23 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 15: Immigrant Song

I saw a post on another blog about the concepts of race as a trope in RPGs
https://skaldforge.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/race-as-a-trope-in-role-playing-games/
So that’s lead me back to races in this setting.

Races don’t need to be a part of fantasy worldbuilding. Take Game of Thrones, where everyone is basically human (except for those giants north of the wall, and a few other notable exceptions). I even neutralised the notion in the setting of my Goblin Tarot deck by making every race in the labyrinth a variant of a highly mutagenic core goblin race. 

I’ve deliberately avoided details for races so far because it can be a controversial subject. I’ve seen raging debates about the morality of “murderhoboes” killing orcs and taking their stuff, the reflection of tribal goblin races as a substitute for natives in colonial history…all sorts of arguments that have degenerated into mudslinging matches, where terms like “cultural appropriation” and even “racism” have been flung around between the obscenities.

What most worldbuilding systems use races for, I tend to use cultures for. A culture is a system of beliefs, values and relationship connections, it tends to value certain traits and skills and therefore those who associate with such a culture have a tendency to acquire those traits and skills. A woodland culture would have a different set of values and its members would tend to develop a different skill set, as compared to an urban culture. A labouring culture among the lower castes of a society would value a different skill set to a caste of courtiers. There’s nothing stopping elves, dwarves, halflings, or orcs belonging to the lower caste culture, and nothing stopping them from belonging to the higher caste culture. There might be a tendency for some races to join some cultures, but this need not always be the case (Blacktooth has a tendency to join the family trade, but she could rebel against the family wishes).

Actual differences in races are an anthropological throwback, something that RPGs have inherited from pulp tales of adventure, predominately written for a young white male audience who didn’t know better. Like everything in this tutorial series, I’m not say “DON’T INCLUDE RACES IN YOUR SETTING”, I’m saying that you need to consider what types of stories are being told through the racial elements included. Once you do include races, you are effectively saying that there are different types of people who, by virtue of their genetic make-up, are better in some way and worse in some other way. Or, maybe a certain race doesn’t have a bonus (or doesn’t have a penalty), what does this say about your world? If your races don’t have specific advantages or penalties to make them different, why are they included at all? Why not just include a different culture?

I have the Stargate RPG from roughly the year 2000, the one that’s based on the Spycraft RPG, which in turn is based vaguely on 3rd Ed D&D. In this game, the basic conceit states that most of the operatives are humans, from various military forces. The emphasis of these military forces gives linked characters a bonus to certain stats. So the characters aren’t different races, they’re just humans trained in different ways. Sure there’s alternate races thrown in for players that really want them, but personally I found those races a bit off compared to the TV show that the game is based on. The game operates pretty well as an all human game, but using a twist on the “race” mechanisms from D&D.

In this setting, I do want races. I want there to be differences between people. I want this to be a multi-cultural multi-racial society. Forget skin tones, no actually include them, but don’t make the races defined by them. Races are physiological differences, but more than just defined by skin, or pointiness of ears, or eye shape. I want pale skinned courtiers mingling with dark skinned courtiers, while in another part of the city pale skinned merchants haggle with dark skinned merchants, round eyed scholars debating the finer points of mysticism with almond eyed scholars, but these are all humans.

The races in this setting are inspired by concepts woven through the classic World of Darkness, where every race has a mortal halfbreed. The Vampires have ghouls (or more specifically vampire-blood infused revenants), the Werewolves have kinfolk, and the Fey have Kinain. Each of these halfbreed races has successfully infiltrated vast regions of population, subtly acting as go-betweens operating in the shadows between the unknowing regular mortals for their supernatural blood relatives. These races operate across all cultures, though specific groups may occur when a certain race intersects with a certain culture.

For the purposes of stories where individuals find their allegiances in a state of flux, having races and cultures as independent qualities makes things more interesting. Certain story elements might flow along cultural lines, while other story elements might flow along racial lines, when matching parts line up or fit together in some way, custom stories develop.

With races defined as half-bloods of supernatural beings, we instantly circumvent the issue of half-races…half-human/half-elf, half-human/half-dwarf, half-dwarf/half-elf. Either someone has the blood of a single supernatural race in their veins or they don’t. If someone has the blood of two supernatural races in their veins, both types of blood cancel out and they end up as a regular human.

I’m thinking that the setting will offer players a few racially linked traits that can be bought with starting XP. These represent genetic advantages, and a character either has them or they don’t. If the player doesn’t buy these at character generation, they can’t pick them up later. While each race gains access to these genetic advantages, they need to spend XP to gain them, and may gain a penalty linked to the advantage in some way. Let’s expand our earlier descriptions. Most races have three abilities, Nullans have none, and purebloods have 4. In each case, the last ability (underlined) only becomes available if all the other abilities have already been purchased.

Nullans are found in every culture. They gain no bonuses or penalties wherever they may be found. (No special abilities)
Dhampyrs are fond of ritual and like positions of power, thus they’d be more likely to be found among the Empire or the Church, and less likely to be found among the Settlers or Natives. (Abilities: Nightvision/Light sensitivity, Unnatural Strength/Hunger, Unliving)
Faeblood are dreamers and travellers, but typically work alone, thus they’d be more likely to be found among the Settlers or the Cult, and less likely to be found among the Empire or Pirates. (Abilities: Empathy/Emotional sensitivity, Intuition/Fatebound, Dreamer)
Wyldkin border on the bestial, sometimes violent and usually pack oriented, they’d be more likely to be found among the Pirates and Natives, and less likely to be found among the Church or Cult. (Abilities: Animal Ken/Bestial Urges, Fear/Savage, Lesser Lycathrope)
Avatars often claim descent from angels and saints and are more likely to be found among the Church or the Cult, they’re less likely to be found among the Natives or Settlers.  (Abilities: Healing/Dependency, Aura/Faithbound, Demigod)
Incarnates are more natural in their spiritual origins, they’re more likely to be found among the Natives or Settlers, and less likely to be found among the Empire or Church. (Abilities:  Sense Magic/Magic susceptible, Superstitions, Totem)
Purebloods are nomads who like to blend into a mixed crowd, they’re likely to be found among the Pirates and the Privateers, and less likely to be found among the Empire or Natives. (Abilities: Negate Magic, Unnoticed, Purify, Eternal)


As another side effect, we could consider the way different races might tend to view each other. This way we could build up quite complex relationship patterns when two people interact, by combining their cultural views of one another and their racial views of one another. But if racial groups don’t impart specific knowledge, only passing on their genetic heritage, then this might be work that never gets used in play.

Bear with me for a moment, let’s call a specific combination of race and culture a “family”. If you were really enthusiastic, it might be possible to cross reference every family and define each family’s typical response to every other family…
7 races x 7 cultures = 49 “families”
49 “families” x 48 others that need opinions = 2352 combinations.
…but that’s probably getting a bit too specific and pedantic

A decent halfway point might be to use the common crossovers of race and culture (like we did when defining the signature NPCs for the setting). This makes sense because there are enough people in this “family” for group collective opinions to develop, but that’s still 19 families…with (19x18 = ) 342 opinions to define.

Nullan – Empire
Nullan – Settler
Nullan – Privateer
Nullan – Pirate
Nullan – Church
Nullan – Native
Nullan – Cult
Dhampyr – Empire
Dhampyr – Church
Faeblood – Settlers
Faeblood – Cult
Wyldkin – Pirate
Wyldkin – Native
Avatar – Church
Avatar – Cult
Incarnate – Native
Incarnate – Settler
Pureblood – Pirate
Pureblood – Privateer
(We’ll call these the major families…at a later date we might even give them names, but I’m just filling in ideas at the moment. The beauty of modular design like this is that you build up a framework of play and only really need to fill in the details later when they become relevant.)

Let’s narrow it down further, and only define relationships between families who share a race or a culture. I’ll write the name of each major family, and abbreviate the families that would need to be mentioned in a relational context.

Nullan – Empire 7 opinions (N-Se, N-Pr, N-Pi, N-Ch, N-Na, N-Cu, D-Em)
Nullan – Settler 8 opinions (N-Em, N-Pr, N-Pi, N-Ch, N-Na, N-Cu, F-Se, I-Se)
Nullan – Privateer 7 opinions (N-Em, N-Se, N-Pi, N-Ch, N-Na, N-Cu, P-Pr)
Nullan – Pirate 8 opinions (N-Em, N-Se, N-Pr, N-Ch, N-Na, N-Cu, W-Pi, P-Pi)
Nullan – Church 8 opinions (N-Em, N-Se, N-Pr, N-Pi, N-Na, N-Cu, D-Ch, A-Ch)
Nullan – Native 8 opinions (N-Em, N-Se, N-Pr, N-Pi, N-Ch, N-Cu, W-Na, I-Na)
Nullan – Cult 8 opinions (N-Em, N-Se, N-Pr, N-Pi, N-Ch, N-Na, F-Cu, A-Cu)
Dhampyr – Empire 2 opinions (N-Em, D-Ch)
Dhampyr – Church 3 opinions (N-Ch, D-Em, A-Ch)
Faeblood – Settler 3 opinions (N-Se, F-Cu, In-Se)
Faeblood – Cult 3 opinions (N-Cu, G-Se, A-Cu)
Wyldkin – Pirate 3 opinions (N-Pi, W-Na, P-Pi)
Wyldkin – Native 3 opinions (N-Na, W-Pi, I-Na)
Avatar – Church 3 opinions (N-Ch, D-Ch, A-Cu)
Avatar – Cult 3 opinions (N-Cu, F-Cu, A-Ch)
Incarnate – Native 3 opinions (N-Na, W-Na, I-Se)
Incarnate – Settler 3 opinions (N-Se, F-Se, I-Na)
Pureblood – Pirate 3 opinions (N-Pi, W-Pi, P-Pr)
Pureblood – Privateer 2 opinions (N-Pr, P-Pi)

That gives us 88 opinions to define. Still a lot, but these are the ones most likely to come into play. You’ll also notice that a lot of the more insular families have fewer relationships to deal with as a result of their focus, their privacy, and generally their lack of numbers.


We’ll leave it here for the moment, move on to other things, then maybe return later.

22 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 14: Social Strata

The final parts of the cultural details are the various power structures used by each group.

Overall, the power structure of a setting is typically defined by the power structure of the dominant group, in this case it’s the aristocracy of the Empire of the Sun. In order to avoid a major conflict with this dominant group, other cultures pay lip service to the Empire’s aristocracy (at worst), and in some cases follow it fanatically (at best); but most people just let the empire deal with their own matters while living their lives according to their own cultural values. As long as the empire doesn’t demand too much of them and provides protection, the colonial folks and privateers are happy to pay their taxes, those who don’t like it move away to Trader’s Port, go native, or quietly plot rebellion in the shadows.

El Imperio del Sol (The Empire of the Sun)
(Aristocracy)

King and Queen in the Old World
^
Governor
^
Inner Council
^
Courtiers and Nobles
^
Typical Citizens
^
Outsiders and Children


La Santo Orden del Profeta (The Holy Order of the Prophet)
(Theocracy)

The Celestine
^
The Prophet (on par with the archangels)
^
Other Prophets and Popes (on par with the angels)
^
Archbishops
^
Bishops
^
Other Clergy
^
Followers of the Holy Order (including child followers)
^
Heathens and Pagans


Los Corsarios (The Privateers)
(Military)

The Captain (and his documentation of service to a patron nation)
^
First Mate
^
Senior Crew
^
Junior Crew
^
Other Seafarers
^
Landlubbers


Los Lobos del Mar (The Wolves of the Sea)
(Democracy)

The Captain
^
First Mate
^
Senior Crew
^
Junior Crew
^
Other Seafarers
^
Landlubbers


La Colonia (The Colony)
(Meritocracy)

Town Elder
^
Town Council
^
Elders
^
Adults
^
Children and Outsiders


Los Salvajes de la Isla (The Island Savages)
(Tribal Aristocracy)

Island King
^
Village Chief
^
Village Noble Warriors, Scholars and Crafters
^
Other Warriors, Scholars and Crafters
^
Unproven Adults and Children


La Orden de la Luna (The Order of the Moon)
(Meritocracy)

Cult Heirophant
^
Cult Cell Leader
^
Cultist
^
Outsider

 
How do we tie these hierarchies into story? That’s pretty easy, especially in a LARP where you have dozens of players, often with three or more in virtually every power structure. This is a setting where stories of intrigue play a role, where rebellion stirs in the lower ranks of society while the higher ranks try to hold power with a steel fist in a velvet glove, where revolutionaries struggle to gain power while remaining relevant to the “common person on the street”. When someone respects a power structure, they anchor a part of their persona to it, if they want to gain power within that structure, they need to respect the structure, and in turn that means they need to respect the people who already have power within it. If they choose to engage channels outside the structure, they show a lack of respect for the structure and will find it easier to be kicked out and harder to ascend the ranks. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Thus builds the frustration, and the need to work in the shadows. Assassinations make openings in the hierarchy, blackmail lubricates a slide between social strata (hopefully down for your enemies and up for you), wealth and prestige turn the tables. It might also be possible for characters to hold different ranks according to different social power systems, in the marketplace ruled by the social structure of the colonists, Ian may be higher in prestige than Jacinta (he is on the town council, she is a regular citizen), but behind closed doors according to the ways of the cult (where he is simply a cultist and she is a cult cell leader) she outranks him. People will go out of their way to choose meeting places where they have the social edge. In our previously illustrated relationship maps for each location, we’ve defined the most prestigious person in the web, but if you wanted to be more specific, you could rank everyone according to their positions in each power structure to see who has the upper hand in each relationship.


Honestly, that’s too much work for me to get into for most games, but if we find that there are players who have an aptitude for that sort of thing, we can always assign the task to them.

21 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 13b: You Gotta have Faith (2)

Variants

Superstitions of the Colonists
General Beliefs: There are many stories that form the wide range of cosmologies believed by the colonists. Some believe the old stories, some talk of a conquering spirit that destroys others with its gaze (gradually transforming the world into its own image through its observances). Some talk of spiritual cycles in the universe, others speak of a single creation and an all-consuming battle at the end of time. Most have infused an interpretation of the church’s belief structure into their own, and many would prefer to get on with their own physical lives rather than deal with spirits and things that don’t affect them.  
Regular Rituals: Generations of superstition have instilled a collective superstition into many colonists and those they associate with. There are dozens of common everyday rituals (such as saying ‘bless you” in response to a sneeze, or throwing salt over a shoulder when some is spilt), few remember the reasons for such ritual elements and generally include them in the category of “warding off bad luck”.
Holy Observances: Since the Church has claimed the seventh day as a day of rest, the colonists have an informal ritual of visiting the markets on the sixth day to stock up supplies. Other formal rituals include feasts at the turn of each season (summer to autumn, autumn to winter, winter to spring, spring to summer).
Places of Worship: The superstitious don’t have formal places of worship, but they typically respect the holy sites of others.

Views on Others
Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church): They are powerful and their knowledge of spiritual matters is impressive, but they have forgotten the little things that make life important.
The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates): There may be something to their worship, linking it back to the origins of our own ways…but they have taken a different path.
The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism): They are different to us, their ways make no sense. The Holy Order says that they are misguided and worship demons, we have no evidence of this, but we’ll avoid them and their heathen ways anyway.
Superstitions of the Privateers: They seem to follow similar paths to us, but while we use the holy order as an anchor to our rituals, they seem cast adrift on the open seas.
Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult): Some say the cult don’t really exist, others say they are devil worshippers and heretics. Can anyone really be sure?

Superstitions of the Privateers
General Beliefs: In every religion there is an element of truth, every pattern of belief sees a fragment of the whole. By taking elements from every religion encountered, an individual can create the belief system that is right for them. No one should force their beliefs onto anyone else, nor should anyone blindly accept the beliefs thrust upon them.
Regular Rituals: By the nature of their beliefs, the spirituality of the privateers has no prescribed rituals. All privateers are permitted to engage in the ritual beliefs that mean something to them, as long as those rituals do not interfere with the running of ships or other privateer activities.
Holy Observances: As above.
Places of Worship: Privateers often seek out the holy sites of other religions, and use these to worship, regardless of their beliefs, or the beliefs of those whose holy sites they pray in. In a life on the sea, you take what you can get, and use it to best advantage. 

Views on Others
Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church): They are always trying to convert us or kill us as heretics. For people claiming to seek knowledge, they are very single minded and narrow minded.
The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates): They accept a variety of gods, but focus on the struggles in the universe, rather than the potential for harmony and justice.
The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism): Their ways are old, and there is much that can be learned from them to add to our collective spirituality.
Superstitions of the Colonists: They are willing to experiment with their ways and spirituality, but remain anchored to the Holy Order of the Prophet, if only they could let go.
Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult): If they truly exist, they are a mystery to us.

Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult)
General Beliefs: In the beginning, there was the One and all was the One. When the One realised its own existence, it also understood that there must be something that was separate from its existence. The one became two, and all was either a part of the perceiver, or a part of the perceived. That which was a part of the perceiver one was governed by stasis and understood, and that which was perceived was governed by flux and not understood. As a static entity, the perceiver could not learn about the flux; to grow, adapt, and learn, the perceiver had to accept elements of flux into itself. To stabilise the flux long enough to learn about it, the perceived needed to be infused with stasis. Breaking the barrier between stasis and flux, the perceiver and the perceived, myriad combinations spiralled out in all directions through time and space, and thus the world was formed. The essence of the perceiver struggled to learn about each of these combinations, eventually fracturing itself into countless beings each dedicated to a small part of the world. The most powerful of these beings observed vast regions of the partially stabilised flux, but with such size they were unable to observe the smaller elements of the world, in turn they fractured their essence to form smaller avatars. And thus the fractal pattern of life continued, time and again. In all sentient beings is a fragment of the perceiver, a hint of the divine. All must come to the understanding that this divinity is within them, but there are powerful beings in the world (and observing the world) who have vastly more divine energy in their veins, such beings are to be respected. There are also those who have mastered the divine essence in their own patterns of being, such people are to be learnt from.
Regular Rituals: If the Sun is the manifestation of the greatest perceiving essence in this realm, it sees all during the cloudless day. These are times when it doesn’t need us to be alert, at sunrise and sunset we should commune with the Sun; at sunset to determine what it needs us to watch, and at sunrise to tell it what we saw. The moon, in a state of flux between light and dark, perceiver and perceived is like us, a wanderer through the sky realms. We should greet it when we first see it each day.
Holy Observances: The full and new moons are the times when the “sky wanderer” is most and least perceived, sunset on these days is marked by a more elaborate ritual gathering those cult members who are able to meet. Solar and Lunar eclipses are the most holy times to the cult. During a solar eclipse, the “sky wanderer” meets with the greatest perceiving essence to share its knowledge, this is a time for trading books and scrolls among the cult. During a lunar eclipse, the “sky wanderer” meets a dark essence, the ultimate embodiment of the perceived chaotic flux, this is a time for calling on mystic effects and making resolutions.
Places of Worship: There are two types of place where cult worship occurs. One is the informal site that an individual uses for prayers at sunrise and sunset, typically surrounded by books of occult lore and theological knowledge. The other is a formal meeting place where cult members gather, conduct rituals and trade, such formal meeting places are typically observatories or locations where the motion of celestial bodies may be marked. An ancient underground planetarium serves as a central place of worship here on the island, no one knows who built it or why.

Views on Others
Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church): They obsess over the light of reason, but miss half of the truth when true wisdom lies at the interface of light and of darkness.
The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates): They offer worship to some of the most powerful fractured essences of the perceiver, but do not strive to learn from them.
The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism): They are open to learning from the spirits, but do so in a crude and basic manner. So much potential.
Superstitions of the Colonists: They focus on the effects, and not the causes. They fail to understand why their superstitions work, and are just content that they usually do work.

Superstitions of the Privateers: Even worse than the colonists, they indulge in the ritual of superstition without actually realising what they’re doing.

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 13: You gotta have Faith (1)

There’s an interesting school of thought in certain areas of anthropology and sociology that sees cultural groups best described in terms of a network of relationships. Due to the difficulty in obtaining a neutral “third-party perspective”, the descriptions of a specific culture aren’t made up by clinically observing the culture then taking notes, instead they are defined by taking the observances of various other groups who regularly interact with the culture. In this way, each description says something about the culture being described and the culture providing the description.

I first saw this idea brought into an RPG when I bought the first edition of Werewolf: the Apocalypse back in high school (I know that vampire did it first, but I didn’t particularly like Vampires back then, and I thought Werewolves would be far more fun to play). In those books, each tribe gave a quick rundown of each other tribe, and you really got a feel for how everyone worked together as a network of cultures (even if they didn’t like each other all that much).

That’s the way I try to describe cultures in my games, it takes a bit of extra work, but the payoff during play is worth it. The resulting network gives you a quick guide to reference when you need one person stereotypical attitude to someone from another culture. In this case, I’m using it to describe relational network of religions across the setting.

Here are the first half of the religions…

Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church)
General Beliefs: The world came into existence when the Celestine awoke, everything came into being as it cast its eyes across the void. The only thing it could not see was itself, so the great Celestine imbued elements of creation with its divine essence, thus were born the archangels (with the greatest essence), angels and spirits (with moderate essence), people (with low essence), and the beasts (with the least essence). Barely a step above the beasts, unaware of their inner divinity, and lost to conflict among each other, it took a succession of prophets to revealed the enlightenment inherent within those who were willing to accept the truth. The greatest of these prophets taught that the great Celestine is too enlightened to perceive, and that the sun is the most powerful archangel visible to mortals and the stars are the souls of mortals who have died and have lost their way. The spark of divinity is in us all, if we are willing to accept the spirit of the Sun we will not become lost, and we will pass through the Sun to become one with the great Celestine’s essence to share our accumulated knowledge with the universe.
Regular Rituals: A moment of silence is expected every noon, when the sun is at its zenith. In addition, it is common to offer prayers of thanks to the saints; these are people who have gone before and who have shown great aptitude for certain fields, or have worked miracles through the divine power of the Celestine through its conduit in this world, the sun. There are saints for everything, including (but not limited to) travel, healing, the afterlife, food, knowledge, justice, science, specific occupations, specific animal types, specific virtues and even vices. Each saint has their own symbol and specific prayer.
The week is seven days long, and on the seventh day all followers of the church are expected to spend half of the day in a cathedral or church contemplating the majesty and divinity of the Celestine and the Sun, through the words of the Prophet. The remainder of the day (from noon onward) is a time of rest, according to the prophet’s words of ritual.  
Holy Observances: A combination solar/lunar calendar begins with the longest day of the year, divided into months defined from full moon to full moon. The first days after the new year (and before the first full moon of the year) are a festival period of fasting during the day and sombre prayer between meals at night.
Places of Worship: Most places of worship are exposed to the open air and maximum sunlight. Recent cathedrals are glass and steel structures designed to capture and reflect the light of the world as beautifully as possible.

Views on Others
The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates): The pirates are confused by the power of elemental beings, it is this confusion and corruption that makes the pirates criminals with no respect for the law of light.
The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism): They naively worship false gods and demons, only if they accept the virtues of the Celestine may they become valuable members of society.
Superstitions of the Colonists: While many attend mass and observe the rituals, they are more inclined to put their faith in petty rituals of an era before the enlightened teachings of the prophet rather than directly pay homage to the Celestine.
Superstitions of the Privateers: They observe a blend of outdated rituals and follow pagan beliefs that have no purpose in a world of enlightenment and honour.     
Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult): Their heresy leads them from the true light toward illusions of deception and treachery. They must be cleansed before they do too much damage to civilisation.

The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates)
General Beliefs: While numerous gods claim to be the first, the elemental gods exist outside time and space. They are fundamental concepts in the universe, eternally at war, using lesser deities, spirits, mortals and beasts as their pawns in a battle that transcends time and space. Like the tides, once this reality ebbs and flows, new wars will wage in new worlds when this one passes. The elementals are the purest children of these gods, and only through appeasing them will a mortal gain the chance to transcend the flesh to become a new elemental spirit at the moment of death.
Regular Rituals: Each of the Elemental Gods has their own prayers and rituals. Many pirates choose a single elemental god to be their patron, memorising the prayers and rituals that keep this god and its elemental servitors appeased. Some pirates spread their rituals across multiple gods and elemental sprits, often based on the current year of the elemental cycle.
Holy Observances: In accordance with the customs of a forgotten foreign land, each year is dedicated to an elemental force (Earth, Fire, Metal, Air, Water, Wood, one cycle of light elements followed by one cycle of dark elements, 12 years in total). At the beginning of each year, marked by the new moon, pirates following these practices gather at towns to engage in revelry to mourn the old and celebrate the new.
Places of Worship: All of nature is considered a viable place of worship for the Elemental Gods. The pirates speak of swashbuckling monks, some of whom live in travelling aquatic monasteries, others in various places defined by the elements they follow. Such monks have often grown too old to loot the physical realm, now they seek tto join the spirits and loot the realms of spirits and dreams. Visiting these monks is a common pilgrimage that pirate take at least once in their lives.

Views on Others
Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church): They focus on a single manifestation of the great fire elemental, unable to see that there is far more to the universe than simply being a zealous firebrand.
The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism): They choose to follow the lesser spirits, probably because those being are more willing to listen, but they don’t see that these little spirits are but minor puppets of the great forces that control the destiny of the universe.
Superstitions of the Colonists: They see the folly in only accepting the words of a single elemental force, they even follow some of the old traditions, but they are too scared to break away from the church to gain greatness.
Superstitions of the Privateers: Their memories of the old rituals is a mockery to the truth, they hope that by following the ways they will be kept safe from the eternally warring powers. But this will not save them when the war comes from the shadows.
Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult): Understanding that there are two sides to every coin, they know true power. They play a dangerous game in trying to learn the ways of spirits while still living, worthy allies or dangerous foes.

The Spirit’s Path (Native Shamanism)
General Beliefs: All of reality was dreamed into existence by the great sleeper. The dreamer also dreamt of lesser spirits who remain in a state of semi-slumber to interact with both the dreams and the waking world. By infusing the dreamt world with their own energy, the spirits created all living things and people. Over years, the people became powerful, perhaps even on par with the spirits. But if they are not treated respectfully, the spirits can always remove the gift of life at a moment’s notice.
Regular Rituals: Every action is a chance to honour the spirits, every thought, every word. Most adopt a totem spirit as a part of their life, such a spirit may be an animal, a plant or a place. Once chosen, the mortal lives to defend the earthly manifestations of this totem. If many people have the same totem, they may engage in duels to determine who should represent the totem at council meetings. Once chosen, these totem heads may duel one another to determine which is the strongest totem overall.
Holy Observances: Dawn and dusk are considered times when the spirits are closest to the mortal realm, when the balance of their dream and wakefulness is at harmony. These are typically the times when prayers are offered.
Places of Worship: Certain places just have a feeling about them, these are considered to be resting places of the spirits, and thus holy. Such places are often pristine natural areas, but could be in the heart of an urban environment. They are rarely marked, you just feel their presence.

Views on Others
Holy Order of the Prophet (Empire and Church): The focus on a single spirit above all others, and bring the world into unbalance and disharmony by doing so. We try to teach them that all spirits have knowledge to share, but they cannot accept this.
The Old Elemental Gods (Pirates): They seek glory by only worshipping the most powerful of the spirits, but are unable to understand that you often need to start on the lowest rungs of power before you can climb the great ladder.
Superstitions of the Colonists: They honour the spirits of their homeland with their rituals, but fail to understand that they are far from home and their spirits are a long way away. If they would learn the rituals of our spirits, they might find life easier here.
Superstitions of the Privateers: They follow a blend of rituals from their old world that makes little sense except as half-forgotten memories and dreams.

Esoteric Mysticism of the Order of the Moon (Cult): They have spiritual strength and knowledge, and a dangerous drive behind them. They respect us, and so we respect them in turn, but they have a nasty habit of awakening things that are better left dreaming.


You may notice that I've made sure every religions has a reason to come into conflict with someone, and every religion has some kind of festivity to promote positive aspects of it's belief. 

20 November, 2014

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 12: Losing my Religion

I see it time and again, it bugs me every single time I see it. It’s basically the equivalent of a RPG fantasy heartbreaker filled with familiar mechanisms but with some twist, or some weird combination of old mechanisms that must make sense to the designer, but just feels like it’s missing something.

I’m talking about the generic application of a “Tolkienesque” pantheon of gods to a fantasy setting. Maybe it’s just the western cultural paradigm, there are certainly hints of Judaeo-Christianity about it, by way of the Olympian (or Norse, or Celtic) Gods, and maybe a heresy like Gnosticism or Catharism thrown in for good measure.

One all-powerful god/celestial-being, spawns the world then creates lesser-entities/lesser-gods/angels who take care of specific aspects of reality, one of whom rebels. Sometimes the lesser-entities sing in choirs to maintain the form of the world, sometimes they manifest in the physical realm (or undertake quests), sometimes they squabble among themselves, but they are typically still in adoration of the original all-powerful creator.

…and what makes it worse, is that almost invariably, the noble humans of these settings worship the all-powerful creator, while the other races (and less noble humans) are deluded and worship one of the lesser-entities.

Curiously, thinking back into “The Lord of the Rings” (mostly the movies, because they are fresher in my mind than the books), there really isn’t a lot of overt religion in it. The great evil of the setting has physically manifest in the world (maybe not completely, but you can literally see the eye), I don’t recall seeing any kinds of priests trying to convert the faith of the people, just warriors and leaders trying to confront the savagery of quasi-supernatural beings. The religious dogma and myth structure are applied to the background, and inform the story in some ways, but they are hardly spoken about. From watching the Game of Thrones TV series, it’s fairly similar. Many families follow the new ways, but some still follow their favoured patrons among the old gods, in most cases the gods of the setting are only vaguely mentioned, and don’t seem to have an impact on the world. Many fantasy RPG settings make their religion and deities more overt (and most follow the paragraphs of previous description), probably due to the presence of priests and clerics among the character classes. Many recent novels have drawn their lore from RPG settings and thus the spiral goes down further.

You may think from that last paragraph that I’m only grudgingly adding religion to the world, but that’s not right. I’m adding story potential and conflict to the setting by adding various religious outlooks to the setting. I’m specifically not saying that one particular spiritual cosmology is right, and I’m not saying that other groups have it wrong, instead I’m providing choices for players to explore through their characters. That’s part of the storytelling for me.

A few RPG settings do it well in my opinion. The Warhammer Fantasy world has different cultures who follow different gods, hidden cults who worship other gods, and the hideous Lovecraftian chaos gods who seek to subvert, destroy, pervert and consume. The setting is such a baroque mash-up of ideas and agendas that no single cosmology is distinctly “the one over-riding truth”. The various conflicting myth systems in each game line from the classic World of Darkness, each showing a version of reality that matches with the cultural ideas of the race, and each possible to forge into a surreal whole when parts from different views are combined. The main point here is that religion needs to be another avenue for story to develop, for the characters to make decisions about…not just something where the players are told “This is right, and everyone else is just misguided”.

So far, there have been hints of four distinct religious systems: The Holy Order of the Prophet, The Old Elemental Gods, Native Shamanism, and “Assorted Superstitions”. Each of the cultures has a tendency to follow one of these in its pure form, or some kind of hybrid blend. The only religion described in any detail so far is the Holy Order, and that’s because we have an entire culture within the setting dedicated to it (we also have the cult, but they’ve been left deliberately vague up until now). We can probably assume that the “assorted superstitions” and more folk-lore than formal religion, much like those found scattered across our world. The Native Shamanism will require a bit of research into Maori lore so I can tie the religion into the culture in an appropriate manner, but I’ve got a few ideas to incorporate a voodoun loa vibe to it, so that certain characters can be ridden by spirits as enchanted warriors and visionaries (but this is probably getting more into ritual than cosmology). The Old Elemental Gods was just something I pulled out of the air, because I thought of pirates worshipping “the four winds”, then I thought about some kind of Lovecraftian horror arising from the waves, or some earth elemental spirit who is appeased to avoid crashing into rocky reefs.

Religion is a driving factor in the game for a few reasons.  Most notably because of the “Church” and “Cult” factions, next because of the presence of devout miracle workers from all walks of life, and then because there is an element of supernatural mystery inherent in the setting. But it is important to note that religion is not the primary driver, the exploration and mystery of the setting are more important; religion adds flavour to this, along with the conflict between the rigid order of the old world versus the flux of the new world, and the class struggles of those who have (and want to keep it) versus those who don’t have (but struggle to get it).


I’m thinking that a few general paragraphs on each religion should suffice. One paragraph on the general belief structure, one on the common daily and weekly rituals and prayers, one indicating a couple of special festivities or observances, one describing the places of worship, and one describing each religion’s views on the others. I’d only get into more detail if there were players specifically after this information, and for the purposes of an ongoing live action campaign, I’d probably let some of the more dedicated players develop the religions through their in-character interactions.

(P.S. and Retrospective editing note: Thankyou to Pedro-Juan Ferrer Matoses for pointing our my incorrect spelling on "La Santo Orden del Profeta" I have gone through the previous posts and corrected it to "La Santa Orden del Profeta" where I could find it.)

19 November, 2014

Worldbuilding - Map Update

Just thought I'd share the current status of the island map.



I'm thinking a monochrome sepia gives it an appropriately old-world / pirate / steampunk vibe. I'm producing it at 300dpi, A3 size, so it will make a decent printout when it's completed (maybe A1 - 150 dpi or A2 200 dpi), that works pretty well as a prop map for games.

Needs more work but it's getting there.

There will be a widerscale map also, showing the position of this island with regard to the archipelago, and then perhaps a globe depicting the archipelago compared to the empire of the old world.

Worldbuilding 101 - Part 11: Defining the Cultures

Based on the ideas put forward in the last post, here are the specific cultural charts.

El Imperio del Sol (The Empire of the Sun)
A Language most commonly spoken: High Speech (Spanish)
2 Valued Possession: Family Coat of Arms
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Elaborate and Brightly Coloured, or Military Uniforms
4 Valued Concept: Honour
5 Common Pastime: Feasting and Theatre
6 Housing Arrangements: Lives in a private dwelling with close family
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Justice
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Hope
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Pride
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Envy
J Religious Beliefs: Holy Order of the Prophet
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: The Nobility (Aristocracy)  
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Afternoon Siesta

La Santa Orden del Profeta (The Holy Order of the Prophet)
A Language most commonly spoken: High Speech (Spanish)
2 Valued Possession: Holy Symbol or Holy Text
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Plain Robes
4 Valued Concept: Piety
5 Common Pastimes: Prayer and Helping Others
6 Housing Arrangements: Communal Housing with the Order
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Faith
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Charity
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Lust
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Sloth
J Religious Beliefs: Holy Order of the Prophet
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: The Ecclesiastic Hierarchy (Theocracy)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Always wears a head covering

Los Corsarios (The Privateers)
A Language most commonly spoken: Low Speech (English)
2 Valued Possession: Letter of Marque
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Functional Leathers or Military Uniform
4 Valued Concept: Loyalty
5 Common Pastimes: Gambling and Woodcarving
6 Housing Arrangements: Tight Quarters (on ship or in dock)
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Diligence
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Courage
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Greed
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Pride
J Religious Beliefs: Blend of superstitions
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: The Captain, the Patron Nation, and then The Crew (Military)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Polyglot, sometimes drifting into other languages when excited

Los Lobos del Mar (The Wolves of the Sea)
A Language most commonly spoken: Low Speech (English)
2 Valued Possession: Weapon (often a cutlass)
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Functional or Flamboyant Leathers
4 Valued Concept: Glory
5 Common Pastimes: Drunken Brawls and Feasting
6 Housing Arrangements: Tight Quarters (on ship or in dock)
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Courage
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Chivalry
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Wrath
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Gluttony (particularly Rum)
J Religious Beliefs: The Old Elemental Gods
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: Elected Captain, then the Crew (Democracy)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Tattooes

La Colonia (The Colony)
A Language most commonly spoken: Creole of High and Low Speech
2 Valued Possession: Family Heirloom
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Functional Cloth and Linen
4 Valued Concept: Love
5 Common Pastimes: Singing and Dancing, and Handicrafts
6 Housing Arrangements: Shared room in a house with widely extended family
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Patience
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Love
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Sloth
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Envy
J Religious Beliefs: Blend of superstitious folklore and the Holy Order’s teachings
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: Deference to Age and Experience (Meritocracy)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Always tries to greet everyone they meet (close acquaintances with a kiss on each cheek).

Los Salvajes de la Isla (The Island Savages)
A Language most commonly spoken: Native (Maori)
2 Valued Possession: Greenstone Charm
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Dyed Skins and loosely woven fabric
4 Valued Concept: Harmony
5 Common Pastimes: Fishing and Woodcarving
6 Housing Arrangements: Communal quarters with extended family
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Wisdom
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Bravery
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Sloth
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Wrath
J Religious Beliefs: Shamanism revering the many spirits of the natural world
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: Chief, then elders, then tribe. (Tribal Aristocracy)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Tribal Tattoos

La Orden de la Luna (The Order of the Moon)
A Language most commonly spoken: Pidgin of Low Speech and Native
2 Valued Possession: Jewellery depicting a Crescent Moon
3 Type of Clothing Worn: Dark leather armour, typically masked
4 Valued Concept: Secrecy
5 Common Pastimes: Parkour and Arcane Research
6 Housing Arrangements: Alone in hidden lodgings
7 Primary Virtue – strives to do this: Wisdom
8 Secondary Virtue – strives to do this: Diligence
9 Primary Vice – strives to avoid this: Pride
10 Secondary Vice – strives to avoid this: Envy
J Religious Beliefs: Hybrid esoteric blend of Shamanism and the Holy Order’s teachings 
Q Acknowledged Authority Structure: Defer to those with the most experience (meritocracy)
K Unusual Cultural Character Trait: Always uses a false name

You’ll note in a few cases I’ve blended elements from different cultures to give each group a bit of a twist (especially with regard to the “Unusual Cultural Character Traits”). I’ve also provided a pair of options for many of the types of clothing and common pastimes, this was to add a bit more diversity to the cultures. This isn’t just a case of cultural appropriation, picking the elements we like and discarding the ones we don’t. It’s more about cultural competency, understanding the cultures being drawn from, seeing how they might work under slightly different circumstances, and more importantly accepting that these are shorthands to describe stereotypical members of the culture (no single character should ever possess all of the traits from their culture).

For the virtues and vices it was tempting to go with the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues evenly distributed across the seven cultures, but this felt a bit trite, so I made sure to double up a few of the virtues and vices, and added in a few other ideas from non-Christian sources. If we have groups that share certain virtues or vices, they might share a (I’m also thinking that in most cases, characters won’t be afflicted by all four virtues and vices, instead the primary virtues and vices will be most commonly associated with the culture, a sizable minority would have character traits derived from the secondary ones…more to think about here, but that’s more about game mechanisms rather than world development).

The task of filling out these charts leads us into the next things that will require development. First we’ll need a bit more information about the religions of the setting, then we’ll need some information about the various authority structures.

We’ll also need some illustrations of the various clothing styles, but that will come later.