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We are in a medieval fantasy world. There is a folk where, sometimes, a berserker is born. They are quite rare (maybe 2-5%) and there is no difference between a normal man and a berserker before he turns berserk.

I call berserker a man (or a woman) who will become some kind of a beast during a battle, and sometimes outside the battle. Anger and hate push the berserker thing, but the more the berserker uses its power, the more it occurs without consent. In this state, he can kill dozens of men, both friends and ennemies, before calming down and waking up exhausted.

During this time, he's invulnerable (no fear, very quick, very strong, can't feel pain, possibly can't be hurt at all - it's a magical power, not just a kind of madness)

There is nothing able to calm him down, just time (variable time). The end of battle often ends the berserker crisis, but not always.

It's a warrior folk. They often have fights with an army vs another army for territorial issues. They are quite civilised, and they don't want to kill outside war if it's not an absolute necessity.

Berserkers are very good at fighting, but very dangerous. One of them can defeat a big group of ennemy soldiers alone.

But unfortunately, if you steal his breakfast, your lifelong friend Mike could just kill you, and your friends, and your dog, and the village chief, and the old Martha passing by. Then calm down and cry.

What's the best way to deal with berserkers ?

How would a medieval/fantasy society will likely deal with them ? (That might be a different answer.)

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    $\begingroup$ A society where 2-5% of the populous may randomly decide to kill everyone in sight would not consider it a "quite rare" thing. For perspective, assuming every murder is accomplished by a unique individual (no one kills twice), the US has about a 0.001% rate of murderers being born. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 30 '15 at 0:49
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    $\begingroup$ This question is, essentially, "How do you deal with Bruce Banner?" :) $\endgroup$ – apnorton Aug 30 '15 at 2:47
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    $\begingroup$ Dwarf fortress has a straightforward solution: if he commits crimes while berserk, you drag the dwarf to jail, chain him up, hit him with a hammer a few times, then release him (or bury him, depending on how heavy the hammer was). $\endgroup$ – user2781 Aug 30 '15 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ Bruce Banner and the Hulk are inspired by old berserker legends, I guess. I take a step forward and don't wan't to deal with the hulk. They do not turn green and they can't jump over buildings... For the "quite rare" i meant it's not everybody, but you can't avoid them. I was thinking about a civilisation with small villages, and there is always at least one or two of them. I like the dwarf solution, but i'm not sure it will solve the problem haha ! $\endgroup$ – Tyrabel Aug 30 '15 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ Everything you didn't want to know about real Berserkers $\endgroup$ – RedGrittyBrick Aug 30 '15 at 17:06
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You clearly can't just let berserkers run loose, because, as you noted, there would be severe violent outbreaks. You therefore have two options: Control the power or get rid of it.

Option 1: Kill them

I'll talk about the latter option first, because it is less savory and is not the best option. The only way to guarantee that a berserker will not go berserk is to kill him or her. The process is simple:

  1. Identify a berserker, hopefully at a young age. You'll need some kind of a test to do this - perhaps leave some weapons near a toddler and see what happens.
  2. If repeated tests clearly show that the child is a berserker, then he or she must be euthanized (to put it gently). Some sort of poison is the best way to go, preferably a painless one.

A similar option is to simply lock away all the berserkers, preferably somewhere with thick walls between them and most of the rest of the population.

Option 2: Control them

The first option is, quite frankly, horrifying. I only talked about it because it is the elephant in the room, and it must be acknowledged. The other option - imprisonment - is better, but, given the capabilities of medieval prisons, it is still cruel. So, controlling the berserkers is a better choice. It also allows their powers to be exploited.

What are berserkers good for? Battle, clearly. They also have massive amounts of energy, but harnessing that is going to be difficult. Let's focus on warfare for now.

Here's the equipment you need to control a berserker:

  • ~Six strong soldiers
  • Two thick but lightweight chains per soldier
  • Armor plates all over the berserker that are attached to at least one chain, but are firmly attached to the berserker

In battle, have the berserker attack with the six soldiers in tow. They might be able to control where he or she goes, and, therefore, how aggressive he or she is. The enemy will not want to kill or harm them, because without these "handlers", they're toast.

So, the wartime solution is six blokes with chains, basically.

Hopefully, this land will not always be at war, although you do say that it is common. Therefore, you need some way to keep the berserker safe a peaceful while he or she leads a normal life. I suggest that the armor/chains plan be used, while the berserker does grunt labor. Horses are sometimes used to walk in circles while attached to machines, thereby grinding meal or other things. Shackle a berserker to one of these machines. When he or she is not berserk, then he or she can simply keep walking along, doing work. While berserk, the berserker can harness the energy to continue to do this work, simply at a quicker pace.

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  • $\begingroup$ What keeps the berserker from turning on its handlers? $\endgroup$ – Bobson Aug 30 '15 at 5:14
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    $\begingroup$ The other handlers ? $\endgroup$ – Tyrabel Aug 30 '15 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Bobson Exactly what Tyrabel said. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 30 '15 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Tyrabel Yes, that's it. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 30 '15 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure you have the best or most realistic solution HDE, but as a writer I really like the look of this one during a battle. Thanks for editing my spelling, too :) $\endgroup$ – Tyrabel Aug 30 '15 at 15:00
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Society actually deals with individuals like this all the time, although instead of them being invincible, they are merely mostly invincible (gunshots still kill). Berzerkers would be dealt with the same way we deal with these individuals in our society.

A berzerker (or potential candidate berzerker) is simply bound such that they can never get into a position to do un-repairable damage. They have physical limits (such as they cannot teleport directly into the king's chambers), so society will simply make sure they never get an opportunity to get close enough to do harm.

As a result, berzerkers will be an outcast caste. They will never be allowed to marry. They will never be allowed to be near children. They will have two clear choices: a life alone as a hermit, or a life in the military in the barracks. The barracks will be carefully designed to ensure that anyone who goes berserk cannot do lasting damage. At most, they may damage each other. Such fratricide would be valued the way we value ammunition in warfare. The only use for someone who may turn into a killer at a moment is to send them to kill or die on the front lines. Thus, they are a statistically replaceable good.

In order to make this less cut and dry, you may consider weakening them during the berzerk phase. An unpredictable bout of invincibility with nothing that can stop it generally creates lumps in the story. Generally speaking we do not find "invincible" things in nature or society, merely things that are stronger than us.

My advice would be to allow a peaceful individual (such as a priest or a monk) to attempt to pacify their rage. This gives a small weakness, and that small weakness gives you vast freedom to better incorporate bersekers into society instead of casting them out. The most recently famous example of this is the Hulk from Avengers. Black Widow, if she retains an inner calm, can convince him to return from his madness. You could also do this in groups: A berserker which kills too many people in a town may be pacified by the eyes of onlookers, showing disdain for what the berseker has created. This also suggests that a highly aware king may be able to stop a berseker with nothing but his own sheer will... and a aware but evil king may abuse this.

It also leads to the hope that, one day, a berserker may achieve enough inner calm to keep himself from going berserk. Perhaps this never occurs, but the dream of being cured may be a powerful motivating force for a 'zerker.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 for those last few paragraphs. Great storytelling potential. $\endgroup$ – AngelPray Oct 18 '18 at 18:27
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First question to answer, in my opinion, is : will berserkers deal with themselves ?

If you can just go berserker at any time and kill you loved one, you will be likely to constrain yourself (for example by living as an hermit) ; or if you do kill your whole family and friends (possibly several times), you are likely to commit suicide at some point.

In this case, you do not have to fear berserkers that much, they will try not to harm anyone. The problem would be to use them in combat : they are most likely to refuse to turn berserker if they can avoid, since the more they use their power, the more likely their are to turn berserker against their will.

So berserker in this scenario will be sort of peacefull hermits keeping themselves away from violence and society, because they do not want to risk killing innocent people.

(this scenario somehow ring a bell in my memory, but I can not find any reference of such people retiring from society not to harm anyone)

Of course there is another scenario possible :

Berseker is considered by the society to be a very honorable state, or at least to be normal.

You can draw a parallel with running amok : turning 'berseker' and killing people is seen somehow as a natural disaster and afterwards you do not consider the berserker accountable for his fury.

In this case, you can use berserker in combat, at will. They will just, sometimes, kill random people, but the whole society consider this killing to be normal and just accept it.

It is not quite in constradiction with your statement : 'They are quite civilised, and they don't want to kill outside war if it's not an absolute necessity.' since nobody choose to kill innocent people, it just happend. And (in the mind of the majority) there was nothing you should or could have done to prevent it. Everything just is as usuall.

It can seem to be a very crude way to deal with the death of your people, but if you analyse the opinion toward death in medieval europe (for exemple), death was part of the everyday life. You just go for a chivalry tournament and be killed during it (it killed so many people in fact that the church try to interdict such tournament but failed).

In this last case, you do not deal with berserker, they sometimes kill people, and you just accept it.

Note : 2% of the population being berserkers is huge in my mind, it means 1 person out of 50 people is a berserkers, in other words, everybody know at least 2 berserkers.

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Treat them like they are human till they aren't

Since it's not possible to know who will go berserk until they do, teaching everyone about berserkerism will help.

Dealing with berserkers will depend on how much that culture values violence and warfare. If this is a Viking like culture with a huge emphasis on warfare and combat then being a berserker will be a mark of honor and distinction. If the culture has a strong attitude towards domestic abuse then berserkers may not be permitted to marry or the wife is allowed a divorce is she doesn't want to risk getting killed if she burns dinner.

Wartime: Tactical deployment

A wise commander isn't going to sprinkle berserkers in among his regular troops. The friendly fire losses are just too high. Instead, make them their own little unit that gets sent into the thickest part of the battle. They can't hurt each other so it's "safe" for them to be around each other.

What I don't know is what will happen when opposing berserker squads are matched up with each other. Will the two groups merge and spiral out of control or will they expend all their energy fighting each other?

Peace time: Train them

If berserkers are an old feature of this culture, not something new this generation, build in a strong cultural pressure on berserkers that even though they may lose control, they should live as honorably as possible so that when they die, they may be sung about and remembered as great men/women instead of bloodthirsty killing machines. This will help make it easier later when they have to be euthanized for everyone else's safety.

Peace time: Sequester them

Once someone becomes berserk, they have to go live with other berserkers farther away from town so if one of them goes nuts, they will be around those who understand and are best able to counter an episode.

Peace time: Drug them

Find the local equivalent to cannabis and make it culturally expected to smoke it frequently. This keeps the general population placated but also cuts down the risk of a berserker going nuts on his friends/wife/children. If you can't get angry, you can't go berserk.

Peace time: Kill them

Unfortunately, as being a berserker is a progressive "illness", eventually they will become so destructive that they cannot be constrained or controlled. In that case, there is no choice but to kill them. Make these an honorable death with large funerals at their passing. Execute them by severing their spinal cord at the base of the skull. I'm not sure if this should be done in public or in private.

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Well in a warrior like culture, they would be a very useful asset. since we're talking about medieval times, they would more than likely be part of the king or Lords retinue. a king or Lord would have enough resources to be able to maintain and keep such an individual in check.

Between keeping them in a relatively chained state less so like a beast of burden but with enough implements on them so they can be restrained if need be. Such attachments could be placed upon their armor or whatever they wear. Also more than likely you can keep them docile with alcohol or some other beverage of course in some rare instances you may end up with a drunken Berserker, when it becomes more powerful when drunk.

Properly cared for and maintained in a manner that doesn't cause buildings within the king or Lords realm to randomly be destroyed by a rampaging beserker, I don't really see much of a problem with them.

the retainers could hold the weapons for the berserkers, perhaps a team of them equipped with a wagon or some method to carry them around that would also provide them protection. they could very easily stand up on their wagon or cart making use of crossbows or other such ranged weaponry. I would assume that anything with a melee weapons will have to get through the Berserker first, so melee isn't the retainers primary concern. this combined approach could allow for small teams with a berserker to be a formidable force, roaming the countryside and keeping the peace.

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The best way is to incite their curiosity towards mythology. They also need to have a point of contact to be enraged towards their weak points and their ignorance.

When they enraged they become crystal clear that they act actually on their whimsicality rather than reason. Give them a patch of earth to feel that they are rulers. In their dream land they censor, flog, kill in their imagination until they settle by many imaginative activities.

That makes them more curious towards higher education. When educated they become humble rather than outrageous and inflamed.

They will have a known contact point for rational discussions and become civilised citizens of their community.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your solution suppose they have a pretty good control on themselves and their gift/curse. I don't see them as crazy beasts, but normal humans that can't sometimes contain a kind of rage flooding in them. Of course, higher education and a more rational way of thinking can improve their self-control, but even the most peaceful and educated person can be pissed off. (And a warrior folk should try to use their fighting advantages) $\endgroup$ – Tyrabel Aug 31 '15 at 10:26

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