Fiction Friction: Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, Part 2

By Tom Anderson

In this article’s predecessor, I discussed a number of examples of how fantasy authors have taken inspiration from the real-life cultures of our own world when crafting those of the invented settings of their own works. This can be a double-edged sword. Invoking a real-life culture comes with advantages such as saving the author having to develop architectural styles or cultural practices or the sounds of names, and also evokes the feel of a particular setting to the reader without the author having to expend words establishing it. If we see architecture or clothing that looks Arabian, for example, we are already primed to expect a hot desert setting without having to be explicitly told that. Russian-like onion domes and vodka imply we’re somewhere cold. Imperial Chinese-like silk and hairstyles can suggest we’re in an isolationist, centralised kingdom.

However, this can easily become a serious flaw if mishandled. An author may only intend to evoke the broad strokes of a real-life culture as a tool to paint a picture of the setting they envisage, yet it is easy for this to be interpreted as them actually depicting that real culture, or their own impressions of it. Because a fantasy setting is never going to be as rich or complicated as our own world, this can be taken as the author having an insultingly simplified or stereotyped picture of the real culture they’re taking inspiration from. If the purpose of the country in the book is to be our protagonists’ foes, this unwanted link can therefore be interpreted as the author seeing the real culture as hostile or worthy of being defeated in battle. And so on. Fantasy counterpart cultures can be a minefield if misused.

The complexity vs. simplicity conundrum also comes into cases where science fiction takes inspiration from real human cultures as the basis for alien ones. Often, people with expertise in a particular field will note that science fiction authors (who, after all, cannot be experts at everything) will be far more modest in terms of envisaging ‘alien, different’ cultures than the breadth of real human cultures we already have. For example, Star Trek has an invented Klingon language, with some effort put into trying to make its overall look and grammar seem alien, yet its number systems are very close to English (in comparison to, say, the way French or Danish organise numbers).

Speaking of the Klingons, the cancelled TV series Star Trek: Phase II was originally planned to feature an episode in which their homeworld was visited by our heroes for the first time, and their culture would be based on that of feudal Japan – with a powerless ceremonial Emperor on one planet (rather than capital city) and a shogun-type figure with real power on a different planet. Not a bad idea, except it was so blatantly a case of ‘It’s the 1970s and I’ve just read about feudal Japan for the first time’ that it destroys the suspension of disbelief. One can imagine Mr Sulu there on the bridge saying “Wait a minute, this seems familiar…”

Law is another good example of a field where science fiction authors are often too modest in the scope of their imaginations. As raised by a member of the SLP forums, Stargate SG-1 features an episode where our heroes have to fight a court case on an alien planet, and find their way around their strange, different legal system! …which was actually based on Mexican law by the writers. It does say something uncomfortable when we presume our US viewership is so introverted that they don’t even know about the legal system of their nearest neighbour. Something similar applies with the Cardassians in Star Trek, whose legal system is depicted as kangaroo-court show trials like those in dictatorships, but part and parcel of this is this being treated as synonymous with it being an inquisitorial system without juries – a system found in many liberal democracies in the real world.

Thus, not only can fantasy counterpart cultures be taken as insulting simplistic stereotypes, but by the very nature of the borrowing, authors can risk destroying suspension of disbelief by revealing the limitations of their own knowledge. It reminds us that this is a fictional setting when the reader or viewer sees something depicted as extraordinarily unusual when we know it’s common in the real world, and so on. To take another Star Trek example, when first introduced to the Bajorans in “Ensign Ro”, it is treated as something surprising that they have their surname as the first name and their given name second (catching Captain Picard out when he incorrectly refers to the title character as ‘Ensign Laren’). This is particularly jarring if one knows that at least one-quarter of the human race (mostly China and adjacent countries) belong to cultures which also have this as their standard name order; in a future united humanity, could Picard really not have encountered this before?

One possible way around both of these problems is to mix and match influences from multiple cultures, obscuring their origins and making it clear that one’s fantasy culture is not meant to explicitly represent any particular real-life group. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series, which I previously discussed in my article on fantasy technology, is a good example of this. The world of Roshar, consisting of a single large continent repeatedly lashed by recurring storms that always blow one way, is a rare example of a realistically diverse and complex setting, with many small countries we barely hear about among the big empires. Many things about Roshar are intriguingly different and reflected in its culture, such as how farming works in a land of wet rock without soil and how towns are constructed to cope with the storms. This everyday difference already makes the world seem less evocative of real-life cultures. However, Sanderson uses specific influences as tools to bring life to particular nations and settings within Roshar, without any seeming directly tied to a single specific real-life culture. He also tends to focus on a few parts of the world at a time, with occasional brief interludes showcasing others, to avoid the reader getting lost.

Much of the Stormlight Archive books so far are set in the country of Alethkar. The Alethi are seen as a warlike and squabbling people with a ‘Prussian’ like warrior ethic, divided into ten princedoms who have only recently been reunited by a strong king. They follow the Vorin religion, which emphasises gender distinctions and roles: men belong to trades outside the home and are warriors, builders and the like, while only women are literate, being scholars as well as domestic trades. The feel of their culture tends to default to feeling northern European and wear somewhat Napoleonic-looking uniforms, yet there are many mixed influences to further complicate this. The sound of their names and language is inspired by Hebrew (according to Sanderson), their traditional clothes of the ‘havah’ and ‘takama’ look and sound somewhat Japanese or East Asian, their skin is usually tan and their hair black. (Genetics works differently on Roshar – someone with mixed ancestry might have mixed strands of black and blond hair, for example).

One subtle point hinted at only peripherally in the Stormlight Archive books involves the Shin people, who live in the mountain-girt and isolationist kingdom of Shinovar. The name, the isolationism and them being known for having alien philosophies and forms of government (compared to the rest of Roshar) lead us to make immediate comparisons to China, and some of these turn out to be valid. Yet Sanderson turns it around in a number of ways. The reason why Shinovar is seen as being different is it’s the only kingdom where soil doesn’t blow away, so they have plant life seen as alien to the mostly ‘European’-like Alethi, yet which seems highly familiar to the reader. There are other cultural differences specific to the setting such as pacifism, looking down on warriors as the lowest of the low, and seeing walking on stone as sinful (which everyone outside Shinovar can scarcely avoid doing). However, the most subtle point comes in that the Shin are described as looking like pale children to outsiders; the latter point, it’s expanded upon, is because they look wide-eyed. In fact, as Sanderson eventually revealed, every other people group on Roshar have eyes with epicanthic folds, whereas the Shin don’t – a neat inversion of the China vs. the west impression we originally got from Shinovar. Sanderson also pulls a common trick (which we’ll see again later) of playing with cardinal directions – Shinovar is in the far west of Roshar and the most ‘European’-like Alethkar and Jah Keved are in the east. He also puts Roshar in the southern hemisphere, so the northern reaches are balmy near the equator and the southern extremities are freezing.

Another commonly-seen civilisation are the Thaylens, who are a trading-focused people whose values in that sense evoke the Dutch or the Majapahit (for example). However, their culture is more evocative of Scandinavians (especially Icelanders) due to their homeland being at the icy bottom of the world. Their names are short on vowels, being slightly suggestive of languages like Czech or Serbo-Croatian, and they have their own religion seen as pagan by the Vorins of Alethkar or Jah Keved, with many adopting syncretic heresies. There are also some aspects unique to this world, such as them having long white eyebrows which they typically wear tucked behind their ears.

Finally, and perhaps the clearest-cut example of mixing and matching different cultures, we have the empire of Azir, which only briefly appears in the first couple of Stormlight Archive books before becoming more significant. Azir is the centre of what was once a greater empire, still powerful to a lesser extent, and the surrounding nations still take cues from Azish policy. Both Azir and the other successor states to that empire are described as ethnically Makabaki, resembling Africans from our world. However, Azish culture is more inspired by imperial China, with a very powerful bureaucracy and a system of examinations; in fact, it’s an exaggeration of that system, with examinations even determining who becomes emperor (‘Prime Kadasix’), though it’s usually someone from one of the powerful families.

The fact that Azir does not closely resemble any single real-life culture lets Sanderson do jokes about Azish stereotypes without causing offence. It’s noted that the all-action Alethi are contemptuous of Azish generals, seeing them as dilettantes who got their positions by the best essay or poem, but it turns out that Azish organisation also gives them a crucial edge in logistics. Conversely, the Azish tend to be prejudiced against the Alethi due to ancestral memories of an attack on Azir by Sadees the Sunmaker, an Alethi conqueror who previously (and briefly) united the princedoms. The Sunmaker comes across as a cross between Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan – like both of them, his empire crumbled on his death – and ruthlessly decimated Azish civilian populations due to inability to hold down huge numbers of hostages. Our ‘European’ Alethi therefore get a veneer of Chinese (or indeed European) views of destructive steppe nomads, even though that specific cultural model is impossible on Roshar as horses are so rare.

Roshar therefore represents a good example of fantasy counterpart cultures being used and intermixed in a more nuanced and knowing way, intermixed with unique ideas which are often related to the unusual nature of the setting. It is worth noting that this is very much the apotheosis of this technique in Sanderson’s writings, as his other works tend to be less subtle (for example, ‘The Emperor’s Soul’ takes very close inspiration from Korean culture). It is in this vast and complicated tapestry of a world that he can establish such distinct fantasy cultures, and also avoid them becoming too unrealistically monolithic – for example, an early setting in the Stormlight Archive is the Vorin-led but cosmopolitan trading city of Kharbranth, loosely inspired by the Italian trading republics of our world.

Harry Turtledove’s fantasy writings also use fantasy counterpart cultures in an intermixed way, albeit usually more on-the-nose and less subtle than Sanderson’s. This is because Turtledove is usually depicting a fantasy take on real history, and wants us to know when he’s being ironic. The Videssos series is set in a world inspired by the Byzantine Empire and its surroundings; the chronologically first-written (though not earliest-set) books involve the supernatural aspect of one of Caesar’s Roman legion from our world finding itself in this unfamiliar setting. The unspoken irony is that the republican Romans of the first century BC look down on the ‘decadent oriental monarchy’ of Videssos, comparing it to places like Persia in their world, little dreaming they are seeing a shadow of the future of their own state.

In fact, Videssos is not quite a clone of Byzantium – as far as I am aware, Turtledove depicts it as always being centred on Videssos the city (i.e. Constantinople) and always being monarchical, though it has certainly declined from an earlier height. So the ‘Roman’ aspect to the backstory is minimised. Otherwise, Turtledove pulls out all the stops to mix and match things from real Byzantine history. The map of the continent on which Videssos sits is a map of Europe and Asia flipped east to west and with some modifications, such as the British Isles becoming a peninsula called Agder. The Mediterranean is also a more open-ended Sailors’ Sea. (The 'Mediterranean' peninsula of Namdalen was settled by Halogai – Scandinavians – who took on a heretical form of Videssian culture – i.e. equivalent to the Normans in Naples). However, the Black Sea and Crimea (called the Videssian Sea and Prista here) are very obvious, as is the Caucasus (called Erzerum after a nearby city from our world). Historically, Videssos’ main rival was the King of Kings of Makuran in the west, which closely resembles Persia from our world.

The biggest difference comes in religion, which is a major focus of the Videssos books. The Videssian religion looks superficially like Eastern Orthodox Christianity in some ways, but a closer look reveals that Turtledove has pulled a switcheroo between Byzantium and Persia. The Videssians’ faith is dualistic like Persian Zoroastrianism from our world, focusing on the conflict between the good Phos and the evil Skotos. The Videssians’ form of the creed presumes Phos’ victory, whereas there are heretical forms equivalent to Catholicism or Arianism from our world where his victory is not considered assured, or the ‘Gamblers’ (such as the Namdaleners from ‘Norman Naples’) who believe that the faithful are staking their souls on the hope of unassured victory. Naturally, like comparable theological disputes in our world, these seemingly minor differences spark untold controversy and war. Meanwhile, the people of Makuran follow ‘the God and his Prophets Four’, a very faint invocation of Christianity’s Four Gospels. By the time our misplaced Roman legion shows up, Makuran has been conquered by the Yezda, steppe nomads who openly worship Skotos – vaguely evocative of the Islamisation of Persia and the attack of the Seljuq Turks on Byzantium, though complicated by the involvement of a supernaturally long-lived villain who’s ultimately behind the Yezda conquest.

Turtledove can get away with some relatively simplistic switches here because his expert field of Byzantine history is so obscure in the first place, something which he often ruefully has characters note in a self-deprecating way in other books. However, he does the same thing on a grander scale in his ‘Darkness’ series, which I have already mentioned in my article on fantasy technology. (I should say that he also does something similar in a series based on the United States Civil War, right down to using ‘blond serfs’ as the stand-in for black slaves, but I’m not familiar with that one so I won’t further discuss it here).

The Darkness series is based on taking the Second World War and making a fantasy allegory of it. Turtledove uses a number of tricks common in American-penned fantasy. He takes the more ‘modern’ or ‘republican’ aspects of the setting and makes them more aristocratic and mediaeval – although it’s striking to remember that much of the invocation of dukes and princes and so on would not have been out of place in the real-like First World War, only a generation earlier! Once again, he flips east and west – but does not flip north and south, and puts the Eurasia-like continent of Derlavai in the southern hemisphere, like Sanderson with Roshar. This results in some fun ironies such as Zuwayza (Finland) being a baking hot country whose dark-skinned people often go around naked save for a broad-brimmed hat, while fighting in the ‘Land of the Ice People’ equates to the North African campaign.

There are also more imaginative geographic changes compared to Videssos. A secondary continent is home to the nations of Kuusamo and Lagoas, for example. Kuusamo uses the Finnish language for place names, but its people ethnically resemble East Asians and its geopolitical place in the war is that of the United States. Lagoas, occupying only a small part of the secondary continent, equates to Britain. Rather than being colonially derived from Lagoas as America is from Britain, Kuusamo sees the Lagoans ultimately as invaders who’ll one day be expelled as they once did to the Kaunians, although this has largely become just a ceremonial oath (that’s even spoken by Lagoan students in Kuusaman universities!)

I can’t go further without describing how Turtledove imaginatively intermixes language, ethnicity and culture to deliberately fog the picture of the Second World War as we know it. In the backstory of this world, the vast Kaunian Empire once ruled large parts of Derlavai, even briefly colonising parts of Kuusamo. Named for the real-life city of Kaunas in Lithuania, the Kaunians equate to the Roman Empire from our world, and their language is Lithuanian. In the present day, there is a Kaunian minority in Forthweg (Poland) dating from imperial days which still speaks that tongue, while the reduced ethnic Kaunian lands of Valmiera and Jelgava speak a ‘descendant’ language which Turtledove uses Latvian for. For example, Forthwegian Kaunian names usually end in -as for men and -ai for women, which becomes -u for men and -a for women in Valmiera or Jelgava. Kaunians are blond and blue-eyed and both men and women wear trousers – which in our world are old Germanic stereotypes.

Then there are the Algarvic peoples, who were partly conquered by the Kaunians in the distant past. Largest among them is Algarve itself, with others being the island kingdom of Sibiu and the aforementioned trading kingdom of Lagoas. Algarvians speak Italian, while Sibians speak Romanian and Lagoans speak Portuguese, all being related Romance languages from our world. Ethnically and culturally, Algarvic peoples are red-haired, green-eyes and wear kilts, being Celtic (or more specifically Scottish) stereotypes from our world.

In the far west is the vast kingdom of Unkerlant, whose people are dark-haired and dark-eyed and wear tunics. Ethnically related are the Duchy of Grelz in the south, which is under Unkerlanter domination, and the Kingdom of Forthweg in the north, which isn’t. Unkerlanters speak German (or more specifically Saxon – the capital is called Cottbus after a city in Saxony) while Forthwegians speak Old English and their capital is Eoforwic (the Anglo-Saxon name of York). Other nations present include the aforementioned Zuwayza (ethnically African but linguistically Jordanian), Gyongyos (which speaks Hungarian and has a taboo against eating goat meat, no prizes for guessing what our Gyongyosian viewpoint character accidentally does at one point), Ortah (a mountainous, Swiss-like state ethnically related to the Hebrew-speaking Ice People) and Yanina (both linguistically and culturally evoking Greece). There is also a little-mentioned northern continent called Siaulia which stands in for ‘distant colonial warfare’, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Turtledove’s genius here is that none of these languages, cultures or geographies match the ‘role’ of each nation in his depiction of (a simplified version of) the Second World War. Algarve is Nazi Germany, Valmiera is France, Unkerlant is the Soviet Union and so on. Arguably this lets a reader look at the war in a more dispassionate way. The war is also not a simplistic one-for-one likeness, although there are many points of similarity. It begins when the Duke of Bari, a chunk of Algarve that was broken off by the victorious powers at the end of the Six Years’ War (i.e. the First World War) dies and Algarvian troops march in to reclaim it. This is more akin to the remilitarisation of the Rhineland or Memel being regained than how the war we know started. When it breaks out, an alliance of Valmiera, Jelgava, Forthweg and Sibiu all declare war on Algarve (rather than smaller nations trying to stay neutral until it was too late as in our world) and Lagoas (Britain) does not get involved until Valmiera (France) has already fallen. Of the four original anti-Algarve belligerents, Forthweg (Poland) is actually the last to fall, and not until the end of the first book (although it is partitioned with Unkerlant like the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact). Indeed, the pattern in this world is that successful Algarvian blitzkriegs are undercut by Algarve’s habit of gaining new enemies which each power it defeats.

Other differences include that Gyongyos is already in a ‘Pacific’ island-hopping war with Kuusamo at the start of the series, which ends and then restarts later on; there is never a ‘Pearl Harbor’ attack as such; Jelgava doesn’t closely fit any real-life country (Belgium is the closest, but still tenuous, and some readers have more compared it to Spain in the Napoleonic Wars); and ‘D-Day’ goes via Jelgava rather than Valmiera. Yanina stands in for Italy in North Africa but also for Romania, Hungary etc. in Eastern Europe, and is ultimately overrun by Unkerlanters towards the end of the war. Valmiera is France, but it has a lot of pre-revolutionary France in it with its aristocracy, putting a different spin on its Algarvian occupation. Intermixed with these differences are similarities; Zuwayza (Finland) has a very closely-followed ‘Winter War’ and ‘Continuation War’ with Unkerlant, with the Zuwayzi Foreign Minister being one of our viewpoint characters. Grelz, which stands in for Ukraine, has an Algarvian-backed breakaway puppet state created on its territory – but this is a monarchy, evocative of what Germany did in the First World War. The crucial battle of Sulingen is point-for-point that of Stalingrad.

I do feel that Turtledove tries to have his cake and eat it a little with the Kaunians being both Romans and Jews. The Kaunian minority in Forthweg stands in for the Jews of Poland and many end up being murdered in the Holocaust equivalent (which I discussed in my previous article on technology). However, of course, the populations of Valmiera and Jelgava are also ethnically Kaunian, and are treated brutally by Algarvian occupiers but not targeted for mass murder. Indeed in one sequence, two Forthwegian Kaunians manage to break out of a sealed train in Valmiera (which runs on magic on a ley-line) and are concealed by their distant cousins, who have to teach them a less archaic form of their language so they can blend in. Otherwise they do so. It’s not made clear why the Algarvians especially hate the Forthwegian Kaunians but not the others so much. It is perhaps unrealistic to ask racism to make sense, of course.

While I think the American fantasy trend of ‘make everything a monarchy’ is overdone (after all, the mediaeval period in our history had its fair share of republics), one interesting aspect to the Darkness series is the de-emphasis on ideology, other than the aforementioned exercise of racial prejudice. Stalin is quite adequately substituted for by the tyrannical and paranoid King Swemmel, who fought his twin brother Kyot (Trotsky) in the Twinkings War (the Russian Revolution and Civil War) and has people boiled alive at the drop of a hat. From the point of view of the people being boiled, it doesn’t really matter if the cause is the ineluctable dialectic of Marxist-Leninism or just the vague appeal to ‘efficiency’ that is thrown around by Swemmel and Unkerlanter officers as the justification that covers all sins. Marshal Rathar, our main Unkerlanter viewpoint character, stands in for Zhukov and does his level best to avoid Swemmel wrecking the war effort. Meanwhile, Turtledove takes the interesting tack of avoiding almost all other iconic war leaders. There’s no Churchill or Roosevelt as such, and King Mezentio, the stand-in for Hitler, appears literally once in person, where he seems fanatical but not memorably so. Ironically, Marx might approve of this move away from Great Man views of history!

The war ends with Algarve being divided. To evoke our world’s Western Allies making morally questionable use of former Nazis in the postwar era, the eastern chunk is put under the leadership of Mezentio’s brother Mainardo, who previously ran the collaborationist regime in Jelgava, while the western chunk comes under Unkerlanter control. Gyongyos is also defeated via the application of a magical nuke equivalent, leaving the world to face an uncertain future.

Overall, I feel that the Darkness series is a very interesting exploration in the use of intermixed counterpart cultures, though it is probably significantly longer than it needs to be (six books drag repetitively). I do like how Turtledove shows how much the war effort is killing off a generation of Algarvians (in particular) by cycling through multiple Algarvian viewpoint characters – some introduced in other characters’ segments first – as they die in battle. Some of the things he chose to leave out of this fantasy WW2 are surprising, such as the complete lack of China (and, as is obvious from his Worldwar books, Turtledove certainly knows how important China was in our WW2). Perhaps the Darkness series is instead meant to evoke WW2 as seen by a particular group of people who might not be aware of China’s role, but if so, it is difficult to see which group (certainly not Americans, given the lack of Pearl Harbor). Regardless, the fact that I can discuss the series by using phrases like “the Algarvians, who are basically Scottish Italian Nazis” (Armando Iannucci is writing a strongly-worded letter as we speak) means it certainly leaves a lasting impression.

A final interesting example I've come across recently is in the Japanese RPG Xenoblade Chronicles 2, or, to be more precise, its English translation. For a bit of background, the 'Xeno' series (like most Japanese RPGs) is not set in a consistent setting, but each game is set in its own unique world, with only a few commonalities such as concepts of 'ether', 'arts' and 'elements' in combat, a recurring race of distinctly-speaking merchant creatures called the Nopon, and so on. The games' settings are often interesting, even though they always turn out to be based on the same disappointing vein of Gnostic mystical nonsense (I suppose this is an example of things looking more exotic the farther away they are, just as Western pop culture often does to Eastern mysticism).

In the case of Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the setting is a world called Alrest, in which gigantic creatures called Titans swim through a 'Cloud Sea' around a World Tree which hides all sorts of secrets. Humans and others live on the backs of the Titans, many of which are large enough to constitute entire countries, while smaller ones power warships that fight on behalf of said countries. For the purpose of this article, the important aspect is that parts of the game involve the geopolitics between the different Titan-based countries: for example, the Empire of Mor Ardain has colonised Gormott and turned it into a province as its own Titan is dying and it is looking to offload its people elsewhere; some Gormotti have fled their homeland and ended up as refugees in Indol, a 'Papacy'-like sanctuary whose people are sometimes proving to be less than tolerant of said refugees; rivals to Mor Ardain include the Kingdom of Uraya, with its own powerful army, and the freezing, isolationist state of Tantal; while the peaceful Leftherian Archipelago of smaller Titans is home to our main protagonist. It is naturally very important for the player to be able to keep all this straight without needing to be reminded of it constantly.

Some of this is achieved by physical looks - for example, the Urayans often have blue hair and scale-like features on their faces and necks, the Gormotti have cat-like ears, while the Ardainians are light-skinned, the Leftherians are dark-skinned and the Indolines have non-human skin tones. However, the game design sensibly de-emphasises this as a marker lest it turn characters into caricatures, keeping a diversity of looks within nations, and instead also relies on clever cultural translation (I am speaking only of the English translation; I am not sure how this is achieved in the original Japanese or other translations). The translators made great use of the English language's immense variety of accents and dialects, including many that Japanese (or American) creators are usually unaware of. This was a happy accident stemming from the fact that the earlier game Xenoblade Chronicles (1) - whose setting has nothing whatsoever to do with 2, as I said! - received a British English translation as it was originally not planned to be released in the United States, and thus (when this decision was changed) American players came to associate British accents and word usage with the Xenoblade setting(s). This paved the way for the use of more British (and other Anglosphere) accents and dialects in 2.

Probably the most distinct example is the Gormotti, who not only speak with Welsh accents, but are often given Welsh names (semi-consistently) and sometimes use Welsh phraseology such as 'look you' or 'boyo'. The Leftherians are given Yorkshire or other northern English accents and use phrases like 'Ay up' (spelled 'Eyup' by the game). The Ardainians have Scottish accents and names (especially Gaelic Highland ones) while the Urayans have Australian accents and the Tantalese have Home Counties Southern English ones. American accents are reserved for characters from the ancient past such as the immortal 'Blades'. This not only solves the problem of the player being able to keep all the countries straight, but is also just an interesting collision of wider Anglosphere culture with a very Japanese game setting. Notably, the dialects and accents are clearly not to reflect any real-life connections (Wales is not a colony of Scotland, America is not older than the other accents!), they are simply convenient labels to serve a storytelling purpose - which is also a valid use of fantasy counterpart cultures.

In this article we’ve seen how the risks inherent in using fantasy counterpart cultures can sometimes be mitigated in interesting ways by mixing and matching those cultures. There are many more possibilities and ideas to explore!

More of these articles on the way!

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Tom Anderson is the author of many SLP books including the Look To The West series (Diverge and Conquer, Uncharted Territory, Equal and Opposite Reactions, Cometh the Hour, To Dream Again), The Twilight's Last Gleaming, Not An English Word, The Curse of Maggie, The Unreformed Kingdom, The Surly Bonds of Earth and Well met by Starlight.