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Worldbuilding: Religion, History, and Originality

14 January 201304:45PMworldbuilding

Oh hey. We're still doing this are we? Cool.

I'm just gonna skim over some world history and some religious stuff okay?


This is tricky. Let's start with the easy one: The Kallish worship at least one Goddess, on account of how they call her out in their ludicrously long name. For the sake of simplicity, let's say that Goddess is the only one, in their worldview at least. I'm guessing she tends towards the mysterious prophesy- giving type.

For the goblins, I wanted to avoid the obvious Tribal Shamans cliche, but, y'know. So shamanism it is then. That actually fills a nice gap, fantasy-cliche wise, because it means I don't have to try and shoehorn druids in somehow. If you want to be a druid, you gotta play a goblin. Done. Yes I know that druidism and shamanism are different. Quiet.

The Talonfolk and Assembled* have oral histories and concrete memories that they were created by humans, so they generally have no need for your puny gods. I guess some of them might revere their creators, but not to the extent of formal religion.

Then there are the humans. One of my favourite things about Bastion - and I have a lot of favourite things about Bastion - was the gods. It's a traditional pantheon, but each god embodies a pair of opposed attributes. I am going to unashamedly steal this. I really don't like settings which basically just reimplement the Greek pantheon with the names changed, though. Mostly, because there are just too damn many. I'm gonna stick with three.

Three sets of almost but not quite diametrically opposed attributes. How about the God of War and Commerce, the God of Water and Sand, and the god of Storms and Silence.

The Merchant Warrior is usually depicted with a set of merchant's scales in one hand or a bow in the other. Like all the Three, it doesn't have a canonical gender, being depicted as both male and female. The Temple of the Merchant Warrior is probably the most politically active, seeing as they run most money changers and train both diplomats and assassins.

The Bedraggled Oxdriver wears loose desert garb, but soaking wet. He (and this one is usually he, about 70/30) doesn't have formal symbols, though a lot of the time ox horns feature in shrines and such. He's somewhat more pastoral than the others - though he is an ox-driver, not an ox-herder, so not entirely so. The Temple of the Bedraggled Driver plays a large part in weather prediction, charting the seasons, and mapping, especially mapping the desert.

The Thundering Mute is the most enigmatic of the three. While she (70/30 again) is technically responsible for actual meteorological storms, she's usually invoked more metaphorically, to symbolise secrecy, change, and power. Her Order's temple in the Split Cities harbours one of the largest libraries in the world, for example. She usually appears as a woman wearing a gag and holding a lightning bolt.

I hope that's non-generic enough. I tried to avoid axiomatic "lawful stupidgood" types, and also tried to give the religious orders an actual purpose in the world rather than being separate from it. One thing I probably should mention is that, with the exception of Goblin shamanism which does involve actual spirits (not gods though), there's no divine spellcasting. I was going to point this out earlier, but I think it was in one of the many rants about Pathfinder's magic systems which got cut. Sorry about that.

*because you can assemble an army, right? but with these guys, you can literally assemble an army.


Much like in reality, prophesies are pretty much a load of hokum, with the significant exception of The Most High and Accurate Prophetic Measures of the Infinite Cascade. Which, as you can tell by its ludicrously long name, is in Kal.

The Cascade is an enormous sphere, the bottom of which is carved out of the city's bedrock and the top made from ten thousand perfectly matched pieces of stained glass. The bottom hemisphere is full of a countless number of coloured dominoes. The dominoes have been falling for thousands of years without end, and at this point are in such perfect harmony with causality itself that the Adherents of The Cascade can see the future in the patterns.

At least, that's what they say.

A prophesy from the cascade is not your typical vague poetic jibberish. They come as a list of probabilities of specific outcomes of one, specific decision which must already have been made. In return for a prediction of this nature, the one who seeks the prediction must pledge their service to The Hall of The Cascade for a year and a day, at a time of the Adherent's choosing. The promise is sealed with a single domino pulled from the cascade itself, which binds the seeker to complete their service in the laws of Kal and, as the Adherents would claim, in the very laws of causality itself.

World History

Normally these sections start with, like, a creation story or something. I'm not really interested in that though, since I've just invented three different religions, and don't feel like deciding that any one of them is 'true', and also don't feel like writing three different creation myths. This is left as an exercise to the reader. Or, er, player.

What I will do is hint at major historical events in the past. About a thousand years ago, Kal was just one city in an enormous empire, with untold mastery over magic. Eventually they ran into enemies - maybe from the mountains, maybe goblins, maybe from the seas - and created first the Talonfolk, then the Assembled to fight for them.

Eventually they were defeated, but at great cost - the magical weaponry they were using destabilised the climate and ended up creating the massive desert and effectively bringing their civilisation to an end.

The vague tensions between east and west probably originate in this conflict as well. One side was on one side, and the other was on the other. Neither can remember who was on which beyond vague feelings, and it's not like it really matters...

Probably the most recent development, politically speaking, is the alliance in the West, which has only been around for the last fifty years or so. Long enough to be taken for granted, not so long that it couldn't conceivably be broken by a sufficiently upset ruler.

Technologically, magic is advancing at a nonzero rate, but they're still not at the level the Kal were a thousand years ago. Alchemy is a pretty recent development too. It's not yet at the 'magical trains' point yet, but give it fifty years.

A note on originality

I mentioned above that I'm nicking ideas from Bastion, and being pretty open about it. I also realised the other day that The Order of the Stick used Sandedge as their desert-edge merchant city already.

Normally this'd bug me and I'd try to change it, but that's not really the point here. I mean, that's not why you do generic fantasy, is it? Yes, I'm doing my own twist on these tropes, but the tropes are still there. And more importantly, you're familiar with them. A lifetime of exposure to this stuff in books and so on means that you know instinctively how they work. And in a situation where you're interacting with the universe so directly, like with roleplaying, that familiarity is going to make it a lot easier to work with the world.

Like, I can say 'Sandedge', and you instantly know what kind of city I'm talking about. I can focus on telling you about the interesting stuff and just let your brain fill in the rest from your internal stock of assumptions. It's a lot less work for everyone.

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