Trying to come up with a general feel for a city dominated by temples, where evil gods may be openly worshipped alongside good gods. It is an independent city-state in a 2000 year old world, near the border between two nations that form part of an empire. The city actually sits within the territory of the core nation of the empire.

To ensure I'm being clear, I need an idea of how that kind of city could maintain stability and order alongside the absolute religious freedom, and how the residents might "feel" to an outsider

  • $\begingroup$ Hey, are we talking about a fantasy world where gods actually exist, or more of a historical thing where things on that subject are a bit of... vague? :) $\endgroup$ – Bora Mar 10 '18 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Minor clarification... It is for dnd. Just figured this was more appropriate for here than rpg. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 10 '18 at 22:22
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    $\begingroup$ And ancient Rome or Athens don't work because? Or, for that matter, Victorian Calcutta? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 '18 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ Those models wouldn't have worked because, say, Erythnul wants to slaughter everything in sight, while Nerull is pumping out undead in the aftermath, and Pelor is dealing with both while arguing the right ways to do it with Heironeous and Cuthbert... Chaos. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 3:06
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    $\begingroup$ So what? Cybele wanted her priests castrated, Mithra wanted his followers to bathe in the blood of a freshly sacrificed bull, Bacchus wanted his bacchants in an orgiastic frenzy, the followers of Orpheus practiced mysterious mysteries which we don't know much of, and so on. The religious situation in Rome was indeed chaotic. Don't you believe that the Capitoline Triad was all that was in the Eternal City. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 '18 at 3:19

It depends.

Basically what you need to think about is the reason behind all religions being present and supported. You should also link it the reason the city state remains independent and as many "cool" things as you can. People evaluate whether something makes sense based on how many things they know it matches. For example creationism is widely believed in by many rational people simply because the narrative given for it matches what they already believe in.

The simplest explanation is that this is the holy city of the entire pantheon, decreed as such by the supreme god. The most likely reason for that would be that the place is where the divine domains are the closest to the mortal world. This place is where gods first came to the world and where their voices are best heard. It might be possible for divine servitors or pilgrims to even travel between mortal realm and divine domains here.

The sanctity of the place could cure diseases, remove curses, prolong life, allow creation of items that the same caster cannot create elsewhere. Whatever you think is cool and think you can sell to other people as being cool without anything breaking.

Such city would obviously be protected from mortal interference by divine power. And from gods messing up by the supreme god.

Gods would also have provided the city with some stable form of government. What exactly is up to you. This actually works in reverse. You first decide what kinds of effects you want to have and second decide what kind of arrangement produces that.

For example, the city could have a unified government or it could work like a federation or an alliance of smaller cities. It could be an empire with the church of the supreme god ruling the city as a whole but with other denominations having their own autonomous districts. A church with a district of its own might cover one or a group of gods. Same god might be worshipped by several separate denomination with separate districts. Different districts could have entirely different customs or laws in an alliance, identical customs and laws if the city is unified, or somewhat harmonized ones in an empire or federation. The city as a whole could be ruled by a single ruler such as "Lady of Pain" or "the Patrician" with their own personal style affecting the entire city or there could be a council or assembly elected by the districts or denominations. You could even have a theocratic republic.

These all produce different kinds of cities, so there is no single answer to your question. You'll have to work in reverse from desired results to the plausible causes.

That said, I think you should go with the location itself being sacred and protected by the gods as I mentioned before. There are other alternatives but they are not as stable, so there would be active politics causing that state and you would have to deal with them. This is not worth the bother unless you want to tell stories involving the power politics between faiths and governments.

From that follows that the city would be full of pilgrims, people looking for a miracle, divine spell casters looking for the extra boost of the location and such. These people and the support structures for them would have a large impact on the city and its surroundings.

A large transient population would imply good roads with services, and general tourist industry services in the city itself. Probably a system for dealing with tourists causing or getting into trouble as well.

Spell casters would support academies, libraries, guilds and trade in magical components and reagents. They would produce magic items and services and trade and commerce in these would be a major factor in the city. With its stability the city could have the best universities, libraries, and bazaars in the world.

These in turn have their own effects. Universities, academies and libraries breed scholars and students. Just because a university was founded to teach theology and magic of a particular faith does not mean it doesn't also produce the best lawyers or alchemists in the world. If your city produces and sells the best magical weapons, it probably also has lots of blacksmiths with their related trades. So you'd probably also have lots of craftsmen with their own support services.

So a city like this could balloon up very fast. Unfortunately it is still all up to you. You still need to work in reverse. First determine what kind of city you want it to be and then give it a history that produces it. For example, you might want the city to be full of past glory and greatness but decrepit right now. Add a war that disturbed the trade and pilgrimages for a few generations. Or maybe the world outside has been taken over by a newer pantheon?

This got too long and not very useful but I hope there is something you can use there.

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  • $\begingroup$ THANK YOU! I was looking right at the answer the whole time! A pre-godswar world (building to it) where the Lady of Pain has dominion over a city to maintain peace between the temples. When she inevitably fails, she is banished to the city of doors and that still lets the temples in their own district behave according to their precepts. Violate the peace and the Lady of Pain shows up. Keep it semicivil and you can have your secret wars... From this answer i can make the city work and even add in some from Tcat117's answer. Cool. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 1:26

Impossible to prevent conflict, but not impossible to limit it

There is no way to avoid conflict in this situation, so to adjust it would have to be a society that heavily endorsed controlled and accepted methods of conflict to limit their scope to effect only the two feuding parties and not disrupt the rest of society as a whole. It could be an pseudo-anarchic/feudalistic society ruled over by a council of nobles who are detached from the commoners. People largely settle their own scores with the caveat that if anything they do becomes disruptive enough to inconvenience a noble he might have his personal guard pay a visit to their house with torches and a noose. He's allowed to settle his own scores too, hes just got way more money to hire guys with weapons to help him out. It becomes something akin to Byzantium where there are very few actual laws and what is considered "legal" or "illegal" largely only applies to matters attended to by nobles and everyone else simply falls in line and try not to get too public with their disputes lest a powerful person takes interest or offense and makes things very unpleasant.

So instead of open warfare and street fighting you have shadowy cloak and dagger intrigues going on constantly. People who don't respect each-other have "accidents," they "catch ill" and die, they are ran into bankruptcy and bought out. The city has enshrined subterfuge and espionage as allowable ways to settle differences. The golden rule of the culture's morality isn't so much black and white binary like ours. To your city people committing a bad deed isn't bad, getting caught is! In this way the disorder and violence is limited to back alleys and dark cellars without effecting the general overall day to day order of the city. There is no way for your city's leaders to totally prevent all conflict, or even handle all of them, so instead they have simply elected to limit the scale in which they occur.

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  • $\begingroup$ Then, to clarify for myself, good temples try to abide by their precepts and respond to violence in limited or highly restricted ways, while evil temples do things behind the scenes, and neutral temples/ruling class acts as judge and executioner? $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 10 '18 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ a Good-nuetral-evil morality is our present binary Morality. People may not have that same morality applied in their region's culture. Maybe they worship a god that represents "good" but "good" is a pretty subjectively defined thing. Genghis Khan and his mongol hordes thought rape and torture was acceptable behavior, they didn't seem to think they were evil. So maybe they worship a "good" god but their local morality has a totally different idea of what good is. This is a pretty big reason for why sects and denominations develop in the real world. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Mar 10 '18 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ I understand that, its more a god of valor sharing a city with the god of slaughter in spitting distance of the god of elves who are glaring at an orc shrine on the way to worship, while a god of knowledge records... Etc. But i can easily envision that city blowing up in open conflict. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 0:43

Polytheist was the state religion of the Roman Empire, and every town of any import had at least two temples. Major cities like Rome were rife with temples. The chief priests of each temple all belonged to the College of Pontiffs, and the leader was the Pontifex Maximus. If you (like Christians) bashed other deities, you were severely punished, because that disturbed the civic peace.

Your city must do the same: enforce a live-and-let-live ethos so as to maintain the peace. Worship of evil gods would be tolerated until the activities of those adherents... disturbed the civic peace.

It's honestly not so different than today: if your deity says "kill the male adherents of other deities, and rape their women", The State (presuming that state is the USA) isn't going to ban the religion. No, it's going to drop the hammer on the people doing the killing and raping.

Thus, while you can have absolute religious belief, in a pluralistic/polytheistic society you can never have absolute action based on those beliefs.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is helpful, and a point I tend to make irl, but missed in my world-building. These are all answers I can use, even if not necessarily in that specific city. Ty $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ "Polytheism" is not a religion; it is a class of religions. For example, the ancient Roman religion, the ancient Greek religion, the ancient Egyptian religion, the Indian Hindu religion, and the Japanese Shinto religion are all polytheistic, and very different from each other. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 '18 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP when the State creates a College of Pontiffs and elects a Pontifex Maximus, to make sure everything runs smoothly and oversee the festivals, ensure different temples' festivals don't happen on the same day, etc, it becomes State Polytheism, which is -- for all intents and purposes -- a religion. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 11 '18 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: the College of Pontiffs and the Pontifex Maximus were priests of the Roman religion, specifically. They had exactly nothing to do with the worshippers of Greek gods, Egyptian gods, Celtic gods, Semitic gods etc. and their temples which were very numerous in the city. The pontiffs supervised Roman festivals, and had no truck with the festivals of Cybele, Dyonisos, Osiris, Mithra etc. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 11 '18 at 3:11

You're basically talking about the internal politics of the city. Donald Kagan focused on international warfare, but the take-away is very much the same: if there is peace within your city, it's because there is a central character or organization who is working as hard as possible to maintain the peace. For instance, Lord Vetinari in Ankh-Morpork, in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.

Common tropes for such a character/organization can run the gamut from a wise and benevolent ruler, to a pragmatic neutral administrator like Vetinari, to a common enemy that either prevents conflict by keeping everyone under their thumb or uniting everyone in a common cause against them.

You might consider writing a character sheet detailing who the character/organization is, what their background is, when major events in the timeline of their backstory happened, various locations associated with them (where they grew up, where they live in the city, where they eat, shop, or entertain themselves when they leave their home, where they travel to when they leave the city), exploring the reasons and motivations your character/organization has for working so hard to maintain the peace, and the methods they use to do so.

The above character sheet, and the characters of the outsiders you introduce to the city, will determine how the city "feels" to them. The political structure of the city doesn't need to be immediately apparent to outsiders. In fact, the point of view of a limited narrator could work to your advantage, the same way GRRM prevents readers from giving away everything that's going on in ASOIF by only using viewpoint characters who do not have complete understandings of their surroundings.

Matt Colville does a nice, nation-vs.-nation breakdown of how this works here...


...but I would add that instead of creating a political issue and having all your characters choose one side or the other, remember to keep some people who are just trying to make it through their lives with as little violence as possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds a bit like the situation in Wheel of Time when Rand al'Thor first gets to Andor. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ @wolf Sorry, I haven't ready that series in a long time, and that was the... third book? $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Mar 11 '18 at 11:49
  • $\begingroup$ second i believe. Multiple factions want the throne, everyone picks a side, but the average farmer or laborer just wants to get paid... As long as its the right side paying. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ And Rand was keeping the peace? Huh, I remembered that being Carhein. But I suppose he did that wherever he went. $\endgroup$ – KernelOfChaos Mar 11 '18 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ Not Rand at first, but by book 5 he was kinda law incarnate no matter where he was... Even finding a way to fix magic essentially by force of will. $\endgroup$ – wolf Mar 11 '18 at 15:02

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