Volume 3 Archives - The Art of World Building
Nov 302020
 

Not much is needed to determine the location preferences of religions, as most want to be a central point of life and therefore be present if not dominant in settlements everywhere. We can assume they prefer having a church in each. What we’ll need to work out is where they are accepted, adored, despised, banned, and just tolerated. This is not a single decision for our religion template, found in the appendix, but in each settlement and sovereign power file for our world. The reason is that this will change from location to location.

What we can decide here is whether they have special sites. These are places where a significant act occurred. Many will have the equivalent of a small shrine or at least statue to note the location, which might be remote and unguarded; they might have supernatural or technological elements to protect these sites from vandalism. Churches can acquire mythic status due to age, rarity, uniqueness, or treasured artifacts or remains there (such as bodies of saints). Such places are easy to invent because we can state, with little justification or explanation, that it’s the oldest place, or the only one with something, or lots of saints are buried there.

Nov 232020
 

We can decide the details on how and when people worship (whether characters follow this or not). If our story doesn’t need much, keep this simple. It helps to know when a priest or religious character is unavailable because they must worship somewhere at a given time, with other characters aware of this.

For location, they could use a church/mosque or shrine to worship. The former will have priests who can lead prayers. A small shrine is likely to have fewer priests, if any, and the level of formality may be lower, but shrines can be churches by another name, and their size will reflect this. A god of war might want a large, formidable structure, as a god of greed could want something ornate. We can spin this in different ways so just choose something that seems sensible for the deity.

Followers might also use their home or something in the wilderness, like a sacred grove. The latter is more likely for a nature goddess, for example, while it’s a practical matter to worship from home. This can also suggest a time of day, such as morning or night. A more domineering god may be strict while a more benevolent one might not care, but this is also about the religion, and species create these, which means they might be the strict ones. We can decide that people must attend a formal worship at a given interval, such as once a week, with less formal worship expected other times.

When people pray, do they kneel or stand? If on the floor or ground, do they use a mat and what is it made of? Maybe there’s a sacred kind of reed or cloth it’s spun from, or it must be decorated with a symbol or color. Do people use a talisman in their prayers, like the cross or rosary beads? Things used during worship allow an easy way for enemies to defame the god, by defacing what the worshipers use, which can be as simple as stepping on it, if the bottom of the foot is considered unclean?

Some religions require fasting, which can be an interval of our choosing, such as one day a week or a period of sunrise-to-sunset for several weeks, once a year. The timing will coincide with the most holy of periods in the religion. There are advantages to the body, such as increased metabolism and improved concentration, but the reasons for religions to desire fasting is for purification of the body and, by extension, the mind and soul. The goal is often akin to seeking a god’s forgiveness or a similar, humble virtue. Gods that might desire this could be those where purity or devotion seem desirable, and this can extend from food and drink to sex. Specific foods can be forbidden due to a negative association, such as that animal playing a role in a story; if the prophet was searching for his lost flock of some animal when he became a prophet (or when he died), then this can result in not only food from that animal, but fur and other products, being desired or shunned. It’s possible that a god or religion could also insist on certain foods and drinks being consumed in great quantities, such as a week-long feast once a year, and smaller feasts being once a week. Sacrifice can include animal life – and that means the humanoid species, too.

Many religions have a holy text, regardless of form (book, scroll, stone tablets, iPad), but some may be oral. Illiteracy can lead many to depend on priests, which gives them even more power. Religious songs like hymns will exist and if we’d like a character to sing a few lines, we’ll need to compose a portion of it. Some songs might be in a language some characters don’t understand.

Holidays

Religions can declare days or entire weeks as holy periods. Whether these are recognized by a settlement or sovereign power is another matter to be indicated in our world building files. These times will correspond to significant historical events, such as the day the prophet became one, died, or was born (or reborn). This is one reason we need history. If sacred texts or artifacts were revealed, created, developed, destroyed, or used memorably, each can be associated with a holiday. We may be developing multiple religions and can end up with a holiday every week if we’re not careful. Two opposing religions can clash over a shared holiday.

Religious events can involve specific prayers on a given day(s) and at a holy site that is mobbed by crowds, which can cause problems, from lack of adequate food and shelter to stampedes and accidental death, from lack of adequate food and shelter to stampedes and accidental death. A largescale pilgrimage is likely only once a year. A commemorative event like this is based on a historical one. Leverage the history we’ve invented.

Nov 192020
 
Becoming a Follower

Many religions have no requirement for becoming a follower. This is the easiest route for world builders as our work is essentially done. People can believe in a god or religion without ever attending church, praying, or giving outward sign of their faith. Others will do some or all of these things and become part of a community that bolsters itself through shared belief, regularly seeing each other at places of worship. None of this requires much development. But we might want a religion that requires specific acts that are witnessed before someone is allowed to officially join the church. This could include:

  • Donations of money, food, or possessions
  • Visible adherence to requirements for dress, prayer, food/alcohol, and more
  • Missionary work to spread the word
  • Sacrifice (of lifestyle or killing of something, or someone)

That list is in rough order of severity, and the farther down it we go, the more this religion impacts the life of the follower, since killing people can lead to the killer’s imprisonment or death. Going so far can cause the individual to feel more heavily invested in their beliefs, and this degree of devotion is one reason a religion might ask such things; not only does the believer demonstrate the strength of their faith, but the extreme act, once committed, makes the belief that much stronger. The god we’re creating a religion for can suggest sensible alternatives that make these decisions easier. Consider their attributes, what you’d like to achieve with this religion, and how you will use it.

Leaving

In religions without formal admission, departure is a choice and nothing more. But in others, one might need permission to leave the church. Members might be questioned (even tortured?) to find out why they want to go. They might be banned from entry into that religion’s holy sites thereafter. If a tattoo or other permanent mark was affixed upon joining, this might be altered to make them a pariah. A more benevolent religion is more lenient, naturally, and may allow for return one day, whereas a nefarious one might condemn someone to death for merely being suspected of wanting to leave.

Expulsion

Only religions that formally accept members are likely to expel them. The obvious reasons are failure to adhere to the teachings and behaviors mandated in that religion. Being seen with those of opposing religions, or conversing with them, or having friends, lovers, or children with them, could even be considered a sin. We can invent whatever heresy makes sense for our deity, based on their attributes. The stricter the religion, the easier for this to befall someone. In the more extreme cases, the person could be put to death simply to sow fear in others, or to hide that this has occurred from outsiders (who might perceive the religion as losing its hold on people – dead men tell no tales), or simply because the deity, like a god of death, demands it.

Nov 122020
 
Beliefs

Without beliefs, religions don’t exist. There’s a difference between facts and beliefs. A fact is provable and generally accepted by those who lack a bias for ignoring it. But a belief exists in the absence of proof. If we had proof, it would be a fact, not a belief. Some might debate this, but it’s relevant with religions and gods because, on Earth, most of us accept that no gods are real, with the possible exception of the one God. No one believes in Zeus, right? But people once did, and when they stopped, Zeus vanished. We had invented him.

This is relevant because we should answer the question as to whether the religion we’re inventing is centered around a real god or an imagined one. If real, that god likely has directions he has given to the species. Or the religion is acting on its own and may have concerns about doing its deity justice, given the lack of direction. Or it may be a combination of the two. If the god is not real, none of this arises.

Using the history we’ve created, and the traits of the god (real or imagined), we can invent beliefs within the religion. They are typically centered on spiritual, mythological, and supernatural elements of either the deity or the religion. Here are some fundamental subjects about which to create beliefs (some may be facts if the god is real):

  • Where the god originated
  • What the god represents
  • What the god wants of the world, his followers, and possibly his/their enemies
  • How the god wants to be worshipped
  • What followers must do to be accepted and remain in his good graces
  • How the god rewards or punishes, and for what
  • How and under what circumstances the god’s power manifests in the world, including interaction with mortals and other beings

These basic ideas can result in several behaviors that come to define this religion. Religions are known for their beliefs and how its followers behave (in service of those beliefs), so this cannot be skipped while inventing one. Invent an answer for each, and much of the principal work to create a religion is done.

Nov 092020
 

To create organized religions, we’ll need our god(s) worked out in some detail (refer to Chapter 1 of Creating Life, The Art of World Building, #1)). Many religions focus on a single god, even if others exist, but some will worship several gods together. The techniques and considerations in this chapter apply to both. It also helps to have our species created so we can decide which ones tend to be part of which religions and even if those religions exclude one or more species, for example.

History

Major religions on Earth are thousands of years old, but minor ones are sometimes new. In either case, we don’t need a detailed history, but some significant events are worth inventing. Many aspects of a religion originate from its inception. It’s therefore recommended that we begin creating one at its source.

Creation

The story of a religion’s founding is crucial to how it is viewed and often what is expected of converts. A prophetic figure is an expected source. This person speaks in (or receives) the words of a god and brings those messages to people. To create this, some basic ideas are helpful:

  1. Their name (previous and potentially new)
  2. Their occupation before becoming a prophet – they are typically transformed by the experience
  3. When it happened – a calendar may use this as a starting point
  4. Where it happened – this can result in a holy site
  5. How it happened – this can generate relics, symbols, and rituals

We can keep this brief, like this example: “In the year 12 A. K., the horseman Vicen rode into the Dark Peaks in what is the modern day Empire of Amarysh, emerging as the prophet Kier, Chosen Voice of the God of War, Arian, whose golden sword he pulled from a petrified Lluvien tree, whereupon he heard Arian’s voice commanding him to return and form the Blades of Arian, an elite force of mounted, religious warriors.” In a sentence, we have two potential symbols (the sword and a specific tree type), plus a generally holy area (the mountains) and possibly a specific location, assuming anyone can find the petrified tree.

This can result in pilgrimages at an interval of our choosing. While that can be a literal returning to a site, it can also be figurative when being literal is too challenging for many (due to distance, cost, etc.) or even impossible (the site is lost or destroyed). Religions make use of symbolic gestures. Instead of traveling 5,000 miles to Kier’s petrified tree, perhaps someone would travel to and pray at a replica that is only 100 miles away, and which is said to have grown from seeds of the same tree or grove as the original. We’ve all heard of “guilt by association.” Religions practice a kind of holiness by association.

That tree type is probably planted at other holy sites like churches or even the front yards of converts; sighting it while on missions might be seen as a sign from the deity. Maybe furniture is made from it, or a wooden practice sword. Priests might wear a wooden talisman of a sword around their neck. While on his journey into the Dark Peaks, perhaps our prophet survived on a kind of fruit found there. Eating this then becomes part of rituals. The juice from it can be a drink consumed only at holy times. The spilling of that juice can be seen as an offense.

What these ideas have in common is the finding of ordinary details and assigning them significance because they’re part of our prophet’s experience and story, either at the moment he became a prophet or in a subsequent moment from his life. Or death.

Decide how long this prophet lived and when he died. To create these, invent these details:

  1. Did he die naturally?
  2. If killed, who did it, why, how, and when?
  3. How did the religion react to this?
  4. What did the god do?

New religions are seldom met with affection by rulers, who want the hearts and minds of the population to be theirs rather than with a religion, which is often seen as competition. It is easy, natural, and believable that a prophet meets an untimely demise. Martyrdom also raises the prophets’ importance, as dying for your beliefs is considered by many to be the ultimate sacrifice and proof that those beliefs are valid. A wise world builder kills their prophets. This can also result in holy sites (where they died), artifacts (based on what killed them), and rituals to commemorate the occasion. It can also create enemies, at the time or in the future, where the people who killed the prophet are long considered enemies of the religion and its followers, leading to tensions.

Destruction

A religion can cease to exist without the end of the world happening, too. In a world without real gods that interact, all we really need is people to stop believing. This is arguably one of the reasons that religions insist people believe in the god and the religion’s practices. Why would they stop believing? A foretold event not happening is one reason; smart religions avoid specific dates for future events for a reason. According to Church Times (UK), individuals can lose faith at any time for a number of reasons, such as when several of the following traits are found in the person:

  • If other practitioners are hard to live with
  • If the religion is too hard to practice
  • If the teachings are too hard to understand
  • If they resist submitting to authority
  • If they’re above average intelligence
  • If they crave experience

These can happen to someone even if the gods are real, though it begs the question of whether one gets smitten for leaving the religion.

For a religion to die, we may need nothing more than a sufficient number of people abandoning it. This can happen en masse if major life events cause inner turmoil in enough people, and the religion cannot offer comfort. Rather than having an epiphany of belief, a revelation of perceived false promises occurs instead. If the religion was a state religion, meaning a sovereign power made it official, and the state collapses, the religion can vanish, too. This might be easy for world builders to implement because destroying a sovereign power is simple; see Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2). One religion can also supplant another.

In “Creating Gods” from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), we discussed creating end-of-world myths. Every religion will have one. That demise may not be inevitable, which could mean that worshippers can prevent this with their conduct. Or the righteous can be saved while everyone else is damned. If we’ve already created that myth, what we want to decide now is how this end of world scenario makes practitioners act because this can motivate devotion to religious practices, some of which might exist to bring about a positive end for adherents. If the myth comes true, that’s the end of the religion, but if a specific date was given and nothing happens, that can also end the religion due to lost credibility.

Are people expected to pray at given intervals specifically for this myth? Do they avoid certain foods or behaviors thought to bring an untimely end to themselves or the world? Religions focus on daily life and its morality much more than the end of the world, so this tends to be a background idea or connotation that is only occasionally mentioned. Or the avoidance or destruction can be part of prayers and, when recited every day or week, become familiar enough that people don’t worry about it much as a practical matter.

Since destruction hasn’t happened yet, we don’t have the advantages that creating a religion offers. There are no artifacts, for example, or holy sites. It is therefore wise to keep the behaviors inspired by the potential end of the world simple. Incorporate them into prayers and expressions. “May Armageddon never be,” characters could say, to use a name from Earth.

Nov 052020
 

Our first choice with creating armed forces is to decide whether it’s a smaller, specialized group like the U.S. Marines or a larger force, and what kind it is: army, navy, or air/space force. This will determine where they typically operate, which will impact every subsequent decision. We should then envision what role we see them playing, particularly in a large conflict such as the world wars that are so common in speculative fiction. If our story only needs a high-level depiction of them in action, we can skimp on many details of invention, but if our characters (even minor ones) are current/former/future members of this force and are impacted by this, we’ll need more. Decide on the scope you need. Most other aspects of their invention can be done in any order.

At a minimum, we must invent their symbols, colors, and any slogans. If they wear or utilize specific armor or weapons, we’ll be showing this and must decide on it. Envision their place in society as this will inform what and how they do things and how those actions are viewed by other characters; this includes working out relationships with others, at least at a high-level. We can skip a complete history if we don’t need it, but an historical figure or two is recommended. Another area we can skip is how such individuals become one or creating ranks that differ in any meaningful way from the standard ones listed in this chapter.

Military World View

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Nov 022020
 
Languages

We may have little need to specify which languages this military group can speak. Instead, we can take a predictable but believable route and decide they know enough about the language of any nearby species that they must communicate with regularly in the performance of their job. This will change from sovereign power to sovereign power, even city to city. It’s a fast decision that makes sense and gets the job done. It provides flexibility to decide on a more case-by-case basis that they don’t live up to this somewhere, or are particularly fluent in a language somewhere else. We can leave a note about this in our files and be done with this.

We may also want to specify that they’re expected to know, and be trained in, the languages of species with whom they have frequent interaction. We’ll need to decide if this is only speaking it or also reading and writing. In SF, a universal translator may negate the necessity of this learning, while a language considered universal, like “common” in fantasy, can also make this requirement unnecessary.

Place in Society

How does society view this group and its members? With reverence? Fear? Suspicion? Or are they taken for granted, their protection and sacrifices hardly noticed? This will impact their place in society. Respect can result in being present at ceremonies, gifts bestowed on some occasions, and people gathering to see them leave or return. Contempt will not. Fear will cause avoidance; perhaps they can only dine in back rooms so people don’t feel uncomfortable, or maybe they refuse this restriction and end up chasing away other occupants of a tavern with their presence alone. Are there shops that cater to their needs and inclinations, even if it just means having their favorite items ready? Or are such things absent altogether to avoid tempting them to enter? In many cases, unless we have a need for one extreme or another, moderation will be best, meaning there’s nothing special about how they’re treated or welcomed. Remember that their place in society might be slightly or even dramatically different in one settlement or sovereign power from another.

Customs Among Them

As with all customs, we want to focus on the ones we’re most likely to use: greetings, farewells, and in the case of military groups, toasts, burial rituals, and pre-battle customs. Think of an expression and gesture they use upon meeting, and what physical and verbal response is expected. Farewells are typically less formal or ostentatious and an expected one is arguably more likely to be absent altogether. Such actions of familiarity, shared among only their group, strengthen the bond between them; this is useful in battle, where people die or are scarred for life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. These bonds help with morale, which we touched upon in Creating Life: the willingness to stand firm, together, in the face of mortal peril.

Toasts are likely to focus on body counts, skilled performance in battle, and things like weaponry or armor withstanding the forces at work, the idea a kind of well-wishing visited upon those being toasted. Below are some examples:

  • May your arrows fly true
  • Break heads but not blades
  • A blow for Kier! (a hero)
  • May Sinistria (a goddess) favor your hand
  • To hell with our enemies (use an afterlife of your invention, not hell)
  • May heaven bring you peace – many years from now!

Military World View

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Nov 022020
 
Languages

We may have little need to specify which languages this military group can speak. Instead, we can take a predictable but believable route and decide they know enough about the language of any nearby species that they must communicate with regularly in the performance of their job. This will change from sovereign power to sovereign power, even city to city. It’s a fast decision that makes sense and gets the job done. It provides flexibility to decide on a more case-by-case basis that they don’t live up to this somewhere, or are particularly fluent in a language somewhere else. We can leave a note about this in our files and be done with this.

We may also want to specify that they’re expected to know, and be trained in, the languages of species with whom they have frequent interaction. We’ll need to decide if this is only speaking it or also reading and writing. In SF, a universal translator may negate the necessity of this learning, while a language considered universal, like “common” in fantasy, can also make this requirement unnecessary.

Place in Society

How does society view this group and its members? With reverence? Fear? Suspicion? Or are they taken for granted, their protection and sacrifices hardly noticed? This will impact their place in society. Respect can result in being present at ceremonies, gifts bestowed on some occasions, and people gathering to see them leave or return. Contempt will not. Fear will cause avoidance; perhaps they can only dine in back rooms so people don’t feel uncomfortable, or maybe they refuse this restriction and end up chasing away other occupants of a tavern with their presence alone. Are there shops that cater to their needs and inclinations, even if it just means having their favorite items ready? Or are such things absent altogether to avoid tempting them to enter? In many cases, unless we have a need for one extreme or another, moderation will be best, meaning there’s nothing special about how they’re treated or welcomed. Remember that their place in society might be slightly or even dramatically different in one settlement or sovereign power from another.

Customs Among Them

As with all customs, we want to focus on the ones we’re most likely to use: greetings, farewells, and in the case of military groups, toasts, burial rituals, and pre-battle customs. Think of an expression and gesture they use upon meeting, and what physical and verbal response is expected. Farewells are typically less formal or ostentatious and an expected one is arguably more likely to be absent altogether. Such actions of familiarity, shared among only their group, strengthen the bond between them; this is useful in battle, where people die or are scarred for life, physically, mentally, and emotionally. These bonds help with morale, which we touched upon in Creating Life: the willingness to stand firm, together, in the face of mortal peril.

Toasts are likely to focus on body counts, skilled performance in battle, and things like weaponry or armor withstanding the forces at work, the idea a kind of well-wishing visited upon those being toasted. Below are some examples:

  • May your arrows fly true
  • Break heads but not blades
  • A blow for Kier! (a hero)
  • May Sinistria (a goddess) favor your hand
  • To hell with our enemies (use an afterlife of your invention, not hell)
  • May heaven bring you peace – many years from now!

Military Deeds and Myths

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Oct 292020
 

Unless our military group is less than a decade old, there’s a likelihood that some of its members, while on official missions or not, have been part of famous exploits. This can be admirable or not, depending on our goals. Even if we have a group, like knights, that are esteemed, we can still have them be part of an ignoble event, possibly because they made mistakes or failed, not because of nefarious intent that we don’t associate with a knighthood. Such discrepancies can humanize them. Conversely, a group known for bad deeds may have helped stave off a disaster because it might’ve affected them, too, adding dimension.

It bears mentioning that a group considered heroic by some will be despised by others, sometimes even by the people they help. For example, jealousy of knights could lead some to think they’re arrogant, causing disrespect by the people they protect. Esteem is never universal; nor is loathing. When we decide and describe their relationships with others, we can comment on these aspects of them. Create a story with thought given to how both sides view the deed. We can invent a nickname that different participants assign a character, such as “Kier the Valiant” and “Kier the Butcher of Illiandor.”

Lore and Myths

New groups are unlikely to have much myth behind them unless they formed as the result of a momentous occasion or achieved prominence during one. They might have been the elite force that finally killed someone who promoted great evil, for example, possibly during a prolonged war or battle. Such a deed, heard around the world or across the cosmos, can give quick mythology to a group or its members.

Older groups are more likely to have multiple instances of heroism or impact in their past. This is where having invented historical events aids us because we can decide someone from this military unit did something important in one battle or another.

Some military groups also like to create a mythology around them. It typically includes an historical person who does something that embodies a trait the group admires, such as sacrifice or courage. This is an opportunity to create a mythical figure and a deed that our present story’s characters may reference as a hero or role model. We can create a 2-3 sentence blurb on what they did like this:

“At the Battle of Evermore, Kier led a band of knights to rescue the elven high priestess, but found himself surrounded by a dozen ogres. Knowing it was certain death, he ordered his men to carry the elf to safety while he remained behind, fighting to his end while his men escaped unharmed. A statue in his honor stands among others at their compound in Illiandor, and the elves improved their relations with humans in the aftermath, a tradition that continues to this day.” I wrote this in about the time it took you to read it. These are easy and fun to do, while adding depth and history. These stories can be a bit off from the truth, as often happens, but unless we have reason to mention that the narrative is off, it may not warrant inventing it.