The Koryo Hall of Adventures - Han & The Creatures of Joseung
One of the most unusual introduction that I ever came across when starting a new campaign with a new Dungeon Master was “there is no racism in this setting.” Since it never occurred to me that a game of Dungeons and Dragons could be racist, I asked him to clarify.
“Whichever race you guys are playing, you can’t discriminate other PCs and non PCs based on their race. Humans don’t discriminate dragonborns, gnomes don’t discriminate tieflings, etc.”
It was a weird kind of revelation to me since I never really thought about in-game discrimination but it took very little time until someone made a simple joke: “are you going to be ok with all this tall grass dwarf?” that brought the swift response from the DM: “I repeat, no racism in this setting.” And just like that, the special bag of holdings that contained a lot of the players’ jokes was suddenly empty. This moment got me started on a new journey that helped shape what the Koryo Hall of Adventures campaign setting looks like now.
Han, a Population of One
In Korea, there are a few basic concepts that rule people’s lives. Some are directly from confucianism while others were shaped via the tides of history. “Han” means one, single or a unit. When looked into as a philosophical concept, it is the core of Koreans unity. If you are Korean, you are part of Han. “We are one, we are together.”
This Han concept is one of the reasons why Korea seems like a very uniform society with very little diversity. The beauty of Han is that people will look for that one bit of detail that connects them, making this general uniformity a conduit that facilitates in-country connections. The more complicated side of Han is that you have to fit in and beat yourself into shape in order to adhere to this uniformity, risking to become an outcast if you don’t.
Playing in a Non-Racist Setting
When I was told to play in a non-racist campaign setting, I first didn’t quite know how this would affect my in-game behavior since I never really thought about discrimination in role playing games. What I discovered is that racism often hides in jokes and in-game choices, and for someone who grew up in places that are equally as uniform as Korea, I had to learn to recognize those hidden bits of ugliness.
Are jokes and quips such a problem? It’s a game, it’s fun, it’s harmless.
No it isn’t, not anymore. We are lucky enough to live at a moment in time where social change is rocking the grounds on which we have stood for too long and we get to choose how we translate this social change into our popular culture. And if you ask me, being able to call the act of playing Dungeons and Dragons “popular culture” is already a massive social change in itself.
So when I sat down to write the Koryo Hall of Adventures campaign setting, I asked myself from the very beginning: how can I create a world that has “diversity” and “embrace of differences” built into its DNA? How can I make a world in which DMs don’t need to say to the players that it is a non-racist setting because such a statement is common sense?
Jeosung and The Heavenly People
At the beginning of time, there were the Heavenly People. They lived in peace inside of four fortresses, each standing at the four cardinal points of the continents. They lived a simple, happy life, sharing their time between drinking the Heavenly Milk and keeping the balance between the cardinal points, the elements and the material world.
Their lives took a turn when they started to eat the fruits from outside the fortresses. They started to grow teeth and grew more and more hungry. It didn’t take long before they started giving birth to ugly beasts that spread out all over the lands. They started to grow egos and declared wars from one fortress to another. Very soon, the fortresses fell and the Heavenly People lost their homes and their Heavenly appearances altogether. Only those living in the Northern Fortress survived this ordeal and worked hard to try and establish balance again. They could never recreate the paradise in which they lived but they did cut through the chaos and built the foundations for what Jeosung is today: a continent filled with humanoid creatures.
Han and The Creatures of Jeosung
Based on the creation myth of Jeosung, all the creatures that live in the four realms come from the same ancestors: the Heavenly People. There can be no racism in Jeosung because all creatures come from the same roots and it is not only common knowledge, it is accepted as irrefutable fact.
“Han,” the people of Jeosung are “one.”
I wrote about the merit of the Reputation System in another article as a means to offer a tool for safe play both in private games and in conventions. I hope that the “Han” concept of Jeosung will further build on the idea that gaming is about “gaming” and that no one should feel excluded or segregated based on in-game choices, back stories and actions.