Signup
Welcome to... Canonfire! World of GreyhawK
Features
Postcards from the Flanaess
Adventures
in Greyhawk
Cities of
Oerth
Deadly
Denizens
Jason Zavoda Presents
The Gord Novels
Greyhawk Wiki
#greytalk
JOIN THE CHAT
ON DISCORD
    Canonfire :: View topic - Inherent Racial Natures?
    Canonfire Forum Index -> World of Greyhawk Discussion
    Inherent Racial Natures?
    Author Message
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 541
    From: Canada

    Send private message
    Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:07 pm  
    Inherent Racial Natures?

    The recent discussions about Kara-Tur being part of Oerth made me wonder about what the dwarves, elves, orcs and other demihuman and humanoid races of such a land would be like, and how their cultures would vary from those of a land inspired by Europe. As I thought about it, I realized that one could arguably provide certain recurring traits in the 'natures' of different races. Much has been made about human nature in the real world, but what about gnomish or halfling nature?

    Humans, I think, are the most readily adaptable and driven of any race. This applies to humans of every skin color and clime-they can master magic, they can learn from other races, they can farm or hunt, and they have the least antagonism with any other race, being just as able to cooperate with goblins as with elves.

    Besides being masters of crafting, dwarves also place a high emphasis on family honor and conformity, along with the practical and the visible, having little time for obscure sorcery or other mystical mumbo-jumbo. Aside from the stereotype of dwarven greed, many of them Achievement and success are very important to dwarves, and wealth is as important for its social stature as for what it can buy. Dwarves in a Japanese society, for instance, would place an even higher value on honor and bushido than would humans who would be more willing to violate the rules if it achieves a desirable end, while in a First Nations society they would be more apt to engage in a mutually profitable trade relationship, offering steel weapons and shields in exchange for foodstuffs and valuable furs.

    Elves are much the opposite, being much more inclined to mysticism and the natural, and less inclined to mercantile pursuits. They are more flexible and chaotic in their social organization, and often prefer to keep to their own devices more than other races. This doesn't necessarily mean they see themselves as superior, but rather that they aren't always comfortable with the hasty, often strictured societies of shorter-lived races. Elves would either have a distinguished status in a Chinese society that placed great emphasis on philosophy and the unknowable, or they might be scorned and abused in a more warlike and hierarchical society like that of the Aztecs.

    Gnomes are a race of contrasts, adoring both the natural and the mechanical, the practical and the imaginative, often seeking to further the bounds of knowledge. While enchanted by the beauty of the stars, they might seek to learn more about them as astronomers, and in observing natural phenomenons try to undestand them through technology. This scholarly bent, however, is balanced with more practical considerations not unlike those of the dwarves, although they place much less emphasis on family honor. Scholarly societies such as the medieval Islamic countries, ancient Greece or feudal China would likely be places where gnomes would thrive, while their knowledge of technology and willingness to share it might spur African or South American societies that did not develop such things until later to develop metalworking of their own. Such societies might not adopt all the gnomes' innovations-few Africans would wear heavy metal armor, for instance, although they will happily wield steel swords and protect themselves with metal shields.

    Halflings often have a special connection with the land and the oerth. While not as enthralled with nature as the elves, halflings possess tremendous agricultural gifts and are perhaps the best herders and farmers in all the world, doing for farming what gnomes do for science and technology. This is combined with their general lack of martial prowess to make halflings generally very cunning and crafty, capable of great wiles for survival. Often they will trade their own skills as farmers or herdsmen to men or dwarves, providing food in exchange for protection from monsters and enemies. Halflings in the Iroquois Confederacy would create an important class of farmers and grain-growers, while in the Middle East their abilities at increasing the yields of an otherwise uncertain oerth would make them valued members of society.

    Needless to say, this is all uncertain. I take it as a given that the demihumans and humanoids are spread around the world just as are the humans, but I'm also interested in seeing how they'd fit in with the different human cultures. Just as there's "human" nature, I see no reason why "dwarven" or "elven" nature can't apply as well. Hence I'm trying to explore how demihumans would fit into non-European cultures adapted into a D&D setting. And these are just general tendencies-badass halfling warriors or dwarven nature-lovers who share the same passion for caverns and mountains that elves do for the woods and lakes can certainly exist, too!

    Thoughts?
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 08, 2008
    Posts: 116
    From: Australia

    Send private message
    Sun Aug 29, 2010 10:48 pm  

    For my part, I actually see the more long-lived races with ingrained cultural traditions having a stronger effect on the human cultures around them, rather than vice versa. I think that the dwarven and elven religions, as well as pride in their history and traditions, kind of ensure a certain cultural homogeneity wherever you might find them. As they developed much earlier than humanity, they would have an opportunity to guide the formative years of humans along their own philosophical paths. I don't really see a point in 'mucking around' with their culture to reflect that of a younger society, particularly for societies that they might perceive to be less culturally, magically or technologically enhanced as themselves.

    Following along these lines, if you had a strong dwarf presence in say, a society closely modelled on that of the Japanese then the bushido code would more closely resemble a dwarven warrior philosophy and there would be a strong artistic influence of angles and symmetry in architectural styles of the Japanese-style society.

    Much as they do in parts of the Flanaess the gnomes would hide, perhaps interacting with nature spirits and whatnot. Perhaps they would integrate to a point, but for the most part I see gnomes as being quietly proud of their own traditions. They are quite long-lived also, and IMHO not prone to getting pushed around culturally.

    Elves I think would take a vested interest in making sure that the human societies nearby respect nature, thus influencing them profoundly in how they husband their resources for "sustainable living". If the humans didn't understand, they would cut off contact and close their borders or simply retreat to happier climes. Either way their cultural integrity would be intact.

    Halflings would adapt as usual, taking on the lighter side of whatever culture that surrounded them.

    I suppose that what I am getting at is that in my humble opinion, the 'eurocentric' themed culture of the elves, dwarves and the others isn't that way because of the humans but vice versa. In my game if I were to place a nation of elves near an Asian society, then the nearest borders of that society would more closely reflect the elven way of life. Of course, if the aforementioned bonds were weakened or erased you would see a departure from those norms. Examples might be the elves of Zakhara in the Forgotten Realms setting or the Korobokuru of Oriental Adventures.

    Just my two cents.

    Damien.
    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 541
    From: Canada

    Send private message
    Mon Aug 30, 2010 1:48 pm  

    Having the cultural osmosis happen in reverse can easily happen too, and I emphasized humans as the main cultural drivers because early D&D and Greyhawk along with it were described as "humanocentric." Indeed, you can find allusions to the demihumans influencing their human neighbors, such as with cultures that did not have metal weapons or armor in real world history have it in the world of Oerth because of dwarven or gnomish influence.

    I also assume that just about every human culture has developed written languages and books because of the need to develop spell books to cast magic. While some of the First Nations in North America didn't have written versions of their languages until they were developed by missionaries to help the Natives read the Bible, just about every human culture on Oerth has books of one type or another, using whatever materials they can get. If they have to inscribe the spells on animal hides, plant leaves or stone plates, then that's what they'll do.

    What I'm really trying to do here is see how demihumans would fit into non-European human societies, and how these same societies would fit into a D&D setting. One thing I've always found strange about things like Oriental Adventures is that they seem more inclined to try and recreate an authentic cultural experience, discarding the trappings of the game if necessary. Your standard pseudo-medieval D&D setting is in no way, shape or form an authentic replication of Europe in the Middle Ages, so I see no reason why we should be trying to more authentically recreate medieval Arabia, Mongolia, Ethiopia, China or the Mayan Empire. The setting should be adapted to fit the game, not the other way around.
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Aug 24, 2005
    Posts: 46
    From: Toronto

    Send private message
    Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:06 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    ...One thing I've always found strange about things like Oriental Adventures is that they seem more inclined to try and recreate an authentic cultural experience, discarding the trappings of the game if necessary. Your standard pseudo-medieval D&D setting is in no way, shape or form an authentic replication of Europe in the Middle Ages, so I see no reason why we should be trying to more authentically recreate medieval Arabia, Mongolia, Ethiopia, China or the Mayan Empire. The setting should be adapted to fit the game, not the other way around.


    You're completely right. I think it has to do with the modern western obsession with the 'authentic' when dealing with the exotic. I also think there's a bit of subconscious embarrassment of the insensitive way that non-western cultures were portrayed in D&D's pulp roots - a good way to distance rpg works from that is to present it as a faithful, authentic recreation. It seems like the way most of these settings have used demihumans is to find analogs in the source material's mythology. This is a good place to start, but since these are real world mythologies it means that demihumans are relegated to the fringes in a way even more extreme than the humanocentric Flaeness. If I recall, there are no demihuman nations in Kara-Tur, Maztica, or Zakara while the Flaeness has several. This is one of the reasons why these settings seem strange when placed in the same world as a Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms.

    I think that we can move beyond that now, and like you I want to see settings that aren't so constrained by real world history and mythology and embrace D&D's core idioms. I think one of the attractive things about D&D is its irreverent pilfering and mashing together of wildly different mythologies and tropes.

    From the little I've seen of it, I think that Pathfinder is doing a pretty good job with Osirion, Katapesh and the Mwangi.
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Aug 24, 2005
    Posts: 46
    From: Toronto

    Send private message
    Tue Aug 31, 2010 8:16 am  

    Another note. I think itís interesting how the mechanics of the game can affect an implied cultural relationship. I think itís implied that the demihumans of BCMI D&D have a very homogenous culture that is resistant to change (given that all adventuring members of those races have the same homogenous and unchanging mechanics). On the other hand I think its implied that the demihumans of 3.x D&D come from a wide variety of cultures and are open to foreign influence (given that these adventurers can be any class or prestige class - many of which are culturally based).
    I don't really think either approach or game system is better than the other, I just think its interesting that a mechanic can subtly influence what 'makes sense' for demihumans of a particular game.
    _________________
    <a href="http://dave.monkeymartian.com/" target="_blank">Menage a Monster</a>: A gamer in the house of monsters
    Apprentice Greytalker

    Joined: Feb 23, 2003
    Posts: 7


    Send private message
    Thu Sep 02, 2010 7:48 am  

    A somewhat related question - is there a 'universal' language of magic on Oerth, or do different cultures feature variation on ways of, say, committing 'magic missile' to record?

    Lord Hobie
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jun 25, 2007
    Posts: 951
    From: Neck Deep in the Viscounty of Verbobonc

    Send private message
    Thu Sep 02, 2010 3:27 pm  

    It depends. If you're playing any version prior to 3e, there is no universal language of magic unless you decide to designate one. 3e and 3.5e suggested that Draconic is the language of magic. Personally, I think there should be a myriad of traditions, each of which uses its own language. I dislike tying something as varied and universal as magic to any one type of creature.
    Black Hand of Oblivion

    Joined: Feb 16, 2003
    Posts: 3836
    From: So. Cal

    Send private message
    Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:10 pm  

    bubbagump wrote:
    It depends. If you're playing any version prior to 3e, there is no universal language of magic unless you decide to designate one. 3e and 3.5e suggested that Draconic is the language of magic. Personally, I think there should be a myriad of traditions, each of which uses its own language. I dislike tying something as varied and universal as magic to any one type of creature.


    Not...quite. 3.X merely states that "Many ancient tomes of magic are written in Draconic..."(probably because dragons live for a long time, ergo, truly ancient books were written at time when it is mostly dragons that not only used magic, but that had a written language, or simply that dragons knew how to make books that last and that it is mostly their ancient texts that survive), not that Draconic is the language of magic. By the 3.X game edition, there is a language of magic, and it is "magical". That is why there still exists in 3.X the read magic spell- because the language is magical itself, and does not originate from any race. There is no "Speak Languages- Magic" skill. You want to read something written in the "language" of magic, you need to cast a spell.
    _________________
    - Moderator/Admin (in some areas)/Member -
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jun 25, 2007
    Posts: 951
    From: Neck Deep in the Viscounty of Verbobonc

    Send private message
    Fri Sep 03, 2010 12:39 pm  

    You will note that I said "suggested". This suggestion is derived from the statement you quoted as well as various statements regarding wizards and the use of the Draconic language. "Suggested" doesn't mean "decreed". Pay better attention when grownups are talking, Cebrion. Cool
    Journeyman Greytalker

    Joined: Oct 10, 2001
    Posts: 225
    From: NC

    Send private message
    Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:47 pm  

    bubbagump wrote:
    I dislike tying something as varied and universal as magic to any one type of creature.


    And that is just what the hags want you continue to believe...
    GreySage

    Joined: Oct 06, 2008
    Posts: 2788
    From: South-Central Pennsylvania

    Send private message
    Thu Sep 09, 2010 7:00 pm  

    Somehow, I just knew Aeolius was going to find a way to interject his hag theories into this one! Laughing Laughing Laughing

    Love ya, Aeolius. Evil Grin
    _________________
    Mystic's web page: http://melkot.com/mysticscholar/index.html
    Mystic's blog page: http://mysticscholar.blogspot.com/
    Display posts from previous:   
       Canonfire Forum Index -> World of Greyhawk Discussion All times are GMT - 8 Hours
    Page 1 of 1

    Jump to:  

    You cannot post new topics in this forum
    You cannot reply to topics in this forum
    You cannot edit your posts in this forum
    You cannot delete your posts in this forum
    You cannot vote in polls in this forum




    Canonfire! is a production of the Thursday Group in assocation with GREYtalk and Canonfire! Enterprises

    Contact the Webmaster.  Long Live Spidasa!


    Greyhawk Gothic Font by Darlene Pekul is used under the Creative Commons License.

    PHP-Nuke Copyright © 2005 by Francisco Burzi. This is free software, and you may redistribute it under the GPL. PHP-Nuke comes with absolutely no warranty, for details, see the license.
    Page Generation: 1.21 Seconds