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  • Discrimination in your Creation

    I admit a bit of trepidation in creating this thread given how similar topics have gone it feels a little like I'm trolling my own forum.

    Prejudice in a fictional world is one of those topics I go back and forth on, I'm sympathetic to arguments to the effect of "I've got to deal with that in real life why must I do that in fiction too?" but at the same time a major part of that wish fulfillment aspect is being strong enough to swim against oppressive social currents and that can feel really hollow if these elements don't seem to exist in any part of the setting.

    For example, while I think Arianna's backstory shakes out as utterly ridiculous I can appreciate the desire to tell a story about a woman who struggled with gender based discrimination from fellow academics. I think portraying her as having an utterly unjustified chip on her shoulder because of an isolated experience in backwards land does the character concept a disservice but at the same time, straw misogynists occasionally appearing to give the character's backstory some relevance would be incredibly silly.

    I've got a few anecdotes to share about my own characters, but for now I'm curious to hear about people's own experience. I'm mostly curious about issues that exist IRL but I'm open to discussion of the more fantastical forms of discrimination such as characters for whom Anathema status means more to them than "I'm a total badass so people me dead".


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  • #2
    I've considered posting a thread like this, but as you said, it can be a pretty awkward topic. So kudos!

    So. In theory, to play a Solar is to play a character unjustly prejudiced against, but since you are, essentially "passing" most of the time, it doesn't really come up that way I feel, so let's skip over that to more RL prejudices. (Though my ST did do some interesting stuff with the culturally varied conceptions of what an "anathema" actually is.)

    I think that different players and groups are going to have different perspectives on this, and it's probably wise to think about your particular players and what they like/don't like. So, I'll talk about how I've run it in my games, but it would probably be best done differently for others.

    I love History (I have an MA in it), and most of my players are interested in History (a couple did Degrees in Classical History). And the ones who I don't think are so interested in it, don't particularly dislike it.
    So I tend to come at the societies of Exalted from a Historical perspective, otherwise I feel it lacks versimilitude. If this society was a real society, how would it likely work? And my model for that is human history. (The ST of the game I play is probably even more direct about it: I tend to have societies that are a bit like some historical society, with cultural elements drawn from several different historical cultures that can fit together, while he has a fair few societies that are modelled very explicitly on particular historical societies. For example, we live in an Egypt-expy, near a Song Dynasty-expy)
    On the other hand, if the level of gender discrimination was as bad as it was in real pre-modern societies, then frankly it would be very annoying for anyone playing a female character, so there are some strong divisions and bigotries you need to tone down.

    However, the "toning down" can be done to some extent by using models of less well-known societies. For example, many societies have treated Trans people badly. However, there are other societies that have accepted them... in very specific ways.
    So, for example, in many of the societies in my game, a Trans PC would not be executed... but they would find that people kept expecting them to be a shaman. As this was pretty common in human history.
    So, you have prejudice (that the players can then try to defeat) but it's not quite as harsh as it might be in the real world.*

    *One important thing to remember, I feel, is that while most historical societies were, in most ways, more prejudiced than our modern 21st century land, they were often not as prejudiced as most people think they were, and often thought about these things using entirely different categorisations than we do, or we think they did. And they sometimes had prejudices that we just don't think about!

    But I also wouldn't want to present this as consistent (that too would be anachronistic), and frankly, I like having various very different societies in the game.
    So, for example, a gay man might find in one society he's considered entirely normal, in another people accept it with knowing winks as long as he gets married, in another people refuse to talk about it and pretend it's not happening, in another people consider him a woman, and in another people decide entirely on whether he's a "top" (totally fine) or a "bottom" (pervert!). And if he does both... well, that's just confusing. And in others it depends entirely on how he's dressed at the time, or what day it is, or which God he worships, or whether he's over 30, or whether he's a priest or a soldier or a farmer.
    Because, honestly, as correct as it may or may not be, our modern conception of "Straight", "Gay" or "Bisexual" is a completely different set of categorisations for most ancient or even medieval cultures.
    But nowhere is he going to get executed, because a)it was somewhat rare until the early modern period, and b)it's not very fun for a game.

    (Not to mention that prejudice isn't consistent in our world, even within, say, Anglo-sphere culture: the old saw that "American anti-immigration is about racism, British racism is about anti-immigration" isn't entirely correct, but the point is cultures do vary significantly.)

    One prejudice that I don't like to put in though at all, is racism (I mean, in the form of categorising ethnicities into racial groups and then considering some better or worse). Why? Because it's highly anachronistic. Pre-slavery, and pre- racialist-"science", people just didn't really think that way, at least not in any deep or elaborate fashion.
    Now, Haltans and Linowan hating each other is completely believable. The Realm considering those not educated in the proper Realm way, brought up on proper Realm culture, and wearing non-Realm clothes, as obviously inferior, is entirely believable. But for a native of Cherak to consider all black-skinned people as being inferior to the Icewalkers? There's just no reason for them to develop that view.

    On the other hand, a prejudice that was, at certain times, extremely common in the pre-modern world was religious prejudice. Thus I expect general bigotry and bad relations between Immaculates, ancestor worshippers and God-worshippers (though the nature of Exalted polytheism means hate between the devotees is generally going to be a small issue... except when their Gods are rivals, such as Halta/Linowan. This is going to be further complicated by the very real nature of Terrestrial Court politics).

    One final thing about the "magical" or "fantastical" prejudices in Exalted: with their association with the Wyld, I expect mutants to face fairly widespread prejudice. But this will still vary by culture (for example, those more Immaculate-influenced will have harsher views than those influenced by Lunars), and by local events (are there are a friendly group of nearby mutants? Was the kingdom invaded by a mutant army 40 years ago?)

    These are general ideas. I'll talk about actual examples from my game next.
    Last edited by The Wizard of Oz; 08-20-2016, 08:09 AM.


    Avatar by Jen.
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    Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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    • #3
      I tend to play things in such a way that prejudice isn't going to come up unless someone explicitly asks for it and everyone at the table has buy in. I have a character in my game who has a history of violent homophobia and is trepidatious about exploring love and relationships now that he is free of a context where that would have him violently punished. His character arc will almost certainly drive him to confrontation with his primary tormentor/father, allowing the character to take control over his past in whichever way he should choose.

      There's an extent to which I take a historicoanthropological approach to world building and setting development like Wizard, and I tend to play with and shift the parameters in such a way was to not subject anyone to discriminatory themes that they don't have explicit buy in on. Like them I stray away from racism, and I include a number of behavioral norms/cultural traditions consonant with the culture's history and context, but in those I tend to avoid prejudice because it can be exhausting to me and my players and this is an escape from the BS in a lot of ways.


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      • #4
        I wouldn't ask them all (but then, I know my players quite well: I think, generally, I can guess what kind of themes they will or won't be upset by. I have had players tell me specifically what they don't like though, which is of course fine) but I do agree you should vary your presentation to some extent based on the players and characters.

        One of my players is playing an anarcho-feminist. Which I assume means the player ought to be facing some kind of deeply sexist society to defeat at some point, but I haven't really got round to making one yet (that player joined about 20 games in, so I'd already set most of the local societies).

        So, some examples of how I tend to run things when it does come up:

        On gender roles for rulers
        The Four Kingdoms, the area south of where the PCs live, is ruled by Dragonblood. Except of course, there aren't really enough Dragonblood. So they've developed a system whereby succession is maternal (keeping it in the family), but her husband does most of the ruling. The idea being to attract male DBs to marry into the family. However, in reality it's both poorly delineated in terms of power, and full of messy legal fictions due to the low number of Dragonblood. So, in one kingdom the middle-aged Dragonblood Queen ruled firmly while her young, hot husband mostly just stood around looking pretty, and pretended to ignore her lovers. While in another, King Aquos Daanadsson, who is definitely a Dragonblood and not a fishman, ruled through personal charisma and combat skill while his wife, well, didn't.
        This had some effect on the societies they ruled, but those societies themselves (which were partly modelled on medieval east Africa) consisted of multiple ethnic groups with their own rather different sets of gender roles, some ruled by women, some by men, some by old people, some by whoever had killed the most elephants. Which then messed up the succession law when Aquos's wife died, as there was arguments about whether, say, her second cousin through a man or her third cousin through a woman came first.

        More generally, when I can't be bothered to work out complicated succession systems, I tend to just split Kings and Queens about half and half.

        On same-sex marriage

        Queen Ashen Witch, a fire-aspect, was looking for husbands for her three wives. Queen Enhenduanna, the party's Eclipse, suggested she married the middle daughter, to make peace between them after Enhenduanna had recruited a number of tribes who were supposed to be loyal to Ashen Witch's eldest daughter. Ashen Witch was shocked: marry her daughter to another young woman? Now, marrying her to an old woman with several brothers who could do the business and provide an heir for their sister's wife, that's perfectly normal. But a young Queen with no brothers?
        Luckily, Enhenduanna was able to convince Ashen Witch, that as a powerful sorceress, she still could fulfill the cultural role and use magic to provide an heir from the two of them. As Ashen Witch was looking to save face from losing tribes without having to actually fight a powerful sorceress, she agreed.
        (I based this on the marriage practices of a particular Kenyan tribe, which allows a childless, older woman to marry a younger woman)

        More generally, I put in the occasional same-sex marriage. Though some cultures have unusual marriage practices that incorporate them in odd ways, for example, one culture had group marriages with a mix of men and women, who may or may not have a sexual relationship with their same-sex husbands or wives.
        Last edited by The Wizard of Oz; 08-20-2016, 08:36 AM.


        Avatar by Jen.
        My Exalted characters:
        Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
        Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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        • #5
          Hmmm.... I wanted to give more examples of when I've used these slightly odd cultural biases that are a kind of discrimination, but not at all like the discrimination common today, but I can't think of so many off the top of my head now. I'm sure they've come up a fair few times, but I can't remember them much.

          There was the time that the Full Moon was sure that the Djala queen was up to no good because she'd apparently had lots of lovers before marrying the Full Moon's friend (the Djala King), but all the Djala found this quite confusing... I mean, she was a princess, of course she had lots of lovers. Nothing wrong with that. But obviously if she had a lover now that would be treason.

          That's probably not a great example.

          Hmmm... maybe the heretically-Immaculate society that was divided into five element-based castes, each of whom had their own culture, marriage practices, jobs, etc. Which would lead to a lot of prejudice ("you're Stone caste, you can't be a sailor!", "everyone knows Tree Caste are easy", "never trust a Flame Caste, they're crazy") but the PCs went through it probably too quickly to really see that.
          Last edited by The Wizard of Oz; 08-20-2016, 08:46 AM.


          Avatar by Jen.
          My Exalted characters:
          Dr Soma Vaidya, viper-totem Lunar and kung-fu doctor
          Brother Alazar, Zenith occultist and last survivor of the Black Monastery of Leng

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          • #6
            I am going to talk about my interpretations of two canonical characters.

            Anys Syn has savant syndrome and struggles to manage her emotions, finds social situations difficult and considers most paperwork utterly incomprehensible. She finds the presence of other Sidereals and Immaculate Monks relatively comfortable but still regularly deals with people not respecting her boundaries; The Scarlet Empress was particularly awful for this.

            Tepet Lisara was ironically inspired in part by that awful effeminacy vs homosexuality sidebar, I realised that the character has a lot of characteristics that could be considered effeminate and pondered that a lot of her issues stem from her family and the House of Bells attempting to harden her.

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            • #7
              I really have no idea whether the resentments I apply between the Realm oppressors and the people of Okeanos in my West game is appropriate to call "discrimination" for the purpose of this thread.

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              • #8
                A big part of my interest in roleplaying comes from exploratism, not escapism, and exploring different mindsets and cultural ideas are a big part of that. Exalted is for me a setting with a lot of different cultures. So there isn't that hard to make up an option where a character has or is against a specific prejudice. As I see the Realm as almost equal when it comes to gender, and homosexuality isn't a big deal as long they are having children within their arranged marriage, both sexism and homophobia belongs to smaller cultures in the Threshold or beyond. Anything looking as racism in Creation is more likely "culturalism" where the prejudice is against the culture. So if they meet someone with their own skin color, but the other culture, then the prejudice will be in effect, while someone with a different skin color bit the same culture will be seen as "one of us."

                Prejudices within the Realm are in part between the Houses. While House Cynis are doing things that is quite chocking compared to our modern values, they are not as far out as the other Houses will make it sound. Then there are discrimination between the classes (how a Patrician looks at "the common rabble"), against foreigners ("those simple barbarians").

                While the common prejudices in our modern world maybe isn't front and center in Exalted, there are quite a few other things that are. Slavery being common in most places, for one.

                When it comes to gaming, I'm not interested in where people have a character with completely modern values; unless they come from a culture with modern values. So if we are playing Buffy or Star Trek, or someone from our world waking up in Creation, it is fine. But if I'm to play or run a game of Exalted, I want each character that have grown up in that setting to have at least one opinion or value that would get a WTF?!? in real life. I don't really care what it is myself; "slavery is a cornerstone of ownership rights and have to be defended at any cost," "the right to rule is a hereditary right given by divine mandate," "homosexuality is true love, while heterosexual acts are a filthy must to produce children," "Calibration is the end of the world, but our yearly human sacrifice postpones it yet another year," or whatever. Then it is a matter to pick things that everyone in the group are comfortable enough with, which goes back to my usual harping about compatibility (and makes it a lot harder to put a group together).

                One of the important part is to never assume why someone wants to have something, or not have it, in the game. Any such assumption is by definition a prejudice. Someone might not want to have it in the game because it will trigger bad memories, or they have to deal with it on a daily basis, or is just so damned bored with it that they don't want to be in yet another game with it. Wanting to have it can be because it triggers a fantasy, because they want to kick some ass and take numbers, or as a way to deal with memories of something. Or a lot of other reasons. It isn't any different than that the assumption "that player made a warrior, so there should be a lot of fighting" can be a very erroneous.

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                • #9
                  In the Caste and Aspect books there's a serious amount of discrimination against, and reaction to the discrimination of, mortals. That's the axis by which I portray most discrimination in my game, because 1) It won't negatively affect my players but 2) they can still fight against it for a good story and 3) it's supported by canon so I don't have to make it all up.

                  Secondarily/similarly I like the geas of the Mountain Folk. And when I have a mature set of players I get into discrimination against slaves (but this can get real squick, real quick).

                  I, of course, portray the Realm vs. Other, Haltan vs. Linowan, culture vs. culture biases, because that's the stuff wars are made of. But it's often kind of impersonal, my Realm characters have interacted with Lost Eggs regularly and they know that anyone, despite skin color, can be 'cultured'.

                  But the kind of discrimination I don't include in my games includes but is not limited to:
                  Sexism (or any sexual orientation / gender identity discrimination)
                  Racism
                  Ageism


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                  • #10
                    I don't want to shove the kind of discrimination that my players already experience during their day to day lives in their faces during a game, but I also want to give them an avenue to play with it if they're interested. What this means for my group is that it simply doesn't come up unless someone explicitly asks for it.

                    This restriction mainly applies to sexism, racism (which, as we understand it, doesn't really make sense in Creation anyway), and prejudice regarding sexuality or gender. One Threshold city-state not getting along with its neighboring city-state because of some bad in-setting history is fine, and so are a lot of non-race/sex based forms of oppression - many of Creation's merchants are still slaving scumbags, Dragon-Blooded Exalts from the Realm still feel that their power (and often abuse) over unexalted mortals is absolutely and divinely justified, much of Creation still hates and fears Lunar boogeymen and beastmen, and so on. I won't ever do an Arianna type story unless one of the women in my group wants to play it, though. Even if there were a bunch of canonically patriarchal-to-the-point-of-outright-misogyny cultures in Creation, I don't feel that some kind of weirdly principled devotion to the "accuracy" of shitty prejudices is a higher calling than making sure my players have fun in my game.

                    That said, I have had a woman in my group want to play around with these themes a bit in previous games, like a fantasy/horror western in which she played a brothel owner and ex-prostitute who shot monsters in her spare time. She'd occasionally cue me in to make sexism a factor in her character's interactions and we'd play with it for a bit. That doesn't really feel like something that would work in Exalted, though. Now she's playing a former legion officer and Immaculate Philosophy adherent turned One Punch Woman, and she deals more with religious and philosophical self-doubt than anything.


                    As for examples of discrimination in my game that don't violate my rules.. My current campaign centers around a war brewing between two mutually hostile Threshold states, and there's a lot of bad blood there (someone else mentioned Halta/Linowan, and it's like that with a bit less religion). There's a dragon-blooded dynast who blithely behaves like she's great friends with all of her soldiers in the legion, seemingly oblivious to the massive difference in rank and social power (until one of them pisses her off, and then she treats them like the "mere mortals" they are without a shred of dissonance). There's another dynast who exalted from a long line of patricians and still feels like something of an outsider/inferior among the other exalts simply because he doesn't have any exalted relatives and has no real avenue in to his house's power structure. The former legion officer PC that I mentioned has had to deal with a number of people she trusted and respected being utterly convinced that she needs to die now, along with some of her old comrades betraying her. And there's influx of refugees to one of the Threshold states mentioned above, from another war stirred up by anathema a bit further out - they have all sorts of troubles at the moment.

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                    • #11
                      So discrimination in our society comes from a few things right? The main three are ignorance, fear, and conflict in beliefs. I'm pretty sure these three things exist pretty strongly in creation. I mean the immaculate philosophy is based on all three, being the largest organized social structure in creation it's a huge issue.

                      Specifically I think there will be racism/nationalism in the game, as per game history linowa and halta are bitter enemies. One likes redwoods and one like orchards...it comes down to conflict of belief.

                      You have anyone in creation knowing someone is far blooded and there might be an immediate knee jerk reaction for most people to think them a "dirty" person as most fear the fair folk for their mind warping, body twisting, soul stealing magics. It would be the same prejudice settled folk have for gypsies.

                      Then you have class warfare which CLEARLY exists between the realm and satraps and the citizens of those satrapies.

                      Gender bias is something that would have less of a presence simply because of the predominant social structure the IF, has strong roots against it due to the number/power/presence of both genders in the dragon blooded. Looking at the south, chiaroscuro in particular has a pretty flexible stance on it. I think the further you get from the IF though it will start to become more prevalent. At least that's what makes sense to me.

                      I like my games gritty, emotionally conflicted, and rooted in more real world style conflict and thinking with a layer of super human on it. So my games are built that way. So I think the game has a place for basic discrimination, it also gives players the opportunity rise against such forces in game and defeat them if they would like to. So it can be a bit of cathartic release. Also this shit can be triggering. So know your audience and take the red rule to apply it to those situations id say.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Monkipi View Post
                        but in those I tend to avoid prejudice because it can be exhausting to me and my players and this is an escape from the BS in a lot of ways.
                        Yeah. I want to have fun, and I don't feel like playing a game where 'triggering' subjects happen to be absent equals = ignoring or denying those subjects. Forcing players to avoid conflict can be just offensive as forcing them to do the opposite.
                        And if a game focuses too much on subjective/controversial topics, it will never reach a satisfying objective conclusion.

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                        • #13
                          I wouldn't find it to be believable for Northern people to regard all dark-skinned people as being inherently inferior in a manner directly aligning with racism of the 18th-20th centuries, but I would think there would be a common element that would view people so distinctly different in appearance as being weird looking, and ascribe all kinds of oddities in behaviour and custom to them, that may not exactly dehumanise or infantilise them, but are at least highly reductive and have a slant towards entertainment over how weird other people are or a certain level of dismissal.

                          ​{checks thread title again} But that's distinct from the subject of discrimination. Barring, possibly, occasions in which players are moving around areas or interact with a variety of people who frame those interactions through assumptions that could, at best, be taken as the other person not taking the player character very seriously.

                          You'll probably get a variety of places in which numerous circumstantial factors result in groups of people who can be differentiated along lines of common history, culture or ethnic characteristics living in proximity and having noteworthy power disparities, combined with deliberate policies intended to maintain and exacerbate such policies, in a manner that is discriminatory. It's like Jewish people in Medieval Europe; it's long before the conceptions of race that will lead to the greatest tragedy to ever befall Jewish people, but it's still a time in the aftermath of Roman policies creating a Jewish diaspora that, through a complex series of factors and interactions lead to widespread policies that discriminate against them specifically as a common group. You probably also see it a lot in major, cosmopolitan cities; a war or a famine or similar disaster forces a large number of people from the same area and with a common identity flood into Nexus in short order, where they're quickly absorbed into the fabric of the city as a large group of easily exploited people that sharply limits their prospects in a vicious cycle, all of which informs the common conception of that particular group by other residents of Nexus.

                          I would say these are the kinds of things that can eventually transform into the basis of the kinds of racism that we're familiar with, because that is the origin of some of it in real life, but Creation isn't quite there yet.

                          But yes, certainly there can be forms of discrimination structured along those lines.




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                          • #14
                            When I run games I seek a level of dramatic and narrative bite. I and my players seek to be challenged mentally and emotionally. These games are tools to help us grow not just enjoy ourselves. As such i as an ST do not shy away from serious and possibly triggering topics. I worn my players things like racism discrimination and worse may appear at my table and in exchange they trust that I will seek to make the story about rising above and becoming stronger in the face of it all. When the topics do show up I look at the context of the world around the surrounding culture and the likely attitudes that grow from it.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Lioness View Post
                              portraying her as having an utterly unjustified chip on her shoulder because of an isolated experience in backwards land does the character concept a disservice
                              I would need to read Caste Book: Twilight again to recall some of the details, but in the meantime I would ask:

                              Is it an isolated experience, or a formative one?

                              Within the wider context of Creation, should the land be considered backwards, or merely different?

                              On that note, there's an element of Creation that is rather apparent, and, while complex, includes elements of discrimination.

                              Namely the Dereth institution. The whole thing is rooted in a culture having specific ideas about gender roles, and while it has certain accommodations for adopting roles against type, it demands what might be a lot of a person in order for them to be permitted such.

                              The Delzhan do have a sense of equal importance to the distinct roles that it gives the genders, but I don't entirely buy it, based on things I have read about similar instances of cultures giving women absolute authority over the household; these texts have pointed out that that is the kind of thing that often has a functional result of isolating women from the wider world, particularly in terms of engagement with highly important things that ultimately affect the household such as politics or commerce, as well as just basic engagement with and standing in a culture.

                              I'd say that if one wishes to play in or around Chiaroscuro, or as one of the Delzhan of either gender (Dereth or not), these can be issues worth depicting.


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