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D&D General Divine Invasion: A Proposal for an Anti-Colonialist D&D Setting

I have to agree with Greg. Keep on the Borderlands takes place in a fantasy world where the Humans were there first, and the Non-humans have migrated in to kick them off this land. In this one specific adventure, the PCs are tasked with resisting the colonizing efforts of the non-humans. I won't excuse all the rest of D&D, though. Most of it's pretty favorable of colonialism.
I don't know, the (slim) background of the module tells us:

Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It is these ad- venturers who, provided they survive the challenge, carry the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers meet the forces of Chaos In a testing ground where only the fittest will return to relate the tale...
Ahead, up the winding road, atop a sheer-walled mount of stone, looms the great KEEP. Here, at one of civilization's strongholds between good lands and bod. you will base yourselves and equip for forays against the wicked monsters who lurk in the wilds...
You have travelled for many days, leaving the Realm and entering into the wilder area of the Borderlands. Forms and towns have become less frequent and travellers few. The road has climbed higher as you enter the forested and mountainous country.

So the keep is a military outpost, not the center of "civilization" ("The "Realm" is to the west, off the map. The road branches, one path to the KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. the other leading off into the forsaken wilderness beyond the ken of Law."). This is reinforced by the fact that there are only a handful of women in keep and is sustained by traders come from "the realm." The humanoid monsters are described as warring against each other moreso than against the keep, while the latter is the source of adventuring parties that wander into the monster's home in search of treasure and maybe a fight.

We know how the "civilized" inhabits of the keep view the wilderness ("beyond the ken of Law")--the entire scenario is presented from that perspective. How do the cave-dwellers view the keep, and the adventuring parties that keep invading their meagre homes? How does it feel when someone else is trying to impose their "Law" on you by "carrying the battle" to your front door? Dnd handwaves these concerns via alignment--the monsters are chaotic and/or evil and therefore bad.

But I think taking those questions seriously could make for an interesting game, whether in a sword and sorcery world like B2, or in a high fantasy world as the OP would like to do. (And is probably a trope of high fantasy to begin with, for example, star wars)
 

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However, this is me. I'm not gonna police how others want to enjoy their own game, so if you want to imagine some kind of anti-colonialist world, go for it! ......And then tell me about it, because it's going to be something very hard to create without making it absolutely unbelievable: tribal conflict and pushing away other groups to get the resources all for ourselves is a core element of the entire ecosystem of our planet, including viruses, bacteria and plants.... so it's probably hard to think of a setting which doesn't involve anything that resembles some form of colonialism.
Did you read or even glance at the OP? The central tension in their proposed setting has to do with a colonial force and resistance to it. "Anti-colonialist" doesn't mean getting rid of colonialism and its politics; in fact, in the context of dnd, it means acknowledging it
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Pretty much everyone has probably a "anti-colonialist" (counter-colonialist?) setting in the form of Orcs, Demons or other evil races attacking and razing everything in their path.

But on the danger of opening a big can of worms, I see no reason why D&D games should not also have colonialist elements.
D&D takes a lot of history and colonialism has existed in history in all eras among all cultures. So removing it means removing a lot of historic inspiration for games.
 

Hussar

Legend
It's pretty easy to see the difference between an adventure glorifying colonialism and one that doesn't. Hommlet, and Temple of Elemental Evil is a good example. There, the bad guys aren't "other". They're people just like us, just somewhat crazy, worshipping a horrible, existence ending entity and want to bring about the end of the world. :D

But, there's no sense of "invading" the Moathouse. The PC's don't resist the Temple of Elemental Evil because they want the land or it's riches. They resist because the Temple is flat out evil. With a capital E. There's no families there going about their day to day business just doing their thing. They are an enemy force and act as such.

It's not actually all that hard not to lean on the notion that the PC's are the colonizers. All one has to do is move your benchmark up about an inch and not use those tropes that are grounded in early Fantasy works. There are all sorts of adventures that do this. Temple of Elemental Evil. Cult of the Reptile God. The Slavers series. Just to name three nice classic modules.

It's really not that hard.
 

Hussar

Legend
Pretty much everyone has probably a "anti-colonialist" (counter-colonialist?) setting in the form of Orcs, Demons or other evil races attacking and razing everything in their path.

But on the danger of opening a big can of worms, I see no reason why D&D games should not also have colonialist elements.
D&D takes a lot of history and colonialism has existed in history in all eras among all cultures. So removing it means removing a lot of historic inspiration for games.
But, that's not what's being done.

It's not about "removing" anything. It's about presenting the colonialist tropes as BAD. IOW, instead of adventures where the colonizers are celebrated as "pacifying the land" or "making the wilderness safe" or whatnot, you make adventures where the colonizers are the bad guys. It's no different than how we currently show slavery as a bad thing. Any D&D culture that endorses slavery is portrayed as the bad guys.

Again, it's never about removing anything. That's a misinterpretation of what's being asked. It's about changing the narrative to reflect actual morality rather than glorifying incredibly horrendous acts by "civilized" peoples throughout history.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Did you read or even glance at the OP? The central tension in their proposed setting has to do with a colonial force and resistance to it. "Anti-colonialist" doesn't mean getting rid of colonialism and its politics; in fact, in the context of dnd, it means acknowledging it

The interesting thing in the OP setting is that the aasimar settlers are basically offered the choice of serving the god's goal of breeding and multiplying to generate a lot of worshippers (and hope being promoted to deva) or spend eternity in an afterlife of punishment by their god's devising. They are objectively legitimate in engaging in their settling behaviour since they are coerced into it with a threat worth than death, literally, if they don't comply. So basically the PCs will be fighting against people who have no other choice than colonizing their space and are not necessarily evil themselves for not rising against the gods who force them to do that. It will make for interesting moral dilemmas among the PCs on where do they stop repelling aasimar's families from the land and whether they are right in killing them once they know they are just victims like them.

It is not clear from the OP whether the "deal" offered to aasimar is wideky known in setting. If it is, it creates a very dystopian feeling with the colonized side calling itself the "rightful people of the world" and basically warring against innocents instead of the gods themselves, and if it isn't, it might be a dark turn of events for PCs who have engaged in extreme acts of violence against the aasimar when they learn the truth. If it is known that aasimar reincarnate as adults - which solves the baby aasimar problem that would otherwise quickly arise - there is a very strong chance PCs engaged in said act of violence during play thinking there is little consequence to it.

Edit: the more I think of it, the more I see that as dystopian. Since the aasimar are ever reincarnating as adult conscripted into colonialism, if the Rightful Peoples of the World have their ways, the aasimar will be locked into a cycle of reincarnation where they are quickly killed by the elemental powers (Dragon-blood inquisition against the Solars come to mind, except aasimar don't hace Solar Exalted excellencies) and their only choice to break out of this awful cycle is to willingly accept to be doomed in the Lower Planes forever...

I'd have imagined an anti-colonialist setting with a more white and black morality but then it would more have been France vs Nazi Germany than colonialism.
 
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TheSword

Legend
So the keep is a military outpost, not the center of "civilization" ("The "Realm" is to the west, off the map. The road branches, one path to the KEEP ON THE BORDERLANDS. the other leading off into the forsaken wilderness beyond the ken of Law."). This is reinforced by the fact that there are only a handful of women in keep and is sustained by traders come from "the realm." The humanoid monsters are described as warring against each other moreso than against the keep, while the latter is the source of adventuring parties that wander into the monster's home in search of treasure and maybe a fight.

We know how the "civilized" inhabits of the keep view the wilderness ("beyond the ken of Law")--the entire scenario is presented from that perspective. How do the cave-dwellers view the keep, and the adventuring parties that keep invading their meagre homes? How does it feel when someone else is trying to impose their "Law" on you by "carrying the battle" to your front door? Dnd handwaves these concerns via alignment--the monsters are chaotic and/or evil and therefore bad.

But I think taking those questions seriously could make for an interesting game, whether in a sword and sorcery world like B2, or in a high fantasy world as the OP would like to do. (And is probably a trope of high fantasy to begin with, for example, star wars)
The humanoids have kidnapped a merchant and taken them back to the caves…

Rescuing that person is not ‘imposing law’.

Chaos in 1e is also far different to the freedom loving 2nd+. It’s madness, anarchy, dissolution and destruction. Far more like WFRPs version of chaos as an ultimate foe. The monsters in the caves embody and worship this power.

You also missed a few words out of the background section.

The Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies - dwarves, elves, and halflings - who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land.
That’s the opening paragraph of the section titled ‘Background’ on Page 6
 
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AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
In my opinion, Eberron handles colonialism in a much better way than most other D&D settings (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc). The Orcs and Dhakaani Goblins are pretty obvious analogues for the real world, but with a fantasy spin, and they're not like standard D&D Goblins and Orcs that are always evil, monstrous vermin that are supposed to be eradicated at first sight. Orcs and Goblins in Eberron are native to Khorvaire, were conquered by the Human colonial settlers from Riedra, have had their historical sites raided and desecrated by the colonizers, have been dehumanized (well, they aren't humans, so maybe a better term would be "de-person-ized/de-personified") and marginalized for generations, and are understandably upset at all of this.

Eberron makes sure to not glorify the colonialism, and pretty clearly paints the treatment of the native peoples as a bad thing. It also makes sure to paint the descendants of the colonizers as not being responsible for the initial mistreatment of the native peoples, but also shows that many are still bad for their continued discrimination against them.

That's a better way to tackle it. It's a messy topic, and D&D should treat it as one, like Eberron does.
 

TheSword

Legend
In my opinion, Eberron handles colonialism in a much better way than most other D&D settings (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc). The Orcs and Dhakaani Goblins are pretty obvious analogues for the real world, but with a fantasy spin, and they're not like standard D&D Goblins and Orcs that are always evil, monstrous vermin that are supposed to be eradicated at first sight. Orcs and Goblins in Eberron are native to Khorvaire, were conquered by the Human colonial settlers from Riedra, have had their historical sites raided and desecrated by the colonizers, have been dehumanized (well, they aren't humans, so maybe a better term would be "de-person-ized/de-personified") and marginalized for generations, and are understandably upset at all of this.

Eberron makes sure to not glorify the colonialism, and pretty clearly paints the treatment of the native peoples as a bad thing. It also makes sure to paint the descendants of the colonizers as not being responsible for the initial mistreatment of the native peoples, but also shows that many are still bad for their continued discrimination against them.

That's a better way to tackle it. It's a messy topic, and D&D should treat it as one, like Eberron does.
It is very well done. Eberron also gives goblins a further twist with the Dhaakani also having had their own expansionist and militaristic empire, though reduced from its former glory. The new nationalistic fervor rising in Dhaakan has a lot of real world echoes.

Eberron is cool on many, many fronts.
 

The humanoids have kidnapped someone and taken them back to the caves…

Rescuing that person is not ‘imposing law’.

Chaos in 1e is also far different to the freedom loving 2nd+. It’s madness, anarchy, dissolution and destruction. Far more like WFRPs version of chaos as an ultimate foe. The monsters in the caves embody and worship this power.

You also missed a few words out of the background section.


That’s the opening paragraph of the section titled ‘Background’ on Page 6
That's what I meant by dnd handwaving moral considerations via reference to alignment, whether in the titanic struggle between Law and Chaos, or the same but also with Good and Evil. When rapacious, enslaving Chaos, as in the module, is an objective fact and in manichaean struggle with Law, and the adventures are put (at least initially) on the side of law, questions of morality or nuance in the in-fiction political situation are already decided. For a lot of dnd players, you among them apparently, that works perfectly well. However, put that same scenario in front of other players, and they are going to wonder about the motivations, desires, ethos, etc of the creatures, and the dm simply saying "they are Chaotic and evil, feel free to invade their homes" isn't going to be very satisfactory (a version of this happened in my play group, which included several brand new players, a few years ago). Part of the reason that is not a satisfactory answer is because it is unrealistic and breaks immersion, and part of it is that the perspective articulated in the module comes from the side of Law and "civilization," and replicates the ideologies and pretentions of colonialism, and my players have no desire to be fantasy-colonialists. Whether this replication of colonial ideology is intentional or unintentional is not important in this regard.
 

The alters that the humanoids worship at are called “alters to evil and chaos” there is no doubt that this serves the same function. It’s explicitly identified. Even though 1e chaos was synonymous with evil.
Weren't the alters set up by some evil clerics, rather than the humanoids themselves?
 

Azuresun

Adventurer
It is very well done. Eberron also gives goblins a further twist with the Dhaakani also having had their own expansionist and militaristic empire, though reduced from its former glory. The new nationalistic fervor rising in Dhaakan has a lot of real world echoes.

Eberron is cool on many, many fronts.

I really appreciate that (plus, the orcs were originally displaced by the golbinoids). It's very easy and trite to say that humans are the real monsters and they did all the bad stuff against those poor Noble Savage orcs, but all it really does is switch out who the racially determined bad guys are--it's obvious, it's misanthropic, and it's low-effort.

I'll also mention that the Iron Kingdoms setting (whether in its own RPG, the d20 original or the recent 5e conversion) has these elements in the history of its world, where the primary setting spent centuries being colonised and ruthlessly exploited by a foreign power that shipped off slaves en masse and brutally punished any hint of resistance. It's in the past, but the damage it caused informs a large part of the politics and development of the setting.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I like the idea here. What if we made it a bit less monolithic?

Instead of the Aasimar being a horde of invaders, what if the Aasimar civilization existed. The expansion into the territory of the elemental princes isn't core to the Aasimar civilization, just a something done for strategic reasons.

Instead of an all-out assault, they are exploiting the division between the elemental princes, ruling the elemental peoples via proxy, etc.

You can even go into the dawn war, and have the Divine forces create the mortal races by manipulating the Elemental peoples. The mortal races would act mostly as background civilians and laborers in the conflict, relatively weak compared to the divine powered Aasimar and the Elemental powered peoples.

The Divine corruption of Dragons produces the Metallics, that is awesome. But the Divine corruption of Giants produces Dwarves, for example; a smaller, easier to control, people who can do the crafting that the Giants where doing.

We can even define a few areas of conflict.

Astral Sea + the Gods control the high ground. The Astral Sea permits relatively easy travel, and the Upper Plane sanctums are fortified spots from which their forces spread over the cosmos.

Prime Elemental
This is a land of raw elemental beauty. The raw force of creation is everywhere. Travel in the Prime Elemental is slow, and much of it is pristine wilderness. Different elements dominate in different areas. The great and ancient Elemental cities are here.

The Three Kindgoms
The great ring is a circular flow of soul energy, from which the Elemental Princes crafted the core of the Elemental Peoples. Properly crafted and buffered with elements, a soul is self-sustaining and can reproduce, so while the great ring was needed to start it off, it is only needed to craft a new people.

When the divines arrived, they wanted in on the game. They set up to harvest the great ring, and built a dam in it. This divided the ring into three kingdoms; Fae, Fel and the Middle Kingdom.

This was done with the cooperation of some of the Elemental Princes, as they to could see the benefit of being more easily able to create new people's from the great ring. Others objected, but everyone had more important things to do.

From energy captured in the middle kingdom, the Divines crafted Angels out of nearly pure soul energy. These creatures where not properly buffered with elements, and found existing outside the astral sea difficult. The gods, lacking the ability to manipulate the elements like the princes, purchased Elemental peoples and replaced the souls of newborns to produce Aasimar.

Each one has an Astral soul that does cannot reproduce, but does reincarnate. When the reincarnation happens, the Aasimar is recreated an adult.

It was known the divines paid well for captured elemental people's, but the horrifying soul replacement wasn't known or believed by most.

So now, we have Divine fortresses on the Great Ring, harvesting soul-energy while trading in elemental people slaves. Using astral magic, they are warping the elemental people's to produce more ameniable slaves, such as shrinking Giants into smaller and less arrogant crafters, but that effort is just beginning.

From the fortresses in the Middle Kingdom, the Divine forces have advanced into the Prime Elemental, and are claiming territory. Aasimar advisors back one side of the other conflicts between the princes; with access to the Astral Sea, elemental forces can be moved over the Prime much faster than they could without Divine assistance, which means that Princes that ally with the Gods have a significant advantage.

Over time this has resulted in Princes becoming subject to said Divine forces. Those who don't bend knee are cut off from access to the Astral, which becomes strategically crippling.
 

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