Ain’t No Law

Internal Security Records: Vizjen Down
Passenger Terminal, Section C (Concessions)
hinMeira Mercantile

7126/8/8 (starting 8+36:00)

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS (PORT DIRECTOR): — seems to be the trouble, here?

RYSEK hinMEIRA (CONCESSIONAIRE): I want her out of here! Your security guards refused to —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: In good time, Sv. hinMeira. I need to hear a report from my personnel first.

JINTH mor-KARIS (SECURITY): The concession operator called us reporting a trespasser. When we arrived, he — requested us to remove Sv. hilKanar, here, from his store.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: And you refused!

JINTH mor-KARIS: You didn’t give us any grounds to remove her.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: She was trespassing!

JINTH mor-KARIS: So you said, but —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Sv. hinMeira, this is a concession space which you lease specifically for the purpose of providing retail services to our passengers. If you allege she was trespassing, that implies that you had previously banned her from your shop for some particular reason.  What was it?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: Well, look at her!


RYSEK hinMEIRA: She’s a kilpaden.


RYSEK hinMEIRA: We don’t serve her kind here. No —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Do we have that on record?

JINTH mor-KARIS:  Oh, yes.

MENKA hilKANAR (PAX): Please, I — I don’t want to cause any trouble.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: I do apologize, Sv. hilKanar, on behalf of both Vizjen Down and the Imperial Starport Authority, for this unfortunate incident. Please accept my assurances that this is not the policy of ISA, and if you will accompany my assistant here for a moment, all further purchases you desire to make during your layover here will be covered by ISA, by way of further apology and repayment.

As for you, hinMeira, get the hell out of my starport.

RYSEK hinMEIRA: What? You can’t do —


RYSEK hinMEIRA: I’m allowed to refuse service to anyone! Your law requires that.  So you —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: It does. You have that legal right in your own name. Your lease, on the other hand, says in paragraph 31, section c, that while you retain that general privilege you will – as concessionaire and leaseholder working for and within Vizjen Down – specifically not refuse service to anyone on the basis of externally-attributed group membership, as is standard for ISA contract-starports on planets known for their bigoted kveth-lakhras. You just — play that back?

RYSEK hinMEIRA (recording): We don’t serve her kind here.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Her kind. Your own words. It is therefore my distinct pleasure to inform you that you are in default, your lease is null and void, your concession contract is terminated, and you, personally, will vacate my starport with all speed. Is that clear?

RYSEK hinMEIRA: I’ll see you pay for this! I have friends —

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Jinth, did that sound like a threat to you?

JINTH mor-KARIS:  I would say that sounded like a threat.

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Then throw him out of the starport.

JINTH mor-KARIS:  Consider it done. Ah — throw him, or throw him?

MÉLIS TARQUELIOS: Use your discretion.



Trope-a-Day: In The Future People Will Be One Race

In The Future Humans People Will Be One Race: Averted.  It is perhaps possible (as the original trope points out) for this to happen naturally over a long enough time scale, but even the possible candidates for sticking around long enough for that timescale have generally taken to inventing about a thousand variations on their basic colors, shapes, and aesthetics long before arriving there.  Essentially, black and white are never going to naturally merge into beige so long as people are out there adding turquoise, ebony, gold-tinted, argent-blue, heliotrope and fur-covered to the gene pool.  And even if they did, someone would undoubtedly resurrect at least the look of the old phenotype for artistic purposes, if nothing else.

(Eldraeic racial divergence, while small to begin with and not manifesting phenotypically in the same ways ours does – due to a very small original gene pool, bioengineering, two bottlenecks, and more bioengineering – increased dramatically once they started inventing new ones all on their own.)

[The comment thread on the original posting of this trope read:

Comment: “Even if you mingled the current world gene pool thoroughly and didn’t tinker with the gene pool, there would STILL be substantial colour variations – there are some great twin photos out there showing what happens when one twin gets all the light genes and the other gets all the dark ones.”

Reply: “That’s true in the short, medium and long term, as the trope page points out – and, indeed, I’ve seen plenty of those Brazilian family pictures – but over the very long term?  One imagines once the alleles get scrambled enough the light/dark extremes are going to be pushed right out to the very ends of the probability curve, even without fixation.”]

Trope-a-Day: Fantastic Racism

Fantastic Racism: In the universe in general, in many places.  Species vs. species, meat vs. metal, augments vs. baselines, oxygen-breathers vs. methane-breathers, elder races vs. younger races, oh, and let us by no means forget the good old intraspecies kind.  While not all species evolve with xenophobic jerkery coded right into the genome, enough do that this particular meme just keeps coming back.

The Imperials, by and large, eschew old-fashioned racism in favor of traditional Cultural Posturing and, in particular, sneering at the unContracted.  Well, except for the Purity Crusade (who want to wipe out all non-eldrae, or at least non-Imperial, sophont life for being, essentially, a bunch of defective entropy-worshipping slave-cultist creepazoids and therefore not to be allowed to exist, especially if it might one day threaten its betters), but they’re a tiny group of, essentially, the whackos’ whackos.


“Well, firstly, we’re a civilization of dozens of different species with hundreds of races and clades each.  Given the sheer number of shapes we come in, why would you possibly assume that we’d be invested in your morphological bigotries?”

You’re idiots.

“And even if we were inclined to be, it would have to be a more significant one than hue – even if cross-linked with historical accident.”

You’re petty idiots.

“And even if you had a good reason to refuse to ever deal with these so-called inferior people, that’s what you’d do; refuse to deal with them, build fences, live separately.  Not go out of your way to be appallingly unpleasant for no adequately defined reason.”

You’re malicious petty idiots.

“And you don’t have one, because even if you were right, game theory tells us that defaulting to cooperation is always superior in the indefinite-iterated game, and the law of comparative advantage tells us that you’re better off doing so even if you’re better at every single thing ever.”

You’re self-defeating malicious petty idiots.

“And frankly, you’re not right, because in the light of all this, your self-described intellectual and cultural superiority isn’t looking so good, either.”

You’re hypocritical self-defeating malicious petty idiots.

“So I don’t really think there’s a terribly good basis for an alliance of mutual interest here, I’m afraid.”

Your mothers.

– overheard and underheard in the Crescent Bar, Conclave Drift

Trope-a-Day: Least Common Skin Tone

Least Common Skin Tone: Firstly, there are no humans.  Second, if they ever make a live-action version of the Eldraeverse, just to make sure that all the other special-effect characteristics don’t get ignored in pointing out, y’know, only very distantly related to humans as we know them, they’re going to have to cast people who actually are white in the very-rare-skin-tone sense, which is to say, not pink, capisce?  (Well, okay, not chalk-white, but actually, seriously pale, y’know?  My mental casting file for The Big Damn Movie is thus single-digit short, even before little requirements like special effects handling, oh, adding one to two feet in height to everyone, say, never mind ability to carry off the attitude.)

(As well as, y’know, green, blue, gold, bronze, heliotrope, furry, scaled, and MADE OF ROCK, because why, why, why in the name of sanity does every alien planet in TV SF duplicate Earth’s racial demographics exactly.  Yeah, casting, I know.  Arse.)

The Unbearable Lightness of Ferelden

(Strictly, this isn’t about my worldbuilding, but about BioWare’s worldbuilding for their Dragon Age series.  Nonetheless, I think it covers some important territory about worldbuilding in general, and so, it goes in the Relevant category.)

So, having pleased some people with my post on Dragon Age and sexuality [elsewhere], I’m about to displease everyone with a post on Dragon Age and race. So it goes.

Specifically, I’m going to address the issue of the purported lack of “people of color” in the settings of the first two games of the series from a worldbuilding perspective.

Now, this is a map of Thedas:

Map of Thedas

As you can see, it’s big. It’s also in the southern hemisphere of its world, so things are reversed, but that doesn’t change the scale. Ferelden, down at bottom right, is right up at the “top” of the temperate zone. (If you look carefully, you can see that the part of the Amaranthine Ocean next to it is labeled “The Frozen Seas”.) South of it are the Korcari Wilds, which are essentially tundra, and the pole.

Meanwhile, up at the top right is Par Vollen, the Qunari homeland – well, colony. Par Vollen, canonically, is just about on the equator, and has a climate to match. (The patch of green at top left is “The Donarks”, and is an actual jungle.)

Alas, neither this map nor the version in the Dragon Age RPG player’s guide comes with a scale bar, but we are told that Thedas is roughly the size of Europe, which would make sense given the climatic variation we’re told about in the lore. Which would make the distance between, say, Denerim and Qunandar in Par Vollen something similar to the distance between London, England and Casablanca, Morocco.

So, let’s talk phenotypes. It is generally accepted that, before fast transit was as readily available as it is today, you found the pale-skinned people up in the dim, cold latitudes and the dark-skinned people down in the sunny, hot latitudes simply because of the evolutionary advantages of each state to its locale. Pale-skinned people on limited diets Up North don’t suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which their darker-skinned cousins would. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned people in the tropics can work outside all day without being on the fast track to melanoma, something that their paler relatives would have to worry about a lot more.

Does Thedas have fast transit? Well, no. You can walk, you can ride, or you can take ship. And by ship, I mean sailing ship, since not even the relatively technologically advanced Qunari have steamships, and not particularly advanced sailing ships, either – while the Qunari crossed the Amaranthine Ocean to get to Par Vollen, so far as we know, and even then:

For their part, the Qunari treat Par Vollen as their homeland. Contact with their original homeland was intermittent at best across the turbulent Northern Ocean before it finally ceased altogether two centuries ago. Several ships have been sent home to restore contact, but they have not returned. The Qunari are here to remain and have accepted this.

And so far as we know, the Thedosians don’t travel beyond the continent we know, shown on the map. No-one’s yet discovered whatever analog of America they may be.

And magic is not an answer to this. (Probably a good thing, since those fantasy universes which have convenient mass teleporting rarely examine all the implications that it should have.) But in any case, on this point, the lore is clear:

No one, for instance, has found any means of traveling-either over great distances or small ones-beyond putting one foot in front of the other. The immutable nature of the physical world prevents this. So no, you may not simply pop over to Minrathous to borrow a cup of sugar, nor may you magic the essay you “forgot” in the apprentice dormitory to your desk. You will simply have to be prepared.

Now, it’s not like there weren’t some people of non-autochthonous races to be found when actual Europe was at this stage of development. Obvious example: the Varangians, who wereeverywhere in their heyday, but, well, they were Vikings, who were like that. There’s a marvellous book I keep meaning to track down written by a Muslim merchant who travelled the same journey in the other direction, for that matter. And certainly, there have always been a few travellers, for adventure or profit or war, who crossed these large distances.

But what there wasn’t, to any signfificant degree, was anything recognizable as a “mixed” or “diverse” society by what we might consider modern standards, simply because travel was so slow, and so expensive, that it was the exclusive preserve of the vagabond and the wealthy elite, neither of whom made up any large percentage of society. (Evidence for expensive: look at the Fereldan refugees in Kirkwall. Just crossing that relatively minor part of the map, the Waking Sea, with nothing to do with their savings and possessions but spend them on escaping the Blight, are all flat broke. And ten years later, most of them still can’t afford to go back. Travel is anything but affordable for “regular people” at this level of technological and economic development.)

What you would see, wandering around a city at the time, is a crowd made up almost entirely of the predominant race, with maybe – in cosmopolitan cities – a few stand-outs from the crowd.

…which is what you see, both in Denerim, in the original Dragon Age, and in Kirkwall (also far to the south) in Dragon Age II. (In which, it is interesting to note, that the two principal dark-skinned characters I call to mind, Isabela and the merchant Hubert, are both Rivaini. Rivain, you may note from the map, is that peninsula to top-right, right under Par Vollen, and hence pretty equatorial. The Antivans you meet, while not as dark as the Rivaini, are still darker-complexioned than their southern cousins. (A possible exception here would be Zevran, who isn’t particularly dark, but what we don’t know about elvish physiognomy is everything.)

In short, just about everything we see about NPC racial characteristics is in tune with the geography.

Aha, I hear you cry. But just because those are the social arrangements of the real world is no reason to reproduce them in fantasy! They could have written it the other way if they reallywanted to.

Well, no, they couldn’t. Trust me, I’m a worldbuilder. And we are, not to put too fine a point on it, seriously concerned with plausibility. I’m relatively lucky in this perspective – I write in a world of non-human species, which gives you some more – not a lot more, but some – flexibility that the builders of humanocentric species don’t get, because we all know how humans work. Intimately.

What are you going to do? Introduce faster travel (in which case you need to detail what kind, and how, which have consequences), or mass teleporting? That has a million other consequences which would completely change both the feel of the setting, and the facts of the setting. In fact, I very much doubt you could write a setting using these themes and have fast travel.

Extend the length of history so that people had time to mingle (and invent some historical events to drive it, quite possible) on a mass scale even with slow travel? Well, fine, except then you need to come up with a plausible explanation for the Medieval Stasis. And, honestly, this is a trope that is nearly never done well, if anyone bothers to explain it at all.

Or decide that these humans, physiologically, are completely different from the regular kind and that thus phenotypic adaptations to different levels of solar radiation are equally distributed, never mind what the sun’s actually doing? (Even if you flattened the entire planet to even out the solar radiation – with monumental consequences for geography, biomes, weather patterns, etc., etc., you’d just get monochromatism, not a mixed distribution.)

In each case, that loud twanging noise you just heard was the reader’s, player’s, person-paying-attention’s suspension of disbelief just snapping like a twig, because when you do these things,your world does not make sense.

Now, I’m impressed with the worldbuilding that went into Thedas; I think Bioware’s creative team did an excellent job on putting it together and making it fit. But I’m not unsympathetic either to the desire for protagonists “of color”, or indeed, of more NPCs likewise – just, I ask, make this happen in a way that does make sense. Set an episode of the story up in the equatorial north, in Antiva, or Rivain, or the northern part of Tevinter. Revisit the notion in the original Dragon Age of multiple origin stories, and let us create a protagonist of Rivaini descent – and, please, show that by something other than just a skin-color choice – anywhere.

But don’t break the world by sticking people in where they logically wouldn’t be just for the sake of it, or having protagonists whose history and appearance don’t fit together, with or without gratuitous retcons. That’s pandering, and people can tell that it’s pandering, and I – for one – would rather have it done right some of the time, where it fits the world and the story, than done badly all of the time.