Mirroring Real World Issues

I love the science fiction and fantasy genres for a multitude of reasons.  One of them is the way that we can mirror issues that are happening in the real world and then place them under a microscope and examine them in a way we couldn’t do so.  Who could forget TV”s first real interracial kiss     Or how Battlestar Galactica (reimagined) brought us a poignant look on the fear and paranoia we were facing after 9/11? Some of those themes are still relevant today. Fantasy in some ways has dropped the ball.  Instead we get a certain level of racism inherent to the setting.  It’s easy for us to hate orcs, because they’re orcs and it’s their nature.   There is even criticism leveled against the father of the Genre, Tolkien himself.  While these criticisms aren’t always accurate, there’s a certain inherent level of this kind of racism prevalent in most fantasy systems.  Some of my favorite modern fantasy/horror games are filled with terrible racial stereotypes and tropes that if taken at face value, are just damaging. Honestly, this doesn’t need to be a major theme of any game, or even something most storytellers bring up in the course of play.  Our games are in essence heroic stories in which we can be the hero and triumph over adversary.  Most players give no thought to the issues they face, as they’re more interested in having fun and hanging out with friends. What I do believe, is when we world build, we can examine how cultures/races view one another, and by putting in some misconceptions we can add depth and immersion for the players when they interact with them.   As much as I’d love for every NPC to be a fully realized individual with unique personality and thoughts, it’s something that takes far too much time and effort.   By establishing a baseline for that culture, we can then deviate from it to a greater or lesser extent which helps give on the spur NPC’s more depth than they might otherwise have.   Likewise NPC’s like PC’s should be flawed.  Otherwise, they’re not interesting.   Flaws make for challenges, and challenges can lead to conflict, and conflict drives story. In my current D&D setting, the Terenthian empire is a aristocratic monarchy, where the High King’s power is limited by a council of nobles.  Freeman are allowed a great many personal freedoms, including the right to travel, relocate etc.  They can even purchase limited lots of land in some counties and baronies, though this isn’t completely universal.  In a sense, it’s the quintessential Western Fantasy kingdom.   While there are some defined gender roles, overall they are not set in stone.  Likewise there is a certain degree of meritocracy, as the kingdom isn’t shy about awarding minor titles to deserving commoners. Despite the fact that the Empire contains a significant minority of non-human races, it’s rare for any of them to move beyond mayor.  Halflings make up a disproportionate number of these individuals (percentage of non-human wise) and also tend towards banking and mercantile trade where they ruthlessly compete with Dwarven traders from the deep cities.  This has led to the perception that most halflings are money grubbers and penny pinchers.  While there is some truth to that stereotype (hence a stereotype) halflings are deeply divided by wealth.  Those who have it live like princes, those who don’t, tend to be no different than their human or elven counterparts. This perception however, makes halflings less likely to receive aid from others as it’s assumed that all halflings have some coin stashed somewhere.  As a result halflings tend to be suspicious of the larger folk, and tend to form their own communities when they can.   Halflings themselves tend to view the other races with suspicion. Humans are clumsy and apt to not notice the things right beneath their own feet, and stumble around breaking everything.   Elves while certainly graceful, are pining over what was, instead of trying to pull themselves up and make something of themselves.   Despite their differences with humans, the halflings feel much more in common with them, than they do with the dwarf clans, which the halflings resent, because the dwarves impose strict tariffs on surface trade. Elves on the other hand, were once subjugated by the humans.  Much of their culture and history was destroyed or worse, adopted by their human overlords.  The majority of the elves that live in human lands do so in special enclaves where they practice the few religious rites they remember, while fewer and fewer children every generation do so, instead opting for the human’s faith instead.   There’s a certain level of fatalism among them, that they did something to deserve their fate once upon a time.  And that it’s just best to make do with their lot in life.   Alcoholism and poverty are rampant in the alienages, making them a perpetual downward spiral that most never escape.   Those few that do, tend to run to the woods to their Vailen kin who keep to the old ways.   Most elves are resentful of the privileges they see others have.  Every couple of generations a rather charismatic elf is born and will attempt to make great changes.  Humans and halflings alike are suspicious of such leaders as this has led to uprisings in the past.   Human nobles tend be swift and brutal in their efforts to squash potential uprisings when this happens. Recently the current trend in the empire is for nobles to have Elven servants which are prized for beauty and grace.   Those fortunate elves who are chosen for these roles are educated and treated well often eventually becoming teachers, who train  children of the ruling elite.   Half elves are often born from such individuals, and their children continue in the same roles as their elven parent.   It is however considered shameful for a human woman to give birth to a half elf, and such unfortunates are either abandoned in an alienage, or if they’re really lucky, given to an elven servant to raise. Dwarves are only marginally interested in the outside world.   The deeplands are dangerous places where a single mistake can not only kill the individual making it, but the family as well.  Poison gas, pitfalls, unstable tunnels, and of course stale air are just some of the natural threats they face.  Couple this with enemies and like lurking throughout the deeplands, they have a strong inclination to work towards the benefit of the group over the individual.   Conflicts tend to be brutally short, and highly ritualized between the various clans.   Conflicts with outsiders also tend to be brutally short, as the Dwarves have a tendency to respond with massive force.   Outsiders view the dwarves as secretive, taciturn, and difficult to deal with.  They still trade with outsiders, most notably trading iron ore, or other raw materials for wood, and surface foodstuffs.   Dwarves view humans as medlers, but tolerate them in small numbers.   They still remember when the elves ruled the vale, and will treat with the Vailen when and where they can find them, because of the ancient treaties they still hold.   The dwarves view the halflings as dwarves who lost their way, and treat them much as they would other dwarves.  Meaning, competition is fierce and uncompromising, especially when it comes to trade and resources.   That the halflings dispute the claims of a shared ancestry is beside the point for the dwarves. The Orcs barely trade with the other races, and are part of a highly structured society built upon a shared philosophy. This philosophy is uncompromising and absolute.  Those who do not abide by it are either cast out of society, treated as casteless with no rights, or are outright executed if their crimes warrant such.   Transgressions against the law are harshly punished, as are caste violations.  The Orcs were once a barbaric people, but once upon a time the great leader Ulovosh rose up and united the tribes.  He penned a philosophy that the Orcish civilization has followed ever since.   As their conquests continued, they ran into problems  administering the lands they had conquered, which led to the appointing others who were better administrators over these lands,  and over time they extended rights to those who accepted their harsh but brutal philosophy.   The orcs believe in no gods, or rather they believe that no gods will help them, so they have decided to help themselves. Over time the Ulovoshi empire is no longer dominated by orcs, instead the philosophy of the Ulovoshi has taken hold over many races  The Orcs still have a slim majority in their empire, and still make up a large percentage of the ruling class.  One of the key concepts of the Ulovoshi is that the law is absolute.  There can be no compromises in this.  They view the humans as weak willed, but dangerously powerful.  They have utter disdain for the Vailen as they are a conquered people who don’t know their place.  They have a healthy respect for the Dwarves however, as they have clashed with them on numerous times. Anyrate, more to come.  I’ve rambled on again.


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