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Basic Information

If Folklore is said to be the stories and wisdom and traditions that arises out of a culture, then when such stories are invented by a modern author and passed off as authentic, it can be described as Fakelore.

The term was coined in 1950 by an American scholar named Richard M. Dorson, who applied it to characters such as Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan who were widely claimed to be characters of American folklore but who actually were created by later writers. Pecos Bill, for example, was invented by a writer named Edward J. O'Reilly in 1923. Paul Bunyan may have originated in tales told by loggers around the camp stove in the lumber camps around the Great Lakes, but many of the Paul Bunyan stories were written as part of a series of advertisements for the Red River Lumber Company.

On a certain level, one may ask if it even matters. After all, even authentic folklore had an author somewhere deep, back in its history. And authentic folklore is always being polished or modernized or bowdlerized or otherwise mangled for new purposes, a practice sometimes called folklorism. But what sets Fakelore apart from this is the pretense of authenticity; that this is not an invention of mine, but a tradition handed down for many generations.

Sometimes communities will concoct Fakelore to embellish their history, to boost their own uniqueness and to give the tourists something interesting to buy T-shirts of.

Examples of Fakelore

The sort of pseudo-hagiography that attaches to famous historical figures is also worth a mention. This, after all, being the process that turns men into culture heroes.

A particularly egregious example of deliberate fakelore can be seen in the Stalinist era where a significant attempt was made to re-write Russian Mythology to suit the regime of the time, removing supernatural elements (often replacing a powerful supernatural entity with Stalin himself), replacing the villains with appropriate class enemies and the morals of the story with Stalinist doctrine. Unsurprisingly, this didn't much outlive Stalin himself and the majority of the "revised" folklore was quietly forgotten in the following years.


Game and Story Use

  • Let's be frank. Inventing Fakelore is the GM's bread and butter. Everything we use in our games is either fakelore we invented ourselves, or stuff we cribbed from other sources. Or both.
    • The transition from fiction to fakelore would seem to occur when people start to forget that something is fictional. The internet is particularly good at recycling fiction as legend and rumour, but is probably only speeding up a process that has been endemic to human cultures since forever.
  • But Fakelore might become relevant in a game:
    • A local legend hints that there is a fabulous treasure hidden beneath an old wizard's castle in the hills; but how much of the legend is accurate, and how much is a tall tale to impress the tourists?
    • An NPC scholar is in the middle of an acrimonious debate with another scholar over a legend which one claims is a fraud. The PC's need the scholar to help with their quest, but to do so, they have to put up with his obsessive quarrel.
    • Where mythagos exist, fakelore can get you killed. Or save your life, depending on what you put into it.
    • Perhaps a real monster/threat/whatever is lurking in the area, but using the fake legend as camouflage
  • In a wainscot fantasy setting, telling fakelore from folklore might be a big issue.
  • The GM should feel free to invent fakelore for his own setting, to provide plot hooks, background information, and flavor text to make it more memorable
    • In a WWII era Supers campaign, this Arcanist once devised a mystical origin story for Captain America's shield and composed a legend to go with it.
    • Even the old guy in the tavern who says "They say theirs an ancient temple to an Orkish god up in the mountains, but no one's ever seen it… at least to tell the tale…" is an example of narrative fakelore.
    • Or: "Look at this inscription here in the Book of Ash-Khash B'Ghash…"
      • The Library of Lost Books can suggest inspiration for fictional books you can use for in-game information.
  • One fun way to use fakelore is to have the Players hear about their earlier exploits second-hand, after being filtered through popular rumor.
  • The Stalinist revisions can be used as a model for other dystopic settings where pre-existing literature is expunged or re-written to suit modern doctrine … whether ruled by a tyrant or a mob…
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