Cocreation: Local Cultures

This is a post on one of the worldbuilding generators in SDM – Our Golden Age. Generators and random tables can be a great help when cocreating a shared world at the game table, but they’re also fun to use as part of the prep game or just to see what kind of random world happens in play.

I use the term “cocreation” as a catchall for the worldbuilding and collaborative creativity I encourage in my roleplaying games, with the creative role distributed among all the players at the table. I’ll go into more depth on it in a principles post.

Our Golden Age (OGA) is a [*]quel to the Ultraviolet Grasslands (UVG) that I am assembling on my patreon, the stratometaship. Where UVG tackles a strange long trip through wide trackless wastes, OGA sets up a series of Tintin-style picaresque “there-and-back” adventures in a baroque, alien civilization at the end of time.


Setting Pre-Ramble

In the Rainbowlands region, the civilized complement to the wilderness of the UVG, there are a lot of wildly diverse humanities and cultures packed into a small area.

The setting never explains the diversity fully — partly because the locals don’t understand the reasons and partly to encourage the players to invent their own explanations. Academics argue vociferously, but some arguments for the diversity of cultures keep cropping up.

  1. Algorithmically generated content. Each settlement has access to daemons that create amusements tailored to local demands. This makes local cultures diverge rapidly and unpredictably.
  2. Babel daemons. Most humans can afford an amulet with a trapped babel daemon that offers real-time translation so there is little pressure to learn other languages. Each community thus develops its own cant.
  3. Knowledge corruption. It is a physical law that any information stored in the noösphere will mutate and accumulate errors. The need for hard records makes it hard to maintain a single knowledge culture.
  4. Lack of war. The grand phylakes make empires and centralized polities nearly impossible  so local political solutions proliferate.
  5. Local oldtech. Many communities have some ancient magical infrastructure providing basic necessities, reducing the need for trade with outsiders.
  6. Travel problems. Portals and other public transport can be unreliable, the bureaucracy and algorithmic daemons are unpredictable. It is more comfortable to just stay put—and many people do just that.

A result of this diversity is something I enjoy very much in the game: the chance to take my players to wildly weird and exaggerated cultures. These offer opportunities for satire, parody, irony, humor, violence, and sometimes also reflection.

Indeed, that’s one of the things I truly love about science fiction (and science fantasy) – the opportunity to look at truly outlandish permutations of human culture and try to figure out what it means to be human in different circumstances and to find a broader appreciation of universal human commonalities.

As a result, I prefer a local culture generator rather than one more generator that gives a town with a population and number of armed combatants and tech level and gross credit production per capita. All those numbers may be interesting, but that’s a “second order interesting” when what I want is a way to quickly make memorable, weird locales for the party’s picaresque tintinesque shennanigans.

Without a bit further ado …


[Who Are] These Locals [?]

The hundred thousand generations since the builders programmed and decreed the many ways that humans could and would live have resulted in this, the Garden, the perfect human lifeway. Who could doubt that this is the eden of humanity?

—Pathon’s Apology for the Gods, 4:14.

“Though this tome purports to convey the variety of six lands and four regions and more, it cannot encompass all that lies under the eggshell sky.”

Thus opened the Ensiklopedia Perimaritima of the great world-wanderer Satišpe, apologizing for the author’s inability to detail all the towns and cities of the known world. Indeed, by the time the seventh and final volume was censored, edited, politically corrected, proofread, and published, over 100 settlements described in the first volume had disappeared.

How could one expect a more comprehensive account from a mere game book? Only with the aid of that oracle, the random die. When travelers hear of a town in the lands round the Circle Sea, a single rumored trait will be enough to define it. Up close, travelers will encounter three types of human settlements.

Metropoleis

The great cities, from Red End to Violet City. These hives of activity are the great urban engines of the lands; clockwork bureaucracies, the flowering of social machinery, every human a cog in a greater destiny. Humans come seeking meaning and betterment, but those seeking a contented mind do not stay. Each such city is described with its own random tables in its own Land.

Pluripoleis

The many towns. After 374 social experiments dissecting human individuals and communities across 2,430 parameters, the science is settled. A self-governing autonomous polis, town, of several kilohumans and a like number of non-human sentients and resident non-citizen humans creates an optimal long-term communal vehicle for the transmission of culture with minimal human wastage over the observed period. A perfectly utilitarian arrangement.

So claim some traditionalist sects. However, the smaller towns of the Rainbowlands are too numerous to describe, thus we may oracle a town into existence as follows:

  1. Generate two socio-cultural traits that allegedly define the polis.
  2. Generate a third trait that secretly defines the polis.
  3. Generate two traits the polis opposes. One they attribute to neighbors, the other to a minority.
  4. Generate a different trait that actually defines the neighbors and the minority.

These seven traits are random seeds to generate conflicts and adventure hooks in this town.

Communes

A weik or village; a sub-authorized human community existing outside the strictly beneficial authority structures and prone to going feral. Humans should be wary of the temptations of village life, as they may lead to an unacceptable decline in their level of civilization. Villages may be smaller and stranger than towns.

  1. Identify a socio-cultural trait that defines the commune, and then exaggerate it
  2. And a trait they oppose. Assign it to their neighbors.

These seeds will suffice for conflicts in a small place.

Lazyplaces

A little-known settlement of any size.

  1. Generate one random socio-cultural trait. That is the one and only thing that defines it. Everyone from that lazyplace conforms to the same stereotype.

Please do not actually visit such a place. It may turn out the stereotype was incorrect.

the red lands and the RLD. two great powers in the Circle Sea region.

[Random] Socio-Cultural Traits

Ethnographers observe the quaint ways of different settlements with great interest, collecting them as birdwatchers do different beasts of the air, from the air jelly to the sky whale.

The rulers of each polis argue that in its form their polis represents the perfect tradeoff between individual freedom and communal competence. The ethnographer, or the traveler familiar with a city or two, may well doubt this argument.

To generate a random trait, roll a die 50-sided [a die 10-sided, the other 40 trait categories are in the book] for the trait category, then a die six-sided for the specific trait.

Warning. Many of these traits are weird and dystopian. Exercise discretion in how you use them at the table.

1. Architecture

What do these human settlements look like?

  1. Collective hives to promote groupthink and groupmind.
  2. Crude and functional, for the true world is the noösphere.
  3. Baroque and organic, grown not built.
  4. The accretion of adapted styles has created a tell town.
  5. Traditional subterranean tunnel town.
  6. Brutalist paradise of biomechanical posthuman ruins.

2. Art

What kind of art these humans make.

  1. Vigorous dance festivals.
  2. Synthetic generative visual arts.
  3. Elaborate ceramic decoration.
  4. Deep-coded musical traditions.
  5. Illuminated sculptural schools.
  6. Bloody gladiatorial trials.

3. Birth, Advanced

How they make new humans.

  1. Natural neonates born eight at a time from the Village Womb®.
  2. Well-behaved matrix-baked mesonates, between the apparent ages of 3 and 5, delivered to approved parent humans by storklings.
  3. Full-grown orimonates decanted from living matrices.
  4. Synthetic humans of an appropriate age category stitched together in vitro by mother machines.
  5. Uplifted through biomechanical intervention from pre-selected domesticated animal or ling lineages.
  6. Recycled from captured ferals.

4. Birth, Traditional

How they still produce new humans.

  1. Single mothers select optimized fetuses and carry them to term as part of their civil service.
  2. Mothering sisterhoods maintain the reproductive mysteries.
  3. Synthetic midwives assist nuclear family units.
  4. Carried to term by parents in marsupial pouches.
  5. Birther is a respected traditional lower class profession.
  6. Grandmothers and medicals assist in the ancient process.

5. Care, The Weak

How the helpless and infirm are cared for.

  1. Care is available to anyone who can pay for it. The poor are encouraged to perform feats of gratitude to earn handouts.
  2. The helpless are encouraged to visit the recycling facilities.
  3. Free re-body facilities are available in exchange for a three-year community service contract.
  4. All citizens must volunteer their time at the local care complex.
  5. The carer clan are tasked with providing help and support.
  6. Golems and synthetics run pleasure hospices, with full end-of-life synthetic heaven for their patients.

6. Care, The Young

How babes and children are provided for.

  1. Creches with basic indoctrination protocols ensure happy well-adjusted children.
  2. Extended families provide free labor.
  3. Vidys and magical tablets are used as substitute carers.
  4. Ancestors, ghosts, and holograms help biological parents.
  5. Pavlovian training implants let them care for themselves.
  6. Each child is assigned a personal daemon to care for them.

7. Class

How their property relations divide them.

  1. The concept of class is taboo. Even the cruelest of differences are strictly ignored.
  2. Rigid caste structure to preserve guild domains.
  3. Celebrate meritocratic privilege and the benefits of greed.
  4. Regular jubilees to cancel debts and obligations.
  5. Idealistic egalitarianism supported by strict religio-economic doctrines.
  6. Mandatory equality through cloning, empathic indoctrination, and psychosurgical intervention to remove individual differences.

8. Courtesy

What is good manners for these humans? 

  1. The 13-fold handshake shows friendship, status, and respect.
  2. To show the face is to offer your soul for theft.
  3. Only a scoundrel would be unwilling to duel. 
  4. One only talks directly to objects, not people.
  5. You cannot have a meaningful relationship if strict records of napkins and kerchiefs are not kept.
  6. Swearing shows you’re honest. Polite people will trick you.

9. Crime

What is a crime? How is it perceived?

  1. To breach etiquette is to summon the manacle man.
  2. Borrowing another’s words or ideas is theft.
  3. Citizens have relationships with every object in their domain. Touching or moving an object in a relationship with a citizen is a vile act. 
  4. Property is theft. Those who own things are criminals.
  5. To treat an outlander like an inlander is treachery.
  6. Refusing to pay a bribe is grounds for re-education.

10. Death

How they deal with death.

  1. Final mulching into the local herbal matrix.
  2. Destructive recycling into new humans.
  3. Elite abmortality through restricted anti-senescence medication.
  4. General abmortality through biomechanical intervention.
  5. Post-mortality via canopic jewel.
  6. Noöspheric post-mortality.

More Traits?

Of course, these 10 (or 50) trait sets are far from all the options possible for a culture. It can be a fun idea to use your own sets of cultural traits to seed the starting conditions of your own game setting, building different cultures from the ground up and then seeing how they develop.

A place you can start are the UNESCO lists of intangible cultural heritage, using those as a starting off point – asking yourself what kind of similar practice might arise in a fantasy culture in a different environment, with different physical rules, the presence of magic or other species, etc.

Frankly, I’ll probably have to cut or reorder some more of those random traits from the book, but they could make good blogpost fodder, right?


This cultural trait generator is an excerpt from the pangeography section of Our Golden Age, a companion to the Ultraviolet Grasslands (back in stock!) that I’m assembling on my patreon from the SDM, the simplified shell of Uranium Butterflies, notes on the Rainbowlands and the Circle Sea, maps, and more. It brings more backgrounds, traits, equipment, and spells to the game, as well as some more setting stuff, like mechanics for sacrificing to the so-called gods, exploring the noösphere, and more.

the blue lands! witness the destruction. the lack of good roads!

2 replies on “Cocreation: Local Cultures”

I’d argue that number 3 should be named Birth, Non-Traditional. I say this because none of your options seem advanced – just non-traditional. My gin agrees. Thank you.

PS – you’re welcome to call me a Luddite.

Comments are closed.