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


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Voadam

Legend
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.
A couple of different things.

D&D alignment is generally objective so it matters whether a thing is evil or not under the alignment terms, not whether a good god considers something good or evil or if it is done with good intentions. Using torture in an inquisition is going to be evil even if done to root out evil and drive people to good. So Bahamut followers going overboard in fighting evil for a good cause while following a good god and following his good precepts is generally going to be classified as evil villainy if the going too far is seriously evil. Dragonlance with the Kingpriest and his crusades and inquistion against evil that went too far turning into genocide and magical coercion to turn people away from evil and neutrality and towards a desired good is an example.

In D&D alignment for an individual or a collective is an overall judgment of the balance of the alignment factors. Someone with a mix of good and evil can reasonably be classified as good, neutral, or evil depending on the mix and judgments can reasonably vary on the human player/DM side even though it is conceptually objective in the game. Same thing for a D&D country labelled LG or neutral.

An individual, a god, or an organization can do an evil thing or be consistently evil in some aspect and have it be outweighed by other goods and still be considered good overall, but the evil they did was still evil in D&D alignment terms.

For a D&D church that does an inquisition with torture and executions that is generally a pretty big evil on the objective alignment scale. It can reasonably be considered enough evil to outweigh it being done for good intentions (stopping objectively evil cultists, say) and other good things the church does (fight evil, help people in need, providing generally beneficial benefits). Even if the torture is outweighed by the good and they get a neutral or good alignment overall, the objectively evil torture is a decent reason to consider the torturers as villains.

In general though in practice most D&D things labelled good, even though they can have a mix of good and evil, do not do big evil. It stands out when they do. So I generally do not expect the church of Lathander to do an inquisition with torture when hunting evil, or one to persecute heretics and schismatics using executions as a deterrent so that most followers do not fall into heresy and more can make it into Lathander's good afterlife.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Speaking of cartoons, I remember the 80 days around the world animation, a spanish-japanese made children animation about the french novel which, like the original, included the episode where they encounter the practice of Sati (widow burning). (And yes, rescue a princess from it, cliche).
I doubt this animation would be able to be made today. But was it really harmful?
In the cartoon? Probably not. It likely gave a couple of kids some nightmares, but that's not the type of harm we're talking about.

In a game? Quite possibly, if it's written as a cultural norm rather than the actions of a few bad guys to be stopped. Because then what it does is turn women into property to be destroyed when the man died. This means that people playing female characters going to be unnecessarily marginalized, because sati is very likely not the only thing in the game that is cruel to women (nobody is going to make a game world where women are treated as complete equals to men and they get burned when hubby dies.) Even if it doesn't actually affect any player characters, it's the lore equivalent of limiting a female character's Strength score. And for no good reason, since you can't have "historical accuracy" if you also have elves, dragons, and magic.
 

Speaking of cartoons, I remember the 80 days around the world animation, a spanish-japanese made children animation about the french novel which, like the original, included the episode where they encounter the practice of Sati (widow burning). (And yes, rescue a princess from it, cliche).
I doubt this animation would be able to be made today. But was it really harmful?
There was a recent live action Around the World Eighty Days series (starring David Tennant as Phileas Fogg) and they had omitted this part of the story. And fair enough. Except that in the book this is the event that causes Aouda to become Phileas Fogg's travelling companion and eventual love interest, so none of that happens. The show was in certain ways updated to be more progressive, but in doing so they also removed an Indian woman who was a main character in the original... 🤷
 

Its a game review, not a discussion of Orientalism. At least, it shouldn't be. The absence of harems that mean nothing to the game itself has no place in a review. They could simply say the setting was handled respectfully in their opinion.
I would like to see a serious review of a game using Middle Eastern or Asiatic culture that is totally agnostic on the subject of orientalism.

Mostly because I don't believe such a thing exists. Recognizing the EXTREMELY frequent shortcomings of how an outside cultural group has been depicted in your own culture, and commenting on whether (and if so, to what degree) those shortcomings have been avoided, sounds like an extremely important part of a review. Silence could mean anything, because it (by definition) tells us nothing. Actually engaging with the work and the history of the genre/theme is always going to be a more useful review than trying to write as though s#!tty, racist caricatures never existed.
 

So when can give accurate information about the Ottomans
Generally, historians who have done relevant work on the subject.

and also greenlight the use of cultural aspects?
There is no safe investment. There is no absolute perfect "you cannot possibly do wrong" hurdle to clear where if you do X then you will never ever have even the possibility of trouble. It's simply not possible.

The best you, or anyone, can do is put in good-faith effort, accept good-faith criticism when and where it happens (with an open mind about what qualifies as good-faith criticism), and show a willingness to improve or adapt in response to said good-faith criticism.

You know...exactly like all other forms of creative effort.

Sure the capital and center of power was in Anatolia. But most of the influential Janissary were "drafted" from Greece and the balkans.
Which is (yet another) why your "stick to objective history" standard is useless. Who gets to define what is "objective history" and what is a twisted narrative promulgated by people with an agenda? Who gets to define the terms? History is always incomplete and pretty much always biased even when we do our absolute best. What happens when we literally cannot, even in principle, give an unbiased, "objective" account, because the information simply doesn't exist? When our only sources are biased as hell and almost certainly at least a bit unreliable? For example, with Norse mythology, which we literally DO NOT HAVE pre-Christian sources for. How can we give "objective" stories that involve Ragnarok when we literally have no idea if this was actually that important, or if it was Christian missionaries turning Loki into an unjustified Satan analogue when he may have been really rather closer to a scapegoat in the original meaning of that term (and, as a result, rather closer to a  Christ figure)? We can't. We do not know the truth, and it may literally be impossible to find out what that truth was without a time machine.

Does that make every Norse-inspired story unacceptable? Not to me. Because my standard doesn't involve pursuing an often impossible standard of "objectivity." It involves recognizing that historical accuracy is one tool among several which we use to craft interesting, enjoyable, effective settings. Some of those settings not only can be but WILL be inaccurate to their source culture(s). That does not mean that they will be disrespectful. Instead, it means that the burden is on us, as creators, to use accuracy (and our other tools) as wisely as possible, to admit error when it is called out, and to work toward products that are respectful and enjoyable in equal measure.

So should a sensitivity reader have vetoed the Sherlock Holmes stories which start in a opium den or that casual cocaine use was accepted? Does an english citizen really have more authority about drug use and if works based on Britan are allowed to reference it?
There are no universal answers to these questions. They are necessarily contextual. Like all things in art, it is a matter of showing due diligence (always a tricky thing!) and doing what produces effective, respectful work. There is no objective, universal, unequivocal finish line. There is no bar to clear, such that you are objectively and eternally free of all responsibility as a creator, absolved of all possible risk or concern. To create is to risk, just as to live is to risk. We do not ask creators to never risk. We ask them to use their best judgment, to seek out reasonable and available means to correct errors  before they become thrown to the wind for all to see, to remain humble and willing to address errors that do get through despite such efforts (or to apologize for a failure to show due diligence if one has committed a clearly preventable error.) None of this is weird or alien. It's literally the process of being respectful in ANY context. If you ask a foolish question which could reasonably give offense (such as asking a woman when she is due, only to find out that she is not pregnant, simply overweight), do you assert that you were merely sticking to objective likelihood of pregnancy based on her appearance, age, and clothing? Or do you apologize and try to make amends?
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Generally, historians who have done relevant work on the subject.


There is no safe investment. There is no absolute perfect "you cannot possibly do wrong" hurdle to clear where if you do X then you will never ever have even the possibility of trouble. It's simply not possible.

The best you, or anyone, can do is put in good-faith effort, accept good-faith criticism when and where it happens (with an open mind about what qualifies as good-faith criticism), and show a willingness to improve or adapt in response to said good-faith criticism.

You know...exactly like all other forms of creative effort.


Which is (yet another) why your "stick to objective history" standard is useless. Who gets to define what is "objective history" and what is a twisted narrative promulgated by people with an agenda? Who gets to define the terms? History is always incomplete and pretty much always biased even when we do our absolute best. What happens when we literally cannot, even in principle, give an unbiased, "objective" account, because the information simply doesn't exist? When our only sources are biased as hell and almost certainly at least a bit unreliable? For example, with Norse mythology, which we literally DO NOT HAVE pre-Christian sources for. How can we give "objective" stories that involve Ragnarok when we literally have no idea if this was actually that important, or if it was Christian missionaries turning Loki into an unjustified Satan analogue when he may have been really rather closer to a scapegoat in the original meaning of that term (and, as a result, rather closer to a  Christ figure)? We can't. We do not know the truth, and it may literally be impossible to find out what that truth was without a time machine.

Does that make every Norse-inspired story unacceptable? Not to me. Because my standard doesn't involve pursuing an often impossible standard of "objectivity." It involves recognizing that historical accuracy is one tool among several which we use to craft interesting, enjoyable, effective settings. Some of those settings not only can be but WILL be inaccurate to their source culture(s). That does not mean that they will be disrespectful. Instead, it means that the burden is on us, as creators, to use accuracy (and our other tools) as wisely as possible, to admit error when it is called out, and to work toward products that are respectful and enjoyable in equal measure.


There are no universal answers to these questions. They are necessarily contextual. Like all things in art, it is a matter of showing due diligence (always a tricky thing!) and doing what produces effective, respectful work. There is no objective, universal, unequivocal finish line. There is no bar to clear, such that you are objectively and eternally free of all responsibility as a creator, absolved of all possible risk or concern. To create is to risk, just as to live is to risk. We do not ask creators to never risk. We ask them to use their best judgment, to seek out reasonable and available means to correct errors  before they become thrown to the wind for all to see, to remain humble and willing to address errors that do get through despite such efforts (or to apologize for a failure to show due diligence if one has committed a clearly preventable error.) None of this is weird or alien. It's literally the process of being respectful in ANY context. If you ask a foolish question which could reasonably give offense (such as asking a woman when she is due, only to find out that she is not pregnant, simply overweight), do you assert that you were merely sticking to objective likelihood of pregnancy based on her appearance, age, and clothing? Or do you apologize and try to make amends?
Given the possible consequences in the current environment if you do make a mistake, I'd say our world kinda is asking our artists not to risk.
 


Given the possible consequences in the current environment if you do make a mistake, I'd say our world kinda is asking our artists not to risk.

And I would say our world is finally having artists face the fact that art has consequences.
I would also say there is no better time to be a professional artist. More people work full time in entertainment than ever before, with a higher percentage of wealth spent on art and entertainment than ever.
We are never at a loss for stories, with new angles on old tropes regularly entering the zeitgeist.
The people cowering in fear of wrong doing are absolutely completely dwarfed by the artists celebrating themselves, their people and the tales that haven't been shared to broad audiences before.
 


Like removing out non-european characters like in the example Crimson Longinus mentioned.
My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right. But, again, accuracy is a tool, not an end-all be-all objective measure of quality or respect. It would be interesting to hear what the writers thought, because I doubt her exclusion was a trivial matter. Perhaps they considered it, and felt that they would not be able to do justice to the character; perhaps they tried, but executive meddling got in the way (as is the case with a great deal of big-budget stuff); perhaps, as I'm sure you and Crimson Longinus would immediately assert, they did so out of fear, though frankly I find that unlikely. Without hearing their own words on the subject, I've no idea, and I suspect if they had actually said "yeah we were afraid people would hate it if we included this character, so we just left her out to avoid offending anyone," you'd have led with that. (And I would, personally, think that they were being double-barrelled idiots, but that's a separate subject.)

But honestly? Yeah, I'm okay with being less faithful to source material and removing racist caricatures from classic media. That's fine by me. The best solution would be to actually rewrite the characters to be good, but sometimes that's beyond the scope of a project or unrealistic for any of a host of reasons. So you haven't really pointed at anything I consider to be an egregious harm; it's unfortunate to be sure, but yeah, I'd rather skip out on characters with nasty stereotype undertones than preserve them as-is with the fig-leaf excuse "well that's how Victorians thought things worked!" I don't care how Victorians thought things worked!

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)


Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai. What does not appear is the sati practice, because for exactly the same reasons as harems, sati is far from universal even in its native culture, has had a controversial or mixed record/perception even in its native culture, has been flagrantly abused by outsiders (particularly in the Anglosphere) to demonize that culture, and even its "benign" presentations have been absolutely loaded with crappy tropes and deep, deep cultural misunderstandings.

It's almost like, by not leaning on a singular, technically accurate but controversial (and almost always sensationalized), cultural practice, the work can be better at representing the whole of that culture, not crappy, tropey, reductivist caricatures of that culture! Imagine that!
 
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Ixal

Hero
My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right. But, again, accuracy is a tool, not an end-all be-all objective measure of quality or respect. It would be interesting to hear what the writers thought, because I doubt her exclusion was a trivial matter. Perhaps they considered it, and felt that they would not be able to do justice to the character; perhaps they tried, but executive meddling got in the way (as is the case with a great deal of big-budget stuff); perhaps, as I'm sure you and Crimson Longinus would immediately assert, they did so out of fear, though frankly I find that unlikely. Without hearing their own words on the subject, I've no idea, and I suspect if they had actually said "yeah we were afraid people would hate it if we included this character, so we just left her out to avoid offending anyone," you'd have led with that. (And I would, personally, think that they were being double-barrelled idiots, but that's a separate subject.)

But honestly? Yeah, I'm okay with being less faithful to source material and removing racist caricatures from classic media. That's fine by me. The best solution would be to actually rewrite the characters to be good, but sometimes that's beyond the scope of a project or unrealistic for any of a host of reasons. So you haven't really pointed at anything I consider to be an egregious harm; it's unfortunate to be sure, but yeah, I'd rather skip out on characters with nasty stereotype undertones than preserve them as-is with the fig-leaf excuse "well that's how Victorians thought things worked!" I don't care how Victorians thought things worked!

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)


Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai.
I doubt they feared that people would not like Aouda, they feared showing Sati.
The same pressure that Felice Kuan felt about not showing bad stuff about cultures, just this time without the support of several writes which lead to the inclusion of bad aspects in her work.
Who excerted the pressure? Thats a bit complicated. The producers and people with money of course, but they only listen to the marketing experts about what to show and what not and those experts look at twitter and social media.
Not sure when Sati started. I know that Mughal sources mention it (although not from when those sources were) and according to the British it was nearly exclusively a Bhramin thing. But there are apparently sources from way before the Mughals (around 6th century) and even some greek texts from the time of Alexander mention woman burning themselves, although that is sporadic and unclear if its (already) a established practice. And the Government made new anti-Sati laws in the 1980s. So its has been going on for a long time.

Not sure what the maternal status of Aouda was in the animation, but in the Jules Verne original she was a widow (married against her will), so Sati would apply to her.
 
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I doubt they feared that people would not like Aouda, they feared showing Sati.
The same pressure that Felice Kuan felt about not showing bad stuff about cultures, just this time without the support of several writes which lead to the inclusion of bad aspects in her work.
Who excerted the pressure? Thats a bit complicated. The producers and people with money of course, but they only listen to the marketing experts about what to show and what not and those experts look at twitter and social media.
Not sure when Sati started. I know that Mughal sources mention it (although not from when those sources were) and according to the British it was nearly exclusively a Bhramin thing. And the Government made new anti-Sati laws in the 1980s. So its has been going on for a long time.
You are not doing your position many favors by not actually researching the practices you want to see depicted.

I literally have only done some shallow Google searching and Wikipedia reading, and I can already say you have an extremely weak understanding of what sati is, why it occurred, when it occurred, and why choosing not to talk about it is probably a wise choice.

But, again, as I have said before. You aren't interested in actually critiquing whether accuracy über alles is the appropriate stance. You have taken it as your dogma, and anything which contradicts it is corrosive to everything good and right and proper. If you feel like actually talking about the place and value of accuracy in fiction, I'm quite ready to actually engage. But you're going to have to accept that in at least some cases, more accuracy isn't the right choice.
 

Ixal

Hero
You are not doing your position many favors by not actually researching the practices you want to see depicted.

I literally have only done some shallow Google searching and Wikipedia reading, and I can already say you have an extremely weak understanding of what sati is, why it occurred, when it occurred, and why choosing not to talk about it is probably a wise choice.

But, again, as I have said before. You aren't interested in actually critiquing whether accuracy über alles is the appropriate stance. You have taken it as your dogma, and anything which contradicts it is corrosive to everything good and right and proper. If you feel like actually talking about the place and value of accuracy in fiction, I'm quite ready to actually engage. But you're going to have to accept that in at least some cases, more accuracy isn't the right choice.
Your understanding of culture seems not to be "what happened and was practiced" but "what I want to be seen as proper". Or basically rewriting cultures to fit your liking (how respectful...).

Sati has been practiced for centuries and probably a millenium. It is definitely part of the culture of parts of India so there is no (cultural) problem mentioning it. The only real question here would be if it would apply to Aouda based on her status and caste and would be forced on her.
 
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Your understanding of culture seems not to be "what happened and was practiced" but "what I want to be seen as correct". Or basically rewriting cultures to fit your liking.
You have repeatedly insulted me with this phrase, and I'm rather sick of it. If you're going to discuss this with me, actually go off what I say, rather than this. You are, in fact, making this extremely personal. If you have a problem with concepts like "accuracy is a tool," then attack those concepts, rather than casting aspersions on my character.

I have done as I ask of you with your positions. I have, consistently, held that the issue here is your advocacy of a standard I consider both facile and impossible, which I have given real-world examples for multiple times over. You have ignored every single effort I have made to discuss that concept--the idea of only using "objective" history, "objective" culture--and instead insulted me, talking about how I must love cutting up others' cultures, how I must be dead-set on eviscerating the lived cultural experiences of outside groups. Please don't do that.

Sati has been practiced for centuries and probably a millenium. It is definitely part of the culture of parts of India so there is no (cultural) problem mentioning it. The only real question here would be if it would apply to Aouda based on her status and caste and would be forced on her.
I can tell you, right now, that it has been practiced at least since the mid-300s AD. Because I have actually done some research. Not much, mind; there's much I don't know, and I would very much want academic experts in the field (preferably ones with personal experience!) to advise me, were I to be undertaking anything that might reference it.

There are many, many, many more questions than that. Enormously more. You are outright trivializing an extremely complex and, as I have said several times, CONTROVERSIAL subject even in India. It is absolutely NOT the case that "the only real question" is whether sati would in fact be forced on Aouda in India under the British Raj (the colonial government nominally under Queen Victoria in her role as Empress of India.) Several other questions include:
Would the British authorities have permitted it, even if it were expected of her? If not, could she have appealed to them instead of Fogg?
Would it actually include the burning of her relatives, something not actually associated with the sati practice but referenced in the book?
Does it actually make for a more interesting story to center her life around this practice, which was controversial even in pre-Raj India?
Does the emphasis on this cultural practice actually give an effective and respectful communication of the culture of India, or is it a sensationalization of relatively minor details until they obscure rather than edify?

Or, if you wish to summarize it with a single question: Is it actually WISE to include this cultural practice affecting this character in this story?

Because that's my core assertion here. That some forms of so-called "accuracy," even if they really did reflect some inarguable and objective component of history or culture, are NOT wise to include. Now, that determination must be made with exceeding care. We are always, and necessarily, picking out only some things to talk about and, as a consequence, always and necessarily picking out some things to ignore. Some of the time, that "picking out" is chosen for us (as with my Norse example above; we simply do not have unbiased sources, they literally do not exist, the Norse, for whatever reason, simply didn't choose to write down their traditions), and we must make do with what we have. In many other cases, however, that "picking out" is purely our own choice. What do we include, and what do we ignore? What do we emphasize, and what do we downplay? What do we describe in unvarnished (and perhaps uncompromising) truth, and what do we invent, whether because it suits us (as with adding magic to a setting inspired by our world, or inserting gender equality when and where there demonstrably wasn't any) or because it suits the tale we intend to tell (e.g. trimming down the cast of characters for a film adaptation because a large cast is much less manageable in film than it is in a book)?
 

Ixal

Hero
There are many, many, many more questions than that. Enormously more. You are outright trivializing an extremely complex and, as I have said several times, CONTROVERSIAL subject even in India. It is absolutely NOT the case that "the only real question" is whether sati would in fact be forced on Aouda in India under the British Raj (the colonial government nominally under Queen Victoria in her role as Empress of India.) Several other questions include:
Would the British authorities have permitted it, even if it were expected of her? If not, could she have appealed to them instead of Fogg?
Would it actually include the burning of her relatives, something not actually associated with the sati practice but referenced in the book?
Does it actually make for a more interesting story to center her life around this practice, which was controversial even in pre-Raj India?
Does the emphasis on this cultural practice actually give an effective and respectful communication of the culture of India, or is it a sensationalization of relatively minor details until they obscure rather than edify?
It would certainly not allowed by the British as the practice was banned in 1829 and the storie plays out in 1872.
But the control of the British was not absolute and thus it still happened. If it were so easy the practice would have already ended under Mughal rule, yet it endured.
It would not include burning the relatives, just the wive(s). That should be changed, but Aouda would still be effected.
Fearing for her life gives Aouda a reason to leave her home and country and to travel with a complete stranger. So there is some story reason why it was added. That it was controversial in the countries of India does not change that it was practiced for a long time and even persisted when several foreign governments tried to root it out. So as much controversy there would have been, there was also support for it.
And why should this cultural custom not be shown? India is more than Diwali and happy spiritual people everywhere (aka the Disney version of India).

Or, if you wish to summarize it with a single question: Is it actually WISE to include this cultural practice affecting this character in this story?

Because that's my core assertion here. That some forms of so-called "accuracy," even if they really did reflect some inarguable and objective component of history or culture, are NOT wise to include. Now, that determination must be made with exceeding care. We are always, and necessarily, picking out only some things to talk about and, as a consequence, always and necessarily picking out some things to ignore. Some of the time, that "picking out" is chosen for us (as with my Norse example above; we simply do not have unbiased sources, they literally do not exist, the Norse, for whatever reason, simply didn't choose to write down their traditions), and we must make do with what we have. In many other cases, however, that "picking out" is purely our own choice. What do we include, and what do we ignore? What do we emphasize, and what do we downplay? What do we describe in unvarnished (and perhaps uncompromising) truth, and what do we invent, whether because it suits us (as with adding magic to a setting inspired by our world, or inserting gender equality when and where there demonstrably wasn't any) or because it suits the tale we intend to tell (e.g. trimming down the cast of characters for a film adaptation because a large cast is much less manageable in film than it is in a book)?
Is it wise? Its certainly not foolish at least. It does not have to be added, but it should also not be hidden. Its simply a fact that it happened and was part of several cultures in India. We do not even have to interpret evidence about that as we even have modern sources for it and do not need to rely on speculation like with the Norse (which doesn't mean we don't know anything about them either).
By hiding and removing to dark parts of culture you are in the end falsifying. And if you think globally and long term, when everyone is doing that, you in the end take a culture and replace it with a Disney version of it in the minds of the people, shaping it to conform to your vision and moral standard. So basically exactly the thing people who warn about cultural appropriation want to prevent.
 
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Let's remember D&D wasn't designed to be true adaptation of the past. The female PCs couldn't enjoy enough freedom to be adventurers. And even in 5ed there are canon marriages of same gender. There are good reasons to explain because some things are totally omited or altered.

If you want a dog as a ranger companion or a wizard's familiar, you can do it in your al-Qadim even when in the Muslim culture the dogs as pets aren't wellcome.

To avoid potential troubles my advice is antagonist factions to be linked with monsters and supernatural factions. For example the extarminaars, a PC race from "Forgotten Realms: Champions of Ruins". They are perfect as an atagonist faction of a "bloodline of a Lovecraftian secret cult of a serpent deity". But accidentally they could be promoting the xenophobic trope of "an alien infiltrator among us wants to destroy us by means of actions of sabotage".

I suggest as antagonist faction a dragon cults whose members are spellcasters who want to "digievolution" to become "cobra dragons" (They appeared in Dragon magazine #146., and if somebody asks, we say it is an easter eggs honoring the archenemies of G.I.Joe).

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Please, I don't want stupid jokes about womanizer bards, female island giants (with shapesifting powers) and "How I met your mother".

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* The lore of the updated al-Qadim should be ready for a possible future version of the sha'ir class (maybe designed to be a mixture of elementalist and summoner).

* In my land "mameluco" can be used as an insult, even when today nobody remembers who were the mamluks, but maybe the mercenaries hired by Napoleon.

* Once I read the literature nobel V. S. Naipaul's book "India, a wounded civilitation". It was interesting.

* Almost off-topic but I have seen a comingsoon title "Aztec Batman. Clash of Empire" and this is one of the best examples of the type controversies we should avoid, because they promote tropes based in historical prejudices and they reanimate the propaganda war from previous ages.
 

My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right.
Yes. And this was not about the "sanctity of the source material." I don't mind that they changed things, I just feel this particular change was poorly handled.

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)
Right. We know this. It was a real thing. The story is not particularly inaccurate. It still might be unwise to have the story's India episode to focus on this one very specific negative thing about the Indian culture of the time (especially as it is one of the things Raj apologists often bring up.)

Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)
Sigh.

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai. What does not appear is the sati practice, because for exactly the same reasons as harems, sati is far from universal even in its native culture, has had a controversial or mixed record/perception even in its native culture, has been flagrantly abused by outsiders (particularly in the Anglosphere) to demonize that culture, and even its "benign" presentations have been absolutely loaded with crappy tropes and deep, deep cultural misunderstandings.

It's almost like, by not leaning on a singular, technically accurate but controversial (and almost always sensationalized), cultural practice, the work can be better at representing the whole of that culture, not crappy, tropey, reductivist caricatures of that culture! Imagine that!

I had a longer explanation in my original post, but deleted it as I felt the detail was unnecessary for the overall point. Yes, there is character named Aouda in the TV show. She appears in one episode, is a completely different character aside the name, she never leaves India. The role which she play in the book is mostly taken by Abigail Fix in the TV show, a new female character invented for the show. (Though she is not Fogg's love interest.) Se is an English white woman. And the show is progressive in other regards. Passepartout is black, and he has a romance with Abigail Fix. And the show addresses racism and sexism of the era. But in this light side-lining Aouda and replacing her with a western white woman seems jarring. There is one scene where miss Fix wears a traditional Indian attire to a Governor's party at Hong Kong (gifted to her by Aouda when they were in India) and it really underscores that this English woman has taken this Indian woman's place in the story.

Of course Verne's books have Victorian misconceptions and Eurocentric viewpoint. But this book published in 1872 had an Indian woman as a main character who had an interracial romance with an English gentleman (they eventually marry.) And somehow this modern adaptation from 2021 manages to make it in certain ways more Eurocentric. (All main characters are now Europeans travelling to "exotic" foreign places.) One would wish that they could have managed to keep Auda's significant role even though they didn't want to depict sati. It would have allowed to present more varied viewpoints. It would have required coming up with another reason for her to leave India, but certainly professional writers would be capable of that?

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