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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    So I accidentally made Gith stand-ins for Asian cultures. I wanted to avoid planar stuff in my setting but wanted a place for the Gith and Psionics as well. So I plopped them them on another continent.

    After overthrowing the the Illithid the Gith Realms expanded until a Litch Queen crowned her-self empress. Most of the realms came peaceful, a few violently, but one hold out remains. The mountainous Island of Zerai in a tense cold war with the Yanki main land.

    So I now realize that I've basically cloned China and Tiwan and populated it with monstrous yellow people. They even trade in silk and rare herbs :(. This makes me suuuuuper uncomfortable even though none of my players have commented on it.

    The question: What are some unique ways I can make these cultures and people different and also pull the ripcord on this accidental Orientalism?

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    RedWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    First off, this is hilarious.
    Second of all, if it makes you that uncomfortable, just ret-con the silk trading thing and make them nothing alike Asian culture in terms of common practices. Easy.

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    There's nothing you can do. You're doomed. Might as well accept your fate.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    It could be argued that ignoring the rich cultural contributions various cultures can bake to your setting would be bad.

    As far as the political tension you described, that's a pretty common thing to have happen, and not restricted to the situation cited.
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Blend a culture or two in there! If you toss in some elements of a totally different culture, it will obfuscate all traces of the original culture. So right now your problem is they're Japanese and Chinese. What if they were also Greek City States, Rednecks, or punk rockers?

    A beautiful tea ceremony, conducted quietly in their best overalls until they reach the climax and shotgun some cheap ale.

    A totally militarized city composed completely of spear wielding samurai that fight in a shieldwall, and have a very harsh eugenics program.

    Togas and katanas, debates ended in disgrace with ritual seppuku.

    Chinese displaying their closeness to the emperor by how many face piercings, and how elaborate they are. The more spikes on their clothing, the more important they are, and rather than composing poetry- they all seem to be in punk rock bands.

    Blend and blend until it stops looking silly, and starts looking creative.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Yeah, the problem was...well google Gith and then Google "Yellow Menace". The parallels are unfortunate.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Planetar

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack8044 View Post
    The question: What are some unique ways I can make these cultures and people different and also pull the ripcord on this accidental Orientalism?
    You can force them into another stereotype, and the mix you obtain will be neither of the two stereotypes you chose.

    For example:
    Overthrowing of the Illithids = American Revolution. They even got a gigantic "freedom statue" from some ancestral enemies of the Illithids (maybe other Illithids, maybe some other faction of creatures) that helped the revolution.

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    Chimera

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    It's vaguely cheap, but you could always retroactively make the guys who told the PCs about said lands being the ones who truck in stereotypes. Set up an adventure hook where the PCs would gain something by visiting one or both Gith-lands. Maybe even have some NPC people be extra clueless about what it's really like (NPC!:"You're going to Githlandia? OMG! I hear that the inhabitants have their heads in their torsos!" NPC2: "That's ridiculous, clearly the people of Githlandia have a single giant leg!"). Once the PCs get there, they find a (two) land that is cosmopolitan, multifaceted, decidedly not the Orient, and everyone there's basically says, "yeah, we have no idea where that concept came from."

    In particular, make the real Gith cultures be 1) more mundane in many places, 2) outlandish in a completely different way, and 3) have a reasonable explanation for the myth in mind (but not on the tip of everyone's tongues).

    To the first, have the majority of the economy of these lands be stuff other than silk, spices, fireworks, porcelain, etc., and instead be completely mundane things like iron and lumber and such... stuff which the place where your PCs come from has plenty enough of, such that shipping a bunch of it west simply is uneconomical (in other words, silk isn't what this place is about, it's just what they have that others don't and buy from them).

    To the second, find something else that the place can be about, that isn't Oriental-themed and also something that won't have made it west across a silk road. Random idea: some quirk of this places mountains make it very easy to get up and down, such that snow can be brought down from the top before it melts. Because of that, snow cones are a ubiquitous street vendor fare. This leads to street stalls for quick meals be a commonplace thing centuries before it is elsewhere (Edit: oh, and one of those street foods can be coffee instead of tea, for extra non-Orient theming). Throw in some year-round circuses as entertainment, and bam!, instead of stereotypical China, you now have Coney Island in the East as your cultural flavor. Or something else similarly random (particularly helpful if, like snow cones, there is a good reason why it never got shipped west).

    To the third, combine the two above and add some nuance. Perhaps silk and spice are in the far west of this culture, while iron and lumber are in the east. Perhaps a bunch of their favorite foods, other than real-world oriental spices, spoils on ocean voyages (not like snow cones, I mean like various fruit). Use your imagination and go to town.
    Last edited by Willie the Duck; 2020-01-21 at 02:14 PM.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    If that's as far as it goes, then I agree with just blending in some non-Asian stuff. And not having them do stuff usually associated with Asian cultures: katanas, tea, yadda yadda. I doubt I need to list it all out for you.

    We get all of our cultural experiences and understanding from the world around us so fantasy culture we create is going to be rooted in that in some way. Just be aware so you don't go full on [real culture] but with [fantasy race].

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack8044 View Post
    So I now realize that I've basically cloned China and Tiwan and populated it with monstrous yellow people. They even trade in silk and rare herbs :(. This makes me suuuuuper uncomfortable even though none of my players have commented on it.
    Change their skin color to something closer to blue (like what color your skin turns when it's really cold).

    Exotic,
    and
    the trope on blue skinned people (if there is one) won't be associated with China and Taiwan.
    Last edited by KorvinStarmast; 2020-01-21 at 01:29 PM.
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    I'm not sure how best to answer your question, WhiskeyJack, but I just wanted to take the opportunity to salute you for the care and consideration you are taking in your world design.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Just change their skin color. Aren't a lot of the gith grey or green?

    EDIT:

    Reviewing some of the illustrations, the githyanki on page 198 of the Expanded Psionics Handboom is gray, the githzerai on page 199 is yellow, and the githzerai on page 44 of Complete Psionic is grey-green but with an inexplicably caucasian looking left hand
    Last edited by Bohandas; 2020-01-21 at 02:20 PM.
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    OrcBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Yeah, I honestly doubt your players have even made the connection. The connection is pretty tenuous at best anyway - I think you're being a bit critical of your work here. Just avoid giving them things like katana, exaggerated "Asian" accents, etc.

    But one of my players also jokingly referred to an Orc/Dragonborn land dispute as "the Israeli-Palestinian crisis", so I might not be a great source.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by KorvinStarmast View Post
    Change their skin color to something closer to blue (like what color your skin turns when it's really cold).
    Or, again, make them pale green. This is semi-canonical

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by MoiMagnus View Post
    You can force them into another stereotype, and the mix you obtain will be neither of the two stereotypes you chose.

    For example:
    Overthrowing of the Illithids = American Revolution. They even got a gigantic "freedom statue" from some ancestral enemies of the Illithids (maybe other Illithids, maybe some other faction of creatures) that helped the revolution.
    This is a great idea. And the divide between the Githyanki and Githzerai could be more akin to the agrarian Southern States and industrial Northern States than China/Taiwan. Hell, they're even called "yanki". It writes itself

  16. - Top - End - #16
    Dwarf in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    They eat rice, but the rice is in jambalaya.

    They drink tea, but the tea is sweet and brewed on the porch in the sun for 12 hours.

    They eat shark fin, but in tacos.

    They speak with an accent, but they sound like a stereotype of Brunswick, GA.

    So long as you don't actually lean into being racist, I don't think you're going to have much pushback from your players.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by 16bearswutIdo View Post
    But one of my players also jokingly referred to an Orc/Dragonborn land dispute as "the Israeli-Palestinian crisis", so I might not be a great source.
    I had this with a Centaur migration.

    @OP: As long as you're avoiding bad accents and particularly egregious stereotypes, you're probably fine. Referencing real world cultures is part of worldbuilding. If you are still concerned about the issue, considering the terrain and the countries' neighbors can give you inspiration for diverging from the "fantasy real-world cultures" trope a bit.
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  18. - Top - End - #18
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    DruidGuy

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    I'd agree with the course of action outlined by Willie the Duck.

    Speaking more broadly, some degree of coding in your world is inevitable. You're definitely going to have groups who have traits that act as a kind of short-hand. It's why every thieves' guild features cockney accents and it's mostly harmless. It's just that when it goes too far without being examined - well, you can make yourself or your players uncomfortable. And the solution to this is often just to examine your assumptions or decisions. Look at the choices you made and ask yourself why you made that decision. Is there another approach you could take? Might it make more sense to subvert those expectations and go in an entirely different direction?

    And there's nothing wrong with pulling from real life examples to do that, as long as you are mindful not to accidentally copy/paste.

    If Zerai is an island, maybe look at Polynesian culture for inspiration? Or, heck, what about Ireland or Great Britain. Yanki isn't a pure China analogue, there's some Roman in there with the western islands resisting conquest. Or maybe it's not just mountainous, it's volcanic and has geographic and cultural features in common with Iceland.

    There is also nothing wrong with going with something that is completely unlike real life examples - depending on what you've come up with and the tone of your game of course.
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  19. - Top - End - #19
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Thank you so much for all the advice, I feel better about it. The continent of Yanki is where I put all the stuff I don't know what to do with. In the Lore, a survey expedition of Illithid landes here (Interstellar, rather than Interplaner aliens) and experimented on the locals to make an army to conquer the rest of this world. The Gith rebelled before their plans could come to fruition.

    The Illithid created the Vedalken from humans, and Verdan from Orcs. After the Illithid fled the Vedalken used their Psionic Transmutation techniques to create Simic Hybrids. A handful of Halfling sailors that washed up on Yanki eventually became the first Ghostwise Halflings, named after their ship.

    So what I think I'm gonna do is brush up on the Ravnica guide and say that the Gith used the Illithid ship to create a giant metropolis modelled on what I find applicable from the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravenica and just replace all the humans with Gith, elves with Verdan, and goblins with Ghostwise. Loxodon, and smaller subspecies of Centaur and Minotaur were already native here and Locathah are native to Zerai.

    I think Gith will have neutral accents but speak with a strange cadence, or maybe even Yoda like sentence structure.

    Thanks again everyone!

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack8044 View Post
    So I accidentally made Gith stand-ins for Asian cultures. I wanted to avoid planar stuff in my setting but wanted a place for the Gith and Psionics as well. So I plopped them them on another continent.

    After overthrowing the the Illithid the Gith Realms expanded until a Litch Queen crowned her-self empress. Most of the realms came peaceful, a few violently, but one hold out remains. The mountainous Island of Zerai in a tense cold war with the Yanki main land.

    So I now realize that I've basically cloned China and Tiwan and populated it with monstrous yellow people. They even trade in silk and rare herbs :(. This makes me suuuuuper uncomfortable even though none of my players have commented on it.

    The question: What are some unique ways I can make these cultures and people different and also pull the ripcord on this accidental Orientalism?


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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    The most basic and purest form of racism and it's apprarance in fiction is the Planet of Hats. It's the idea that if you know one person from that group, you know every person from that group. They are not individuals but simply one big mass of faceless people that are all the same. There is no need to talk with them or to try to understand what they want ot observe what they are doing, because you already know everything there is to know about them.
    If you think they are all evil savages and all need to be killed or perfect beings that can do no wrong doesn't really matter, it's racist thinking either way.

    Cultural symbols themselves can't really be racist. The problem is when these symbols are used as replacements for individual characteristics.
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  22. - Top - End - #22
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Lifting from the real world isn't necessarily bad. Those cultures are real, and, if treated respectfully, can be a useful tool in worldbuilding. If you're concerned you've crafted a race of stereotypes, I think there are a couple of things you could try.

    You could add elements of a different culture, to break the stereotype. You're concerned the Gith read as explicitly Chinese, add elements that are German, or Babylonian, or modern American. Disrupt the stereotype, so you don't have just "fantasy China".

    You could add another culture of Gith, that reads in a different way. Maybe there was a splinter movement of both Githyanki and Githzerai that went off and did its own thing, living in harmony with eachother and nature (or whatever the hell). Honestly, this is something that should happen a lot more in general. The fantasy conceit that "race = culture" is (generally, obviously there are exceptions) a lot more offensive than any particular fantasy culture. Having some Gith that are like China is fine (if Chinese culture is treated respectfully). China exists. People live there, and it's legitimate to tell stories that draw on that experience (again, provided those stores are respectful of that experience and don't make light of it). The problem is the implication that every Chinese person lives in exactly Chinese culture.

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    The solution is Gith vikings. They already use ships to raid from the astral plane, just make them famous raiders, give them some warlike gods and a bardic tradition as well.

    Mixing two cultures always works pretty well for me.
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  24. - Top - End - #24
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Whiskeyjack8044 View Post
    So I accidentally made Gith stand-ins for Asian cultures. I wanted to avoid planar stuff in my setting but wanted a place for the Gith and Psionics as well. So I plopped them them on another continent.

    After overthrowing the the Illithid the Gith Realms expanded until a Litch Queen crowned her-self empress. Most of the realms came peaceful, a few violently, but one hold out remains. The mountainous Island of Zerai in a tense cold war with the Yanki main land.

    So I now realize that I've basically cloned China and Tiwan and populated it with monstrous yellow people. They even trade in silk and rare herbs :(. This makes me suuuuuper uncomfortable even though none of my players have commented on it.

    The question: What are some unique ways I can make these cultures and people different and also pull the ripcord on this accidental Orientalism?
    So as a guy who's field of study used to racism and prejudice and all the ugly outcomes...it's nice that you're concerned but you're not doing anything I'd consider bad or even insensitive. I can see why you're worried about Yellow Peril imagery, but the solution is just to flesh out the githyanki, into a diversity of perspectives, on different scales of culture. I mean, if it makes you more comfortable maybe make them more than one color, because variation would make more sense than perfect homogenity (and fantasy kinds of leans into homogenity since it's hard to explain the sheer variety of physical type inside what are supposed a group).

    You're nowhere near according-to-Hoyle Edward Said Orientalism, because that was mostly about the Near East, aka West Asia, nor have you hit the specific tired oriental tropes first applied to Near Easterners, then to East Asians. A separatist region isolated from a central unified body, culturally connected but striving to remain politically distinct, is not unique, and you're just thinking of the most visible contemporary example.

    Generally speaking, fantasy always flattens culture because culture is all about details that's the deep background...the mundane grind of food, labor, family, community and death...instead focusing on the background that provides hooks for adventuring (conflicts, myths, important figures). When that flatness results in something excessively stereotypical, the solution is dig in just a little deeper on the deep background and flesh out the culture more. With a big kingdom, there's going to be regions with different biomes, and a slow build of socio-political history depending on where and how cities developed, who trades what with whom, and eventually stuff like political marriages and war...up to and including whatever blend of conflict and alliance resulted in the current single monarch.

    Even if the culture is fairly homogeneous across the country, there will still be differences that can make it feel diverse (and also act as hooks).
    They'll be regions with exclusive resources that are central to economic life, or skills that have been cultivated to create a trade advantage: for example, a bread basket region that can grow crops more of the year (along a river, or in a delta); a steppe region that is a mix of herders and trade posts; a stony bit of ground that produces all the tin ore and thus have a surprising accumulation of wealth and power relative to their size.

    In real life stuff that should be homogeneous in theory, like a common religion, tends to have distinct regional features, whether these manifests as syncretism, folk traditions held separate from high ritual, or outright heresies. In the same way, politics might have the same rough shape...a pyramid of regional leaders answering to bigger leaders, the value system of what constitutes good leadership and the process of selection might not work the everywhere. There's also stuff like art and language: their won't be a perfectly uniform way of speaking, or shared idioms, unless there's a moment in history where it was compelled, top down...which is it own kind of story.

    So there's a lot of places that play and make things interesting.
    Last edited by Yanagi; 2020-02-26 at 05:03 AM.

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Okay, here are some ways to avoid racist tropes. Have your elves live in a mountain, do some mining of precious metals, gems and forge weapons and armor. Have your dwarves live in a forest, specialize in the bow, have them do frivolous things and cultivate nature. Have your halflings be warriors, fighters, and barbarians. Don't forget your half-orc wizard, rogues and sorcerers.
    Last edited by Tom Kalbfus; 2020-03-21 at 07:04 AM.

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Kalbfus View Post
    Okay, here are some ways to avoid racist tropes. Have your elves live in a mountain, do some mining of precious metals, gems and forge weapons and armor. Have your dwarves live in a forest, specialize in the bow, have them do frivolous things and cultivate nature. Have your halflings be warriors, fighters, and barbarians. Don't forget your half-orc wizard, rogues and sorcerers.
    Placing the same stereotypes upon different groups does nothing to dismantle the racist tropes that constantly pop up in the fantasy genre

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Yanagi View Post
    In real life stuff that should be homogeneous in theory, like a common religion, tends to have distinct regional features
    Yes, but in the world of D&D the gods are both real and active in the world
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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Damon_Tor View Post
    This is a great idea. And the divide between the Githyanki and Githzerai could be more akin to the agrarian Southern States and industrial Northern States than China/Taiwan. Hell, they're even called "yanki". It writes itself
    That's a great idea! I've always loved using different American accents when I DM (my orcs talk like Minnesotans, my tritons sound like surfers, and I like giving my dwarves a heavy Southern/Western drawl). Basing cultures and settings off of the more contemporary culture of the place you and your players live (like the United States in my case) seems like a good way to avoid stereotypes.
    Currently worldbuilding Last Haven: a setting formed on a titan's corpse! If you have a moment, I would love your feedback!

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Quote Originally Posted by Sam113097 View Post
    That's a great idea! I've always loved using different American accents when I DM (my orcs talk like Minnesotans, my tritons sound like surfers, and I like giving my dwarves a heavy Southern/Western drawl). Basing cultures and settings off of the more contemporary culture of the place you and your players live (like the United States in my case) seems like a good way to avoid stereotypes.
    "Shoot, them Yankis come round here with them ass-trall boats and them silver swords there gon be some trouble boy, I gar-un-tee."

    Then just make the Githyanki sound like they're from Philly or Boston.

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    Default Re: Help me avoid Racist tropes in my setting!

    Help me out here, because I don't see the problem. There's nothing wrong with just depicting the Gith as being Oriental-esque; in fact, the parallels could even be used to help the players adapt, since anyone with a decent grasp on the history of Asia will already have some idea of how Gith society runs. Plus, the Gith are fictional, and you can honestly say you built your depiction of them more or less independent of your perception of the Orient.
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