I’m taking Cultural Anthropology this semester.

On the one hand, it’s kind of boring because I’m already familiar with all the “Anthropology 101” concepts from personal experience and research.

But on the other hand, focus on the subject has given me time to analyze the concepts deeper. I wouldn’t call the time wasted. Maybe “inefficient.”

Maybe I’m just good at picking ’em, but it seems all my classes feed into one another. My English class is covering bias and corruption in the media, and both bribery and coercion have come up a lot.

Two things that adventurers do.

In my Cultural Anthropology class, these are called Negative Reciprocity. You might expect something like that to be a threat of violence, but not really. Threats are different. More obviously hostile. More honest.

No, Negative Reciprocity is giving someone a gift.

Sometimes (oftentimes), a gift they don’t want. And there’s an understanding that if the gift isn’t reciprocated, there are going to be consequences.

“Let’s everybody play nice.

It’s insidious! It’s scary! It’s something PCs should engage in all the time, if only they realized how things like this worked! Adventurers are violent, powerful, socially mobile individuals, and monsters should fear them.

This is not Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Oh sure, monsters might be evil, but they have a sense of self-preservation. They’ll malign you and most likely stab you in the back, but they’re good pawns for heroes and villains alike.

The point of making allies of your enemies is knowing you can’t trust them, and being ready to crush them at the slightest actual hostility. See, ’cause up until you actually reach that point, you can extort favors from them.

“Here’s some gold. Kill the goblin king for me.”

“Here’s a magic sword. Make some trouble for those dark elves.”

I mean, some of these monsters already want to do that. It’s like getting paid for something they already want to do. And once they’ve accepted payment, then you have them. It gets harder to say “no” to you after that.

Unless you go out of your way to make yourself a bigger threat than whatever the monsters are currently dealing with, pretty soon you have a monstrous hit squad.

Your very own, greenskin troubleshooters.


The other kinds of reciprocity, Balanced and Generalized Reciprocity, you naturally save for your friends. Balanced Reciprocity is that thing you do with people you like, where you take turns picking up the others’ tab.

People seem to think that one’s pretty great. And there can be some fun competition involved when friends lavish interesting gifts on one another.

It can also sometimes turn into Negative Reciprocity.

Worth bearing in mind.

Generalized Reciprocity is what you do for your kids. You give and you give, and no one’s really keeping track. You kind of expect things in return, but kids are kind of dumb. They need to grow up before they can really start to contribute.

And if they don’t, you keep incriminating photographs.

Society! Relationships! Fun!