Social Science and Fiction Part 1: Why Bother?

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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Maribou says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Looking forward to the rest of the series! (I’d probably have more substantive thoughts about the nature of “plausible” and “implausible” in story, but brain is fried today…)Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    What do you say to the notion that of the five items in your mnemonic, economics is king? I realize that’s a very contemporary way of seeing things, but RPGs are constructed and played by contemporaries so we are telling stories to one another that are meaningful.

    For example: in your world where basic agricultural foodstuffs are required to be imported at great expense, it’s certainly true that one result of that fact of life will be a surfeit of impoverished orphans. But I’d predict a couple of other things:

    1. The principal religion(s) will elevate the importance of grains, fruits, and other agriculture. If using the Greek pantheon, Demeter becomes a more prominent and powerful deity than, say, Apollo; the gods of trade and commerce (Poseidon and Hermes) will treat her more as a partner and an equal than they would have in actual history. And more to the point of an RPG, the priestly orders of the agriculture gods have substantial amounts of temporal power.

    2. Political and military objectives become securing transit lines to keep the populace fed and acquiring land or other resources with which to produce higher levels of food security. We would expect to see wars fought over scarce farmland, nobles jealously guarding the fertility of their fields, and magic-users bending their efforts towards expanding the food supply. Speaking of magic-users, we’d be seeing the kind who do nature magic (druids) given social and economic premiums over other kinds (illusionists).

    3. Fresh fruit, because of its scarcity and perishability, would become a luxury good and a status symbol. Note that it is also perishable, so the ability to consume something so evanescent will likely become a very public event. The nobility would make it a point to display their wealth and power by publicly eating ripe peaches. Sounds like a good setting for palace intrigue, assassination or theft attempts, or important announcements.

    4. Look for the political leaders to be members of or in some ways subordinate to the merchant class, because the people who keep the rest of the people fed hold a great deal of practical and economic power. And then look for that merchant class to self-organize into some kind of guild. If the king is not directly involved in the grain trade, look for the king to more than once have to bow to the demands of the grain guild.

    5. Non-agricultural food (fish, for instance) will be more plentiful, and therefore lower-status. Symbols of fish, birds, mushrooms, and other things associated with this world’s “poverty food” will become emblems of lower-class kinds of establishments and people. So the king might have sheafs of grain and peaches on his coat of arms, where a criminal gang or the Thieves’ Guild might use a fish skeleton as its symbol.

    All of this from elevating the scarcity and expense of agricultural products from the “baseline” of some hybrid of what we experience in our daily lives and what we recollect and know of the historical cognate of the setting (likely medieval Europe). My big point is that the economic factor of scarcity is what governs what is politically, socially, and religiously powerful.Report

  3. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Orcs are known for having a penchant for violence, and are a bit on the dim side.

    One approach I like to that one is to bring it into the political (ideally a fair ways into the campaign) “Of course elves would say that. How do you think they’d sleep at night if they didn’t? You should hear what our playwrights have to say about elves.”Report

  4. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Love this! Takes me back to my world building days as a teenager (AD&D 1st Edition – ORPG!).

    Of course, I did the same thing in the Navy (deployment involves an awful lot of time where the brain can wander off to world building).

    Haven’t since then, never found a group I wanted to play with. Kudos that you have.Report

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