Urban Primitives in Underground

“Pex was a great warrior and hunter of his people, a great provider for his tribe. He knew the secrets of traveling the dark canyons and secret ways to go farther than any of the other people dared and to explore places and see things that few could imagine. He moved with the silence of a shadow and stuck like a flicker of light, vanishing before any could read that he was even there.

Once while stalking the high above the ground through the territory of his people, Pex found a truck, laid upon its side, with what could be a prime catch of food that would supply the tribe for many days. The truck was attacked by a giant of great power and strength, but Pex was a warrior and he did not fear anything that stood between him and the needs of his tribe.

Moving from stealth he nocked an arrow to his bow and let fly at the giant. The shot struck him soundly, but did no great harm. The giant’s skin was like ‘crete and he turned towards the hunter, shouting curses and roaring his anger. Pex leaped to the side as the giant’s weapon roared also and pieces of brick were scattered in the blast.

Pex could see that his enemy had power great than his. He could not be hurt by the weapons that Pex carried with him. Another man might have given up against such a hopeless cause, but Pex was a true warrior. He knew all of the weaknesses and habits of his enemies well. He nocked another arrow and waited in hiding as he listened to the sound of the giant come closer and closer. He moved not a muscle, made not a sound as the giant called out, giving away his location.

Then Pex sprang from hiding and fired, his arrow this time, striking the giant where he was most vulnerable: his loud mouth. The wound of the arrow was slight, but the pain and the poison that tipped Pex’s arrows sent the giant into a frenzy. His weapon roared his pain and fire scored the walls all around before the giant fell dead at Pex’s feet.

So learn about the world around you and how to survive. And remember to keep your big mouths shut.”

— Canyoners shaman Form-Feed, educating the tribe’s youth.

Primitive Development

Even in the mixed-up collection of inmates running the asylum that the 21st century has become, the primitives are unique. In a time where technological development is more advanced than it ever has been, they have chosen to return to a simpler, almost barbaric way of existence.

Primitives are most often people who suffer from a syndrome that used to be called “future shock.” In the past century, technological advancement increased tremendously, and changes to the world happened more rapidly than some people were prepared for. Old structures and traditions quickly became obsolete and new ones took their place until society and technology were changing on an almost daily basis. The advent of the 21st century and the technological boom created by the science recovered from the alien pod only made things worse. Human society was stuck on fast-forward, rushing madly to some destination that no one was really sure about.

Faced with this kind of constant, rapid change, a lot of people simply couldn’t handle it. They dropped out, shut off, just couldn’t deal with the constant influx of new ideas, new technology and new everything all of the time. A lot of people became shut-ins, but over time, these people left their TV sets, and radios and cars and other trappings that were confusing them behind. They gathered together in small groups of friends and family and tried to create a safe place for themselves where life could go on at a different pace that the rest of the world. Where the constant change and turmoil of the Outside could be shut out and they could have tradition and stability and sanity again.

At first, primitivism was considered nothing more than another 15-minute fad that would fade along with all of the other crazes that had come before it. The media did their stories and anthropologists wrote their papers and then everyone turned to check out the next interesting thing that came along.

But the primitives didn’t go away. They proved the adaptability of human nature by finding ways to continue and to survive. They took ancient folkways and techniques and adapted them to life in the urban jungle. They found niches in the city ecology where they could live and hunt and raise their families. They effectively cut themselves off from the rest of the world in a place surrounded by other people. They established their own sort of “reservations” in the midst of the chaos of the sprawls, staked out their territory and defended it against all comers.

Now there is even a second-generation of primitives, those who have known no life other than that of their tribe. Some of them are forming the basis for the future continuation of their tribes, while others, like youth everywhere, rebel against the ideals of their parents and want to learn more about the society that they have never been allowed to be part of. They are drawn back into the places and ideas that their parents rejected. Some return to their tribes shaken by what they have seen while others find new lives in the Outside and are never heard from again.

The Primitive Mindset

The common man’s idea of Primitives is that they are people who dress like American Indians, live in the slums, have no understanding of anything more sophisticated than a bow and arrow and steal and murder to survive. This is partly based in truth, but the common man of the 21st century doesn’t get a very complete picture about much of anything.

Most primitives have chosen their life, although some maintain that society didn’t really give them much of a choice. An increasing number of people are born into a tribe, but most decided at some point to leave society behind and “go native.”

In doing so, primitives don’t forget everything they know and learned about being a person in the 21st century. They simply choose not to use that knowledge and to lead a life that is apart from what most people would consider “normal.” They don’t deal with modern conveniences like communications, entertainment or transportation. Primitives do often take advantage of modern medicine and weapons, but these things are considered untrustworthy and dangerous objects to be treated with respect and not a little caution. If there is a more “natural” option for dealing with a problem, a primitive will prefer it over a more technological one.

Primitives become less and less acquainted with how things in the outside world work as time goes on and things change Outside the tribe. Tribal lore and memories keep alive a great deal of knowledge, but it becomes distorted and dated over time, until the point where many of the young people of today’s primitive tribes really are quite primitive, having lost a lot of the knowledge that their parents did not pass on to them, knowledge which was outdated even then. A young primitive might know what the idea of recorded music is, but wouldn’t know anything about the technology and probably has never seen a CD work in their whole life. Many don’t even know how to read and write. For these young primitives, many of the trappings of the modern world become a kind of strange and frightening “magic” that is at the same time often quite attractive.

The Tribe

The central social structure of the Primitives is the tribe, which is much like a modern street gang in organization (although most primitives wouldn’t care for the comparison). The tribe is a kind of extended family of choice rather than blood relation (although it can be that, too). It ranges in size from a small extended group of less than a dozen to fifty or even a hundred members for some of the larger tribes in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

Primitive identity is strongly tied up with the idea of the tribe, making it family, friends, nation and religion all in one. A primitive’s tribe is the most important thing in the world, it is their world for all intents and purposes. The members of the tribe support each other and work together for the survival of the group. Each member of the tribe places a great deal of trust in the others and their day-to-day survival depends on working together. Threats to the survival of the tribe are the worst things that a primitive can imagine and they will do anything to protect their tribes from harm. Crimes against the tribes are the worst crimes that can be committed in primitive society and usually result in the banishment or death of the offender.

Primitive tribes tend to form around two things: people in need of each other and people with some common background or belief that binds them together, or some combination of the two.

Some primitive tribes start out as gangs or just groups of people who have been displaced from mainstream society because of the loss of a job, crime or just an inability to deal with everyday life in the 21st century. These people tend to gravitate towards each other, forming small bands or groups for mutual protection and survival. Sometimes these groups grow into tribes or are absorbed by other, larger, tribes.

Joining a primitive tribe is usually quite difficult. Because the tribe is so important, primitives are very selective about who they let join them. They have to be convinced that the applicant is going to be an asset to the tribe and not a liability. They also need to know that the applicant can pull their own weight and won’t cause conflict in the tribe. Becoming a member of a tribe usually requires some kind of sponsorship by a respected member or members of the tribe and some kind ordeal or other test of the applicant’s worthiness.

Some primitive tribes form around the basis of a certain ideal or belief that all members of the tribe share. A lot of early tribes started out as just disaffected people working together for survival, but many modern tribes are “social experiments” of a sort by some people to borrow from the traditions and beliefs of primitive peoples around the world and apply those traditions to live in the concrete wilderness. Tribes like the Yanamamos, the Dreamwalkers and the Rainbow Serpents borrow from the myths and beliefs of other native peoples to create their tribes. Some tribes even take on the names of other people that they emulate.

Some of the more common beliefs adopted by primitives include those of the Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, South American Indians, African tribal traditions (even fairly modern ones like Voodoo), ancient Celtic traditions and dozens more.

The Urban Jungle

The home environment of most primitives in the 21st century is not the depths of the rain forest but the heart of the concrete jungle, the modern city-sprawl.

The primitives have a unique view of their home. Rather than look at the city as “civilization” as most people do, they consider cities to be as wild and savage a place as any wilderness, where each day is a struggle for survival. They think that the modern belief in things like unseen laws and protectors and trust in others to provide for one’s needs are foolish. Primitives obey only the laws of their tribe and the “law of the jungle” which is survival of the fittest and they rely only on each other for survival, not outsiders.

Primitive tribes usually live in the most forsaken parts of the inner cities, places that have been abandoned by “civilized” peoples and given over to anarchy and the rule of the tribes. These areas are not maintained by the city governments and are only barely kept in check by law-enforcement. For the most part they are contained and left alone, which is just how the primitives (and other inhabitants) prefer it.

The primitives know the secrets of surviving in the city without resorting to modern technology. They scavenge and hunt for food, water and common necessities in all of the abandoned and out of the way areas. They know better than any how to live off of the cast-offs of the society in whose shadow they dwell, scavenging off of dumpsters, trash-heaps and junkyards as well as raiding and pillaging when necessary. Some tribes have made amazing progress in gathering and even raising food in the depths of the city, but hunger and starvation is always a prime consideration. Finding enough food to sustain the tribe can be difficult. Some tribes have even gone over to cannibalism to sustain themselves, preying on other street castoffs and unfortunates who happen to wander through their turf.

A tribe will usually mark out an area of turf as their own, much as a gang does. They will post signs to make clear what they claim and to tell others to keep away from it. If these signs are often unreadable to outsiders who don’t know they’re trespassing, too bad. They shouldn’t wander away from home if they were looking to play it safe.

Some tribes come into conflict with each other over ideology, but usually conflicts are more physical, revolving around things like food, territory and population. Sometimes a smaller tribe will be conquered and absorbed into another, usually through intermarriage and co-habitation but sometimes through slavery or even cannibalism.


Despite the fact that the rest of the world considers them to be savages, Primitives are a people of custom and tradition, even if those traditions were lifted wholesale from another culture thousands of miles away. Their traditions and laws are what allows the tribes to function as well as they do and tribe members take their customs and taboos very seriously, no matter how strange they may seem to outsiders.

Some primitive laws are simply beliefs or superstitions borrowed from other cultures or evolved from urban mythology (like the Alligator Babies tribe, that supposedly worships the albino mutant alligators living in the city sewers). Other customs and laws are strongly based in reality, even if that reality is not immediately apparent. For example, some of the primitive tribes have taboos against cannibalism, not because they find it morally wrong, but because the bodies of the people that the tribes are able to prey upon in the inner cities are often drug and disease-ridden and dangerous to consume.

In tribal law, the survival of the tribe comes before that of the individual, and the laws and customs are designed to preserve the good of the tribe. The greatest crime is to do something that threatens the survival of the whole tribe, such as destroying a source of water or food. Outsiders may or may not have any rights at all according to tribal law. Usually they are accorded some respect based on how they have acted towards the tribe. Most tribes prefer not to make enemies of strangers right away, although they may threaten or warn them off the tribe’s territory. Anyone who appears to be a threat to the tribe or its people will be marked as an enemy and accorded no mercy.

The primitives are characterized by a marked distrust of modern technology and “conveniences” and virtually all abstain from using them. They prefer “natural” (to their mind “normal”) means of doing tasks and handling problems. They tend to use primitive weapons like knives, swords, spears and bows, often to devastating effect. Many primitives are equally capable with modern and ancient weaponry and anyone who scoffs at a bunch of savages wielding spears and swords against a good gun or rocket-launcher has never had to fight primitives on their own turf, where they can wage devastatingly effective guerrilla wars. They generally shun modern technology and “conveniences,” but have been known to scavenge for junk parts and equipment that they patch together and either use of sell for a small profit. Only a tribe’s shaman has any real understanding of modern technology.

Primitives also follow many tribal rituals such as ceremonies of birth, death, the hunt and war, usually adapted from ancient cultures but numerous modern variations have developed. Many tribes also have various customs and rituals to distinguish themselves from other tribes and groups. This includes manners of speech, dress and appearance. A popular custom among many tribes is ritual tattooing, scarification and body piercing, often very involved and elaborate. Various body decorations are associated with different achievements and rituals within each tribe and may indicate the position and rank or the wearer in their tribe. Tribal body markings often get imitated by young people going for a primitive “look” and by gangs as well.


Another tradition that the primitives have resurrected is that of shamanism, updated for the 21st century. Ancient shamans were members of the tribe who had special communication with the spirit world, and used that status to heal, guide and protect the members of their tribe. Modern tribal shamans are usually men and women wise in the ways of the city and the ins and outs of the tribes traditions. They know how to use resources at hand to provide medicine, education and protection for the tribe.

Shamans also function as intermediaries of a sort as well. Not between the people and the spirit world (that is a minor part of the modern shaman’s role) but between the tribe and the modern world. Shamans have the duty of maintaining contact with the world outside of the tribe, because many tribes have learned the hard way that the outside world cannot be totally shut out, no matter how much they might wish to. Some shamans look on their duty to keep up to date on the world outside as distasteful while others relish their special position “between the worlds.”

This role means that the shaman is called upon to interpret information and events for the tribe when necessary. They read the signs and omens from the public broadcasts and give this information to the tribe’s leaders when necessary. They also often serve as the “technicians” of their tribe, maintaining and making use of what little technology the tribe might have. While other members of the tribe avoid using modern technology, most primitive shamans will have a cache of modern tech that has been kit-bashed together for their own use. This usually includes medical and communications technology (especially old televisions and radios) and possibly a computer along with a small generator or two to keep it all running. Weapons are rarer, but some shamans will have a small collection of small arms that can be used in times of need. They use this technology to help the tribe and consider the keeping of it a sacred trust. To the other members of the tribe, their use of technology makes shamans strange and mystical figures who deal with alien things that normal and proper people should stay away from.

Some shamans are little more than showy charlatans, but most are honest people with their tribe’s welfare in mind. A rare few shamans (like other primitives) are boosted vets of one sort or another who are looking to leave civilization behind, but can use their knowledge of it to the tribe’s advantage.

Primitive Skills

Governing Attribute: INT
Unskilled Use: Yes

This skill allows the character to survive in a hostile environment.

Scavenging: is used to find usable materials in the existing environment. It can be used to locate building materials (for the Shelter specialty), drinkable water, salvage parts, fuel and other necessities. The Difficulty of a Scavenging Challenge is based on how scarce the GM feels the desired material is in the area. It may be impossible to locate certain materials in certain situations (machine parts in the desert, for example).

Hunting: is the skill or tracking and killing or trapping animals for food. A character with the Hunting specialty can use it to secure game animals for food by spending at least three hours on the hunt. The Difficulty of the Hunting Challenge is based on the scarcity of game in the area. A successful Challenge nets the hunter something, even though it may not be as much as desired. The GM decides what game is available for hunting and may run a full combat to secure the game or simply assume a successful Hunting Challenge is enough to net the character a kill.

Shelter: This Specialty allows the character to find appropriate shelter from the elements in an environment. It may be shade in a desert or protection from the cold in winter. The Difficulty of the Challenge is based on the harshness of the environment and the availability of shelter according to the GM: Average from finding a warm place to sleep in the inner city, Impressive or even Phenomenal for finding shade in an open desert.

A Tribal Study: The Yanamamos

The Yanamamos are one of the better-known tribes of the Los Angeles area. They are modeled after a tribe of primitives from the Amazon rain forest of South America and take much of their culture and traditions from their information on this tribe. Ironically, with the exception of the tribe’s founder Alan Pinchot, none of the members of the Yanamamos have ever even been to South America, much less met a member of their namesake tribe.

The Yanamamos are a very low-tech primitive tribe. They will use modern metal weapons (since traditional weaponry is very difficult to produce with existing materials) but only rarely will they make use of modern firearms or other such weapons. The Yanamamos’ usual weapons are knives, spears and bows. They concoct very effective toxins for their arrowheads using the various common materials available to them, a trick that many members of the Underground have sought them out to learn. These poisons usually cause paralysis and even death when used in sufficient amounts.

Initiation into the tribe involves a series of trials to prove that the supplicant is both worthy of the honor of the tribe and capable of surviving in the urban wilderness and contributing to the welfare of the rest of the Yanamamos. These trials include tests of survival skills and determination as well as a vision quest initiation where the applicant is dosed with a powerful hallucinogenic and left to fend for themselves from a night in the depths of the tribe’s territory. Many applicants end up dead or crazed because of this trial and many of the members of the tribe often seem a bit deranged because of it. The tribe believes that their initiation allows the supplicant to leave their “civilized” nature behind and find within themselves the primitive instincts that will allow them to survive.

The life of the tribe consists primarily of the struggle to survive: maintaining food supplies, hunting and protecting the tribe against enemies. The men of the tribe generally work as hunters and warriors while women care for food, home and children. The tribe has been known to abduct women during their “wars” with other tribes and gangs and take them as prizes to increase the population of the tribe and ensure healthy future generations of children. Some of these “captive wives” adapt to their life with the tribe, but other try to escape and will be killed if they refuse the Yanamamos’ “hospitality.” The famous tabloid best-seller written by Julie Ashmont describes her months of being a “primitive war bride,” pregnant with Yanamamo warrior’s child, before she was able to escape the tribe in a harrowing adventure.