hat_plays_sims: All I did was crop-- go read Bite Me by Dylan Meconis, you'll laugh. (Default)
[personal profile] hat_plays_sims
So I have this massive (forty-three pages in 10-point font) document I use to plan out things like class restrictions and cheats allowed and what trees I can put in which neighborhoods and the bones of a criminal justice system and... basically it's my worldbuilding cheat sheet.

After talking about the G-Rated Religion Mod with Morgaine, I said to myself, "Man, my Religion section sure is... thin. What can I do to get more information in there? Religion and culture inform each other."

So I rummaged around for some writing guides (for both fantasy writing and gaming writing; the gaming guides were more useful) about making up religions. And I built myself a questionnaire.

Because Veetie wanted to see the questionnaire, I cleaned it up, made the language as neutral as I could (hopefully they'll help as much for Medieval Fantasy religions as High Fantasy or Contemporary Alternate Universe), and crammed it behind the cut at the end of this paragraph. This isn't a Mary Sue Litmus Test, feel free to skip any questions that don't apply to your particular playable Religion-- but you might want to give them all a read-through anyway. Most of the questions are aimed at fleshing out a made-up religion, but there's a bit at the end about real-world people and the implications a fictional religion can make, by accident or by design. Also, I'm not a religious studies expert, I'm just a nerd who reads a lot and knows when something feels fake or under-done, and like a lot of people I'm constantly learning what's actually accidentally gross (or accidentally-on-purpose gross. I was in the Aladdin fandom in early 2002, you would not believe some people's nonsense).

Religious Figures
-- Not every religion has to be about a Deity, but there has to be some kind of central figure holding the code together, even if this figure is a philosophy, a list, or a celestial body.

Is this religion built around a single god (monotheistic), many gods (pantheistic), or are there even gods at all (philosophical religions, ancestor veneration)?

What's the Deity (central figure) of the religion like? If the Deity is more like a philosophy, what's involved in the philosophy?

If there's a pantheon, who else is in it? What are they like? (If you don't have specific ideas yet, get down broad strokes-- 'the pantheon is basically the Deity's family and extended family,' or 'it's less a pantheon and more a lot of nature spirits'-- both work well and leave you room to edit or add more so you don't write yourself into a corner.)

If the religion is monotheistic, are there other non-central figures that are more divine than mortals but less divine than the deity? If so, what are they like? Are any of them adversarial to the Deity?

Do the figures of the religion, if there are multiple figures, have associations? What sort of pattern do those follow? (Thor, god of thunder or Jude, patron saint of lost causes, or the Olympian model, where top-tier gods have less-specific associations than lower tiers, so you have the God of the Sky, the God of the Sun, the Goddess of Rainbows, et cetera...)

-- Most religions exist (and persist) for the same handful of reasons: to explain the unexplainable, to offer comfort in difficult times, and usually to provide some kind of moral framework for the faithful.

What does the religion promise to gain or retain followers? Does religious doctrine revolve around hope, fear, love, retribution, power, defiance, something else?

How does the religion attempt to explain the unexplainable, the seemingly random, and natural disasters? How would religious doctrine or tradition answer when asked "Why did Bob get struck by lightning?"

How does the religion comfort its believers and see them through in difficult times? If Bob dies of an infected guinea pig bite, leaving Betty widowed, what does religious doctrine say she should do now? Does it have any instructions for her neighbors, friends, or relatives (by blood or through Bob, or both if there's a difference)?

What's the religion's overall moral code? What does 'be good' mean to the religion, and what are the consequences of failing to be good? If the religion bans Theft (hypothetically), what does its doctrine say awaits Betty if she steals Sylvia Marie's lawn gnome?

Are transgressions against other mortals considered more or less serious than transgressions against the Deity (or the central philosophy)? If the religion bans Same-Sex Romance (hypothetically), what does its doctrine say awaits Melissa and Claire if they have sex?

-- Most religions have some mythology attached. These stories help to codify a religion's explanations, comfort, and morality, but also teach worshipers why deities should be respected, feared, or loved. It isn't necessary to know all the stories right away (in fact, it can be better not to, so you can write yourself out of corners later), but broad strokes of the mythology are good to know especially any stories that are likely to be reflected in daily life or regular worship.

What are the bones of this religion's creation myth? Who made the world? Why? Is the central figure the same figure who made the world? Why or why not? What's the world made out of? Why are things how they are?

What are some of the prominent myths besides the creation myth? Broad strokes are okay.

What does the religion's mythology have to say about the afterlife? What happens to the soul or spirit after death? If ghosts are allowed to roam free in your game, how does this religion explain them?

-- G-Rated and Original (with the Original romantic and sexual Tenets included to help round out the Religion. They're useful, they just conflict with things). Banning is always a flat ban, but allowing can mean anything from 'this religion encourages that' to 'this religion stays out of that.'

WRATH: Does the religion ban or allow outbursts of temper, aimless rage, or shouty tantrums? Why or why not?

THEFT: Does the religion ban or allow taking things that belong to someone else, whether or not you can make use of them yourself? Why or why not?

VIOLENCE: Does the religion ban or allow hostile physical contact, everything from a mean poke to make a point to feeding someone to a cowplant? Why or why not?

INDISCRETION: Does the religion ban or allow rude behavior that may be incidental or harmless as easily as petty and mean? Why or why not?

DISRESPECT: Does the religion ban or allow intentionally mean, sometimes petty, always insulting acts against others? Why or why not?

ADULTERY: Does the religion ban or allow married people from romantic and/or sexual activity outside their marriage? Why or why not?

FORNICATION: Does the religion ban or allow unmarried people from sexual activity? Why or why not?

SAME-SEX ROMANCE: Does the religion ban or allow romantic and/or sexual activity between two members of the same gender (lesbian, gay, or same-sex bisexual)? Why or why not?

POLYGAMY: Does the religion ban or allow plural or group marriage (multiple spouses, of either gender, at once)? Why or why not?

Practical Matters
-- These aren't playable Tenets no matter which version of Religion you use, but it's still important to ask.

Where is the religion originally from? Has it spread? Dwindled? How does its origin affect its doctrine?

Does the religion have any local political influence? If so, how much influence, and how does the religion use that influence?

Does the religion have any local cultural or social influence? If so, how much influence, and how does the religion use that influence? Does culture and/or society have as much or more influence over the religion than it has over either of them?

Is marriage a religious matter? Is divorce? Are there religious requirements for an engagement, marriage, annulment, or divorce?

Is interfaith marriage allowed? If so, are there any special requirements for it? What are they and why? If interfaith marriage isn't allowed, is converting to marry allowed? Why or why not?

How does religious doctrine define virtue? How does it define vice? Does it have a concept of sin? Are there any particular prohibited behaviors beyond the official Tenets?

Are there any particular activities the religion prohibits only at Places of Worship? Is there an expected manner of dress at Places of Worship?

Who builds and maintains Places of Worship? Where do the funds to do so come from?

How does the religion deal with abandoned, unwanted, orphaned, or imperiled children among its followers? Does the religion have any influence over what happens to them at all? (This may vary depending on your game setting and how reflective of reality it is. The US stopped using orphanages altogether in the late 1970s and switched to the foster care system, though not every TV writer has picked up on the change.)

What are the religion's views on each of the playable supernatural life states (aliens, zombies, vampires, servos, werewolves, plantsims, Bigfoot, witches and wizards)? Why does the religion have those views? Are any life states favored over the others, or over regular Sims? Are any life states looked down on or forbidden from the religion?

Does the religion offer sanctuary? If so, are there eligibility requirements for it and what, if any, are they?

-- You can't designate them in the mod, but you might want them in your game. "Clergy" is used as a gender-neutral term despite the Christian shadings, intended to designate Sims who help manage the religious needs of their community in some way, putting the 'organized' into 'organized religion.'

Does the religion have clergy at all? If so, what are they called? If not, how do Sims manage their own religious needs?

Who is eligible to join the clergy? Is anyone barred from it? Why?

What does the clergy do? What rituals does the religion have that might require clergypersons to participate in? What duties do they have, sacred or secular?

Are there different levels of clergy? If so, what are they?

What do laypersons expect of the clergy?

Are any vows attached to joining the clergy? If so, what are they? Is the clergy expected to do anything in particular differently than laypersons?

How are clergypersons fed, clothed, and housed? Not only in terms of special proscriptions, but-- are clergypersons expected to pay rent/bills? Grow or buy their own food? Make or buy their own clothes? In whole or in part (cassocks provided, boxer shorts not)? If the clergy isn't expected to be self-supporting, where do the funds and/or goods to support them come from?

-- Because raising Faith can just be talking to other Sims of the same religion, but it doesn't have to be. Remember, a ritual can be as elaborate as an official coronation or as simple as blowing out the candles to Happy Birthday To You.

Does the religion require regular meetings to worship, or is private worship enough? Either way, how do members worship?

Are there any regular rituals for the average meeting or private worship session? If so, what are they?

Does the religion have any holy days (holidays)? If so, what kinds of holidays are they? What do they mark?

Does the religion require any special observances of holy days, if it has them (feasting, fasting, celebrations, obligatory services or personal rituals)? If so, what are they and why are they required? Are there optional special observances for some of the holy days? If so, what are they and why are they optional? Why would someone choose to observe them or not observe them?

Are there ritual requirements, observations, purifications, or optional blessings for significant life events (birth, age transition, death, marriage, divorce, illness, miscarriage, sex?)

Does the religion use ritual to cleanse or forgive worshipers' transgressions, or does it expect practical restitution, or have any way to make up for mistakes at all?

Special Notes
-- There's definitely something about your religion that I haven't covered, something that you really want to write down.

What else is there about the religion that's important to know?

Avoiding Unfortunate Implications
-- As the author, all your implications and coding* should be deliberate, but we tend to absorb the coding we see without thinking about it or what it might mean for our readers. This section is here to help you imply what you intend to imply, but I'd like to ask you to think hard about your answers, since no one has to see them but you.

Are any of your religions exclusive to one of the life-states a Sim can have from birth to death (normal, aliens, plantsims, arguably Bigfoot), excluding all others? Why is that religion (or those religions) so exclusive?

Have you added any story-driven species to your game (elves, dwarves, orcs, off-brand hobbits, mermaids, satyrs, demons, angels, alien species besides the telescope pollinators, playable genies/djinni, et cetera)? Do they have their own societies, cultures, and religions, or are they well-integrated with humans and/or each other?

Do any of your religions feature members clustered around one area of the skintone catalog? If so, which area of the catalog, and why?

Which of your religions are open to converting new members? Which of your religions can a member only be born into? Why?

Are any of your religions based on or close to real-world religions, including 'dead' or pagan religions (especially religions exclusive to one species or life-state, or with members from only one area of the skintone catalog)? Are any of them based on religions you aren't and never have been a member of? If you were asked how much research you had done on the source religions, how would you answer?

If a fellow Simmer belonging to a religion you based one of your fictional ones on happened to read your story, or your answers to this questionnaire, what do you think their reaction would be? Why do you think they might have that reaction?

If a fellow Simmer approached you to tell you that you've been using harmful stereotypes or hurtful words in your story or in your answers to this questionnaire, how would you feel? How would you react? What would you ask the person who approached you?

Does your game have an overall metaphysical truth? If so: What is it? Do any of your game's religions contradict it? Which ones, and why? What does that contradiction imply about those religions? What does it imply about any real-world religions those faiths are based on? What do you think it might lead a reader to think about you as a writer?

Is there any one religion you lean toward as 'true' or 'mostly true,' or even 'more true than the others'? Which one? Why?

Is there any one religion you lean toward as 'false' or 'mostly false,' or even 'more false than the others'? Which one? Why?

Is there any one religion you lean toward as being the most advanced? Which one? Why?

Is there any one religion you lean toward as being the most primitive? Which one? Why?

Have you set up any religions as being inherently good or inherently evil? What are their Tenets and values? Why did you choose those tenets and values for a good or evil religion? Why did you decide a particular religion should be good or evil?

Do any of your religions differ significantly from your personal values? Why? What statement are you trying to make with those religions, if any? What statement do you think a reader might infer from reading about those religions?

What purpose do you think organized religion serves in reality? What purpose does it serve in your story?

*Coding: When an author (or storyteller) implies something about a character through use of tropes, so that they can make a statement without declaring the statement. As examples of two kinds of religious coding, Mother Gothel from Disney's Tangled and the dwarves from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series are coded as Jewish. With Pratchett's dwarves, it's intentional and skillful, including nods to Orthodox and Reform Judaism, "Jewish" as an ethnicity and a culture as well as a religion, and some playing with the tropes of stereotypical careers. Each individual dwarf character (and there are many, miners and smiths and jewelers, but also city guards and printers and playwrights and fashion designers and gardeners) is an individual character with distinct motives and goals that are informed by but don't always revolve around their dwarfishness. Some dwarves are our protagonists, some dwarves are antagonists, but all dwarves are people. With Mother Gothel, the Jewish-coding is probably unintentional and neither subtle nor skillful; Gothel is a grasping, manipulative, snarky woman with thick black curls and sharp features, including a (small but) hooked nose, in sharp contrast to her abducted daughter with her straight blonde hair and button nose. Gothel's desperation (she needs Rapunzel's magic hair in order to survive, literally) could have been played as sympathetic or tragic, but deliberate storytelling choices were made to show her as cruel, controlling, and vain, and to show that Rapunzel and/or Rapunzel's freedom is worth another character's voluntary death. For bonus Unfortunate Implications, Rapunzel (long straight blonde hair) and Gothel (tight black ringlets) are the only two characters in the entire movie with their hair types.

Straight-Up Writing Advice
-- I can't resist it.

Use content warnings. This is non-specific to writing about religion, but could easily apply (plenty of religions called for animal sacrifice, which calls for a warning). Content or trigger warnings allow readers to decide for themselves what they have the energy to read today. This serves you as a writer by making sure your readers stay focused on the events of the story, even if it means they have to come back to it on a better day.

Always punch up. Punching down is bullying. If you use your game or your writing to mock, satirize, or lampoon a religious institution, be sure it's an institution in a position of privilege, power, wealth, or security. Generally this excludes any religious group that has suffered being invaded, enslaved, large-scale arrested, or interned by another religious group or by a government power that wanted their lands, goods, or bodies, particularly within (but not limited to within) living memory. (You can (and probably should) apply the 'punch up' advice to ethnic groups, LGBTA+ sexualities, and gender identities, but we're talking about religious worldbuilding here.)

Look it up before you make it up, make it up rather than appropriating it. Find out if a religion is still being practiced in something resembling its original form by living people before incorporating elements of it into a fictional religion. If that religion is marginalized in your area (in the US, 'marginalized' includes 'any religion that is not Christianity, and also certain Christian sects considered weird'), either be determined to treat it respectfully, including opening yourself up to criticism and making changes based on constructive criticism, or base your fictional religion on something else. Basically, if you can't write Terry Pratchett's dwarves, at least don't write Jack Skellington's Christmas.

Beware of Hollywood History. Get informed, do proper research, and be careful of assuming historical fiction-- or historical legend, or historical propaganda-- is fact, or well-researched, or unbiased. If you are aiming for historical accuracy, be sure you're being true to the period you're writing for, and not some later period's romanticizing of it. (The Victorians were terrible about that sort of thing.)

Own your biases and your mistakes. Respond to constructive criticism gracefully. Apologize, and decide if the offending content can be edited out or if it's plot- or characterization-relevant enough to stay and get a content warning instead.

Humanity has not changed. The principles we live by shift around and we can communicate a lot faster, but 'the good old days' when children were obedient and respectful of their elders and no one got ideas above their station never existed (Plato was the first person to write down complaints about kids these days). Those of us who can write have always written 'I was here' on walls. (Those of us who can draw have always drawn dicks on walls.)

Publishing isn't the only way to share your story! If you're playing (or writing) just for yourself, more power to you, enjoy yourself, do whatever you want, I am not here to shame you-- but it is entirely possible to describe your playstyle with enough detail to both hurt people and invite harsh criticism. I've seen it happen.

With great (storytelling) power comes great responsibility. As a player, you may not have 100% control over what your Sims do, but as a writer, you do have 100% control over what makes it into your story. You get to decide which points of view are important by giving them a voice. You get to decide what to show and what to imply; you get to decide how equitable your religion is (with very few caveats. I mean, if you're writing strict, dated historical fiction, I encourage you to go for accuracy, but if you're writing any kind of fantasy, or historical fiction set in the Sims universe, your hands are totally untied). Suspension of disbelief means if you write well enough, your readers will believe-- or at least retain, and possibly internalize-- whatever you use your story to say. Use your power wisely.
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