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Old 05-18-2022, 06:44 PM   #1
jason taylor
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Default justifying cultural imitations

This is only loosely connected with denunciations of cultural appropriation. The point is about how to plausibly justify making speculative cultures that are imitations of romanticized real ones.

Now some things one can plausibly push through. Some institutions that are widely spread would prove useful in a frontier environment. Clientage for instance might be a substitute in the absence of an efficient government but that does not mean everyone is the Mafia (though the Harrington series' justification for it was clever as was positing it's evolution into a conventional and semi-benign aristocracy that retains cultural tropes of the Mafia).

Similarly one can say the original colonists came from such and such a culture or were romantic restorationists or whatever. But what are some ways anyone else can think of to pull this off?
"The navy could probably win a war without coffee but would prefer not to try"-Samuel Eliot Morrison
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Old 05-18-2022, 11:47 PM   #2
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

Conditions that make using methods that some culture has developed to deal with them and other stuff gets dragged along by association.

The western US uses Spanish style water law. It started because the Spanish controlled the area first but has not been changed to match the more UK style in the east because the climate is more like Spain and the laws work better.
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Old 05-19-2022, 03:49 AM   #3
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

There are some basic conditions that just seem to crop up - something very like knight service feudalism seems to have occurred independently in Japan, the Perso-Arabic Middle East, Western Europe and Western Africa (and previously in the Hellenistic Empire, albeit not with a basis in heavy cavalry).
Likewise - to the outsider at least - most horse nomad cultures have a lot in common, as do a lot of hunter-gatherers.
The Mafia model can be seen in at least a couple of other cultures where an aristocratic class was suppressed from outside and forced underground - especially when it re-emerges in an emigrant disapora. (The Chinese triads are an obvious comparison).
Starting with a core model and then customising it to your own campaign and setting is the key to that - cliche and stereotyping are things that might give someone a right to object, but aside from that, there is no new thing under the sun. Arguably fantasy counterpart cultures can have more to recommend them than bad historical fiction...
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Old 05-19-2022, 07:19 AM   #4
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

Keep things general. Pyramids happened in several places. Same for human sacrifice. Nomadic warrior cultures are fairly common. Use of mud bricks is common around the world. Multiple nations have developed a seafaring culture. Lots of people developed farming of crops. Actual crops varied a lot across the planet. Avoid terms that most folks will associate with a particular culture(even if others used it). Don't call your leader a Pharaoh, use King or Quark. As others have mentioned, many cultures have an organized criminal network. Don't call it the Mafia, use Halfling Benevolent Society or the Street Urchin Network instead.

One made up city could be located at the mouth of a river. The leader is Quark Frodo VI. This city has a decent fishing fleet and a few coastal patrol vessels. They have a strong wall to protect the city from the frequent bands of mounted raiders. Oddly, they also trade with the same raiders as the raiders respect a strong defense. Fish for hides. Finished knives for wagons of iron ore. They also trade up river with a nation that builds pyramids. (keep going at this point)
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Old 05-19-2022, 08:13 AM   #5
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

My technique for naming, in my last fantasy campaign (which had seven sapient humanoid races and several times as many culture areas), was inspired by astronomical nomenclature and science fiction that used it: Everything had a Latin name. Urbes Septemplex, Montes Nubili, Dumetum Furtum, Terra Media, Occasia, Mare, Portus Argenti. This gave the world an exotic flavor without suggesting that any of those names were literally the ones its people used.
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Old 05-19-2022, 09:49 AM   #6
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

I suspect the answers vary depending on the type of imitation. Contrast: Night Elves of WarCraft vs. the Vodacce of the 7th Sea.
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Old 05-19-2022, 11:02 AM   #7
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
I suspect the answers vary depending on the type of imitation. Contrast: Night Elves of WarCraft vs. the Vodacce of the 7th Sea.
In Traveller the Sword Worlds imitation of Vikings is a conscious ideological decision although they really are not much like Vikings (for one thing they only do a few adventurous voyages). Caledonia does not have a backstory so I made up one by claiming they were descendants of the camp followers of the Black Watch after it was transferred to Terran service.

Barrayar has Russians in it's ancestry and so imitates Czarist Russia. Except when it doesn't.

Most of the examples of this sort of thing seem to be ideological decisions when an explanation is given. Either that or it is handwaved which is probably most common of all.
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Old 05-19-2022, 11:24 AM   #8
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

If I'm going for cultural imitations, either the imitators are aware of the original culture and are purposefully imitating it (or at least imitating their ideal of it), or the imitators are in an area and have a history that parallels the original culture enough that "Yeah, they turned out similar" roughly makes sense to me. Or I just ignore it - many armies use armor that roughly resembles that of the Greek hoplites because that kind of armor makes a certain degree of sense to me, not because they actually have any real relation to ancient Greece (although the aesthetics are unlikely to look particularly Greek, and in fact I generally favor helmets that have markedly less face coverage than the stereotypical hoplite helmet).
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Old 05-19-2022, 07:31 PM   #9
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

Originally Posted by DeadParrot View Post
Street Urchin Network

Now I've got a more criminally inclined version of Our Gang/Little Rascals in my brain. I don't know where I'm going to use this, but I will use it.
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Old 05-20-2022, 03:07 AM   #10
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Default Re: justifying cultural imitations

As long as it's not mockery, I don't care if someone goes Germanic in any flavor for anything.
Likewise, I reserve myself the same ability for anything I want to do, even if some unrelated party doesn't like it, or even a first party.

Way too much artificial media racebaiting (cultural appropriation is part of that buzzword set) as well as local Abrahamic 'missionary' branches that have skewed such things for me to buckle under that.
In other words: 'real people' don't tend to mind any of such things.

To clarify it a bit more.
The internet and media being so prevalent and steerable by a comparatively few individuals compared to the people affected, it can seem like the world is in a pretty bad state (to the extent that some might think that African people are really concerned if someone is wearing cornrows)
But it's really not.

It's the friend computer/skynet situation. In those settings, a single computer mind, even if it's spread over a network, has the information highway locked down.

But that's not how the realworld is, yet.
Just imagine a fictitious social media network that has a billion users (ficitious, but believable), 2000 moderators all working together with an agenda, and their powers are augmented with an AI that also falls in line.
If they work diligently, they can make a good chunk of that billion userbase, seeing how the average person takes things in good faith, think whatever is on the agenda is a bigger sensation than it is.

But it rarely is, even if it snowballs into follow up 'self moderation' of people going 'but that's how it is!" but that's usually done if they feel like going against it could endanger them, aka, not the private setting under friends.

And while things like cultural appropriation are now well entrenched, it's still just a comparatively few who push it. It's a recent term, and would never have been a thing without the internet. Not on this scale.

If I want to play a direct copy of a Maasai Warrior, I'm gonna do it.
No Maasai will mind, the entire tribe of them could sit around and be okay with it, until some wormtongue memester comes in and spins the whole meme around them (he's appropriating you, back at home they kept you as slaves and now he's mocking you! totally!), then they might see it that way too. But not naturally.

That's my personal justification.

Last edited by Lovewyrm; 05-20-2022 at 07:42 AM.
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