A couple weeks ago, I was reflecting on the role of the peasantry in fiction. This is in the context of having just watched a couple of Scandinavian films, I suppose. In The Salvation, a Dane in America’s wild west finds himself up against a ruthless gang lead by Negan. Really.
I don’t want to get spoiler heavy, but you’ve got two types of villagers here. The sniveling coward appeasers, who refuse to stand up to the lawless cowboys, and the real common men. I think this is a common motif in Western stories. Sometimes it takes a leader to marshal the townfolk into fighting back against the bad guys. The protagonist and his brother were once soldiers, so we are told, so I suppose they don’t count as “peasants” in this musing.
The other film I watched, The Last King, tells the story of a Norse king who is assassinated so that those close to him can seize the throne. It is soon discovered that he had an illegitimate son – an infant who is being protected and hidden away by babe’s mother and some men loyal to the king.
Ultimately, a showdown between the usurpers and those truly loyal to the rightful king becomes inevitable. The two soldiers guarding the royal baby wind up marshaling a gang of farmers to arms.
Though they know the odds are stacked against them, the Dane peasants ski in YOLO -style to kick some ass.
This is what got me thinking. I’m going to make a big generalization here – different cultures have wildly different perceptions and portrayals of their villagers. Specifically I was thinking of most of the Japanese films I’ve seen.
Part of this, I’m sure, if explained by the histories of the different countries we’re talking about. In feudal Japan, peasants would have maybe had pitchforks and other farming implements. They were forbidden to own swords for a good chunk of time. And I guess the strict class structure of Japan would have been another strike against badass fighting peasants.
I don’t really have any solid explanations here. Just my half-baked thoughts. Still, this is an interesting element for DMs and writers to consider. Can PCs and baddies just come waltzing into town and expect everyone to lay down for them? Or is the populace going to fight back if pushed? This could be a neat way to draw a distinction between different peoples and cultures, too.