Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Encounters with Drovers

From The Drovers' Roads of Wales, by Godwin & Toulson, 1977:

"Long before the American cowboys launched a thousand legends, or the Australian over-landers doggedly took their cattle across a continent, the Welsh were driving their little black runts for hundreds of miles, over the mountains and into the eastern parts of England.

"From the time of the Norman conquest to the middle of the last century, any traveller in Wales might find his way blocked by hundreds of cattle, large herds of sheep, pigs and flocks of geese. From the eighteenth century, turkeys were added to the stream of beasts on their way east to the rich men's markets.

"The traveller would not come on the droves unexpectedly. If he was within a couple of miles of a farm, he would hear them long before he saw them. It was a noisy cavalcade and deliberately so. The drovers, walking or riding at the side of the cattle, would give warning of their coming with yells of 'Heiptro Ho!' When the farmers of the neighbourhood heard that shout, they rushed to pen up their cattle, to prevent any unsold beasts from joining the drove to the east.

"The memory of the noise the drovers made lived long. It was an Englishman from Surrey who told the historian Caroline Skeel what it was like. She recorded his words in 1926.

"A great feature of the droves was the noise they made. It was heard for miles and warned local farmers what to expect. The noise consisted of the shouting of the drovers combined, I suppose, with a certain amount of noise from the cattle. But it was the men's voices that chiefly attracted attention. It was something out of the common, neither shouting, calling, crying, singing, halloing or anything else, but a noise of itself, apparently made to carry and capable of arresting the countryside. The horsemen and two of the cattle acted as leaders to the rest, and the men kept calling and shouting the whole time. As soon as the local farmers heard the noise they rushed their cattle out of the way, for if once they got into the drove, they could not easily be got out again.

"These strange shouts and cries were probably among the earliest noises that man made. Students of dialect believe that words and sounds which have undergone the least change throughout the centuries are those which have been used in relation to domestic animals. These are the working noises of primitive man, handed down from generation to generation.

"When the drovers eventually came into sight, those travelling in the opposite direction were confronted by an imposing procession; and as the slow-moving stream of animals and their attendant drovers, mostly mounted on sturdy Welsh ponies, could stretch for half a mile, they often had to wait twenty minutes or more for it to pass by."

An idea for your random encounter table, free of charge.

Some others: what creatures would halflings, giants, goblins, orcs, centaurs, etc., drove? And where would they be droving them?


  1. Don Quijote for his part had several encounters with drovers, muleteers, and Yanguesan carriers.

  2. Halflings: Big friggin' rats. Or mice if you like halflings.
    Giants: brontosauruses or something brontosaurussy-like.
    Goblins: Stag beetles. Nuff said.
    orcs: I'm tempted to say Uinthatheriums or similar weird ass prehistoric mammal. Or: other, quadrupedal orcs.
    centaurs: eachother? Maybe they're accomplished slavers?

    As to where, that's for the next poster to come up with. This was fun!

    1. Love all those ideas. Hill giants herding brontosauruses... now there's a random encounter a 1st level party would enjoy... ;)

    2. For extra spice maybe have the Giants mark their cattle with engraved and bejeweled bronze rings ound their necks. See how your Pcs get their grimy hands on those!

  3. This does not inspire me to add such an element to my fantasy campaigns so much as generating in me a desire to add a touch of the mysterious and fantastic to a game in which the players are Welsh Drovers.

    Who these people were and how they lived seems more interesting than giving away sonething that made them distinctive to Human in funny make-up. What would these people do, how would they react, if the road was block by a giant of local folkore or their night camp intruded upon by the good neighbors or a devil in disguise?

  4. I've suddenly remembered this TV show from ages ago: https://www.amazon.com/Drovers-Gold/dp/B07C1FVZ3K

  5. An entertaining read at the least, a good encounter probably, and perhaps a cool campaign... good stuff!