“The dockside tavern shudders and groans around you and the fierce wind slaps at the shudders. The old sailor next to you at the bar says ‘Kord’s feelin’ his cups. Typhoon’s a comin’.”
Let’s talk weather. Powerful storms ripped through the Midwestern and Southern United States the other day, where they spawned devastating tornadoes. Then, they came up to my neck of the woods in the northeast and spawned tremendous winds and heavy downpours. Apart from hoping all of my affected readers made it through the storms okay, it brought to mind the word typhoon.
On my side of the world, we talk about hurricanes – powerful storm systems spawned in the Atlantic – but on the other side of the world, they worry about typhoons – powerful storm systems spawned in the Pacific. And that’s why, despite similarities to certain Greek and Persian words, the English word typhoon probably comes from the Japanese word taifu. It means typhoon. Imagine that.
See, the thing is Japan is pretty exposed to powerful weather patterns and Pacific cyclones have played an important role in Japan’s history and culture. And, as with most cultures vis a vis natural forces, that relationship goes back and forth.
Take for example, Raijin, who you might know as Raiden if you pumped quarters into Mortal Kombat when you were a kid. The raijin is the kami (divine being) of thunder and lightning. Now, if you were a farmer, you mostly liked seeing thunder and lightning because it heralded rain which fed your crops. So the raijin was credited with teaching people farming and feeding their crops. On the other hand, floods and lightning strikes could cause terrible disasters. So, the average farmer had to know how to call on the raijin and how to exorcise him. A single lightning strike in a field was considered a lucky sign and a shrine to the raijin might be erected in the spot. But lightning strikes could also touch off terrible fires. So, some farmers would set wards against lightning during planting seasons.
So, the raijin was a moody kami, and different regions in Japan had different traditions depending on whether they saw the raijin as a giver of harvests or a bringer of calamity. Or whether he ate children. That’s right. There is a rather famous Japanese superstition that the raijin will devour your stomach and so, if you hear thunder, you should make sure your naval is covered.
Raijin is also associated with another kami, fujin, the kami of wind. And when the two really rolling, you got a taifu.
Now, there’s two great lessons here for your game. One is about weather, but we’ll save that for another word and another week. After all, there’s going to be plenty more weather as spring turns into summer. The other is a lesson about the deities in your world. I’ve already told you to invent superstitions to bring your world to life. But if you want to bring different regions to life and highlight the differences between them, think about the different aspects of the deities in your world and how they speak to different people. Take a deity like Kord, the god of storms and the sea. A farming village might have a “respect but be ready to banish” relationship like the Japanese farmers with the raijin. A coastal town might have traditions to keep Kord calm and happy because he’ll devastate their coast and their ships. And a lumber town that has suffered a few forest fires might see Kord as an evil destroyer. Wouldn’t that just be a surprise for the cleric of Kord in your party?
Keep your navals covered and stay safe from storms.