Little Big Man
Written by Thomas Berger
Published by The Dial Press
One of the reasons I enjoy reading outside the 'fantasy ghetto' is that you never know what you'll stumble upon. I can't remember where I first read that Little Big Man was a classic of the Western Genre, indeed, of American literature itself, but I'm glad I dug into it.
After finishing the book, I was informed of the movie featuring Dustin Hoffman. He does a great job in a solid movie but man, if anyone from HBO or Showtime is listening, Little Big Man could use a truer to book edition in a season or limited edition format.
So what does Little Big Man bring that makes it worth reading for gamers?
First off, Thomas Berger is a great writer. If you're looking for one liners or other bits to throw into your game, Thomas has more than his share of them.
"However, I believe that when Wild Bill Hickok faced a man he looked at his opponent's eye as if it was a cork." (pg. 305)
Alien CulturesJack Crabb spends a lot of time among the Indian Cheyenne tribe. During that time, he enjoys boiled dog as well as having four wives. He returns to the tribe several times and it contrasts the ways of the Cheyenne, who call themselves 'Human Beings' to the 'White Man'.
In terms of other nationalities, we get a brief taste of them. For example, while on a raid, Jack is ambushed and almost scalped when the ambusher realizes that he's actually a white man. That particular tribe is fond of the whites so lets Jack live. Jack promptly repays him with three arrows in the back.
When adding different cultures, much less different races, think about why they are different, to begin with. If the only difference between humans and elves turns out to be the lifespan, might as well just get rid of one or the other.
Think about how the children are raised. Are they raised by the clan?
What roles do men and women play?
What foods are eaten? Even in the modern day world people in the United States tend to look in horror at southern China's holiday where they eat dog. Now never mind that the Cow is a sacred animal to millions of Indians...
How is history kept? How is the passage of time measured? The author gives us an event driven history that doesn't rely on days or dates but on seasons and events.
Are there common sayings?
'My son," says Old Lodge Skins, "if it cannot, then the sun will shine upon a good day to die." (pg. 220).
Culture can be a thousand things and none of them are easy to digest in one sitting. Don't hit the players over the head with things until they stop playing but feed into the differences a bit per session until the players can recognize weird words and phrases both in character in the real world.
History"That still leaves the matter of the meat, and you can't escape the fact that there was awful waste in that area, whereas Indians generally consumed in one form or another every inch of a buffalo from his ears to the hoofs, including even the male part, from which they boiled up a glue." (pg 325).
Sometimes the world moves in a direction and no matter what some due, they can't stop the movement of the world. In this case, Jack is assuring future readers that in many instances, the slaughter of the buffalo wasn't done to intentionally harm the natives, but rather, simply to make money.
If you look at the environment in 2017 and see how laws have been enacted and repealed and worked for and against, the pursuit of profit against the manner in which humans live, like dumping coal ash into rivers, is still debated.
Elves may love their forests, but people need the wood for fuel, they need it for constructing weapons and buildings. They need the space cleared for crops and grazing. Sorry elves, nothing personal, but you got to go.
Dwarves? Dwarves in a gold-rich environment? I can't imagine the slaughter that would take place in any fantasy campaign that wanted to throw historical accuracy at it unless the dwarves were able to completely fight off the attackers. Problem is that doesn't count say the numerous horrors for the beneath the earth that the dwarves are usually dealing with.
Range Dependent Magics
Weird Stuff'And then, the summer of '74 billions of grasshoppers descended on the plains in a great blanket stretching from Arkansas to Canada...a Union Pacific train was stalled at Kearney, Nebraska, by a three-foot drift of them insects.' (pg. 338)
Sometimes something weird happens. Throw it in the campaign.
Little Big Man is an excellent book for both players and game masters of any genre. Character motivations and adventue seeds aplenty, NPCs and settings call to those who heed this book.