I’m usually nice. Six Ages is about leading a village in a roughly bronze age fantasy world, in which culture is of paramount importance. Morality and belief and social expectations are complex and compared to those of our own society, very odd. What we’d call the right thing isn’t always the same thing that Riders, the game’s main culture, would consider right. Even so, I try to be decent. Merciful, and magnanimous, and amenable to reason. But what if there’s another way?
There are plenty of games that let you be evil. Often dramatically so, favouring murder and sadism and cruelty simply because that’s the mathematical opposite of what the heroes are like in cartoons. It’s usually boring, and in any case, Riders don’t really have a concept of good vs evil like we do. So I founded the Red Paper clan with one goal in mind: to be the clan of the rudest, pettiest people in the entire valley. This goal gets off to a good start when the very first event lets us put a baby in the river.
Events are the heart of Six Ages. During each of its five seasons, you can carry out two actions, and be confronted with random events. These can be just about anything. Your horses keep falling into gopher holes and breaking their legs. Another clan wants you to act as a messenger to help broker peace with their rival. Someone has made up an insulting song about you. Each demands a response (inaction is often possible, and sometimes wise). Ranged along the bottom of the screen are your ‘ring’: the seven nobles who represent the clan, who enact your decisions as best they can, and will advise you on anything that comes up.
The river baby, then. Two families are arguing over which of them should adopt a baby that washed up from the river. Our options are to show favouritism towards one of the families, or have our chieftain’s family adopt the child. In a normal game, the latter is the even handed, diplomatic choice I would make. However, there is also an option to put the baby back in the river. Our very first act is to take a helpless infant that narrowly escaped a cruel, watery death, shrug, and chuck it back in again. If this isn’t a sign I don’t know what is.
The clan gather to watch as our chieftain, Zuchi, rejects the child a second time in its short life and goes about her day. I’d hoped they would start chanting “Dunk! Dunk! Dunk! Dunk!”, but instead the crowd mostly grumbles until Zuchi reminds them that since their ancestors were also jerks who turned needy people away, that made it fine. They have a lot to learn.
“In the coming weeks, we heard nothing more about the baby,” the game notes. Well done gang, we defeated a baby.
Our first year is a calm one. There’s an earthquake, sealed up with an offering to the earth goddess, and a fancy warrior from the Flame Singer clan asks to marry one of our nobles. There’s also an internal dispute over a treasure. I have Zuchi tell everyone that the clan’s decision is “piss off”. This annoys the noble, the Flame Singers, and much of our own clan. But later in the year, when some desperate goat herders ask to join our clan, we go all in and the people join in as we mock their stupid, hungry faces. I think the people are starting to get the idea.
Come Fire Season (the height of summer, a common time for raiding since the farmers have nothing else to do) we need a target. Our law expert Aznom casually notes that the neighbouring Nar-Onon clan “has the most herds.” Little does Aznom know, he has just cursed Nar-Onon.
We repeatedly steal the Nar-Ononi cattle in raids – not full fights, but small parties sent to rustle precious cows. Six Ages features no money, and even trade goods are evaluated on their relative worth to a cow. Herds are wealth, they are food, they are stability and pride. The only thing that comes close to as important to Rider culture is horses.
So, we steal their cows. Again. And again. The Nar-Onon clan are Wheels, so we share common ancestors, and some similar customs, but we’re different enough to cause a lot of tension. Notably, they use chariots instead of riding, so naturally they respond to our bovine larceny by riding past us on their chariots. It is a gesture we can counter by blanking them, offering a passive-aggressive, overly friendly gesture, or with murder. Naturally, we choose murder.
Riders, Wheels and Rams share a hardy attitude in which outright war is very rare, but skirmishes and duels and deadly confrontations are just a thing that happens. Mostly. But one of the things that Six Ages captures perfectly is that individuals and societies alike can imbue common events with enormous significance. The smallest molehill can become everything. So, gradually, my plan to be an unguided scattergun of low-level dickheadery became a poisonous campaign against the Nar-Ononi people.
Four years later, our warfare screen looked like this:
Every year, I send a cattle raid at the Nar-Ononi at every opportunity. We rustle in Fire Season. We rustle in Storm Season. We even rustle during the harvest. When a party is turned back by a blizzard, minus several toes, hacking and wheezing with pneumonia, I send another one straight back out to rustle the hell out of the Nar-Ononi again. Thanks to my skilled nobles and regular bargains with the raven spirit for a stealth blessing, we come back with 12-30 free cows every time. 20 cows is a large enough gift that it will discharge a favour owed between clans. Sacrificing 10 to a god can give a strong chance of receiving a year-long blessing or even consecrate a shrine. When we murdered an entire tribe of goatherds (incidentally), the sum of all their wealth amounted to less than what we take from the Nar-Ononi, on average, three or four times per year.
They must be livid. A depleting cow spiral almost always means the terminal decline of a clan. Small herds are a sign of vulnerability, which attracts mockery, extortion, and more raids. It’s a cruel, cruel time and sure enough, after another year of it, the Nar-Onon somehow get hold of some shamanic magic and curse us with a plague.
The best way to deal with it is sacrificing to the gods. And oh hey, look at that, we have a load of cattle now.
In between this now-traditional bullying, we’re doing quite well. We have a very skilled explorer in Halakar, a big feller who would be on the ring if he wasn’t a worshipper of the god of travel and exploration. Thanks to him, and our crafters and silver-tongued traders, we have a thriving market and all the defensive fortifications possible. Almost nobody likes us, but we taunt and threaten anyone who comes close, and slightly kidnap some children who wandered onto our land so people are a little bit scared of us.
“Zuchi, long known for her lashing tongue, has grown all the more acerbic of late,” says a fresh event in the 18th year of the chief’s rule. The clan have come together to insist that our she be removed. Again, in a typical game I would likely boot her out, or distract everyone with a party. But when I click on Zuchi’s portrait to ask her advice, she tells the entire clan, her own clan, to go to hell.
Yeah, they can all go to hell. We can go to hell. Let’s do this. Zuchi lets rip, and to my astonishment, it works. They’re actually abashed by how easily she roasts them, and everyone’s mood goes up as a result. We are now literally such dickholes that it’s an inspiration to our people.
Trolls arrive, peaceful ones looking to buy something to eat, like cows, horses, “or any spare people you don’t want any more”. I kind of like these guys. Jevon, our Raven worshipping trickster, suggests sending them to curse another clan. I ask the lawspeaker, Hanzin. “Attacking with darkness monsters violates unspoken rules”, he says. Violates unspoken rules, you say? SOLD.
We also violate a more spoken rule when we raid one of our allies, the Varn-Rashi. They came over and mocked us, and I sort of forgot we were friends and sent a hundred screaming riders over to fight them. “We are known for our rudeness”, says the lawspeaker later that year. It’s nice to feel appreciated.
Varvelings attack from the South, outnumbering us. The Varn-Rashi show up to join them, having presumably got sick of my lip. The sensible, modern thing to do when outnumbered 4 to 1 would be to buy the attackers off, or just leave and let them loot the place so nobody has to die. Instead, I tell the Varn-Rash to piss off and they apologise and leave. This demoralises the Varlevings somewhat, to the point that we win! Then, immediately afterwards, the Nar-Ononi show up with another army twice our size and we cane them too! I didn’t even know this was possible.
The next season, the Jade Colt, who I’d never noticed before, show up offering to raid a clan of our choice if we gave them cows and an alliance. Well now, let me think. Is there anyone around here we don’t like? Thus it is that the Colts smack the Varn-Rashi up, and “shouted our name as they galloped victorious from the battlefield.” I think we’ve got sidekicks!
Meanwhile, most of our diplomats are busy torturing a Varn-Rashi herder to death to entertain the tribe and/or some ravens.
Look, they started it. And besides, the Nar-Ononi have hardly any cows left; someone keeps taking all the good ones. We are informed that the Varn-Rashi “have sworn to destroy us”. BRING IT.
Trading is going well, otherwise, except that we need more trading partners and to gain more wealth. I ask the ring for advice about all the tribes we’ve yet to visit and receive a litany of “they hate us” in reply. Hmm.
“We are known as backstabbing weasels”, says the lawspeaker at Sacred Time. I might have gone too far this year.
It’s around now that I realise this joke clan of petty jerks is by far the most fearsome one I’ve ever led. Eleen the warrior is good at almost everything. Her combat skill puts her at near-mythical level, and she’s also our second best diplomat, leader, magician, and our third best trader. We have a very strong set of nobles.
To capitalise on their power, I decide that this year’s hot new battle strategy is to follow up our usual threats, boasts, and intimidation with a full berserker charge. Given that we bully and insult them every time, I am continually amazed that the Nar-Ononi keep agreeing to our parley offers. Perhaps they like it. Oh my god. They’re the bratty sub clan.
They do get their chance, though. Early one year, herders report that the deer population has exploded, and their love of berries is depriving our goats of food. We have over one thousand cattle, so I invite the clans to a hunting contest with a prize of 20 cows. The Zar Hawks (no strong opinion but we trade with them) try to outdo us by holding their own contest with a prize of 30 cows. Ohoho, is that how you think it works, lads? It is not. I raise our prize not to a nerdly 31 cows, nor to an extravagant 40 cows, but to a ludicrous one hundred cows. “All in or fold” is our second favourite village motto, close after “(whatever sound a horse makes when it kicks someone in the head)”. I’m disappointed that this doesn’t awe the whole valley, but almost fall over laughing when I see who wins.
It’s the Nar-Ononi. They win a contest to get their own cows back. Naturally, we felt duty bound to spend the next few seasons stealing them all again.
The next year, we have another deer-related question, as a magical elk leaves the woods and offers us a bounty of game for four years – if we refrain from hunting any deer for two years first. We answer the incredible magic creature by eating it.
Our friends the Jade Colts report troubling news. The Alkothi have arrived. The Alkothi are powerful demon worshippers universally feared among Riders and Wheels. They enslaved all our ancestors, and if anything could unite us all it’s them. They are hostile, scary, and very strong. Nobody is ashamed to admit fear of the Alkothi. They also happen to be our clan’s specific ancestral enemy. So we tell the Jade Colts we will lead a war party to attack them. They are stunned. “Fight the Alkothi head on? Is the Red Paper clan made up of madmen?” they ask.
What do you think, readers?
After a successful attack on the Alkothi, another surprise comes when, a year later, the Nar-Ononi grow a spine from somewhere and attempt to raid us. They fail, of course, and we kill about 20 of them, but before I can punish their insolence the Seven Stars, whoever they are, come asking for protection, offering an alliance and 20 cows. Sure, why not. They promise to give us five cows every time we attack their enemies, and five more if we win. Their main enemy?
The Nar-Onon clan.
I promise I am not making any of this up. It’s fire season, so we immediately raid the Nar-Ononi cattle, then start a full raid. Eleen calls for parley just to call them pov scum and laugh, then we berserker-stab about 50 of them and take all their stuff.
After all this, and his many skirmishes and adventures out in the wilds, our explorer Halakar has become a legendary warrior. We also have many talented leaders and magicians (and a famous farmer who dies of old age, “crowing with delight at having outlived all her enemies”. Even our C-listers are hardcore). It’s now, after nearly 30 glorious years of unrivalled arseholery, that our founder and chieftain Zuchi dies.
So where has she left us? We have built every possible fortification. We have one of the best markets in the valley. We have 934 cattle, an extraordinary 184 goods, so many treasures that I honestly stopped reading the descriptions and just threw them on the pile, four ongoing feuds, and are renowned throughout the land for defeating the dreaded Alkothi… and being the most irascible, horrible people who ever rode a horse. We’re fast becoming the plundering, treacherous, total dickhole clan that nobody can deny are boss as hell. USA! USA! USA!
Eleen steps up as our new war chief, and promises to raid our enemies into the dust. Sure enough, that very year, our resumption of constant attacks on the Nar-Ononi hits a peak. They deploy a magical machine I’ve never seen before, some kind of horseless chariot that beamed burning light, quite possibly the ark of the covenant. It is a superweapon from their gods. They must have been counting on that to turn the tables, but our diplomat Vurana calmly neutralises it. Our diplomat rode out and single-handedly shut down the magical laser tank of the gods.
I think we have honoured Zuchi’s memory. The Red Paper clan may have lost one arsehole, but we’ve gained hundreds more.