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Inspiration from indian culture, should I keep Hindi names

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

In a dungeon and dragon style RPG, I wanted to add more color and flavor than having boring Elves and ruthless Orc with the same common arsenal of equipement (long sword, chain mail, etc).

An idea I like was to use India, and neighboring countries (china, persia, etc) as a source of inspiration for a medieval fantasy world. India equipment looks much more similar to european culture than China and japan for example.

The Hindi mythology can give me access to more interesting races like Naga and Rakshasa. It also makes more sense with the game as reincarnation, which is present in Hindi culture, is a thing in my game.

Now my problem is that my game will be mainly text based preventing me from illustrating stuff. Also many things does not necessarily have an equivalent in Western culture. My questions is do I use the original Hindi names, or do I rename stuff according to western culture.

For example, swords exist in both indian and western culture. But in india, swords includes : Talwar, Shamsher, Dhup, Khanda, Sirohi, Pata, Gupti (Source Wikipedia). The average player will have no clue that all this stuff are different type of swords.

One the other hand, Chakram, which are throw-able blade disk, have no equivalent in Western culture. So should I keep the Hindi name in this case because it's unique? Or because it's already used and known in gaming?

The game is still a fantasy world, so I can do whatever I want, I do not need to ensure historical accuracy. Still, would you like to play a game with tons of obscure Hindi names?

Another option could be to have mandatory illustrations or simple icons which should be easier to draw and re-use.

Joined: 09/24/2020
Hi, is this for personal use

is this for personal use or for publication?
I am not an expert on the subject, but I stumbled a few times on posts on how to deal with cultures different than your own on reddit, you may want to check there for some ideas from people more involved on the topic.

Hindi names with a glossary at the end may be a good intermediate solution? Players who want to play this kind of set up shouldn't have problems with learning some words in my opinion, it's part of the universe they are immerging themselves into in the end.
If you want it to feel more authentic, having some indian playtesters would be great to capture some essential part of the culture.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Thoughts on Cultural Settings

terzamossa wrote:
Hindi names with a glossary at the end may be a good intermediate solution? Players who want to play this kind of set up shouldn't have problems with learning some words in my opinion, it's part of the universe they are immerging themselves into in the end.
I appreciate this approach.

It's how I learned, for example, that the khukuri/kukri blade is more of a small axe for chopping, as opposed to a stabbing/piercing short sword-style weapon. For another example, there are also curved blades best utilized from horseback. So outfitting different fighting soldiers based on their role/context can help a player understand both the visual, cultural, and functional roles played by certain weapons and tools.

Some player education is to be expected, particularly if you're introducing a "Eurocentric" player to a different campaign setting. In my olden days of playing AD&D, I recall the "Oriental Adventures" sourcebook having labeled illustrations of all the different weapons found in that setting, allowing the player to understand the distinctions - and sometimes, similarities - of the different weapons for a better understanding of the setting. Architecture, clothing, and other cultural aspects in illustrations both educated and immersed the player in the different, distinct setting.

Regarding cultural sensitivity, and perhaps also echoing what terzamossa hinted at previously: appreciate and acknowledge different cultures, don't appropriate. The days of Alan Quatermain and Conan the Cimmerian dismissing the barbarity of non-anglo cultures are over. If you're preparing to present this to the general public, you'll need to set a high personal bar for cultural sensitivity.

There are "bad guys" to be found in every culture, everywhere in the world. So showing appreciation for a distinct culture doesn't shy away from that. However, it doesn't mean everything that's different from Eurocentric fantasy and culture is bad by default. It's just different.

For example, if you want to focus and lend distinction with the Hindu culture and mythology, use it and nothing else. What does a Hindu myth look like? What "cultural tropes" would a game focused on the Hindu legends and stories contain? If there's no elf or dwarf or orc, what fantastical creatures are found in their place (if anything)? What social and cultural mores and conventions does that culture uphold?

Both you and your players may be surprised and enlightened at the outcome. If you keep appreciation and acknowledgement at the forefront - as opposed to catering to Eurocentric-based stereotypes in a negative/derogatory fashion - you'll likely stay in the clear.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Thanks for the feedback. As a

Thanks for the feedback.

As a comparison, as a fan of Japanese culture, I generally used Japanese words to represent objects like katana, shuriken, kimono, etc. Maybe it's because japanse culture is more popular in these days than it used to be making it more accessible the outside world. So following the same logic, I should be doing the same with indian culture.

As for not being culturally offensive, I am not sure I can perfectly do that. The goal is to have a different flavor to classic fantasy genre. I though of going for renaissance or antiquity to give a different feel, but it did not really work. But for India, the fit is better.

Just to give you an an idea, the objective would be to systematically replace the whole classic fantasy genre with indian culture. So for example, the equipment will be replaced with indian equipment. The playable races will be replaced with indian mythical creatures. Indian mythology will also be used to build up the bestiary. Classes would also be inspired on indian culture.

I could also borrow from adjacent countries. For example, I wanted chinese style battle monk. In that case, the word "monk" does not have the same connotation than in a european setting. Many classes like the samurai, ninja and monk, now renamed Swordsman, assassin, monk, makes more sense in an indian setting. I'll have to search a bit for replacing the berserker and the druid that are very european centric.

Also, the fact that the game will be rogue-like allowing to reincarnate dead characters, would make sense with indian mythology that has reincarnation.

So it a bit what I am trying to do. It is still a fantasy world, so I have more flexibility.

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