analogs for the Humans?

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HobbitFan
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analogs for the Humans?

Postby HobbitFan » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:28 am

Are there real world analogs or inspiration for the humans in Traveller?

Is the Imperium based upon any particular Earth Empire?
What culture do you think the Zhodani, Vilani and Solomani resemble?

I'm asking because I'm trying to give new players in my group a quick Traveller lowdown and if I had some cultures to equate the groups to it would help in making the political breakdown in the Galaxy understandable.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby GypsyComet » Fri Sep 13, 2013 3:52 am

There are no perfect matches as written.

You can play the Zhodani light or dark. The written material supports both. Dark Zhodani can be easily cast as "Yellow Menace" stereotypes from old movies, but neither light nor dark is very Chinese.

The Vilani are, after ten thousand years in space and significant cultural pollution from Earth, all over the map. So are most Solomani (aka Terrans, *us*). The Solomani Confed keeps wanting to be a fascist state but hasn't quite succeeded with the masses.

The Imperium as a whole is incredibly diverse. While genetically dominated by the Vilani and Solomani, there are also significant groups of other human variants with their own cultures, including four that have had notable empires of their own: the Geonee, Darmine, Luriani, and Suerrat. By 1105 there are Vargr just about everywhere, local human and alien races, and, of course, the Solomani roots are *us* and are hardly homogenous. Stir for seven hundred years, then collapse and let simmer for 1700 more, and finally turn on the lights, remix for a thousand years, and voila, the published setting.

You can imagine, if you really need to, that the Imperium is the current and former British Empire circa 1800. Every place (world) you visit is different, but there are elements that carry over: language first and foremost. There are local languages, but Galanglic is everywhere. Some worlds are very "Imperial" and others barely acknowledge the Imperium in their day to day lives. The Imperium is a nation of "Men, not Laws" even when the worlds themselves have laws. Individual nobles range from vital to useless, and their allegiances include the Imperium and their homeworld in varying degrees.

The Vilani have had grav and jump tech longer than we have had the wheel, and the Geonee and Suerrat are in the same range.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Ishmael » Fri Sep 13, 2013 12:58 pm

I always looked at the various races like this....

Zhodani ~= Mughal Empire
Vilani of Ziru Siirka ~= Han Dynsaty Imperial China
Solomani ~= Soviet Socialist Republics
Aslan ~= Edo Period Japan ( although Three Kingdoms Period Korea might be more intersting )
Vargr ~= various tribal organizations whether North American Plains Indians or possibly the Pashtun peoples
K'Kree ~= mesoamerican civilizations such as the Olmec or Aztec
Imperium ~= various modern western societies ruled by an authority organized along the lines of papal authority, but purely secular
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Epicenter » Fri Sep 13, 2013 10:44 pm

The Imperium is sort of a hazy "all things to all people" type group, but they feature touchstones from the major Empires taught in an American history class. Early on I think the Imperium had quite a bit of Rome and the British Empire mixed in. Steadily since then, the Imperium has more and more of the modern "American Empire" mixed in.

The -i suffix for the major human races (Vilani, Solomani, and Zhodani) as pointed out a few times is how they name peoples in Latin (Marcomanni, Boii, and so on). The idea of "client states" also was a Roman thing. The concept that the Imperium gives subject peoples and worlds a lot of freedom except for certain pervasive imperial institutions is also pretty Roman. Obviously the idea of Emperors is very Roman. Unlike Rome, the Imperium is not ruled by its Legions but by its navy, however the Legions still exist in the marines. Obviously, the very name of "Imperium" instead of "Empire" has the Roman trappings (if a bit of a misuse of the Latin word, since the thing the Imperium doesn't have very much of is ... imperium).

The idea that the Imperium is held together by its Navy is very British Empire. In addition, a lot of the travel culture (the idea of "passages") as well as the concept of tramp traders and rampant speculative trade is closer to the British Empire period of history. The relationship that nobles have to commoners is very British Empire as is idea that only a single person inherits a title.

Obviously someone at GDW was a huge fan of the USMC as is pretty obvious to someone who isn't such a raving fanboy of the USMC. The concept that worlds, nations, and disparate people can find peace and a degree of understanding by being interdependent on trade is a very American concept. While the megacorporations can be seen as a kind of equivalent to the Roman patrician families or British nobility, I think it's more rooted in the 1980s (and earlier) views of multinational corporations.

EDIT: I should add, as dragoner's post below reminded me the Imperium doesn't have gladiator games, more akin to the United States, it has commercialism and conspicuous consumption as its methods of keeping the masses happy.
Last edited by Epicenter on Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby dragoner » Fri Sep 13, 2013 11:00 pm

IMTU -

The Zhodani are Sufistic-Fremen where psionics is "a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one's inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits". (copied from the Sufism Wikipedia page); the Solomani are Fascist Italy and The Imperium is a polyglot trade federation with the Nobility and Emperor etc. as a dog and pony show to provide spectacle.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby ShawnDriscoll » Sat Sep 14, 2013 1:55 am

I treat Solomani as both good and bad Terrans caught up in an unfortunate totalitarian existence, much like the inner/outer parties and proles in 1984. See also Starship Troopers, and the UEF in Supreme Commander.

The Aslan, I threat as philosopher Vikings.

The K'Kree, I treat as refugees in reservations and hippies from the '60s. With a hint of India.

The Vargr, I treat as the road gangs from Mad Max 2. Not dogs. Never dogs. And not furries.

The Vilani, I treat as Vulcans (for now). I don't use them at all in games. When I do, they may change to something else. Maybe as an androgynous race that clones their kids and dogs as insurance.

The Zhodani, I treat as Arabs (for now). Xenophobic toward unclean minds. They nuke first, then read minds. It could change when I finish reading the Mongoose book.

The Droyne, I treat as being evolved from our dinosaurs. Maybe they killed off the dinosaurs before leaving Earth. They have an ant/hive mentality.
Last edited by ShawnDriscoll on Sat Sep 14, 2013 12:17 pm, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby enderra » Sat Sep 14, 2013 7:44 am

Epicenter pretty much nailed it, I think.

Don't forget to look at Foundation, which was more or less a direct lift from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. 3I is pretty much based on Foundation.

Spelling "Traveller" with two L's is also obviously designed to evoke a "British Empire" feel.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby GypsyComet » Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:49 am

enderra wrote: 3I is pretty much based on Foundation.
And Poul Anderson's "Falkayn", "Van Rijn", and "Flandry" stories, the source of the Long Night, an inspiration for the Virushi and Vargr, exploratory merchants, and a significant part of the Imperial Navy.

There is no single SF author who can be tagged as the source for all of Traveller. Several topics here have already addressed the list of inspirations that affected Marc Miller and Company. It is not a short list.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Sat Sep 14, 2013 9:51 am

I think direct comparisons are impossible, which, to be honest, is a good thing and allows a lot of flexibility. However, for what its worth, the following have always reminded me of some human societies more than others;

The Imperium- the service nobility structure, and pretence of absolute power, while actually power is very fragmented, remind me of the later Roman Empire (3rd-4th century AD), or perhaps the Holy Roman Empire in its earlier centuries.

Solomani - space fascists, extreme nationalist/racist ideologes, but as seen through the window of Hollywood war movies, so there as "good" Germans, as well as "bad" Nazis.

Zhodani- USSR c1956, but taken to the extreme as the ultimate mind controlled authoritarian society.

Vilani - ancient China, with mandarins and a Confucian philosophy.

Aslan- Shogunate Japan

Vargr - Pre-colonisation Africa, as viewed by the West before 1960, a wide range of diverse and unstable cultures, where "strong men" of high charisma are able to seize power, but can lose power quickly as well.

K'Kree - No human society really seems to fit well for these.

Droyne - Seem vaguely "hippy" like.

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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby enderra » Sat Sep 14, 2013 10:01 am

GypsyComet wrote:
enderra wrote: 3I is pretty much based on Foundation.
And Poul Anderson's "Falkayn", "Van Rijn", and "Flandry" stories, the source of the Long Night, an inspiration for the Virushi and Vargr, exploratory merchants, and a significant part of the Imperial Navy.
Dunno, Foundation is all about a "Long Night", and as for exploratory merchants, see "The Traders" and "The Merchant Princes".
GypsyComet wrote: There is no single SF author who can be tagged as the source for all of Traveller. Several topics here have already addressed the list of inspirations that affected Marc Miller and Company. It is not a short list.
Certainly. However I was writing about the Third Imperium, not Traveller as a whole. The statement is true for the 3I as well, of course, but the somewhat more limited scope makes analysis easier.

I am pretty sure Foundation predates Anderson's Sci Fi; otoh and iirc they were both Campbellian and Campbell certainly encouraged his writers to write about concepts he liked. On the subject of the "long night", for example, that can also be found in "The Cosmic Computer" and "Space Viking", by Piper - who also wrote for Campbell and was certainly no small "inspiration" for Traveller.

Perhaps a good summary for Traveller and 3I specifically is "Campbellian".
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Mithras » Sat Sep 14, 2013 11:15 am

If you consider the Zhodani as 'neutral', rather than an evil empire, Vulcans make quite a good analogy. Logic brought about by total understanding of the workings of the mind. Society ordered by that knowledge, and of course, psionics.

I've thought of the 3i as a British Empire analog, with aristocratic titles, East India-like Megacorporations and power through naval fleets to protect trade.

Vargr I see as Vikings, Aslan probably samurai, but to be honest I do like the Viking analogy better, and maybe Vagr are better compared to Germanic tribes on the edges of the Roman Empire, with warbands and comitatus, fighting for strong chiefs, sometimes fighting for, sometimes against the imperium. Never united.

Darrians ... Never used them. Sword Worlders, certainly not Vikings, despite the connection to Piper's Space Viking. Remind me of some small nation caught between two Cold War superpowers, trusted by neither... Ideas?

I like the Chinese culture analog for Vilani. That fits, but so does ancient Egyptians!
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby dragoner » Sat Sep 14, 2013 12:02 pm

Epicenter wrote:I should add, as dragoner's post below reminded me the Imperium doesn't have gladiator games, more akin to the United States, it has commercialism and conspicuous consumption as its methods of keeping the masses happy.
For me, yes, I do use a little of late Roman era (western) circa 200AD, in the Nobility such as the Dux Belorum, non-primogeniture nobles and equestrians as "duty nobles". But this comes in to the Rule of Man, and thus the 3I with a little imtu meta: The Terran Confederation cyborg super soldiers established themselves as "knight protectors" of the Vilani, in disobedience and hailed Estigarribia as "general of the armies" or Imperator. Thus the naming conventions of the 3I, use old galanglic terms in the same way earlier times used classical latin, but the actual meanings had drifted.

The Zhodani, to me aren't mind controlled, as such as that generation upon generation, they don't think about it, they are culturally monolithic.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby GypsyComet » Sat Sep 14, 2013 5:44 pm

enderra wrote: Dunno, Foundation is all about a "Long Night", and as for exploratory merchants, see "The Traders" and "The Merchant Princes".
Foundation starts some of the broad concepts, yes. Traveller Imperium is more closely derived from Anderson when you start looking "on the ground" as opposed to the more distant and often academic approach of Foundation. About the only part of the Flandry stories that is not a direct fit to Traveller is the FTL.

Centuries before Flandry's Imperium was the Polesotechnic League. Traveller's merchants owe a lot to the tales of David Falkayn and his crew.
dragoner wrote: The Zhodani, to me aren't mind controlled, as such as that generation upon generation, they don't think about it, they are culturally monolithic.
The Zhodani aren't as monolithic as they appear (unlike the Aslan, who have no tolerance for cultural drift) but do have a few tenets that persist at the center of their cultural assumptions. The Zhodani can be seen as very dark and totalitarian, like a version of THX1138 that replaces cameras and drugs with psionics, or as somewhat enlightened, using the powers of the nobility to keep the Proles safe, or many shades of grey in between. The written material supports whichever of these you care to use, or even all of them at the same time. The Zhodani Consulate is a big place.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Epicenter » Sat Sep 14, 2013 11:47 pm

As for the Solomani, Vilani, and Zhodani...

The Solomani are difficult for me to say. "Racial supremacist bad guys" is a vibe that was introduced about them at some point, and it's an easy stereotype to run with, and I think a variety of (frankly lazy) authors of Traveller material have really emphasized this to extremes to turn them into "Space Nazis". While many look at Nazi Germany as the inspiration for the Solomani, to me their society seems more like a superficial treatment of the Soviet Union. The dislike the nobility, the penchant for Solomani to wear zip-up quasi-military jumpsuits ("worker's clothing" / the militarism of the Soviet Union), the pervasiveness of the KGB-like SolSec, and the Solomani Party.

Vilani and Zhodani are the "oriental" cultures in the vein of "orientalism."

The Zhodani are often thought of as "Arab" because of the turbans, but I think the mystic psionics angle of the Zhodani really is more akin to a Westerner's view of India of the 1960s and 1970s (of which the Traveller writers are all children of those periods) so think more the Maj Mahal and "Nerhu suits and turbans". Their material technology is comfortably lower than "us" (the Imperium), yet the development of their "philosophy" (psionics) makes them exotic and a threat that cannot be completely ignored. The emphasis on the Zhodani is inscrutability and elements that are contra-intuitive. Like their "happiness police", their views on crime, and in fact right down to their reasoning for the Frontier Wars.

The Vilani have a lot of elements of Han China mixed in with ancient "oriental" empires where corruption is such a fact of life it has traditions - traditions that are stronger than laws, like how much of a bribe you offer, how you offer it, and rules on things like assassinations. If you look at ancient Orientalism, particularly Oriental Despotism as promulgated by Aristotle about the Persians, you see the Vilani.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby HobbitFan » Sun Sep 15, 2013 5:17 am

thanks guys! Insightful responses. It is good to hear from experienced players when you are trying to learn a new setting. I can't explain the universe to my game group if I can't get a handle on things myself!

I had already sorta clued into the Zhodoni as Indians motif.
I did not pick up on any of the others.
The Volani as China works for me!

I like the idea of the Third Imperium being the holy Roman Empire harkening back to a Rome they don't really understand. Although I guess Tsarist Russia would work for that too.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Mithras » Sun Sep 15, 2013 6:20 am

HobbitFan wrote:thanks guys! Insightful responses. It is good to hear from experienced players when you are trying to learn a new setting. I can't explain the universe to my game group if I can't get a handle on things myself!

I had already sorta clued into the Zhodoni as Indians motif.
I did not pick up on any of the others.
The Volani as China works for me!

I like the idea of the Third Imperium being the holy Roman Empire harkening back to a Rome they don't really understand. Although I guess Tsarist Russia would work for that too.
I guess, like the rest of us, you pick a trope that you are familiar with and run with that ... Cos there is no real answer...!
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Epicenter » Sun Sep 15, 2013 10:45 am

GypsyComet wrote: The Zhodani aren't as monolithic as they appear (unlike the Aslan, who have no tolerance for cultural drift) but do have a few tenets that persist at the center of their cultural assumptions. The Zhodani can be seen as very dark and totalitarian, like a version of THX1138 that replaces cameras and drugs with psionics, or as somewhat enlightened, using the powers of the nobility to keep the Proles safe, or many shades of grey in between. The written material supports whichever of these you care to use, or even all of them at the same time. The Zhodani Consulate is a big place.
I've always imagined that the Zhodani have tremendous cultural variation in the Consulate, just as much as the Imperium. Zhodani culture as shown in the canon materials are basically applicable to the Zhodani as "Imperial standard culture" is applicable to the Imperium. A look at Zhodani worlds shows they are not of a uniform TL and so on which suggests to me there's a lot of variation.

On some worlds, psions keep their presence secret - they find that non-psions are much more happy and productive when they're unaware of the presence of ubermensch amongst them; the Zhodani nobles and proles have a more "illuminati" type presence, testing children as part primary school placement tests and those who are good enough are separated and initiated into the deeper mysteries - or if the child is totally uninterested, that is respected as well and their memories of the period are wiped and they're returned to their place.

On other worlds, the proles are even more closely monitored and have few rights, essentially being extensions of the psion they're assigned to.

Some worlds favor keeping psionics as "mysterious" to keep the proles in line with superstitious awe. Others favor a more scientific view and are constantly trying to find ways to more reliably develop powerful psions with the intent of making all of humanity psionic.

I also had the idea that psionic shielding helmets were a technology given to the Imperium by the Zhodani. This was not to help build trust with the Imperium, but for the Zhodani to protect themselves. Zhodani are still human and are still curious. It's inevitable that a psionic Zhodani would poke around inside the heads of those he's talking to. It's second nature amongst Zhodani and nobody thinks anything of it, any more than a person looking at the shoes or clothes that someone is wearing. However, meeting non-Zhodani humans, with their heads full of strange and often aberrant thoughts often awakens undesirable curiousity in the Zhodani while many suffered from PTSD from the shocking weirdness and strange unchecked mental illnesses they found. So to protect themselves, Zhodani almost always distribute psionic shelding helmet plans for any group expected to meet with lots of Zhodani.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Egil Skallagrimsson » Mon Sep 16, 2013 8:46 pm

Epicenter wrote:The Solomani are difficult for me to say. "Racial supremacist bad guys" is a vibe that was introduced about them at some point, and it's an easy stereotype to run with, and I think a variety of (frankly lazy) authors of Traveller material have really emphasized this to extremes to turn them into "Space Nazis". While many look at Nazi Germany as the inspiration for the Solomani, to me their society seems more like a superficial treatment of the Soviet Union. The dislike the nobility, the penchant for Solomani to wear zip-up quasi-military jumpsuits ("worker's clothing" / the militarism of the Soviet Union), the pervasiveness of the KGB-like SolSec, and the Solomani Party.
I suppose one totalitarian regime, the Nazis, and another, the Soviet Union, can often take on the trappings of the other, but I think that Solomani=Nazi was intended, the Solomani racial theory is classic Nazi thinking. In regard to nobles, the Nazis were pretty contemptuous of the old noble elites, once they had got themselves into power anyway. The obsessive focus on military uniforms looks very Nazi, where every pen pusher 3rd class had a military uniform, in Soviet society many of the most powerful men shambled around in ill fitting civilian suits. And finally, surely SolSec = Gestapo?

Perhaps what was intended was some of the worse aspects of some 20th century societies. In another current thread it has been suggested that the OTU reflects idealistic "golden age" sci-fi, but it could also be used as the basis for a very dystopian future. An Imperium lead by self serving, selfish and uncontrolled nobility, in conflict with each other and crushing anyone small caught in the way (Italian city states of the 15th century and their competitive families? The Sopranos? Any number of films where rich and powerful corporations re-invent the rules to suit themselves), a Solomani area committed to racial purity at any cost, brutal and aggressive Aslan following a code of honour which excludes almost everyone else (think Japanese Imperialists of the 1930s), aggressive and wild Vargr (Huns/Mongals? Ghengis Khan in a space ship?). Only the Zhodani look relatively stable, and that's because they brainwash anyone who might upset the status quo. If you want, YTU could be a very dark and dangerous universe.

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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Meanderer » Fri May 16, 2014 10:18 pm

I like that the descriptions of the governments and alien species is not so cookie cutter that everything fits into stereotypes.

The Solomani can come accross as Nazis or a quasi-soviet regime. But try to think of themselves as Armenians or Quebecois. Actually, I like that one. Militant French separatists. They have a strong cultural identity that has been threatened by a long-running immersion into someone else's culture(s). After centuries of cultural influences and colonialism (being governed by a remote unresponsive central government) they pushed for greater autonomy (with an overall desire of reasserting their cultural identity).

Quebec has laws limiting the use of English in signs and in media, and recently tried to bring in laws restricting public display of religious symbols. They want to assert their Province as a French nation, regardless of how much immigration has come from other cultural backgrounds. I figure the Solomani, having the authority to do so, went even further in trying to supress the influences and culture of other Humaniti to restore a purer Solomani culture on the region. They viewed this as a restoration of cultural pride. Others viewed this as oppression.

Now, a few generations after a costly war, the Solomani find themselves with fleets massed on/near their borders, their homeworld (natural capital) occupied by the "enemy". This would only spur thoughts of traitors in their midst and, like any other culture that considers themselves ratially superior, a feeling that if they can just make themselves purer they will have the strength to prevail.

Has the Solomani matched the paranoia of the French Revolution?

Consider what is currently going on in Ukraine. Will Ukraine, going forward, seek to get rid of Russian cultural influences? Will separatist elements seek to get rid of all things Ukrainian? Any people who consider themselves to have been invaded/colonized for generations will want to get rid of influences of their deemed oppressors. And you can't establish your true independence and self-sufficiency if you are dependent on the industry and resources of your deemed "enemy".

One Terran's laws to promote the local economy and industry is a Vilani megacorporation's protest of excessive and descriminatory taxation.

And a lot of the stories of oppression are of course what is being said in the Imperium. What the Russians are telling their citizens about what is going on in Ukraine and what is actually happening are not exactly the same thing.
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Re: analogs for the Humans?

Postby Condottiere » Mon May 19, 2014 10:23 am

Which accidental empire that tends to punch above it's weight, lost a series of very large colonies and feels a little patronized by it's successor state(s).

The British.

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