Friday, October 26, 2018

Tables of Cultural Traits


I just finished up reading all of Le Guin's Hainish stories. It's certainly not every day that you come away from a series feeling like a better person, but this was one of them. They are beautiful and potent and terribly human, and they invoke in me the great peace of humility - I am not the center of the universe, countless people are going about fulfilling lives as alien to me as mine to them, and there is a goodness and rightness in this.

(If you haven't read them yet, see if you can track down the American Library omnibus. Otherwise, I advise Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, Five Ways to Forgiveness, and The Telling.)

So to that end, I'm merging a great deal from Daniel Sell's post on planar cultures with the cultural ways of Albion's Seed, to create something that should hopefully be an easy way to add cultural variety and depth to your settings and characters. Traits here were plucked both from real life groups and whatever else came to mind.

Now using Angus Warman's HTML generator! (Via Saker Tarsos helping fix technical difficulties in Discord)

0. Appearence

For the tables below, roll 3d25 (or choose however) to select your tables, roll on those as appropriate (they're all d6) and use that as the basis for your culture. If you want a little bit extra for those people, roll 1d3 times (or choose, or roll however many times you want) on Skerples' list of mutations.

This was made to go with my Traveler class.

1. Speech

  1. Peppered with references to assorted, often obscure heroic myth-cycles.
  2. Euphemistic lexicon elides the unpleasant, violent, scandalous and sexual.
  3. The meanings of words change between sung verse and prose vernacular. 
  4. Simple and straightforward; blunt-force metaphors and workmanlike prose.
  5. Burns with passionate, unrefined emotion; often translated as vulgarity.
  6. Has accumulated dozens of languages, constantly mutating new variants.

2. Building

  1. Faces of homes decorated with mosaics of monsters to scare away evil spirits.
  2. Permanent homes are built underground, only temporary structures on the surface.
  3. Old buildings are always repurposed and added on to if they can be salvaged.
  4. Homes are treated as living beings with rights under the law.
  5. Doors are shaped as mouths, windows as eyes, interior rooms as organs.
  6. Natural features (caves, trees, boulders, water) are incorporated into the structure.

3. Family

  1. A visitor welcomed three times may be considered family.
  2. Multiple generations and branches will live in the same home or neighborhood.
  3. Families consist only of related women; men are independent from these obligations.
  4. Honor of the familial name must be protected with blood if needed.
  5. Children are no longer considered part of their birth family upon reaching adulthood.
  6. The obligations of filial piety are ended only in death.

4. Marriage

  1. Exclusively between land-owning men.Women and unlanded men are not permitted.
  2. Not practiced. Periods of agreed exclusivity symbolized by a fig bough over the door.
  3. Large group marriages; stable sub-groups form according to individual alignments.
  4. Elaborate divorce rituals developed to get around strict legal-religious bindings.
  5. Organized by trained matchmakers according to tarot archetypes.
  6. Ceremony is comedic theater performed for the community.

5. Gender

  1. Primary genders are submissive / dominant, regardless of sex.
  2. Most individuals shift gender identity multiple times in their life. 
  3. Men should be buff, women should be vavoom. 
  4. Children raised agendered, then strictly split upon reaching puberty.
  5. Societal roles dependent on sex and zodiac. Eunuchs exist outside the system.
  6. Third gender previously held role of occult significance.

6. Sex

  1. Best done in groups. Public fuckeries a common business to this end.
  2. Quietly but enthusiastically celebrated as healthy and beneficial.
  3. Considered shameful and animalistic, public expression repressed.
  4. To be performed according to the proscribed forms and methods.
  5. Flamboyant performative displays typical; a load of fun for all involved.
  6. Participants dress and act as gods and myth-heroes.

7. Child-Rearing

  1. Children are raised in state-sanctioned boarding creches.
  2. A community effort; everyone watches the neighborhood kids.
  3. Strict punishments are the only way to teach children right from wrong. 
  4. Empathy, understanding, and the validity of emotions are key tools of any parent.
  5. Primarily the father's responsibility after they are weaned.
  6. Members of eunuch caste act as teachers and caretakers.

8. Naming

  1. Child-names are purposefully obscene or awful, in order to scare away evil spirits. 
  2. Elaborate public names, simple private names shared only with intimate companions.
  3. Weapons must be named, with appropriate documentation of their birth and education.
  4. Personal names are always changing based on traits, trades, and actions. 
  5. Three names for all: One given by parents, one given by friends, one given to oneself. 
  6. All names taken from a short approved list, accompanied by numbers for rank of birth.

9. Age

  1. The old are feared and despised, and exiled from the community upon reaching great age.
  2. Transitions celebrated: child to youth, youth to adult, adult to elder.
  3. The wisdom of the young and old work in tandem: grandparent/grandchild councils. 
  4. Years are not counted; age measured by state of the body and mind.
  5. Fading population boom has left many more elderly than the young.
  6. The desires of the younger generation are often ignored to maintain the practices of the old.

10. Death

  1. Paper grave goods are burned to provide the deceased with supplies and necessities in hell.
  2. The bones of the dead are carried around as protection against biting insects and parasites. 
  3. Sky-funerals are the standard, carried about by flocks of sacred vultures. 
  4. Organs of fallen family are preserved in jars of strong wine and kept in the home. 
  5. The dead are spoken as if alive until the birthday after their passing, when they are mourned.
  6. Those close to death hold grand gift-giving celebrations for family and friends.

11. Religious

  1. There is no afterlife, so make the best of this one.
  2. Suffering and complete purity of being alone please God.
  3. All gods are absorbed into the local religion for insurance purposes. 
  4. Worship practice of local god consists mostly of blaspheming rival gods.
  5. Divine omens must be read of entrails before any important action.
  6. Gods exist to be fought against and eventually killed.

12. Magic

  1. Is derived from the sun's heat and light.
  2. Is forcing your will upon the universe.
  3. Comes only from the land of the dead.
  4. Is maintained through bargain with the spirits.
  5. Is the knowing and revealing of truth.
  6. Is sacred text inscribed in blood and flesh.

13. Learning

  1. Private schooling reserved only for the wealthy.
  2. Oral histories and folklore, taught by extended family members.
  3. Schools consistently lack support from government and public.
  4. Serves as a production line for future producer-consumers.
  5. Encouraged as an enjoyable and satisfying pursuit for its own sake
  6. Learning must be active, rooted in traveling and interacting.

14. Food

  1. Hippos foolishly imported as meat animals.
  2. Fruit and fish, brought in fresh from the river.
  3. Spicy vegetarian fare. Excellent bread.
  4. Meat. Fried in oil. Type doesn't matter.
  5. Bland, cold, and in meager portions.
  6. Insects, worms, fungi, all raw.

15. Etiquette

  1. Lying to another is considered the gravest social offense.
  2. A shared meal must be offered to enemies before combat, litigation, or debate.
  3. The sight of publicly bare hands is an extreme scandal.
  4. Belching and slurping while eating shows appreciation to the chef. 
  5. Comedic insults should be thrown at friends and family when possible.
  6. Honorifics for sex, age, rank, profession, and other factors must be adhered to.

16. Dress

  1. Upon reaching the age of majority, the right hand is tattooed blue and the left hand red.
  2. Men and women both wear gigantic lacy hoop skirts and towering powdered wigs. 
  3. Bright colors and elaborate patterns are available even to the poor. 
  4. Complex sumptuary laws define acceptable dress by class, trade, and ethnicity.
  5. Heavy fur robes and masks with goggles are typical outside wear.
  6. Everyday clothing uses emblems and designs of long-gone knightly class.

17. Sport

  1. Sport is for children only; adults partaking in such childish behavior are whipped in public.
  2. Complex, slow-paced, communal strategy games are the favored pastime.
  3. High-contact team sports; injuries both common and lauded.
  4. 1v1 puppet-fighting gathers huge, raucous crowds.
  5. Outcome of games determines what is sacrificed to the gods.
  6. Sporting events used as truces between nations; politics always in the background.

18. Work

  1. Get the job done and get a good end result, the how is less important. 
  2. The value of a man is measured by his industriousness. 
  3. A job done for someone means they owe you a job in return. 
  4. Work is for the benefit of those who own the land and the factory.
  5. Labor ought serve the public good first, and the personal good second.
  6. Only idiots waste their lives working.

19. Time

  1. Schedules are to be kept immaculate. Lateness is unforgivable. 
  2. Stay up late, sleep in late. There is no need to rush anywhere.
  3. The epochs and inhabitants of deep-time are common parlance. 
  4. There is only the now and the short term - past and future are of no consequence.
  5. The calendar counts down to a future date, at which point it will reset for a new age.
  6. Recent timekeeping changes cause widespread confusion and dismay.

20. Wealth

  1. Overt or ostentatious displays of wealth are shunned, considered a weakness of confidence.
  2. No business can be done during the day, as the sun might grow angry at seeing its stolen gold. 
  3. Ownership, sale and purchase of abstract concepts is a foundational element of the economy.
  4. Currency types regularly shift and change; coin collectors overjoyed.
  5. Is an arbitrary assignment of value to a few chips of metal. Real treasure is elsewhere.
  6. If no one died getting it, is it really worth anything at all?

21. Rank

  1. Higher status means more trepannations, so as to let more spirits of the open sky into the mind.
  2. The literate are second-class citizens, but are immune to conscription and protected from war.
  3. Kings, being of heaven, must never touch the ground for so long as they may live.
  4. There is a caste devoted entirely to keeping track of all the castes and the connections between.
  5. Increasingly-elaborate methods of proving divine imperial bloodlines growing less effective.
  6. Positions of power are bought, given as gifts, or won randomly by lottery.

22. War

  1. Symbolic performances primarily for the entertainment of the masses.
  2. Those who declare war are traditionally placed on the front lines, to reward enthusiasm.
  3. Conflicts are primarily disinformation campaigns and surgical strikes.
  4. Legions of horrific chimeras bred for this very purpose: human soldiers rare.
  5. Competitive defensive strategies lead to decades-long cold wars.
  6. No-holds-barred arcane warfare. Warzones transformed into magical hellscapes for centuries.

23. Order

  1. Security against disruptive forces is prized above all else, no matter the cost. 
  2. A moiety of punks and satirists exists to keep the other half of civilization in check. 
  3. Society ordered according to unquestioned ancient precepts.
  4. Pre-existing order has been overturned by social development, the way forward in question.
  5. No one knows what's going on anymore, the train is off the rails.
  6. Chaos is embraced; all things in flux, all is made new.

24. Power

  1. Kings have absolute power save over the headsman in the corner of the throne room.
  2. Power rests in a small circle of those who have accrued and inherited vast wealth.
  3. Exercised with a subtle hand, so much so as to be unnoticed and invisible.
  4. In a constant state of self-destruction, quarantined away from society to reduce damage.
  5. Granted only to individuals who want nothing to do with it; given up when the time is done.
  6. The man with the sword only believes he holds power; he is always to be betrayed.

25. Freedom

  1. Freedom without personal responsibility is worthless chaos. 
  2. Thought and expression are free, but action is oppressively regulated.
  3. Means you are free to take away freedom from others.
  4. All are free to do as they will. No obligation can be forced upon one by another.
  5. Freedom is an illusion, and its pursuit only makes you more of a prisoner.
  6. Lack of personal freedom is unforgivable.


  1. That HTML widget is the handiest thing.

  2. Yep, I'm into this. Good stuff.

    1. And my wife and I are reading the Dispossessed aloud at bedtime now. My second read. Then we'll read the rest together for the first time.

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