Sunday, January 29, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons: "Common"

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for 15 years now.  I started shortly after I began playing Magic: The Gathering and aside from each being a creative outlet that helped me develop an almost instinctive understanding of statistics they have been (more importantly) a lot of fun.
In lieu of anything else to write about at the moment I figured I would make a few things for use with Dungeons and Dragons and try and take you all thru my creative method in hopes that you might apply this knowledge to your own creative endeavors both in the game and outside of it.
I will also use this as an opportunity to criticize little issues I have had working with the system all these years, looking back on it with all I have learned playing it, and what I have learned playing other games like “Dark Souls”, “The Elder Scrolls”, “Fallout”, and the trillion other RPG’s and management simulations I have played.
This is going to be a reoccurring blog-type as I just keep hammering out things and not all of them can be turned into elements in my “random fantasy novel ideas” folder.
And not all my ideas boil down to, "Gorgeous woman with magical powers."

What Have I Got: A Country
            It is difficult to be creative, more difficult to be original.  Often times original concepts are too different for players (or readers if you are writing a fantasy book) to take hold of or take seriously.  How does a government work?  What are some cultural traditions or taboos?  What are the races?  What are the languages?
            In real life countries are incredibly complex entities, the idea of the Nation-State is less than 200 years old, an idea spun out of several world events, Otto Von Bismarck uniting the various German states, the restoration of the Emperor and modernization of Japan, and the United States' Civil War.  Prior to these events the idea of an Empire on the large scale, community on the small scale, and a crown head of state in the middle defined how “countries” interacted.
            The idea of a nation, of a single larger body politic that was both responsible to the will of the people and united by a common boarder was a newer concept that was put to the test with the creation of Turkey after WWI and India and Pakistan after WWII.  What it meant to be a part of a national history or people is constantly evolving, so how do you reflect that in the fictional world in a way that feels real?
            For me I looked at something from history and used it as best as I could to help explain something that appears often in Dungeons and Dragons that DOES NOT EXIST in the real world.  The thing that doesn’t exist?  The “Common” language.

The Common Tongue
            There are two ways to use the idea of a common language in the game of Dungeons and Dragons.  #1 is that it is the language of trade.
            Common in this instance is not the language of a country, but the language of tradesmen, people who move between countries or who interact with those who do need to have certain terms and symbols that everyone can understand to facilitate the exchange of goods.  Words for numbers, colors, sizes should all be present.  Words that describe types of materials, cloth, metal, porcelain, and the quality of each (though all good traders selling will say, “it’s the best” and everyone who is buying will say, “It’s the worst” so you need words for best/worst/most/least).
            English actually serves this function in a lot of the real world, mostly for three reasons, 1) there are English speaking communities in every hemisphere because of the British, 2) the US dollar is the base currency of the world with all other currencies pinned to its value, and 3) the United States is the largest economy in the world and uses English in all its deals.  But English was unmistakably the language of a people before it became the language of trades people which takes us to the second potential role of the language of “Common”, that it is the language of a particularly powerful/wealthy/communal country, and everybody uses it because they are kind of stuck with it.
            So here is an example of a country founded on the idea of making “Common” something that used to be hectic.  Feel free to change the names of anything to fit into your own campaign world, I typically use my own pantheon of gods and decided to use the Greyhawk gods for this example.

The Kritarchy of Xeer
(And yes, “Kritarchy” is a real type of government, and for that matter, so is “Xeer”)
Capital: Moot’s Keep
Symbol/Flag: Blue text on a white background (“The Law”)
Highest Office: Chief Justice
Government Structure: Kritarchy (an order of Judges and Barristers dubbed, The Moot)
Racial Demographics: Halfling, Human, Orc
Religious Demographics: Kord is the most popular god
Motto: “Thru trial and hardship we stand together”

            In the past dozens of tribes were held in a perpetual state of feuding over hunting and water rights in the Golden Plains.  These tribes would clash, form alliances, schism, and be assumed within each other generation to generation.  Banners changed color, war paint styles changed pattern, fighting styles, tactics, cooking, and fashion swirled between them.
            At year zero, Kombi Salax, an advisor and wise man for one of the larger tribes invented a system of writing and arithmetic that could be used to communicate between the tribes and to record the history and traditions of the tribes that previously had only used an Oral tradition.  This is the origin of what people now call the “Common” language.

            Common allowed for a vast and comprehensive history to be recorded, cultural traditions to be codified into what was dubbed “What is Known”.  A council of wise men chosen from each tribe were brought together to make a single great code that cited “What is Known” to make a single all-encompassing societal structure, “The Law”.
            Kombi is seen as the supreme founder of the nation of Xeer, and the title of Judge is a position of great prestige, and is exceptionally hard to attain.  Having mastery of the language, a deep and broad knowledge of history, and knowing how to reference and cite the Law to maintain order.
In a community there is a chief and officers of the chief who enforce the law, and judges and advocates that seek to ensure that those accused of violating the law are protected from false persecution and given a fitting punishment.  As to whether a chief is a hereditary position, appointed by a council, or elected varies from community to community, but the ultimate power is a council of Judges which reside at Moot’s Keep, keeping a vast library of historical texts and record of criminal offenses while constructing treaties and new laws as needed to fit within the bounds of their internal codes.
The national military is feudal in system, with chiefs drawing upon their own men to band into larger military units, which would be a difficult to manage mess if not for numerous rules that help to regulate how soldiers should be trained, how chains of command work, and obligations an individual tribe has to contribute to the defense of other tribes.
            While the days of tribal warfare are over, inter tribe rivalry still exists and is mostly settled on the sports’ fields.  Athleticism, sportsmanship, and a commitment to pushing one’s limitations are all high virtues in Xeer society.  Personal honor and commitments to higher causes are seen as laudable and more Paladins and Monks come from Xeer than any other nation.  This is seen as ironic because the single most popular god is Kord, god of strength and athleticism.

Alignment, Roleplaying Citizens, and Treasures
            There is a natural tension in the country between seeing rules as the basis for just competition, but at the same time a looseness to how the systems function in practice with the constant jockeying for position in the overall hierarchy of prestige and honor.  If looked at from the outside their propensity toward law would cause them to be seen as “Lawful”, but from within, the number of laws that have to be drawn up to cover the numerous situations and to settle the conflicting cultural traditions and establish a peace, the citizens would see themselves as “Chaotic”.
            The truest statement in regards to their alignment is that towards “good”.  They are generous because they see generosity as noble, they are athletic because they see that competition brings out the best in each other and themselves, the follow the rules because they see rules as beneficial to the communities, they break rules if they feel the rules are a detriment to communities.  The do not see a rule as important intrinsically, and is only worth keeping and enforcing if it is noble or beneficial, conversely they do not see rules as intrinsically wrong nor “freedom” as always the best state of being as too much freedom detracts from community.
            Xeer is a nation of people who are confident, combative, but as always a good sport about it all.  They should be seen as fast to be friends and fast to challenge people to competitions, boasting of victory and cheering on those who have defeated them.  They always start out by reviewing the rules so that everyone knows them, but if a rule is hard to understand or is making the game less fun they will re-write the rules to everyone’s liking and remember the changes to suggest to others in the future.
            Treasure found in their territory will by and large have more championship belts, laurel headbands, and rings as status symbols.  Their dungeons and keeps will have lots of murals to sporting events and statues of great athletes.  Trophy halls filled with little statues made of precious metals or engraved stones will be common.

Future Dungeons and Dragons Discussion
            I have plans to talk about other things in the future, maybe something as broad as, “Currency in Dungeons and Dragons” and something as specific as, “Here is an NPC I Made”.  If you have any suggestions or questions on writing for Dungeons and Dragons leave a comment and I will probably get back to you as few people comment and I like the attention.
            These updates will be infrequent and random.  Probably.  I don’t know.

The Beg for Attention
            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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