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I asked this question: Are any of the kingdoms/realms of the Forgotten Realms based on real world civilisations?

It was closed for asking about Designer Intent, which is off topic.

I've run into pages on the web where people have equated various civilizations/peoples in the Forgotten Realms to real world ones (extant or historical). I was curious to know if there is evidence of actual correlations. The problem is that it's hard to ask the question without running afoul of RPGSE site policies:

Are any Forgotten Realms civilizations based on real-life civilizations?

This is essentially a question about designer intent, which is off topic.

Do any of the Forgotten Realms civilizations represent real-life civilizations?

This would lead to answers that are opinion-based. Again, off topic.

Is there evidence that any of the Forgotten Realms civilizations represent real-life civilizations?

This is probably the closest thing to a stackable answer but it arguably still falls within the scope of "designer intent."


For example, the introduction to Curse of Strahd is written by the designers of the original Curse of Strahd module (which is, admittedly, not within the Forgotten Realms but we just finished up the campaign so it's forefront in my mind to use as an example):

Laura and I launched into researching the mythology and folklore surrounding the vampire. We started with the vague, black-and-white image of Bela Lugosi in 1931, but found so much more.

The Bela Lugosi vampire was Dracula & Transylvania, who was in turn inspired by Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia* (Romania). So we see evidence that Barovia is possibly representative of mid 15th century Wallachia/Romania.

I suppose, if the question is salvageable, I might need to expand to ask about fictional inspirations that fall between the D&D civilization and a possible original real-world state.

Is there any possible way to rework the question so that it asks about these connections while avoiding falling into the scope of designer intent or individual opinion?


* Hmm... Is this where the Barovian town of Vallaki got its name?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think a separate issue might be that it's overly broad - there's a ton of civilizations in the Forgotten Realms, and no one answer could realistically be expected to address them all. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Sep 25 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The title of the question refers to "corollaries to". It should be "correlations with". \$\endgroup\$ – AJM-Reinstate-Monica Sep 28 at 10:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ A corollary to an FR civilization would be something that was somehow implied by that civilization. \$\endgroup\$ – AJM-Reinstate-Monica Sep 28 at 10:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I think with a per-post character limit of 50,000, that statement might not be true... I can't imagine either Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance having so many recorded civilizations that they can't (both, even) fit into a single post. \$\endgroup\$ – TylerH Oct 1 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerH: It's not about whether, theoretically, an answer could address them all. It's about whether a question's so broad that it's unreasonable to expect every answer to address them all. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 1 at 22:10
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It's salvageable, because it does express an actual concrete problem the author is actually facing:

I'm looking at building a new character for an upcoming campaign and I think it would help me to role play better if I can contextualize it as a citizen of a real country or region [...]

So, they have a character and they want to understand an analogous culture to that character's culture.

However, what they're asking isn't about their actual problem, it's several steps removed from it. It's sort of XY problem-ish. They're not asking about their character's culture, they're asking about every culture in the Forgotten Realms. It seems they're also trying to find out whether there's actual evidence the civilisation was specifically and deliberately based on another real-world counterpart? (I'm not sure.) Again, for the Forgotten Realms broadly.

So the question they've actually asked is simultaneously much bigger in scope than it actually needs to be in order to resolve their actual problem they're facing, and in fact, actively unhelpful to resolving it. Their question at current (revision 3) asks:

Is there any evidence that there are real world corollaries (current or historical) for any of the civilizations or peoples of the Forgotten Realms?

If someone answers “Yes! Forgotten Realms civilisation X has a direct corollary in real-world civilisation Y”, that's a correct answer, but it's not remotely helpful to the querent's original problem if their character is not actually from X. (Note they just want to know if this is the case for any civilisation, the way they worded it.) If we get bigger, more comprehensive answers, that's still a lot of unhelpful work if the character is from none of the cultures that wind up getting listed.

What should the querent do?

Let's go back to first principles:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. [...] Your questions should be reasonably scoped.

The querent should focus on the actual problem they're facing and ask just about that. Meaning they should do this:

  • They should tell us about the one specific character they're having trouble understanding.
  • They should tell us the character's culture in the Forgotten Realms. What's their tribe, city, whatever?
  • They should ask us whether that's got a real-world corollary it's like that will help them understand how to roleplay a citizen of that culture.

The following are things the querent should avoid:

  • The querent should not try to anticipate multiple potential future characters or cultures; they should focus on just the one.
  • The querent should not request direct designer evidence the authors deliberately and consciously based their work on that civilisation. Besides the fact it probably won't be forthcoming like most D&D authorship, it's entirely unrelated to actually solving their problem. They are seeking a corollary of a particular civilisation, and it can be that way even if the authors were accidentally and unconsciously deriving from one or more real-world civilisations. (The querent may request evidence it is a comparable corollary, and a good answer should demonstrate this even if they don't, but we don't need anything from the designers for this.)

We have a guideline about generic real-world topics I think this is fine within, since a Forgotten Realms expert will give a better, different, and more complete answer than e.g. a historian or anthropologist, because they can exercise their understanding of the Forgotten Realms and give an applied answer for the purpose of roleplaying a character. “Your character's civilisation is sort of a mix of these two real-world civilisations, but one of them was kind of shallowly interpreted. Also, you'll want to lean into these specific features as they're heavily emphasized in the FR civilisation compared to their real-world counterparts,” etc.

The querent can also be told straightforwardly no if the culture they're referencing doesn't really have a good real-world analogue.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although, in order to 'prove' that it actually is based on a real world civilization (and that such basis is relevant enough to be usable) sounds like it'll require designer intent quotes. Even the non-answer by nick012000 doesn't even support their assessment (the link has provided has no mention of Egypt, Middle East, or Asia.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 26 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think proving it was based upon a civilisation is necessary or even important. If it's closely analogous to a civilisation, that will help them understand how to roleplay their character and solve their actual problem. They don't need evidence of the designers saying "yes, we specifically and consciously derived our work from that civilisation", that adds nothing. I've updated my answer to specify this. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. I'm still a bit unsure. If we can't support that it is analagous to a civliization other than through opinion, I'm not sure that's viable. Coincidence doesn't necessarily mean basis. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 26 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Basis is completely immaterial and irrelevant to solving their problem, is what I'm saying. It's a total red herring. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer is very helpful in terms of identifying for the OP how to ask this question. However, it doesn't seem like they have a specific character in mind yet (part of the problem). So, in addition to the approach you suggest: 'tell us where the character is from, and we'll tell you what the RW analogs are', there is another possibility: 'tell us what RW analogs you are interested in, and we'll tell you where your character might be from'. \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Sep 26 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounded like they did have a character in mind, but if they don't then I'd recommend they just leave it be until they do have a character to ask about—because until then there isn't an actual concrete problem. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 17:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ So in a potential answer, you see folks saying "oh, Dwarves are like Civilization X"? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 26 at 17:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch No, because "dwarves" is not a culture or society—there's lots of dwarven cultures in the Forgotten Realms, and a prospective dwarf may not even be from any of them. I actually expect a good question along these lines to say “I am playing a [character description] who comes from [society/culture] and I am having trouble understanding how to express [specific part].” I expect a good answer to say “That [society/culture] shares a lot of cultural features, values, etc, with this particular real-world society. Here's multiple factors showing this. Here's how they handle [specific part].” \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Granted, it comes to mind after writing this that they should really just ask about the specific part of that in-game culture they're stuck on. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I'm on board, but it still seems like without a clear statement we will have potential multiple answers that fit the bill and no way to differentiate. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 26 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yeah, that's part of why I'm thinking they maybe ought to just ask about navigating part of their specific in-game culture... and then an answer that draws upon real-world sources could draw upon multiple cultures as touchstones if need be. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 26 at 22:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The original comment under that question about "designer reasons" IMO remains valid as a concern. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 28 at 12:40

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