LESSON Fantasy Worldbuilding - When Cultures Meet

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Malkuthe Highwind, Jan 2, 2013.

  1. In the last iteration of my Fantasy Worldbuilding workshops, we tackled the many different kinds of cultures that you can create for your world. However, I think, and you would do well to think along the same lines, that a culture that is isolated from the world, thus having absolutely no influence on it whatsoever, is useless, unless, of course, you plan on bringing it into the story through one plot twist or another. Barring that, a culture that does not interact with other cultures is going to be pretty dull and boring.

    Before we get into the specifics of how specific cultures interact with each other, we'll have to know what happens when they do interact in general.

    1. Treating - Whenever two cultures meet, there is some sort of audience that happens. Whether they'll be on equal ground or one would be coming before the other depends on the culture that is approaching the other. However, during these audiences, there are sometimes ceremonies and/or exchanging of gifts.

    2. Trading - After all the ceremonial hullaballoo is finished, trade (which is one of the primary reasons why cultures interact) can occur. This either happens through barter, the exchange of goods, or the purchasing of goods using common currency (usually in the form of precious metal coins).

    3. Mingling - While all this is happening, individuals from both cultures mingle. Sure, sometimes there will be language barriers, but regardless, there will be some interaction between individuals of the two cultures. What does this do? Well, it creates a cultural influence that goes both ways. Culture A will affect Culture B and Culture B will affect Culture A. Let's take, for example, the French and the American First Nations. The First Nations gained better, more efficient tools from the Europeans that led to them being "European-ized" and the French, in turn, learned survival skills from the First Nations. Some of them even went on to live amongst the First Nations and came to be called the coureurs de bois.

    But what about wars and violence? Well, those happen when two antagonistic cultures meet. The things stated above are things that happen in cultural interactions in general. We'll go more in-depth with the cultures and how they'll interact with other cultures from this point onwards.

    What Determines Which Culture is Honored and Which Culture does the Honoring?

    In the "Treating" section above, I mentioned how some sort of audience occurs. However, there are times when these do not happen on equal ground, and this, primarily, depends on three things: the type of society, which culture did the approaching, and the customs of both parties.

    First and foremost, the type of culture involved is very important. Monarchical Societies for example, have a great tendency to put themselves above the cultures that are coming into contact with them. Cultures that interact with them are expected to bring gifts and prostrate themselves before the ruler. Monarchical Societies have a very self-centred approach to interacting with others and more often than not possess a superiority complex that is at times written into their very law.

    In contrast, Pacific Societies welcome everyone warmly and on even ground. Warrior Societies meet other cultures based on their combat prowess and are generally ill-disposed against Pacific Societies for the sole fact that they will rarely understand why anyone would want to be non-violent, even in self-defense.

    Second, the culture that approaches the other culture would often bring gifts to honor that other culture as a gesture of goodwill and common courtesy. It is rare that a foreign culture would approach another with the audacity of demanding gifts as a token of gratitude for the visit, but it does happen, and it is the Monarchical Societies that are most likely to do this.

    Finally, customs dictate a lot and it varies from culture to culture. A Warrior Society may demand that the visiting culture honor them by pitting a champion from amongst its ranks against a champion from the visiting the culture in a bloody battle to the death. A Mercantile Society may ask for a token of goods and a trading alliance.

    Why are Cultural Interactions so Important?

    Cultural interactions are vital because for one, they help shape the history of the world that you are creating. A world that is primarily dominated by Warrior Societies, for example, might have suffered from many wars. One that is predominantly Mercantile on the other hand, might have suffered from golden ages and dark ages caused by the whims of consumers. In addition, there could be a booming sellsword/mercenary industry for any Mercantile Societies that want to fell the competition.

    In addition, cultural interactions shape the people themselves. Sometimes, enough of these interactions can create an entirely new culture with an amalgamation of elements from the other cultures that influenced it over time. The Metis for example, were a culture born from the union of European Traders and First Nations peoples. The Filipino culture, as well, is a mixture of Spanish, Chinese, Malay, American and Japanese cultures that over time has evolved into its own distinct culture.

    Apart from these, cultural interactions and how well one culture interacts with another sets the stage for a rich story. It determines which cultures will rise to the top and dominate much of the land, it determines which cultures will die out, it determines what wars would be fought. After all, a bungled interaction with a particularly sensitive culture might be taken as a declaration of war that might just turn into genocide.

    How Would Certain Cultures React to Interacting with Others?

    <div style="-moz-column-count: 2;-moz-column-gap: 20px;-webkit-column-count: 2;-webkit-column-gap: 20px;column-count: 2;column-gap: 20px;">Warrior Societies

    Warrior societies are most likely to judge people based on their prowess on the battlefield. They are likely to frown upon weakness and cowardice. Audiences with warrior societies are most effective if they involve a show of warrior ability. They are most likely to offer weapons or warriors as a token of goodwill.

    Benevolent Towards: Mercantile Societies - Warrior societies can sack and plunder all they want, but they won't be able to get all the odds and ends they need to survive. As a result, many of them view merchants in a positive light.

    Antagonistic Towards: Pacific Societies - The complete and utter anti-thesis of warrior societies, they just don't understand pacifist philosophies.

    Monarchical Societies

    Monarchical societies, even those with benevolent leaders are most likely to be self-centred with a superiority complex to boot. They usually demand homage from the cultures that interact with them. The most effective way to hold audience with a monarchical society is to send someone with a high-standing as envoy. Monarchical societies are most like to come with gold and promises of honors or titles when interacting with other societies.

    Benevolent Towards: Anyone that bolsters their ego - Long live the king! Of all cultures, Monarchical societies are the most egotistical.

    Antagonistic Towards: Tribal Societies - *points upwards* Here is where the people of the kingdom are. *points at Tribal Societies* There is where the savage, uncivilized people are.
    Non-allied Monarchical Societies - We want gold, we want land. Yours is ripe for the taking.

    Nomadic Societies

    Nomadic societies are most likely to welcome anyone with open arms. They do favor traders a lot since the life of a nomad can get tough at times. Audiences with nomadic societies, especially desert nomads, will go extremely well if offered water and food. They are most likely to bring goods from their local area to audiences with other cultures.

    Benevolent Towards: Pretty much everyone that is not hostile

    Antagonistic Towards: No one in particular

    Pacific Societies

    The best way to get a Pacific Society to warm up to you is by stowing away your weapons and sharing in their food and shelter. They welcome generally everyone who needs help and even weary travelers, as long as they do not mean to cause any trouble. Like Nomadic Societies, they are likely to bring goods from their local area to audiences, as well as, perhaps, hand-made goods.

    Benevolent Towards: Everyone who doesn't mean to start a fight - That's what being pacifist means, after all.

    Antagonistic Towards: Warrior Societies - The feeling goes both ways. Pacific societies do not understand the need to be so violent all the time when a peaceful life benefits everyone.

    Tribal Societies

    Audiences with Tribal Societies are most likely to go your way if you bring them items that their culture give great importance to. Implements to help them survive better are good too. They will most likely bring items of cultural significance to audiences with other cultures, even if those other cultures do not necessarily understand what their significance is.

    Benevolent Towards: Anyone who displays trustworthiness

    Antagonistic Towards: Rival Tribal Societies - Inter-tribal competition does get fierce from time to time, with raids and skirmishes taking place over territory.

    Mercantile Societies

    What better way to get through to a rich man's heart than through valuable goods? Mercantile Societies are, in turn, most likely to bring expensive wines, exotic spices and other valuable goods to audiences with other cultures.

    Benevolent Towards: Monarchical Societies - They provide the most profit for merchants, and they have the most gold to spend as well. Clink clink. Money is the way to a merchant's good graces.
    Everyone with Money to Spend

    Antagonistic Towards: The Competition - The most profitable business plan? Be a monopoly. What gets in the way of that? Other Mercantile Societies.

    Magical Societies

    The best gifts that you can give a magical society comes in the form of artifacts. Apart from that, books and knowledge are the second best thing. They are most like to bring enchanted objects to audiences with other cultures. They are generally neutral, and would rather stay away from the politickings of the world

    Benevolent Towards: People with artifacts and knowledge to offer

    Antagonistic Towards: No one

    Seafaring Societies

    Honoring them with the presence of someone of high rank is a good way to start off, but seafarers will generally like a gift of food and supplies better. In any case, a ship would be the best gift to give them. They are likely to bring treasures of the sea as tokens of goodwill in audiences with other cultures. It is important to note, however, that they will prefer to hold audiences with them and their audiences with other cultures aboard their ships. Being out of sight of the sea for a long time is likely to make many of them uncomfortable.

    Benevolent Towards: They do not favor anyone in particular

    Antagonistic Towards: Land dwellers - They prefer people like themselves who live by the sea. </div>

    That about wraps up the whole article and I hope it managed to give you an idea of how cultures will interact. It is important to note, however, that this isn't an absolute truth. Things will change from culture to culture based on what qualities and customs you give them. Think of this more of as a reference than a rulebook.