Those of you who read my serial, the Shadow Wolf Sagas, will be somewhat familiar with the Villains known as The Devout. They are an antagonistic culture that I created for one of my Fantachronica games over a decade ago, and recycled into the Shadow Wolf Sagas.
Often when gaming, I was forced to come up with a new threat when my group caught me off-guard or a play session lengthened into Epic territory. In one such case I needed to add a little variety to an enemy army. That week I had been perusing the old Chronopia game, and had been struck by the lovely art for the Devout Greatswords unit. I could not find the actual picture I was thinking of, but I did find one of a Devout Unit. I dropped them into the game, mostly as scenery — a cool unit of Gothic Greatswordsmen with a certain fanatical quality to them.
Over time I filed the serial numbers off, and created a whole backstory for their culture. Eventually they became a major threat and my last great Fantachronica game with the Kitchener Crew ended with the players leading a fleet to find the homeland of the Devout and bring the fight to them. Sadly we never got to play.
So for those of you who read my Shadow Wolf Sagas, or are simply curious, here are my thoughts on the Devout.
- It’s All About Style: The Devout began as an image. I really loved that old Chronopia art piece with its spikey sensibilities. The Devout engage both a uniform fetish, and my love of armour of all types.
- What is an Antagonistic Culture?: My definition of an Antagonistic Culture can be summed up with with one word: Nazi. Nazis make the perfect villains. While the individuals might occasionally be portrayed as human or even sympathetic, a sane person cannot redeem the culture that created Auschwitz. Nobody really sympathizes with an SS trooper who is gunned down or killed, unless the creator takes extreme lengths to humanize that character (or the reader is deranged). An Antagonistic culture is one that is at odds with our beliefs to such an extent that we view it as evil. The Devout believe in eugenics, human sacrifice, and the right of the powerful to such an extreme degree that they fall into that same mind-space as Nazis, and thus make great antagonists for a war.
- Not Really That Devout, Actually: I really wish I hadn’t used the name The Devout. Sadly, it stuck. You see the Devout are not especially religious . Instead the are fanatical adherents to a philosophy of strength. In their view the truly powerful can become gods. They believe in this view to the point that their entire culture is shaped by it. In Fantachronica, the game I was running, some individuals can ascend beyond mortality becoming legendary heroes and villains. In the Shadow Wolf Sagas, Ragnar is actually one of these ascended, a Twiceborn who returned from the grave to live a second life. The Devout are led by their ascended who vie against each other, and the rest of the world, to ascend again, into Godhood. Since most ascended are created by conflict, Devout society is conflict driven. This drives both their internal and external interactions. They are fanatical and vicious, destroying and conquering all they can.
- Only the Strong: The Motto of the Devout is actually something that I came up with entirely for the Shadow Wolf Sagas. Only the Strong perfectly sums up the way The Devout view the world. Only the Strong matter. Only the Strong can rule. Only the Strong have rights. Only the Strong shall prosper. And so on. It is a view that has undeniable attraction to the already powerful. It also attracts those who want to be strong or who naturally follow the strong. Anything that hones, breeds, or enhances personal power is desirable, and the strong can do what they wish.
- The Lost Homeland: The Devout developed cut off from other cultures and outside ideas. In the end I situated them on a set of islands in a remote corner of my world, a place surrounded by dangerous seas. Their lands are rich in resources, but very crowded. I pictured it as a Aztec architecture with high medieval armour and stylistic flourished. Can you imagine a Gothic Ziggurat? In the end however, the Devout homeland is not meant to be something that people visit, either in games or in books, I like the idea of leaving it with a degree of mystery.
In the Shadow Wolf Sagas timeline, I assumed that the Devout were defeated and cut off from the rest of the world. Enough of them are left in the outside world to keep the ghosts of their ideas alive, with the threat that if they could somehow link up with the remaining forces of their homeland then they could once again bring war and ruin.