Gameable Culture: Where I’m From

Gameable Culture: Where I’m From

We’ve done a lot of talking about different cultures and diversity this month.  One thing we haven’t discussed though is what does culture mean in a game?  Culture is a context that defines the socieities that characters come from,  exist in, and deal with.  Going a little deeper, culture is a context from wherein decisions are made.  The culture we’ve grown up in informs the decisions we make (even if we disagree with our culture of origin, that disagreement still defines us), as does the cultures we encounter or deal with.  Customs, beliefs and behavior all come into play.

I’ve often heard that D&D and general fantasy has “no” culture, but that’s not true.  There is a default European -influenced culture that we’ve accepted as the default. One way we can fail to make games set in other cultures uninteresting is to not realize that “standard” fantasy comes from an actual viewpoint. When we fail to realize this, we can build settings with many different trappings that still remain culturally different.  If I am raiding dungeons and taking loot, does it matter if I am going this in Greyhawk or Nubia?

Once we’ve marked the boundaries of mainstream fantasy, we then are confronted with what I think is the most difficult part in relaying culture in an immediate but still real sense to players.  I think the proliferation of status quo settings (derivations on Tolkien-based work) in part is because delivering a variation on the default culture is easier than delivering a culture “from scratch”.  There is so much explaining that you don’t have to do because the status quo culture is so well supported and defined.  You can describe things with only a few words and audiences can reasonably be expected to fill those gaps in their imagination.

We don’t have that with cultures that stray from the norm. To build new worlds for players, we have to not only present the cultures, we have to educate the players on the significance of cultural elements and the cultural context in which they exist.  Gameable culture is the term that I use to discuss the act of delivering culture through the playing of the game.  It’s just not reasonable to expect people to read 50 pages of background just to play a game, so our mechanics need to bring culture to them.

I’ve been building tools and experiments to find useful patterns for creating such cultures.  I shared the following on G+ a while ago, and am sharing it here as well. I have a followup to this, but try out what I’ve got for now.  I’m curious to see what you come up with!

Where I’m From

I want you to make up a fictional culture, and say five things in about five sentences that people from that place do. The important thing is not to tell us what they value or believe.  The actions you use should show us what that culture believes and values by inference (hello there fruitful void!). Speak as that group: “We do X”, “We never do Y”, etc.

After your five things, then give us three archetypes that might emerge from that place.  Keep it succinct – the typical adjective noun works (Vengeful Wanderer) here, as do bold honorifics (Keeper of the Flames). These archetypes can affirm or reject the norms you just established. If it helps, you can make a “personality” that might come out of there, and describe what sort of person he is (succintly).

For Bonus points, make one of your five things about a culture already referenced (“Culture Y worships the same gods as Culture X”) is good mojo.

I will start:

* We never use any tool more complicated than abacus.
* We always take the simplest method of achieving our short term goals if given an option.
* We solve our problems through physical might.
* We go through obstacles, never around.
* We observe the natural order closely and live in tune with it.

Scholar of the Wild, Berserker King, Gruff Woodsman.

Remember: one entry per post, and try to space out multiple posts!


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8 Responses

  1. Note: I suck at naming nations.
    * We trust our own kind universally, outsiders are trusted once.
    * We greet the sun every morning with song.
    * To earn our adult name, take a journey that lasts a year and a day.
    * Crimes are punishable by blood and toil alone.
    * On the year that we cease to be able to do the Challenges, we cease to be Narok.

    Loyal Footsoldier, Vigilant Priest, Exiled Elder

  2. Sirrayya
    * We wear masks at all times, except when with our most trusted friends or dying enemy.
    * We speak indirectly of major matters, and directly of minor matters.
    * We always plan for what may go wrong, as no quiver has but one arrow.
    * We practice the ancient arts that are our birthright.
    * We wait until we can strike once to solve a problem.

    Corrupt Justicar, Acknowledged Merchant Prince, Speaker of Secrets

  3. Lara’dor
    – We part the veil of secrets with questions, what secrets do the Sirrayya have behind their masks?
    – To answer the unanswerable we turn to the god of secrets
    – Why squash a fly when you can blow it away with a breath? (We seek to solve problems with hidden force)
    – A persons possessions are worth only the value of their finest lock.
    – We never reveal our True Name

    Able Spy, Mystic Assassin, Secretive Noble

  4. · We are nomadic herders of the great Auroch.
    · We trade auroch leather and meat to the Sirrayya for metal weapons (especially arrowheads) and flour, and we trade milk and secrets to the Lara’dor for artisan goods (such as locks) and honey.
    · We exile all children with physical deformities, except those born blind; they are honored as seers.
    · We carry the bones of our dead with us until we return to the Sacred Caves.
    · We leave out honey cakes and auroch’s milk each night to the Awnwynn who guard our dreams and our herd.

    Auroch thief, wily trader, Singer of Stories

  5. Waterdhavian

    We worship many gods from places far and near.
    We respect all visitors and cultures, but they must respect our guilds and Lords.
    We abide the unwritten rules, but know many ways to circumvent them.
    We speak freely and openly, even to strangers.
    We believe in freedom and abhor all forms of slavery.

    Chatty merchant, Carefree sellsword, Shrewd Diplomat

  6. The Shaso Tribe
    We don’t show our women to outsiders.
    We never stay in the same place long.
    We use technology to make us stronger.
    We don’t kill weaker tribes, but we take what we want.
    We listen to stories and search for the truth inside them.

    The Rebel
    The Motorcycle Warrior
    The Storyteller

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