In light of today's show topic of differing cultures and nations, and my recollection of a previous discussion on the show about fantasy racism, I want to touch on xenophobia in fantasy games. Remember, I'm talking purely about fantasy here, and don't advocate for any sort of actual xenophobia, and I'm not intending to overtly express any political or social opinions here, other than that xenophobia is bad, and shouldn't be practiced in real life.
With that out of the way, lets focus in on how we can exploit xenophobia for fantasy adventure purposes. As mentioned in today's show, border dispute, and immigration can be cause for adventurer intervention. Skirmishes between nations might make use of adventuring privateers, and such adventurers might be coaxed by profit, propaganda, or patriotism, among other motives. Likewise, when people are misunderstood and misrepresented, like the settled barbarians mentioned in today's show, the inevitable tension between them and other occupants of a region are bound to create conflicts that adventurers might step in to resolve. Either by smoothing things over, or by exploiting the tension for profit or buying into the xenophobia of the current occupants.
On a broader scale, xenophobia can harm national and race relations. One kingdom might hate their neighbors purely based on cultural differences, even though they both might be good and honest people who have similar ideologies and worship similar gods, and have similar practices. This is especially easy if they're of another race, and we are fully aware of the prevalence of fantasy tropes like evil angry orcs, stubborn dwarves, and snooty elves. If we carry this into our campaigns and let people of the setting actually think that, we can easily see how they might buy into xenophobia and shun people of these differing races and cultures.
There are also terrible events like genocide and crusades. Some games like the Warhammer 40k verse paint it right into their setting that this is accepted and encouraged. The Imperium of Mankind is literally xenophobic, and it "others" any faction that isn't them by labeling them xenos and advocating for their extinction. And yet, the PCs in roleplaying games in this setting are often the ones participating and committing these sorts of acts of wholesale violence. In some settings, it might have it's place. I'm not passing judgement on whether or not this is a good or bad thing, simply stating that it exists in setting and serves as a call to adventure.
At the end of the day, that's my appraisal of this in a lot of ways. As a real life issue that is somewhat contentious, fantasy analogs of xenophobia create a lot of grey area if you see it for being the bad thing it is. It can pit some otherwise good people against each other and lead to conflicts where adventurers thrive. And if you do buy into it in game, you can end up finding it becoming a motivation for characters, for better or worse (as is the case in Warhammer 40k.) Just be sure to not go too far into this if it's a problem to someone. Be sure to communicate clearly, and please be good to each other.
I hope you enjoyed this and the rest of the content by Digital & Dice. Until next time…Game on Internets!
- Draconick, Digital and Dice Contributor
I, Nick “Draconick” Johnson, am a writer and roleplaying enthusiast with over ten years of experience in various tabletop roleplaying games both as a player and as a GM. I am also somewhat involved in other forms of tabletop gaming such as wargaming, board games, and card games. It is my hope that by creating and maintaining this website that I can share my unique take on all things within our hobby and to foster a community of like-minded individuals.