18 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 10: Getting some Culture

While I’m working on the map, fiddling with it to get it looking the way I’d imagined, I’ll spend a bit of time expanding on some other details that have been vaguely mentioned so far.

Remember that my philosophy of world-building basically states “If you can’t attach a story to it, don’t waste your time on it”. In a world that’s being designed for 30+ players in a LARP campaign, there is potential for a lot of stories, but each of these stories should filter back to our core ideas for the setting. I’m thinking of an undertone of cultural conflict, especially in the face of rampant colonialism/imperialism, so that means we need to get into some more detail about the cultures of the setting, how they view the world, and how they view each other.

The setting has seven races, it also has seven cultures. The seven races do not even match up to the seven cultures. It is possible for players to mix and match these options to get some very interesting character types. This particular post does not concern itself for races or genetic differences, those elements will come next; it’s about the beliefs, customs and rituals that make up a cultural background for a character.

Generally we’ve got seven cultures grouped into three main categories. “The Empire”, “The Settlers” and “The Church” make up the category of Invaders. “The Pirates” and “The Privateers” make up the category of Seafarers. “The Natives” and “The Cult” make up the category of Outsiders. Just because these cultures can be clustered into larger categories, it doesn’t mean that cultures within a category are automatically friendly to one another, or automatically opposed to those outside their category; it just means that these groups share some communal features with others in their category.

The category of Invaders includes cultures who have only come to the world in the past hundred years, older members of society might have known some of the first invaders to set foot here. The most naturalised members of this culture have been here for no more than four generations, and almost everyone among these people can trace their ancestry back to the “old world” (some members may be first generation immigrants to this “New World”). Some of the settlers may have ancestors who bred with natives, but in previous generations they have adopted the ways of the invaders, losing much of the native culture they might once have had. Members of the Imperial culture find in anathema to breed outside their “morally-upright and virtuous” caste, they would never have crossbred with natives (but might have had illicit liaisons with the lower caste settlers), none would trace their lineage back to the original inhabitants of these lands (even if their blood told otherwise). Those who belong to the Church might come from any family background, in the same manner as the medieval church in our world, I’m seeing that members would often be given to the church as children, to be brought up as clerics, priests, monks, nuns, and social workers. All members of the Invaders category have a distinct view of the land (it is a wild and dangerous place to be explored and tamed), an attitude to the faith of the old world (whether it’s a devout following or simply lip service) and usage of the Spanish tongue (this might just be for formal events, or might be their common language). Intrinsically linked to the Invader cultures is obviously some kind of connection back to the old world, but this hasn’t been explored at all yet.

The category of Seafarers includes cultures who share more of an affinity for the sea than for the land. Seafarers trace their ancestry to a wide variety of lands in the old world, but typically as children they joined a ship’s crew and never looked back. Quite a few members of the seafarer cultures do live their lives on land, but they spend the majority of their time dealing with other members of their culture and retaining the ways of their people. Those who belong to the pirate culture don’t specifically form a culture of criminal treachery and underworld connections, instead they value freedom from authority, the lust for adventure and often a superstitious streak. Pirates draw their origins from all walks of life, but typically undergo some kind of initiation ritual when they begin their life on the high seas. Those who belong to the privateers on the other hand are more noble seafarers, they still value authority and often claim allegiance to one crown or another as they sail the seas, often splitting their bounty down the middle between the ship’s share and the share of their patron nation. All members of the Seafarers category have a love of the sea (even if those who do spend their lives on land will often maintain occupations relating to fishing, boatbuilding, or some other nautical connection), an attitude of camaraderie and teamwork (which is necessary to operating a vessel on the high seas), and usage of the English tongue (though many ships communicate in other languages, depending on the majority of crew members and the decree of the captain). The fact that seafarers may mark their allegiance to other nations clearly indicates that there is more than one nation in the “Old World”, and seafarers have an easier way to access those nations than the other cultures.

The category of Outsiders includes cultures who have more respect for the “New World”, they don’t seek to plunder it for everything they can take, nor do they seek to conquer it or convert it into a facsimile of the “Old World”. The Outsider cultures don’t necessarily trace their ancestry back to the original inhabitants of the islands, but they do value the ancient ways that have held the balance of power in these lands as long as anyone can remember, and as far back as the mythic age. The Natives live their lives according to ancient traditions, they honour the spirits and tend the land, some have cross-bred with settlers and some of their descendants have moved to the cultures of the Invaders (either the Church or the Settlers), but just as many of these children have returned to the simple and natural ways attuned to life in the “New World”. The Natives have two ways, a way of peace and a way of war, some will choose one way or another, most will try to find a balance. The Cult is made up of secretive individuals who feel that the invaders and seafarers are damaging the “New World” in their attempts to conquer and plunder, they accept that the Natives want to deal with issues through “peace” or “war”, but they feel that the way of peace is being ignored by the Invaders, and the way of war is futile against superior weapons. The Cult seek to subvert the Invaders and Seafarers, while restoring any losses to the Natives. Anyone may be a member of the cult, roughly half of the members were inducted from other cultures as they reached adulthood, the rest were brought up specifically in cult-dedicated families hidden in each of the other cultures. All members of the Outsiders category have an attitude toward the native spirits and faith of the new world (whether it’s a devout following or simply lip service), and a desire to live a simple life (whether they currently do live this way, or are actively working to restore this); they don’t share a common tongue.   

With these generalities in place, we can start looking at specifics within each culture.

A few years ago, on one forum or another, someone came up with a great idea for defining NPCs within the context of their culture. I wish I could remember who it was, so I could give them credit for it (but I’ve tweaked it a bit since the original concept). The idea was basically that every culture has 13 specific elements to it, the elements are basically the rules and stereotypes followed by the culture, each element was allocated to a card rank in a standard deck. No-one is an absolute stereotype exemplifying all 13 specific elements in their life, they tend to generally follow their culture’s ways but some they will take more to heart and others they will turn away from.

For a basic NPC, you might draw a pair of cards, ignore suits for the moment, for the majority of cultural aspects. The character basically follows their culture, but one of the cards indicates one of their cultural aspects that the NPC takes to heart, and the other card indicates a cultural aspect that the NPC has adopted from one of the other cultures they associate with. If the cards are the same, then the NPC takes on a cultural aspect from another culture and takes this to heart as a defining character trait (but otherwise follows their regular culture’s ways).

For more complex NPCs, you’d draw more cards. If you’ve already decided that an NPC is a paragon of their cultural values, then you might allocate all but one of the card ranks as cultutral aspects taken to heart (with one variant aspect). If you’ve decided that the NPC is a rebel, or more eclectic in their habits, you might allocate all but one of the card ranks as variant aspects (with one aspect of their own culture exemplified). If you haven’t decided which way a character goes, you might allocate red cards as favoured traits from their culture, and black cards as traits adopted from another culture.

I’ll generate up 7 charts with 13 elements each, so I can use this quick method of generating NPCs on the fly. Generally I’m looking for things that might be useful for the purposes of generating story at some level; and remember, these have nothing to do with the physiology of the people comprising the culture, they are purely the social elements that define the culture.

Here’s the 13 I’ll be going with…
A Language most commonly spoken
2 Valued Possession
3 Type of Clothing Worn
4 Valued Concept
5 Common Pastime
6 Housing Arrangements
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this
J Religious Beliefs
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait
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