There’s an old adage that goes something like this: stereotypes are stereotypes because they’re usually true. Recently, a character design for our Battlestar Galactica game brought this home for me. The character is prejudiced, but not toward a particular group…he simply views people through the prism of stereotypes. That made me wonder what the stereotypes were of the various colonies in the BSG world. We see some of it in the series, mostly directed toward the religious worlds, Gemenon and Sagittaron, and with Caprica toward the Tauron characters.

I decided to flesh this out because, while I’m not stumping for stereotyping people, it is a common cultural factor. First off, stereotypes are based not just on the culture of the group being characterized, they are characterized through the prism of the culture viewing them…what the stereotype says about those creating the image is as important as those being characterized. Much of what we saw in the Galactica series were through the eyes of Capricans, and even Baltar’s rant about Arelon and Caprica in season four was Caprican — he might have been from Arelon, but he adopted the ideals and prejudices of that adopted world.

Secondly, all of these viewpoints are created allegory for Earthly nations and groups, however vague, and viewed through the prism of educated Western sci-fi writers from North America. To this end, to make things more accessible, I’m going to shift back and forth, occasionally providing real-life stereotypes to explain those of the 12 Colonies

Arelon — The impression Baltar gives us is of a mostly agrarian world that is somewhat culturally backward. To this end, the actor chose to use an accent that typifies rural England. I chose to use this as a basis for the view of Arelon as a rough world of practical, hard-scrabble types, similar to agricultural and suburban Britain — primarily the Midlands, Yorkshire, Borders Scotland. The world might have cities and urbanites, but it is typically viewed as a world of dirt farmers and sheep herders — uneducated, cheap with a cubit, suspicious of outsiders and their culture. They’re the rednecks of the South as viewed by those “better” folk in New York and Los Angeles; they might be folksy and neihgborly to each other, but you worry about getting lost in banjo country while on a river rafting trip.

Arelonians, however, see themselves as honest, hard working folk, and view the wealth, science, and culture of offworlders through that prism — that they are effete, and get ahead not through honest work, but fiscal and legal trickery. A good way to look at this would be the view most Southerner outside of urban centers view the two coasts of the United States.

Aquaria — This low population, inhospitable planet is never really explored by the series, so the obvious parallel is Scandinavia: a sea-faring people who are as cold as their world, hardy and tough, but otherwise mostly ignored as a population. At worst, most of the stereotypes (as is often the case) would revolve around food: pickled fish and other horrific (to the discerning Virgonian or Caprican palette) present the notion of a quaint but ultimately forgettable people.

Aquarians, of course, very the outside worlds as soft, spoiled brats that squabble over everything, instead of pulling together — as you have to on their rough world — to survive. Whether it is a family, a small boat crew, a village, or one of their small, picturesque towns, Aquarians understand you have to work together to make things world. That requires altruism, self-reliance, and shared sacrifice. Having that moral superiority over the other colonies is a point of pride for these people.

Canceron — The “Largest Democracy” of the 12 Colonies is home to people who are arrogant, loud, greedy and violent, self-centered and fecund…or if you listen to them, confident, exuberant, motivated to improve themselves, and self-reliant. They breed without restraint to civilized eyes, but the Canceron consider procreation one of their inalienable rights, along with the right to speak their peace, make a cubit, and be left the hell alone. Their independent streak makes them stubborn and smug in the eyes of the uncharitable. Their claim to the oldest democracy is often challenged by Capricans, who borrowed many of their ideas of government from the Canceron, but it is a historical fact.

Those that admire Canceron tend to over-hype their love of freedom in everything — since the Articles of Colonization were signed, Canceron has begun to see a growth in economic regulation and laws bounding personal freedom with “responsibility.” They might recognize that these are a friendly, charitable, and creative people, and see them as undisciplined, rather than anarchic (a popular view.)

Those from Canceron view themselves as free people, first and foremost, and the criticism of them as sour grapes. They  point out that Caprica adopted many of their ideas of privacy, free speech, open markets, and popular consent over the government, but that the Capricans quickly sullied these grand ideas with a preference for security over liberty, big government welfare over personal charity, and a distrust of religion in general (and monotheism in particular.) They see worlds with tight cultural controls like Sagittaron and Gemenon as repressive and dangerous, and often push for the Colonial government to “open” these cultures…often missing the irony of their coercive desire to make people’s lives better.

Caprica — Capricans are viewed with respect and contempt, depending on the world. Older cultures that have influenced this prince of Colonies point to their effects with pride and view the Capricans as a logical conclusion of cross-pollination of ideas between the twelve worlds. Virgonians can point to their cultural influence (and superiority), Librans to the use of much of their legal structure in the Colonial government, Leonis to the notions of economics (although Canceron had just as much of an effect), Canceron to the notions of self-ownership…. Many respect, but envy, Caprica its natural resources, its recent success, its position as leader of the intercolonial government.

Envy is exactly what Capricans would point to in response to their detractors. Leonis and Virgon both had grand empires int he past, but could not sustain them; Canceron was too undisciplined and governed by selfish personal interests to be successful (this, of course, ignores Canceron being the second largest economy in the world behind Leonis); Gemenon — always viewed through an imperial eye — and Sagittaron are filled with backward, superstitious and violent religious fanatics; Tauronese are all part of organized crime (see the American view of Italians from New Jersey and New York. Be assured, they’re not all extras from The Sopranos or Jersey Shore.) Caprica likes to think they invented republican government and industrialism (Leonis) and democratic ideals (Canceron), that they don’t borrow and “improve” on Virgonian art, architecture, and literature; or that their legal system is the recipient of Libran jurisprudence.

Gemenon — The first colony to be settled by the exiled of Kobol, Gemenon is a rather inhospitable world, although it was not in times past. The reason is not fully understood. The people are known to be highly religious, even fanatical, and were a common strawman for the security services of Caprica in the lead up to unification. Theirs is a world that is strong on family and tradition. They are viewed as anti-technological, although this is not the case; they simply do not have the investment necessary for that sort of industry — outside of resource cultivation, most modern industry is lured off to Caprica due to better tax incentives and connections to the market.

The Gemenese have gotten the short end of the stick for centuries, know it, and make a point of whining about it often. They see their relationship with the other colonies through the prism of colonial oppression, and they satisfiy themselves by looking on the other worlds — Caprica particularly — as arrogant, decadent, deceitful, and ultimately, sinful. Gemenese give themselves a feeling of moral superiority, not just for their religious faith, but as that of an oppressed people morally superior due to their political weakness.

Leonis — A world of bit-pinching workaholics with a stratified class system based on wealth, Leonis is a world of racists that wished to rule over all of Man — that would be the view of many of the other colonies that were, at one time, the imperial charges of Leonis. It was the first world to recover their industrial base after colonization, and the first space-faring world. They view everything though the prism of money, and see success as evidence of divine grace (and some do think this.) They are considered to be cheats, clever, and litigious. (The real life parallel is obvious, and just as full of crap.)

Leonine people see themselves as hard-working, honest brokers. They might work an average of 10 hours more a week than the average Colonial citizen, but they see this as a sacrifice that will eventually pay off — either in a better standard of living, a better start for their children, or a chance to influence the future. They see other colonies as lazy grousers who would have done as well as Leonis did in the past if they had applied themselves, or been smarter than they were. Many are still proud of their imperial heritage, even if they decry some of their past methods.

Libran — The seat of intercolonial justice is seen as irredeemably corrupt by many of the colonies. they are a world of libertines and lawyers — never a good combination. As one of the primary sources of illicit drugs, and having one of the most liberal political asylum laws prior to the Articles of Colonization, Librans are seen as criminal, or at the very least soft-headed supporters of illicit activity. Post-Articles, Libran continues to have cornered the market of “sanctuary cities” — where criminals can escape other worlds and find legal cover to prevent arrest and extradition, particularly to those world that still have the death penalty (Caprica, Gemenon, Picon, Sagittaron, Tauron.)

Librans see themselves as the heirs to Canceron liberty, using rule of law to protect the powerless from governmental overreach. (Canceron citizens would tend to agree.) They view drug laws, and other victimless crimes through the same liberal prism as Canceron, but are more actively aggressive about bucking Colonial authorities by decriminalizing much of these “crimes.” Librans think of themselves as much more cosmopolitan than other colonies, mostly because of the world is mostly a hodge-podge of people from the other worlds.

Picon — The stereotype of Picon as “Little Caprica” is so pervasive that even its own people use the nickname for their world. A smaller world than Caprica, it’s like they’ve distilled all of the ideas of Caprican society and concentrated them. Their economy is built on Colonial central government largess following the Cylon War — it is the home of the Colonial Fleet, has the largest training base, as well. This has earned them the image of being whores for the military and central government. The massive wealth redistribution from the other colonies to Picon for their massive military-industrial complex and very generous welfare state makes the world unpopular with nearly all of the other worlds, who view them as spoiled and lazy. It is hard to argue this, as Picon workers receive almost twice the vacation and sick time as other comparable workers around the colonies, and the average work week is 30 hours with 40 hours a week pay.

In reality, Picon is a melting pot of the other 11 Colonies. Piconian culture was long ago subsumed by Caprican media conglomerates — many of which now produce their television and data-net programs on Picon due to excellent tax incentives (Virgonian and Caprican artists haven’t missed that their media companies have exported jobs to Picon, and made their populations pay for the honor.) Picon society is split on the military — over half of the industry is connected in some way to the Colonial Fleet — and a strongly anti-military portion on the population. Most of the latter is connected to the artistic community and the massive, powerful unions in the public and private sectors. The military tends to view these civilians as weak and spoiled, without realizing it is the masive graft and waste attributed to the military sector of the economy that makes the generous benefits to Piconians possible.

When others complain about the lifestyle of Picon, the citizens tend to se this as sour grapes, and believe that it is simply bad management and “evil” corporatism on worlds like Leonis (known for their hard-working, vacation-eschewing workers) that is why they don’t have what Picon has. To them, the point of life is leisure and self-actualization. None of them think it could come to an end, but Picon bonds are overly inflated and the welfare state is on a tipping point as the central government looks to cut the massive expenses connected to the Fleet.

Sagittaron — This world is one of the most maligned of the Colonies as a world of violent and uneducated bigots, religious zealots, backward anti-technologists. And a quick look at their judicial code would suggest this is a correct view: dancing and other frivolity is banned in some municipalities; it has the death penalty on more crimes than any other colony; many people do eschew technology and medical care in favor of prayer; they do view the other colonies with suspicion and occasionally open hatred.

Sagittaron is also a harsh, deserty world that has suffered repeated invasion and colonization by the Leonine and Virgonian Empires. They suffered  heavily during the Cylon War, when the toasters used it as one of their primary bases of operation. With this in mind, it is easy to see the desire to remain free of ties to the other worlds. More over, the prevalent religious doctrine suggests that life is a dream of the Gods — nothing is truly real, a story that cannot be altered by mortals. With this in mind, much of their culture makes sense. The view of Sagittarons as violent comes mostly from small political and religious groups known for disproportionate amounts of carnage, but in fact, most Sagittarons are fervently pacifistic; violence toward another will not alter the will of the Gods, but paradoxically, when it occurs it is also seen as the will of the Gods.

Scorpia — This world is an odd one. A relatively small population of Scorpians still exists due to the use of the world by the Cylons in the War. A policy of extermination led to the collapse of the urban centers of the planet. As a result, like Libran, Scorpia is a world of immigrants and a mishmash of cultures and attitudes. The prevelant view is of Scorpians as open-mined and cosmopolitan, but that depends solely on the neighborhood you are in. There is much ghettoizing of the immigrant groups — Caprican neighborhoods, Gemenese neighborhoods, etc. It is, like Picon, a heavily militarized world and is one of the main shipyards for the Colonial Fleet, making it a strong supporter, in general, of the Colonial experiment.

Original Scorpians still exist and they are a culture of hedonists and layabouts,in the minds of the newly emigrated. The colony is blessed with incredible natural beauty, and has been known for centuries as “The Playground of the Colonies.” Outside the cities, Scorpia had a reputation for being a world of childlike natives that were much slower to redevelop technology due to their world’s climate. This view is based on a very select experience with the world, and most people do not realize it was an artifice created by the Scorpians themselves to bring people to their world to spend money, as well as create the impression of the world as non-threatening.

Tauron — Commonly seen as a world of gangsters, oppressive corporate entities, and corrupt politicians, Taurons still have that stigma throughout the Colonies (but most intensely on Caprica, a long-time rival.) Their highly ritualistic ways regarding rites of passage, death, and tattooing lend an air of the exotic and dangerous to them, and their very violent, balkanized politics have stigmatized them. they wee, however some of the most effective fighters against the Cylons. Post-Articles of Colonization, the world has sought to strengthen its position, politically and economically against the other eleven worlds, but most particularly Caprica. This has led them to institute policies that have irritated the central government — from lax tax and incorporation laws, to allowing other Colonial ships to fly the Tauron flag (with very low registration requirements), to actively committing corporate espionage on competitors.

To the Tauron, family and community come first, and that includes their world over the other colonies. They vew outsiders with a combination of disdain and avarice — but once befriended by a Tauron, they are hard to sway from their loyalties; you, in effect, become part of the family (but there is still always that last hurdle of not being family…) They view foreign law, like that of the central government, to have no hold over them and surreptitiously engage in small acts of rebellion. When abroad, they will obey the laws that are convenient, and if the risk of punishment is minimal. They respect the ideas of freedom and independence of the Canceron, but see their rabid individualism as dangerous to familial and community order; they prefer levels of hierarchy they trust with overseeing the running of things.

Virgon — When Colonials think of Virgon, they see arrogance, class stratification, imperialism, and libertine social attitudes. One of the first big powers in the past, the Virgonian Empire was highly successful and spread its culture and language throughout the 12 Worlds. Virgonians (if you are from the world) or Virgonese (if you are not) are cultured and snooty, elegant and sissified, sexually promiscuous and prone to all manner of deviant behavior. If they’re not big-spending aristocrats, they are artists, actors, writers, and prostitutes. Their buildings are beautiful, their food delicious, and their arts very smart. They are alternately despised or aspired to.

A lot of it is true — Virgon was the center of the arts for a long time, until they were overtaken by Caprican popular media (Virgonians would deny they art and literature are in any way inferior to Caprican competitors. Capricans would say sales figures don’t lie, but Virgonian critics view Caprican art as “low culture” and point out Caprican is based strongly on their language.) They still have a vestigial arsitocracy that does earn those with a title some influence; poor aristocrats (and they are legion) usually are the face of various business entities, their breeding assumed to give them more respectability. Actors, artists, writers, and architects flock to the Royal Academy of Art in Lydisius (known as “the Great City of Lydisius”) but once you get outside of the major cities, this stereotype falls apart.

The sexual mores of the Virgonian people, however, are also somewhat salacious and overblown. Homosexuality and group marriage are not considered deviant, as on some worlds, and outside of the urban areas, some of the more lewd practices are not common at all.

The use of stereotypes is not something that you use to define the people of these worlds as a game master — some NPCs will conform to these viewpoints, some will not, just as people do not conform to cultural stereotypes in the real world. But the player characters might hold these views, and it could color their interactions, or at the very least provide some semblance of a living culture for them, in-game. Your campaign will, of course, have its own flavor, but adding elements like this to your game can enrich the setting and provide a bit more realism to the setting, pre and post-attacks.