Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Role-playing games set in Laos: Mythic Laos

Returning to the topic of role-playing games set in Southeast Asia, and particularly Laos, I admit one of the first challenges will be handling historic settings and topics involving the noble families of the time. At many points the narratives and scholarship regarding the region can come into conflict. One person's visionary hero who throws off the yoke of an empire is another's rebellious, upstart slave.

And in a way for younger and even older players, this is an excellent and complicated subject that teaches them to look critically at history and to consider the stories we tell about our communities an cultures from multiple viewpoints. It will also encourage many others to look through the textbooks and to talk to our elders for their perspectives.

For the time being, the designers of a role-playing game set in Laos would most likely want to set it during the golden age of Lan Xang, or even more interestingly, the time of 'the kingdom before the kingdom.'  There's much to consider during that bumpy era when the societies are just starting to decide what ways to do the things that make each of them distinctive. With over 160 ethnicities and minorities in the region  that's a lot to take in, and from a role-playing perspective intriguing.

A key challenge I've been informed is how one handles issues involving the nobles respectfully, because for many it is a very sensitive and potentially politically-charged issue. But I'm inclined to say that the creators of the game can take a neutral position and let individual players determine how they would like to approach the subject.

I would think a Lao role-playing game might work best set in age similar to Camelot or Charlemagne's France, a mythic era that never was, but should have been.

Players would have the opportunity to take on any number of roles in such a setting. Certainly, there are the expected ones, such as a hunter or warrior, perhaps a traveling monk, mystic or mor phi, healers and astrologers. Perhaps players would want to take on the role of a trickster like the folk hero Xieng Mieng, or a kind-hearted bandit, a traveling silapin or a farmer with a special destiny.  Some might want to play a prince looking for his lost love or an orphan trying to solve a riddle of the gods. Lao folklore is filled with many possibilities for great adventures.

Adventures could take place within the narratives of Phra Lak Phra Plam, or the saga of the hero Sinxay as he tries to defeat the giant Nyaks. The tragic love triangle in the epic Phadeng Nang Ai features the revenge of the magic, serpentine Nak whose prince is killed, ghost armies and any number of fantastic elements that could provide players a great evening or afternoon of entertainment.

I would hope the games don't turn into simple hack-and-slash "kill the Nyaks and take their stuff" but a good role-playing game allows for many different styles of play, and for Lao Americans would give them a chance to explore Lao traditions and cultural values.

Players could revisit the stories that brought our society to where we are today and the possibilities of roads not taken: What might have happened if ancient Lao had to deal with vengeful zombies, a Phi Kongkoi or hopping vampires? If they received a visit from a shapeshifting magician or a mysterious society of ape-men?
What if there had been a Lao captain like Sinbad the sailor or Zhang He? There are so many journeys to take in the lands of the kinnary and the nak, as well as opportunities to explore the legends of other people living nearby that haven't even begun to be explored.

We'll see where it all takes us!

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