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D&D General The Rakshasa and Genie Problem

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
So, this is an issue that I've been thinking about lately, which I first thought of in light of some recent threads of similar topic, and I'm not sure what the solution is. It's pretty unique to D&D, but can come from any fantasy work that borrows its creatures from a lot of different cultures, folklore, and mythologies. The problem that I noticed is in a lot of D&D worlds, especially ones that don't have Fantasy Counterpart Cultures of the cultures that the creatures were borrowed from in the first place, tend to basically evolve into those Fantasy Counterpart Cultures. And this can be a problem, and I think one of the most apparent examples is actually from Eberron: the Carrion Tribes of the Demon Wastes, which are largely populated by Rakshasa.

D&D "borrowed" Rakshasa from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies (they're quite different from D&D Rakshasa), which have been major religions in India and surrounding areas for millennia. And I have no problem with borrowing monsters from other cultures. Giants, Dwarves, and Elves come from Norse Mythology, Satyrs, Nymphs, Minotaurs, Harpies, and Centaurs come from Greek Mythology, Fomorians, most Fey, and Banshee come from Celtic Mythology, Griffons and Sphynxes come from Egyptian Mythology, and I could go on and on. Borrowing monsters, fantasy races, and other aspects of other culture's mythologies and folklore is not the problem. The problem is when the monsters become stand-ins for those peoples in the fantasy worlds. I've mostly noticed this happen to Rakshasa and Genies, but I'm sure it's also happened to other creatures.

And on some level, it makes sense that the creatures that came from other cultures would have the same base culture, especially if they're fairly similar to humanoids. The mythologies and folklore that they came from would probably treat fantasy people as their base culture when writing about them. But there's also examples that don't follow this at all (the Courts of the Feywild don't tend to have Irish stereotypes with them from what I've noticed, Dwarves aren't Vikings, etc), so it clearly isn't a rule. D&D Rakshasas could easily just be another anthropomorphic animal character race (well, maybe then they'd be called Rakasta) while Genies could just be magic people that are trapped in bottles/lamps. They don't necessarily have to have the same culture (or a stereotyped version of it) as the culture they were drawn from. I honestly don't know which is better, which is why I'm creating this thread. For me it feels uncomfortable to have Rakshasa and Genies be fantasy-counterpart Middle-Eastern/Indian people, but I also don't know if just taking the monsters out of their cultural context is cultural appropriation. Is it better to just not use the creatures if you don't have a Fantasy-Counterpart in your world of that culture in the first place? Maybe it would be better to just keep them in Al-Qadim and similar areas of certain D&D worlds instead of having them assumed to exist in most D&D worlds (Eberron, for example)? I honestly do not know the answer, and all of these answers seem a bit uncomfortable to me (at least at the moment).

Does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts?

(I don't want to mark this thread as a (+) thread, because debating the different options and discussing which would be best is the point of this thread, but I do want to keep the spirit. Please, don't threadcrap or troll. Please be sincere in your questioning and not adverse to the base premise. If you don't think these kinds of discussions are necessary or important, just don't participate.)
 

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Fey are not particularly celtic. Though people tend to think they are. So there wouldn't be any reason why they would be especially Irish. They are particularly western though. Just like Dwarves, while not perhaps specifically vikings, are specifically Northen European.

The problem is what would you call a fey from a middle eastern style part of the world? The answer is basically a genie.

The solution would be to somehow break a lot of these fey type creatures into one specific overarching monster/racial group and then give them specific cultures (and because they are magical, they're physical characteristics also vary by culture). So if your fey in the Indian type part of the world look like Tigers with backwards hands, that's basically because they find it fashionable to look like that.

Or perhaps we just need to think of them like that. I don't know.
 
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MGibster

Legend
Maybe it would be better to just keep them in Al-Qadim and similar areas of certain D&D worlds instead of having them assumed to exist in most D&D worlds (Eberron, for example)? I honestly do not know the answer, and all of these answers seem a bit uncomfortable to me (at least at the moment).
I can't remember the last time I even saw a genie used in D&D (probably when I last played Al-Qadim) and the only rakshasa I can think of was in a Ravenloft module (I think), so I don't really have a dog in this race when it comes to their inclusion or exclusion. But I don't think it's a good idea to just limit their inclusion in a game to parts of the world like Al-Qadim. After all, with all the trade that goes on what's to keep a genie or a rakshasa confined to only one area of the world? You can easily justify their presence in metropolitan areas like Baldur's Gate or Sharn.

Does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts?
For making you comfortable with how they're used in the game? No. The way you've framed the situation, I don't think there's anything short of excluding them from settings that aren't not-Arabia or not-India that will remove your discomfort entirely. I get your concerns about genies and rakshasas being the only representative of the cultures they came from in real life, but I don't think it'd be better to remove them from that culture even if we do it for so many other creatures. So I'm kind of at a loss myself.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Two creatures, two responses:

Rakshasa: I've never really used these as a DM and I think have only once ever met one as a player. All I know about them is they're a) bloody powerful and b) generally not very nice, meaning an entire culture or nation of them (as per the OP) would probably both want to and be able to take over the world in short order. Me, I'd make them very rare and use them as occasional major opponents or interludes (much the same as I do with Sphinxes), and if your setting doesn't have the matching culture you could always change their appearance a bit - and maybe the name - so as not to tie them to any specific culture.

Genie: these I've used quite a bit as DM over the years. The way I handle them, they - and Djinn, Marids, Dao, and various other such creatures - aren't in fact native to the Prime Material: their home plane is that on which stands the City of Brass. Quite a few such creatures do quasi-permanently live on the PM, though, some by choice and some because they have no choice, and they can be encountered pretty much anywhere. Given that Genies are (in my game anyway) wish-granting creatures it should go without saying that one appearing is a quite uncommon event - usually.

That said, one Genie has become a constant presence in my campaign: a PC drawing from a modified Deck of Many Things (based on the 3e Harrow Deck) pulled a card that summoned a Genie to propose marriage to her; she accepted. The next card she pulled gave her a castle, where they still live (he keeps trying to talk her into moving to the City of Brass but it's a bit too hot for her to survive there, so he grudgingly stays on the PM). As their castle is near a major city that has become a quasi-home base for many adventurers, other PCs visit them fairly regularly - but he's a bit prickly; most of the time he lets his wife do the socializing, and you have to do him a truly mighty favour (such as saving the life of another Genie, it's happened) before he'll even think about granting you a wish. He's happy, though, to talk all day about the City of Brass to anyone who's interested, though few ever are.

Fantasy cultures that suit both Genies and Rakshasa exist in my setting but the creatures would exist even if the cultures did not.
 

If the concern is representation, I do not think the best course of action is to make these borrowed things less like the context they were borrowed from. I think the better--and, I admit, much more difficult--choice is to give better representation of those cultures.

Because that's really the sticking point, isn't it? It's not that Genies or Rakshasa or bean sí (banshee) take, or don't take, inspiration from their source cultures. It's that when they do, typically speaking, these things are the only thing taken from their source cultures. You don't have anyone that's got an Arabia-inspired culture unless they're a genie. You don't have anyone that's got an Indian Subcontinent-inspired culture unless they're a Rakshasa. Etc.

So...don't do that. Do some research on what life was like for citizens of the Timurid Empire, or the Sassanid Empire, or what it was like to live in Al-Andalus during its golden age. Make some cultures that give reasonably authentic and respectful representation to the cultures that these myths come from. Then it doesn't matter whether these supernatural beings are or aren't drawing on a particular historical humanoid culture; you've already got good examples of human beings who represent those things.

That was part of the challenge I set for myself when I started up my Jewel of the Desert Dungeon World game for my friends. I wanted to make a setting that blended cool and beautiful things from the fiction I grew up with (like the stories of Sinbad and Scheherazade), common experiences my friends and I had had (some cultures that appear in games we play), and the actual histories of both pre- and post-Islamic Arabia, the Levant, North Africa, Iberia, and the Indian subcontinent. I did research, as much as I was able without ready access to a proper academic library. I sought out advice and direction from people I respected, in particular some who carry the ethnic and cultural legacies of those places. I read up on how other games had done it (particularly D&D's Al Qadim setting), and immersed myself in diverse TTRPG products with such an implied setting.

It was both enlightening and very fun to do, and overall has given me a wonderful foundation to build the game upon--and, more importantly, it meant that there was no issue with including a variety of things even more specific than genies, like nasnas or qarin or were-hyenas. Because yes, many of these things come with an Arabian cultural flavor or background...but so does almost everyone in this setting. (There are also a few people of Polynesian-like and East Asian-like cultural background, but they're all foreigners to some extent and thus intentionally a little less well-known.)

The "lost qarin" in particular were very fun, for me anyway (the players didn't like fighting them, that's for sure!) In their traditional form, qarin (also spelled "qareen" and a few other transliterations) are jinn-like beings that are matched to each person, and may try to tempt mortals to sin. The Quran references them as such (though the reading is somewhat ambiguous and is a subject of some hadith, AIUI.) My "lost qarin" were the echoes of lives that were never lived--eliminated by time travel or twists of fate, or potential never realized. They hungered for realization and physicality, and took offense at the intrusion of living mortals into their domain. Had some time-manipulation shenanigans and other tricksy things. The party cleared them out just fine but it was definitely a rough fight for a bit.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Other solutions:

1) they’re not native to your setting, but were brought here by powerful magics…then abandoned/escaped.

2) they are the last remnants of the cultures they are most strongly associated with.

3) reskin them to match them to cultures present in your setting. (This might also beg a name change, but that’s OK.)
 



Lyxen

Great Old One
They are all borrowed cos none of them are real. This is just looking for an issue that isn't there.

I'm sorry, it is helpful, "looking for an issue that isn't there" is one of the common problems of today, so a suggestion to avoid this is actually a very good one. No-one is complaining about these "borrowings" so why assume that it might cause a problem to someone ? Why feel uncomfortable on behalf of people who in all probability don't even care, or who would actually be proud of it ?

Let me tell you a story, in the 80s I fell in love with the indian pantheon presented in the 1st edition Deities and Demigods, in particular following a reading of Lord of Light by Zelazny. So I did a bit of digging and found the ramayana, which I read and absolutely loved, and created a complete campaign based on my understanding of it, with Ravana as the BBEG and his hordes of Rakshasas of various kinds as nefarious villains (and since then rakshasas are amongst my favourite villains). My players loved it, and we still speak about it today (in particular as to how the PCs invoked Agni, burning butter and all that).

Years later, I visited India, Thailand, and many countries in the east, as I was an expatriate in Singapore. These are places where these legends are part of the culture, and transcribed in particular in stories on the walls of temples. Every single person I spoke to there, tour guides, local people, museum staff, etc. were interested to know how I knew so much about their legends, recognising heroes and villains and phases of the story. So I told them, and no-one was offended. On the contrary, they were extremely pleased that I knew about their culture, even deformed as it was, about their heroes and their values.

And of course, my story was certainly full of stereotypes and cultural problems, and I'm sure that I should today be crucified for that horrible cultural (mis-)appropriation (but, thankfully, I'm European :p ). But don't assume that the people that some might feel righteous about feel that way at all, it was simply not true, it was actually the complete opposite.
 

S'mon

Legend
With the genies, they have such a rich and complex variety of types, morals etc that I don't have a problem with them tending to have Middle Eastern type cultures - efreet, dao, marids, jann & djinn cover a huge range.

I haven't seen Rakshasa 'represent Indian culture' but they tend to come from the world's India-analogue area. I normally pair Rakshasa (evil) with Deva (good), as in the 4e cosmology. In Golarion the Rakshasa are clearly from the India area. In my version of Primeval Thule they are actually from future-Mars, and don't really have a strongly Indian culture I'd say.

I can't say I've seen these strongly supernatural creatures "represent the culture" in a fantasy setting. I'm trying to think of an example where this might be the case - Hobgoblins are sometimes depicted with east-Asian type arms and armour but their culture isn't presented as analogous to any east-Asian culture, it tends to draw if anything on Roman Empire militaristic tropes.

Edit: What I have seen fairly often are fantasy human cultures that are clearly based on real world human cultures, with some designated Good and some Evil. I just got the Mystara Atruaghin Clans book from 1991 and it's very noticeable how eg the Plains Indians analogue tribe are designated 'Good' while the Aztec analogue tribe are designated 'Evil'. The Mystara books in general had a lot of this kind of cultural stereotyping, eg the Germanic-named Hattians of south Thyatis are generally Evil, and their Storm Soldiers are clear Nazi analogues. The Mongolian-analogue Ethengar Khanate gets a more sympathetic treatment, perhaps surprisingly. The Known World/Mystara line really bought into the current views of 1980s America, so eg with Ylaruam (Arabia) the Sunni analogue Preceptors are the good guys and the Shia analogue Kin faction are the bad guys, while out west the evil Master of the Desert Nomads is depicted as Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
 
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TheSword

Legend
Can I ask what it is about the demon wastes and carrion tribes that make you think they are an analogy for South Asia? Aside from the headquarters of the Lords of Dust in Ashtakala I can’t really see any link. Even the Rakshasa themselves really only take their name and title from south Asian languages. Other than that I’m not seeing the link?
 
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JohnF

Explorer
Gonna agree with Dannyalcatraz about reskinning and renaming.

These days, I'm happily looking at this issue (which is a legitimate one) as an opportunity to refresh my stable of baddies and innovate my stale campaign worlds. Borrowed creatures and concepts have become my starting points of inspiration. With a name change, an ability tweak or two, and a little cosmetic zjooshing, and - voila - now I've got a "new" thing to play with, one that will develop along its own distinct mythological trajectory, liberated from long-established expectations.
 

Argyle King

Legend
In your opinion, does it "help" when two cultures are borrowed and blended?

I think it's fair to say that a lot of D&D Dwarves are played as some sort of Scottish Vikings.

Is there a value in using mythological terms with which people are familiar as shorthand (even when the D&D version is different) to give players a general ballpark from which to start?

For example, I think most people have some general idea of what dragons, elves, and wizards are.

Would the entry-level barrier for learning the game change if those elements were replaced with floobens, margles, and zoops?
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
In your opinion, does it "help" when two cultures are borrowed and blended?

I think it does, actually, see below.

I think it's fair to say that a lot of D&D Dwarves are played as some sort of Scottish Vikings.

I understand it's the thing in english-speaking countries, although I think it's a bit recent, I don't think it's the case for example here in France, I think we are more "true" to dwarves as described by Tolkien, for example.

Is there a value in using mythological terms with which people are familiar as shorthand (even when the D&D version is different) to give players a general ballpark from which to start?

I think there is. Sometimes it's a fantasy one ("Tolkien" dwarves, for example), sometimes it's a real world one (rakshasas, genies), but people like to be able to hook unto some sort of stereotype, even if it's immediately to tell them that it's not exactly a stereotype, in which case they will also latch on the differences, see for example "scottish vikings" for dwarves. It's very hard to imagine a complete fantasy culture from scratch without references, stereotypes are useful as long as they are respectful.

For example, in Glorantha, it's fairly easy to see Sartarites as vikings and lunars as romans, it helps at first, because you can then focus on the differences and people will then get into the details.

For example, I think most people have some general idea of what dragons, elves, and wizards are.

Would the entry-level barrier for learning the game change if those elements were replaced with floobens, margles, and zoops?

Yes, I think it would make things harder, and if they were remotely similar, people, after hearing your descriptions of floobens would immediately say something like "OK they are like dragons, but with four wings and speaking with an irish accent, right ?" :p
 

Argyle King

Legend
I don't fully understand where the Scottish Viking thing came from.

In my home games, I imagine dwarves as a mix between Grecco-Roman culture and the dwarves from Dragon Age Origins.

The Greek/Roman influence is because I imagined a group of people infatuated with stoneworking producing sculptures and artwork similar to ancient Rome.

It also allowed for ancestor worship, in which I used names of Greek gods and mythology figures to represent famous dwarves. Aphrodite became a dwarf famous for embodying the Dwarven ideal of beauty; Hercules for having legendary strength; and etc.
 


Does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts?

(I don't want to mark this thread as a (+) thread, because debating the different options and discussing which would be best is the point of this thread, but I do want to keep the spirit. Please, don't threadcrap or troll. Please be sincere in your questioning and not adverse to the base premise. If you don't think these kinds of discussions are necessary or important, just don't participate.)
I don’t think that this issue has a one-size fit all solution. One solution is to ensure that Rakshasha and Genies AREN’T the sole representative of their culture.

To change things up, I’m currently running a campaign in the non-western part of the world. Having multiple characters that are from the Middle-East can mitigate the issue that the sole “MiddleEastern” character is either a villain or subservient to the PCs.
 

aco175

Legend
I find it helpful to have some sort of basis to ground my game in and some of the stereotypes come out from a flavor perspective. A market in a kingdom more like England will look different than one in my more Egyptian kingdom. A genie from a distant land may have some of the troupes of that land instead of the more generic 'English' default like most of my games. Most of these differences need to come from other Earth cultures since I have only these images to work with. In reality, most of these other kingdoms are slanted back towards my default when dealing with customs and laws.

Would things be just as bad if I did away with the other cultures and just had my default one? I tend to go with the idea of things being ok if I can keep things from poking fun at other cultures and purposefully trying to show all of something about one culture and not 2 sides.
 

I don't fully understand where the Scottish Viking thing came from.

In my home games, I imagine dwarves as a mix between Grecco-Roman culture and the dwarves from Dragon Age Origins.

The Greek/Roman influence is because I imagined a group of people infatuated with stoneworking producing sculptures and artwork similar to ancient Rome.

It also allowed for ancestor worship, in which I used names of Greek gods and mythology figures to represent famous dwarves. Aphrodite became a dwarf famous for embodying the Dwarven ideal of beauty; Hercules for having legendary strength; and etc.
I might be mistaken, but I think this is a Warhammer influence actually.
Nope. Never saw a dwarf speak with a scottish accent before... Warcraft! And it got even more ingrained with World of Warcraft. Personally, before Warcraft and WoW, my dwarves usually had a deep bariton voice. I think it fits them a lot more. (Even their women have deep bariton voices by the way. That is just how I see them).
 

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