08 October 2012

Earthdawn: Part 14 - Ritual of Greeting

This is the fourteenth part in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

In the Earthdawn setting, the Ritual of Greeting is an important cultural element. It is based on the superstition that the influence of a Horror prevents Namegivers from creating beauty. The madness of the Horrors, how alien they are, their sheer otherness makes the intrinsic qualities of beauty incompatible with their touch. This practice allows communities that would be crippled by the fear outsiders and the Horrors that they might bring with them to interact with society at large with some measure of comfort and safety. More mundane threats, like scorchers, are still very real and being polite rarely solves them.

Every Namegiver learns at least one artisan skill that may serve no other purpose than to perform the Ritual of Greeting. Whenever two Namegivers meet for the first time, it is customary to display their art to each other before formal introductions are made (sharing Names). Once all involved have shown themselves to be free from that insidious influence, pleasantries can be made in earnest and any tension likely dissolved as all breathe a little easier. Within communities typically a sentry will take part and then escort the travelers inside, letting the rest of the locals know "they're cool and with me". This practice gives everyone common ground to work from and showcase their regional art. This works to reinforce the sense of belonging created by Barsaive's Pattern, or perhaps because of that sense of belonging. From a meta-game perspective it also shows the adepts to be more than just murder hobos: they must be at least artistic murder hobos.

During actual play, I like to introduce this aspect early and bring it up whenever travelling outside of a major city. Within major cities the vast populations make this sort of activity impractical at best, but when entering someone's home it would still be in good taste. In the interest of showing and not telling, the NPCs will always initiate the ritual with the player's following suit. While not strictly necessary, I prefer to have the rolls be made, allowing for fantastic works, as well as dismal failures. Failures will typically be re-rolled, sometimes to jeering from their companions, though occasionally there will be consequences for the failure. If that is going to be the case, I will telegraph that intent through the NPCs attitude, such as intense scrutiny, paranoia, and a general sense of unease.

When a successful test results in something physical, I prefer to offer them as gifts to the PCs, with the expectation of reciprocation. This has always helped get players more into the moment, and gives them a small token; a memory of their meeting. This works to generate a greater sense of society and immersion in that society. All of this helps to give reasons for the adepts to raise their artisan skills, which is fun and great to encourage through means other than guilt. I have a couple other methods that have worked towards those ends as well.

The sense of suspicion and xenophobia within most of Earthdawn is quite a thing. Even with the common need for adepts to solve the kinds of problems a villager is woefully unprepared to deal with (a surly brithan claiming a barn as its territory, for example), there is still the underlying fear that these people might bring something worse with them than the initial problem. Even if they aren't Horror Marked, that doesn't mean they still aren't jerks up to no good, looking to take advantage of a poor beet farmer. To maintain that feeling, but not have it become tiresome, I find it useful to provide easy opportunities for the PCs to earn the favor of the community in small ways.

Socially oriented Disciplines, such as Air Sailors, Swordmasters and Troubadours, can make significant headway in these interactions by making use of their Talents. Any character can possess the skills and be up for the challenge of playing nice. Those with generally useful skills (even just a strong back), such as Weaponsmiths, can offer to help out with some project that is clearly being undertaken. Entertaining the children and townsfolk with a performance art, especially the grand tales of a Troubadour. It doesn't take much, and the location can seem much more vibrant because of this. Weaponsmiths deserve some more special mention because of the unique place they hold within society. The center of many villages is the Forge and the Weaponsmith that tends it, along with their apprentices. They are seen as trustworthy and dependable, often acting as a mediator in any local disputes because their Discipline prevents them from being anything other than honest and supporting the community. Simply being a Weaponsmith, and upholding what that represents, will often go a long way to earning trust, particularly within the rural areas of the setting.

Once the Group begins to attain Legendary Status, these introductions start to become less relevant as the Namegivers of the land may have already heard of them and their exploits. They will know what to expect from the adepts, for better or worse, as their fame (or infamy) spreads.

The final thing to consider with the Ritual of Greeting, perhaps vital to the setting and it has been mentioned previously: does it work? There may be specific Horrors that it is protection against, but if it works in general is an important question to consider. Regardless of the answer, its importance within society remains unchanged. How many Americans still say "God bless you" when someone sneezes? What the ritual represents is a real fear, but also an important piece of culture and etiquette. It is one of the many things that makes the world of Earthdawn come alive to me.