Using Local Folklore Or Indigenous Mythology

I live in Tasmania, Australia which is a pretty new country (in relation to other parts of the world) for a historical setting that could be used for inspiration in games.  However I am taking the westernised view of Australia coming on to the stage with the introduction of the convict colonies.  But in reality my country has a rich and unique past from its indigenous roots.  So, in future when I am thinking that I am short of ideas for my next adventure I may just start to educate myself in the mythology that surrounds the Aboriginal history of my country.

Every country has a unique history and it is a sad indictment on my country (and myself) that it has taken me this long to become interested in it.  My interest also stems from the fact that I am constantly looking for new material to form stories for my games.  If I had not been a creative soul perhaps I would never have shown the interest.  In fact, I can honestly say that I know more about the indigenous peoples of the North American continents spiritual beliefs than I do of the indigenous people of my own country.

I intend to start looking to the mythology of the aboriginal people for inspiration in creating games and I encourage you to do the same with your own country.  Be it with the indigenous population or your own peoples history look to the mythology and history of your country to inspire you to make a game of a different style.  I by no means am suggesting that you run it precisely the same, just find some inspiration to build off of.  Let me show you an example with some indigenous Australian mythology.

There is no direct translation for the driving force behind the spirituality of the Aboriginal people but westerners call it the Dreamtime or the Dreaming.  It is like a spiritual energy that enables the Aboriginals to contact their ancestor spirits and it has been a force since the creation of all things and continues on today.  The indigenous elders like it to be called the Dreamtime because it enforces a timelessness that is evoked by dreaming as opposed to an awakened conscious.

If you research the indigenous beliefs of Australia you actually find that there are many myths that are inherent to many of the tribes of Australia.  The one that I have heard that is my absolute favourite is that of Tiddalik the frog, also known as Molok in some cultures of the aboriginals.  It tells of a story where a frog (named Tiddalik) had an unquenchable thirst and so he drank until there was nothing left to drink and all of the lands water was in his stomach.  The plants and the land suffered from this as there was no water to nourish them, and of course this affected the other animals of the land.  They gathered together and knew that they must get the water from Tiddalik’s belly so they determined that they must make him laugh and one by one they tried to make him laugh until Nabunum the eel finally made him laugh by tying himself into comical shapes.  As Tiddalik laughed all the water spilled from his belly and formed the rivers, inlets and estuaries of the land.  Many people died in the flood, those that lived on were mainly those saved by the pelican whose black feathers were cleansed to be a mixture of black and white.

Aboriginal myths are largely nature tales but they have a narrative sequence much like our own that can be used to build a campaign or even a single adventure from.  Coming from a traditional Western (or European) background I would alter them to a situation that I can comprehend for a game.  Many people might use an anthromorphised style RPG to recreate this actual myth.  For me though this is the tale of a creature that tries to destroy the world through a massive drought or similar abstinence of food etc.  To me I would look for a suitable deity in Pathfinder OR a demon lord that would suit a style like this.  The players would work toward a point where they reverse the damage in a non-traditional manner (that is killing the threat does not restore the loss of resource) and the restoration of that resource would cause some form of damage or pain to those that had it stolen from.

I am sure the Dreamtime stories of the Aboriginals will
hold a lot more material for me to use!  Courtesy of…

As I break it down to a style that I would be comfortable with I can see why it is my favourite myth.  In it’s original form Tiddalik is just thirsty, he can’t help it, he is just thirsty.  Obviously he is hurting others by satiating that thirst but it is like an itch that he must scratch.  Those that resolve the situation cause a great deal of damage in the process but they do save some for the benefit of the future and a reliable resource is created.  It is full of moral choices and stories.  The evil may not be truly evil!  The players may kill some to save some and are they willing to be those people?  I now realise that I will make this adventure surrounding a circle of druids that have made the decision in the name of Gozreh, or one of the nature god’s to store all of a natural element as a balance to the destruction caused by other races or a kingdom.

The players need to track the druidic circle down and realise that “Hey, they have a point!  If we fix this thousands will die and what will have been saved?  We will be seen as destroyers and perhaps the druids will be seen as Martyrs.  if we don’t do this everyone will die.  What do we do?

See how I have taken this one myth (admittedly one of the two that I know) and turned it into something interesting?  Every country has these myths.  Some are folklore as the country may have only seen your own people living there and other countries (like Australia) have a young history but an ancient tradition.  I want you to challenge yourself and find out about the indigenous stories of your land or the local folklore of your own people.  Translate the stories, their difficulties and challenges into a game of the system of your choice.  Many of the Aboriginal tales would be suited to a fantasy setting but with some more work they could fit into any system.  Most mythology when broken down is supporting a universal truth so these truths should be able to be translated into any system.

Give it a try and let me know how you go.  I am excited to do more research and build some adventures from Aboriginal culture.  Research into my wife’s family has shown that she has a direct full blooded Aboriginal as her Great Grandmother.  This means I should investigate these sorts of things so our children can experience the richness of their culture.  This can be explored in a lot of ways, but the best way I can pass it on is via stories that I recreate for them in the form of games.  This connection aside, any folklore or mythology is a great source for games and i think it is a great idea that we all start that research at home.  Until next post, keep rolling!


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