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Ravian
2016-09-13, 02:28 AM
Just a note: My question inherently involves discussing real-world cultures and peoples throughout history, I'd like to try to ensure that the discussion stays on History first and foremost and avoids drifting into anything too political. Thank you.
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As a history buff, I really enjoy role-playing and GMing in historical settings (either based completely on history or heavily inspired by it.) I enjoy the research that goes into playing in these settings as well as introducing people to unique periods of history. (Even your standard western European Medieval history gets more interesting when you really understand the events and social structure of the era and area.)

However, when I create historically inspired settings (usually because I want to interject more of the fantastic in my RPGS, especially with the folklore and mythology of the native culture) I often run into a problem, and that's with fantasy races.

It's entirely possible to avoid fantasy races altogether in historical settings, you can even keep the fantastic elements while maintaining a humancentric story, and in many cases this works fine.

However, often I get a creative urge to indulge myself with trying to come up with fantasy races. It's sometimes not enough the imagine the bustling street of some exotic historical city with only humans, I want the fantastic to be apparent simply from the faces of the passerby!

The issue I always face however is how to present these races. I feel that in historical settings there is a natural urge to associate certain fantasy races with certain real world cultures, especially in historical settings where things hadn't gotten quite so cosmopolitan.

However, this leads to the obvious problem of falling into stereotypes. Often ones that can get ugly. We all know the ones. African Orcs, Jewish Dwarves, Native American Elves.

Fantasy races are often exaggerations of certain aspects of humanity, and these exaggerations can easily turn into caricatures with compared with a real-world people that has dealt with similar stereotypes.

One of the biggest problems is that it's so easy to fall into that kind of trap when trying to come up with appropriate races to model a given culture. If you're doing a period of history involving some large invading force (such as the Mongol horde.) there's a natural inclination to consider one of fantasy role-playing's many different races that form hordes, and give them a Mongolian aspect, only to realize how problematic it can get considering the history of the term "Mongoloid".

It's becoming a significant obstacle in my designs, and unfortunately I'm not really satisfied with divorcing the races from cultures entirely. There's nothing wrong with some cross-cultural drift, but I want having a fantasy race in a setting to mean something, not just be a human in a funny hat.

So, has anyone really come across this problem. Has anyone found a good way to associate fantasy races with real cultures in a way that doesn't resort to stereotypes?

As a side note, I'm adding my own particular issue I'm currently trying to work through:
I'm trying to make a setting based off of Medieval Russia. (Around the time of the Kievan Rus with the Mongols beginning to make their conquests.)

Russia is a veritable melting pot of different cultures at this point. Aside from the Rus themselves (who can also be somewhat divided between the Southern Rus with more association with the more settled area around the City of Kiev and the Northern Rus with more to do with the more wild areas as well as Novgorod) there's also the Mongol Tatars, Siberian tribes, The Lithuanians to the West, The Byzantine Greeks to the South, and the Teutonic Germans around the Baltic.

All of these cultures are incredibly unique and I want to do right at capturing them without reducing them to caricatures. But as this thread indicates, I'm having some difficulties.

RazorChain
2016-09-13, 03:27 AM
I embrace the fantastical. Like you I'm a history buff but I like fantasy so I run a historical game in the middle ages where the world is like the medieval people thought it was. Demons vie for their souls trying to corrupt them. Holy people perform miracles. The Fae and the hidden people bother them. Dragons and Fantastic beasts terrorize them. Witches curse them and magicians search for obscure tomes to increase their power.

Let's take a person from Icelandic Folklore. Sęmundur Fróši, or Saemundur the Wise is a historical figure and one of the early christian priest in Iceland after the land became christian. Saemund studied at Sorbonne which was translated as Svarti Skóli or Black School. The legend says that the Devil always took the last student for himself so Saemundur offered to be the last one out. When the Devil took him by the shoulder at the threshold Saemundur was quick to point at his shadow which was behind him and tell the Devil that he wasn't the last and so the Devil was fooled to take his shadow instead.

Then Saemundur headed to Norway only to find out from the bishop there that the there was an opening in a parish in Iceland but the first one of the candiates to arrive there would get "the bread" (a slang for a church parish in Icelandic). Now Saemundur was already the last so he made a deal with the Devil that if he could get him to Iceland before the others he would get his soul. The Devil couldn't resist such a good offer and turned himself into a seal and prosposed to carry Saemundur on his back....Saemundur of course managed to include if he would get wet the deal was off. Now the Devil didn't like to be fooled so he said no jumping of his back and Saemundur agreed. At last when the pair was close to the shore of Iceland, Saemundur took out of his bag a book of psalms and hit the Devil in the head with it. Being hit on the head with a holy book made the Devil falter and the hemn of Saemundur robes became wet and the deal was off.

This is just one tale of Saemundur the Wise was always cheating the Devil. Now this guy was both a priest and a magician...and a historical person.

Then another guy Gottskįlkur hinn Grimmi or Gottskalk the Cruel, now this guy was a bishop and possessed the most powerful book of magic; Raušskinna or Red-Skin.....I mean folktales are rife with undeads, magicians, ghosts, faeries, witches and fantastic beasts


In my historical game I include people who are faerie blooded, changelings, cambions, nephalim, ancient blood lines and these come instead of races. One of my PC's at the moment is the daughter of Kaikias, who is one of the Anemoi or the Winds. Kaikias is the northeast wind from greek legends. At the moment she only knows she is faerie blooded and has powers of wind and ice.


As for cultural details, these can be hard and require a lot of study.

Altair_the_Vexed
2016-09-13, 05:35 AM
Simplest answer: don't substitute real cultures with the fantastic races - integrate the races into each culture, or add them into the appropriate places.

So for example, in Europe, there are all the human nations that you expect, and there are also:
dwarves in the Alps elves among the megalith monuments brownies (halflings) among the rural folk of Britain trolls and goblins in the dark forests of Scandinavia etc, etc

Anonymouswizard
2016-09-13, 06:35 AM
I embrace the fantastical. Like you I'm a history buff but I like fantasy so I run a historical game in the middle ages where the world is like the medieval people thought it was. Demons vie for their souls trying to corrupt them. Holy people perform miracles. The Fae and the hidden people bother them. Dragons and Fantastic beasts terrorize them. Witches curse them and magicians search for obscure tomes to increase their power.

I've played a fun game which was 'modern times, but medieval religious beliefs have been scientifically proven'. Although in the actual setting there is doubt about who's got the most accurate religion (because all three major Abrahamic faiths can invoke some sort of magic or miracles, and while an Anglican is able to ward off demons with just a cross Catholics needed a full blown crucifix). There weren't any fae or fantastic beasts, although some varieties of demon could come close. As PCs we were allowed to purchase some miracles (mainly faith healing and prophecy) and the ability to do some minor magic (only exorcism, although my character knew the basics of summoning and had the required texts due to backstory reasons), and most of the party witnessed an actual angel descend from on high to say that our ninja might not be eternally damned (because, honestly, the church was abusing his damned status). Oh, and our nun-in-training was carrying around a relic for the entirety of the game which could shoot anti-demon fire (the GM wanted us to have a good number of non-mundane options).

I personally want to run more historically accurate games, but as I'm an engineer and not a historian I don't know where to find good sources. I don't mind fantastic races, if I include them will depend on what sort of setting I'm using, but since I've moved on from D&D the ones I use will be a lot more varied and may not have their own culture. So does anyone have suggestions on good texts or websites for research into the roman republic, as well as the medieval and Victorian periods?

wumpus
2016-09-13, 09:32 AM
While Katherine Kurtz's "Deryni" series is hardly historical (although written by a medieval scholar, it changes the names of the geography to avoid obvious problems) it does come close. The deryni involved are basically innate casters, and maintain a near monopoly on such things (there are rare other talents, witches, and whatnot. Mostly presumed to be weird offshoots of deryni magic. The most important was adding deryni powers to the [mortal] royal line).

The big catch is that for nearly all the books (with the exception of "Camber of Culdi" which sets the scene for the start of the repression), such magic is banned and any Deryni caught is likely to meet the stake. For systems such as D&D 3.x, it might allow the possibility of balance between the full casters (who have to avoid being known as casters) and those who are not.

Ravian
2016-09-13, 10:48 AM
Simplest answer: don't substitute real cultures with the fantastic races - integrate the races into each culture, or add them into the appropriate places.

So for example, in Europe, there are all the human nations that you expect, and there are also:
dwarves in the Alps elves among the megalith monuments brownies (halflings) among the rural folk of Britain trolls and goblins in the dark forests of Scandinavia etc, etc

I am working on several "culturally neutral" races. But I do wonder if this lends itself to an overly human-centric world. It kind of cements these races as scattered populations without any real nation-building potential.

I think the question really comes down to "Can you represent a real-world culture with a different fantasy race in a tasteful and non-stereotypical manner? Or is it best to largely stick to fantasy creatures as they're typically depicted in folklore, on the outskirts of human society?"

Nerd-o-rama
2016-09-13, 10:59 AM
I don't think it's a problem to, say, associate orcs with Mongolians, as long as you're not making either the Orcs or the Mongolian people caricatures. Real life Mongolian culture was rich and complex and frankly fascinating for those of us whose history classes focused almost entirely on sedentary cultures. Ugly stereotyping happened, and it's important to acknowledge that it did happen, but by applying more modern, evenhanded research and presentation to your game, you can generally avoid perpetrating it yourself.

I mean, ultimately, orcs and Mongolians are villified for the same reasons, when you get down to it - they're both more or less nomadic people whose main interaction with European (or European-coded elf, dwarf, etc.) city-dwellers was getting unified by a warlord and carving an empire out of a large chunk of their territory. The Mongolian "Hordes" were, of course, more successful than most fantasy orc hordes, settling a huge portion of the Earth and integrating with the cultures and governmental systems of the nations that they conquered. That's just how history went, and there's no reason a D&D fantasy race couldn't do that.

Of course, if what makes you uncomfortable is combining a stereotyped villain with a stereotyped villain, you could always just change it up and make your Mongolian analogue elves. They're best known for their horse archers, after all, and in D&D 3.5, literally every elf knows how to shoot a bow and has an advantage over humans in both ranged attacks and riding.

Beleriphon
2016-09-13, 11:16 AM
I think what might work is to handle things the way The Witcher universe does: replace real cultures entirely with the fantasy race of your choice but leave the typical fantasy tropes for the race entirely intact. For example want do you want an insular culture that is needed but often repressed by society at large (Jews for example), replace them completely with dwarves, but don't make them at all Jewish in nature go full on dwarf.

Inevitability
2016-09-13, 11:23 AM
At last when the pair was close to the shore of Iceland, Saemundur took out of his bag a book of psalms and hit the Devil in the head with it. Being hit on the head with a holy book made the Devil falter and the hemn of Saemundur robes became wet and the deal was off.

Now that's what I call a Bible-thumper!
I'll see myself out...

Flickerdart
2016-09-13, 11:27 AM
The Rus are an interesting case, given that Herodotus (or someone similar) accused them of being werewolves! As if a society entirely made of only werewolves would ever work, but I digress.

You point out the problem with mapping race to culture yourself - someone will show up and say "race X has Y penalty, are you saying all people from culture X have the same flaws?" However, you also can't just go for the Random-Race-o-Matic for every character, because it reduces every race to rubber forehead aliens, who are basically humans. Speaking of humans, can't have them, otherwise you end up with one culture as "basically you, the reader" and everyone else as "not quite human" and that has #implications.

What you want are distinctions on two levels - a distinction between different races of the same culture and different cultures of the same race. For simplicity's sake, let's pick two races (dwarves and elves) and two cultures (Novgorod and Kiev). To stir things up, we can also think about social roles.

Dwarves are builders, surrounding themselves with solid lumber and dirt and stone. In the bitter north, they are the traders, whose mighty wooden ships sail all over the Baltics. They are also great warriors, clad in steel, guarding the borders of the nation from enemy incursions. This naturally concentrates wealth and power in their hands, so community leaders tend to be dwarven. Lower-classed dwarves can be manual laborers, making especially good lumberjacks. In the south, the dwarves live with their feet planted firmly on land, as farmers, tending to the breadbasket of Europe. They are also skilled builders, raising castles of dirt and stone to defend against attacks from skirmishers and horsemen that attack from the steppes. This means that most dwarves will be peasants or artisans, rather than influential leaders. Influential dwarves are usually scholars or lead guilds of craftspeople.

Elves are a flexible people, live in harmony with nature, and are sure of their skill with bows. Among the dense forests of the north, this makes them excellent hunters and fishermen. Their talents with nature allow them to tend to crops in a frigid, harsh climate, where it is more important to know how to roll with the punches than to struggle against nature. This means that they are usually peasants, providing for the dwarven elite. Higher-class elves end up as military commanders who know the value of scouting, traders running the rivers between the north and south, or clergymen (given their skill with "appeasing" nature). Conversely, elves rule the south - their light ships are excellent for river-based trade, and their mastery of the horse and bow makes them fearsome warriors on the open steppes. Lower-class elves are mostly fishermen, household servants, or farmers, because 99% of everybody everywhere are engaged in subsistence agriculture. They are also excellent caravan workers, sensitive to the needs of the animals.

This gives you a nifty table:

Upper and middle classes



Cold, seafaring Novgorod
Warm, rivers-and-agriculture Kiev


Rigid, "bigger is better" dwarves
Sea-based traders, warriors
Scholars, skilled artisans


Flexible, "use what you have" elves
River-based traders, priests
Horsemen, traders



Lower classes



Cold, seafaring Novgorod
Warm, rivers-and-agriculture Kiev


Rigid, "bigger is better" dwarves
Lumberjacks, laborers
Farmers, builders, craftspeople


Flexible, "use what you have" elves
Farmers, fishermen, hunters
Household servants, caravan workers



As you can see, I took literally one trait for each culture and race, and then just threw together some plausible implications of the overlaps.


This will get more complex with more races and cultures, so there's an easy shortcut - race and culture can be mostly congruent, as long as the exceptions are clear. The exceptions can be in the form of "in that culture, everyone does X, not just Y race" or "X race does Y everywhere they go, not only in X culture." For example, if you make Mongols generally elves, horsemanship will be a trait associated with elves. Then you can say things like "on the steppes, everyone rides horses, not just elves" or "in the north, even elves don't ride horses" to cleave race away from culture.

Thrudd
2016-09-13, 12:03 PM
I've played a fun game which was 'modern times, but medieval religious beliefs have been scientifically proven'. Although in the actual setting there is doubt about who's got the most accurate religion (because all three major Abrahamic faiths can invoke some sort of magic or miracles, and while an Anglican is able to ward off demons with just a cross Catholics needed a full blown crucifix). There weren't any fae or fantastic beasts, although some varieties of demon could come close. As PCs we were allowed to purchase some miracles (mainly faith healing and prophecy) and the ability to do some minor magic (only exorcism, although my character knew the basics of summoning and had the required texts due to backstory reasons), and most of the party witnessed an actual angel descend from on high to say that our ninja might not be eternally damned (because, honestly, the church was abusing his damned status). Oh, and our nun-in-training was carrying around a relic for the entirety of the game which could shoot anti-demon fire (the GM wanted us to have a good number of non-mundane options).

I personally want to run more historically accurate games, but as I'm an engineer and not a historian I don't know where to find good sources. I don't mind fantastic races, if I include them will depend on what sort of setting I'm using, but since I've moved on from D&D the ones I use will be a lot more varied and may not have their own culture. So does anyone have suggestions on good texts or websites for research into the roman republic, as well as the medieval and Victorian periods?

Wikipedia surprisingly is not a bad place to start for an overview. The history articles tend to be pretty well annotated. Also note, Roman Republic covers a couple centuries of time, medieval is around 1000 years, usually divided into at least three periods during which there were vast changes (early, high, and late), and in comparison Victorian represents a few decades in the late 19th century.

Kiero
2016-09-13, 12:26 PM
Substituting real peoples with fantasy analogues in an otherwise historical setting is the essence of suck. It's a monumentally bad idea, that is at best cheesy and at worst offensive.

RazorChain
2016-09-13, 12:51 PM
I am working on several "culturally neutral" races. But I do wonder if this lends itself to an overly human-centric world. It kind of cements these races as scattered populations without any real nation-building potential.

I think the question really comes down to "Can you represent a real-world culture with a different fantasy race in a tasteful and non-stereotypical manner? Or is it best to largely stick to fantasy creatures as they're typically depicted in folklore, on the outskirts of human society?"

The question is why do you need races? Is it because the players want to play something different than human or because there has to be an evil race to fight? The difference can be represented as culture. I highly recommend to keep it human centric as a different flavour. Else you could just plomp different cultures into your fantasy wold just like everyone else does or just pick up Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and use the lore.

One of my players is a huge witcher fan and wanted to play such a character. So I made the Slayers, the founder was Georgius the dragon slayer, he made the sign of the cross before he charged the dragon with his spear....yup that St. George. So the order of the slayers was born who use signs, alchemy and swordplay. So with little creativity you can include a lot in mythical Europe.

Ravian
2016-09-13, 12:52 PM
Substituting real peoples with fantasy analogues in an otherwise historical setting is the essence of suck. It's a monumentally bad idea, that is at best cheesy and at worst offensive.

I agree that in many versions it can get pretty bad, and the more historical the setting gets the less inclined I get towards non-human races in general.

That said I don't want to think its impossible to include both fantasy and history together. After all I don't think it's bad to borrow some sort of real-world cultural elements when designing a fantasy culture for a purely fantasy setting.

I think it should mostly be used in a "historically inspired" setting. For example for my medieval Russia idea, I'm not planning to have the world literally be Kiev and Novgorod and all the rest. I'm was planning for something closer to the Witcher, a world that's clearly inspired a great deal by a given culture (in both cases, slavic) but is still distinctly fantasy.

Mark Hall
2016-09-13, 01:34 PM
You might take a look at Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword"... trolls and elves and such exist, and tend to have paralells to the humans nearby. So, elves in England have a lot in common with the English, and exist as something of a parallel world... not an actual "realm of faerie", but simply not interacting with humans that often, partially because they have to flee iron and the Church.

So, you have your Nordic trolls... but you also have Nordic elves and Nordic Dwarves and Nordic Humans. You take a basic template of "Nordic" and a basic template of "Elf" and combine them to make the elves of Norway. You might also take a basic cultural template of "English" and the cultural template called "Elf" and make the elves of England. Elves of England have things in common with the elves of France and Norway, but they also have things in common with the humans of England and the Dwarves of England.

Some places may not have certain races... Italy may have no trolls, but lots of goblins. Ireland doesn't have any dwarves, or what have you. But, rather than say "We're just gonna ignore that Mongols are humans and call them all Orcs", you say "There are Mongols who are humans and Mongols who are Elves and Mongols who are Orcs and they're all alike in certain ways and all different in certain other ways and here's how they interact" you build a fairly rich world... largely made out of stereotypes, but avoiding the "Yeah, I'm gonna pretend everyone from India is a monster, since it makes it easier to draw the map."

Inevitability
2016-09-13, 01:36 PM
You might take a look at Poul Anderson's "The Broken Sword"... trolls and elves and such exist, and tend to have paralells to the humans nearby. So, elves in England have a lot in common with the English, and exist as something of a parallel world... not an actual "realm of faerie", but simply not interacting with humans that often, partially because they have to flee iron and the Church.

So, you have your Nordic trolls... but you also have Nordic elves and Nordic Dwarves and Nordic Humans. You take a basic template of "Nordic" and a basic template of "Elf" and combine them to make the elves of Norway. You might also take a basic cultural template of "English" and the cultural template called "Elf" and make the elves of England. Elves of England have things in common with the elves of France and Norway, but they also have things in common with the humans of England and the Dwarves of England.

Some places may not have certain races... Italy may have no trolls, but lots of goblins. Ireland doesn't have any dwarves, or what have you. But, rather than say "We're just gonna ignore that Mongols are humans and call them all Orcs", you say "There are Mongols who are humans and Mongols who are Elves and Mongols who are Orcs and they're all alike in certain ways and all different in certain other ways and here's how they interact" you build a fairly rich world... largely made out of stereotypes, but avoiding the "Yeah, I'm gonna pretend everyone from India is a monster, since it makes it easier to draw the map."

I like this idea. The concept of a world with humans everywhere and a small area for every other race never made much sense to me anyway.

VoxRationis
2016-09-13, 01:54 PM
Conversely, if you replace all the Mongols with orcs or whatnot (which is entirely defensible, given that interspecific competition for the same niche could well mean local extinction of human or orc populations in a given area), make sure to introduce differences that show that while the orcs are coming from what we call Mongolia, they are not Mongols, and the similarities are because the similarity in environment will naturally produce certain responses in culture.

Beleriphon
2016-09-13, 02:24 PM
I like this idea. The concept of a world with humans everywhere and a small area for every other race never made much sense to me anyway.

To a degree it does, look at the Lord of the Rings. Humans live mainly in Rohan, Gondor and Arnor. Dwarves live in the Blue Moutains, the Iron Hills and of course Khazad-dūm. Dwarves still move about and live other places, but their preferences lead to them living among their own kind in specific areas they prefer. Elves are the same, and so are hobbits. They still know of each other and clearly trade (Bilbo was well aware of and seemed to interact with dwarves at least a bit prior to The Hobbit) and there are places where they live together like in Bree, but for the most part they live in places that suit their tastes.

Kiero
2016-09-13, 03:05 PM
I agree that in many versions it can get pretty bad, and the more historical the setting gets the less inclined I get towards non-human races in general.

That said I don't want to think its impossible to include both fantasy and history together. After all I don't think it's bad to borrow some sort of real-world cultural elements when designing a fantasy culture for a purely fantasy setting.

I think it should mostly be used in a "historically inspired" setting. For example for my medieval Russia idea, I'm not planning to have the world literally be Kiev and Novgorod and all the rest. I'm was planning for something closer to the Witcher, a world that's clearly inspired a great deal by a given culture (in both cases, slavic) but is still distinctly fantasy.

It's perfectly possible to have fantasy in a historical setting without introducing non-human races.

Mark Hall
2016-09-13, 03:09 PM
To a degree it does, look at the Lord of the Rings. Humans live mainly in Rohan, Gondor and Arnor. Dwarves live in the Blue Moutains, the Iron Hills and of course Khazad-dūm. Dwarves still move about and live other places, but their preferences lead to them living among their own kind in specific areas they prefer. Elves are the same, and so are hobbits. They still know of each other and clearly trade (Bilbo was well aware of and seemed to interact with dwarves at least a bit prior to The Hobbit) and there are places where they live together like in Bree, but for the most part they live in places that suit their tastes.

In a sense, this expands it, and deals with a less empty world. Let us take, for example, The Shire.

So, Humans from the Shire would be much like the Halflings of the Shire, since halflings are usually human expys anyway. However, they'd likely include some human traits, and so would have more outside trade.

Elves from the Shire would still be immortal elves, but they'd be gardeners and tree-tenders. They'd keep books of lore and long secrets and some would dream of making the journey to the Grey Havens, but as Shire Folk, they'd also be pretty content to have good beer and a comfortable chair to rest in, as the major traits of the Shire are "rural and peaceful".

Dwarves of the Shire might prefer to work the quarry in Scary, and would far more often bang out plowshares rather than swords... but, like the dwarves elsewhere, they'd have a love of gold and smithing and other dwarvish things.

When you compared the Dwarves of the Shire to the Dwarves of Moria, you'd see a lot of similarities, but the dwarves of the Shire would seem oddly unwarlike to their Moria kin, and the dwarves of Moria would seem uninterested in things that so often interest the dwarves of the Shire... bowling, golf, the weather, and what might happen at the next festival, though they'd find common ground in an interest in genealogy and metalworking... even if the reason the Shire Folk know about rust corrosion is because they keep dragging their iron plows through the dirt, rather than steel blades through the blood of their foes.

Ravian
2016-09-13, 04:27 PM
It's perfectly possible to have fantasy in a historical setting without introducing non-human races.

I understand, and I do that plenty of times. But there's something about having a variety of fantastic non-human races interacting with one another that's still appealing to a part of me.

I've made plenty of historical settings with fantasy, but I've found I've often defaulted to human only settings. I want a chance to stretch my creative muscles and medieval Russia has the interesting trait of being a melting pot for quite a few different cultures, so I thought that it would be an opportunity to model that sort of cross-roads feeling by having a variety of creatures interacting, rather than sticking exclusively to humans for yet another setting.

It's also an opportunity to examine certain aspects of Russian culture through these other creatures. For example, the Rus had a rather uneasy relationship with the wilderness that surrounded them, in that it provided them a bounty of natural resources, yet it also made life difficult for them thanks to the inherent difficulty of trying to grow food there, to say nothing of the natural dangers within it.

Thus I had the idea of a race known as the Leshy, plant-like fae creatures based on slavic folklore, that eschewed the civilized world to live among the forest, acting as a sort of counter-point to the humans who stuck to their towns and villages.

Kiero
2016-09-13, 04:47 PM
I understand, and I do that plenty of times. But there's something about having a variety of fantastic non-human races interacting with one another that's still appealing to a part of me.

I've made plenty of historical settings with fantasy, but I've found I've often defaulted to human only settings. I want a chance to stretch my creative muscles and medieval Russia has the interesting trait of being a melting pot for quite a few different cultures, so I thought that it would be an opportunity to model that sort of cross-roads feeling by having a variety of creatures interacting, rather than sticking exclusively to humans for yet another setting.

It's also an opportunity to examine certain aspects of Russian culture through these other creatures. For example, the Rus had a rather uneasy relationship with the wilderness that surrounded them, in that it provided them a bounty of natural resources, yet it also made life difficult for them thanks to the inherent difficulty of trying to grow food there, to say nothing of the natural dangers within it.

Thus I had the idea of a race known as the Leshy, plant-like fae creatures based on slavic folklore, that eschewed the civilized world to live among the forest, acting as a sort of counter-point to the humans who stuck to their towns and villages.

All too often I see non-humans used as a lazy alternative to developing any depth of the cultures present.

If you've got fae creatures, why not focus on that element as the sole origin of non-humans? The kitchen sink approach with multiple sources and tens or even hundreds of variations tends towards a uniform sort of blandness. Whereas if everything that isn't man is Fae, that makes things pretty distinct.

Ravian
2016-09-13, 04:52 PM
All too often I see non-humans used as a lazy alternative to developing any depth of the cultures present.

If you've got fae creatures, why not focus on that element as the sole origin of non-humans? The kitchen sink approach with multiple sources and tens or even hundreds of variations tends towards a uniform sort of blandness. Whereas if everything that isn't man is Fae, that makes things pretty distinct.

I'm still working on the specifics of where the fantastic comes from in this world. I definitely am trying to avoid a kitchen sink approach. That's part of the purpose of this thread, both to avoid dumbing down cultures into a fantasy race as well as avoiding presenting fantasy races as just humans with rubber foreheads. I don't want races to exist in a vacuum, each and every one would and should exist in a way that makes sense within the greater world.

Flickerdart
2016-09-14, 09:34 AM
I'm still working on the specifics of where the fantastic comes from in this world.
The gods did it. Probably. Look, there are raiders on the horizon, and the wheat needs to be harvested, and the roof needs to be repaired. Why are you worrying about that nonsense? --Some farmer, probably.

Beleriphon
2016-09-14, 09:47 AM
In a sense, this expands it, and deals with a less empty world. Let us take, for example, The Shire.

So, Humans from the Shire would be much like the Halflings of the Shire, since halflings are usually human expys anyway. However, they'd likely include some human traits, and so would have more outside trade.

Elves from the Shire would still be immortal elves, but they'd be gardeners and tree-tenders. They'd keep books of lore and long secrets and some would dream of making the journey to the Grey Havens, but as Shire Folk, they'd also be pretty content to have good beer and a comfortable chair to rest in, as the major traits of the Shire are "rural and peaceful".

Dwarves of the Shire might prefer to work the quarry in Scary, and would far more often bang out plowshares rather than swords... but, like the dwarves elsewhere, they'd have a love of gold and smithing and other dwarvish things.

When you compared the Dwarves of the Shire to the Dwarves of Moria, you'd see a lot of similarities, but the dwarves of the Shire would seem oddly unwarlike to their Moria kin, and the dwarves of Moria would seem uninterested in things that so often interest the dwarves of the Shire... bowling, golf, the weather, and what might happen at the next festival, though they'd find common ground in an interest in genealogy and metalworking... even if the reason the Shire Folk know about rust corrosion is because they keep dragging their iron plows through the dirt, rather than steel blades through the blood of their foes.

Which is all true among different settings. Forgotten Realms does this to a degree. Most places are human dominated, while other places are dominated by dwarves, or elves for whatever reason. Each does have its own culture. Look The North in FR, it has human and elven Silverymoon and a number of dwarven strongholds. A dwarf raised in Silverymoon or Waterdeep isn't going to necessarily share the exact values of Citadel Felbar, but both are still dwarves.

Tolkien I think setup Men, Elves and Dwarves as kind of mutually incompatible, so I'm feeling my example actually wasn't very good. Dwarves for example dig into hills and stone no matter where they go, Elves don't seem to ever really appreciate that fully so the two just don't get along. If you look at Dale and ‎Erebor the two places are close enough to have daily trading, but there's no hint that Dwarves living in Dale other than as travelers, and the Men of Dale don't seem to live in Erebor at all. The Elves of both Mirkwood and Lothlorien are the same, except Lothlorien basically has no outside contact beyond a select few individuals. Rivendell is probably the most cosmopolitan of the elder races in Middle-Earth in that everybody that knows about the wilderness knows its there, all good folk are welcome, and Dunedain regularly visit.

Honest Tiefling
2016-09-14, 04:00 PM
Simplest answer: don't substitute real cultures with the fantastic races - integrate the races into each culture, or add them into the appropriate places.

So for example, in Europe, there are all the human nations that you expect, and there are also:
dwarves in the Alps elves among the megalith monuments brownies (halflings) among the rural folk of Britain trolls and goblins in the dark forests of Scandinavia etc, etc

I'm going to reveal a slight bias to playing a certain race here, and build on this idea: Have fantastical races that are humans with hats. (From TV Tropes, meaning a race that is only a slightly altered version of a base human with only a few quirks to distinguish themselves). With so many races trying to bang/marry humans (Dwarves, huldra, demons, elves, and jotuns to name a few), why would there not be human hybrids? I think many people would believe that as long as another race presented itself (http://www.nerfnow.com/comic/452), someone would try to bang it so it isn't even a hard pill to swallow for many people. It may also be easier to role play, depending on how elf your group likes your elves.

If going with the human hybrid idea, the 'pure' races could be lost (either in the sense they don't exist, or in the sense no one knows where they are. If you have races like the fae, you bring in the issue of additional worlds to additionally lose people in. Guys, did we accidentally leave the harpies in Muspell or Annwen?). That way, if the NPCs start to either demonize or idealize a culture, it might seem less like the DM is trying to portray cultures as the BEST PEOPLE EVER YOU GUYS or as wandering barbaric sacks of EXP you can kill without remorse. Especially if no one can agree as to what these ancient people were actually like, so one group thinks that a group of people were wise scholars, but others think they were immoral slavers who mistreated their own people.

For your own example, you could just introduce an air of mystery or such inhuman behavior it is hard to really equate them with human morality. For instance, Domovoi (which admittedly might not be the right region/time period, so please forgive me if this is a crummy example) who would just move into a house and start cleaning it. Why do they do it? Who knows! Maybe your version doesn't care or seem capable of speech, so no one has really figured them out. But in my opinion, having some hairy creature living in your house that shape shifts into things to do the cleaning could be considered very fantastical, if done right. Or bizarre, but that's entertaining in it's own right as a DM.

The inhuman morality in my opinion would be harder, and probably not as prone to wandering around town. I am really not familiar with slavic mythology, but many different mythologies do feature creatures or races that enforce taboos (like the Furies). Perhaps something terrifying? They would not have a function within society, but might be tolerated for religious, political, or practical reasons. For instance, a religion might see them as holy, someone might have the means to control or divert them, while another soceity might just view it as the victims own dang fault for entering a sacred place. These beings are not understood, but are present and people take pains to avoid them.

An idea based on the myth of Rusalka is that the beings inhabit strange areas of town and have cultural differences based on that. Rusalka for instance, might inhabit canals, lakes or ponds near a city. They are obviously different to the players as they are in the water, and would not have fires or other things that don't function underwater. Their culture would reflect this, but be close enough to the landlubbers to not seem like a critique of any particular ethnicity. Being underground, small, or nocturnal might also have a similar effect, since most real life people aren't known for that either.

Another idea is to have the races not be different cultures, but different castes. Yeah, a caste of miners is probably going to act different from the caste of merchants and crafters who are going to be different from the nobility who might be different from the priests. I am not a historian, but I'm willing to bet it wouldn't be too hard to find cultural differences between various classes and professions in many time periods. These groups people would depend on one another, and have a lot of contact, so the differences would be quite minor, but could still significant for a social game in my opinion. Dwarves are an obvious choice for this approach.

If you are really out of ideas, just go to the extreme fantastical. Is your group really going to think that you are creating some sort of commentary on the Lithuanians if you make a society of mermaids who live in houses of amber somewhat based on them? If so, you might want to either reconsider your group or your approach.