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Slavery in your game?


Mr. R
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I have an old ICE Shadow World module I am updating for maybe/possibly using for a campaign.  Now a good part of the setting references slavery and how the slaves are gathered from the more primitive, darker jungle living people to the north (Yeah this module is showing its age).  I severely want to put the kibosh on that.  

 

So first question--- do you have slavery in your campaign?

Second--- is it something that is a facet of the setting OR something that is resulting in real divisions in your campaign?

Third--- do you have a slavery light (Indentured Servitude) OR Just say NOPE to slavery and adjust the campaign from there.

 

Personally I am thinking to keep it, but as part of the source material it mentions that parts of the setting have outlawed slavery while others seem to revel in it… so Civil War?

 

So basically I need some suggestions because, well unless the game is GET RID OF SLAVERY, I really don’t want it in my games!

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I don't do slavery. There's no real way to handle it delicately as a GM. And there's no way to ensure you aren't going to have a player who thinks slavery is a swell idea and who wants his character to abuse it in every way.

 

In every way.

 

It's just easier to sidestep the issue by not having it (and especially since for most Americans the issue of slavery is tied to race and ideas of worthiness/supremacy rather than a simple "we captured/conquered you so now you work for us" or "we're too cheap to build a prison system so you have to work off your debt to society").

 

 

On the other hand, indentured servitude is fairly common.

 

There's no social security so people with no families, as they get older, have the option of indenturing themselves. That gives them someone to serve who will also be contractually obligated to care for them even after the point when they cannot care for themselves. (idea stolen from the Bible)

 

It's also a way for a person with no "credit rating" to get a loan: goods, services, and/or transportation in exchange for contracted labor. (idea stolen from British colonies in North America)

 

For foreigners, it can be a step toward becoming a peasant. Peasants have the protection of the local lord (sometimes literally the right to come inside the castle for protection during an invasion). Unskilled foreigners can be indentured to clear some land and farm it for a few years before being upgraded to peasant (assuming they did a good job, paid taxes, and seemed loyal/respectful). Skilled foreigners might be granted the right to build a shop, ply their trade, and buy into any local guilds which might exist. (idea about how it applies to foreigners is original)

 

Foreigners wouldn't necessarily have to take the step of becoming indentured to the local lord first. But ones who don't would be essentially operating without official sanction and would leave themselves more open to confiscation and hassles from the local lord than businessmen who aren't foreigners.

 

 

Obviously I don't deal with indentured servitude as being stigmatized in any way. It's an official contract agreed to by both parties and enforceable by the local governing forces. A guy who tosses out his indentured "life-long" woman onto the street because she's gotten too old to do any useful labor would in theory be held as liable for breach of contract as an indentured servant who runs off because he doesn't want to work.

 

But while it's not stigmatized, most work is hired without official exclusive contracts (whether indentured servitude or not) and that work can be terminated by the employer at will. Or the rate of pay can change at will. Or what work is required can change at will.

 

So if you're being hired to go to a foreign country and work, for example, you're actually better off being indentured (or having some other kind of contract). Otherwise, you might be fired and stranded there or have your pay cut to nothing or unexpectedly have to pay for your own room and board.

 

Of course if you're in a foreign country, finding someone to enforce your contract might be difficult. But at least the threat is there.

 

 

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6 hours ago, archer said:

I don't do slavery. There's no real way to handle it delicately as a GM. And there's no way to ensure you aren't going to have a player who thinks slavery is a swell idea and who wants his character to abuse it in every way.

 

In every way.

 

It's just easier to sidestep the issue by not having it (and especially since for most Americans the issue of slavery is tied to race and ideas of worthiness/supremacy rather than a simple "we captured/conquered you so now you work for us" or "we're too cheap to build a prison system so you have to work off your debt to society").

 

 

On the other hand, indentured servitude is fairly common.

 

There's no social security so people with no families, as they get older, have the option of indenturing themselves. That gives them someone to serve who will also be contractually obligated to care for them even after the point when they cannot care for themselves. (idea stolen from the Bible)

 

It's also a way for a person with no "credit rating" to get a loan: goods, services, and/or transportation in exchange for contracted labor. (idea stolen from British colonies in North America)

 

For foreigners, it can be a step toward becoming a peasant. Peasants have the protection of the local lord (sometimes literally the right to come inside the castle for protection during an invasion). Unskilled foreigners can be indentured to clear some land and farm it for a few years before being upgraded to peasant (assuming they did a good job, paid taxes, and seemed loyal/respectful). Skilled foreigners might be granted the right to build a shop, ply their trade, and buy into any local guilds which might exist. (idea about how it applies to foreigners is original)

 

Foreigners wouldn't necessarily have to take the step of becoming indentured to the local lord first. But ones who don't would be essentially operating without official sanction and would leave themselves more open to confiscation and hassles from the local lord than businessmen who aren't foreigners.

 

 

Obviously I don't deal with indentured servitude as being stigmatized in any way. It's an official contract agreed to by both parties and enforceable by the local governing forces. A guy who tosses out his indentured "life-long" woman onto the street because she's gotten too old to do any useful labor would in theory be held as liable for breach of contract as an indentured servant who runs off because he doesn't want to work.

 

But while it's not stigmatized, most work is hired without official exclusive contracts (whether indentured servitude or not) and that work can be terminated by the employer at will. Or the rate of pay can change at will. Or what work is required can change at will.

 

So if you're being hired to go to a foreign country and work, for example, you're actually better off being indentured (or having some other kind of contract). Otherwise, you might be fired and stranded there or have your pay cut to nothing or unexpectedly have to pay for your own room and board.

 

Of course if you're in a foreign country, finding someone to enforce your contract might be difficult. But at least the threat is there.

 

 

 

Thank you for the VERY detailed response!

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As with DrunkOnDuty: In my current campaign, slavery is something the bad guys do. It's one of the things that makes them bad guys.

 

Now, a sociological purist would not have this. As far as I can tell, every human culture institutes slavery once it reaches a certain size and complexity. If you are creating cultures of humans, therefor, there should be slaves. Labor-saving machines might eventually make *some* forms of slavery redundant... but not all. In the real world today, various forms of slavery remain endemic in many cultures, even though it is supposed to be illegal. Even in the US, individuals get prosecuted for trying to enslave other people (domestic labor, for instance), so the appeal of the concept has not vanished completely.

 

But this is Fantasy, so sociological purity is not absolutely required. You don't need to include slavery, any more than you need to include daily scenes of disease and famine, if that's not what your story is about.

 

ADDENDUM: If anyone does want to make slavery a part of their setting, I recommend the Encyclopedia Britannica article on slavery as a brief guide to the many forms it can take. The most common form seems to be domestic labor; and the slave is a "prestige good," owned not so much for the value of the labor as just to show that you have the wealth and status to own another person. Sex slavery is also very common, which brings in whole new levels of ick that, vide Archer, I would be reluctant to bring into a game.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Not in my campaigns.

 

In my current campaign people who commit certain crimes will get sentenced to some form of 'community service/labor'.   The time period is based on the seriousness of the crime and whether someone is a repeat offender or not.  The offender can be 'loaned' out to a private interest with some very specific legal expectations.  For instance the party needed some labor and ended up hiring a 'prison crew'.  They had to keep them well fed, not abuse them and at the end of their term had to pay them a minimal amount.  When the prisoners' terms were completed they characters offered them permanent positions and most signed up.

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1 hour ago, DShomshak said:

As far as I can tell, every human culture institutes slavery once it reaches a certain size and complexity. If you are creating cultures of humans, therefor, there should be slaves.

 

Complete agreement. My objections are purely an "I don't want to deal with this in-game regardless of historical or sociological accuracy".

 

As societies become more complex, it's quite common that they need a way to deal with prisoners before they become rich enough to buy land then build prisons and hire guards. So people who've committed crimes are sold into slavery either to compensate the victims or to compensate the crown.

 

There's also an issue when you conquer a neighbor. Soldiers were often paid with loot from a conquest which makes your army a bad choice for an occupying force. So you:

 

1) Kill everyone there.

 

 2) Let the adult population alone there until they revolt and you have to send in soldiers again to slaughter everyone who might be in revolt.

 

3) Or enslave people then settle your own citizens on the land.

 

Someone could attempt to make the argument that slavery is a more moral choice in that situation than to slaughter everyone or to have repeated cycles of slaughtering most everyone.

 

 

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Having done the majority of my fantasy gaming this millennium in Hero's Turakian Age setting, I like the spectrum of attitudes to slavery in various areas and cultures. Across a very large part of the known world, the buying and selling of slaves is illegal. People bringing slaves in from elsewhere may keep them, but keeping slaves is frowned upon. In the city-state of Eltirian, which was founded by escaped slaves, the practice is completely forbidden, and any slave brought within the city's walls is automatically freed.

 

Over other large regions of the world slavery is practiced, both privately and by the state, but slaves have certain legal rights. They may own property, marry, and buy their freedom for a court-set price. There are legal consequences for severely abusing a slave.

 

Among other nations slaves have no rights, and are considered property to be disposed of as their owners see fit. In the case of the city-state of Talarshand, slavery is the foundation of their economy. Matching the observations on this thread, these are mostly "bad guy" nations.

 

It's entirely possible to have many adventures in the part of the TA world where slavery isn't a significant factor. However, I find it interesting for role-playing purposes to have the option to sometimes bring PCs and NPCs with differing social attitudes into face-to-face conflict, or to send characters from one region into another where their assumptions about acceptable behavior aren't shared.

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Star Wars have dealt with Slavery. And it seems no worse for it. Slavers are bad of course. It’s one of the old reasons why you didn’t see so many Wookiee’s around in the original movies l. And I believe they dealt with Slaver guilds in the new cartoons.

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When I first read your opening post, I _leapt_ to something that has rankled me more than anything has in many years:

 

Those ugly little "house elves" in Harry Potter:  wrap it however you would like, those are slaves, and the normalcy assigned to having house elves---   well, I don't want to violate any rage speech rules, but suffice it to say that I had no idea how the series ended until it penetrated pop culture deeply enough that I picked it up from references and memes.

 

Mind you: not slavery as concept, but specifically that it was just "done" that affluent people had these slaves.   Gah-- I can't even talk about it.  

 

No: other fiction with slavery-- while it's never a pleasant thing-- doesn't work me up quite as much as seeing it normalized by a modern author in a modern work essentially marketed at modern children.  And no: making them disgusting to look at didn't help me to accept their enslavement at all.  I'm not sure if it was supposed to, but it didn't.

 

 

 

That being said:

 

I have several fantasy worlds in which indentured servitude exists; the legitimacy of this varies from culture to culture and even from person to person, but it's never applied as a racial thing.

 

I have a couple of fantasy worlds-- and a couple of western worlds, actually-- where slavery exists.  

 

In these fantasy worlds, much like the indentured servitude, it's not a racial thing so much as-- just as was pointed out above-- something modeled on the ancient origins of war slaves:  "we kicked your butts and trampled your city; we own you now."   And, as in ancient times, this was really more about politics or a warlord amassing bodies to throw at the next enemy more than anything else: any race may take slaves, depending on their own culture, and any race can be slaves, depending on their circumstances.  Aggressive Group A needs the resources currently held by Poorly Defended Group B....   there you go.

 

Even in these worlds, though, there are usually circumstances that allow a slave to "earn" freedom-- mostly through exceptional service, and frankly, mostly posthumously in the darker settings.  No; this is not done to justify slavery-- no; let me clarify: this is not done so that I may justify it to myself.  It is done, again, as a model of things that were in times gone by actually practiced, and as a means of pointing out just who even those taking slaves understood on some level that "this is kinda messed up."

 

 

All that being said, I do have one particular non-YATRO fantasy world where slavery is racial, kind of, in as much as there is only one race that keeps slaves.  They are a hive-minded insectile race who absolutely do not accept the concepts of individual worth or even personhood of any other race, and accordingly view the other "people races" as being no more than any other sort of animal.  I mean this quite literally, to the point where the slaves are those members of a prey species that have demonstrated a particular cleverness or trainable docility and have therefore been put to work.  They will still ultimately be eaten, but it won't be until they do not perform their duties to the demanded standard.  This extends to pretty much every animal, including weaker or underperforming members of their own race.  The collective is the only "person," and everything is acceptable in the service of the collective.

 

Of course, this _has_ caused a sort of racial tension in which these people are killed on sight, and are viewed (rightfully so, I suppose, seeing as how they are literally a tool-using ant colony) as brutal barbarians who are unable to participate in a larger society.  They _can_, of course; it just has to be _their_ larger society.  Unless it's that of a competing collective, in which case, there are no other collectives; these are prey animals and nothing more.

 

 

 

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The association of slavery with race is a legacy of the European/American approach to the practice, and on a large scale is relatively late in the history of slavery. For thousands of years slavery was either the result of the fortunes of war (including raids on enemy states for the purpose of taking slaves), or as a legal penalty for crimes, a measure to pay off debts, and so on. As Duke notes above, the status of slave was not necessarily lifelong, and could be ended through legal and financial means. Slavery was also not solely for the purpose of heavy or unskilled labor. Many tradesmen and craftsmen, scholars, administrators, physicians, and the like were also retained as slaves, valued for their skills and often granted commensurate privileges. None of which excuses slavery, of course, but for role-playing purposes it's good to keep the range of possibilities in mind. Society has a habit of rationalizing and assimilating the most odious practices to make them at least palatable to the majority.

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Certainly.  The practice was endemic to every historical civilization, so virtually every source of inspiration for pre-modern fantasy cultures.  Besides, slavers make great villains - they're like fantasy Nazis, that way.  And, it gives the stereotypical barbarian hero - who is uncivilized, so maybe comes from a culture with no such institutions -  a little moral high ground, from which, with some irony, to project our post-modern de rigueur abhorrence.  

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There's an outstanding example from Hero's fantasy supplement, Nobles, Knights, And Necromancers, of the adventure possibilities of a world which includes slavery, the Red Talon Guild, a network of slavers who kidnap people from parts of the world where slavery is illegal, and transport them for sale to places where it is legal. Their operations span thousands of miles, involving a network of gangs of thieves and smugglers, tribes of barbarians and bands of mercenaries, and manors or castles along their trade routes where they can stash their victims. PCs who aren't ready or interested to save the world, may be highly motivated to track down and recover a kidnapped friend or family member.

 

 

 

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The setting for White Wolf/Onyx Path's game Exalted assumes that slavery is widespread. One of the main bodies supporting the institution is The Guild, a world-wide network that's pretty much the fusion of the Triangle Trade and the East India Company: Its chief commodities are slaves, drugs and mercenaries. Great synergy, to put it in modern biz-speak, as the mercenaries are used to capture slaves who work on drug plantations and kept docile using their own product. Add in every other trope of colonial or capitalist evil you can remember or imagine.

 

I'm... not fond of the Guild, from a writing or world-building perspective, because I think history shows that long-range trade brings many benefits. There's more to it than the Triangle Trade and the Opium Wars. But, well, White Wolf gotta be White Wolf.

 

Dean Shomshak

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I tend not to make a big deal of it, and treat it as one of a number of unfree statuses.

 

Even "free" people are typically constrained by clan/tribe/whatever membership. Even kings and things, at least notionally. The only truly free people are vagabonds, beggars and murder hobos.

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I admit that in my fantasy worlds, I like at least some societies to be more enlightened than their real historical precedents. I don't want to always feel like I'm fighting for pure selfish gain, delusional causes, or the benefit of tyrannical bastards.

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That's not necessary. Characters can fight for their communities without significant individual gain, delusion or for the sake of tyrannical bastards.

 

Obviously that depends on the community, but it doesn't require them to be unduly sanitised.

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Even that depends on how the model is constructed.

 

"I fight for my community and my neighbours.  Their crops failed and their cattle died.  So I am here, at your community, to take your cattle and harvest so my village can survive.  If you refuse me, you will die.  If you acquiesce, you will starve.  But my community will thrive."

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In the "Bartimaeus" Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, all magic depends on summoning and binding spirits. Protagonist and narrator Bartimaeus lets his summoner know in no uncertain terms that magicians kidnap spirits, enslave them to serve even unto death, and torture the spirits even when they aren't actively punishing them -- because simply being on Earth, instead of the Other Place, is painful. Is it any wonder that spirits take advantage of any flaw in the summoning and binding to attack the magician?>

 

Dean Shomshak

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22 hours ago, assault said:

That's not necessary. Characters can fight for their communities without significant individual gain, delusion or for the sake of tyrannical bastards.

 

Obviously that depends on the community, but it doesn't require them to be unduly sanitised.

 

Didn't ask for "unduly sanitized." Just more than most medieval communities tended to be. I'm still a modern guy, and I want my fantasies to cater to my sensibilities, at least a little. ;)

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5 hours ago, Lord Liaden said:

 

Didn't ask for "unduly sanitized." Just more than most medieval communities tended to be. I'm still a modern guy, and I want my fantasies to cater to my sensibilities, at least a little. ;)

 

Yeah, taverns and wenches with "rooms for rent" upstairs seems to be an inescapable part of the landscape after decades of gaming (even if I insist on euphemisms and the back-and-forth intercourse of the involved parties taking place off-scene when I'm GMing, non-juvenile players seem to expect their PC's to behave in certain ways when they go to a tavern).

 

But taverns with slave girls whose masters have "rooms for rent" upstairs...that treads way too heavily upon my sensibilities.

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