Mutants are a hardy and durable folk who live off the ruined landscape. Prepubescent Mutants are scrawny and spry, allowing them to to avoid natural predators. During adolescence, they gain a phenomenal amount of muscle mass, which they retain until they become elderly. Their skin color is probably the most varied in the Wastelands, but browns, deep reds, and dark greens are the most common. Genetic defects and differences are common, but embraced. Once in a blue moon, some "defects" are really enhancements, granting special abilities such as improved vision, stronger bones, tougher skin, or even a fully functional extra limb. Mutants have an excellent metabolism, are always lean, and have a voracious appetite; with that in mind, they spend a lot of time hunting game and cultivating the few edible plants that grow in the Wastelands. Most Mutants live for about sixty seasons, and those who live longer become elders. There are a few elders who've lived as many as one hundred thirty cycles. Mutants' intelligence ranges from basic to advanced, but because Mutants speak in a form of pidgin common, most non-mutants assume they are far less intelligent than they are.
It is not known when Mutants first appeared, but it is known that Mutants have been keeping a spoken record of their history since the Age of Fire. Because there is no written or pictorial record of their upbringings, and since a lot of the stories seem far-fetched, many points of their history are disputed by most non-Mutant cultures. However, if you travel to distant Mutant tribes and ask about their history, the separate stories will be surprisingly similar.
The history of Mutants is of a spiritual nature, revolving around the deeds of the King of Fire. And so his story goes...
In Ages past, darkness was still upon the world and all was strife and turmoil. But the blackened skies would sometimes part, and the King of Fire would look down upon the world. And he saw that the world was fraught with chaos, that the Humans and the Mutants were uncivilized and barbaric, that they waged unending wars and performed the most ghastly abominations upon each other. Enraged, the King of Fire rose up from his throne on the Sun. Those that saw it through the darkness say the night sky lit up as bright as day.
The people were still not afraid, for what power could the King of Fire wield when he dwelled so far away? But soon the work of the King of Fire became clear: he had cast his crown down upon our world. For the next three days and nights, everyone beheld its approach. When it arrived, the the darkness of the sky was cast aside and lit ablaze, and noon was never ending. Plants and trees bowed before his glorious might. The rivers and lakes saw his divinity and flew away to be with him. The oceans stepped back to make way for him. The mountains themselves threw fire into the sky to pay homage to him. And his crown did burn the world for six days.
Before the King of Fire called for his crown to return, he spoke into the hearts and minds of all creatures big and small. And he told them: "Prove your worth. Only the fearless and strong in heart may join me in the afterlife. The weak and the craven shall forever be forgotten, like the dust of the old world. Those who live shall inherit the new world."
It was one month before the sky became clear again. The air was scalding hot, the remaining waters were poisonous, and the creatures were strong and savage. Those who wanted to live would scorch their lungs with every breath, would drink the stinging water, and would fight the fearsome beasts of the world without blinking an eye. To bask in the burning sun is to not be afraid to be seen by the King of Fire. This is to be a true Tribal Mutant. All who failed these challenges from the King of Fire, we do not mention their names, as they are the forgotten.
Mutants are generally hunter/gatherers who are not always welcoming to those of other races, or possibly even of other Mutant tribes. They tend to have strong social cohesion, and may arguably be more "civilized" than some other sapient species. Social hierarchy is often based on the honorable or heroic deeds of an individual. One way they "show rank" is to wear a trophy of a defeated opponent. For instance, some tribal leaders carry around a battle standard composed of sandworm tusks. More savage tribes might wear a belt of fingers collected from their opponents, and so on. Other tribes may determine social roles and ranks through a series of trials. Tribes may have a Witch or Shaman as a spiritual guide or leader. Many Mutant tribes have greater respect for older Mutants: their long survival implies increased strength and intelligence. Many Mutants also place high value on storytelling: this oral tradition helps them to preserve their history and helps them perpetuate information through future generations.
Mutant culture is not completely uniform: different tribes may have different languages, stories, spirits, music, arts, foodways, and other cultural traditions. But all known groups divide themselves into two main social categories: Tribal Mutants and Exiled Mutants.
Tribal Mutants are the oldest and most populous branch of the Mutant species in The Wastelands. Most tribes believe in many spirits, but a foremost one is a great spirit called the King of Fire: a mythological figure who burned away the weak and the unworthy from the world, allowing only the strong in heart, mind, and spirit to survive. This spirit may purge the world again, if it deems it necessary.
This belief is so fundamental to all Tribal Mutant culture that refusal to believe in it is grounds for complete exile.
Much of Tribal Mutant social culture is based on the beliefs and stories of the King of Fire. For instance, Tribal Mutants tend to prefer the "old ways" of doing things. They prefer to craft their armor, weapons, and tools from things that reside above the ground, taking pride in their ability to live off what the land provides. This is also derived from the belief that anything under the ground is cowardly, hiding from the Fire King's judgment, and not worthy of the Fire King's grace. Because of this, Tribal Mutants do not dig, nor do they bury their dead. Most funerals have the bodies burned, and the ashes of the fallen are made into a soup that the Tribals consume. It is in this way that the heroes and spirits of the fallen remain with the tribe forever.
Many Tribal Mutants also believe in the Big Cycle: a wheel of birth, death, and rebirth which many attribute to a spirit called All-Mother Sand. Some tribes, however, may believe that certain actions are so profoundly harmful to their culture that the Mutant's spirit is beyond redemption and is ineligible to be reborn after death. This would ultimately lead to fewer births and a weakening of the tribe. The nature of those immoral actions may differ from tribe to tribe.
All Tribals, returning Exiles, and the very rare non-Mutant initiate must pass the Trial of Endurance. The Trial of Endurance consists of six days' meditation in the sun without food or water, during which time they must construct a weapon, use it to kill a beast, and bring that fresh kill back to the tribe for celebration on the seventh day. Initiates are sent out with nothing but a scrap of cloth. Trackers from the tribe monitor the initiate from afar and do not interfere, even if the initiate dies. Many non-Mutants who take this trial do not survive; those that do are barely alive at the end. Failure in any part of this challenge is grounds for exile.
Those who denounce the stories of the elders as falsehoods are exiled and sent on a "Truth Seeking" geas. Whether they return or not is up the the individual. The few who return must pass the Trial of Endurance again in order to be accepted as a Tribal once more.
Tribal Mutants may become Exiles either by personal choice (by renouncing their beliefs in the King of Fire, or otherwise abandoning the Old Ways,) or by misadventure (by failing the Trial of Endurance.)
Those who renounce the Old Ways and don't return from their Truth Seeking, or who return only to fail the Trial of Endurance that would re-initiate them, are exiled by their tribes. They must live away from the tribe and receive no help from them, though the degree of shunning may vary from tribe to tribe.
These Exiled Mutants may try to survive on their own, may form clans with other Exiles, or may try to integrate themselves in other, non-Mutant settlements. They may indicate their rejection of traditional Mutant culture by adopting elements of other cultures: they may speak and dress more like Humans of the area, for example. Exiles may live underground, may use more scavenged Old World goods, and may violate other taboos of their tribe. This can include violating taboos against harming others: bands of Mutant raiders may present a threat even to other Mutants.
Not all Exiles reject the culture that rejected them. Exiles who failed the Trial of Endurance may keep their beliefs in the King of Fire, and may still practice the Old Ways. If they join a primarily non-Mutant settlement with a different belief system, this may lead to culture clashes.
Mutants live a pretty simple life. They are very content living out in the open, but most live far away from popular settlements. Mutants command a good amount of trade, as they are the only ones brazen enough to take down many of the creatures that roam the Wastes. Their long-shared stories may relay information that helps one understand and survive various aspects of the world. In many respects, Mutants have many things you can only get from them.
Tribals tend to be a bit introverted and xenophobic, but respect all living things, even if their belief systems aren't quite compatible.
Exiles, depending on their circumstances, may be more independent and more confrontational, or they may be more open-minded and conciliatory.