Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stories of the Body: Nomad Tattoos

Several nomad groups, including the Bani Juzayy, customarily tattoo female members of their tribes. To some degree, the practice is a beautification ritual, it can also bind magical forces into the very flesh and blood of these women. When Bani Juzayy are tattooed, the tattoos are generally applied by a wandering member of the Bani Juzayy, the adasiya, who is no longer a member of any one tribe of the Juzayy, but helps to tie the people together. Bani Juzayy tattoos are usually blue, tinted by kohl and special scrubland flowers.

Starting PCs can have tattoos if they have the Nomad background. When generating the character, roll a save vs. spell. If successful, the tattoos contain a magic power (detailed below). If unsuccessful, the tattoos are simply tattoos.
Original source unknown. 

1-2 Face
3-4 Hand
5 Arm
6 Leg

Type of Tattoo
1-2 Health and Fertility
3 Healing of Injuries
4 Increased Fortitude
5 Increased Strength
6 Warding against Jinn

Along with dots, lozenges, and teardrops, tattoos often incorporate one or more of the following symbols. Only one "special effect" can be present, though - any further supernatural effects from tattoos that might exist take place on a far lower level than is modeled in game rules.

Health and Fertility 
Examples: Tree (strength), star, gazelle
Effect: At the beginning of a month, the bearer makes a Charisma check on 4d6. If she passes, she gains Advantage on efforts to resist disease, or attempts to create or design something. (The tattoo also has a positive effect on individual fertility, but including mechanics for that seems like a terrible idea so let's pass on that.)

Healing of Injuries
Examples: Snake (magic), Teardrop, Wheel
Effect: At the beginning of a month, the bearer makes a Charisma check on 4d6. If she passes, she regains an extra hit point when resting.

The Free Man symbol. Via Essaouira.
Increased Fortitude
Examples: Burnus, The Free Man, Stirrups
Effect: At the beginning of a month, the bearer makes a Constitution check on 4d6. If she passes, she gains immunity to environmental distress rolls.

Increased Strength
Examples: Chain, Light, Arrowhead (lightning, energy)
Effect: At the beginning of a month, the bearer makes a Strength check on 5d6. If she passes, she gains Advantage on all Strength checks for the remainder of the month.

Warding Against Jinn
Examples: Comb (unity), Shears (reaving, separation), Khamsa, Fire
Effect: Bearer is immune to the effects of the Evil Eye. Upon encountering jinn, the bearer may make a Charisma check on 4d6. If she passes, she has the effects of a protection from evil spell with regards to the jinn in question - not relating to any other beings. The effects of this protection only last until the end of the encounter with the jinn in question.

It is rumored that many of the traditional symbols used in tattooing represent components of a legend, prophecy, or other form of communication. Some Imperial commentators have suggested that the tattoos indicate crucial knowledge that a given tribe has sworn to preserve, while others have posited that the tattoos serve a function of preserving the stability and reality of the world around the tribes. The commentators have, however, failed to secure any definitive comments from those tattooed themselves.

Tattoos and Gender
Facial tattoos are generally linked with femininity among nomad groups that engage in the practice (which is why this post refers to the bearers as female). An individual's decision to avoid tattooing could be considered an indication of eschewing femininity or expressing some masculine identification, while the reverse might indicate eschewing masculinity or expressing some feminine identification. A few examples:
  • Titrit, the warrior, getting tattooed later in life as part of the process of indicating her correct gender, along with changing her name
  • Izem, the priest, removing the tattoos applied when he was younger, correcting his identification as well
  • Siman, the metal-worker, getting tattooed as an indication of their feminine spirit, but donning the veil as a recognition of their masculine spirit. (Several nomad tribes place their smiths and metal workers in "sacred trickster" roles outside of society, which can include going outside the traditional gender spectrum.)
The presence or absence of tattoos isn't a strict determinant - someone might avoid getting tattoos for any number of reasons without having it necessarily read as an indicator that she is less feminine.

References / Further Reading:
Apetroaie, Vladiana-Ioana. "Women's Social and Spiritual Body - Amazigh Facial Tattoos (draft)." Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 2013. Available here.
Bendaas, Yasmin. "Between the Lines: Facial Tattoos and the Chaouia." Pullitzer Center, 2013. Available here.
Krutak, Lars. "Tattooing in North Africa, The Middle East, and the Balkans." Vanishing Tattoo, 2010. Available here.
Rasmussen, Susan. "Ritual Powers and Social Tensions as Moral Discourse Among The Tuareg." American Anthropologist 100(2): 458. 1998. Available here.