Why is so little fantasy 'colonial', 'imperial' or 'New World'?

edited August 2011 in Story Games
I'm talking mainly here about D&D and D&D-style campaign settings - but feel free to contribute with any other fantasy settings.

(a) Why is it that fantasy settings typically have ethnically homogenous nation-states and not client states and colonies?

(b) Why is it that 'European' fantasy countries aren't clear analogues of real-world European countries but non-European fantasy countries typically are?

(c) Why do few fantasy settings have 'imperialism', 'immigration' or 'colonisation' as a theme?

(d) Why are there more crumbling or vanished empires than new polities?

It would be simple to say that people who are most familiar with Europe need to make 'European' fantasy countries different, while just being 'like China' is enough to make Kara-Tur different. Perhaps people who are most familiar with Europe create fantasy settings that reflect the idea of 'nations' as they arose in early modern Europe.

But Paizo and Wizards of the Coast are both based in the United States, and my impression is that most RPG companies are as well (or at least in North America). Isn't there a desire to use fantasy to tell stories of colonisation and immigration, to create US-like and Canada-like and Mexico-like fantasy countries that aren't obvious analogues like Maztica?

It's true that the pseudo-medieval period is a little before 1492, but:

(a) The age of colonisation has been done in fantasy settings, I'm thinking in particular of Maztica. There, however, an obvious analogue was used. It could have just as easily been (I would have thought) a Mesoamerican-style country in the same way the Dalelands are European-style.

(b) Themes of colonisation could easily be explored without the age of colonisation. The Anglo-Saxons are named after two waves of colonisers, and they were colonised in turn by the Normans!

Am I missing something? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

(To give you some context, I'm an Australian who's been thinking about how to write fantasy in vaguely Australasia-style countries/colonies. I'm also fiddling with the Awen character creation rules to see if they can create more 'colonial' settings.)
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Comments

  • Isn't human/elf tension from deforestation a common troupe? Doesn't D&D model the adventures of Cortez really well?
  • Vanished empires make for dungeons and non-human immigration. That makes for more combat, a strength of AD&D stystems, and for less social conflict, a weakness of those systems.
  • edited August 2011
    At least in the case of Pathfinder, the answer is "you're not familiar with their setting."

    Golarion is intentionally a pastiche setting. Different countries have different genre tropes. Some of the countries are certainly explicit analogues for European nations - Irrisen is Russia, there are TWO analogues for revolutionary France (Andoran for republican idealism, Galt for the terror), while others are not.
    Nonetheless, the setting is full of the rise and fall of empires and the legacy of waves of various invasions. The "current time" of the game is set when most of the great Western empires are waning and giving way to younger, more vital nations, but the legacy of colonialism is certainly explored. Qadira is the semi-independent westernmost province of a great Caliphate that stretches out to the east of the mapped world of the sourcebooks, and Qadira's relationship to its rulers is a big part of that setting's politics. Nidal is a client state of ancient, decadent Cheliax that won its independence as a reward for helping the winning side in a secession struggle, and is now trying to exert its influence on its former master. And so on.

    There is even one country explicitly dedicated to issues of colonialism in the most explicit and straightforward sense. Sargava is a colony of white Cheliaxians who conquered a section of the black Mwangi Expanse to set up plantations, exploit natural resources, etc. Sargava was maintained by Cheliax's power, but in the wake of Cheliax's civil war the colonists are now on their own.
  • Thanks for those details, Sam! You're right that I haven't looked very deeply at Golarion. Are there adventures that make use of these colonial tensions or are they left mainly to the setting books?

    Marshall, I think you're probably right about the empires. It's also easier to keep track that X nation is full of elves and Y nation is full of orcs, rather than Y is the homeland of the elves, but most of them left, but some are now returning, but others have spread out, etc.

    Wilmer, I'm not sure that the tensions between elves and humans in many settings are quite the same. I see that more as competition for resources rather than the colonisation of the lands of one people by another. But I suppose it really depends on how individual GMs run with it.
  • I think the answer to most of your questions, Chris, is ethnic and racial stereotyping and the desire to create "exotic" foreign places for characters to travel too (where the exoticism is derived from ideas about what feels exotic in the real world), combined with the fact that most people writing RPG settings are drawing on relative traditional histories and cultural studies for their source material, and those studies tended -- until pretty recently -- to not put much attention on the ethnic and cultural diversity within foreign places, but compare them to Anglo-American "norms." A lot of people feel like they know something about China or Japan, but how many people know much about historical Chinese-Tibetan or Japanese-Ainu relations, or even lesser-known issues like the traditional ethnic differences between North and South China that various governments have tried to downplay or smooth over? Not many. And even if you did, that's not the kind of thing typically depicted in fantasy settings, so it would stand out as unusual. Additionally, I think many roleplayers and designers like to have a ethnically diverse world (D&D has always been obsessed with race, right?) without having to really deal with racial issues except on a surface level (elves and dwarves don't like each other, but eventually get over it and become good friends).
  • Also politics are less interesting than killing dragons, so fantasy games are about dragon killing instead of taxation without representation.

  • There's a strong drive towards same old, same old in fantasy gaming - it's a conservative genre. This is simply because it's the introductory genre for people, it's the most prestigious one, and it's the one people get stuck on most often. This means that at any given time there are many people in roleplaying who have either never "done" faux-medieval roleplaying, or do it because it's what they know, or do it because they're creatively stuck on finally getting Dragonlance right or whatever. A completely natural phenomenon mostly explained by demographics and cultural history of roleplaying (that is, D&D was there first, and it was faux-medieval), although medieval fantasy might be somewhat particularly suited to this role in the cultural landscape, too.

    Anyway, I agree with the sentiment - getting out of the medieval times in D&D is insanely exciting. I've been running a campaign set in fantasy 17th century, and D&D handles that just fine. The action has mostly centered on continental Europe-equivalent so far, but it's a great comfort to me to know that the whole enchillada of what we recognize as adventure is actually out there and available, much more so than it would be in a seriously medieval setting: all the essentially colonial "pirate specials" and "Egypt specials" and such that often feature in D&D adventures are much, much more sensible in setting terms when your setting is post-medieval. I can even do convincing medievalism by postulating that part of the continent is still pretty backward, like Eastern Europe largely was historically.
  • Other than Maztica, I can think of Northern Crown and Septrionalis which are both colonial adventures in fantasy equivalents of America/Canada.

    And I assume you're just skipping games set in actual colonial times like Colonial Gothic?

    As for why it hasn't happened, I assume just because those settings/issues didn't yet tickle a designer's fancy. There's not a lot of games about Eastern Europe in the waning days of the Soviet Union either, and that sounds like a dynamite game setting to me.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: SanglorianThanks for those details, Sam! You're right that I haven't looked very deeply at Golarion. Are there adventures that make use of these colonial tensions or are they left mainly to the setting books?
    I've only run one adventure path (and not all the way through), Kingmaker, in which the characters first chart an anarchic, bandit-ridden wilderness and then start a colony there, making peace with or eradicating bandits, monstrous tribes, and the like. Some monstrous factions are unpleasant and basically irredeemable (mites, trolls), while others (kobolds, lizardmen, boggards) are surprisingly sympathetic, making things more complicated than just killing them and taking their land. The fae of the forest are explicitly benevolent (mostly), but come into conflict with humans as logging and trapping expand into their habitat. I don't know if this is the most nuanced exploration of these issues of all time, but they're definitely present.
  • edited August 2011
    For my present thing, each racial group (Kith) has cultures that players put out on the map - and a fair chunk are blatantly meant to be "how these people are repressed", and dropped straight on top of other regions. So, Jane goes "Hey, my gal comes from over here, and here's how her people live there", and then Joe goes "Oh, yeah, my people are from there too, and they're totally second-class citizens".

    This hasn't been tested 'live', though - tomorrow, I'll find out if my first group of playtesters is hot on that particular thing, given the option, or if they want to throw their focus elsewhere at that stage of world-making. Should be interesting.
  • Fantasy games do tend to be in the medieval period but Steam Punk games are usually set in the late 19th early 20th Century. This is the height of the Scramble for Africa/ British Empire colonial era. I know some RPGs (like QAGS) that have put out games like "The Pythias Club" and "Edison Force" that specifically touch on colonialism. Then of course there is Space 1889.

    I can't say that I've heard of a game specifically about immigration though... You may have a unique angle here.

    Historical wargamers have fixated on the various colonial periods for decades. Fun stuff if you do not sympathizes the the natives much. Since I switched religions back in the 90's I view the natives as the good guys fighting off (unsuccessfully usually) the interloping Europeans.

    What about the Ancient Greek colonial expansion? There are lots of colonial eras.

    Chris Engle
  • Posted By: shreyasAlso politics are less interesting than killing dragons, so fantasy games are about dragon killing instead of taxation without representation.
    Or, rather... Killing Dragons and Reacting to Taxation Without Representation are very different games, and fantasy adventure games wisely choose to be the former.

    But I'd love to play a game where I'm a disgruntled and marginalized longshoreman who joins a tax reform movement. That's way more interesting to me than killing dragons.
    Also way harder to support and design for, I think.
  • I choose to interpret your question this way.

    "Why is every printed fantasy world for D&D a Tolkien-esque derivative? Why is all genre fiction in fantasy worlds some Tokien-esque derivative?'

    When you phrase your question this way, it answers itself.
  • Posted By: Sanglorian(b) Why is it that 'European' fantasy countries aren't clear analogues of real-world European countries but non-European fantasy countries typically are?
    Wait, didn't we have a thread a month or two ago (the one called "Occidental Adventures" or something like that) making fun of the way that 'Oriental' fantasy settings are almost always inaccurate mashups of completely unrelated cultures and time periods? (I.e. kung-fu ninja snake-charmers…)

    I'm not saying people don't mash up European historical or fantasy tropes too, but it's generally more knowingly done.
    (c) Why do few fantasy settings have 'imperialism', 'immigration' or 'colonisation' as a theme?
    Probably because Howard, Tolkien and their imitators didn't use those themes? I agree those are interesting themes, and I've enjoyed game settings that use them -- one that comes to mind is "Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies", in which the major sky-islands were settled in successive waves of colonization from the oldest one, with one of the islands still in the middle of the process, with a vaguely-Polynesian indigenous culture that's being "civilized" somewhat against its will.

    There's also "Deadlands", with an alternate-19th-century America where some of the major Native tribes have re-established their own territories.
    (d) Why are there more crumbling or vanished empires than new polities?
    It's Romantic with a capital R. I'm guessing Jack Vance's "Dying Earth" was an influence here, as well as the essentially conservative mode of Tolkien.
  • Another setting that deals with some themes related to colonialism is Midnight. The occupying force is a dark god, orcs and his various other servants. There's lots of slavery, oppression and general denial of rights.
  • Have ya checked out Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?
  • edited August 2011
    Some points:

    The "rebuilding a fallen empire" gives a good excuse for their to be lots of treasure to be found and places to be explored that doesn't/don't really belong to any body.

    Kara-Tur is no more a bad pastiche of the oriental world and its myths than Oerik/Faerun is of the occidental world and its myths.

    Most of the things we associated with fantasy (elves, dragons, etc..) people actually believed in in the middle ages. Not so much in during the 18 and 19th centuries.

    We can more easily romanticize and idealize feudalism (knights are not bandits that rob poor people, kings are not crazy bastards using their countries as milch cow's for foreign wars) than we can colonialization because feudalism is farther away. I think most people would be offended by a game that tried to make the colonizers good guys in the same way that knights and kings are made good guys in most fantasy adventure stories, but people would still be drawn to the colonizers because a lot of fantasy is escapist and when we're escaping we want to be the ones in power, and since we want to be the ones in power and the ones who are morally justified... well, who would we be playing in this colonial game that wouldn't either make us feel icky or oppressed?
  • I'm working on Totems of the Dead art right now, a Savage Worlds license product (I think, correct me if I'm wrong). It is the a mythic Americas (both south and north) approx: 1000-1200. The Vikings in this alternate history are very, very much colonizers, having taken over much of the NE of the America/Canada. I'm really excited about this product, it screams a marriage of Sword and Sorcery to the manifest destiny of a wide vista of things to be explored.

    My most succesful fantasy campaign was set in the Forgotten Realms, but I threw out tons and tons. I had printing presses and mystical gunpowder invented by the dwarves. What was left was 6 Elven enclaves, a few dwarves and a continent very depopulated by disease and war... the main assumption was that magic was coming back... because I was so bored with "the magic fades" ideas. Elven and dwarven birth rates were off the chart. Dimensional portals were popping everywhere as "wildways" making the continent of FAerun much smaller. And what grew out of about 6 years of gaming, was a very strong elven campaign of rebuilding Myth Drannor ('a grand crusade") and restoring the elven nations/enclaves to one united nation-state. I had my Benjamin Franklin diplomat Elf as one of the player's PCs. There were arguments over how many elven craftspeople and treesingers were allowed to immigrate to Myth Drannor in game, yup, my players were dealing with outsourcing. There was a real push to integrate dwarf and humans into the great, new elven society. But it wasn't bloodless or easy. It was a very cool campaign and we've just started talking about reviving it over a skype/maptools game.

    I had an NPC, Spartacus type, in the desert kingdoms overthrow those old gov'ts and then ended slavery. But his nation was then crippled by the economic upheveal and chaos. Best intentions and all that.

    I was very much drawing from 17th and 18th century societal pressures. Good fun, very invested players helped. And that 2 of them were trained historians didn't hurt either.
  • As far as colonization is concerned, in French we've had Guildes, which was basically fantasy discovery of the new world, with players playing the agents of the euro-power equivalent trying to map/conquer get rich thanks to the fantasy New World.

    There was also Shaan, a tougher beast, with its clear anti-colonialist political intent - in which you played the inhabitants of relatively low-level technology planet being invaded and colonized by humans.


    Also politics are less interesting than killing dragons [...]

    I think the problem with politics generally is that it exist on a totally different time-frame than combats. It's easy to deal with slaying a dragon: a few tactical decisions, some dice rolls, and everything is resolved, almost simultaneously in game and around the table. Politics brings different levels of consequences, some immediate, and some years down the line in game. I can't think of any game that managed to give a satisfying mechanical system that included both. We had to house-rule a lot of things when my players wanted to play a Sideral game for Exalted*; the system, though it could technically run it, was clearly not meant to have a months long duel of gaming the local import/export and personal skirmishes on roofs at night cohabit.

    *But then, what didn't we house-rule for exalted ?
  • edited August 2011
    My opinions, for what it's worth:
    Posted By: Sanglorian(a) Why is it that fantasy settings typically have ethnically homogenous nation-states and not client states and colonies?
    Probably the influence of mythical and fairy-tale kingdoms, which are always bland and homogenous because they're usually about personal and economic issues. The power of stereotypes is a pretty big deal, too, as well as a certain idea of Europe and the rest of the world that Americans have, which Woodrow Wilson articulated in his doctrine of national self-determination. That's been a pretty powerful cultural idea all through the 20th century.
    Posted By: Sanglorian(b) Why is it that 'European' fantasy countries aren't clear analogues of real-world European countries but non-European fantasy countries typically are?
    What do you mean by "countries"? India and China might be European-style nation-states today, but culturally they are closer to Europe than to France or Spain. As Nolan points out, Kara-Tur is a mish-mash of China just like many fantasy settings are pan-European mish-mashes. However, you do see various games that use analogues of European nations, like Warhammer FRP or 7th Sea for example, but you never see role-playing games with fictional analogues of the various actual Indian or African states. As you suspect, it's because most people playing and writing rpgs are more familiar with Europe and European history than the non-European (and non-American) world. And while American history and legend isn't a main source for obvious fantasy tropes, I think American attitudes towards nature and the wilderness have had a pretty powerful effect on D&D through the years.
    Posted By: Sanglorian(c) Why do few fantasy settings have 'imperialism', 'immigration' or 'colonisation' as a theme?
    Fantasy heroes are supposed to be heroes. That said, I think D&D started out with some pretty explicitly colonial themes, with Keep on the Borderlands as one example. As the Tolkeinesque adventure aspect became more dominant than the dungeoncrawling Swords of Shahrazar aspect, opportunities to be back-stabbing, money-grubbing scoundrels became fewer, while do-gooder quest-monkeys became more prevalent.
    Posted By: Sanglorian(d) Why are there more crumbling or vanished empires than new polities?
    It makes for dungeons, plain and simple. Check out Tavis Allison's article "D&D is the Apocalypse." The romanticism Jens mentions might be an influence too, but if you look at settings that ditch the dungeoncrawl, you find fewer dead empires and crumbling ruins.
  • edited August 2011
    These are all great thoughts folks, thank you very much. There were some clear examples of colonisation that I missed, as well as a lot of good reasons for why it's not seen more often.

    Johnstone, you said American attitudes towards the wilderness have had a powerful influence. What sort of attitudes are you thinking of? 'Taming the frontier'?

    Storn, that was really interesting to read about. Is there a campaign write-up somewhere on the web?

    Nolan, that's a good point about the repulsive aspects of feudalism being so far in the past that we can ignore them and romanticise about knights and kings. I think there's certainly some settings that do tackle morally difficult subjects like widespread slavery (Dark Sun) and so there's room for colonialism - but perhaps not as a default.

    Levi, it's interesting you say that because I thought the opposite when I read Awen - that it discourages a colonial theme. I'd be really interested to see if your playtest bears out your impression or mine.

    A recurring theme is that past empires make dungeons, artifacts, undead, etc. I really liked the example of the Blackmoor organ in Allison's article.

    What sort of dungeons could colonies and frontiers create?
    • Ghost towns and mines after a gold boom.
    • Stone temples sunk into the mud.
    • Pirates' caves stashed with the loot of empires.
    • Natural dungeons with magical herbs and delicious spices.
    • Burial crypts.
    • Step pyramids with mummies.
    • Orreries and observatories with stone calendars that prophesise the imminent end of the world.
    EDIT: One thing I've been thinking about for a while is that Arcana Evolved is a good example of a colonial game. The giants came from overseas and took over the state from the natives. The dragons are potentially a second wave of colonisers.
  • A lot of those ideas are still related to the fallen/vanished empire trope.

    I think if I was going to focus on colonization as a theme for a setting/campaign, I'd be looking more at the sociological impacts. How do the two societies clash? Are the players aware of the inequalities and how do they feel about them? They might arrive at this new land looking to make a fortune and then realize that the easy path to riches means doing bad things to the natives.

    It doesn't need to be super deep, but it's pretty easy to mine for conflicting ideas.
  • Posted By: SanglorianJohnstone, you said American attitudes towards the wilderness have had a powerful influence. What sort of attitudes are you thinking of? 'Taming the frontier'?
    That more or less sums it up, yeah, or it all stems from that, at least. The size of the wilderness is an influence, there's just more of it in America, and it's more romanticized. The attitudes towards the inhabitants of the wilderness in D&D reflects American attitudes (Indians are a nuisance who need to be driven off), rather than European ones (if we colonize Poland, we will have Slavic peasants).

    Also, and I can't really back this up, it's just and impression, but I get the feeling that a lot of the early D&D stuff reflects American ideas of camping and caving (maybe not so much caving though, since that was popular in Europe before America, and it could just be that I think there's less of a 20th century European camping culture because I haven't been exposed to it, so... grain of salt and all that).
  • Posted By: JohnstoneI get the feeling that a lot of the early D&D stuff reflects American ideas of camping and caving
    At least in the South, where religion is spelled with a capitol R, a lot of boys learned D&D from other, older, boys in the Boy Scouts [of America], away from the disapproving glares of parents and teachers. It would not be surprising that woodscraft, rock climbing/rappelling, caving, and exploration would feature heavily in that culture.
  • I once heard a fantasy author talk about the fact that there's so much pseudo-European/Tolkienesque stuff out there.

    She said that basically, it comes down to the economic realities of the publishing business. The publishing houses who put out fantasy novels want to go with what they believe will draw their biggest audience, and 99 percent of the time, that's European/Tolkien-style fantasy. She'd said that she once wrote a very detailed, dramatic novel set in a fantasy analogue of Egypt. After reading it, the publisher said, "This story is great, but the one thing we'd like you to change is the setting - we need it to be something more like medieval Europe."

    So, after a week or so of being upset about it, since she needed to put food on the table, she went ahead and reskinned the story as something with a more Norse/medieval flavor; and they published it.

    Of course, the publishing business is going through a LOT of changes now, so maybe the "face of fantasy" is changing as well. We'll have to see what happens.
  • Posted By: otherdocOf course, the publishing business is going through a LOT of changes now, so maybe the "face of fantasy" is changing as well. We'll have to see what happens.
    Now a days, they would ask her to put in a storyline about a teenager falling in love with a mummy.

    Snark.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: Sanglorian(a) Why is it that fantasy settings typically have ethnically homogenous nation-states and not client states and colonies?

    (c) Why do few fantasy settings have 'imperialism', 'immigration' or 'colonisation' as a theme?

    (d) Why are there more crumbling or vanished empires than new polities?
    One other aspect is the ease of documentation.

    Old empires are easy to document, because they're done. They existed in the past and were wiped out, so now you can say a few things about what they were like. And you don't need to be very detailed, because the specific details about a specific leader and how he feels about several topics and issues isn't really relevant, unless those views inform a specific artifact that the PCs may encounter (an item or location or whatever).

    Relatively static and homogenous nations are also relatively easy to document. You can make sweeping statements about things and they will be true. Or at least true enough. And if there's an exception, an individual GM can put that exception in for their game and make a plot point of it.

    But colonial, imperial, immigrant, etc. locations are harder to document. You have to document at least twice as much cultural information (and the people using your setting have at least twice as much to digest and remember).

    And colonial, imperial, immigrant locations tend to be much more in flux and changeable. This is a HUGE deal for a setting publisher.

    If you're planning to publish 20 books about a setting, it's in your best interest to have that setting difficult to change, other than the changes that happen in your official metaplot timeline.

    Because if you create settings that are relatively fragile and changeable, then by the time you produce another book, a given game group may well have changed the setting in a way that the new book doesn't make sense anymore - it's starting assumptions about the situation don't jive with what has been happening in that campaign. So you lose a sale.

    Relatively static settings are much less likely to have this problem.

    Not that I like setting metaplot and "official timelines" and all that. But I can understand why they would impact decisions made by developers.
  • Posted By: SanglorianLevi, it's interesting you say that because I thought the opposite when I read Awen - that it discourages a colonial theme. I'd be really interested to see if your playtest bears out your impression or mine.
    In the first test:

    A little from column A, little from column B. We got mostly single-culture regions, but one 'former empire' that still kept repressed peoples under it's thumb.
  • There's something ironic in this subject.

    I'm from Peru. Culture in the ancient times here wasn't spread by writing, but orally. And it was kept through the use of nemotechnology (using devices that helped people remember things) so once the spaniard conquerors came, they started to supress and erase all records, traditions and people who remembered things. So, though we sill have some "quipus" (the quechua name for the devices) there's no way to be sure what they are about. Most information on ancient peruvian cultures comes from archeology and good guessing.

    In the country highlands, where traditions have been more or less kept intact, you find now they still practice festivities, dances and rituals that resemble something older, but that are dressed with the paraphernalia of catholic religion, imposed by the conquerors.

    Well, that's why the history of ancient southamerican cultures is still quite unclear, since this systematic massacre and mutilation of the past happened everywhere in southamerica, and anybody trying a research will find more mysteries and assumptions than actual information.
  • Posted By: WarriorMonkIn the country highlands, where traditions have been more or less kept intact, you find now they still practice festivities, dances and rituals that resemble something older, but that are dressed with the paraphernalia of catholic religion, imposed by the conquerors.
    Oooh. That gives me an idea for my game. I might be able to use that. Not Catholic, per se, but that same sort of idea. Thank you.
  • Posted By: WarriorMonkWell, that's why the history of ancient southamerican cultures is still quite unclear, since this systematic massacre and mutilation of the past happened everywhere in southamerica, and anybody trying a research will find more mysteries and assumptions than actual information.
    I find this aspect of fantasy game-play to be the most fascinating. Perception of reality is far more important than reality to the human experience. Does it matter what the history books say if an isolated culture remembers history differently?
  • South american history and mythology is far more complex than just the Incas, and archeology hasn't much but pieces of the puzzle. Not all seem to fit, and since we're watching them now through the eyes of occidental culture, the meaning of those pieces is even more obscure. Take for example, there's a culture older than the Incas, the Mochicas (Muchik, in the original language of th culture) among many impressive advances in many fields, they had pottery made to resemble the people of their own time, instead of sculptures and statues. Now, some of these portrait characters having sex, and researchers from the early 70's ended up discarding/destroying lots of those labeling them as mere pr0n.

    Now the opinion of the archeologists is that they could be made to celebrate fertility. Who knows?

    I'm glad to see people inspired, though I'm not exactly an historian or archeologist I'll be glad to start a thread on peruvian ancient history if anybody asks
  • edited August 2011
    But back to the original question, I'd say the lack of games around the theme of colonization, imperialism and new world exploration is a matter of lazyness and fear to experiment.
    -Authors employ research material at hand and getting material enough about exotic cultures is kind of hard and expensive.
    -They go for tried and proved schemes, audience has already experienced good ficton inmersions using occidental mythology, which is more familiar to them. There's so much visual information about these myths it's a lot easier to visualize yourself inside this fiction. So it's actually easier to sell another occidental medieval fantasy instead of a brand new rpg about a culture you haven't dreamt of.

    Let's try an experiment to prove this: Try to picture yourself in the peruvian medieval times. More precisely, the muchik culture.
    Yes, we have metals, though not so much. And brass is perhaps the hardest thing we have, aside from stone.
    Yes, we have warriors, though not exactly an army. And they are more like priest-warriors.
    No, we haven't got horses and llamas are for carrying stuff, not for riding
    Yes we know the wheel, but it's a sacred symbol (and totally useless in our geography) and thus machinery hasn't evolved in that way.
    We've got a theocratic society centered around the temples.
    Yes, we have human sacrifices. Though it's an honor being considered fit a sacrifice for the gods.

    Now, try not to think you're not a half-dressed barbarian. And no, you haven't got bows nor arrows. Probably by this time you've got a puzzle with a ton of missing things in your head and a lot of questions, even when we started with the word "medieval" to define it. And probably your imagination recurred to what you know of ancient south america, aztec and maya culture or even further to get an idea of what you see. And I don't blame you, I'm peruvian and even with a lot more of clues than these, I can't picture myself well in this fiction.
  • Posted By: WarriorMonkI'm peruvian and even with a lot more of clues than these, I can't picture myself well in this fiction.
    And you're right, that's a key part of the answer to the OPs question.

    Things that are harder to imagine or morally difficult or whatever are less likely to show up in mainstream setting texts. And for very good reason. They have to be sold to a broad audience to make any profit, and challenging stuff appeals less broadly and loses sales.

    I think you'd probably find more examples of people putting challenging themes into their home games than you would find in broad-market published settings. And that makes sense and isn't really wrong or anything. It's an expected outcome of the market.

    I think the number of people who express the opinion "I play games to have fun and I want it to be easy for me to do that. I don't want to be deeply challenged and emotionally triggered most of the time." far out ways those who feel they want those things consistently. And there are games for those latter people. We talk about those games here a lot. And the vast majority of those games don't have published setting books at all. On purpose.

    So that's another part of the answer: the people who want to explore those tougher themes are, broadly speaking, more likely to be making up their own worlds and not buying published settings anyway.

    Because "colonial", "imperial", "New World" are themes, they're not just color.
  • Wow, some really interesting responses here. Part of it might have to do with culture and history; themes of colonization, especially the brutal, genocidal stuff that happened between the West and parts of Asia and Africa, are not only unfamiliar and almost alien (as pointed out by WarriorMonk) but possibly uncomfortable for big parts of the Western audience.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidThings that are harder to imagine or morally difficult or whatever are less likely to show up in mainstream setting texts. And for very good reason. They have to be sold to a broad audience to make any profit, and challenging stuff appeals less broadly and loses sales.

    I think you'd probably find more examples of people putting challenging themes into their home games than you would find in broad-market published settings. And that makes sense and isn't really wrong or anything. It's an expected outcome of the market. [snip]
    This, so much. The only experience I've had with colonialism in gaming was in a homebrew fantasy world, which was about humans with steampunk technology colonizing a continent of conventional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, dark elves), with the humans looting, killing, and enslaving everything and everyone they could find. After decades of this the colonized races united and fought back, and the end result was an uneasy peace where the humans got to keep most of their coastal holdings. I found it bittersweet yet true to life, but I don't see it becoming a mass market success even though Korea has some fairly recent experience with colonialism.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: J. WaltonA lot of people feel like they know something about China or Japan, but how many people know much about historical Chinese-Tibetan or Japanese-Ainu relations, or even lesser-known issues like the traditional ethnic differences between North and South China that various governments have tried to downplay or smooth over? Not many. And even if you did, that's not the kind of thing typically depicted in fantasy settings, so it would stand out as unusual.
    I believe this may well become more frequent in future fantasy-games; to go into deeper detail on political and cultural relationships in the settings, feeding the players with knowledge, so they may play it out with more nuances.

    Thus I believe we may broaden the field of fantasy-rpgs, as it has been broadened in fantasy-fiction the last generation.

    For myself I would like to play both colonial and New World games, especially if they managed to convey a true feeling of such settings.
  • Tomas, you do realize that "the New World" is just a polite way of saying "the colonialization of the Americas"?

  • edited August 2011
    Yes, I do. I'm really interested in portraying cultural arrogance in roleplaying games. And arrogance may be had in abundance both in colonial and New World games. Why do you ask?

    You know, we have related issues here in Norway; the sapmi people have been badly treated for ages. There are still sores festering in that part of the population over here. There's a lot of bitterness, shame and alcoholism amongst old sapmi folks. And you still find anger, suspicion and prejudice on both sides. I'm partly sapmi myself, and have been interested in our history since the early eighties. I find it fascinating how cruel and blind people can be, and how easy it is to demonize "the others".

    In fact I'm so inspired by this thread that I have decided to set my professional campaigns this fall to such a setting. The prime setting for my frpg Fabula is Orianna, a land taken by humans from peaceful orc-tribes a long time ago. Now I want to go back to those times, when the humans first came and began settling the orc-lands. I want to sow arrogance amongst my players, pit them in conflicts with the "savage" orcs, and see where we end up ...

    I have to draw some new Orianna-maps, with the olden orcish culture and settlements present, to frame and feed the game properly. And I will have to think it through; how to present the orcs, how to engage the players in a meaningful interaction that grasp the theme. It's a heavy task, but I believe it will be worth the effort.

    I really look forward to playing this! I'm sure my players will have a great time too.
  • edited August 2011
    Wait, didn't we have a thread a month or two ago (the one called "Occidental Adventures" or something like that) making fun of the way that 'Oriental' fantasy settings are almost always inaccurate mashups of completely unrelated cultures and time periods? (I.e. kung-fu ninja snake-charmers…).
    I'd like to respond to this, since I wasn't a member before a few days ago. I am the concept creator for a published setting that thus far has only a 3 part introductory mini-arc released and 2 supplement books - with more releases coming over the next few months. Kaidan: a Japanese Ghost Story setting is an analog Japanese emprie crossed with a horror system -something like Ravenloft.

    Kaidan is not a mashup, in fact it borrows concepts and tropes exclusively from pre-Sengoku (thus pre Edo/Tokugawa) Japan. It is a fictional place however, I borrow an actual historical event that occurred at the end of the Genpei War, 1185 AD. Kaidan is ruled by undead formed by a curse uttered in the last battle of that war, so in a sense, the historical timeline stops prior to the Kamakura shogunate, twisting history so that the losers of the Genpei War actually inherit this Japan analog. Kaidan best fits a Japan like nation somewhere between 1200 and 1450, as it was in the pre-Sengoku Shogunate run state of Japan.

    I am half Japanese, have made a lifetime of study of Japan's history, culture, religion, folklore and ghost stories - I have family there, and historian cousins that I compare my research with all the time. Lots of 'Japan' settings like Kara-Tur are mash-ups of Japan, China, SE Asian tropes as one oriental place. Kaidan is strictly based on Japan only - no mash ups with other oriental cultures. There are indigenous barbarian tribes similar to Ainu/Emishi of old Japan, as well as a similarly realized Hengeyokai (animal based shapechangers - PC race). The fictionalized religions of the setting are loosely based on Shinto, Buddhist, Shugendo and Goryo Shinko (religion of ghosts), as well as Ojigami - ancestral worship.

    While the setting mostly relies on kaidan monogatari - Japanese collections of ghost stories translated to English since 1899, there are some elements of anime, and J-horror. Many of its tropes have been barely introduced to western culture. The setting is richly detailed and the social castes and their uniqueness from one to the other is captured - as it is closely tied to the demented reincarnation mechanic and the Buddhist Wheel of Life concept (a part of its dark mechanics).

    Although I too played in Kara-Tur, as well as some adventures in D&D Rokugan - both failed to meet my expectations of Japan, as I am familiar with it, and Kaidan is my attempt to capture Japanese culture/history/religion/folklore in a way that no previous setting to my knowledge does that well. I also correct many mistaken concepts that appeared in previous oriental D&D concepts like Yamabushi instead of Shugenja (shugenja is a word taken out context meaning a worshipper of Shugendo, not a priest), samurai is a social caste, not a class - though several classes fit in the samurai caste. My PC races: Kappa, Hengeyokai and Tengu closely follow Japanese tradition, and not pre-existing Americanized concepts.

    While Kaidan is not Japan, it is more Japanese than anything you've played before. It may be true that previous D&D renditions of the orient have been a hit or miss, Kaidan hopes to fix all those misconstued ideas of fantasy feudal Japan, and bring the Japanese view to the west. To the Japanese superstition is not epic folklore, it is completely treated as horror, as the Japanese treat it.

    Here's a link to all the Kaidan releases currently available from the Paizo Store: Kaidan: a Japanese Ghost Story setting as it is a setting designed for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It is an imprint under Rite Publishing and written by Jonathan McAnulty. I am the concept creator, developer, art director and cartographer. The adventures are also available as full color, softcover print books by Cubicle 7, while the other supplements are PDF products only.

    Note: out of the four products shown, there is a combined 15 reviews for all the products and only 2 are 4.5 stars, all the rest are 5 star rated reviews of the product!

    So, there are exceptions to poorly done fantasy Japan, Kaidan is your best example.

    Michael
  • Holy shit, the copy-paste landed here. RUN! SAVE YOURSELF!!! Last one out of the thread set fire to it!!
  • Interesting, the existing culture of the thread was interrupted by someone from outside entering it, not really understanding it, and hopes to make a profit from the actions they took that disrupted it. So in way, this is totally on topic.
  • edited August 2011
    Sorry, I don't mean to seem spammy, but the PCs of the adventures are 'gaijin' and called that by a xenophobic population - formerly in a closed state like Japan was. The adventurers are most likely from a typical European analog - normal D&D/PF characters. The PCs are the immigrants. Detailed in the setting are language barriers, a misunderstanding of cultures on both sides east vs. west, the PCs spells/powers are somewhat mitigated by differences in how magic works and other darker conditions of the setting. The whole point of the intro arc is to introduce a party of players from a typical western setting to do a mission in an exotic and xenophobic empire that has only recently opened its borders to foreign trade. Depending on how the GM runs the adventures, the party could end up staying as permanent immigrants adventuring in a foreign land that becomes their new home - but that's only one possible outcome of the adventures.

    I thought it was on topic, sorry for the link - it was more to justify that I was talking about a real product, and not some undeveloped home-brew idea.

    I just didn't agree that all oriental settings are mash-ups, by default, mine is not.

    (and I didn't copy/paste it, I typed it all in by hand...)
  • Thanks for all the comments guys, they're great.

    Do you think colonialism can be explored in a regular fantasy game? I mean one which is at turns light-hearted and serious, stereotypical and innovative. Colonialism might come up for an adventure or two, or in a bit of dialogue, in a character arc or the like, but not be the main focus. I'm not sure if that style of game could do it justice.

    Perhaps one way to do it would be to make either the colonisers or the natives explicitly evil - orcs pushing the elves out of their ancestral forest, for example. Most adventures in such a campaign would be dungeoncrawls and wilderness adventures, but one or two could be directed against the 'colonial oppressor'.

    Another option would be to make the colonisers and natives demihumans. I'm not sure why, but I think having dwarves encroaching on halfling shires is somehow easier to put in the background than two human peoples clashing.

    What do you folks think?
  • edited August 2011
    Well, there are pirate games that might fall after the Age of Exploration, more the height of exploitation, where Port Royale or similar island capitals become colonized isles or foreign shores. Although pirate games are generally not about colonization per se - you could still use the theme to fall into a colonization of the new world.

    Then from Paizo, the Kingmaker AP is essentially a venture to explore a region of wilderness, tame the non-human and fey politics, establish a settled territory, some loose rules on mass combat - all very much an 'establish a colony' campaign, that eventually can become its own sovereignty with PCs are kings and other members of the polity. Its a very sandbox style game, unlike traditional linear adventures. Kingmaker seems to be a popular AP.

    So, yeah I think the 'colonization motif' can be done and is being done successfully
  • either the colonisers or the natives explicitly evil

    This, either way, is a way to make an exploration of a real issue into a ...gross, bad thing.

  • Posted By: Sanglorian[snip]Do you think colonialism can be explored in a regular fantasy game? I mean one which is at turns light-hearted and serious, stereotypical and innovative. Colonialism might come up for an adventure or two, or in a bit of dialogue, in a character arc or the like, but not be the main focus. I'm not sure if that style of game could do it justice.[snip snip]
    I think that's pretty much real life. Many of us live on the ruins of other peoples' ways of life, and thus have benefited from colonialism or are suffering from its consequences. If you're American, Canadian, Japanese, South American, or from anywhere in Western Europe chances are you owe your way of life to colonialism. Good things and bad have resulted from colonialism, and often the picture is very complex (as in the case of mixed-heritage individuals like Tomas on this thread), but the fact of the matter is that we live in a world shaped by colonialism. To anyone but those who are suffering directly from it it's not a big deal in everyday life, though there will be reminders from time to time.

    So drawing on reality, one way to handle the issue would be to work out the history of a region, i.e. who originally lived there and how did they subsist on the land, then what group made incursions and how did they live off/profit from the land. So you could have farmers displacing hunter gatherers, or miners and merchants displacing farming communities, industrialists displacing plantation farmers, etc. Depending on where the adventure is and what stage the colonialist activity is in, the PCs could be in any state from actively involved/unwantedly swept up, to far from the action and hearing occasionally about it while going about their lives, to living in a safely conquered world and enjoying its benefits while having occasional reminders of how things used to be. Or they could be dealing with its repercussions.
    Posted By: shreyaseither the colonisers or the natives explicitly evil

    This, either way, is a way to make an exploration of a real issue into a ...gross, bad thing.

    Depends on the perspective of evil. If it's just a "script" that both sides are working from, with each side caught up in the myth of pure evil about their enemies, I think it's a very cool way to build up tension and conflict. If the evil is the objective "reality" of the campaign, the suspension of disbelief will probably break down and the fiction of the game will probably end up being shallow, with the evil side becoming little more than sources of experience points and loot. I don't think the latter is bad play, by the way, just not the best way to explore a subject like colonialism.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: SanglorianDo you think colonialism can be explored in a regular fantasy game? I mean one which is at turns light-hearted and serious, stereotypical and innovative. Colonialism might come up for an adventure or two, or in a bit of dialogue, in a character arc or the like, but not be the main focus. I'm not sure if that style of game could do it justice.
    I expect to have my campaigns this fall to have colonization as main focus, and my game is certainly a regular fantasy game. I expect the theme to fill my campaigns with lots of interesting issues, and I expect the theme to fill the game-sessions with a broad mixture of challenges and conflicts. I'll certainly try my best to make it so. ;-)

    Here's some thoughts on how I will do it:

    I'll go a long way in demonizing the natives initially, of course, to mirror the way it often work in real life. This will start before the PCs really meet the natives themselves. I'll prep the characters/players with stories of atrocities, and help them prepare for the violent nature of the natives (arming them both mentally and physically, will help them into violent actions later). But my agenda is more than having the colonizing PCs fear and fight the natives.

    I'll have to stress that they are here to build something too; a farm, a livelihood, a new life. Their is a journey of hope, mainly. They are settlers first, and defenders of their faith, family and future next. I want them to be a mixed group, with a broad range of cares to follow up on.

    When we go into the lands, I'll meet the characters with strange behaviors that may seem threatening. I'll let them face fear and aggression (demonizing the PCs in the eyes of the natives). I'll turn the screw on conflicts as far as the players let me, while going into more and more nuances in how the natives are described and played.

    The nuances is where I expect the game to become really interesting. How will you react when met with kindness from "these demons"? How will love between man and "demon" be treated? How do you deal with the hungry family of your native guide? How do you deal with natives in rage over your own atrocities? How do you deal with your own hope in the face of violence and possible war?

    Playing with ethics and complex challenges is my greatest joy in role-playing games. I see the colonization-theme as both challenging, and very promising. I'm glad to have had this thread inspiring it. Thanks!
  • Posted By: otherdocI once heard a fantasy author talk about the fact that there's so much pseudo-European/Tolkienesque stuff out there.

    She said that basically, it comes down to the economic realities of the publishing business. The publishing houses who put out fantasy novels want to go with what they believe will draw their biggest audience, and 99 percent of the time, that's European/Tolkien-style fantasy. She'd said that she once wrote a very detailed, dramatic novel set in a fantasy analogue of Egypt. After reading it, the publisher said, "This story is great, but the one thing we'd like you to change is the setting - we need it to be something more like medieval Europe."

    So, after a week or so of being upset about it, since she needed to put food on the table, she went ahead and reskinned the story as something with a more Norse/medieval flavor; and they published it.

    Of course, the publishing business is going through a LOT of changes now, so maybe the "face of fantasy" is changing as well. We'll have to see what happens.
    That's not so true with the smaller 3pps - niche is the way to go for small publishing houses and standard fare medievil D&D is not as easy to market when that's the market for the big publishers: WotC, Paizo, Fantasy Flight, etc. Just looking at Pathfinder - since that's the RPG market that I work in, the leading small publishers include Open Design, 4 Winds, Super Genius Games, and Rite Publishing all specialize in a much more niche type product.

    I work closely with Rite Publishing and looking at all their productlines, they have: Kaidan - feudal Japanese horror (niche), Jade Oath - wuxia (niche), Questhaven - which is somewhat standard fare but the primary PC races include minotaurs, gargoyles, wyrd (giants, half elf/half ogre magi), fey shapechangers (all very much niche), they have steampunk settings, post apocalypse, and several others, but none of which fits as standard Euro-analog nor very Tolkienesque.

    The truth is there are markets for the niche settings, but they are all too small for larger publishing houses. The small 3pp can 'own their niche' and become vary successful targetting a small, specific market. Trying to compete against Paizo and WotC for the Tolkienesque settings is an impossible and very expensive task for the small companies. So the idea that the bulk of RPG publishers only work with Tolkienesque worlds is abjectly wrong. At least it is in my experience and I'm a small 3PP.
  • Sanglorian, I'm late to the party, but here's my thoughts. I suspect a lot of this comes down to the age group of the typical RPG audience.

    1. Ethnically homogeneous, stereotyped civilizations are easy for a 12 year-old (who doesn't give a crap about history or politics) to understand. Often, these nations are really just there to provide some plausible origin to particular character concepts, so why bother giving them interesting dynamics? Usually, the adventure is only nominally occurring anywhere in particular: even if it's set in the land of the elves, you're learning little more about the dynamics of elven culture than you are about what sorts of random monsters you're likely to meet in the woods.

    Clear-the-dungeon role-playing games and video games alike need a steady stream of easily recognizable 'bad guys'. Client states, immigration, colonization are all social/political issues, which don't serve this need; these are situations that let more mature players tangle with concepts that they find interesting, now that they've taken that history minor and have felt the sting of workplace politics, struggled with the subtlety and difficulty of real relationships.

    The more politically charged games take more sophistication to breathe life into. For a somewhat static fantasy realm, all you need is a folio of monsters and some concept art to get you going. Ancient, abandoned locations are just exotic sets upon which to stage the battles. Compared to this, Saxons slowly pushing out the Britons (what, everybody's human?) just sounds so bloody dreary!

    2. Social and political problems haven't had much mechanical support (until recently; my first experience of it being BW). Imagine an accomplished hero who is somehow yet cowed by his overbearing (but non-combatant) mother. Looked at through an old school D&D lens, this sounds like a 10th level Fighter being somehow intimidated by a 0-level peasant - which is unintentionally comical. He kills owlbears, for chrissakes! But as we come to appreciate the ways that social pressure acts through the ubiquitous net of relationships that holds each of us in our place, it makes a lot more sense.

    Without this support, few GMs could muster enough verisimilitude to get a party of adventuring bad-asses to feel that the disapproval of the local mayor means anything at all. "We'll just kick his ass!"

    3. To someone exposed mostly to caricatures of historical eras, colonialism just seems anachronistic to fantasy; evokes settlers struggling in log cabins rather than swords & sorcery.
  • Posted By: Fuseboy3. To someone exposed mostly to caricatures of historical eras, colonialism just seems anachronistic to fantasy; evokes settlers struggling in log cabins rather than swords & sorcery.
    Weirdly, this is the big one to me. Swords n Dragons n Wizards just seem wrong when I think of colonialism.

    Of course, I also tend to not like fantasy ( of the swords and sorcery sort anyway) creeping into my later period based RPGs. I'm one of those folks who actively disliked the combo of D&D + Cyberpunk, despite it ebing the basis of the wildly popular Shadowrun game.
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