I started writing this at one time, and then realised it dovetailed with a conversation that Sandro and I were having on discord about food. So I mushed them together.
Ancestries are boring. Don’t use them. Instead, develop factions with each other, because they come with built-in red barrels. To do so, pull from the work of Chaos Grenade and Dungeonfruit.
These don’t have to be major, and they can be ancient, but community-based biases and contradicting community goals have a deep place in fantasy literature and it appears to be overlooked in most modern fantasy D&D-likes. We recall Legolas and Gimli’s animosity, but also recall the animosity between the elves of Mirkwood and those of Rivendell, between Rangers and Bree-folk, or between Tooks and Bagginses. Most of these are petty and unfounded and based in distant history. I am reading City of Brass, and in it, there is a conflict map between Shafit, Deva, Nahid and Qahtani based on religious beliefs, current superstitions and wars that happened one thousand years ago, and all of these are simply different families of djinn.
Let’s start with a few basic building blocks: elves, dwarves, and orcs. There are never just one type of a group, so let’s say we have elves of Kalladros, elves of Ellumel, dwarves of Kalladros, dwarves of Xermahk, and orcs of Gheribour. Let’s use a 5 point conflict map to sketch this out. And don’t be afraid to be distant, superstitious, and petty.
I’ll pick one, because I don’t need to write a bunch of communities to make an example. This map poses me questions. But, first, I have a few questions drawn from the Dungeonfruit article as well, and I’ll put them first
- What is their aesthetic?
- What is their hierarchy?
- What is their (strange, proactive, selfish) goal?
- What do the dwarves of Kalladros need from the elves of Kalladros and how are they exploited?
- What do they have that Gheribour needs, and how do they exploit the orcs?
- What inspired the rivalry between them and Xermahk?
The Dwarves of Kalladros
- Slim, diminutive, elegantly bearded, intricate knotwork, graceful curves, stone and metal that appears to be woood.
- A council and many committees that lie below it, open to all in theory, but not in practice.
- Freedom from the tyranny of the elves of Kalladros.
- The Dark Trees of Kalladros will drain the life-waters of the Earth-goddess. In their kindness, the elves brought their magic to restrain the Dark Trees. However, they strain their goodwill by requiring such great taxes on our stone and metalwork.
- Gheribour need the waters of life, for their swamplands have been polluted in their war with the elves. In exchange, we smuggle them weaponry to weaken the elves of Kalladros
- Xermahk abandoned the great city of Alladroshahk when the waters first began to dry, one thousand years ago. They are spineless and weak and do not deserve shelter or hospitality.
The important thing is that it’s not necessarily true that the Dark Trees will drain the waters, that Gheribour need them, or that Xermahk have become inferior in their absence, in fact this is all more interesting if the waters are not magical at all, and neither are the trees.
But I’m not finished, because now we have inter-community politics and we have needless discrimination, but we don’t really have a sense of what the community of the Dwarves of Kalladros are. Enter food.
So, ask yourself some questions about food or drink and it’s place in your factions community. Pick one or two of these!
- What are one or two meals your community eat most days?
- What food does your community replace “chicken” with in the phrase “tastes like chicken”?
- What is a major event in your communities calendar, and what food do you eat only at this time?
- What food do you always have in a pocket or hidden away?
- What condiment do you always have and that you add to everything?
- What is a small ritual your perform before or after every meal?
- What food or drink can you only have after you’ve come of age?
- When you eat as a community, where do you eat and what is it like?
Now, it doesn’t matter too much how much detail you go on here, it’s about bringing a sense of home to the community you’re a part of. So, maybe you eat steak and eggs for breakfast and steak and three veg for dinner and that says a lot about your community and its structure and even it’s climate; same if you’re having vegetarian madras or if you’re having barbacoa. This is about bringing flavour as well as explosiveness to your community. For the dwarves of Kalladros:
- We have huge community feast-halls with roaring fires where the entire district brings food to cook on the communal fire or in pots to keep warm over it. This happens regularly, whenever a significant puck-ball or axeball match happens.
- We always have spiced dried or friend fungus chips in a pocket or hidden away to snack on.
And our impression is suddenly not just of beautiful artisans, but of a sport-loving tailgating culture that love fried snacks.
And they’re just mountain dwarves, aren’t they?
4th February 2023,