[TSOY] Adding moiety politics to Khale

Started by shadowcourt, March 25, 2009, 01:12:18 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


For some reason, Khale has always felt a little unfinished for me. Some might argue that I'm into overly-elaborate cultural development for nations on Near, but I've always wanted to play with Khalean clan politics a bit more, and develop them in a new way. Aside from the sexism of the tribes, the politics of bards, and the general idea that the tribes struggle against each other and all outsiders, I've groped for something more to inspire interpersonal relationships in Khale that doesn't just leave them all Celtic rave-kids. Thus, this stab at a layer below the existing politic of Khale, to add some complexity.

Understanding Khalean Moieties
Strangers to Khale understand little more than tribal customs are passed through one's mother, rule defaults to men, and that outsiders are not considered true people until they are formally named through cultural ceremonies. The truth is a little more complex than this, and relies on an understanding of the moiety as a social layer connected to, but independent from, parentage and tribe.

Every Khalean knows his moiety, one of eight social "responsibility groups" to which he is born. They are named after animals local to the Khalean forests (Elk, Hawk, Cicada, and Salmon, for example), and every Khalean you meet can identify himself by both tribe and moiety. Moieties exist as cross-tribal phenomena; two Elks might not be members of the same tribe, but they have the same social responsibilities, and probably know how to interact with each other surprisingly well across tribal lines. This is one of the major functions of the Genealogy (R) ability, which covers both understanding the line of descendancy but also the relationships of moieties; though it is complex for an outsider, a Khalean can tell the moiety of your distant family members just by determining your own moiety.

A moiety does not determine what role one will have in life--someone born to the Hawk Moiety is no more or less likely to become a warrior than someone born to Cicada Moiety. Instead, the moiety determines the matters which a Khalean will be viewed as being responsible for, in an active monitoring of his fellow Khaleans to ensure that proper care and sacredness are adhered to in important tasks. Thus, a Hawk Moiety man or woman knows he must pay special attention to the warriors of a group, and also to the widowed, making sure that these groups perform up to social expectations and are not abused by others, nor do they abuse their powers and privileges. Moiety responsibilities extend to more than just people--a Hawk person is expected to maintain ceremonial celebration grounds, to inspect matters dealing with objects ranging from spears to cutlery and knives, and also to tend to bee-hives, honey, and those who collect and maintain such things. Again, this doesn't mean the a Hawk person will become a beekeeper or a knife-maker, though it wouldn't be surprising to see one in such a role. More often, it means that a Hawk person watches those members of the tribe, advocating for them when they are in need, and is expected to speak to them and police their behaviors when they are acting to the detriment of the tribe.

Moiety Responsibilities
The eight moieties, and the most common areas of responsibility they oversee, are listed below.
Elk: Woodcarvers, fallen trees, fires, orphans, dowries, hooved animals, riders and mounts (and their equipment).
Red Squirrel: Children below the age of puberty, feuds between neighbors, magicians and druids, nuts and berries, accusations of theft.
Cicada: Musicians and musical instruments, midwives and births, stone carvings, revels, entertainers, sources of drinking and bathing water.
Hawk: Cutting instruments (anything from knives and spears to ordinary cutlery), warriors, bees and honey (as well as those which gather it), ceremonial celebration grounds.
Salmon: Boats, fishermen, river markers, marriages and weddings, dogs and their handlers/trainers.
Snake: Healers, medicinal plants, illness, hospitality to strangers, ropes and bridges, coming-of-age rites.
Fox: Trappers, weavers, history tales, chieftains, maintenance of pathways.
Crow: Arrows and archers, burials and funerals, wine and grades (including distillation).

Inanimate objects are considered to be the responsibility of moieties, as are certain actions. It is not uncommon to hear a Khalean refer to something as a "Crow matter" or a "Snake thing", indicating that it is something which is a special purview of a moiety. Many phenomena are important enough that they cross moiety issues: a river which serves both for fishing and as a source of laundry water crosses the responsibilities of Salmon and Cicada people alike, and if it is used regularly by a river-running tribe which performs coming-of-age rites at the water's edge, odds are the Snake people and Hawk people of that tribe visit it regularly, as well.

As has been said, moiety does not determine profession as much as the areas one is expected to watch and speak up about when they endanger the tribe. While some who are born to Hawk moiety will become warriors and hunters in their own right, it's truer to say that a Hawk's role is to make sure the warriors are behaving appropriately and taking their jobs seriously, not instigating needless quarrels between tribes, and that they approach their tasks with the seriousness and spiritual reverence that it deserves. Similarly, if a widow is being scorned or mistreated by her tribe, or crying for undue vengeance against the tribe that killed her husband, it's a matter for the Hawks to settle. If the ropes used by a tribe are becoming frayed and worn, it's expected that a Snake needs to speak up and bring the attention of the leaders, as well as the ropemakers, to this issue. If children are becoming sick in suspicious numbers, the Red Squirrels and the Snakes are likely to confer and try and determine just what is going on; if they think it's because the drinking water has been contaminated through improper burial of the dead, odds are they're going to bring the matter to the Salmon and the Crows; someone there hasn't been doing their job properly, and something has to be done to fix it.

Moieties also watch other moieties; the whole system is about responsibility, and no one can afford to have someone else sleeping on the job. If the fishermen don't do their jobs, and the Salmon people don't speak up about it, then when it becomes public, it's the responsibility of the Elk to say "What went wrong here?" and find out why the Salmon didn't tend to their areas of responsibility. These are the rarest responsibility relationships, but they're still important, and bear mention. They are, as follows:
Elk: Salmon people performing their responsibilities.
Red Squirrel: Snake people performing their responsibilities.
Cicada: Crow people performing their responsibilities.
Hawk: Fox people performing their responsibilities.
Salmon: Elk people performing their responsibilities.
Snake: Red Squirrel people performing their responsibilities.
Fox: Hawk people performing their responsibilities.
Crow: Cicada people performing their responsibilities.

This relationship is always technically the maternal grandfather's responsibility. Just as your paternal grandfather will teach you what your moiety does, your maternal grandfather will make sure you do it, so you don't bring shame on the family. Naturally, even if mom's dad is dead, someone else from this moiety is expected to step in.

Whenever a major dispute can't be handled by an intervention by a single moiety, or a small group of moiety members, it's time to take the issue to tribunal.

Moieties and Law
Moieties don't overrule the power of tribal leaders, but they're an important matter to handle disputes, particularly when they cross different social strata. If a tribe believes its chieftain is behaving in a reckless manner, odds are it's necessary to hold a tribunal, and because "chieftains" are a Fox responsibility, there's going to be a Fox among the judges.

It's said the tribunal is an ancient custom which goes all the way back to King Khale himself, when he, his queen, and his royal bard would preside over all the greivances in the land. In emulation of this custom, it's traditional to try and find a man, a woman, and a bard who can sit in the three presiding seats over a dispute. Just as important, of course, is representation of the moieties whose responsibilities are involved. The disputes over whether it's more important to have the traditional king/queen/bard figures represented, or whether it's best to just let the matter be handled by appropriate moieties, can lead to bickering and political maneuvering. Let's take a hypothetical case:

A chieftain of a small tribe has declared war on an enemy tribe, and has made a successful strike against his rivals by attacking them when they were at revels, murdering many of the children of the tribe. His own tribe is shocked at this decision, and thinks he must be pushed from this course immediately, perhaps even forced to step down from his position as chief; surely his actions are going to lead to bloody reprisals. All sorts of moieties might want in on the action, considering their purview to be important; Foxes because this is a chieftain matter and they wonder why the Hawks didn't stop these warriors in the first place, Hawks because it involves war and they wonder they the Foxes didn't intervene with this chief earlier, Red Squirrels because children were killed and also because this will surely lead to a neighbor feud, Cicadas because it involved a violation (or at least capitalization) of a neighboring tribe's revels, even Snakes because this was a gross injustice which deprived these children of the right to come of age before battle. The moieties bicker and push, trying to determine who will get one of the three coveted seats; as much as their responsibilities are in play, however, they know that gender issues are important. If a Fox woman looks like she's likely to get one of the tribunal seats because the tribe is advocating for her insight so heavily, the Hawks shouldn't push forth a female candidate even if she's older and wiser than some of their males, simply because the tribe might expect to see someone in the "king" seat of the tribunal who is male, and two women would be less auspicious. Of course, if the Hawk woman has bardic training, then she's an exceptional candidate, and she might be able to easily maneuver a young Cicada bard right out of even having any seat on the tribunal at all.

Odds are if it comes down to a tribunal, it's because gentle advice that someone was acting inappropriately failed, an accusation has been made, and the accused remains defiant about the responsibilities invoked by their watching moiety. Members of moieties usually try to keep things away from a tribunal if they can; interventions by all Snake people or all Hawk people are much less messy than the public bickering and side-choosing which comes from a tribunal. Nonetheless, the tribunal bears the weight of King Khale's own decrees, and woe to the person brought before one who refuses to acknowledge their sovereign authority. A tribunal can strip a chieftain of his title, sometimes even thereby ending his marriage to the eldest woman of the tribe. A tribunal can also leave a tribe member an outcast, forcing them to dwell alone and leave the grounds of a tribe, yet another reason that Khaleans regard people without a tribe with so much suspicion.

(continued in part 2 of this post...)


(continued from the previous post...)

The Moiety and Family
A Khalean has the same moiety as his or her paternal grandfather (your father's father), who is expected to impart the responsibilities of the moiety. In situations where this grandparent is absent or dead, it's the responsibility of another member of that same moiety to step forward and become an "uncle" to the child, teaching them the things they need to know to fulfill their responsibilities and watch over their areas of the society.

As has been stated before, the maternal grandfather (your mother's father) is a member of the moiety which makes sure that yours is doing it's job. To the Khalean mindset, this is only appropriate; family and tribe flow through the mother's line, so it's your grandmother's husband who makes sure you aren't bringing shame on your family by neglecting your responsibilities.

The cycle of the moieties tells who will marry who in a tribe, and whether a member of the tribe has to look outside of it for a husband or wife. One of the primary purposes of a Khalean moiety is to prevent marriage of close blood relatives among a tightly-knit tribe. Your moiety tells you who you are expected to marry: a Hawk man always marries a Cicada woman. His Hawk sister would always marry a Cicada husband. While this means that his in-laws would be twice over, there is little danger of intermarriage beyond this generation, as his Hawk-Cicada pairing produces a child of Red Squirrel moiety, and her Hawk-Cicada pairing produces a child of Snake moiety, neither of which can marry the other.

The cyclical marriage relationships can be summarized below:

Husband is...Wife is...Have Children Who Are...Husband Avoids...
ElkRed SquirrelFoxCicada
Red SquirrelElkHawkCrow
HawkCicadaRed SquirrelSalmon
CrowFoxSalmonRed Squirrel

Naturally, this leads to a fair amount of arranged marriages, or at least a much smaller selection pool of available husbands and wives. This, of course, leads to marriages outside of the tribe in desperate situations, and the occasional loss of sons (as tribe is always determined by the mother, or in this case, the mother-in-law). A child always has the moiety of his or her paternal grandfather, who is expected to teach him or her the responsibilities inherent in the moiety as s/he comes of age. In situations where the grandfather is dead, another member of the same moiety will step forward as an "uncle" to provide the necessary instruction.

You'll notice that there is a column for "Husband Avoids..." which is another condition designed against blood-relative-marriage taboos. This represents the mother-in-law role, a specific Moiety which a husband is expected to defer to and resist direct contact with. In most tribes, this means that the husband of that moiety avoids even making eye contact with a woman of that other moiety, and never speaks to her directly; instead, his wife (or sister or mother if he is young enough) acts as the intermediary for interactions with that moiety for him. In some tribes, this even extends to him avoiding men of that moiety, ensuring that his wife acts as social liaison for all of his contact with that moiety.

Of course, marriage is one thing and love is another. A certain amount of flirting outside of one's moiety-approved marital line is expected, especially among the young. No one expects a teenager to be thrilled at his choice of marriage options, but responsibility to the tribe is something greater than love, and most of the old folks insist that love is found through hard work in a stable marriage. While it's not politely talked about, accidents and indiscretions happen, and some marriages are relatively lenient about affairs on the part of both husband and wife, so long as they don't result in children. The scandal around a husband's avoidance-moiety remains extremely grave, as does the implication that a woman has born a child from a mate other than her husband's moiety. It's a delicate house of cards, and it sometimes comes toppling down. It gives the Snake and Salmon people no end of headaches, as they're constantly forced to investigate pedigree and corral the young. Herbal contraceptives aren't exceedingly difficult to come by in Khale's rainforests, but accidents continue to happen, and passion is it's own motivator.

[Editor's note: You'll have to forgive me for certain strange language constructions in this. The term which is used to connote close blood relatives marrying or producing offspring (hint: it starts with an "i"...) is apparently a banned one on the Forge, so if you type it out, your post gets rejected out of turn. We're discussing anthropology here, and specifically how to avoid said situation, so we'll just bear with and move on.]

Moiety Beyond the Tribe
Members of separate and even rival tribes are still born to the same moiety, which provides for a structured opportunity of cross-tribal marriage, particularly when numbers in a tribe become too low. As a man becomes a member of his new tribe once he marries in, the exchange of husbands is rarely sufficient to stop an inter-tribal conflict. Despite this expected social norm, it can become a brutal moment when a son is forced to fight his father's tribe, killing his own birth-brothers at the behest of his in-laws. Adrift in this new world, he at least has the comfort of his moiety to fall back upon; no matter his new tribe, his paternal grandfather is still his same moiety, and any person he meets of his same moiety has a kin relationship with him, as he is in the same "responsibility group" and faces the same social expectations.

In places where populations are high, it's not uncommon for members of a moiety to form a lodge, a social group which cuts across multiple tribes so that other members of the same moiety can rely on each other when they need assistance in performing their ritual responsibilities. Lodges are ideal sources of the kind of strength in an "intervention" which a moiety prefers: a matter might not have to go to tribunal if twenty Fox people from four different tribes show up to strongly caution (read: politely threaten) you that your choice of actions is unwise. Lodges are also ideal sources for members of a moiety to share their woes, get advice, discuss strategies which might work in a situation, or pass information to another tribe. Sometimes tribes who are at war can find a common cause in an enemy, such as an Ammenite encroachment into their woods, simply because the lodges of the Elk and the Snake pass information and warnings across tribal lines. This gives opportunities for chieftains to save face, maintaining their traditional rivalries while actually covertly passing support to each other.

Outsiders present problems for Khaleans because of their lack of moiety. A Khalean man doesn't know how to interact with an attractive woman whose moiety he doesn't know; is he fortunate in meeting a lovely lass from an appropriate moiety for him to court and marry, a woman who shares his moiety and is thus friend and "co-worker" in daily responsibilities, or from the moiety he is supposed to avoid at all costs? This anxiety can make Khaleans wary of letting outsiders participate in too many tribal issues, particularly because a person without a moiety has no responsibilities themselves, and is effectively a parasite on the tribe's resources who does not contribute watchfulness in turn. Thus it is fairly common for an outsider who develops a healthy relationship with a tribe to receive a moiety through a formal naming ritual, which provides him with the social expectations and benefits of being full-blooded Khalean.

Of course, in most situations, these "gift-moieties" bear less responsibilities than a true member of the tribe has. A Qek trader who brings furs might be granted a Snake moiety because he's seen as such a "Snake person"--he is a foreigner, and it was Snakes who watched over him at first. Alternately, he might be made a member of a moiety which has poor representation in the tribe (due to low birth rates or unexpected deaths), in the hopes that he'll mary into the tribe and produce children. If he does, though, he's a Snake man, and no matter which Khalean woman he falls in love with, he'd better marry a Salmon woman, and their children will be Cicada moiety. Similarly, if he's made a Snake man, he better not be found making eyes at a Fox woman, as tha simply isn't done. He might get a gentle warning for it at first, because he's still a gift-moiety, but he'd better not do it too often or he's going to end up an outcast. Similarly, though he's Snake, he's not going to be considered falling down on the job if he's away for four months in Qek and problems develop with local healers being mysteriously poisoned. He wasn't here at the time, and he's a gift-moiety. But if other Snakes ask for help while he's around in dealing with the issue while he's around, he'd better take it seriously, or he's going to get a talking to from a local Red Squirrel (who monitors Snakes who fall down on the job, if you recall from above).


That's it for the basics (if you can call any system quite this complex "basic"). I think the responsibilities of the moieties can probably use a little expansion, but that's going to come out of things which develop best in an individual game.

I'll post a few of the Secrets that I built off of these ideas, if people have enough interest in seeing them. They're mostly the sort of straightforward things you'd expect, but I figure I should share the whole system if people are interested. Mostly, though, this isn't as much about mechanics and crunchiness as a potential drama complication for games. It also hopefully does some things to make the interactions of Qek families distinct from Khale's tribes, as you've got the whole moiety layer here to play with, as an interesting twist for Khale's larger populations.

Comments, questions, and suggestions for improvement always welcome.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)


Josh, this stuff is incredible. This is nicely filling some gaps I tried to cover with my Oran write-up.


Thanks, Harald,

I should tell you that I love the existing Oran stuff, and wouldn't want to add any of this sort of thing to it, as I think it's really perfect the way it is. Oran's gender-castes are a fascinating way of splitting the culture, and I love that those groups stay so distinct and really *don't* seem to marry, but instead have these regular cycles of interaction which are bounded only to that specific time.

That said, in endlessly generating Near-related cultural fluff and crunch, I have all sorts of ideas about the Oranid cosmology and how it all works, and how they segregate certain ideas, professions, and even natural phenomena into male things and female things, so you're right in that there's probably overlap. I'm sure I'll get around to posting some of that stuff, that you can feel free to include, modify, or ignore as you or anyone else sees fit.

I'll post what little Khalean moiety crunch I have written-up tomorrow.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)

Eero Tuovinen

Great stuff, this. I'll reference it in my Khale writeup for the book.

More later, when I have time to tackle the backlog. Next week, I imagine.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


The new edition of "The Shadow of Yesterday" should have "Court of Shadows" in it's title...


Is there a term for when a small group has all the moieties in it? Something that shows that it has all aspects covered? Or would it matter that a hunting expedition, or a diplomatic envoy group have everything covered?



I hadn't intended for there to be full moiety representation in an intentional group like a hunting party or a diplomatic mission, though the idea that if you were sending a diplomat out you'd want him to have some backing from the appropriate moieties isn't a bad one, certainly. Though, for instance, the Lodges themselves represent groups which are perfectly functional even though they're almost entirely composed of a single moiety. A war party should probably just have warriors and the people they need with them to complete their tasks. It's the job of the Hawk moiety to police their actions if others feel they've stepped out of line, whether that's through unnecessary bloodshed, simple laziness, or provoking conflict where there didn't have to be any.

The presence of all eight is more critical for an actual tribe, where it's either an inevitability or it forces marriage outside of the tribe, due to the cyclic generational nature of moiety politics. (Incidentally, I've found the easiest way to figure out how often these things recur, I've found, is just to plot yourself and your own family to the moiety chart. Choose a moiety you like for yourself, to start, and then you'll quickly be able to plot out what your parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc. are, which is a factor of their gender and the moiety of others.) Because moiety is something you're born into, you're often a victim of circumstance. I don't necessarily see it as the sort of "super team" phenomena, where if you're going to build a solid group you need a Hawk, a Fox, a Crow, a Red Squirrel, etc etc... and to have all eight moieties represented. But a larger social unit like a tribe pretty much requires them or has to draw on the other tribes.

All that said, if it feels exciting to you to expand on this and push the idea further, feel free to do so. It's a framework for making a game spicier, and as always, that's a season-to-taste type of scenario. Eight members of a group seems like it might be a little unwieldy to me for certain tasks, but all tribes are different. I can see a tribe being traditional and believing that moiety balance for major endeavors is absolutely essential, as a sort of extension on the Tribunal stuff that I talk about. I think the idea that a tribe colors the responsibilities and functionality of moiety by its social pressures is a fundamentally good one. For example, if you're a tribe of Khaleans who deal with an aspect that isn't yet represented under moieties, like "mining", odds are you're going to make it the priority of an existing moiety, as you can't just create a new one without disrupting the parent/child cycle and potentially having kids who can't find spouses. Who deals with mine safety then? Elk? Crow? Some other moiety entirely? That's best decided by what would make your game interesting. If interactions with another species become an important issue for a humano-centric Khalean tribe--say, one at war with crazy monkey-goblins from Qek--then maybe that becomes an issue which is folded into the responsibilities of Red Squirrel or Snake. From a different approach, maybe the Tribunal-like structure is used for a lot of things, such as initiation rites for children, marriage ceremonies, diplomatic missions, or anything else. Minor differences between these tribes can be highlighted in what they do and don't do with moiety responsibilities.

You'll notice I deliberately left Moon Metal out of the moiety responsibilities chart, as it stands. The moon metal remains such an intrusion on to Khalean culture that I didn't want to have it be one moiety's responsibility over another; I like that it's disruptive, and "outside the natural order" both in terms of how it behaves and how the Khaleans deal with it.

Also, because I keep promising to do something like it, here's some rough sketches for how moiety Secrets might work in a game:

Secret of the Lodge
While any Khalean might be loosely affiliated with a lodge of other members of his moiety, yours is particularly accomplished, and members give generously of their time and resources to support the moiety's goals. You can make a Genealogy check to establish Effect Dice pools, which take the form of materials and aid your moiety-mates provide to you. These effects can be spent on Equipment Ratings also, but the function and imbuement of the Equipment, as with the uses of the Effect Dice, are always limited to the narrow focus of your moiety's area of responsibility. You can generate this Effect pool once a day for free, but additional checks beyond that, or maintaining the pool beyond refresh, require pool expenditure. Prerequisite: Being a member in good standing of a Khalean moiety. Additionally, refusal to come to the aid of your moiety-mates may result in other moiety members contesting this Secret's usage.

Secret of Moiety Inclusion
Though you are not born a Khalean, you have been given a "skin name" and you know to which moiety you belong. You are permitted all the rights and responsibilities of a member of that moiety, and can join lodges and sit on tribunals as if you were born among the tribes. Additionally, the expectations on you are slightly more generous than they would be for someone born to the ways of the tribe; you have a bonus die on any check where you try and weasel your way out of the expectations of the rest of your moiety's normal roles. Though you don't have a family line of your own to draw upon, you can still use the Genealogy ability in social chains with other Khaleans, allowing you to establish yourself in relation to them through moiety ties. Prerequisite: Not born a member of a Khalean tribe.

Secret of Sacred Responsibility
You take the responsibility to police your moiety's domain with great seriousness, and have been trained to recognize signs of wrong-doing and laziness. You add a bonus die on any check to tell when something is amiss within the areas of your moiety's responsibility (such as Discern Truth, or an ability which appraises material crafts or the health of a being). Adults or your moiety respect your insight into these matters and your commitment to the cause; you receive a bonus die on Orate checks when trying to convince them that they must take action to police a misdeed. Prerequisite: Being a member in good standing of a Khalean moiety.

I've played around with some others which give edges within a moiety's specific bailiwick, so that a Snake moiety member might have a bonus die on crafts checks for dealing with ropes and a bonus die on identifying poisonous plants, but in the end I think this is probably fine to split between the Secret of Sacred Responsibility and people going for Secrets like Ability Specialty.

If anyone has other ideas, or mechanics they think should be represented, however, I'm all for showing off their work there.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)