Cultures for Low Magic 5e

Posted: 2024-02-20
Word Count: 1153
Tags: d20 dnd5e rpg

Table of Contents

This work includes material taken from the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD 5.1”) by Wizards of the Coast LLC and available at https://dnd.wizards.com/resources/systems-reference-document. The SRD 5.1 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode.

Introduction

Inspired by Ancestries & Cultures I decided to separate “Races” in 5e into an Ancestry and a Culture. However, I wanted to make “Culture” more sophisticated and meaningful than simply “Human”, “Orc”, etc.

Therefore I present a generic set of cultures based on how the culture is organized and how it lives. While these will do in a pinch, DMs and designers are encouraged to create cultures specific to their worlds.

Cultures

Solitary

Once a child needs nothing from its parents, members of this culture go their separate ways. They live alone, hunt and/or gather alone, and except when the mating urge hits them prefer to be alone. Others who venture into the individual’s “territory” are seen as threats, and members of this culture (or species) have ways of marking their territory and indicating to others that they are trespassing. They also know how to defend their territory, often with bare hands (or claws or teeth).

This culture is more appropriate to creatures that evolved from solitary predators or omnivores. No human culture functions like this on the whole, although certain members will of necessity or preference live solitary lives.

Hunter-Gatherer. You have proficiency in the Survival skill.

Territorial. You have proficiency in the Intimidate skill.

Band

Members of this culture gather in small bands, usually family groups, to pool labor and share the fruits of this labor. They recognize no authority but the leader or patriarch/matriarch of the band. When two bands meet, they may fight over resources, but most bands prefer to negotiate or conduct highly ritualized combat to settle conflicts. Even within the same band, conflicts arise, but most members will settle matters with words rather than appeal to their Leader to make a decision.

Historically prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies have no social organization beyond that of isolated bands. However it’s possible for a more sophisticated society to adopt this social structure if all members possess strong anarcho-syndicalist beliefs (or instincts), and if their population is low enough that resources are abundant.

Hunter-Gatherer. You have proficiency in the Survival skill.

Diplomat. You have proficiency in the Persuasion skill.

Tribe

Several Bands of possibly nomadic extended family groups may develop a common identity as members of an extended tribe, with a common language, common beliefs, and a common identity. Members of the same tribe may intermarry freely, and each band within the tribe may call upon the other in case of a threat to the entire tribe. Some tribes may even have a regular meeting of the tribal chiefs, to keep peace among different factions. In theory no chief is above any other, but in practice some bands may control territory or resources that the other bands need or covet.

Historically tribal societies have been pre-literate and no more sophisticated than the early Iron Age. A more sophisticated society may have a tribal structure if they have more technologically advanced neighbors or they have “devolved” from a more sophisticated culture to a state of near-anarchy. Tribal structures may also persist amidst more complex societies, i.e. gangs of criminals or self-described “free spirits” who reject the tenets of their host society.

Hunter-Gatherer. You have proficiency in the Survival skill.

Member of a Tribe. You have Advantage on Persuasion and Insight checks when dealing with a member of your tribe.

Chiefdom

While superficially similar to a Tribal culture, a Clan culture (as used here) has a more formal structure than typical Tribes. For example, each head of a band acknowledges one person as the Chief of the entire tribe or clan. Members of the Chief’s family have special status, and often marry into or act as each band’s head. Consequently the Chief can call up entire armies to enact his will, or lead those same masses to more peaceful pursuits like agriculture, crafting, and the arts.

Historical chiefdoms include the clans of Scotland and Ireland and nomads of the Arabian desert and the Central Asian steppes. The most famous such Chieftain, Genghis Khan, ruled an Empire.

Hunter-Gatherer. You have proficiency in the Survival skill.

Crafter. You have proficiency with one set of tools.

City-State

When a critical mass of individuals settle in one area and grow enough food to support a dedicated class of priests, scribes, and other functionaries, a City-State forms. City-States typically draw boundaries between rulers and ruled, lords and servants, nobles and peasants; often those boundaries harden into caste system or at least a permanent underclass of poor laborers. Once the ruler(s) of a city-state consolidate their power, they turn their eyes from their own walls and fields to other cities, other towns, and other fertile lands.

Most of the ancient world consisted of city-states: Ur, Babylon, Athens, Sparta, Rome. Rome especially considered itself a city that ruled the world until Diocletian’s reforms abolished the Roman Senate and vested all power in the Emperor, wherever he may choose to reside.

Civilized. You may choose proficiency in History, Performance, or Religion.

Decadent. You have proficiency in the Deception skill.

Kingdom

Unlike a City-State, a Kingdom (in our usage) extends over a large area, including other, usually smaller cities and towns, all ruled by one person. As with a Chiefdom, those closest to the King (or Queen) – their extended families, their vassals, and their advisors – have far more prestige than “provincial” vassals. Fealty to the Monarch, both the person and the ideal, holds the Kingdom together, and consequently a succession crisis or a coup throws the entire Kingdom into turmoil. The lower classes likewise dwell in a world of obigations: to family, to their lord, to the king.

Historical kingdoms include most of Europe at one time or another. Japan went through a broadly similar period of feudal kingdoms, eventually consolidating under one Shogun (general) nominally acting under their Emperor.

Civilized. You may choose proficiency in History, Performance, or Religion.

Obsequious. You have Advantage on Insight checks, due to a lifetime of “reading the room” and not angering your “betters”.

Nation-State

All citizens of a Nation-State share a common language, culture, and history. Whether ruled by a king, a parliament, or by that strange practice called “democracy”, changes in the regime may disrupt the social order somewhat, but the nation will remain strong. Against an external threat a nation stands together, as no one in the nation wants to be ruled by (insert insulting epithet) foreigners.

Historically nation-states are relatively new, no more than a few hundred years in European history but possibly longer when one considers China, for example.

Patriotic. You gain Advantage on Wisdom checks to resist subverting your loyalty to your country.

Diverse Hands. You gain any tool proficiency or vehicle proficiency of your choice.