Tag: culture

RPG-ology #12:  Aphorisms

This is RPG-ology #12:  Aphorisms, for November 2018.


One of the hardest aspects of creating worlds is creating cultures.  Different cities, different countries, different peoples all have differences in everything from dress to architecture to courtesy.  The elves of Lothlorien have a different culture from those of Mirkwood.

One article is not going to serve as a complete course in creating culture, but there is one aspect of culture that struck me which I thought might be worth discussing.

In my first novel, I was expressing the viewpoint of one of the characters toward minor injuries he had received, and wrote

Even a small wound infected could be trouble, and an ounce of prevention… he chided himself for relying on aphorisms for wisdom.

My editor had no idea what that meant.  He was an excellent editor, but he was Australian, and therein lies the rub.  The expression is An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and is one of the many witticisms published by Benjamin Franklin writing in Poor Richard’s Almanac.  Americans generally recognize dozens of his sayings, from Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise to his advice to the other members of the Continental Congress as they signed the Declaration of Independence, We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately.  Those sayings are considerably less known outside their native country.  All cultures have these.  The British expression A penny’s worth of mirth is worth a pound of sorrow is not even well understood by those who do not recognize that a pound is a unit of currency, not in this case specifically weight.  And so it is evident that each culture will have some expressions unique to itself.

On the other hand, many of the older expressions will cross cultural lines, and the people who know the expression won’t realize it.  Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said in a public speech, “Let me quote an old Russian proverb:  Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap.”  He was completely unaware that this was from the Bible until the international press started calling him a “Bible-quoting clown”.  So we see that some expressions cross cultural lines and are adopted by people who don’t know the origin of the aphorism.

So, how do you do this in a game?

Since you’re creating the world, and thus most of the cultures of the world, you’re going to have to invent some of these yourself.  You might want to write half a dozen for each culture in advance, and consider times when non-player characters can use them—or even feed them to players playing characters drawn from those cultures.

Bear in mind that those sayings which become common do so because they relate to things within the culture.  A people for whom most of life is spent digging underground is not going to have sayings about grass on the other side of a fence or when to make hay; a tribe of nomadic herdsmen won’t talk much about places like home; a land-locked nation probably won’t have much to say about oceans or beach sand.  The value of a proverb lies in its ability to use something familiar to its people to make a practical or moral point.  Your diggers will know that gold isn’t the only thing that glitters, your herdsmen will know that the grass only looks greener elsewhere.

Also recognize that witticisms are often contradictory, even in the same culture—too many cooks spoil the broth but two heads are better than one; haste makes waste but a stitch in time saves nine.  There is no reason why your cultures cannot have contradictory aphorisms, and even quote them at each other in discussions.  After all, the digger goes farther following the softer path, but the hardest rocks hold the most precious gems.

That’s a good example, because of course someone from that tribe of herdsmen would have no clue what either of those mean, just as the diggers would be completely baffled by the saying When the mare is in season the stallion can’t be calmed.

Once you have outlined the culture, enlist the aid of your players, at least in connection with their characters’ own cultures.  If you have an elf, or a Bothan, or a Frangian, discuss with them what kinds of things would make good “old sayings” in their culture, and invite them to include some of their own devising.

And don’t be afraid to be absurd.  In the movie America’s Sweethearts, the “Wellness Guide” (played by Alan Arkin) says, as I recall it, “In my country we have an old saying, Mecka lecka halava, beem sala beem.”  Eddie (John Cusack) responds, “Oh.  What’s that mean?”  The answer?  “No one knows.  It’s a very old saying.”

So create a few very old sayings that sound like they contain wisdom, and release them into your game through peoples that would understand them, and see how that helps define your cultures a bit better.


Previous article:  Scared.
Next article:  Cities.

Cultures of Northumbria: Elves

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Elves are undoubtedly the oldest known race in the world. Their culture is ancient and largely unchanged, despite the millennia that have passed.

Typical Appearance

Elves are generally slender and graceful people, with long straight blonde or dirty-blonde hair. Eye color tends to be amber and bluish-green though violet is not uncommon. They do not grow facial hair.

Concerning fashion, elves favor elegant displays of great workmanship. Colors are usually rich, while patterns tend to be both intricate and subtle. Nature motifs are very common.

Elves favor tight-fitting hosen or breeches, along with tight-fitting tunics. They also prefer loose-fitting, ornate robes, made of very light material. Narrow shoes and boots are typical. Their cloaks, though lightweight, are usually long and flowing.

Language

It is common in many cultures for people to call themselves ‘the people’ or ‘the speakers’, but elves recognize that humans, elves, dwarves, and gnomes are all sentient beings that fit such a bill. Therefore, they call all these races ‘the singers’ (laulajia). Their specific words for elf/elves are keijukainen/keijut.

The elven base word for any language is the same as for ‘song’ (laulu/laulut). As the elves are the eldest race, they call their own language the ‘ancient song’ (vanha laulu).

The elves use a sound-based system of runes, which later became the inspiration for other runic systems, such as that of the dwarves and that of the Varangians (a northern group of humans). They actually have two sets of runes, one used for common writing (sanat, meaning ‘words’) and another (voimat, meaning ‘powers’) used for important concepts like magic and law.  All elves know the former, and all elders know the latter as well. Read more

Cultures of Northumbria: Varangians

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


Varangian legends, recorded in the skaldic eddas, tell that a dozen Varangian adventurer-kings of old, in response to a challenge, crossed the Great Sea and settled in Northumbria about five centuries ago, as early as 128 FR. The eddas recount how these kings successfully fought the natives and even fought one another for dominance, until a new savage people emerged from the northern forests—the Picts. Then the Varangians banded together, even allying with Northumbrian natives, to resist the fury of the demon-worshipping Picts.

The primary Varangian history, the Royal Edda, tells that in 206 FR, the great King Jorn Ironhand united the eleven other petty kings and formed a great Northern Kingdom in Northumbria, centered on the fertile valley of the Blackrun River. The kingdom enjoyed a century of prosperity and reached its zenith under King Hakkon the Just, but his queen’s infidelity led to the downfall of his house. Subsequent kings were weak, and the emergence of goblyn hordes from the mountains caught the royal army unprepared. King Ragnar tried to rally the kingdom, and his calls were answered by the Dwarven King of the Mountains, Kroin son of Kror. Together they made their stand and won many battles, but their defeat at the Battle of Bloodeagle Pass in 499 FR spelled doom for the Northern Kingdom. Goblyn hordes overran the northern valleys, massacring tens of thousands of innocents, razing hundreds of hamlets and villages, and burning the royal capital to the ground.

Waves of Varangians migrated south into central Northumbria. In many places, they mingled peacefully with native Kenienka and Wendat tribes, though there were occasional battles. The Varangians later mixed even more easily with the newly arrived Frangians and Zeelanders.

Many Varangians yearn for the return of their great Northern Kingdom, but none see any hope of its return, and it has become more of an ideal. Read more

Cultures of Northumbria: The Frangians

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Frangii are relative newcomers to Northumbria, hailing from lands to the northeast, across the great sea. Centuries ago, the Frangii were a divided people, with their petty kings fighting fratricidal wars for hegemony. In recent centuries, they united and expanded, absorbing a few neighboring cultures and forming the mighty Kingdom of Frangia, one of the most powerful kingdoms ever seen across the sea.  Fierce competition between Frangia and its neighboring kingdoms led to a wave of exploration and the discovery of the new world.

The Frangii quickly established many settlements in that new world, focusing on a fertile coastal region that they dubbed Southumbria. Despite frequent frontier wars with natives and other colonizing powers, Frangian power continued to grow there. The Frangian Crown then turned its attention to the vast region to the north of Southumbria, a region that they logically dubbed Northumbria. Read more

Cultures of Northumbria: Zeelanders

In this series of articles, Michael Garcia shares various custom rules and handouts related to his worldbuilding for his ongoing Northumbria campaign. 


The Zeelanders hail from lands to the northeast, across the great sea. Centuries ago, Zeelanders (called Frislanders in older texts) established several coastal city-states. A few centuries ago, one city crowned a king and conquered the rest. However, the cities soon revolted against the king’s designs on power. After a few years of war, they agreed to retain a king, whose power was limited.

The king at the time realized that his only chance of maintaining his throne was to channel his people’s energies outward. He therefore initiated a wave of seaborne exploration and expansion. This brought the Zeelanders into fierce competition with their distant kinsmen and neighbors in the powerful Kingdom of Frangia. The Zeelanders maintained the upper hand at sea and grew rich through trade, keeping pace with their Frangian rivals. However, the discovery of the new world changed the balance of power. The Frangii quickly established many settlements in a fertile coastal region that they dubbed Southumbria. Despite frequent frontier wars, Frangian power continued to grow there. When the Frangian Crown turned its attention to the vast region that lies north of Southumbria, a region called Northumbria, the Zeelanders resolved to deny it to them. Read more

The Problem with Pokémon

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A few weeks ago, Nintendo released an “augmented reality” game called Pokémon Go. The game has attracted millions of players and, as it did when the Pokémon trading card game debuted, it has also attracted plenty of criticism from some Evangelical pundits. The following article was originally published in 1999 by the Christian Gamers Guild. 


 Recently the Reverend David L. Brown, Th. M., wrote an article (the original article is no longer up; we link to a version in the Internet Archive for historical purposes) in which he delved into the evils of the Pokémon fad and of the collectible card game in particular.  We appreciate his efforts, and agree that there are dangers to this fad.  However, some of the Reverend’s statements should be examined more carefully.  His research into Pokémon was of necessity cursory, and he may have misunderstood the phenomenon, and the game in particular, and so made charges which could be embarrassing if repeated to someone better informed.  Reverend Brown is right to be concerned about the activities of his grandchildren, but should be certain that he presents the right reasons for this concern. Read more