21 November, 2014

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. 
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