Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy RPG

Conrad Gray

Registered User
Validated User
By Fantasy RPG I mean in the D&D High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, all that medieval jazz.

By non-Western Cultures I mean nations that don't resemble ones from Europe. And preferably human ones, because it gets annoying when the only cultures that look non-European belong to a non-human race. Because obviously all humans are European in fantasy.

And by this thread's point, I mean, are there any notable ones from any notable games?
 

Ryumaru Mori

Mew! =D
Validated User
Eh, I know it's not too on-topic, but I have an issue with the other side - Whenever someone introduces non-Western cultures, it generally tends to open a can of worms for me. See the WotC boards for that.

'Oh yeah, rapiers were just floppy bits of steel and broadswords were heavy and clumsy. Samurai didn't need armour because they were masters of combat and could dodge much better than dishonourable knights, and their katana could cut through full plate like butter!'
 

UglyJimStudly

Unforgiven
Validated User
And by this thread's point, I mean, are there any notable ones from any notable games?
There's a bunch of oriental (usually Japanese) games and settings - Bushido and Legend of the Five Rings come to mind, I'm sure there's a bunch more.

There's also lots of non-standard settings for D&D: Kara-Tur (far east), Al-Qadim (middle east), Mazteca (pre-Columbian Central/South America), etc. And of course a bunch of completely made-up settings that are decidedly non-medieval, such as Eberron, Planescape, Dark Sun, Ravenloft (in part), etc.

The Riddle of Steel has a setting that includes versions of many historical cultures, ranging across all of Eurasia. GURPS has a setting called Banestorm on the world of Yrth, which includes pieces of all sorts of Earth cultures (literally - they were snatched up by the Banestorm and deposited on Yrth). I'm pretty sure Fantasy Hero has a similarly broad setting, but don't recall the name off-hand.
 

Skywalker

Back Off the Buddha!
Validated User
By Fantasy RPG I mean in the D&D High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, all that medieval jazz.

By non-Western Cultures I mean nations that don't resemble ones from Europe. And preferably human ones, because it gets annoying when the only cultures that look non-European belong to a non-human race. Because obviously all humans are European in fantasy.

And by this thread's point, I mean, are there any notable ones from any notable games?
All the cultures from Exalted.
 

The Scribbler

A Flash of Hope
Validated User
Well, as I mentioned in another thread, Kingdoms of Kalamar has fantasy versions of some of Africa's greatest civilizations (they are to those civilizations what most fantasy settings are to Europe): Svimohzia: the Ancient Isle.

They've also got some Mongolian-like civilizations and North American Plains Indian types.

The societies in the default Reign setting are also... well... not very European. I haven't read too much of the setting sections of the book (I did read the first few setting-only chapters, but that was when I first got the book), but I have gotten the impression that Greg set out to do something very different with that setting.

EDIT: Also the True20 book has an Arabian Nights inspired game setting.
 

Dan Davenport

Hardboiled GMshoe
RPGnet Member
Validated User
By Fantasy RPG I mean in the D&D High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, all that medieval jazz.

By non-Western Cultures I mean nations that don't resemble ones from Europe. And preferably human ones, because it gets annoying when the only cultures that look non-European belong to a non-human race. Because obviously all humans are European in fantasy.

And by this thread's point, I mean, are there any notable ones from any notable games?
There's Tekumel, in which the predominant culture is a blend of Indian and Central/South American.

I couldn't get into it, sadly, as the resultant culture utterly repulses me. (I have no idea how accurate that combination is, mind you, but the idea that the worshipers of a benevolent god would at once be horrified by human sacrifice <u>and</u> horrified at the idea of a human sacrificer <u>not</u> sacrificing humans? Yuck.)
 

Black Flag

Dweller on the Threshold
Validated User
By Fantasy RPG I mean in the D&D High Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, all that medieval jazz.
But isn't "medieval" a characteristically Western concept?

And preferably human ones, because it gets annoying when the only cultures that look non-European belong to a non-human race. Because obviously all humans are European in fantasy.
Speaks volumes, doesn't it? I'm with you there.

The difficulty is in presenting a non-familiar culture in such a way that it doesn't end up wallowing in its own exoticism. For examples of the latter, see Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim, and most other attempts at overtly "Asian" settings. In general, if non-Western types are presented as being more honorable, more civilized, more conformist/unified, more enlightened, more self-sacrificing, more "lawful," or any other such stereotype, then the setting has clearly fallen victim to the sort of absurd orientalizing to which middle-class white males in the West seem especially prone (and where you get unarmored samurai calmly slicing through tanks and other such nonsense). When a game starts trying to tell me how alien these people's way of thinking is, that's just creepy and reminiscent of some unsavory propaganda from the mid-20th century.

L5R's Rokugan is an interesting case. While it displays a great deal of orientalizing and romanticizing, nevertheless it is possible to take a good bit of it as ironic and representative of in-character hypocrisy. For example, the samurai believe they're more civilized, honorable, etc., than outsiders but are actually just as treacherous and deviant as anyone, several of the high clans have adopted foreign ways, etc.

Exalted is the first game I've seen that successfully avoids the East-West issue, largely by avoiding any direct real-world analogues. The cultures of Creation are all supposed to feel exotic, much as the cultures of Zothique or Vance's Dying Earth, and they're specifically not caricatures of real-world cultures. Suffice to say medieval Europe is nowhere to be found. I've heard similar things about Talislanta, but I'm not personally familiar with it.
 
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Lukas Sjöström

Society of Unity scholar
Validated User
To me, it's important that it's a fantasy culture. Often, designers take large liberties with the supposedly Western cultures, but stay entirely too close to stereotype and direct copies of our world when the focus moves outside those.
 
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