Monday, October 26, 2015

Cultures in Paraguay

Making a map isn't enough.  Presuming the party will someday be wandering about the area, it's necessary to create some sort of culture that will infringe upon their actions while promoting new ideas and adventure possibilities.  Supernatural mojo and monsters in the Chaco, lost temples and whatnot stashed in the jungles of Brazil won't do it (sorry JB).

Let's look again at the map I posted yesterday, with a few added labels:

Helsith, in the upper right, corresponds roughly to Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.  Supay, to the department of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia.  If the reader will look closely, there are four small enclaves that can be found in the vicinity where indicated as 'Spanish Missions.'  These represent the few localities that I could find as founded before 1650.  Spanish occupied Paraguay (in 1650) consists of this:

That is, the small area surrounding Asuncion (upper left) and the Misiones district (right).  This consists of nine centers, most of which were small missions, Jesuit and otherwise.

The remaining localities shown on the map are all 'native' cultures.  Of course, none of these are human cultures.  I had no interest in filling the new world with human populations, which would be quite boring - and for the most part I'm not that interested in Amerindian culture, except where that culture became relatively advanced, as with the Aztecs, Olmecs and Incas.  I realize this creates a strongly anti-politically correct stance: I'm simply taking most of all that and throwing it in the trash.  I imagine there would be some who would find that remarkably insulting.

Nevertheless, I believe my world is better for it.  If I'm going to place cultures that the Spanish must face in my world, I would much rather those cultures be as unusual as possible - and somewhat removed from traditional D&D races, as well.  The rest of this post will be about those cultures: the Helsith, the Supay, the Bokkeer and the Guarani-Neembucu.  I feel I must point out that all of these, and what is below, were conceived entirely in the last three weeks, somewhat forced upon me by realizing I would need to fill up the map with non-Spanish creatures.

The Helsith

Here I do borrow from the Monster Manual, but with a twist.  The Helsith are lizard humanoids, somewhat like 'lizard men' from the book.  The development of humanoid lizards for the Amazon & Parana jungles is logical . . . but of course there are several lizard species, so we can easily imagine several manifestations of humanoid lizard cultures.

'Helsith' describes both the creature and a large kingdom, but for the purpose of this post I will refer to the creatures as 'Sith' to keep it simple.  Helsith represents a very old culture, dating back 6000 years, with its source in the upper Guapure river in modern day Rondonia.  It has a high population with many large cities above 15,000 creatures, so it is a considerable political force in the continent.  Note that the Spanish settlements are nowhere near Helsith.

The Sith are differently behaved depending upon their age.  The young are far less threatening, being about 5-6 feet in height, having typically around 7-14 hit points, attacking with bite and claws, being fast moving and full of energy.  As the Sith age, they grow considerably in size, until being around 9 feet tall - but as they age, they become wiser, less interested in raiding and conquest, much more ponderous in nature and slower-moving.  However, their hit points increase into the 60-80 range and they attack only once with a devastating biting attack or with weapon.

This tendency towards patience as they age makes the elder Sith more approachable and appreciative of the necessities of politics and negotiation.  It means that parties are far more likely to encounter the hot-blooded younger form, as they raid surrounding areas without much concern for things like treaties or good relations.  At the same time, it also means these younger raiding parties tend to lack strong, intelligent leaders - for as the Sith shed their skins, they simultaneously grow wiser and cooler-tempered.

The Supay

These are a passive, highly social group of humanoids developed from the Capybara, far more intelligent and organized than typically conceived rodent humanoids.  In shape they are somewhat like dwarves, with barrel-shaped bodies and large trunk like legs.  They have a strong, flexible neck and they attack with both weapon and bite in combat.

On the whole, they don't seek wars with their neighbors.  They occupy the area around the Spaniard missions and are friendly with the Spaniards because that is the Supay nature.  If pressed, they prefer to retreat into the Chaco swamp rather than fight; this works well for them, since they live much of the season in temporary bivouaks in the wild, often abandoning their established stone villages for months at a time.

They will also act as intermediaries between different cultures in times of war, as they are highly trusted and known for their fair dealings and honesty.

The Bokkeer

This represents a master-slave culture among cats, where they masters are highly intelligent humanoid jaguars.  As humanoid cultures go, the master Bokkeer are far more jaguar than humanoid, commonly moving onto all fours in attack rather than using weapons.  They are far more intelligent than most of their neighbours and highly reclusive, there being only nine highly isolated settlements where a large number of them dwell.  Even at that, only 10% of the population will be masters.  The remainder, the demi-Bokkeer, are displacer beasts (which are semi-intelligent).

Each master Bokkeer will share a telepathic connection with up to 20 demi-Bokkeer, which will attack at the Bokkeer's instigation if so directed.  Masters do not share demi-Bokkeer and cannot control those of other masters, so the culture tends to be based upon the intellectual power of a master to control so many underlings.  Even the weakest masters will control at least four demis, making the least of them considerably dangerous.

Thankfully (for the Spanish) the Bokkeer are not especially territorial and are somewhat tolerant of other creatures.  So long as they are not personally threatened, they are willing to correspond, trade or even aid travellers - but they are excessively distrustful of large numbers or any show of weapons or personal protection.  Any number of interlopers above ten, especially if armed, are sure to get attention . . . this will usually mean a watchful eye from creatures designed to move silently and quietly through the natural vegetation of their lands.

The Neembucu & Guarani

A note before I start; the name 'guarani' is stolen from the actual human native that dwelt in Paraguay before the Spanish.  I'm not above using a good name.  No other association should be assumed in its use here.

These two cultures surround the north and south sides of the Spanish incursions in Paraguay.  Both are not humanoid in any way, but are rather Entish in design.  However, unlike the great and powerful ents from Lord of the Rings or European conception, these creatures are much smaller, much more bush-like in form and far more communal.  (My players, once told about them, immediately tagged them 'Bushents.'  Snigger).

Guarani and Neembucu differ in vegetative form.  The Guarani are spreading, full shrubs atop low trunks, with large leaves.  They prefer high country and deep valleys.  The Neembucu are more akin to bottle trees, with fat trunks topped with a small collection of branches.  They like innundated glades.  Both forms are less than 10 feet tall (3 meters) and typically possess 6 hit dice.  

I don't see these creatures as 'protective of trees,' since I view ordinary trees as unintelligent and therefore competition for good water and comfortable glades, where the Guarani and Neembucu would prefer to dwell.  Thus, ordinary trees tend to be displaced in favour of settlement.  These settlements tend to look like well tended copses of trees, filled with carefully designed canals or levees, rice-paddy like shelves in hillsides or low stone dams to create a shallowly flooded plain.

Like most other races in the region, these tree-cultures are passive and respectful of others - but they vastly outnumber the Spanish, who must be very careful not to cause an uprising by the Guarani.  There simply aren't enough Europeans in the region to 'conquer' much of anything.

A Few Additional Thoughts

So how is the Spanish survive?  Remember, this is D&D, so I allow no firearms or muskets for the Spanish to possess, while these races are clearly advanced in engineering, social design and military power.  They are also considerably greater in number than the real world native population (Santa Cruz and Mato Grosso were hardly occupied at all, which helped the Spanish and Portuguese to choose those areas for settlement).

Well, the answer to that question will come with the next post . . . and it begins with Zoroastrianism.


  1. So very anti-politically correct...but it's a lot easier to do this at your own gaming table where one can adjust things to the taste (and tolerance) level of your companions through discussion.

    While I realize your world is not a mirror image reflection of our historic "real world" (being "D&D," as you say), leaving a human culture out of the indigenous peoples does have some important historic ramifications, at least in the Paraguay region. In other parts of South America (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil) the indigenous tribes and cultures were almost entirely wiped out, with a very few scattered remnants being pushed into hiding or supremely marginalized. In Paraguay, the cooperation and interbreeding with the native Guaranii had a direct impact on the success of the Spanish colony, its politics (leading to it being the first secession from Spain), and its subsequent development as a culture as exists to this day (the only one in South America that retains its indigenous language).

    I suppose you could have inter-community politics, slave-master dynamics, and cultural synthesis / nation-building withOUT any interbreeding/romance with the plant people...but it misses a little "oomph" for me.

    Looking forward to the Zoroastrian post.
    : )

  2. I suppose that since I don't expect my game to be ongoing decades after 1650, nationbuilding of Paraguay is of very little relevance. I'm more interested in how the characters will face the mix of cultures than how the Spanish will eventually triumph over/mesh with their neighbours - though the next post does address that.

  3. What great cultures! This is some excellent food for thought when designing interesting and cool cultures for one's D&D world. Makes you realize how limiting the same old "elf-dwarf-hobbit-human" setup is. I'd happily digest a worldbuilding book that tackled stuff like this. Of course, you have more than enough on your plate as is.

  4. In this case the political correctness is a bit of a damned if you do and damned if you don't, isn't it?

    Your options are
    a) What you did, which is replace them with monstrous cultures. This constitutes erasure or demonization of native peoples.
    b) Stick as close to history as possible, and fill in actual native populations that will be likely be killed and/or enslaved by the European population. Double points in that existing PCs are likely to be European, and thus may be seen as encouraged to participate in genocide.
    c) Create native cultures that are stronger, more populous, and more robust than they were historically. Make them able to resist the Europeans via magic, or wit, or just difference in circumstance. Then you are a white guy appropriating native cultures for your elf-games. You might also be seen as being insensitive to the actual hardships native peoples actually faced.

    Out of all the bad choices there, your solution seems the best suited to provide obstacles and antagonists for the PCs.

  5. I hadn't considered (b) and (c). Landmines everywhere.

    Funny that appropriating European cultures as fodder for player character killing seems to create no issues.


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