Thursday, January 31, 2008

Dwarven Religion

Dwarven religion is marked by a few important traits. They are monotheistic, or mostly so. Depending on who you ask, you may be told that there are no other gods, that other gods were merely Dimiourgos (the dwarven god) in disguise, or that there are other gods, but the greatest and creator of them all was Dimiourgos. All (except a few radicals) agree that Dimiourgos is at least the only god worthy of praise and worship.

Dimiourgos is worshipped in five aspects: The Creator, the Life-Breather, the Protector, the Law-Giver, and the Renewer. Each of these aspects has associated with it an act that must be performed or a world-view that must be held. No dwarf is exempt from these five manners of worship.

The Creator
And in this way, Dimiourgos created the earth.

The aspect of the Creator is credited with the creation of everything that exists, including the earth itself. This aspect is also called the Artisan, to reflect the great majesty of the world and the things in it. The manner in which the Creator is worshipped is through the act of creation, the highest form of which is the carving of one's offspring. Other forms of creation are encouraged, but it is the carving of one's offspring that must be performed before returning to the stone.

The carving of an offspring is a great endeavour, one that takes anywhere from one to four years of a dwarf's life. The dwarf is released from other clan obligations in order to perform this service, and spends much of the time in seclusion, alone with the rock, stopping only to eat and sleep as necessary. It is common practice for dwarves to wait a long time before carving an offspring, as the clan cannot usually operate for long if many members are released from their responsibilities at once.

A dwarf who decides to devote themselves to the creator spends much of their time creating fine art, usually sculpture or metalwork, and the rest of their time carving offspring. These dwarves often carve two or three offspring, rather than the typical one.

The Life-Breather
Dimiourgos, after having carved the first dwarves from the earth he had created, breathed life into them, and taught them the manner of it, saying to them "You are my first and my chosen, you will hold the power of life and death over your offspring". This is the aspect of the Life-Breather, the most powerful aspect and the most influential, having the only organized priesthood.

Not all dwarves are suited to become Life-Breathers, and many Life-Breathers jealously guard their secrets from the other dwarves. Those that become Life-Breathers themselves are called, supposedly, to the practice, and to ignore that calling is to reject the gift of the Life-Breather aspect. To accept it is to worship the Life-Breather in the greatest sense, and similarly those who are not suited to those duties worship the Life-Breather by doing that for which they are best suited, and thanking the Life-Breather for the gift of life.

The Priesthood of the Life-Breather rules dwarven society, usually indirectly. The society is often self-regulating and requires little in the way of overt rule, but Life-Breathers are consulted about dwarves' callings, and when a dwarf must be promoted above the others (to a position of generalship in the case of war, for example), it is the Life-Breathers who make the appointment.

Furthermore, Life-Breathers hold the secret of the breathing of life into a carving, making it a dwarf. These priests can (and have, in the past) withhold this action, and essentially destroy a clan, or even the entire race, if they are patient enough.

The Protector
When the waves of darkness threatened to pour into this world and destroy the dwarves, Dimiourgos held up his hands and stopped the flow, protecting the dwarves and allowing them to grow until they were strong enough to protect the world themselves.

The aspect of the Protector defended the then helpless dwarves, allowing them to grow until they were able to protect themselves and others. This selfless act of defense on the part of Dimiourgos is to be imitated. It is an act of praise to defend those who cannot defend themselves.

A dwarf devoted to the Protector might become a guard on a border, or perhaps wander the mountains, looking for lost souls to protect.

The Law-Giver
Dimiourgos then spoke to the assembled dwarves, and gave them the law by which to live.

The Law-Giver is fairly self-explanatory, but one of the important things to note is that the law was given to the dwarves orally. Dimiourgos spoke to them, and told them the law. This has a great effect on dwarven culture, as it sets them up to be oral historians and storytellers. It should be noted that dwarves have no written language.

The proper way to praise the Law-Giver is to follow the law. Each tribe (or group of tribes, in the case of smaller tribes) has at least Law-Speaker, who has dedicated his life to knowing the law and stories of Dimiourgos. Law-Speakers are often given the power to make legal rulings, but this is not normally necessary. Instead, they tend to teach and indoctrinate young dwarves into their proper roles in society by teaching them the laws and examining them to help discover the sort of work they are suited to. If any sort of opposition to the Life-Breathers was thinkable, it might come from the Law-Speakers, who also enjoy significant power and respect.

Devoting oneself to the Law-Giver is to devote oneself to learning the vast oral history, stories, and the laws given down by Dimiourgos. It is not a calling to take lightly.

I'll do more on the specific laws themselves in another post, likely with the discussion of politics.

The Renewer
When Dimiourgos discovered the dwarves who had returned to the stone, he was overcome by emotion and wept. His tears washed the statues clean, returning the silt to the water. From the water, he called the rock anew, and rebuilt the dwarves who had lost their life.

The aspect of the Renewer is responsible for returning dwarves to the stone, making them again one with the stone, and preparing them to be carved into something new.

The Renewer is worshipped in different ways, but all involve taking the statue that a dwarf becomes at death and returning it to the elements. Dwarves in high mountains may leave the statue to be eroded by wind, dwarves that live near a river may have the statue eroded by water. There are some dwarves who live in a volcanic range who return their statues to the lava.

Devotees of the Renewer serve by preparing the statues, finding a place for them, and enabling the other dwarves to pay their respects.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Centres of Culture I (Part ii): The Seafaring Peasants

In my last post on the topic, I spoke of the nobles of the Aruan Empire, mostly self-interested quasi-legal businessmen who hold much of the power.

One important part of their culture is that they do not often leave their islands. This is made doubly important when they are compared to their subjects, who may spend their entire childhood without setting foot on land.

There is some farmland on the islands, and some peasants farm for their living, but a much greater proportion are fishers and traders. A great deal of the land between the islands is much like the Grand Banks, shallow enough to allow for massive populations of fish. There is no real winter this close to the equator, and fishing goes on year-round.

The other sort of seafaring peasants are the small traders, usually peddling small necessities like pots, fresh water, and other similar items. Peasants of this sort have mid-sized ships with small crews, usually four or five people, compared to the ten to fifteen required to run a successful fishing vessel. These traders have a common flag, a red circle on a blue field, that is flown constantly so that ships in need of supplies can attempt to find them without returning to an island.

Both sets of seafaring peasants evolved from the people who lived on the edges of the mountains when the seas began to rise. Their land was covered, and their lords provided little assistance. This experience, long ago, has taught these peasants the need to provide for themselves and for each other. Ships sinking, people falling overboard, running out of water; all these things and more happen, and other ships feel duty and honourbound to assist where they can. It's ingrained into their psyche, and only the most cold-hearted of souls ignores this drive.

At times, many ships come together while meeting a trader, or while fishing, and at times they lash together forming a large raft-like structure. These are called shipmoots, and usually last three to five days, and are huge parties. During these shipmoots, goods and services are exchanged, and occasionally personnel.

This is by no means an exhaustive post, but it should give you an idea about how different the peasants are from their nobles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Centres of Culture I: The Aruan Archipelago

Alright, this is the first of a series of posts on various cultures around the world. Cultures do not exist in a vacuum, and areas near my (admittedly arbitrary) cultural borders will retain elements from all of the bordering major centres of culture.

The Aruan Archipelago

The Aruan Archipelago is a chain of islands that extends from the southwestern-most peninsula on the main continent. The five main islands are large, the smallest the size of one of the islands of Japan, and the largest about the size of England.

(I had a huge long history here, but thankfully for you, I remembered this is a blogpost and have mostly spared you)

The islands were once just great mountains, when the world was in an ice-age, and were settled by five major nomadic tribes from the north-eastern coast. After this initial settling, other peoples from the peninsula came to settle in the area, giving up their sovereignty to the five original clan, who became oligarchs and eventually monarchs.

As the seas rose again when the world was warmed, these formerly interconnected tribes grew apart, and each grew more culturally solidified (ie, the newer settlers and the initial settlers grew together culturally) until each island was generally monocultural. The monarchs took the best land towards the centre of the islands, relegating their subjects to the coast.

Soon, seafaring took hold and the islands began to find one another again. A trading culture grew between the large groups of poor subjects who had no other source of income. Over a few generations, the king of Arua (the largest and centremost island) had solidified the five crowns into his domain, and declared himself Emperor of Arua.

There's more, but those three paragraphs probably set up what I wanted to talk about. The Aruan Empire consists of the five main islands and the other small islands in the area, and a fair section of the peninsula to the south. At one point in time, the Empire also stretched across the southeastern part of the main continent, but they were thrown off during the rise of Mechia (I'll get to Mechia one of these days...).

Okay, the point I'm getting to is coming: There are two cultures in the Aruan Empire. The first is that of the nobles, descendants (well, the really old noble families at least) of the original five settling tribes. More and more, successful merchants and blackmarket operators are joining the ranks of power and moving inland, but we'll get to the underground in awhile.

The nobles are the island-dwellers. While perhaps an exaggeration, it is not ridiculous to say that sometimes these nobles spend great portions of their lifetime without ever setting foot in a boat. Their culture is mainly based on personal wealth and influence (most of which comes from wealth). The role of the noble class varies slightly from island to island, so I will treat them individually.

It is common for nobles on all islands to show their wealth with bright-coloured clothing. Reds and purples are reserved for recognized nobles, and setting foot on an island wearing these colours may subject you to arrest and imprisonment, but likely on a first offense you will be warned to keep these colours out of your wardrobe. This is especially true for foreigners. Another way in which these nobles show their wealth is through piercings with precious metals. The face (eyebrows, ears, nose, etc) is a common place for these piercings.

With the gradual decline of the power of the Emperor, much wealth is generated illegally. This combination has allowed for the ranks of nobles to swell with successful black-market operators, effectively eliminating the rule of law on the islands. It is not unusual to be able to find whatever you like in the Aruan Empire, provided you have the wealth.

Linked to these black-market operators, but not necessarily in cahoots with them, are the shipping tycoons. The sailing skills of Aruan seamen are legendary, and Aruan ships have no peer. If you want something moved quickly, or if you want to move quickly, they are your go-to people, and the owners have become very rich, many of whom joined the ranks of the nobility.

All the nobles owe allegiance to the Aruan Emperor (The King of the Five Crowns), though in practice the Emperor's power is extremely weak. The current Emperor (in the default period) is attempting to curry favour with the common people, but that is a subject for later.

Each major island apart from Arua itself has an Imperial Governor, who is (in all cases except Myra) essentially impotent. The Governor's official position is to ensure the nobles fall into line, but with the weakening of the Empire, the Governor does little more than report on the activities of the nobles (well, the ones he can find out about, at least).

Nobles by Island

Arua: The nobles on Arua tend to fall into two groups: The most powerful and ruthless, that is to say those that the Emperor feels the need to keep an eye on personally; and those most loyal to the Emperor, so as to help keep the most powerful nobles under control. The "Imperial Governor" of Arua is traditionally the Emperor, though this job is often delegated.

Myra: The majority of the nobles on Myra are shipping tycoons, and are kept under the strong thumb of the Imperial Governor. This is probably the island most loyal to the Emperor (This doesn't at all mean that it's particularly loyal...just the most loyal).

Lora: There is no greater hive of scum and villany. This island is the closest to the peninsula, and has the most opportunity to deal in illegalities. The nobles here tend to be nobles by virtue of their ill-gotten wealth, and if the Aruan Navy were a touch smaller, it might try to secede.

Reia: This island is furthest from Arua, and closest to Mechia. It is its own gateway of sorts. The nobles here are often shippers, and oddly enough they are also often successful navigators. This island seems to breed the best navigators, and noble children here learn the art at a young age. Nobles from Reia are often consulted for guidance on issues of any subject, not just the steering of a ship in the correct direction. They share the Mechian mystical styling, keeping quietly to themselves, except to dispense advice. Many Reian nobles misuse this reputation, but this is not universal.

Dara: This island is northernmost (still tropical), and, with the great hurricanes that often pound its shores, produces some of the best sailors, due to their ability to read and adjust to winds. The nobles here are a microcosm of the entire chain, some loyal, some criminal, some shippers, some navigators.

Whew, that was a lot. Next post, I'll touch on the other culture: The Seafaring Peasants.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


First things first, as I'm big on definitions, I should define "cosmology".

Cosmology: 1) "The study of the universe as a whole, of the contents, structure, and evolution of the universe from the beginning of time to the future." (As always, retrieved using the google "define" function)

That first one's a little dry, though accurate. I prefer #2: "
ideas about the universe as an ordered system and the place of humans in the universe."

To be fair to elves, dwarves, gnomes, fairies, and the like, we're going to change the word "humans" to "people". Cosmologies are big. Really big. You won't believe just how vastly, hugely, mind-boggling big they are.

Sorry, sometimes I channel Douglas Adams.

My point, however, is that the real information about the cosmology of a fantasy universe is often small, because it is limited by what people can perceive. Without a telescope, it's hard to see stars as more than little dots of light in the sky at night.

My family and I used to do medieval reenactment, and my mom told me this story. She once knew a man who would "get into character" at medieval reenactments by simply removing his glasses. He was very shortsighted, and he said that it helped to remind him that his persona had, and I quote "never seen the sky."

To me, the idea of not being able to see even the sky is very powerful. I want to keep this sort thing in mind as I design this cosmology.

It's going to be pretty sparse. We don't really need much, because most people can't really see much. There might be a crazy wizard in a tower with a magic spyglass, but that wizard is called crazy because most people think she is.

So, lets start with what we can see. In the day, there is a great sun in the skies. Just one, nice and simple. We're going to call it a red giant, because I don't want everything to be the same. There is a great red ball of fire in the sky during the day (Goodness Gracious!).

In the night sky, there are many small points of light, called stars. There are two moons, the greater and lesser. The greater moon orbits the world, the lesser moon orbits the greater moon. I'll determine the exact schedules some other time, it's not really that important. I'm not really sure if the moon having its own moon really follows good astronomy, but it's a fantasy world and I don't care.

This'll have some sort of effect on calendars. Probably something fun like having the greater lunar cycle determine the length of a month, and the lesser lunar cycle create weeks. Various alignments of lunar cycles can also create some funky tide options, but I'm not really going to get too deeply into it. I want to leave interesting alignments happenstances for dramatic occasions.

What do people believe the stars really are? Ask a thousand people, and you'll probably get a thousand slightly different answers. I'm not going to cover those here, I'm going to cover things like that in the posts about individual cultures. You might have noticed a theme here. I really, really don't want to pin things down so tightly that the world can't evolve if necessary.

I almost forgot to mention, the planet is spherical.

That's all for now, folks!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Elven Spirituality

I titled this "Elven Spirituality" for a very specific reason: Elves are, generally, not religious.

Wait a second, now, religion and spirituality are two different things. Some definitions:

  • a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny
  • an institution to express belief in a divine power
  • concern with things of the spirit
(All definitions found using the google "define:[word]" function)

The definition of religion as being an institution is an important one for me, and I favour that definition over the "strong belief" definition. However, elves do not believe in powers controlling destiny either, something (okay, another thing that sets them apart from dwarves).

Myth: Elves worship nature.
Truth in the myth: Elves revere nature.

It's a subtle difference.

  • specific acts of religious praise, honour, or devotion, typically directed to a supernatural being such as a god or goddess
  • regard with feelings of respect and reverence; consider hallowed or exalted or be in awe of
(Definitions found using google "define" feature)

Elves are not religious and cannot, per se, worship nature. They do not, generally, believe in "Nature" as a deity or supreme supernatural force. Rather, it is eminently natural for nature to do what it does when provoked. Note: In a fantasy universe, what nature does when provoked can be extremely dangerous.

In the traditional elven belief, what nature deserves is not worship but reverence. In a word, respect. Elves try very hard to work together with nature, rather than fighting it, because it is respectful to do so (and because when a fantasy nature hits back, it does so very, very hard). They consider the gifts that they receive from nature (an anthropomorphic metaphor, but a handy one) to be extremely valuable, and act accordingly.

Elves readily acknowledge the existence of beings that represent and embody the spirit of nature, or of various aspects of nature. They believe that to ignore them, as most humans do, would be folly of the highest order. When commenting on the human refusal to accredit natural processes to the spiritual creatures that embody them, an elf once said that "it would be like refusing to say that your fingers are useful in holding a hoe".

In summation, elves are not typically religious. They do not gather in churches, they do not sing praises to almighty nature. They are, however, spiritual beings who are reverent of the natural environment in which they live, which in a fantasy universe includes creatures that embody natural processes or locations.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


No, I'm not talking about what happens when you leave yogurt in the fridge too long. I was getting all ready to post about politics, but it sort of dawned on me that culture probably comes first. According to wikipedia, culture "refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activity significance". I like that definition, it works for me.

Cultures are often regional, but this isn't always true, looking at diasporas (people living outside their cultural homelands, often used to refer specifically to jewish people living outside Israel).

In fantasy, one of the major issues is actually with mono-culture, especially when dealing with non-human races. I'm going to try to avoid this, but my traditional direction may make a mono-culture or two unavoidable.

I also plan to introduce counter-cultures in large centres of culture, of which there will probably be about five human centres, and one centre in each of the other races with significant counter-cultures.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Magic System Complete (Revised)

The Magic System document can be found here. Comments here will be restricted, please post your comments in the first Magic System post.

Edit: Thanks to the excellent work of Killer Shrike (for all things Magical [in the Hero System, at least], check out his website!), my magic system mechanics have been overhauled and cleaned up. Comments in the first post, if you please.