Koru: the People of the Isles part 3

This is the third part in a series of drafts about Koru: Island World’s section on developing peoples and settlements. Here are the other articles: People of the Isles part 1 and People of the Isles part 2.

First Contact

When meeting a new settlement for the first time, the widely accepted protocol is to perform a Ritual of First Contact.

A successful ritual can drastically improve first impressions of the newly encountered culture and affect how they interact.

Because of the nature of Koru’s huge, shallow ocean, any newcomers to an island are assumed to be in need of rest, supplies and shelter. They are, in other words, at the mercy of their hosts. At best, rejection could mean dismissal of the visitors and being forbidden to set foot on the island; at worst it could mean lethal consequences.

Due to the popularity of this ritual, friendly settlements still conduct it even if they’ve been allies for generations. Some yearly gatherings are still formalized in this way, albeit without the risk of negative reactions. The First Contact ceremony is adhered to and repeated over the years out of politeness and friendly respect.

The Ritual

Please note that this is a rough draft and this will be refined.

This ceremony has a few stages:

1. Announcement: while the islanders will have noticed one or more ships approaching from strange waters, it is a good first step to make one’s presence known while keeping a distance. This must happen during the day time: even if the visitors arrive at night, they must wait until daylight. Anything else will be seen as aggressive or warlike. The newcomers are to keep their boats steady in the waters for a few hours to allow their hosts time to observe them and assess their numbers. Once satisfied, the hosts will send an emissary for First Talk.

In game terms, this can be a tense situation for a number of reasons: dangerous coastline predators, harsh weather or tidal conditions or simply making a stealthy approach more challenging (islanders are considered to be nearly always on the lookout for visitors or invaders).

"Potlatch Guests Arriving at Sitka, Winter 1803" by Bill Holm © 1997 (source)
“Potlatch Guests Arriving at Sitka, Winter 1803” by Bill Holm © 1997 (source)

2. First Talk: the hosts will approach in one or more vessels carrying representatives of whoever rules the settlement. The newcomers must all stand or be still and make it obvious that they hold no weapons. Both groups of boats will come close to each other and initial greetings are made. The visitors present their gifts (there must always be gifts; each sailor usually carries some valuable items of some kind in case of such an event) and the hosts present fresh water. This is a trust exercise and a reminder that the hosts are in a position of power here. Once the water is drunk and the gifts appraised, the visitors are allowed to approach the island and enter the settlement.

In game terms, this is when most of the first impressions rolls (Charisma-based, usually, but also Wisdom and insight) and roleplaying will occur. This is a crucial moment.

3. Presentations: a few of the visitors are sent to present their gifts to the leader(s) of the settlement. If accepted, they must then accept to do a task for their hosts. These can vary greatly in complexity or difficulty, depending on how well interactions have been so far. If things have gone smoothly, it may be as simple as paying quick devotion to their Tupua or at a small shrine. If not, then it may be as hard as giving over all of their useful weapons or gear and ridding the local Ruin of some trouble.

Here are some possible Quests:

  1. Clean out a nearby ruin of dangerous pests, troublesome spirits or a spiteful curse.
  2. Locate and bring back some escaped slaves, troubled youth or angry rebels.
  3. Provide an escort to endangered merchants, frightened sailors or novice hunters.
  4. Remove a curse from a sick child, a possessed youth or a diseased crop.
  5. Rescue the local Tupua: awaken it from a strange slumber, free it from a rival’s prison or cure its spiritual disease.
  6. Appease the local Tupua: calm its anger at the people, resolve a dispute or flatter its damaged ego.
  7. Root out any secret followers of a forbidden cult, usurpers of the royal family or a hiding murderer.
  8. Hunt down a legendary beast that threatens the settlement, a vengeful spirit preying on travellers or an overgrown carnivorous plant that has spread and infested whole parts of the island.
  9. Help a local shaman find the tribe’s origin story, free their people from a spiritual curse or bring back music to the people.
  10. Defend the settlement from roving bandits, angry spirits or a rival tribe.
  11. Rescue lost children from an evil trickster spirit, a misguided wandering shaman or a tragically troubled Tupua.
  12. Find the cause of their diseased crops, poisoned fresh water streams or widespread sterility.

In game terms, this can be very interesting as the player characters meet and interact with the rulers and immediately receive a quest. The Presentation moves the game forward, especially if the players are wandering aimlessly: by encountering a new settlement they will be presented with many NPCs and hooks. At least, that is the goal of this section.

Certain character classes really shine in the First Contact Ritual: Bards in particular. Noble warriors, such as Paladins or veteran Fighters may as well based on their reputations or demonstrations of skill. Some competent Navigators, Healers or Artists will also be appreciated. Most of these character types may have bonuses to their social rolls: or at the very least Game Masters should be more generous to them on failed dice rolls.