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DispatchMetaReference

by The 『n』『o』『m』『a』『d』 of Kiu Ghesik. . 126 reads.

KG's Big Guide to Making PT Nations (WIP)


This dispatch serves two purposes. One, it's to preserve something I wrote on the forums from the inevitable jaws of the autoprune, and two, since I've heard that my little bit of writing was useful to people, it's to inform users who want a little help what I've found to work well in creating a past-tech nation.

Do note, friends, that this dispatch is primarily geared for PT nations. It assumes that cultures are limited by the geography around them and that they will be driven by the urges of ancient societies. However, the first sections, about developing a unique culture, should still remain valid for all tech levels, and the latter sections should remain valid if you take into account the assumptions that I've made and how you can get around them.





The Thing Responsible for this Mess
Kiu Ghesik wrote: The best thing to do for a PT nation, I've found, is to think of the essentials. Where they are determines a lot. Mountains? City-state, maybe terrace farming, "tall build", possibly incorporates altitude in their worship, be it high or low places. So on and so forth. I find it's best when looking at PT to consider the blending between peoples when searching for conflict and narrative potential, since historically it has been interactions of peoples that develops cultures and seeds strife. Take, for example, the Indus. The Aryan culture coming down into the Indus territory led to centuries of strife.

If you're stuck on what you want the nation to be, come up with a concept and roll with it. For example, say we want a rebellious nation that ended up a totalitarian state. What are they rebelling against? A conquering empire? Is that empire Chinese in its mentality? Toss in some dynastic Vietnam. Well, that's too on-the-nose. What other historical nation rebelling against a big power can we think of? What about the Irish? Well, what are some traits both of those nations have? They're into agriculture in a big way. Let's toss in some Tzarist Russian Siberia, for good measure. They're very agricultural. What about religion? Vietnam has an emphasis on the role of ancestors, Celtic mythology focuses on polytheism and fae critters, at least in the public perception. So what if we ascribe ancestral traits to fae creatures? That's neat.

And just like that we've got a culture that lives in a mountainous region, in city-states, with a religion focusing on ancestor worship in specific spaces such as rivers that wind through valley floors, with an emphasis on the life-giving properties of these spaces, rebelling against a conquering nation not suited to the environment. With that blank slate, toss out all of your notes prior to that, and fill in the blanks of every aspect not covered by this brief with unique worldbuilding.

That's my method, at least, though I've tried to deviate from it with the Kiu. Hope it helped.

This post, made in September 2020, outlines a basic process for creating a past-tech nation that allows for the creation of "unfamiliar-but-recognizable" cultures and societies for one's PT setting. However, it's not the whole story. Rather, it's only a brief of what could be termed the "full method". As such, I'd like to expound on my creative process in greater detail, and to walk you, most dear and gracious reader, through the creation of an example nation using these principles.


Coming Up With a Concept, or... WHY IS THE PAGE BLANK AFTER FOUR HOURS!?

Alright. So. You've decided you want to join the PT Gang. Good job, that's the cool kids' club. You'll fit right in. However, you don't want to make a culture that's just ROME GREECE ROME or "modern culture, but tossed into the Wayback Machine". Well, in that case, you've come to the right place. Here, you'll learn how to create a passably unique culture in the same way that the power rule allows you to bypass all that complex math in your calculus class. However, this ain't gonna be a walk in the park, kiddos. You'll need to have done some reading on the cultures of the world, or otherwise have knowledge of various cultures that doesn't involve stereotypes at all levels. Note that this knowledge is not- NOT- meant to be academically intensive. There will not be a test at the end of the course, except for what you'll create. However, it'll help for you to understand the population dynamics, technologies, and cultures of the ancient and modern world on a level comparable to what you'd get out of an American AP World History class.

So, now that that's out of the way. The first thing you'll need to do is come up with a concept for what your nation's going to be. At this stage, it's okay to refer to stereotypes, as we'll be expanding on these stereotypes and contracting them back later in the guide. This concept should be incredibly simple, a one-liner even, limited to this culture's general geographic setting and their mode of society. For the purposes of your convenience, you can use abstractions such as "plains dwellers", "steppe peoples", "mountain regions", "generic tribe #59488", "river civilization", and so on and so forth. When you develop this concept of your society's geography, think out its implications for a moment. People living in a flood plain that brings water every spring, or in a region affected by monsoons, will likely develop agriculture quickly, and will rely on this regularity of rain that has historically been reflected in such cultures by a belief in the cosmos possessing underlying mechanisms and functions- an engineered or regular system.

Once you've got that geography, and an understanding of how cultures in such regions have developed historically, you should start to get an idea of the geopolitical situation of your culture. For example, take the mountain culture discussed in the short guide above. Such a culture would naturally form into isolated city-states or villages due to the issues of traveling across such rugged terrain. However, this isn't necessarily the case: The Incan empire, for example, developed a unified society in a mountainous environment. However, it is an observed axiom that such cultures will be concentrated into pockets of humanity within a wider world, as very few places within this region will be inhabited by large numbers of people. With this understanding of your culture's geopolitical situation, you should be able to reduce your culture into two words. [GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION] [NATION TYPE]. River-Dwelling Empire, Monsoon-Dependent Villages, Mountainous City-States, et cetera.

So, let's apply what we've discussed above to a fictitious culture we will name, for the moment, Culture. I promise you we'll give them a name later, but for the moment, we don't have enough of an understanding of their culture to accurately do so without resorting to stereotyping. Nation will be located in a humid, sub-tropical region that experiences frequent monsoons- imagine, if you will, the tip of the Indian subcontinent. However, due to these people's need for year-round water, they will nonetheless be forced to cluster around the large rivers in the region, with cities developing in these areas and a number of smaller villages clustered around the outskirts of these cities. So, in this case our two (or three!) words will be "Tropical River Cities". Within this context, we'll be able to proceed onwards to the biggest no-no of writing, ever: stereotyping.

Okay, I've got a confession to make. Stereotyping of cultures in worldbuilding, in my opinion, is both good and bad, even if it as a tool tends more to the bad side of things. It allows the reader to develop a sense of familiarity with the given culture and creates in them an expectation of what is to come. However, too much stereotyping reduces your culture to tropes and meaningless reproduction of existing cultures. Thus, it should be avoided for everything but this next step. You're going to be picking and choosing from existing cultures to get an idea of what these cultures might develop into, and to add flavor to them. However, you should not stop at this. If you leave off at this next step, you'll have nothing more than a disjointed pile of ideas with little lease on life and no originality to distinguish itself as anything other than evidence of your learning. As such, use stereotyping as a tool, not a crutch. Apply it sparingly and only when you're stuck, lest you end up falling into its pitfalls without reaping its benefits.


Expounding on your Concept, or... The Worst Idea Salad Ever Made

So. You've got a concept for your culture. Now it's time to go globetrotting. Or, rather, it's time to plagiarize a little bit of everything from cultures across the world. If you'll recall what I said above about stereotyping, that it allows the reader to develop a set of expectations for your nation, then this next bit should make quite a bit of sense. Think of what cultures in the ancient or classical world resembled your culture, and identify elements you like. Then, taking these elements, search for other cultures with similar elements, and identify elements that you like or that fit with what you want this culture to be, and take those, then repeat the process. The point of all this is to get a list of a number of brief, bullet-point ideas for your nation that you can then go through and select to form a cohesive concept. You should not, as pointed out above, write down any solid details at this stage. At the moment, you're making a globally-sourced shopping list, looking for things that catch your eye and that more importantly feel right for the nation that you're making. However, at this stage you should recall that you're not taking down specific details. So, let's say that you decide that you want to, as shown in the post, nick the Vietnamese mode of ancestral worship. On your little "list", be it mental or physical, write down "ancestor worship" or "Vietnamese-style ancestor worship". Don't write down the specifics of the religious tradition, or you'll find yourself falling into the same trap as you might if you made heavy use of stereotyping cultures in this stage- that is, recreating an existing culture.

Let me explain what I mean. If you use stereotypes too heavily, or if you are too precise in your note-taking process, you develop in your mind an image of your culture before you want to do so. You'll look at, say, using potatoes as a food source, and then your mind will jump to reproducing the Inca, or the Irish, or the Baltic states, and the traits you take down for the rest of the process will be traits that match with that image in your head of a Baltic-themed or an Incan nation, rather than your own unique thing. If you find this happening, I advise you stop writing immediately and go take a walk. Drink some tea, clear your head, play some Minecraft or whatever it is kids do these days. Just vibe for a bit and don't work on your concept until you're ready to start again. If you continue with too clear of a picture in your mind at this stage you'll find yourself inadvertently recreating existing things. Now, no idea is unique, which is why we're allowing the development of history to do our work for us rather than bash our heads against the wall creating something new out of whole-cloth, but combinations of ideas, and what you do with those ideas, are. If you have too clear a direction in this early stage you'll be likely to find yourself losing your ability to create these unique combinations, something that won't happen if you're only creating a brief list of specific traits, following the plan laid out above.

But that's enough talk. Let's put it into practice, shall we? So. Our culture, Culture, is a group of cities in a tropical river delta, which is affected by seasonal monsoons. Now, we can see two immediate paths we can go down here: the Mali and the Hindi. So, let's take our first two bullet points: Culture is rich in valuable metals, as the Mali are, and it has something of a class system. I'd add a note here that this class system is not religious in nature or strict, so as to differentiate it in your mind from Indian states. Now, let's let our minds wander- what cultures are near the, shall we say, Mali? The Bantu peoples are, but they're not one culture. They're spread all across central Africa. So, let's use that- Culture is at the heart of a widespread interconnected demographic network of similar peoples, spread by some migration or emigration of Culture's people at some point in the past. Now onto religion- the obvious thing to look at here would be Hinduism, but that would be too on the nose, wouldn't it? The reader expects that. Instead, let's look at Mali and Hindi commonalities- they've both got a polytheistic religion, with lots of supporting mythology behind it. What other culture is like that? The Norse. So, jumping up into the great white north, we nick the Norse conception of gods as what amounts to a separate species, with mythical powers fitting their divine role. That's a cool concept, but let's lean on the Hindu idea a bit more and steal the concept of a divine creator higher up the ladder than the rest of the mythology. So, that leaves us with an explicit creator, a number of gods and goddesses heavily involved in mythology and folklore, all in the background of a rich trading power on a river delta. For some thematic sources, we've taken from the Norse, the Mali, the Hindi, all over, really, but we could use some more ideas- what if we take the historical habit of the Norse to export their warriors to the Byzantines and strip it to its barest? We've got some background for our setting now, that Culture has another, stronger neighbor nearby that values its contributions in some way. Perhaps trade in arms and riches? See? This method works well- by doing all this plagiarizing lovely reappropriation, we've managed to create a framework for Culture that we'll be able to extrapolate on. Now, let's look at our List:

  • Trades in valuable metals (M)

  • Located in a tropical river delta (M,I)

  • Diverse pantheon full of character (N)

  • Supreme creator deity (I)

  • Flexible caste system(I)

  • Center of a broader cultural sphere (M)

  • Has a somewhat-removed allied power (N)

  • Very wet climate, deals with monsoons on the regular (I)

  • Contributes to a regular agricultural season (M, I, E)

With all of that, you should have a mind full of ideas. I know I do. Now, with this in mind, I want you to take my advice of what I said earlier, write down this list somewhere else, literally burn your notes, and go take a nap or something. Come back and write when you're not thinking about where these ideas are from and you're ready to look at them as ideas disassociated from the world and alone unto themselves.


Making Your Culture Unique, or... This Bit Reads Best with Amnesia

So. Did you do it? Did you go do something else in the real world? No? Go do it. I'm waiting.

Alright, fine. I guess we'll go on, then, if you're intent on not listening to me. Grr. Well, I hope you're ready, because now's the time that you're going to get to really dig into the ideas you've come up with. Look at your list and, with what you've written in mind, start to imagine what such a culture could be like. These ideas you should write down, and extrapolate on. However, you need to know what you're going to be extrapolating first. Look at the list above and start thinking about how these ideas lead into each other and interconnect. To take a historical example, imagine the United States of America in 1803 distilled into its most minimal. It would have an emphasis on expansion and a lot of empty land there for the taking. These two ideas would logically and obviously lead into this "con-culture" moving into that empty land whenever it got the chance. This would also imply a sense of industriousness, a more fast-paced culture, and a rough, agrarian lifestyle being common. This is what I mean by extrapolation- you're filling in the blanks of your culture based on what's around it to be filled in, and based off of the implications of your list of ideas.

But what blanks need to be filled in? Well, I like to have enough information to theoretically make a single factbook for each category in NS, and the ability to create dispatches in each of these sections with little additional effort. You'll find that you'll get exponentially more ideas as time goes on, too, so this shouldn't be that hard once you get going. To clarify, that means you should have one or two points about the history, geography, culture, politics, religion, military, economy, and foreign relations of this culture. Note I've ignored the overview and legislation sections, as these things are essentially your list of notes and a cancerous tumor on the politics section, respectively. At least in my experience. These points should be things you can easily extrapolate on, notes such as "expanding into land to the west" or "has lots of precious metals it trades with neighbors", respectively. Do note that in this stage we're making things up as we go. This is writing, not note-taking, and you should have fun with it. It's your brainstorming session. If you dislike my ideas or my suggestions, feel free to ignore me. If you're ready to write a dissertation at this stage, okay. You can do that, no one's stopping you. In fact, nothing's stopping me from demonstrating the example right now, either. So let's do that.

Alright, here we go. Looking at our list from above, we can decide on some more specific details of Culture's, well, culture. For reference, here it is again:

  • Trades in valuable metals (M)

  • Located in a tropical river delta (M,I)

  • Diverse pantheon full of character (N)

  • Supreme creator deity (I)

  • Flexible caste system(I)

  • Center of a broader cultural sphere (M)

  • Has a somewhat-removed allied power (N)

  • Very wet climate, deals with monsoons on the regular (I)

  • Contributes to a regular agricultural season (M, I, E)

So, taking that, you should see a few things: Firstly, while we have made note of the cultural origins of each little trait we have here,



Developing Your Idea, or... Cultures are Just Dish-Soap, Really

WIP. In short, cultures mix. Use that.


My Ideal Workflow in a Nutshell

WIP. In short, buy low, sell high. Oh, and remember to cite your sources.

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