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DnD and stereotyping


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#21 Eric P.

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:23 AM

Different cultures throughout the Realms might have different visions of the FR pantheon, giving rise to different sects to represent different perceptions of the same deity. We know that Mielikki is known by a different name in Rashamen, so it's reasonable to expect that she's seen somewhat differently (a detali here, a detail there) in that area, at least, than her more traditional representation.

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#22 Eric P.

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:28 AM

So, what else about the Forgotten Realms setting appears unfairly biased?

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#23 Enkida

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 12:16 PM

From what I've found, the official FR background of Asia is pretty comprehensive. However read closer, and it starts to look more like "Asia" is defined as China, Japan, and "everyone else." And that description is from 2011; in Baldur's Gate, at least, Yoshimo (and Angelo) definitely have that Japanese flair, even though they're theoretically from the equivalent of "mainland China." It always bothered me that Asian culture, which is just as rich and varied as Western culture, gets generally lumped into "Japanese" in the Forgotten Realms. If you get expansive you make it into China - but not much farther than that unless you've got a dedicated and inventive GM.

The interchanging of Asian cultures bothers me too, somewhat. Seeing indirect references to kimonos and katanas coming out of the equivalent of mainland China or Shaolin-style monks coming out of the equivalent of Japan bugs me. Ignoring Korea's importance for the rest of historical Asia bothers me too. I think the latter is reflective of real world politics, though, in that the relatively modern split of Korea between North and South really played a big role in killing the rest of the world's knowledge about their cultural history. Certainly the variety in Asia is never really reflected in any of the FR lore I've stumbled across in popular media, where one would be inclined to think the sun rises and sets with Japan alone. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big ol' Japanophile myself, however, I would be happier if the recognition would be spread out across more of Asian culture in general.

Of course when I get too annoyed at what I see in Baldur's Gate, I just pop in my "Avatar: The Last Airbender" DVDs and think about how far we've come. :-)

#24 Rhaella

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 02:24 PM

I've seen the word "Kozakura" pop up in the Angelo mod, so I don't think he's intended to be from the mainland. And I'm pretty sure Yoshimo never said exactly where in Kara-Tur he was from.

It's not like Western Faerun has a perfect anthropological depiction of every country they borrowed from (far from!), so I'm not sure how it's an unfair bias to mix up cultures in the East when they do it in the West as well. It may be lazy, but it doesn't seem like an issue of prejudice. Maybe they should rely less upon Asian culture in general, but I don't actually have the source book for Kara-Tur, so I don't know how creative they get.

#25 Sister Vigilante

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 09:21 PM

Well, you have to give these things time. Back in the day, D&D was mostly based on Tolkien. Tolkien wasn't a racist, he was just an Oxford man who mostly knew about European mythology. Then they added Kara-Tur, mostly because some people liked Japan. Now there are countries that at least theoretically represent other Asian cultures, and they're sure to get more sophisticated with time.

I dunno, I always thought part of the beauty of D&D was the ability to explore different cultural and intellectual values in a safe, relatively judgment-free environment. When you're running a game, you can make whatever you want out of it; same when you're writing a BG mod. If something seems offensive, I think the answer is to create one's own content that addresses the perceived deficiency.

Heck, if I'm not mistaken, D&D clerics don't even need to worship gods anymore, they can get their spells from "ideas." I might personally roll my eyes a bit, but whatever, I'll see where people go with it. Could be interesting.
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#26 GeN1e

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 05:47 AM

I find it perfectly fine, to take only the most colorful cultures. First and foremost, DnD is a commercial game with it's own TA, not an encyclopedia. And since it happens to be Western, it's also natural to adhere to some popular local stereotypes - again, because this is a game.

Should I be offended that Rashemi society in DnD is depicted as consisting of berserkers and witches, that is - wild savages, and ursine looking at that? I probably should, given a number of Russian-born scientists and artists. But I'm not, because it is just a fantasy game.

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#27 Eric P.

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 07:56 AM

I suspect that the challenges to creating southeast Asian analogs for a fantasy setting, not counting time or budget constraints, include deciding which cultures to use as models and familiarity with such cultures. There are details that set each real-world culture apart from others in a cultural group, and game designers need to draw the line somewhere as to what to include and what might become overkill. I recall that Oriental Adventures included a few areas that were meant as distinct subcultures. It was a decent attempt, but there's always room for expansion, revision, etc.

I understand being bothered by a culture not being represented to someone's satisfaction. It bothers me whenever people, when hearing the word Celt, immediately thing of the Irish, as Welsh and Cornish subcultures are equally distinct and important when discussing the world of the Celts. I'm quite sure that my Welsh, Cornish, and Scot ancestral lines have nothing to do with my thoughts and feelings on this issue ;)

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#28 Eric P.

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 08:08 AM

It may be worth noting that Toril is only one of many possible Prime worlds in D&D.

All clerics in the Forgotten Realms must worship a patron deity in order to receive any divine assistance (most importantly, the ability to cast divine spells), and the available pantheons in that setting are only the FR deities and the non-human racial pantheons, such as the Seldarine for elves and the Dwarven deities.

Modding is a perfect opportunity to showcase cultural flavor, to demonstrate what makes a given subculture distinct from the rest of its cultural group. I'm including details in my NPC mod with this in mind, and I'm attempting to write it in a way that will suggest identifying details rather than lecture the PC/player about them. I don't have anything in mind to add to the NPC's culture, as I find it sufficiently well defined, but I'd like players to come away feeling that they understand what sets (in this case) a Sylvan elf apart from Moon, Sun, Dark, Winged, and Wild elves, and aren't annoyed by any of it.

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#29 Miloch

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Posted 08 March 2012 - 09:52 PM

Kara-Tur (first attested in 1st ed. DnD's "Oriental Adventures" as you mentioned) is straight out of the quasi-medieval Far East on Earth, as Mulhorand is on Egypt, etc. Also being you could (in theory) not have to worship a specific deity as a cleric of that culture, but if you were a Kozakuran priest, a million different spirits. Or eight million, to be precise (after animalism and/or Taoism).

It bothers me whenever people, when hearing the word Celt, immediately thing of the Irish, as Welsh and Cornish subcultures are equally distinct and important when discussing the world of the Celts. I'm quite sure that my Welsh, Cornish, and Scot ancestral lines have nothing to do with my thoughts and feelings on this issue.

Such as? OT perhaps, but the historically attested Celts (mentioned by Caesar, Tacitus, Herodotus, etc.) lived in Celtica or Celtiberia (i.e. modern France and Spain).
It stands to reason (perhaps) that most PnP fantasy worlds just copy things from historical Earth cultures. They're easier to identify with, and you don't have to make up a bunch of languages and other sociocultural elements from scratch. Kind of hard to do for one or several authors, being that millions of humans had to do that over thousands of years. Tolkien was an exception in coming up with believable fantasy languages/cultures because he was a professor of the subject as noted, and also developed it over several decades (The Hobbit didn't have that kind of stuff, but the stuff released after his death i.e. The Silmarillion etc. did show that development... pretty admirable for one person to do over several decades as opposed to entire cultures doing it over millennia).

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#30 Bluenose

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 04:57 AM

So, what else about the Forgotten Realms setting appears unfairly biased?

I'm not sure I'd use the word biased so much as cliched or, as in the thread title, stereotyped. To be truthful I think it's often helpful to give a quick introduction to what a particular group is like if you can point to an Earth-analogue. This does of course cause problems when the resemblance isn't quite as close as it might be, and someone assumes that the viking-analogue worship Odin and Thor.

Well, you have to give these things time. Back in the day, D&D was mostly based on Tolkien. Tolkien wasn't a racist, he was just an Oxford man who mostly knew about European mythology. Then they added Kara-Tur, mostly because some people liked Japan. Now there are countries that at least theoretically represent other Asian cultures, and they're sure to get more sophisticated with time.

I dunno, I always thought part of the beauty of D&D was the ability to explore different cultural and intellectual values in a safe, relatively judgment-free environment. When you're running a game, you can make whatever you want out of it; same when you're writing a BG mod. If something seems offensive, I think the answer is to create one's own content that addresses the perceived deficiency.

Heck, if I'm not mistaken, D&D clerics don't even need to worship gods anymore, they can get their spells from "ideas." I might personally roll my eyes a bit, but whatever, I'll see where people go with it. Could be interesting.


I'd like to say I don't think Tolkein was a major influence on D&D. I'm not sure he's even in the original Appendix N of inspirational source reading. Sword and Sorcery stories (Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar novels, Howard's Conan) were in that, and given the way the game was played I think they had a bigger influence. Tolkein was most significant for the races involved.

As for D&D clerics worshipping gods, that has always as far as I remember been a question of setting. Clerics of "Ideals" were mentioned in 2e sourcebooks, for example. In the Realms they always had a patron deity, but that wasn't true everywhere else. And doesn't entirely make sense for certain cultures, as the efforts to squeeze Al-Qadim and the Adama in attest.

Kara-Tur (first attested in 1st ed. DnD's "Oriental Adventures" as you mentioned) is straight out of the quasi-medieval Far East on Earth, as Mulhorand is on Egypt, etc. Also being you could (in theory) not have to worship a specific deity as a cleric of that culture, but if you were a Kozakuran priest, a million different spirits. Or eight million, to be precise (after animalism and/or Taoism).


Mulhorand being New Kingdom Egypt, that is. Medieval Egypt is further south, although it's perfectly sensible to argue that Durpar is a vaguely arabic middle-east rather than specifically Egypt.

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#31 Eric P.

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 07:44 AM

Just another comment about the Celts: their culture goes back at least to the biblical Galatians of Asia Minor. Eventually, Celts spread as far east as the Xingxiang area of China, and as far west as either Ireland or the continent of North America, if you consider the case of the extinct Mandan tribe of Native Americans. They were the first western culture to use coins and chariots. Celts gave us druids, and Welsh Celts gave us bards :)

As for Tolkien's influence on early D&D, it's been discussed off and on for probably as long as the game as been around (nearly 40 years now). Officially, there's no direct link, but it's fairly clear...at least in some of the game's races, as mentioned above in this thread.

The only real issue I've ever had with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting is that it's absurdly high in magic. The stuff practically flows like water, and magic items of various sorts are nearly as ubiquitous as cell phones are around our world today. It's overwhelming to someone like me, who prefers magic to be more rare and wondrous. OK, so there are also too many dragons around, but... ;)

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#32 Miloch

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Posted 09 March 2012 - 05:21 PM

Just another comment about the Celts: their culture goes back at least to the biblical Galatians of Asia Minor. Eventually, Celts spread as far east as the Xingxiang area of China, and as far west as either Ireland or the continent of North America, if you consider the case of the extinct Mandan tribe of Native Americans. They were the first western culture to use coins and chariots. Celts gave us druids, and Welsh Celts gave us bards

I'll respond to this in a new post; it would sidetrack this one far too much. I'll just say for here that not all bards are "Celtic" flavoured; certainly skalds aren't.

As for Tolkien's influence on early D&D, it's been discussed off and on for probably as long as the game as been around (nearly 40 years now). Officially, there's no direct link, but it's fairly clear...at least in some of the game's races, as mentioned above in this thread.

The only real issue I've ever had with the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting is that it's absurdly high in magic. The stuff practically flows like water, and magic items of various sorts are nearly as ubiquitous as cell phones are around our world today. It's overwhelming to someone like me, who prefers magic to be more rare and wondrous.

The very first edition of basic DnD acknowledged its debt to Tolkien (where else would they get halflings and orcs). But it also acknowledged a debt to others, including Jack Vance's Dying Earth - which *is* magic-heavy (allegedly the DnD magic system comes straight out of Vance).

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