LESSON Influential Ancient Civilizations

Discussion in 'CREATING WORLDS & SETTINGS' started by Lstorm, Jul 24, 2016.

  1. Whether it be science-fiction, fantasy, or even historical fiction, the idea of cultures whose spirit lives with us today in the form of the works they left behind is almost ever-present. Inspired by the many ancient civilizations that we are still finding today, these long-absent people often used to indirectly aid heroes in their quest with ancient prophecies or devastating weapons. Unfortunately, that is often all we see of them, as they exist as little more than a device to move a plot forward or to perhaps grant a certain character an insurmountable advantage over others.

    But today, I am here to tell you that this does not have to be the case. The ancient empires of the past can leave more behind than a creepy prophecy or three: their presence influences the people who grew up around their ruins. Take the Roman Empire for example: it lives on not only because of how well organised its army was or how much devastation it caused, but also because of its buildings along with its mythology. The purpose of this guide, then, is to try and encourage the creation of long-gone civilizations which have more impact on a world than plot convenience.

    STEP 1: Build the ancient empire


    This may seem superfluous, but if one wants to make it feel as if their precursors are not merely a thin sheet of paper, then they should firmly establish them as well. From their architecture through their culture to their appearance and physique, everything should be presented with a decent amount of detail. If one does not want to devote much of their time to the background of what will be going on in the present, it is not necessary to delve into the matter too deeply. A general grasp of their way of life along with their mentality is likely enough, especially if they have gone extinct hundreds or thousands of years before the current time.

    Naturally, the closer this ancient civilization is to the current time, the greater its mark left on the world, so one should definitely take that into account when they are preparing them. Speaking of them, it is also a good idea to know what sequence of events led to their downfall as that could significantly alter their impact on their universe. An empire that was suddenly wiped out by an incurable plague, for example, should have more relics left behind than one that was annihilated via orbital bombardment. With that in mind, let us proceed to the next point.

    STEP 2: Consider what could be left behind


    The ancient state which had been established in the previous point has to have a lasting presence, or otherwise it would not be important to the current peoples. This guide recommends making a list of what survived the civilization’s fall, sorted into as many categories as one wishes. Architecture along with various tools or jewellery are especially likely to last through the ages, however, there are less obvious venues such as various books or pieces of art that may have survived in some form. There are very few hard and fast rules as to what should or should not survive, but the largest achievements of this state should definitely be considered.

    It is also keep in mind that the nature of decay will be different in various climates. Humid jungles, for example, are likelier to lay waste to various priceless works than a plain. Always remember that nature can often be more destructive than it is given credit for; various plants can find grasp on buildings or natural disasters can devastate entire regions. If there are aeons between the time these ancient people went extinct and the current era, then it is also likely that many of their sites have been looted or razed over the decades. Strife or extreme conditions will make short work of even the sturdiest structures, therefore it is important to visualise how history may have affected these relics.

    Now, if the remnants if the ancient civilization have been firmly established, it is time for the next step.

    STEP 3: The people around the ruins


    This is an extremely important step and is possibly the sharp edge which separates plot convenience from an actual presence within the universe. A war-like society will likely have a completely different reaction to the ancient ruins than a nomadic desert tribe for example and it is at this point that things become truly difficult. One has to imagine themselves as the people who found an ancient legacy beyond their comprehension, but has an identity along with many beliefs to lean on. One then has to think about the various reactions such a sight would cause. Perhaps the buildings or pieces of art are thought to be left behind by demons, then left alone. Or maybe they are welcomed as shelter from the harsh climate.

    The possibilities here are almost endless. There is absolutely no ‘correct’ way on how to perform this step, because this guide can not possibly cover all the cultures one can come up with. Still, there are a few possibilities which will be suggested. Various buildings, for example, may be used as foundations of mythology as people try to explain their origins, or if they are in a particularly ruinous state, they could serve as material for new homes. They could also be perceived as either beneficial or malicious depending on their style of building and the beliefs of those who come across them. Even mundane architecture can become a wonder in the eyes of those who are not familiar with it.

    Pieces of art are more difficult to place, but books for example could be used as foundations for new religions or perhaps as a source of mystery. It matters not what has been written into them if the people in question are incapable of decoding the language. Like structures, they may also elicit various reactions or even be destroyed if their style of writing is seen as particularly evil. Paintings, especially if well preserved, can be still used as decoration or perhaps as inspiration for similar works that are intended to replicate the wonder one feels when looking at them.

    Not everything has to be magical or mystical, however. Especially peculiar objects may be explained away as oddities of nature and relics that are found beautiful may be claimed as something that a family had made themselves, even though they have not the slightest idea about how they were created. Mundane explanations of various objects could arise from the misunderstanding of how the world works or perhaps as a desire to belittle everyone who came before. There are countless possible interpretations.

    It is important to keep in mind that especially with world-spanning ancient civilizations, many perceptions may arise and they could paint absolutely contradictory pictures. It is even possible that the very same precursors are thought of vastly differently in various areas of the world, which brings us to the next step.

    STEP 4: Finalise the impact


    Now that we know how the past was received, it is time to follow through that path and see where it leads. While probably not as difficult as the earlier step, this is also not easy as one must keep in mind that cultures progress. The perceptions of people change as do their surroundings and they might view the ancient world differently in the present than they did at the point when they arrived. It is also very possible that by the ‘current’ time of the setting, legacies of ancient civilizations have been ground into dust by the sands of time, remaining little more than rumours.
     
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  2. Sometimes it's difficult to see how much the past shapes the future. Well written, sweet and to the point. Well done.
     
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