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Sturn

Help Making Decision Re. Homebrew Campaign

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This is long but to ask for an opinion I needed to explain in some detail.

I've been designing a homebrew fantasy campaign for Geneys I've been calling Elemental Steam (think fantasy world with potential for an ancient version of steampunk as the campaign progresses). Instead of generic fantasy races of elves, dwarves, etc, the four races are human, but based upon the four elements due to the historical creation of the world. Each race has a general equivalency in a real world race. Each race has a culture, appearance, even a homeland, influenced by one of the four elements. For example, the Izirin "Flame Riders" are most similar in appearance to real-world Africans, they hail from a hot land of steppes, their culture is derived from an early knowledge of fire-making, and they are a nomadic people of horse clans that have spread "like fire" into other nearby lands.

Mythological "pure bloods" of each race are said to have been even more in-touch with their elemental affinity. For example, the Izirin of the ancient past are said to have had skin so dark it was pure black, dark eyes with a hint of flickering flames, completely hairless, and their skin was said to have been hot to the touch.

I'm all set with the details of the Fire and Earth races, but I've been back and forth on the Air and Water races which is where I need help.

For the longest time I've had Air set as European, hailing from high mountainous places, light skinned, a somewhat arrogant lofty people calling themselves the, "High Folk", who were part of the fallen ancient Sky or High Kingdom that once ruled "above" all the other races. Their mythological pures were said to have white hair, almost translucent skin, and were the tallest of the races. Some ancient art even gave them wings.

That thus left the Water race to be Asian in appearance. Think olive skinned Asiatic Vikings. Their pures were said to have nearly green skin, slightly scaly, you get my point.

But, I've been considering swapping the two. While for physical appearances, it seems best how they are, for cultural purposes I had considered the fallen "Sky Kingdom", had a better feel if I made it of Japanese/Chinese influence. Then, the Water race could be your stereotypical Euro-Vikings. While the cultures seem more fitting this way, I'm hung up on equating their physical appearances to their elemental affinity. My answer would be to make the Air race light-skinned Asians, but light hair coloring, light eyes, and being the tallest of the races doesn't seem fitting. Making the Water race European also has similar physical issues when I delve into what their "pures" looked like.

Thoughts?

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I see what you're going for here, but I always feel like using straight-up real-world cultures might come off as kind of disrespectful because I'm not immersed deep enough in most of them to avoid turning them into a handful of bullet points. It's probably safer to mash up aspects of two or three real cultures to produce something that's not clearly drawing from any particular one. Airbender did this well, where each of the races is kinda-sorta-vaguely recognizable as a real-world Asian culture but mostly just its own thing. Keying off of Bronze Age cultures may help this a lot, because they're largely far enough in the past to avoid stereotyping modern peoples.

The Flame Riders sound more or less okay as a mashup of North African and Steppe cultures (maybe read up on the Numidians, who were Carthage's awesome cavalry) but you might add in the viking aspect here, making them a little more well-rounded. Remember, vikings were sea-mobile land raiders, not a proper navy.

The water race might work better keying off of aspects of Phoenician and Pacific Islander rather than the explicitly violent vikings. The Phoenicians were essentially a culture of independent trading hubs linked by sea routes, so these guys can be the merchants, traders, and commerce-oriented types as well as able swimmers and naval combatants. The olive-to-green-scaly skin works fine here.

For the air race, I think an Asian-esque culture could be fun, with the mythologicals having "skin as bright as day, hair as black as night". Most of them would trend darker than that, but retain dark hair and a sun-yellow cast to their complexion. I'd try to lean into the Himalayas cultures rather than coastal Japan and China, maybe borrowing some bits of India or Ayutthaya ("Siamese") culture, though I don't know what you're doing for the Earth guys.

If you were going to incorporate European aspects into any of these, I'd advise looking into the Celtic, Gallic, and Frankish cultures rather than post-Roman Europe. And for the love of God don't cast Native Americans with nature powers!

I'd also be kind of curious what happens where these cultures meet and blend -- is that where "average humans" come from?

Edited by TheLonelySandPerson

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12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

Keying off of Bronze Age cultures may help this a lot, because they're largely far enough in the past to avoid stereotyping modern peoples.

This is definitely the route I've been going. I wanted more of an ancient world feel then a medieval or renaissance feel.

12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

The Flame Riders sound more or less okay as a mashup of North African and Steppe cultures (maybe read up on the Numidians, who were Carthage's awesome cavalry) but you might add in the viking aspect here, making them a little more well-rounded. Remember, vikings were sea-mobile land raiders, not a proper navy.

I will take a look at Numidians thanks. I can't go the Viking route with the fire affinity race at all though. There are actual game mechanics involved that make them at least fearful of large patches of water in the least, to actually being physically damaged by water for the mythologicals.

12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

The water race might work better keying off of aspects of Phoenician and Pacific Islander rather than the explicitly violent vikings. The Phoenicians were essentially a culture of independent trading hubs linked by sea routes, so these guys can be the merchants, traders, and commerce-oriented types as well as able swimmers and naval combatants. The olive-to-green-scaly skin works fine here.

If you were going to incorporate European aspects into any of these, I'd advise looking into the Celtic, Gallic, and Frankish cultures rather than post-Roman Europe. And for the love of God don't cast Native Americans with nature powers!

I need a European/Caucasian race to fit into one of the four affinities without going into details why (three of the races need to be Asian, African, and European based). If I go with Air = Asian, then Water is what is left because I'm very settled on my Fire and Earth races. I like the idea of Phoenician, ignoring any racial debate regarding physical appearances and going with the culture. But, my water race (both asian and european versions) has developed as tribal island and marsh-dwellers. They are possibly the less civilized culture of the four. Due to their sailing abilities though, I can easily mold them into being more civilized and far-reaching traders. Vikings weren't just raiders, but craftsmen and traders.

As for using Celtic culture, "water" does not spring to mind for me.

12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

For the air race, I think an Asian-esque culture could be fun, with the mythologicals having "skin as bright as day, hair as black as night". Most of them would trend darker than that, but retain dark hair and a sun-yellow cast to their complexion. I'd try to lean into the Himalayas cultures rather than coastal Japan and China, maybe borrowing some bits of India or Ayutthaya ("Siamese") culture, though I don't know what you're doing for the Earth guys.

This is great and could decide things for me staying with what I currently have. For the longest time I had the Air people as the white guys. But, this made the Sky/High Kingdom a very stereotypical fallen empire. I eventually switched to the Air folk being Asian:

Quote

The Imnor "Wind Singers" are of average height which makes them shorter than the Izirin or Nabsul, but taller than Durin. They are the lightest built of all of the races. A typical Imnor is light skinned with gray eyes and dark hair. Those touched by the wind tend toward paler skin, light gray eyes, and gray or streaked hair (black and gray or white). Long hair is an ancient tradition amongst the Imnor. Females could go a lifetime without cutting their hair. Males were once known for long, flowing beards. Unlike the Nabsul, both women and men bind their hair, especially atop their heads to increase their perceived height. Today, some “modern” Imnor keep their hair cut much shorter and see those Imnor with longer hair, especially males, as being rustic.

This is somewhat similar to what you were suggesting. I will look into adding elements of Indian and Siamese cultures more, especially the later since I have an in-house "expert" (wife was born/raised in Thailand).

12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

…...though I don't know what you're doing for the Earth guys.

I actually haven't put a modern racial label with the Earth race. The closest description might be Pacific Islanders with ancient South American culture? Brown skin/hair/eyes, shortest of the races while being very stout and having the largest Brawn score. Reside in underground or deep valley settlements. Not quite beardless Dwarves. Mythological pure bloods had rock-like skin with green coloring creeping into their hair and eyes.

12 hours ago, TheLonelySandPerson said:

I'd also be kind of curious what happens where these cultures meet and blend -- is that where "average humans" come from?

Yes. For physical appearances as least. In the central lands once dominated by the Sky Kingdom, most people are of mixed race. Culture in the central starting campaign lands is mixed, but heavier on the Air culture influence since the Sky Kingdom once ruled there. As you go outward towards the Four Holdlands, you will find less racial and cultural disparity.

I've toyed around with things like red hair, freckles, and green eyes being a result of racial mixing, but never came up with anything I liked and left most of these features within the four races.

So, making the white guys the water race I currently have this for a physical description:

Quote

The Nabsul are taller than the Durin and Imnor and of average build. Their complexion is fair, hair is light with many being blonde, and eyes are commonly blue. Those with hazel eyes and red hair are said to be, “touched by the waves”. The Nabsul are known for growing out their hair including beards that are rarely bound. 

This is one of the key reasons I came to this board for suggestions. I want the water race to be the European race, but the physical description doesn't go as well as the Asian version did. With ancient Celts in mind I could go with fair, but olive complexion, light brown to blonde hair, blue eyes? Remove the blonde hair completely? Just light brown with hints of red common? Olive skin doesn't seem to fit though for the European race. Then the mythologicals could extend this into red hair (think red kelp, or red skies at sea), hazel or green eyes, green skinned?

Edited by Sturn

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Out of curiosity, do you intend to include the “fifth element (void)” or the “hot, cold, wet and dry” stuff as aspects in his setting

otherwise, this setting looks really cool, I can’t wait to see what it turns into. 

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7 minutes ago, slope123 said:

Out of curiosity, do you intend to include the “fifth element (void)” or the “hot, cold, wet and dry” stuff as aspects in his setting

otherwise, this setting looks really cool, I can’t wait to see what it turns into. 

The magic system (Sorcery, using various "Sorces") has 4 Physical (Fire, Earth, Air, Water) and 4 Spiritual (Life, Death, Mind, Chaos) aspects. Each Sorce has an opposite (Life - Death, Fire - Water), etc which can be used for defensive purposes. If you have ability to cast spells in more then one area (or team up), combining them results in more types of spells. So yes, Air + Water can be used to cast "Storm" or even "Ice" spells. Fire + Earth for Magma. Fire + Air for exploding "fireballs" as opposed to just erupting an area in fire. I hope to give more power to spells that use multiple Sorces, such as Fire + Air + Death for "Hellfire" spells. Or Earth + Life to make an Earth Elemental. Want the elemental to act on its own? Add Mind.

There's a bit more secretive stuff, but my future players might read this. :) 

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