Wednesday, April 27, 2011

X is For Xenophobia

Xenophobia is a very powerful thing. The infamous drow ranger, Drizzt, suffers from it most of his early adventurers. Most, if not all of the surface world, suffers Xenophobia when dealing with the drow. This is part of the 'charm of the character if you will. He must strive against the stereotypes that have grown up about his race while maintaining his own code of honor and goodness.

Others that suffer from this treatment, like Elric, a creation of Michael Moorcock, don't necessarily have to deal with the issues of a morale compass that put them in conflict with the forces aligned against them, but must suffer the quick judgements of those who are afraid of Elric's race or simply wish them dead.

This is not something limited to older fiction though. Oh how I shudder when I think of labelling Drizzit as older fiction, but hey, if I remember reading it in high school and I'm closing in on 40... Anyway, Sarath, a cambion in Rich Baker's Swords of the Moonsea trilogy, worries about his own appearance because he wears his heritage on his face being a cambion that resembles something between a devil and a human. In the third book of the series, Avenger, while imprisoned, he worries that someone with his appearance will not receive a fair trail, if a trail at all, due to his appearance from the elves of Myth Drannor.

Now that last part is something to keep in mind when designing your fantasy cities. The fantastic elf city, our demonic friend Sarath worries, suffers some xenophobia. He has good reason to. In many bits of fantasy fiction, the older races of dwarves and elves, are generally convinced that their ancient abilities, their old homes, their lost structures and ruins, are means of such masterpiece, that today's efforts hardly scratch the surface of what they are capable of, but nonetheless, they are still superior to the works of man.

Keep in mind the potential advanced age, or long life of the races in question. Elves could live to see generations of humans come and go. Perhaps they are correct in that all things elf are greater than what man or dwarf could craft. In Privateer Press, the elves of that game system have unique forces at their disposal and are more than willing to engage the Retribution of Scyrah with the most modern and telling of Warmachine factions.

When looking at your fantasy cities, what is the outlook of the locals? Are they striving to learn from, and improve upon the past, or are they inherently satisfied with the deeds of the ancients? Are they positive that their own ways are superior to all others, or are they open to judging an individual by his own deeds? As the game has progressed and changed, Dungeons and Dragons has went from race as a class, to race as a choice, to race being almost anything in the game system, including, as Heroes of Shadow, the latest 4e supplement would allow, vampires, as a core race.

Would the people of the city look upon vampires as a resource? Would they look upon them as something to be hounded and hunted off the bat? The Noble Dead series by Barb Handee had different answers depending on who you asked ranging from death on sight to vampires don't exist, and the answer may be different for vampires than it is tielflings, as different settings play with different histories and assumptions.

Xenophobia is something that is already inherent in many fantasy defaults and is something that game masters can have a lot of fun with. Imagine that the old dwarf and elf animosity has long since faded, replaced by dragonborn and tiefling hatred as that is now the core setting and you may even be able to run different assumptions within the party.