Friday, August 20, 2010

Borderlands cultural anthropology and geography

Still thinking about Borderlands geography and anthropology, I found some interesting points. 

First, anthropology, about the lack of names in Kotb. This is a common criticism about this famous module to say: "they didn't even give names to NPC's". The common answer is to explain that, being a very generic module, the lack of names helps to includes in any DM's own campaign. The most subtle explanation I read until now was, once again, from Geoffrey McKinney, who suggested this was a major feature of this module, a part of its mystery, as names like The Castelan could be related to some kind to tarot figures. 

My own explanation is probably less brilliant an esoteric, but maybe easier to include in a campaign: In the Borderlands, it would be very rude to address someone by his name rather by his title, and knowledge of a personal name is a mark of real familiarity. Asking someone his name would be considered as a kind of offence, and asking someone the name of another, a mark of silliness. So, people find absolutely natural to speak about the Castellan or the Money-lender. 

Weird? Maybe not so much. Personal name have strong ties with magic and sorcery, and some cultures dislikes using it. In her book on Yanonami people of Amazonia, Helena Valero explains she has been one the wives of a well-known chief, but learned his name only after years. So, this can become a feature in a campaign. "Who are you to ask mylord the Castelan's name?" 

Now, there's the question about geography. I searched clues in Keep of the borderlands, and I found evidences for a major fact:  Borderlands are in British Columbia.

I studied it first in the French version, which was the first D&D module printed in my native language. But, to verify some details, I went back to the English one and found a very important one: The pine trees where live the Spiders are Tamaracks, a detail which is ignored in French version. So, I looked after tamaracks. It names two different species, both of them being specific to Canada and, oh surprise, Great lakes region. Just look these two maps: Geography of Larix Laricina and Pinus Conforta

Then, I looked about fauna. Few are listed, except if we use the generic wandering monster list or fantasy creatures. Among those listed, ravens and vultures have a very wide distribution, so should be discarded for that purpose. Note that's, from a European perspective, D&D world is obviously settled in North America by its typical fauna. In fact, that's even more obvious in AD&D monster manual, because the red box has more an Oriental / Indian mood. 

As a specific animal, there's the mountain lion, the hermit's pet. When I was a kid, I saw the mountain lion as a very D&D creature, as there's no such a thing in French - the name's is Puma, but it wasn't translated like this in the Red Box. So, I looked at the geographical distribution of Mountain Lions. 

There are some variants between the maps, but it's pretty clear the area where you could find both Tamaracks and Mountain Lions is British Columbia, and maybe west of Alberta. I just needed a confirmation. It was clear, for the bits of geology I studied, that the caves are a karst landscape. Just have a look on the pics above!

But, is there any karst in British Columbia? That was the blind test. According to the canadian ministry of forests and ranges"British Columbia is blessed with an abundance of world-class karst, (...) as well as Canada's longest and deepest documented caves".  The same ministry adds, about the cultural uses of karst that: "Karst caves were not only used for shelter, but were also considered by some groups to be sacred places for burial and ceremonial purposes", something which fits our caves as well.

So, British Columbia definitely fits the mood for our Borderlands. Being west of the still hidden castles & Crusades society map, it even fit the idea that Greyhawk is around Chicago while Blackmoor is around Milwaukee. I got weirder ideas about that geography, but I keep them for my return, as I will be on vacation up to 29. So, a last link, I can imagine being a landscape of the borderlands, with its two islands on the river and a Fort nearby:


scottsz said...

This is incredible. Nice work!

Anonymous said...


I cannot wait to hear more of your ideas. I have begun remapping my World of Greyhawk into a North American style landscape, in homage to the original gaming locations, i.e. Greyhawk = Chicago, etc. I was even adapting Gygax's Aerth map from his Mythus game.


L. M. said...

C'est tout à fait convainquant !

Snorri, est-ce que tu connais ma carte Amérique = Flanaess ?

Est-ce que tu places le KotB en Yeomanry ? Ce qui est possible, dans un sens.

rainswept said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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