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Your opinion on basing fantasy countries on real world ones

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I think the liberal-progressive movement's emphasis on extreme political correctness is going to villainize those doing so in the future; I suspect that Kalymba may have suffered from being seen as "cultural appropriation."

Politics aside, I do think an unintended side effect is going to be an increase in European-derived settings as people try to avoid culturally appropriating from areas they don't have any connection to.

We'll see in 10 years...
 

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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Of course that is not a binary yes/no choice but a sliding scale, some developers only borrowing a general idea while others copying entire events more or less accurately like the French revolution complete with guillotines, ect. (Galt in Pathfinder as example).

I of course see the advantages in that. You provide something familiar to many people and do not need to explain everything. That also saves book space as you do not need to spell out every nuance of a specific country and can just point to its historic reference (or more likely players will figure it out themselves in many cases). Although it leaves some things in the open as the familiarity about certain countries can vary between individuals, including players, DMs and designer.

Indeed, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to "leave something in the open" depending on tables. There is nothing inherently wrong with appropriating ideas and making them your own based on familarity. Intent and context matters. If a GM has never met a French person and none of his group ever have or will, who's to be harmed if his depiction of Galt is a cartoonish version of the Revolution, with blood-drinking vampires in charge of the Revolution due to the tasty sweetness of Blue Blood? This Galt will certainly be different from that Galt as seen a French table, but that's great! Certainly, ideas at one table might sounds baroque or outright offensive to people from the other table, but there is no harm as long as the intent isn't to offend, but rather the content is there as a result of differing cultural values and expectations between groups or, more probably simple lack of familiarity (195 countries on Earth, 190 days in a school year, as Umbran said, there is nothing wrong with having only a superficial knowledge of other countries and creating your fantasy elves based on them).

Another disadvantage I see it that it gets stale at some point. There is always the Viking country, the China country, various European countries, etc. all populated with monsters from the respective mythologies and people with the corresponding culture and ethnicity.

This is more troublesome. I feel I have seen enough not-Germany, not-France and not-Venice. I'll infuse not-anything into my campaign as needed. Seeing new ideas is more valuable at this point, or novel execution of past ideas, than trying after creating Faux-Notthinghshire #198.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Most settings have faux-Middle Ages. Slavery was nearly non-existant (replaced by impoverished serfdom, which was certainly hardly better, but adventurers rarely ask the question about the socio-economical status of the farm workers when they cross villages in my experience) until it became economically sensible to buy slaves in Africa and put them to work in the colonies. Hence the absence of slaves: the inspiration is an earlier era and the conditions to have a prosperous slave trade aren't generally met in fantasy settings. Edit: actually, they sometimes are, but it's not something that is explored by designers, certainly due to the extreme level of equality usually displayed by fantasy races.
This of course only applies to christian Europe. Islamic countries had a thriving slave trade even during the late middle ages and generally a much more complex system of slavery.
This is what I meant with people having different knowledge about history causing friction.
There was a discussion about slavery in Pathfinder on the Paizo board and eventually it devolved into an argument if it is reasonable to assume that a country heavily inspired by persia, both pre and post Islam, would use the Islamic system of slavery which differs to some extend from the Christian system most people think off when it comes to slavery.

Politics aside, I do think an unintended side effect is going to be an increase in European-derived settings as people try to avoid culturally appropriating from areas they don't have any connection to.

We'll see in 10 years...

That is imo quite a minefield. On one hand if you make countries too close to historical ones you can be accused appropriation, but if you take too much creative liberty people accuse you iff being disrespectful. (And it doesn't help that in history countrie leaders rarely acted 100% respectfull eithet)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It is in US schools. It is like the existence of slavery here from 1619-1776 is all the fault of the US government, even though the US, as a country, is only responsible for the existence of slavery from 1776-1865. Virtually nothing is taught about the evils done in the colonies, as related to slavery, by the various European countries, or by the citizens of those countries, here in the Americas. I don't even think I have ever seen anything taught on the differences in slavery in the colonies around the world versus slavery within the European countries, or even if slavery was restricted to just the colonies and not used with the borders of the home countries.
Well maybe you should push to change the education curriculum in your country, then.

In the meantime, this thread is about basing fantasy countries on real world ones, not the American education system. Let's stay on topic please, or the thread will end up getting closed.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
This of course only applies to christian Europe. Islamic countries had a thriving slave trade even during the late middle ages and generally a much more complex system of slavery.

Indeed. I wrote Middle Ages when I meant "Western Europe Middle Ages" as the general source of inspiration for classical fantasy settings.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Most settings have faux-Middle Ages. Slavery was nearly non-existant (replaced by impoverished serfdom, which was certainly hardly better, but adventurers rarely ask the question about the socio-economical status of the farm workers when they cross villages in my experience) until it became economically sensible to buy slaves in Africa and put them to work in the colonies. Hence the absence of slaves: the inspiration is an earlier era and the conditions to have a prosperous slave trade aren't generally met in fantasy settings. Edit: actually, they sometimes are, but it's not something that is explored by designers, certainly due to the extreme level of equality usually displayed by fantasy races.

Mod Note:

What part of Danny's "We might want to tamp down on the discussion of real world slavery" did not register?
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I really enjoy looking up translations, etymology and playing with words and word roots in other language to make up names. I also enjoy taking the geographical concept of a real world country or region and exploring it; greek archipelago, italian coast with city states, french farmlands and vineyards, etc. They're all a bit of a stereotype, but I inject a health dose of fantasy ideas in it. In my experience and the feedback I've gotten, I most often hit the right balance of it feels familiar and it's different enough.

For example, I've been working on a small setting inspired by the idea of an italian coast with city states with some snowy mountainish highlands. Mostly based around the Genoan coast and the mountains to its north. I thought of a city with a large gatehouse of redbricks and toyed with some italian words for red, door, gate, castle and came up with a name. I also use older italian names from the 1500s for many characters. But after that I think of stuff like "oh does this race fits into this setting, how does this fantasy pantheon works in this setting, etc".

As a white westerner, there's areas I wouldn't feel comfortable building that way. If I did something like that off a country in South America, I would surely be basing myself off stuff that I saw in movies with no real understanding of its real geography, history and language. In these case, I limit myself to geography and natural formations and oddities without touching to culture or language.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Indeed, but I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to "leave something in the open" depending on tables. There is nothing inherently wrong with appropriating ideas and making them your own based on familarity. Intent and context matters. If a GM has never met a French person and none of his group ever have or will, who's to be harmed if his depiction of Galt is a cartoonish version of the Revolution, with blood-drinking vampires in charge of the Revolution due to the tasty sweetness of Blue Blood? This Galt will certainly be different from that Galt as seen a French table, but that's great! Certainly, ideas at one table might sounds baroque or outright offensive to people from the other table, but there is no harm as long as the intent isn't to offend, but rather the content is there as a result of differing cultural values and expectations between groups or, more probably simple lack of familiarity (195 countries on Earth, 190 days in a school year, as Umbran said, there is nothing wrong with having only a superficial knowledge of other countries and creating your fantasy elves based on them).

I definitely don't agree with this. Yes, intent is important, and if you accidentally offend someone, it's not as bad as intentionally doing so... but it doesn't absolve you entirely either.

I remember explaining this to a Dutch person, who was explaining one XMas tradition where someone puts on blackface to dress up as a minstrel. She's a good person and was trying to explain that to her, this is just a tradition and not meant to offend anyone... but this will certainly offend a lot of people, regardless of intent.

And if you partake in borrowing stereotypes at your own table, even if no one from the offended group is there... eventually folks will internalize those stereotypes, partially believe them, which will inform their own behavior beyond the table. The human brain has difficulty not internalizing stereotypes and using them to influence behavior.

So bottomline, folks do have a responsibility to be informed on what is offensive, what's not, and to play their TTRPG accordingly.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
D&D is basically fantasy US, which is fine, I have no issue with that. Usually when people using real world as fantasy can get to me, is just when it is so wrong, and then I still need to be in the mood to respond. Sort of like the other day, someone was talking about the KGB but as psionic mind readers, and uh ... 99% of what the KGB did was as border patrol and FBI type police, against banditry, which had been a problem, still kind of is. Except you know, pretty much most Soviets had no contact with, or even care of what went on with the KGB. Nevertheless, a Russian who read my Solis setting, said that they say part of the fall of the Soviet Union in it, where a hundred little peripheral nations arose, wanting independence, yet still needing support. Post fall, what happens? States like Lithuania with half the GDP of Luxembourg, but 100 times the population, c'est.

I think one of the best examples of the real world to fantasy or sci-fi, is what Mark Twain said is that it bears no responsibility to make sense. Fiction often tries too hard to make sense.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Nearly all countries and societies in RPGs are based on real world ones. A trend which has in my opinion only increased in recent years as companies strife for a more respectful representation on noneuropean cultures which in turn makes them stick closer to the historic real world material than before.

Of course that is not a binary yes/no choice but a sliding scale, some developers only borrowing a general idea while others copying entire events more or less accurately like the French revolution complete with guillotines, ect. (Galt in Pathfinder as example).

I of course see the advantages in that. You provide something familiar to many people and do not need to explain everything. That also saves book space as you do not need to spell out every nuance of a specific country and can just point to its historic reference (or more likely players will figure it out themselves in many cases). Although it leaves some things in the open as the familiarity about certain countries can vary between individuals, including players, DMs and designer.

Another disadvantage I see it that it gets stale at some point. There is always the Viking country, the China country, various European countries, etc. all populated with monsters from the respective mythologies and people with the corresponding culture and ethnicity.

So what is your opinion on this? Do you prefer to have familiar historic inspired countries in your setting or do you like to have more fantastic countries or at least countries that heavily deviate from their historic base?
The crux of the problem is one of respectful adaptation and in-depth knowledge. Most people don't seem to care enough to really research an area and to dig into the local politics, history, etc enough to present things in a respectful manner. It's typically surface stereotypes only. Even things supposedly "familiar" to most gamers, like vikings. It's always dirty northmen coming to raid and rape, never farmers or settlers or merchants or traders or mercenaries...always raiders. Typically depicted as filthy despite them historically being very hygienic and clean...compared to other Europeans of the time.

This only gets worse when dealing with non-European cultures. The tropes take over and most nuance is lost.

Thankfully there are more and more creatives of color and from non-European backgrounds who're producing gaming content. The recent Kickstarters for sourcebooks for South American (Boricubos) and Filipino based mythology, cultures, and lands (The Islands of Sina Una) are only two examples. See also the recent Al-Qadim guide on DM's Guild.
 
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Politics aside, I do think an unintended side effect is going to be an increase in European-derived settings as people try to avoid culturally appropriating from areas they don't have any connection to.

We'll see in 10 years...
Bad assumption. There are a lot more people outside European-descended populations for RPGs to spread to, you know...we do exist.

We make games too, and we're making more and more of them.

It's not that hard to figure out how to play people from a different culture. James Mendez Hodes wrote about it here:

Mendez has provided consulting on games like Avatar: Legends (you know, the single biggest RPG Kickstarter of all time) so I expect leaps and bounds in popular gaming practices in years to come.

Also, the rise in #RPGSEA games is creating RPG worlds based on our local cultures, for everyone to play in!

The Islands of Sina Una for 5e is up for pre-orders, for a start. The Islands of Sina Una

Balikbayan is written for everyone to play, although it's specifically about Filipino Elementals escaping enslavement in a techno-magical cyberpunk future.

Gubat Banwa is a deep dive into a fantasy version of the Filipino warring states period (like Viking sea raiding, but with sundangs and arquebuses).

And A Thousand Thousand Islands: Reach of the Roach God, a system-agnostic adventure book set in the caverns of Southeast Asia, is doing gangbusters on KS right now!

I make games too, based on my own Southeast Asian context, and publish them on itch:
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
You got me, Tun Kai Poh.

But you know what? I read that article from Hodes a while ago under another context, and first thing I thought was, "well, you folks can do that, but I stick my foot in my mouth without touching anything controversial, so I just won't dare. Others with better people skills can tackle those things."

Good luck with your games! They sound very creative!
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
That’s why people hire editors and consultants- to catch things that hide in their blind spots. That can be typos, grammatical goofs, continuity mistakes, or math errors, but also outdated or insulting terminology, stereotypes, and so forth.
 

MGibster

Legend
It's about respect and relative power. You can't exploit the USA, even if you want to; that's the most dominant culture on the planet. Following that is probably most Western European cultures, and so on.

I can't help but feel the same way about most countries in western Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, and I wouldn't doubt I'm leaving a few others out. It's true they're not the most dominant cultures on the planet, but each of these countries actively exports their culture throughout the world allowing twelve year old me and the Wu Tang Clan to watch movies like The Five Deadly Venoms on television here in the United States. Nobody in Japan or China is being harmed by a game like Legend of the Five Rings or Feng Shui and Pendragon didn't hurt anyone in England or Wales.

The truth is that whatever society I can manage to come up with from scratch is going to resemble something that actually exist or existed at once time. I can put a twist on it, my "not-Germany" dwarf game incorporated 19th century US thoughts on gender roles and 2nd wave feminism, but I'm not exactly re-inventing the wheel when coming up with governments, religious institutions, the economy, etc., etc.
 

pming

Legend
Hiya!

I like "classical stereotypes". They let me more easily picture what I THINK a country is 'like'. That may or may not be realistic...but it doesn't matter. We're talking about a Fantasy setting where the King and Queen of England could be half-angelic Wizards with psychic powers and a stable of unicorn, pegesi and ki-rin. After doing that sort of imaginative creation, "The people are pre-disposed towards deferring to nobility, even if it goes against their own sensibilities" isn't any different.

Now, trying to play a HISTORIC game with some fantasy elements set in the 'real world, but with magic' (e.g., kinda like Dangerous Journey's was with their Aerth default setting)...that's when it can get a bit 'touchy'. But if it's a normal fantasy world with "fantasy Vikings, fantasy Samurai and Fantasy Tong"...go for it. I quite enjoy stereotypes.... good, bad or ugly (yes, even when they make "me and my countries" look bad or have a negative connotation).

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I try to have "inspired by" be my rule rather than "changed from".

There is a part of my campaign world that I would like to be inspired by Ancient India. That would make it different from the most commonly traversed area, and I'm enjoying getting into Indian history at the moment. So I look at the climate; this part is hot/wet, this part hot/dry summer, this part humid / warm winter. How did people in India at the time in question dress in these climates? How did they build? What environmentally did they worry about? Then, I adapt that to any changes that I think a different environment, resources, and magic would bring.

It's involved and takes some time. There is some check and adjust with it too. I tend to copy really old names of places that don't truly exist anymore and use that for inspiration to develop new names. Hopefully they're not just syllable-salad.
Or you could get Yoon-Suin (a campaign setting vaguely inspired by India, Nepal and Tibet)
 


Hussar

Legend
Just to offer a counter opinion here, the problem with incorporating entire cultures into a fantasy setting is that most of the time, when you do this, it makes zero sense. The boards here are rife with examples, recently one talking about how wheat farming would be problematic in a D&D setting. On and on.

Cultures are a product of their history. When you radically change the context of those cultures - such as adding magic and monsters - then what should be produced won't actually look very much like real world cultures.

Naomi Novik's Tremeraire series is an excellent example of this. It starts out with late Napoleonic history with dragons and then veers totally away from history. Africa is a major power because they've spent centuries nurturing their dragons and have a freaking huge army of dragons that dwarfs anything in Europe. Eastern countries like China likewise are not even remotely colonizable by Europeans. It's a pretty decent shot at it.

But, IMO, if you're going to make a D&D world, it needs to start with at least one eye on the magic system and how that impacts culture and one eye on the Monster Manual as well. The whole "fantasy Ren-Faire Europe" trope that you generally get in D&D doesn't survive even a cursory examination. Every single aspect of culture would be affected by the twin pillars of the magic system and the Monster Manual.
 

Nobody in Japan or China is being harmed by a game like Legend of the Five Rings or Feng Shui and Pendragon didn't hurt anyone in England or Wales.
You are forgetting about disapora populations in, say, the US, where such games are consumed.

Asian-Americans have been negatively affected by harmful stereotypes perpetuated by media such as movies and games (especially in the case of earlier L5R editions - I still remember how easy it is to get a high-Honour Lion samurai trapped into ridiculous conflicts of duty in the 1st edition) as well as harmful stereotypes injected into popular culture from the complicated history of countries like Japan (such as the toxic bushido culture encouraged by the early 20th century Japanese Empire, which gets weirdly fetishized in unhealthy ways by fans of said culture, both in the West and in Japan). And people who live in Western countries, like half my extended family, have to deal with the fallout of those stereotypes, not the people back in Asia.

It's not easy to recognize, but sometimes the harmful stereotypes come not just from Western authors but even from Asian countries as well...so it pays to be careful and thoughtful about these stereotypes, do some research and get some sensitivity readers. People who actually come from those foreign and 'othered' backgrounds who read your game will appreciate this. Especially if they live side by side with you in the same regions.

It's true that RPGs are a niche thing, but their influence is growing thanks to Actual Play shows, which are consumed all over the world. I don't want the first Asian-influenced fantasy RPG that gets turned into a big breakout Netflix show to be filled with harmful stereotypes.
 

MGibster

Legend
You are forgetting about disapora populations in, say, the US, where such games are consumed.
Not quite. Appropriation and what's appropriate is a very complicated topic and there are times when I find myself in agreement with others and times when I am not. While I think it's okay to be inspired by and borrow elements from China, that doesn't mean I think every instance of such borrowing is okay. I recognize that populations from various diasporas exist and they do matter.
 

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