Koru: language and tattoos

These are work-in-progress concepts for my game setting Island World. I intend no disrespect to any of the cultures portrayed here which inspired me.

Language

Each archipelago nation has its own language. Player characters, ideally, would all come from the same island or island chain.

But trade is hugely important on Koru, even if the world is very rich in resources. So all of the people have developed a few languages for international interactions.

The players’ choice on which language to use is very important, depending on context:

Barter-tongue

The universal language for trade. Gives a bonus to haggling and diplomacy checks, but a penalty to intimidation and insults (the language deliberately evolved without terms that could start conflict or other threats to trade). Must be spoken with a smile or it comes across as an invitation to war.

Brine-spiel

Used on the open sea for navigation, issuing orders to the crew, battle tactics and inter-ship communication. Includes optional broad gestures and hand signs that can be understood from a distance, even without the words. There’s always a slight chance of miscommunication, however (snake eyes on 2d6), which could lead to disastrous results.

Divine-screed

The language of the gods and of the tupua. Used whenever anyone speaks to these beings, about them, or for any religious ceremonies or rituals. It is considered very taboo to use this language to issue curses or argue about mundane, non-supernatural topics. Each Tupua knows what mortals say about them (depending on their nature, they may ignore pleads and prayers, though).

 

Tattoos

For the people on Koru, tattoos are not only decorative, but have important meanings:

  • when women are of marrying age, they are allowed to have facial tattoos, which is a great source of pride, honor and beauty
  • when a hunter makes her first kill, she gets that creature’s likeness drawn on her skin
  • those whose lives have been directly influenced by a Tupua are gifted with a symbol by a holy man/womanPolynesian-Tattoo-Master-300x205
  • given as a gift by the artists from visiting villages during inter-island celebrations
  • gradually added to a person’s body at significant milestones: as an expression of their personality, spirituality and life force (the eldest among the village are nearly completely covered)
  • as protective wards for a person’s body and soul against illness and misfortune
  • to proudly represent one’s lineage and heritage
  • most remarkably, as a gift or binding symbol between a mortal and a Tupua

In this campaign setting, tattoos will have great importance to each character: just as important as character class, role, stats or even personality.

Stylized version of J.G Swan’s 1886 sketches of people from Haida Gwaii. The man’s tattoos are based on Chief Gitkun’s.
Stylized version of J.G Swan’s 1886 sketches of people from Haida Gwaii. The man’s tattoos are based on Chief Gitkun’s.

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Portrait of Chief Xana showing his chest and arm tattoos from W.H. Collison’s “In the Wake of the War Canoe”. Photographer uncredited.
Portrait of Chief Xana showing his chest and arm tattoos from W.H. Collison’s “In the Wake of the War Canoe”. Photographer uncredited.

 

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