Thursday, February 10, 2011

Telling Details: Cultural Superstitions in Fading Suns

As I mentioned in a prior blog post, I'm trying to suggest little bits of texture to throw into Fading Suns campaigns due to the strong Filipino feel that can be injected into it based on parallels I see with our culture.

Here are a few more.

At the doorway
There's an old custom here, that when someone is knocking at the door he or she yells out "Tao po!" which literally translates into "A person (at the door), sir or madam!"

I never really thought about it much, until I grew older and realized that for people in the provinces -- which do have roads and towns and cities but also have lots of trees and forests and jungles and wildnerness -- may have used this to identify human callers from inhuman callers. Perhaps by some odd rules of engagement with spirits and other dangerous inhuman creatures, they cannot identify themselves as human.

In Fading Suns, this practice could have arisen on a world where such elemental / inhuman spirits are plentiful in the wild. And perhaps the PCs will wonder why their knocks go unheeded (or are answered quite brusquely) without this identifying greeting.

Ghosts? No such thing. Ogres? Definitely.
More than once I've spoken to folks from Philippine provinces living in the U.S. with this type of attitude -- strong skepticism about most things paranormal, except for one particular creature or encounter because they've had personal experience with it.

I know of one colleague in a San Francisco theater group who swore up and down that kapres were real. Although his description of a kapre was less ogre-ish and more nightgauntish. And he said that it took a friend of his when they were playing near a church. (No, the friend never reappeared).

I know of another colleague in the martial arts who mentioned that his grandfather became a computer technician in California because all the monsters he used to kill were gone from the province he lived in -- and these included the mananagals (female bat-winged vampire-like creatures who separate their torsos from their lower halves at night and fly about in search of prey) and aswangs (animal shape-shifters said to be drawn to the ill and defenseless) of Philippine folklore.

The Philippine martial tradition includes oracions -- prayers in latin that are said to activate special powers in weapons or other mystical gear. This can be a way to differentiate magic swords in the Fading Suns setting from the OSR "+1 sword" feel of D&D-like games. (Although that does give me an idea for another post).

Killing Infidels and Taking Names
I once dated a woman who had muslim grandparentage though she herself had been raised Catholic. Her grandfather once showed her a kris -- a wavy sword common in our part of the world -- with many arabic letters inscribed on the blade and the hilt.

When she commented that the words formed an uneven design, the grandfather mentioned that they were names of the lives that the sword had taken and that the empty space was there because he'd stopping killing.

She moved on to ask about the pictures beside the blade instead.

In Fading Suns, this kind of practice need not be associated with any muslim-inspired groups in the setting. Almost any warrior culture could have evolved this, though I'd like to make a vote for certain questionable family lines in the Li Halan House.

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