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Since even before asking my question What human ethnicities exist in other settings besides the Forgotten Realms?, I've wanted to ask a question about how the ethnicities in the question relate to real-life ethnicities.

For example, Shou humans, judging by their physical description and sample names from the PHB, are obviously based on the Chinese, and I'm pretty sure there'll be lore references from the Forgotten Realms out there somewhere that describe a similar culture to real life historical China to strengthen that assertion.

However, I want to know what all the other human ethnicities from the PHB "map to", and some are not as obvious to me as the Shou. Before I ask such a question, I want to make sure that:

  • This is not a bad question or an off-topic question (i.e. not enough to do with RPGs);
  • This is not a "too broad" question (since I want to ask about at least 9, potentially 19 if I decide to include those from SCAG as well, human ethnicities);
  • This is not a "primarily opinion based" question (with answerers just saying "well, I think this one is these people and that one is those people", etc, based on just the brief PHB descriptions of the human ethnicities alone; in others words, what I've said above regarding Shou = Chinese with no backup info);

I should also mention that I'm chiefly interesting in 5e material, but since I'm asking about a setting rather than rules, published material from previous editions would be fine as well.

Would this be a good question for RPG.SE? Should I ask it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Following up on a comment on my now-deleted answer—this doesn't seem too broad. “Too Broad” means too long for this format or requiring a whole book to answer. Practically, it means we can answer under the ~32,000 character limit on answers. We can do that and this isn't covering too much stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 11 '18 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener agreed, The question is still constrained rather than being open-ended so I feel it's not too broad for the stack. OTOH, the scope might put off potential answerers as it would feel like a good answer would need to address every one of the ethnicities specified and that could be quite daunting if research is required in every case to back up the comparison. Maybe smaller questions would be better from that perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Sep 11 '18 at 13:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer Would this be better answered with a wiki answer? For example, you seem to know about the Mulhorandi, so if you were to put down what you know about that, then mark it as a wiki answer for others to add what they know; that way we can accumulate knowledge without expecting one person to know about all of them? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 11 '18 at 13:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS sure, this strikes me as one of the cases where a community wiki answer is justified (though it sadly has the disadvantage that without being awarded delicious points for effort some simply may not bother). \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Sep 11 '18 at 13:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer True, that did cross my mind. I suppose I could see how it goes without the wiki answer, then if nothing much comes in, perhaps wiki answers can be considered at that point (all of this is hypothetical if someone comes along and answers the lot all by themselves...) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 11 '18 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like you're not so much interested in "ethnicity" as you are in "culture". If FR contained a group of who lived in a cold climate, raided their neighbors in longboats, wore hats with horns on them, told long epic sags, and had a warrior culture, would you map them to Africans because they happen to have dark skin, or to the Vikings because that's basically what they are? \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Sep 11 '18 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage That's an interesting point; I suppose I'd be interested in both, so for such a race of dark-skinned vikings, I'd want an answer to point out both the Viking and African influences. But yes, culture is an important factor here. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 12 '18 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Vikings with horned hats is an additional wrinkle, since that's not real world — it's basically a fantasy trope. \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Sep 17 '18 at 12:43
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I think it's too subjective.

Some googling reveals a great deal of disagreement in forum threads on the topic of real-world analogues of Realms nations or cultures. This doesn't bode well for a similar question on the topic of ethnic groups.

It's not something you're going to find detailed in a canonical book. The Forgotten Realms sourcebooks of old tend to take an immersive narrative approach like a novel, rather than break the fourth wall and say something like "Cormyr is basically fantasy England".

Many Realms nations and peoples take inspiration from a real-world culture, but to say that a certain people of the Realms are the counterpart to e.g. the Celts or the Romans might be an arbitrary observation. There's not necessarily a direct 1:1 correlation. Your own opinion is as valid as anyone else's on this topic.

Individual novel or sourcebook authors might have their own individual opinions of what culture inspires what. According to TV Tropes, R.A. Salvatore based the drow culture of Menzoberranzan on the Italian mafia, but other writers may not share that idea.

The closest you could get is to find quotes from Ed Greenwood or another, who might have described his inspiration directly on one forum or another.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm aware of there being such forum threads elsewhere, and was hoping to find something a bit more definitive and objective by asking it on RPG.SE, but if, as you say, there's not going to be much to go on, then it may end up degrading into the same kind of opinions as on those forums, in which case it wouldn't work here. I'll see if anyone else disagrees with you, but otherwise I may well end up not asking that question after all... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Sep 11 '18 at 15:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess my problem with this view is that your saying 'there aren't going to be quality references to draw on so the question is subjective'. My view is that its a valid question whether or not there are possible quality answers. The correct answer in this case could be that there is no answer, or an answer explaining the lack of canonical sources. In either case, that shouldn't stop the question from being asked \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Sep 11 '18 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fwiw, Salvatore himself mentioned the Godfather as "a wide model" for Menzoberranzan here: dndbeyond.com/posts/…. But I don't know that that's sufficient to state that there's an ethnic connection. \$\endgroup\$ – Jack Sep 15 '18 at 17:59

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