“MY LIFE FOR THE HORDE”
-War Cry of the Horde on Azeroth
From the east, they are said to come to a vast horde of unrelenting ferocity and savage hunger. They move like a great wave out of their far homeland and conquer the “Civilized” lands like a plague. An evil horde is often composed of barbarous humans much like the Vikings and or the Mongols. Or for those seeking an inhuman enemy Orks or other monstrous beings often take the place of whatever is needed to spread the coming evil. They do not truly conquer lands, instead, they pillage, rape and plunder all they can take. Cities disappear and last, stands are all the rage when Civilization finally gets its act together.
In writing, the evil Horde symbolizes our fear of the unknown and the invader. Every major civilization has one from the Vikings and Mongols in Europe (to the Mongols all over Asia). China and Japan have a repeated history of a dislike of Barbarians. The Word Barbarian itself is a Greek root applied to the “non-greeks” savages who skirmished with the ancient city states.
Why even have Hordes?
Hordes are a means for writers and game creators to make up vast armies of mooks or expendable adversaries. It feeds on the age old “us versus them” mentality or simply good or xenophobia. If you make the enemies a big large ugly bunch why care much about if your hero kills them by the hundreds? The Invading Empire represents an upgrade in the organization of the Horde. With all the Xenophobic tendencies in our pasts, it’s not hard to make up a bunch of bad guys who simply don’t belong and want to destroy everything we or the main characters represent.
But Evil Hordes are just about xenophobia, they also represent forces of nature. The White Walkers and their Wights in Game of Thrones are undying hordes seeking to cleanse all life. At times when we fight amongst ourselves tossing a truly alien enemy is a great way to strike fear or challenge your audience. One of the greatest evil hordes, the Zombie plague, removes our sense of self and leaves walking corpses. The Borg of Star Trek converts all who stand in their way into themselves leaving none to resist.
Hordes are about big threatening changes and are the best way to set the stage for epic confrontations or last ditch efforts at survival.
Designing the Horde
Before you even start imagining what your “Horde” can do you want to remember where Hordes come from. Barbarians derive from divisive ideas such as the Chu-Han Contention of China which had long standing racial and cultural consequences for people. “You are not us, you are not human or good” is the core of what an “EVIL HORDE” is derived from. So when you make up the horde you want to be careful to not just recreate a stereotypical eastern invading army. A Horde doesn’t necessarily need to be evil, it can just be a nomadic society being pressured by a greater threat to flee. The Wildings in Westeros and the German Tribes of during the Iron Age both migrated because of external pressures.
A Horde could also represent a group being rejected by “civilized society” and simply invade to end the “snobbish” attitudes of the south (this occurred once or twice in Chinese History). A Horde can also be simply an evil plague that sweeps up and gathers its victims into a zombie onslaught. Or it can be an alien intelligence who is attacking because of a simple or massive disagreement with the settled peoples.
What drives the Horde?
Already we have mentioned a few reasons for why the Hordes is on the move. Perhaps they have lost their home to another invading force or to the natural disaster. The Canim in Alera fled an evil alien horde and took the lands of Alera for simple survival. The Borge do it out of bettering or “perfecting” themselves and as a means of procreation. The Mongols on the otherhand invaded for the taking of plunder and land. The Vikings did the same and went reaving because of internal pressures of population (and much more).
A Horde doesn’t need complicated reasons to exist or do what it does. It does, however, need a solid reason. Being the evil spawn of the evil god is fun, but there are a lot of ways to make that stand out aboe the rest. Zombie plauges simply exist to infect and reproduce. A god of plague could gain power from death or from the suffering of others. Another consideration is making your horde only a parcel or a part of a greater civilization. They could be the cast offs who couldn’t afford land. Their reason for pillaging is the fact no one will accept them. This then flips the story of the Horde into something tragic and thoughtful while leading a path for possible redemption.
No matter what or who the Horde is, its pretty a given in fantasy and at times, sience fiction writing. How it is portrayed and used is what defines a Horde for an audience to either love or utterly desplise it till the bitter end.