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

If you want to have a haram, show an actual haram, warts and all. Don't just have beautiful and lusty women in gauzy pants lounging around languidly eating grapes around a fountain while being fanned by slaves using palm leaves, just waiting for the virile male adventurers to appear, a la the typical sexy fantasy image.
And aside from absolutely everything else - there's many, many more plot hooks in a more complex and historical harem than there is in a 'lounging odalisques' one.
 

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In my land there are now a lot of Turkish dramas in TV channels, because these are very cheap to be produced. If you try to watch some scenes, you can see they are with a "Western" style, close to Latin "telenovelas". Those productions aren't focused into an "orientalist" touch. And these are action-live titles by and for people from Near East.

I suggest to ask the opinion of D&D players from near Orient. Maybe they have got lots of ideas about homebred creatures and worlds based in their native cultures. They can know better what are the rules to be respected to avoid offenses.

In the end of 70's Flash Gordon cartoon Ming Mercyless had got a harem. And today is some isekai mangas "Western" fantasy worlds the poligamy is allowed, but I disadvice it because wifes can fight to the children's inheritance. In the Muslims countries there was not tradition of firstborn to be the heir, and after the death of a ruler a new civil war for the succesion started, time after time.

Kaladesh is other setting where we can from zero, and the best place for a potential future official Transformers-D&D(MtG).


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And yet harems existed among the upper class and in the Topkapi palace itself.
How can you make a respectful depiction of a culture by randomly leaving things out based on your personal/cultural preference? You are basically just exchange one lense for another.
Okay. So when I posted this I kind of expected to see a reply like this.

Remember that this is in the context of a discussion of Orientalism, and specific to the board game Istanbul.

While he doesn't elaborate why he was glad he didn't see harems, opium dens and djinn in the board game, if we take what he said about what Orientalism is, we might be able to guess why he picked out those select items.

First of all, Orientalism is not "randomly leaving things out based on your cultural preference." If that's what you took away from the post, here it is again:

Orientalism initially emerges from British and French colonization, and it's the definition of Middle Eastern, North African, and Asian cultures in the terms of the colonizers. Basically, it's a lens through which we view the world, where instead of seeing the similarities between the peoples of Europe and the Orient or the East, we see the differences and we exaggerate them. So if a book or a movie or a board game trades on how strange and beautiful the Middle East or India is, representing the people living in those places as being all the same while denying their individuality outside of those stereotypes, that's an Orientalist attitude. These people become simpler, lesser human beings than ourselves.

  1. Orientalism is a point of view that favors the colonizers.
  2. Orientalism sees the differences between the people of Europe with the Orient and the East, and not the similarities. It also exaggerates those differences.
  3. Orientalism makes those peoples seem to be all the same, and denies their individuality, thus making the colonizers themselves seem more complex, while the people depicted seem simpler, lesser.
So, there is nothing in there about "you can't ever depict djinn, harems or opium dens."

As I said before, he never elaborates on those items specifically, so I don't want to put words in his mouth/steal his authority. But those items in particular are examples of differences that might be over-emphasized or exaggerated in an Orientalist lens. And in a board game that probably could shove those items in for no good reason (because every euro game in historic Istanbul is going to have these things in them:rolleyes:) the game makers chose to portray the people in the game as ordinary people going about their lives.
 
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Azuresun

Adventurer
And this is the important thing, and the thing I think some people are missing.

You (generic you) want to stick things that are both (1) bloody and cruel and (2) a real problem in the real world that has had a lasting impact on many people, in your game, that's absolutely fine. Hopefully, you know your players well enough to know that this would be an acceptable topic for them, and I would hope that if you know your players don't want a certain thing, then you don't include that thing anyway.

But for a company to mass-market things that fulfill both 1 and 2 above... that's a bigger problem. They can't talk to each player to find out if this is OK for them. All they can do is create a space for everyone to play in, and leave it up to individual tables to add the cruel and bloody things in as they want.

And even if something is present in a setting, the presentation makes a big difference. Exalted, for example, has always had grim and unpleasant elements, such as slavery, war crimes, demons with alien morality, etc. When some books in second edition went into.....rather too much detail about rape camps, the treatment of slaves, ghostly body horror, both dealing and taking sexual abuse being mandatory to one PC type, etc, that prompted a backlash.

Unless the setting is explicitly about being super-gritty or outright horrific, it's usually wiser to leave it up to each GM how much they want to focus on the darker elements.
 

Ixal

Hero
No. But treat things as they actually are, not as exotic. If you want to have a haram, show an actual haram, warts and all. Don't just have beautiful and lusty women in gauzy pants lounging around languidly eating grapes around a fountain while being fanned by slaves using palm leaves, just waiting for the virile male adventurers to appear, a la the typical sexy fantasy image.

So yes. For actual, published material, remove the exotic stuff, since most of it was actually made up by western Europeans--or Hollywood--in the first place. For your own home game, I don't care.
And yet, 'warts' meaning the bad parts of a culture are often not shown and there is even pressure to not do so (see the interview with Felice Kuan for an example).
Instead you get 1001 stories which are in itself also exotic and "oriental".
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
And yet, 'warts' meaning the bad parts of a culture are often not shown and there is even pressure to not do so (see the interview with Felice Kuan for an example).
Instead you get 1001 stories which are in itself also exotic and "oriental".
How many of the pseudo-Medieval Eurocentric settings actually depict the Middle Ages in those regions accurately? How many of them have serfs and rampant illiteracy? How many of them have plate armor and rapiers but not firearms even though they existed in the same time period? How many cities are stated to be filled with human and animal feces all the time? Where's all of the colonialization, extreme bigotry, constant warmongering, and terrible plagues? Where are all of the evil theocracies and dozens of different sects of every religion because of minor disagreements? Where's the slavery? It was common in Medieval Europe, too.

Last I checked, most of the nations/city-states on the Sword Coast get along quite peacefully (except with the monster races), are inexplicably clean, slave-free, and not theocratic monarchies, and are completely free of gunpowder while also full of plate-armor-clad paladins and rapier-wielding adventurers. There's one country that's more accurate than the others (Cormyr), but that's literally only one out of the dozen or so nations, it still isn't very accurate, and the rest are about as accurate to the medieval time period as Star Wars is.

Why should we hold Zakhara and other non-Eurocentric settings to a higher standard than we hold other, more popular settings? Why are you so insistent that a fantasy Arabia setting should have harems, slavery, et cetera but aren't also complaining about the things the Eurocentric settings are getting wrong about Medieval Europe?

Yes, there is pressure to represent a culture you are attached to in a positive way. That's true for literally every culture ever. It's not unique to the situation Felice Kuan was talking about. Clearly, a lot of the negative stuff about Medieval Europe was removed from most of the Eurocentric settings. I don't see any reason why a revised version of Zakhara or a new setting tackling the same niche should have to include harems, slavery, and similar material that people tend to associate with the Medieval Middle East other than for exoticism (which is not a good reason to include those things).
 

Ixal

Hero
How many of the pseudo-Medieval Eurocentric settings actually depict the Middle Ages in those regions accurately? How many of them have serfs and rampant illiteracy? How many of them have plate armor and rapiers but not firearms even though they existed in the same time period? How many cities are stated to be filled with human and animal feces all the time? Where's all of the colonialization, extreme bigotry, constant warmongering, and terrible plagues? Where are all of the evil theocracies and dozens of different sects of every religion because of minor disagreements? Where's the slavery? It was common in Medieval Europe, too.

Last I checked, most of the nations/city-states on the Sword Coast get along quite peacefully (except with the monster races), are inexplicably clean, slave-free, and not theocratic monarchies, and are completely free of gunpowder while also full of plate-armor-clad paladins and rapier-wielding adventurers. There's one country that's more accurate than the others (Cormyr), but that's literally only one out of the dozen or so nations, it still isn't very accurate, and the rest are about as accurate to the medieval time period as Star Wars is.

Why should we hold Zakhara and other non-Eurocentric settings to a higher standard than we hold other, more popular settings? Why are you so insistent that a fantasy Arabia setting should have harems, slavery, et cetera but aren't also complaining about the things the Eurocentric settings are getting wrong about Medieval Europe?

Yes, there is pressure to represent a culture you are attached to in a positive way. That's true for literally every culture ever. It's not unique to the situation Felice Kuan was talking about. Clearly, a lot of the negative stuff about Medieval Europe was removed from most of the Eurocentric settings. I don't see any reason why a revised version of Zakhara or a new setting tackling the same niche should have to include harems, slavery, and similar material that people tend to associate with the Medieval Middle East other than for exoticism (which is not a good reason to include those things).
There are many european inspired settings that feature the inquisition, witch burnings, ect.
Granted, European slavery is often removed too unless the setting also includes a version of Africa. Then of course you have colonization (even in the FR) and often slavery as its removal is seen critical like with the Deadlands confederacy.

But Islamic slavery for example? Why doesn't it create the same amount of criticism as when European slavery gets removed? And considering how ingrained slavery was in islamic culture, can you even make a authentic representation without it, especially for the Mamluk countries? The same way you can't have an authentic USA/Confederacy without slavery?
 
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G

Guest 7034872

Guest
Why should we hold Zakhara and other non-Eurocentric settings to a higher standard than we hold other, more popular settings? Why are you so insistent that a fantasy Arabia setting should have harems, slavery, et cetera but aren't also complaining about the things the Eurocentric settings are getting wrong about Medieval Europe?

Yes, there is pressure to represent a culture you are attached to in a positive way. That's true for literally every culture ever. It's not unique to the situation Felice Kuan was talking about. Clearly, a lot of the negative stuff about Medieval Europe was removed from most of the Eurocentric settings. I don't see any reason why a revised version of Zakhara or a new setting tackling the same niche should have to include harems, slavery, and similar material that people tend to associate with the Medieval Middle East other than for exoticism (which is not a good reason to include those things).
I agree. It makes no sense to me to take a bunch of fables, myths, and legends spanning maybe a half-dozen different cultures over many centuries (Persia ain't Arabia ain't South Asia, wot wot?), throw them all into my literary blender, and then insist on historical accuracy for the I-N-V-E-N-T-E-D smoothie I pour out. It might be that the dispute at the moment on this thread and the other has more to do with how each of us intends to use our campaign settings than with anything about politics or cultural sensitivity. I use campaign settings to brainstorm story ideas, sure, but also to mine them for big, brightly-painted mythological settings that I already know don't add up when examined under a microscope (and I'd never expect or need them to). What's vital to me about these settings is they often do capture something deep about human nature that actual historical settings won't. History cannot enchant the way a myth can.

It could well be, though, that another DM wants a game setting that's as close to actual history as narratively possible, and I can see where they might have all sorts of reasons for preferring that. That, I take it, will yield the "warts and all" approach to culture-borrowing when building a setting. For that to work, though, one will have to do a ton of historical research; as others noted early in this thread, not all historical warts are real and neither are all virtues. Sifting out the modern myths and finding the actual facts will take an awfully long time, and success surely will come only in degrees.

For myself, I don't see much benefit in sticking to the actual histories much; I'm interested in the myths and legends. My strong recommendation of both Arabian Adventures and Campaign Guide: Zakhara is predicated on sharing these criteria, so it may well be that others will find these books unhelpful.
 

What potential risk is there in a corebook with crunch (spells, magic item, feats, subclasses, any PC race), a list of monsters and a gazeteer (places to be visited or explored)?

Any advice? When you work in a title based in other culture, then do it with love for this.

Hollywood produce several movies based in "1001 nights" decades ago before Disney's Aladdin or Dreamworks' Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. I don't remember complains about these to be politically incorrect for the current standars

If fantasy fiction inspired in the cultures of Near Orient become a taboo, then that "void" could be full by Indian publishers taking the opportunity of use of the RPG genre to promote pro-Indian "soft power".

Category:Works based on One Thousand and One Nights - Wikipedia

And what about the vieogame saga "Prince of Persia"?

 

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