Friday, June 1, 2012
Designing a Planet Part 7 - Religious Culture
Moving on from what has kept me from posting yesterday… More culture creation! This is the last installment of the culture miniseries because for the most part everything that is important to the identities of planets and national bodies are involved in these three parts and the rest is just minor variations from those themes.
For the universe of 40k a large part of the Religious parts are already developed for you in the worship of the God-Emperor. I don't think I will talk about designing a religion now because that is something that I could spend probably a dozen posts working on because of everything that goes into it, so here I will just have the minor pieces that can make your particular sect different from other groups that also worship your religion. For 40k think of the different forms of worship that appear throughout all the Black Library books, for instance in Gaunt's Ghosts the ayatani and those types of priests worship in their purpose for traveling, all sorts of different space marine chapters have different rites and rituals that they must go through under the guidance of their specific chaplains.
The purpose for writing out the minute details of the religion where other people have not developed is to have another source of inspiration for character development, tension within the party or with the antagonist, back story, side quests, the whole deal. A big part of creating a planet is how everything builds upon itself so that once you actually begin the process of designing it the whole thing starts to come together in a natural order and you won't ever have to worry about running out of inspiration while writing the story or adding background to your campaign because you already did all the real work in the creation phase of things.
Keeping in mind the worship of the God-Emperor there is still a lot that can be changed about it while maintaining that religious identity. Adding details for methods of worship or themes of doctrine can really make things interesting in how people interact with each other when some people who are not from the area would normally think that is heresy but everyone else is telling him he is wrong. If this planet is for a role playing game then you are making something that your players could potentially run with in ways that you had not imagined, and because of how religion oftentimes defines characters this would assist new players who don't know where to start with character creation and veteran players who now have some new thing to play with.
How religion oftentimes develops is based on current events, geography, ecosystems, all that stuff that you already worked on in designing your planet! Drastic circumstances are generally the only things that change religions significantly, though the tone of a religion may alter if people in general have been prosperous for a very long time, but for the most time things have to be negative for any significant shift. War is a big one, and it is important if the people following the religion have been on the winning side or the losing for how the long time of war has changed things. Plague, famine, natural disasters, all these could make a religion turn into one of suffering and how to suffer is to be holy or that the Emperor has punished us for our sins and though we are not worthy we seek your blessing and yadda yadda yadda. Incorporating other cultures, races, or even aliens (who of course have been approved by the Administratum and Ordos Xenos) can alter a lot as well as new ideas are brought into the melting pot and what seems compatible with current philosophies are added and those that aren't (even those that were native ideas before the newcomers arrived) are tossed out and forgotten. Worse, these ideas might be considered heresy and the worst of punishments meted out upon those that follow the old order and not the new one.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Religious culture on a planet is how it inspires characters/politicians/citizens to go to war over their ideals and if they think their beliefs are being trampled upon or if their mandates require another culture to be brought into the fold… even if that means they must all die since none of them will willingly convert. I dare say that my readers are smart enough that I don't need to mention all the things that are affected by a religious war, most of which I've already discussed in either this post or in others.
For example on the jungle planet war has been an important part of the identity of the planet, specifically the conflict with the Dark Eldar and then the Eldar. The massive slaughter by the Dark Eldar could have made the religion take a dark turn (if it is possible for the religion of the God-Emperor to become grimmer) with ideas of punishment or righteous vengeance becoming a big part in popular beliefs. Themes of spreading the light to other races and casting out the unjust could be attributed to the war with the Eldar and what the Imperium saw largely as a successful conflict. Particular traditions unique to the planet could involve collecting five large bugs that are each the size of a hand, mashing them all up with some sort of stick in a wooden bowl, and drawing the gore-mush into an aquila upon the foreheads of the worshippers in attendance. There could be a song about how endless labor for the good of the Imperium in the Emperors name will in the end be for the good and that despite all the sin which everyone is submerged within they are able to be blessed by the judgment of the Emperor when they die if they have worked hard enough.