D&D General Al-Qadim, Campaign Guide: Zakhara, and Cultural Sensitivity

The question is when does this place stop being a representation of middle eastern culture and just become a disney park with orient theme?
You are after all removing religion (Islam, including the interaction with dhimmi), the views on gender (harem, ect.), their economy and social structure (slavery), probably the "pecularities" of their government (fraticide or imprisonment of the people in line of the throne. Also slave governments as there are no slaves).
What is left of middle eastern culture? Names, clothing and bazaars?

Yes, I have to admit that when you want to create a "family friendly" RPG (as far as a RPG centred around killing things and taking their stuff can be called family friendly) some things are problematic to include.
But instead of flat out removing them they should be adapted, i.e instead of removing harems also having male/other harems or instead of the complete removal of Islam have 5 gods each representing a pillar ect. And such changes should be kept to a minimum.
That I see as a compromise.
I don't use harems in my game. I don't see what they add. You keep bringing it up as a thing. But why would there be "male harems"? That, in and of itself, misunderstands the purpose and reason for the harem existing. (Spoiler alert: they were for rich families, a space where the wives, daughters, aunts, etc. of rich men could have a private walled garden away from outsiders. It was a very domestic place.) A "male harem" doesn't even make sense in the cultural context; it would be a far worse depiction to create "male harems" than to simply, y'know, not have harems. Which plenty of real-life Islamic residents did not have, because again, they were almost always the province of the relatively rich.

I have not removed the religion. The Safiqi priesthood is strongly inspired by Islamic beliefs; it is monotheist (unlike your incredibly blasphemous suggestion of a polytheist alternative), has a strong tradition of legal jurisprudence, holy figures of the past revered for their contributions to the faith (we casually call them "saints" but a more appropriate term would probably be Wali, since that's a term actually used in Islam; it literally refers to "friends" of Allah), and a central "Temple-City" (Kafer-Naum) that is a major spot of pilgrimage because that's where the first temple to the One was built in this land. In fact, I have actually been more inclusive of religious things than you give credit for, inspired by a North African acquaintance of mine, who pointed me toward the Kahin (we just say "Kahina" for simplicity in my game), the pre-Islamic animistic religious types, who I have adapted as the druids (Kahina of the "living" spirits of animals and elements) and shamans (Kahina of the "dead" spirits of the afterlife and concepts/forms).

Despite your accusations to the contrary, while slavery is not practiced, I have otherwise striven to keep a similar economic structure. There is a great deal of economic disparity between the rich and the poor. The Brass Ring is made up of merchant "princes" (both genders, because again, economic equality between the sexes is enforced by the choice to play a game where players can be male or female), and is the de facto legislative council of the city, even though technically they wield no actual legal power. They're just so influential and can cause such a ruckus, the Sultana knows it's wise not to piss them off for no reason. Trade and contracts are extremely important, and the flow of goods, magic, and services is a huge reason why the main city, Al-Rakkah, IS the Main City. It sits at the mouth of the Sadalbari, which roughly bisects the arid/desert Tarrakhuna region (think a climate similar to Morocco.) Overland routes going northeast and southeast connect to most other major cities, and Kafer-Naum lies to the east, near the headwaters of the Sadalbari, while Al-Rakkah has some of the deepest ports on the western Sapphire Sea. There are a lot of poor folks, a lot of exploitation and drugs and societal issues. But there's also some hope for things to get better, and groups in the shadows working to balance out the problems.

Whenever possible, I try to use creatures from the mythology of North Africa or Arabia. The party has fought ghuls (specifically alukah al-ghul, "blood fiends"), werehyenas, nasnas, qarin (that was actually super fun to write, I went with a slightly variant interpretation of the classic "parallel-world djinn" idea), dandan (though mine were just larger-than-man size dragon-eel type things, not ship-swallowing monstrosities), and other standard Arab or pre-Arab mythical creatures. They've also fought unrelated stuff like manticores and basilisks. Various types of genies are relevant, but also distant: marids, efreet, jann, and djinn, as well as mixed-elemental "mizaj" (which literally means "mixed") who are more similar to mortal humans while retaining a few genie qualities. Genies take a place vaguely similar to fey in this world: they're scary and some are extremely powerful and they live in a parallel, more overtly-magical world.

So no. I haven't willy-nilly carved things up however I please. I have taken great pains, in fact, to keep cultural contexts and meanings consonant. I strive very hard to make any deviations both knowing and intentional, rather than ignorant or accidental. I have chosen places that I consider ultra-high accuracy to be an impediment rather than a benefit, and have thus gone for moderate accuracy in those places. Though I do not use the actual language outright, I do try to keep most terms or phrases rooted in Arabic, Hebrew, and/or Farsi/Urdu, unless I'm very specifically going for something meant to be foreign. Even then, I try to transliterate as much as possible, so (for example) when the party were tailing some thieves who were mostly foreigners, I gave them names transliterated from those folks' actual names, into the standard style of the Tarrakhuna or something approximating it (e.g. one was from far away Yuxia, a distant land drawing on various pan-Asiatic concepts; her name was listed on a guard's ledger as "Taqami ar-Inori," because that was the local transliteration of her actual name, Takami Arinori. Sadly, she didn't survive her trip into the jungle.)

As a relatively minor point, something I like to do to add color and depth is doing research on the types of building materials and architecture frequently used in these areas, and on the types of food and drink frequently served there. Although my Tarrakhuna region does not have quite the same hangups about alcohol, in general they still favor stimulant drinks over depressant drinks, so while "tavern" type places exist, they're seen as being low-class affairs for slovenly workers frittering away their pay on getting wasted. Instead, refined folks go to coffeehouses (or tea parlors, a relatively recent development now that active trade has begun with distant Yuxia.) And no place can outshine Lady Safiyya's Coffehouse. Several members of the Brass Ring keep permanently reserved private booths (complete with enchantments to prevent eavesdropping), despite the enormous cost of doing so, purely due to the opulence and reputation of having a private booth at Lady Safiyya's. People of good breeding do keep some alcohol, but generally use it sparingly and only for special occasions, in part because the best drink is always Jinnistani in origin, and Jinnistani booze is potent stuff.

So...yeah. It is, in fact, possible to take specific pieces and concerns and say, "This is a historical behavior, but it is not a behavior that is acceptable in my games, where my players are meant to be encouraged to play the character they wish, including that character's gender identity. As a result, I will not be including these elements, not because I deny that they existed or wish to conceal the faults of past civilizations, but because, knowing these things existed, it is better for the player experience and better for creating a culture the players will WANT to know and understand and cherish." By making this a world the players can willingly immerse themselves into, rather than instantaneously feeling like they must fight against it every step of the way, I can do a great deal more to share the interesting, the terrifying, the beautiful, and (yes) the horrifying that can crop up in this kind of context. (Because, again, if the world were built on the back of slavery, my players would instantly become freedom fighters, and that defeats the whole purpose of trying to present such a setting!)
 

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You are right, so most likely Sassanid. Although the most told stories (in the west Ali Baba and Aladdin) were only added later and thus are most likely Islamic.
There's information suggesting the Aladdin story originated in China (Surprising Facts about Aladdin and the Arabian Nights and Who was the “real” Aladdin? From Chinese to Arab in 300 Years - Ajam Media Collective and Fairy Tale and the Other Realm as Social Commentary: “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp”) and was added later by French archaeologist Antoine Galland who did the translation so your use of this as an anchor for your argument is flawed.
 

Ixal

Hero
I don't use harems in my game. I don't see what they add. You keep bringing it up as a thing. But why would there be "male harems"? That, in and of itself, misunderstands the purpose and reason for the harem existing. (Spoiler alert: they were for rich families, a space where the wives, daughters, aunts, etc. of rich men could have a private walled garden away from outsiders. It was a very domestic place.) A "male harem" doesn't even make sense in the cultural context; it would be a far worse depiction to create "male harems" than to simply, y'know, not have harems. Which plenty of real-life Islamic residents did not have, because again, they were almost always the province of the relatively rich.

Because D&D and most modern RPGs demand gender equality (only a few historic inspired or old ones do not have it) both to conform to modern moralities and to keep female characters playable.

By also having male harems, meaning families with the female in charge either because she is the one with the noble title or because of some other agreement within the household you can keep this part of islamic culture while also satisfying the demands of D&D and other modern RPGs.

That to me is a much better way of representing cultures than applying a knife to them. But kudos for doing exactly that for most other things.

And why I brought harems up? Because of the expert praising their exclusion. If he had not mentioned them at all I would not have talked about them at all. You should not praise the removal of a cultural aspect when you instead can add it accurately.
 
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Micah Sweet

Legend
I don't use harems in my game. I don't see what they add. You keep bringing it up as a thing. But why would there be "male harems"? That, in and of itself, misunderstands the purpose and reason for the harem existing. (Spoiler alert: they were for rich families, a space where the wives, daughters, aunts, etc. of rich men could have a private walled garden away from outsiders. It was a very domestic place.) A "male harem" doesn't even make sense in the cultural context; it would be a far worse depiction to create "male harems" than to simply, y'know, not have harems. Which plenty of real-life Islamic residents did not have, because again, they were almost always the province of the relatively rich.

I have not removed the religion. The Safiqi priesthood is strongly inspired by Islamic beliefs; it is monotheist (unlike your incredibly blasphemous suggestion of a polytheist alternative), has a strong tradition of legal jurisprudence, holy figures of the past revered for their contributions to the faith (we casually call them "saints" but a more appropriate term would probably be Wali, since that's a term actually used in Islam; it literally refers to "friends" of Allah), and a central "Temple-City" (Kafer-Naum) that is a major spot of pilgrimage because that's where the first temple to the One was built in this land. In fact, I have actually been more inclusive of religious things than you give credit for, inspired by a North African acquaintance of mine, who pointed me toward the Kahin (we just say "Kahina" for simplicity in my game), the pre-Islamic animistic religious types, who I have adapted as the druids (Kahina of the "living" spirits of animals and elements) and shamans (Kahina of the "dead" spirits of the afterlife and concepts/forms).

Despite your accusations to the contrary, while slavery is not practiced, I have otherwise striven to keep a similar economic structure. There is a great deal of economic disparity between the rich and the poor. The Brass Ring is made up of merchant "princes" (both genders, because again, economic equality between the sexes is enforced by the choice to play a game where players can be male or female), and is the de facto legislative council of the city, even though technically they wield no actual legal power. They're just so influential and can cause such a ruckus, the Sultana knows it's wise not to piss them off for no reason. Trade and contracts are extremely important, and the flow of goods, magic, and services is a huge reason why the main city, Al-Rakkah, IS the Main City. It sits at the mouth of the Sadalbari, which roughly bisects the arid/desert Tarrakhuna region (think a climate similar to Morocco.) Overland routes going northeast and southeast connect to most other major cities, and Kafer-Naum lies to the east, near the headwaters of the Sadalbari, while Al-Rakkah has some of the deepest ports on the western Sapphire Sea. There are a lot of poor folks, a lot of exploitation and drugs and societal issues. But there's also some hope for things to get better, and groups in the shadows working to balance out the problems.

Whenever possible, I try to use creatures from the mythology of North Africa or Arabia. The party has fought ghuls (specifically alukah al-ghul, "blood fiends"), werehyenas, nasnas, qarin (that was actually super fun to write, I went with a slightly variant interpretation of the classic "parallel-world djinn" idea), dandan (though mine were just larger-than-man size dragon-eel type things, not ship-swallowing monstrosities), and other standard Arab or pre-Arab mythical creatures. They've also fought unrelated stuff like manticores and basilisks. Various types of genies are relevant, but also distant: marids, efreet, jann, and djinn, as well as mixed-elemental "mizaj" (which literally means "mixed") who are more similar to mortal humans while retaining a few genie qualities. Genies take a place vaguely similar to fey in this world: they're scary and some are extremely powerful and they live in a parallel, more overtly-magical world.

So no. I haven't willy-nilly carved things up however I please. I have taken great pains, in fact, to keep cultural contexts and meanings consonant. I strive very hard to make any deviations both knowing and intentional, rather than ignorant or accidental. I have chosen places that I consider ultra-high accuracy to be an impediment rather than a benefit, and have thus gone for moderate accuracy in those places. Though I do not use the actual language outright, I do try to keep most terms or phrases rooted in Arabic, Hebrew, and/or Farsi/Urdu, unless I'm very specifically going for something meant to be foreign. Even then, I try to transliterate as much as possible, so (for example) when the party were tailing some thieves who were mostly foreigners, I gave them names transliterated from those folks' actual names, into the standard style of the Tarrakhuna or something approximating it (e.g. one was from far away Yuxia, a distant land drawing on various pan-Asiatic concepts; her name was listed on a guard's ledger as "Taqami ar-Inori," because that was the local transliteration of her actual name, Takami Arinori. Sadly, she didn't survive her trip into the jungle.)

As a relatively minor point, something I like to do to add color and depth is doing research on the types of building materials and architecture frequently used in these areas, and on the types of food and drink frequently served there. Although my Tarrakhuna region does not have quite the same hangups about alcohol, in general they still favor stimulant drinks over depressant drinks, so while "tavern" type places exist, they're seen as being low-class affairs for slovenly workers frittering away their pay on getting wasted. Instead, refined folks go to coffeehouses (or tea parlors, a relatively recent development now that active trade has begun with distant Yuxia.) And no place can outshine Lady Safiyya's Coffehouse. Several members of the Brass Ring keep permanently reserved private booths (complete with enchantments to prevent eavesdropping), despite the enormous cost of doing so, purely due to the opulence and reputation of having a private booth at Lady Safiyya's. People of good breeding do keep some alcohol, but generally use it sparingly and only for special occasions, in part because the best drink is always Jinnistani in origin, and Jinnistani booze is potent stuff.

So...yeah. It is, in fact, possible to take specific pieces and concerns and say, "This is a historical behavior, but it is not a behavior that is acceptable in my games, where my players are meant to be encouraged to play the character they wish, including that character's gender identity. As a result, I will not be including these elements, not because I deny that they existed or wish to conceal the faults of past civilizations, but because, knowing these things existed, it is better for the player experience and better for creating a culture the players will WANT to know and understand and cherish." By making this a world the players can willingly immerse themselves into, rather than instantaneously feeling like they must fight against it every step of the way, I can do a great deal more to share the interesting, the terrifying, the beautiful, and (yes) the horrifying that can crop up in this kind of context. (Because, again, if the world were built on the back of slavery, my players would instantly become freedom fighters, and that defeats the whole purpose of trying to present such a setting!)
Excellent. As I've said before, good in-universe reasons and a desire to avoid upsetting the actual people you play with are great ways to get around historical aspects of a culture you're inspired by in a setting. In fact, they're probably the only reasons that really make a difference to me.
 


Because D&D and most modern RPGs demand gender equality (only a few historic inspired or old ones do not have it) both to conform to modern moralities and to keep female characters playable.

By also having male harems, meaning families with the female in charge either because she is the one with the noble title or because of some other agreement within the household you can keep this part of islamic culture while also satisfying the demands of D&D and other modern RPGs.

That to me is a much better way of representing cultures than applying a knife to them. But kudos for doing exactly that for most other things.
Why would you need "a private area only the men of the household can retreat to in order to get away from the dangers of the world"?

Like...you keep acting like the inclusion of "male harems" would somehow balance the scales. It wouldn't. It would just create a thing with no reason whatsoever to exist. Harems, the actual real-world practice of maintaining a whole wing of the household where only women (and the man of the house) were allowed to go, arose from two goals. First, and most obviously, to give the man of the house control over the women in his life, particularly his wives and daughters. Secondly, but more fundamentally, these places were legitimately meant to safeguard the women of the house from (unfortunately, often very real) threats, such as bandits or sexual assault by guests. If you have brought in gender equality such that women are recognized as economic, political, and (perhaps most importantly) combat equals, and have avoided (as most people would...) the whole sexual assault thing, then there is no reason to have harems in the first place.

You will have removed the control aspect, and removed any need for the protection aspect. Your "male harems" would be, quite simply, ridiculous on its face, actively pissing on the cultural concepts of the Arab world. It really, honestly seems more fitting to simply not have harems at all. Because, as I have repeatedly told you yet you have seemingly ignored, plenty of actual Arabic people in history never had a harem at all. It's extremely expensive to be able to afford a whole separate staff of female-only servants and a whole separate wing of the house where women can live without contact with male guests. The vast majority of actual Arabic, North African, and Al-Andalusian residents never had a harem or even the thought of a harem. It really isn't much of a stretch to say, "well, if this society treats men and women equally....most people just wouldn't have a harem because it'd be incredibly expensive for no reason."

How can you have a culture of "secluding the men" and also a culture of "secluding the women" and have any form of actual social structure? It makes no sense. A male merchant couldn't meet with a female merchant because they would both need to be secluded from one another!
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
How can you have a culture of "secluding the men" and also a culture of "secluding the women" and have any form of actual social structure? It makes no sense. A male merchant couldn't meet with a female merchant because they would both need to be secluded from one another!
In some instances, where the division was held strongest - there actually were elements of parallel economies and services. So, yes, female merchants and doctors to serve the females/children sequestered from the public.
 

In some instances, where the division was held strongest - there actually were elements of parallel economies and services. So, yes, female merchants and doctors to serve the females/children sequestered from the public.
Okay.

Now...how do you have female heads of households where the women live in the public, accessible-to-anyone part of the house, and the men live sequestered in private areas where only men (and the woman of the house) are allowed to enter?

And how do you have meetings between men who rule a male-dominated house with a female-only harem, and women who rule a female-dominated house with a male-only harem?
 

Ondath

Hero
I don't use harems in my game. I don't see what they add. You keep bringing it up as a thing. But why would there be "male harems"? That, in and of itself, misunderstands the purpose and reason for the harem existing. (Spoiler alert: they were for rich families, a space where the wives, daughters, aunts, etc. of rich men could have a private walled garden away from outsiders. It was a very domestic place.) A "male harem" doesn't even make sense in the cultural context; it would be a far worse depiction to create "male harems" than to simply, y'know, not have harems. Which plenty of real-life Islamic residents did not have, because again, they were almost always the province of the relatively rich.

I have not removed the religion. The Safiqi priesthood is strongly inspired by Islamic beliefs; it is monotheist (unlike your incredibly blasphemous suggestion of a polytheist alternative), has a strong tradition of legal jurisprudence, holy figures of the past revered for their contributions to the faith (we casually call them "saints" but a more appropriate term would probably be Wali, since that's a term actually used in Islam; it literally refers to "friends" of Allah), and a central "Temple-City" (Kafer-Naum) that is a major spot of pilgrimage because that's where the first temple to the One was built in this land. In fact, I have actually been more inclusive of religious things than you give credit for, inspired by a North African acquaintance of mine, who pointed me toward the Kahin (we just say "Kahina" for simplicity in my game), the pre-Islamic animistic religious types, who I have adapted as the druids (Kahina of the "living" spirits of animals and elements) and shamans (Kahina of the "dead" spirits of the afterlife and concepts/forms).

Despite your accusations to the contrary, while slavery is not practiced, I have otherwise striven to keep a similar economic structure. There is a great deal of economic disparity between the rich and the poor. The Brass Ring is made up of merchant "princes" (both genders, because again, economic equality between the sexes is enforced by the choice to play a game where players can be male or female), and is the de facto legislative council of the city, even though technically they wield no actual legal power. They're just so influential and can cause such a ruckus, the Sultana knows it's wise not to piss them off for no reason. Trade and contracts are extremely important, and the flow of goods, magic, and services is a huge reason why the main city, Al-Rakkah, IS the Main City. It sits at the mouth of the Sadalbari, which roughly bisects the arid/desert Tarrakhuna region (think a climate similar to Morocco.) Overland routes going northeast and southeast connect to most other major cities, and Kafer-Naum lies to the east, near the headwaters of the Sadalbari, while Al-Rakkah has some of the deepest ports on the western Sapphire Sea. There are a lot of poor folks, a lot of exploitation and drugs and societal issues. But there's also some hope for things to get better, and groups in the shadows working to balance out the problems.

Whenever possible, I try to use creatures from the mythology of North Africa or Arabia. The party has fought ghuls (specifically alukah al-ghul, "blood fiends"), werehyenas, nasnas, qarin (that was actually super fun to write, I went with a slightly variant interpretation of the classic "parallel-world djinn" idea), dandan (though mine were just larger-than-man size dragon-eel type things, not ship-swallowing monstrosities), and other standard Arab or pre-Arab mythical creatures. They've also fought unrelated stuff like manticores and basilisks. Various types of genies are relevant, but also distant: marids, efreet, jann, and djinn, as well as mixed-elemental "mizaj" (which literally means "mixed") who are more similar to mortal humans while retaining a few genie qualities. Genies take a place vaguely similar to fey in this world: they're scary and some are extremely powerful and they live in a parallel, more overtly-magical world.

So no. I haven't willy-nilly carved things up however I please. I have taken great pains, in fact, to keep cultural contexts and meanings consonant. I strive very hard to make any deviations both knowing and intentional, rather than ignorant or accidental. I have chosen places that I consider ultra-high accuracy to be an impediment rather than a benefit, and have thus gone for moderate accuracy in those places. Though I do not use the actual language outright, I do try to keep most terms or phrases rooted in Arabic, Hebrew, and/or Farsi/Urdu, unless I'm very specifically going for something meant to be foreign. Even then, I try to transliterate as much as possible, so (for example) when the party were tailing some thieves who were mostly foreigners, I gave them names transliterated from those folks' actual names, into the standard style of the Tarrakhuna or something approximating it (e.g. one was from far away Yuxia, a distant land drawing on various pan-Asiatic concepts; her name was listed on a guard's ledger as "Taqami ar-Inori," because that was the local transliteration of her actual name, Takami Arinori. Sadly, she didn't survive her trip into the jungle.)

As a relatively minor point, something I like to do to add color and depth is doing research on the types of building materials and architecture frequently used in these areas, and on the types of food and drink frequently served there. Although my Tarrakhuna region does not have quite the same hangups about alcohol, in general they still favor stimulant drinks over depressant drinks, so while "tavern" type places exist, they're seen as being low-class affairs for slovenly workers frittering away their pay on getting wasted. Instead, refined folks go to coffeehouses (or tea parlors, a relatively recent development now that active trade has begun with distant Yuxia.) And no place can outshine Lady Safiyya's Coffehouse. Several members of the Brass Ring keep permanently reserved private booths (complete with enchantments to prevent eavesdropping), despite the enormous cost of doing so, purely due to the opulence and reputation of having a private booth at Lady Safiyya's. People of good breeding do keep some alcohol, but generally use it sparingly and only for special occasions, in part because the best drink is always Jinnistani in origin, and Jinnistani booze is potent stuff.

So...yeah. It is, in fact, possible to take specific pieces and concerns and say, "This is a historical behavior, but it is not a behavior that is acceptable in my games, where my players are meant to be encouraged to play the character they wish, including that character's gender identity. As a result, I will not be including these elements, not because I deny that they existed or wish to conceal the faults of past civilizations, but because, knowing these things existed, it is better for the player experience and better for creating a culture the players will WANT to know and understand and cherish." By making this a world the players can willingly immerse themselves into, rather than instantaneously feeling like they must fight against it every step of the way, I can do a great deal more to share the interesting, the terrifying, the beautiful, and (yes) the horrifying that can crop up in this kind of context. (Because, again, if the world were built on the back of slavery, my players would instantly become freedom fighters, and that defeats the whole purpose of trying to present such a setting!)
This is wonderful setting in which I would love to play a character.
 

* The term of "female main character with several boyfriends/pretenders" is "reverse harem".

Have you seen the list of al-Qadim titles? A monster compedium, some player's handbook with crunch, some gazetteper and some adventures without links to any comple intrigue in the palace, more "explore dungeons to search threasures", "defeat the evil warlock" or "rescue the princess". And the "cosmopolitan" cities with lots of traders from different points are more used to visitors with different costumes.

The compilation of adventures "Dozen and one adventures" could be published.

* Any new PC race based in near east folklore?

 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Right. And what's more, the book was first put together by a Frenchman.

The first European translation was by Antoine Galland, a Frenchman, between 1704 and 1717. But, the first reference to the Arabic version under its full title The One Thousand and One Nights appears in Cairo in the 12th century. There's fragments of collections on which that was likely based going back to the 9th century.

And, the basic idea of a wise woman who saves herself from danger by telling stories is seen back in Indian legends, translated into Persian around 570 CE, and then into Arabic around 750.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That I doubt. Grimms was compiled in the 19th century

An early reference to Rumpelstiltskin appears in Roman texts in the 1st century.

Cinderella is basically the Greek story of Rhodopis, first recorded in in the 1st century BCE, and likely traces back to the the 6th century BCE.

These stories weren't new when the Brothers Grimm got to them. Basically, any European story that has reference to fae folk or supernatural beings has its roots in pre-Christian stories.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Perhaps I was misunderstanding what you meant. I thought you were saying that this meant the churches, as complete hegemonic entities, could not actually be "good" even if they wished to be, because of the possibility (or, more likely, past fact) of doing evil in the name of good things/beings/ideas. Would it be more accurate to say that you're saying any religion in D&D fiction is simply too big to be hegemonically good or evil? That is, a good church can have evil branches, and that while it's unlikely, it's at least theoretically possible for an evil church to have good branches? That is, the evil is objectively evil, but that doesn't make the whole church evil, nor does the overall church being good absolve the deeds of specific branches or of past members thereof.
In my opinion, "ish."

Let's say you have a church, and there are two branches to it. One is the branch that goes forth and feeds and heals people, defends the weak, and other good things. The other branch contains the bureaucratic side that includes an inquisition that tortures people until they confess to their crimes, then likely kills them messily. (There are likely more branches than this; we're dealing with these two). The first branch is almost certainly Good. The second branch is almost certainly Evil.

The reason I'm saying "almost certainly" here is depends entirely on what the crime is and who knows about the torture. If the crime is not going to church every week, or associating with haflings because the church has declared Small races to be unholy, or stuff like that, then this branch is pretty Evil. They're hurting people for things that are only crimes because the church has said so, not because the actions are actually harmful.

If the crime is "consorting with demons of disease and misfortune in order to gain powers to hurt people you don't like," then the branch is evil (for using torture) but not necessarily Evil, in the grand alignment sense. However, they probably also wouldn't be good, either. They'd be more Neutral--they're doing some awful things for the greater good. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. It would also depend on how much non-torture investigation they did before hand, of course. Grabbing people because their neighbors turned them in would be more Evil, while doing careful research in order to make sure that they only get the actual guilty parties would be more Good.

But, if the crimes (of viewing Small races as anathema, etc.) were edicts handed down from on high--by the literal gods--then I would view the entire religion as being Not Good. The church might be Neutral or Evil, but with a Good branch that heals and feeds the needy. Especially if that Good branch also helps out Small races on the qt. (This is where schisms appear)

If the prohibition about Small races was due to some high priest's personal dislikes that just got codified into not-actually-canon law, or because there once was a war with some Small races and anti-Small sentiment got brought into the church, or the halfling-hating ruler of the land demanded their dislike be made into law, under pain of having the church dismantled and the priests gruesomely murdered, then the church isn't necessarily Evil, because it was outside interference that corrupted them. They could well be on their way to becoming Evil, though, if the corruption isn't stopped before it becomes endemic.
 

The question is when does this place stop being a representation of middle eastern culture and just become a disney park with orient theme?
To me? One good example is that it becomes a Disney park with an Orient theme the second you include a harem without going into a deep dive of what harems actually were. If you are actually going into the social dynamics of historical harems then you might have avoided turning the place into a Disney park. But the Western conception of a harem was created, as mentioned by people who had never been there and with a lot of the equivalent of one-handed typing. If you aren't explicitly avoiding the Western conceptions of harems you might as well stick a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on the cover and a log flume and haunted house into the setting.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
People like Ondath who mentioned above he is ok with harems, including the warts? Who owns century or even millennia old islamic culture?
It's not a question of who "owns. what" It's a question of accuracy. Middle Eastern harems are not filled with nubile women dressed in gauze, and that is an image created by western writers who wanted to sexy up a non-western idea and then continued by Hollywood and similar places, who also wanted to show something sexy and different. So having a game show a western image of a harem is, in fact, not a good idea.

Why is it so important that official books have harems?
 

Disney's Aladdin is also a heavily orientalist film. And the 19th c. versions of 1001 nights were stories for children, despite the frame narrative driven by patriarchal violence. Both are western fantasies of what middle eastern cultures are/were like. In other words, more violence does not automatically mean more "authentic."
 

Dire Bare

Legend
It's a little more complicated than that, right? The Fleur-de-lis is strongly associated with France, though it's used in other European nations, but I've never heard anyone complain when Americans or others appropriate it. The Sisters of Battle, a faction of women wearing fetish nun gear in space, from Games Workshop's Warhammer 40k uses the Fleur-de-lis as their symbol, and I can't recall anyone ever complaining about it. I could liberally "borrow" elements from Finnish, German, English, Welsh, and Irish culturally or you could borrow from American culture and it's unlikely anyone would decry it as cultural appropriation. So there must be something more to it than just using something invented by another culture and misusing it.

I think in many caes it has more to do with the relationship between the culture that borrowed, or appropriated, the cultural artifact versus the culture that it was borrowed from. Borrowing from France is fine because the French, they're wealthy, and and they have a long history of exporting its culture to the four corners of the Earth which is also true of the United States.

I don't mean to imply that the idea of cultural (mis)appropriation isn't real. But it's kind of like pornography in that I can't always define it clearly, but I know it when I see it.
Good points. We like easy answers, but rarely does life offer them. When is appropriating a cultural element okay or not okay? It's complicated, folks don't always agree where to draw the line, there are lots of factors at play, and even over time attitudes towards appropriation change (on both sides of the appropriation).

One of my favorite stories like this is the live-action Ghost in the Shell movie that cast Scarlett Johansen in the main role, which in the source material, was a Japanese woman. Lots of cries of white-washing in the West, the Asian-American community was rightly frustrated with the casting choice. But the creator of the original manga went on record that he felt the casting was PERFECT. There was much less drama over in Japan than in the US. Not that this made the casting choice a good one, it wasn't. But it highlighted how differently the Japanese and Asian-Americans looked at this example of appropriation. Was casting Johansen the "right" thing to do? Complicated. Although ultimately as a movie made by and for Western audiences, adapting a Japanese anime . . . the producers should have been more mindful of how the Asian-American community would have reacted. The movie, IMO, was actually pretty good (including ScarJo's performance), but was ultimately marred by the insensitive white-washing of the main character.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
You missed the part where I acknowledged that, but if only it were so simple. A few years back, the OP of a thread here pointed to various games including Legend of the Five Rings as cultural appropriation and therefore hate speech. But why? Do you think Japanese people would view L5R as a misuse of their culture and take offense? I'm guessing the answer is no, at least not any more offended than I am about the cultural appropriation of the American cowboy in Cowboy BeBop. Like the United States, Japan is a wealthy country that isn't being exploited and they willingly profit from the culture they export worldwide. i.e. The Japanese and the United States are willing participants in cultural exchange.

But it's more complicated than that because we're not just talking about Japan. We've also got to include Japanese Americans and even Asian Americans in general. Are either of those groups an oppressed people here in the United States? There's certainly a history of oppression so I'll say yes, especially in recent years as violence has increased against Asian Americans during the COVID pandemic. But it does raise a question, what group had their culture appropriated by the creators of L5R? Did they appropriate Asian Americans or Asians? Is there a difference?
I literally don't know if the Japanese (or Asians and people from other countries of Asian decent) would view L5R as a misappropriation, but I would guess not. I mean, there are pokemon with samurai imagery, or using imagery of various yokai and other Japanese cultural elements.

Now, it's been a long time since I looked at any L5R stuff, and then it was in 3e's "Oriental Adventures" that used L5R as a base. As I recall, it was fairly straightforward and didn't really exocitize much of anything. At least not in the same way that the Western idea of a harem was a deliberate sexed-up misinterpretation of the real thing.
 

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