Continued from Part I.
Welcome back! Last time, we looked over a great many things, from migratory peoples to types of warfare and a whole slew of other things! In part II, we’re concluding our overview of how war can and will shape your world’s culture. So let’s get started where we left off!
Now, if we are looking inwardly at the realm itself, what sort of normalcy does the military hold? Are Uncle Bob, Grandpa Joe, and the neighbours all ex-legionaries? Do Aunt Celia and Cousin Joanna take up arms to guard the castle/town/castle-town when Uncle Bob and crew are overseas raiding or marching in formation down a Germanic forest, getting ambushed and routed? Or is Aunt Celia right there beside Grandpa Joe, spear in hand? Or is it more that the knightly elite are really elite, and maybe, if you’re very lucky, you get to be a footman, let alone a page, and the rest of you are either serfs, clergy, or nobility (who may or may not be part of the knightly order). How strong is the military? Do we find ourselves with a situation similar to Feudal Japan where the Samurai rule beneath the Daimyo and the Shogun? Is the emperor merely a figurehead, confined to the caring for nation’s spiritual wellbeing? (More on that in just a sec)
Is the army a hodgepodge of peoples, such as the host led by Alexander the Great? Does your leader(s) ‘go native’ and become despised by their officers and footmen? Perhaps, your soldiers, as seen at times in both world wars, don’t actually fancy killing the enemy – he’s just some bloke who happens to be born in the wrong country – and just takes pot-shots. Or perhaps, they are infused with the fighting spirit of their ancestors that leads them onwards to greater and greater glory, and sagas are sung, immortalising the heroes for all time, heroes who can one day become gods if belief in them is great enough…
Gods, Demons, Belief & Indoctrination
And since we’re on the topic of spirituality, what about gods, ancestral spirits, demons, totems, shrines, what-have-you. Are they proven or not? It does make a difference. If Thor, god of thunder, is without a doubt real, and you know that Valhalla awaits, that changes things a little (or a lot). If Ares, god of war, commands you to battle and he may not exist but you know for a fact that the Great God of Peace Who Detests War and Commands That No War Be Waged EVER is real, and gets very ticked off when people start lopping off each other’s heads, taking slaves, or whatnot, then maybe it might cause your citizens to think that perhaps it might not be such a great idea to go marching off. But of course, if they believe the gods/god/whatnot are real, that can be reason enough.
Gods, and demons, shape the beliefs and outlooks of a people. And of course, not everyone has to believe, or even agree; there are many different takes on the same deity, and sometimes, things get violent over it, and that can be a war in and of itself. Perhaps your elves have a very, very different view of Pricilla, Mother of Nature, to say, the goblins, who insist that she is Pricilletté, and that her warmth is what stops the forest from freezing over in winter. Perhaps some of your elves actually hold this view too, but to others, it is heresy and must be stamped out. Oh look, now you have an inquisition – how does that affect your martial culture. Better give those inquisitors protection, or better yet, have them be ex-soldiers. But does your king or queen really feel that having a martial order running around in an inquest such a great idea? What if, Pricilletté forbid, the queen’s son (who may or may not be born to the current king – but that’s a whole other plotline!) happens to be branded a heretic? Worse, what if he is one? And what if the inquisition is headed by his older sister, who secretly covets the throne? Dear, oh dear, things are getting messy, aren’t they? The king may not have command of the legions, and the legion commander may be loyal to the queen – who is secretly a republican and wants to abolish the monarchy (for whatever reason).
So what is our prince to do? Well, there is always the common rabble – those peasants who are always ready to join a crusade, provided of course, they’re given food and it happens to be a lean time… if our prince can inspire them to lay down their lives – perhaps because Pricilletté will grant them great favour in the next life… So now our prince has a makeshift militia, perhaps the support of a few nobles (who are also heretics, or perhaps are simply cashing in their chips, playing both sides, or actually intend to betray his highness – it is getting complicated, isn’t it?), there’s the official army who probably have different battalions, with different loyalties (who has the pay-chest?), government officials who may be playing a two-sided game (or they may be dead), an inquisition led either openly or in secret by the princess, and the queen who doesn’t want the monarchy anyway. And then there are the merchants, and war, as the saying goes, is good for business. Or is it? Crops are burning, towns are ravaged, people are dying, disease is rife, a plague comes out of nowhere and cripples the workforce, the clergy have their hands full – perhaps a revolution is on the horizon, and then there are those outside the kingdom, pirates, warlords, who see the inner turmoil as an opportunity.
And just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, the dwarves have elected a new high chancellor whose slogan is “down with the elves”, and off they hop into their war gallons and the Sacred Forest is under siege; the Hill Giants have awoken and are migrating (pick a direction) to their ancestral burial mounds, and wouldn’t you just know it, but those ancient burrow-tombs happen to lie either in, or beyond the Sacred Forest, and the Old Path leads through said forest.
And that, dear friends, is just a small example of how war can and will shape your culture’s outlook. But stepping away from the rampant plot bunnies (also, someone who isn’t me please write this or something like it!), let’s take a look at the economy. War costs money. And who is paying for all of this? Do we need to import tin, are we paying our copper miners? Do we know the secret of making bronze, or are we simply importing arms and armour, or do we have a select group of secret alchemists who refuse to reveal the secret but sell it to the army? Where are we getting our iron ore? Are those mines cut off? Do we have a colony, or outpost, and a trade route – maybe overseas – a caravan to transport it through the desert for us?
How on earth are we paying for all this? Are we taxing the merchants, are we blessed with a gold mine? Has the gold market crashed? (Looking at you, Mansa Musa). Do we use captives, slaves? Perhaps iron is abundant. How about sulphur? Do we know how to make potassium nitrate? Who makes it? Shall we use guano or urine? How about charcoal? What if there are no more trees? When does the treasury run out? Better raise those taxes. Oh no… the harvest failed. Well, sucks to be you, peasants… hey, why are you gathered outside my palace with pitchforks chanting ‘down with the king?’ and ‘we want food’. “Let them eat cake”? Terrible idea, that. (Also, apparently propaganda: I read somewhere that a certain lovely Austrian-born queen never actually said that. I also understand that at the time, the French weren’t very fond of Austria). In fact, we should probably invade our weaker neighbour, get control of their goats and treble our economy. Or say, that rather annoying island realm has a few nice colonies – no, not those thirteen on the mainland, those islands with spice and sugar… In our fantasy realm, let’s use our navy to blockage, raid, and seize control of the high seas! He who controls the seas (or she) rules the world! Unless, of course, our ships are in the air or perhaps in space. Maybe we have dragons instead of ships. Or gryphons. Or maybe it is an empire of gryphons ruled over by a dragon. A golden, celestial, sleeping dragon. Maybe offerings of gold are used to appease this dragon and keep it from waking, for if she does, fire, destruction and chaos will reign. Who knows? It’s your world.
Mounts & Beasts
Oh and speaking of dragons – how does the presence of magical beasties change war? Flying? What about size? How to fend off a raiding party of hill-dwelling giants? Do these giants use forges, can they mine ore; are they restricted to trees? Does blackpowder harm them? Are they afraid of the sea? If a cavalryman is worth ten footmen, and an elephant is worth five hundred footmen, how much is a dragon worth? How big is that dragon, how rare are dragons? Can they even be tamed? Is riding them possible, or are they just unleashed? Will they serve? Where are they sourced from, bred? What breeds? Are they even sapient? What are their capabilities? Do the ancestors return as dragons; is it the cowards that are forced to become beasts of burden, or is this a lie where it is actually the ‘valiant warrior’ who is cursed? Is there a special bond, a pact, or can just anyone control/direct a dragon? Is it limited to bloodlines? What happens if those bloodlines die out? Is it a pact with the dragon, with the gods? A gift from the gods? A curse?
How about werewolves? How many soldiers are they worth? Who controls the supply of silver – is there any silver left? Maybe your protagonist finds an ancient, buried cache of silvered weapons and that’s enough to arm himself/herself, maybe a friend, or perhaps a warband, or an entire army. Maybe it’s enough to tip the scales. How about a vampire? What sort of vampire? A powerful, ancient vampiric lord, aloof within his impregnable citadel, surrounded by his army of minions, including wolves, ghouls, possibly skeletons/zombies, mortal servants – perhaps he/she is on their own, maybe powerful, maybe not. Maybe the restrictions on vampires are so great in your world that it’s actually not at all to one’s benefit, but is weaker than say, a squirrel. Maybe squirrels in your world are more powerful than dragons, and animated forest gnomes, (once garden gnomes), are the gods of your world. Why not?
And then there’s magic. Hoo boy, is there magic. Magic is another massive topic. Are there war mages? Can magic be used in war? How is it viewed? Is it common, is it rare? Are people afraid, superstitious, do they see it as their salvation? Both? Will wizards refuse to fight because there is a cost to using magic? And so on and so forth.
So there you have it. Things to think on. Because the next part is very much linked to this: if war affects culture, how does peace affect culture?
And just as a final thought: what happens when one nation decides to wage war in one way, while others are waging war in a completely different way? That’s just not cricket, that. Well, history has several examples of that happening. Perhaps something to include in your own world’s history: the way empires are born, by cheating. And remember! Conflict drives the plot – internal, external. A world without conflict is entirely possible, so think about the type of backdrop you want. Perhaps war is a thing of the past and has been forgotten entirely.
Conclusions & Parting Thoughts –
So, in summary: consider the following:
– Why are wars fought? (Punitive expeditions, land, power, resources, for example)
– Who fights them? (armed peasants, knights, a national draft)
– Peoples – governments (the popular view may differ from those in power)
– Fantasy races, aliens: what steeds/monsters are involved?
– What sort of war is it? (A single battle, multiple clashes, skirmishes, a war at sea?)
– What level of technology is used? Blackpowder weapons against bows (this has happened in history more than once!), tanks, airships, spaceships?
– Where does it take place? (How are the battlefields remembered?)
– Supply lines, Logistics (Alexander the Great’s army travelled by foot, but they travelled near the coast to be resupplied by ship. Does your army live off the land? If it’s on horseback, it can travel great distances – take a look at the Mongols for instance. If they’re on a ship, the ship doesn’t need to stop and rest; there are of course other factors to consider, such as the weather and night time, however.)
– Tactics (Does your army fight clean or dirty? Both? How are looters treated? Who is following the army? Fletchers for arrow-making, armourers, smiths, others? Then there are battle tactics – such as the hammer and the anvil – we’ll look at those another time.)
– What is the aim of the war? (Political goals. In the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong lost most of the battles, yet was still able to bring America to the negotiation table and thus achieve their political goals. Defeat does not necessarily mean losing.)
– Propaganda: What are the people told?
– Cost: wars are expensive. Consider plunder, booty, captured cities, ships.
– Most of all, and most importantly, how does it affect the nations involved? The day to day lives of the people? What sort of national myth does it leave? How is victory used by the generals leading the army? If defeated, are the generals executed for their failure? Do they defect? Are the people even happy with victory? Are there slave revolts? (Spartacus, anyone?)
Although it can be a lot to think of, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in-depth (or it can be, if you want). Even if you just pick a couple of those, because you haven’t figured out (or don’t care) about your economy (which we can look at later, because you don’t have to figure out the precise cost of equipping your army if you don’t want to), it might help enrich your world. And remember, the richer the world, the more you can add to the plot. The world really does affect the plot, and the nuances are what set the ‘standard fantasy setting’ apart from the truly special.
That’s it for now. This post turned out to be rather longer than I expected! Since it’s the very first post, I don’t mind it being extended – can’t promise future posts will be as long or shorter though! Stay tuned for more.
If you enjoyed this post, do let me know! I’d love to hear what you come up with. I’m also interested to hear what sort of content will be helpful to you: is there any specific area of worldbuilding you need help on? You’re welcome to share, or link this post, just remember to credit me. Hopefully, this has inspired you! And if you want to support me, there’s always the ‘tip jar’. Until next time!
In the meantime, here’s a picture of my puppy.