maintain that the Athenian hero Theseus took her home as a prisoner, to be his bride.

This attack reportedly led to a reprisal by the Amazons, an attack on Athens that has come to be known as the Amazonomacy (the “Amazon War”). Though they were hard-pressed to do so, the Greeks managed to repel this attack, helped no doubt by the fact that Hippolyta fought alongside her husband throughout the battle. The conflict didn’t end there, though; reports tell that Amazon warriors continued to engage in periodic skirmishes with the Greeks, as evidenced by the fact that one of their number went to battle in support of Troy.

Times of Change
From this period onward, the history of the Amazons is even more poorly chronicled. It is possible, however, to piece together the scanty evidence that does exist.

As described above, it is known that a contingent of Amazons was present during the Trojan War. It is also known that some of the survivors from Troy managed to escape the fall of the city, and fled from there, along with the hero Aeneus, to the city of Carthage. That location, governed as it was by a powerful queen named Dido, would have made an excellent temporary home for the fierce warrior women. It is also known that the people of Carthage were widely respected for the abilities of their seafarers, and were though to have inherited the seafaring traditions of the Phoenicians themselves.

From that point, nearly ten centuries before the birth of Christ, to the current era, information regarding the Amazons and their movements is understandably sparse. The next mention of their presence, as mentioned previously, comes from the letters of Columbus himself. He describes tales told by the natives of encounters with Amazons on the island now known as Martinique. Then there are the reports of Cristobal de Acuna, a Jesuit missionary who encounter an isolated, all-female group in the heart of the Brazilian jungle. Although his reports of the encounter are not very specific in their details, they bear a striking resemblance to the legends that have survived from ancient Greece. Though many doubt their veracity, they are correct; there is a tribe of Amazons that has taken up residence in the area.

Society and Culture
The most striking feature of Amazonian society, at least from a male perspective, is the fact that women hold all of the power, They govern and make the laws, they command the military forces and have complete religious authority. While this might seem unusual to men from the patriarchal systems of the Old World, it is for them a completely natural arrangement. In fact, men are limited in their endeavors to cultivating the small amount of agriculture that the Amazons practice, tending to domesticated animals, and providing labor for pottery, basket weaving and similar crafts.

The Amazons revere a quartet of goddesses, a tradition that hearkens back to the pantheon in their native Greece; these are Athena, Artemis, Hestia and Demeter, who represent the most important aspects of the Amazons’ struggle for survival. Demeter is the goddess of nature and fertility, the mistress of the fruits of the earth, while Artemis is the patron of animals and the hunt. Hestia is the protector of the home and family, and Athena represents martial skill and the Amazons’ fierce struggle for independence throughout their long history and travels.

Inside each Amazonian village is a temple to this quartet of goddesses, a shrine that contains statues of each and that receives offerings for them when appropriate. For example, offerings are brought to Demeter during planting and the harvest, to Artemis at the beginning of a great hunt or to Athena before going into battle. Each temple is attended by a priestess, selected by her peers and serving for life unless removed from office for some reason. In addition to ministering to the spiritual needs of the community, the priestesses also serve as spiritual advisors to the local rulers. She is assisted by one or more young women who are learning the ways of the priestess.

Although many aspects of the Amazons’ culture have changed with the passage of time and the tribulations that they have faced, one that has consistently remained strong is their militant lifestyle. While they few warriors who are dedicated entirely to preparing for and dealing with conflicts, nearly every woman in the tribe is trained in some manner to defend their home villages. No other civilization in the world is so able to mobilize itself in times of war.

As detailed in the Skull & Bones rulebook, Amazons typically operate in patrols of 8-16 warriors, led by a couple of sergeants and perhaps including a couple of jaguars. Larger settlements may have as many as eight such patrols, along with lieutenants and the queen herself, as well as one or more priestesses. While the officers have fairly general training, the unranked soldiers tend to specialize in hand-to-hand or ranged combat. (Mounted combat, which was once a specialty for which the Amazons were feared, is now unknown but for the rare band that has managed to capture, tame and train horses.)

Organization—The Village
Nearly all of the Amazonian villages are located in Brazil. These consist of houses built of mud brick with thatched roofs, a design that is inspired by the techniques of the surrounding native tribes and that is adapted to locally available materials. The firepit is its central feature, while the pillars that support the roof are strung with hammocks for sleeping and a variety of baskets and jars hang from the pillars overhead. Each such building houses a single family, including an Amazon, her children and any men in the household. Any given village usually has as many as one hundred such huts, all roughly clustered around the central common house.

The common house consists of a circular roof resting on massive wooden pillars hewn from tree trunks. A fire pit in the middle of the common house is used for cooking feasts and is kept burning at all times to provide for the hearth fires of the huts throughout the village. Official business is conducted here, such as trials and judgments and councils of war. It also serves during times of festivity, when tales of the Amazons’ long travels and many battles are told.

Larger villages also boast of a temple, a structure that combines ancient building techniques and local materials. Although they don’t have access to Mediterranean marble, the Amazons use limestone from the nearby mountains to craft the columns, floor, walls and roof of the temple. The temples are usually rather elaborate affairs, incorporating a main sanctuary, an inner sanctum, a room for storage and the priestess’ and assistants’ quarters. The walls of the building are usually decorated with beautiful engravings, ones that tell of the Amazons’ history as well as the tales of their goddesses.

Depending on the particular location and business of each village, there could be a number of other features. These might include a landing for piraguas (canoes), stables for livestock and possibly even horses, storage bins for grain, a smithy or other structures.

In locations closer to civilization, the Amazons tend to keep a much lower profile. For this reason they convert natural caverns into hidden outposts. Although these can vary widely in layout and features, each typical has a separate area for the warriors who have guard duty, a gate that can be sealed against intruders, and a concealed exit in the event that escape should become necessary.

Adventure Hooks
With their long and tumultuous history, as well as their (from some perspectives) unusual culture, the Amazons could act as a springboard for any number of possible adventures.

When a Catholic missionary encounters an Amazon patrol while spreading the Gospel among the native of Brazil, he brings news of their presence back to civilization; the PC’s might be hired to investigate the matter.

Rumors of ancient Greek treasures in the possession of the Amazons could entice those who hope to steal them.
After the colonizing Portuguese have an unpleasant military encounter with the Amazons, war seems imminent; the PC’s could serve on one side of the conflict or the other, or perhaps could even try to keep the peace.

The Amazons, in a surprisingly aggressive move, begin to attack ships to build up their own naval power.

Should the PC’s be captured by the Amazons, there are a number of possible outcomes. Those who possess useful skills—particularly carpenters and surgeons—could be put to work, while those who are especially strong and healthy might be use for breeding.

The current Amazon queen, Thalestris, believes herself to be descended from an ancestor of the same name and Alexander; if this is true, it could have an impact on the political situation in Greece, as she could claim to be an heir to some kind of throne.

Using the Amazons in a Traditional Fantasy Campaign
Should the GM wish to use the Amazons in a more traditional D20 fantasy game, only a small amount of modification is required. While they could easily be converted to any character or even monstrous race or religion, they should maintain some aspect of their culture that runs against the grain of the surrounding societies. This could still be a matriarchal culture, or perhaps some sort of religious tradition that runs contrary to the dogma of those who dwell around them, depending upon the possibilities of the specific campaign setting.

Dramatis Personae

Fighter 3; CR 3; Size medium; HD 3d10+3; hp 24; Init +1 (+1 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 17 (+4 armor, +2 shield, +1 Dex); Atk +5 (1d8+2, longsword) or +X (damage, type); AL LN; SV: Fort +4, Ref +2, Will +1; Str 15, Dex 13, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 16.
Background: Amazon.
Skills: Craft: weaponsmith +2, Climb +8. Intimidate +12, Jump +8, Knowledge: history +2, Swim +8.
Feats: Cleave, Power Attack, Quick Draw, Skill Focus (Intimidate), Weapon Focus (longspear).
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Chain shirt, buckler, longspear, quiver of six shortspears, longsword.

Elite Archer
Fighter 1; CR 1; Size medium; HD 1d10+1; hp 11; Init +3 (+3 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 17 (+4 chain shirt, +3 Dex); Atk +4 (1d8, longbow) or +2 (1d8+2, longsword); AL LN; SV: Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +0; Str 15, Dex 16, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 13.
Background: Amazon.
Skills: Craft: bowyer +2, Handle Animal +1, Hide +7, Knowledge: history +2, Move Silently +7.
Feats: Point Blank Shot, Rapid Shot, Stealthy.
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Chain shirt, longsword, composite longbow, quiver of 20 arrows.

Elite Infantry
Fighter 1; CR 1; Size medium; HD 1d10+1; hp 11; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 18 (+4 armor, +2 Dex, +2 shield); Atk +5 (1d8+3, longspear) or +3 (1d8, shortspear); AL LN; SV: Fort +3, Ref +2, Will +0; Str 16, Dex 15, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 13.
Background: Amazon.
Skills: Climb +7, Craft: weaponsmith +2, Jump +7, Knowledge: history +2, Swim +7.
Feats: Cleave, Power Attack, Weapon Focus (longspear).
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Chain shirt, small steel shield, lonspear, quiver of six shortspears, longsword.

Cleric 3; CR 3; Size medium; HD 3d8; hp X; Init +0 (+0 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 16 (+4 armor, +2 shield); Atk +3 (1d8+2, longsword) or +2 (1d8, longbow); SQ Cleric abilities; AL LN; SV: Fort +4, Ref +1, Will +6; Str 13, Dex 11, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 16, Cha 12.
Background: Amazon.
Skills: Concentration +7, Craft: armor +4, Diplomacy +7, Heal +9, Knowledge: history +4, Knowledge: religion +8, Survival +9.
Feats: Combat Casting, Track.
Fortunes: None.
Domains: Protection and War.
Equipment: Chain shirt, small steel shield, longsword, longbow, quiver of 20 arrows, holy symbol.

*Note: The Amazon Priestess was created to have some spellcasting ability, as befits a campaign that includes magic. Should the GM not want to include magic in the campaign, substitute levels of Expert for those of Cleric. (The character thus keeps its skills, while losing the spellcasting ability.)

Fighter 9; CR 9; Size medium; HD 9d10+9; hp 63; Init +2 (+2 Dex); Spd 30 ft.; AC 22 (+6 armor, +4 shield, +2 Dex); Atk +19/+14 (1d8+11, longsword) or +14/+9 (1d8+6, mighty composite longbow); AL LN; SV: Fort +7, Ref +5, Will +3; Str 22 (16), Dex 14, Con 12, Int 13, Wis 11, Cha 16.
Background: Amazon.
Skills: Climb +12, Craft: armor +2, Intimidate +12, Jump +12, Knowledge: history +2, Swim +12.
Feats: Cleave, Dodge, Mobility, Power Attack, Spring Attack, Weapon Focus (longsword), Weapon Specialization (longsword), Whirlwind Attack.
Fortunes: None.
Equipment: Longsword +3, mighty composite longbow +3, chain shirt +2, small steel shield +2, belt of giant strength +6.

New Background: Amazon
You are a part of the Amazon tribe, and have been raised in their society of warrior women. You could play any of the roles in their culture.
Free Skill Ranks: Craft (weaponsmith, armorsmith or bowyer) 2, Knowledge (history) 2
Bonuses and Penalties: You suffer a –2 circumstance penalty to all Charisma-based skill checks made when interacting with men from traditional European society, since they consider your culture to be a threat to the stability of theirs. You gain a +2 circumstance bonus to Charisma-based checks with women, however.
Contacts: None. Since the Amazons’ society is isolated from the outside world, they do not interact much with others.

Appendix: The Tupinamba and the Margaia
Should the PC’s venture into the depths of the Brazilian jungle to seek out rumors of the Amazons, the warrior women are not the only threat that they might face. The tribes that are predominant throughout any territory not inhabited by the Amazons are the Margaia and the Tupinamba, ones that are more primitive than the newcomers but that make up for their lack of technical development through sheer ferocity.

Members of these tribes wear their dark hair long and go without clothing. The Tupinamba males distinguish themselves by shaving their head from the top forward, creating an effect rather like the tonsure of a monk. Male members of both tribes wear a piece of bone or stone through a piercing in the lower lip, just above the chin. The women, on the other hand, wear similar ornaments in the ears. They are also known to paint their faces with a dazzling variety of hues in red, yellow and blue.

The people of these tribes subsist on fruits and vegetables gathered throughout the jungle, along with a great variety of fish, birds and other animals that are hunted as well as edible roots. The roots, indeed, can be used to make a potent brew (caouin) when they are chewed, boiled and allowed to ferment. They make their homes of wooden frames covered in thatch. For storage they craft baskets and pots, and used dried native gourds. They also craft the hammocks in which they sleep.

In terms of religion, the Tupinamba and the Margaia possess few customs. Those missionaries who have traveled among them have deduced that both tribes believe in an evil spirit, called Aygnan, who torments them and brings hardship into their lives. They also believe in an afterlife, in a beautiful realm beyond the high mountains, to which the spirits of those who have lived good lives go to dance with their ancestors. Strangely, they do not seem to have a higher power that they worship in any manner.

Perhaps the best-known aspects of these natives’ culture are their vengeful sense of honor and their practice of cannibalism. It is said that they allow no affront by their enemies to go unpunished, and that ultimate retribution for them comes when they capture, kill and then consume those who have done them wrong. What is more, warriors keep the skulls of their defeated as trophies of their conquests. In times of battle the warriors equip themselves with large clubs that have sharpened edges, almost like wooden swords, as well as with huge bows and arrows some five feet in length. They are masters of their own territory, knowing every path and feature, and use this to their advantage when defending it.

The Margaia, it should be noted, have allied themselves as a tribe with the Portuguese who have settled in Brazil, while the Tupinamba have sided with the French. Since the Portuguese are gradually taking control of that territory, this has left the Tupinamba at a distinct advantage when facing their hated enemies.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.