21 October, 2012

A further bit about labels, relationships and stereotyping

I’ve thought a bit more deeply about my last post. All of the examples I’ve given have related to a single axis. The “Redneck” example was a single linear axis, so was the WW2 “Jewish” example; a single axis of relationship gives the idea of one-dimensional characters.

The relationship system is far more than this.

A simple expansion of the examples shows how the relationship system could be much more complex and richer for the purposes of character exploration.

I’ll pick a new example for this…something that fits better with the themes of Walkabout.

A scattering of neighbouring local communities have developed their own opinions about the dangers in the world and the best ways to deal with them. Some individuals are fanatical about their opinions; others are more reasonable and willing to listen to helpful suggestions from their fellow survivors.

Generally, three belief systems have emerged.
Science – The only way to understand the spirits is by understanding their place in the natural order.
Religion – The spirits are otherworldly creatures that have fallen from the divine order.
Spirituality – The spirits must be respected.

Each group has a place where it gathers (Scientists in workshops, Religious types in churches/temples, Spiritualists in sacred groves), and each has a community of adherents and loosely affiliated individuals. Taken loosely, each of these ideologies can work with the others, but if taken to a fanatical degree they could be considered exclusive of one another.

First we can examine each individual axis to see where someone might fit on the scale.

Strong Positive (++) – You know the ways of science. If you don’t know solid theories as to why something happens, you either know people who do, or you know ways to construct and test these theories.
Weak Positive (+) – You have a bit of scientific understanding. You know that many answers can be found in science, but you often aren’t sure of the best way to proceed. Luckily you know a few people who could help.  
Weak Neutral (0) – You know of science, but don’t really care about it. You might even know a couple of scientists.
No Relationship ( ) – You don’t really know anything about science, and don’t associate with people who claim to be scientists.
Weak Negative (-) – You are suspicious of science. After all, it was probably the meddling of scientists who caused the current problems in the world. You can spot a scientist by the way they talk.
Strong Negative (--) – You hate science and scientists, perhaps even believing that they should be burned at the stake for their dangerous and heretical ideas. You have learned many of their ways to catch them out and bring them down.

Strong Positive (++) – Your faith in a divine power is unshakeable, you know that questioning the ways of the world is a path away from the divine. You may or may not be one of the messengers of the divine in this world, but you certainly know people who are. You regularly attend religious gatherings.
Weak Positive (+) – You are quite certain that there is a divine power at work in the world. You often attend religious gatherings. Sometimes you may have doubts, but things usually work out according to some unknowable plan.
Weak Neutral (0) – You know of strongly religious people, and you know where the religious gatherings are typically held. Sometimes it triggers your curiosity.
No Relationship ( ) – Religion means nothing to you. You might even go out of your way to avoid it.
Weak Negative (-) – You think that those who follow religions are sometimes kind hearted, and sometimes a bit fanatical, but generally they’re just deluded. You know what phrases to look out for when someone is about to bring up religious topics of conversation.
Strong Negative (--) – You hate the zealots and their followers. You have learnt enough of their ways to shoot holes in their dogma, and you make this a sport.

Strong Positive (++) – You may feel the presence of the spirits, you may simply know how to contact them. You have utmost respect for the spirits and treat them as trusted allies, often going out of yor way to help them; you know many people who feel the same way.
Weak Positive (+) – You have strong positive feelings toward the spirits and know many people who feel this way. You know what could harm them and prevent this happening if it isn’t too much inconvenience.
Weak Neutral (0) – You know that spirits exist in the world. You’ve seen what they can do for the good or bad. You know a few places where they congregate and typically avoid these areas.
No Relationship ( ) – You don’t really believe in spirits. They may exist, or they may just be hoaxes perpetrated by troublemaking humans.
Weak Negative (-) – You know of spirits and those who consort with them. You don’t particularly like either of them, and occasionally you’ll help out someone who is looking to do them harm.
Strong Negative (--) – You might think that spirits are the spawn of evil and the humans who deal with them are no better than witches; or maybe you think that the spirits are quantum xenomorphs or aliens and those who deal with them are under some kind of hypnosis or mind control. You actively seek to destroy spirits wherever they may be found, and ether persecute or convert their followes to your way of thinking.

You’ll note that none of these scales follows the spectrum from “Good” to “Evil”, instead they follow more of a “fanatical” to “moderate” to “fanatical” progression.

The same could be applied to almost anything in the setting, as long as someone in the group thinks it could make an interesting focal point to a story.

Strong Positive – You have at least one gun and you know how to use it. This gun might be a signature weapon for you, you might be known for talking about shooting and ammunition grades as regular topics of conversation. You can see the look of a steady marksman in someone’s eyes.
Weak Positive – You see the virtue of a gun as a tool of survival, you probably even have one. You look after your gun and know the places where tools and accessories for it might be found.
Weak Neutral – You know of people with guns, you might even have one. You know that a gun can be dangerous in the wrong hands and hope that you’ll never be on the wrong end of one.
No Relationship – You honestly don’t care one way or the other about guns.
Weak Negative – You don’t like guns. This might be because you’re a pacifist, or it might be due to preferring knives or some other kind of weapon. You know the drawbacks of guns (low ammo), and how this can be used against a marksman.
Strong Negative – You hate guns. As a result of this hatred you’ve learnt how to disable them, possibly using tricks that explode their cartridges in erratic ways or cause backfires that seriously damage the weapons. If a gun wielder comes near you, you don’t treat them well.

Using the relationship categories that we’ve allocated so far, we can vaguely define the motivations for a huge range of people and give a rough impression of how they’re likely to react toward one another (at least as detailed as the typical character we see presented on screen at the start of a TV series).

The blatant stereotypes might use a strong positive, a strong negative and a weak neutral relationship.

The Atheist (Science (++), Religion (--), Spirituality (0) ) – Believes strongly that science is right and religion is wrong, doesn’t know what to make of the spirits.
The Xenophobe (Science (++), Spirituality (--), Religion (0) ) – Believes strongly that science will find a way to destroy the spirits and doesn’t care about religion.
The Fundamentalist (Religion (++), Science (--), Spirituality (0) ) – Believes strongly that when science toppled the power of religion, that’s when things went wrong.
The Witch-hunter (Religion (++), Spirituality (--), Science (0) ) – Believes strongly that the spirits are evil and only the power of the divine can destroy them.
The Shaman (Spirituality (++), Science (--), Religion (0) ) – Believes strongly that the spirits have suffered at the hands of science and it is time to bring back magic.
The Infernalist (Spirituality (++), Religion (--), Science (0) ) – Believes that organised religion has persecuted spirits for too long, and now it’s the time for the spirits to take revenge.

Wider complexity comes from two strong positives or two strong negatives

The Freemason (Science (++), Religion (++), Spirituality (0) ) – Believes in a greater power that brings order through understanding. If this character had a negative “Spirituality”, they might believe that the spirits are tools to be used in their quest for knowledge, or demons distracting them from the true path.
The Prophet (Religion (++), Spirituality (++), Science (0) ) – Believes that the spirits are divine messengers with words for the religious masses. If this character had a negative “Science”, they might drive the others believers toward acts of frenzied rioting against “scientific heresy”.
The Parapsychologist (Spirituality (++), Science (++), Religion (0) ) – Believes that the spirits bring a wider perspective to the truths of science. If this character had a negative “Religion”, they might be more inclined toward psychic research akin to the rumoured work of the Soviet Union.
The Anarch (Science (--), Religion (--), Spirituality (0) ) – Believes that organised institutions have destroyed the world and must be taken down. If this character had a positive “Spirituality”, they might aspire to become a spirit to transcend the traps of science and religion in the physical world.
The Hater (Religion (--), Spirituality (--), Science (0) ) – Believes that anything they can’t understand is evil and a threat (especially if other people believe it. If this character had a positive “Science”, they might be an active skeptic wandering the world to reveal the hoaxes of religion and mysticism.
The Firebrand (Spirituality (--), Science (--), Religion (0) ) – Believes that the mysteries of the world must remain mysteries, because that is what the divine intended. If this character had a positive “Religion”, they might be a travelling tent-show revivalist preacher.

This range of possibilities is just the tip of the iceberg. More subtle character motivations are possible when weak positive and negative relationships are mixed together.

A typical community minded tradesman, plying their craft in exchange for some food and favours from other members of the community (occasionally going to church because that’s simply what’s done in his local community). (Science (+), Religion (+), Spirituality ( ) )

A local publican/bartender from the same town who hears strange things at night, and has a few superstitions that he believes will keep him safe. (Spirituality (+), Religion (0), Science ( ) )

And this is just from the three scales provided. If you were to include four or five, the options spread out even wider. But remember that providing too many options has the potential to dilute the story. Each character starts with a minimum of three relationships (to their people, their edge, and their dance), and most characters will have different relationships to one another.

When a Walkabout story is developed, it helps to set the events around two or three specific relationships, and let the others fall into place around these…relationships to specific types of people or places, relationships to one another.

The breaking down and reforging of these relationships is one of the game’s key themes. 

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