D&D General Homebrew Brainstorm: How Would You Approach a "Descendant Worship" Culture? (+)

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
Okay, this is a bit of a strange concept that I've never heard of before, but I recently got the idea of having a big culture in my setting be the opposite of Ancestor Worship. A Descendent/Progeny Worshipping religious/spiritual culture that does the opposite of veneration of the dead: they'd venerate the unborn (or possibly just their children, I haven't decided yet).

In the real world, there are quite a few cultures that have historically venerated their dead ancestors, such as China (as a part of filial piety), Mexico (Dia de Los Muertos), Rome (Lares and Manes), Greece (Hero-Cults), and many others. There are quite a few examples of ancestor-worshipping cultures in D&D and other fantasy worlds, such as the Valenar and Aereni Elves from Eberron, the Dwarven Paragons from Dragon Age, Dunmer and Aldmer from the Elder Scrolls, and a few others. I've also designed at least one ancestor-worshipping culture before, with the spectral Fehntüm race that's main culture worships their undead ancestors and allows them to possess them in order to bring them back to a semblance of "life". However, I just had an idea that I'm pretty sure is mostly novel: what about a culture where people worship their unborn progeny? As far as I know, none of those exist in real life probably because they're a pretty strange concept and there wouldn't be much incentive to do so (your parents and grandparents can tell you to still honor/venerate them after they die, your unborn children can't do that). However, in a fantasy world, anything is possible, and there could definitely be some reason to do so.

So, my current question when it comes to this idea is why would someone worship their unborn children. Here are my current ideas:
  1. The Unborn Gods. They believe that their children/other progeny will/can be gods/demigods. For whatever reason, this culture doesn't worship any existing deities and instead believe that "true gods" are yet to be born and will be descended from them. Perhaps this culture practices some kind of magical eugenics to select certain qualities they want their children to have in order to achieve this goal. This culture would also need a reason to believe why their unborn offspring could be gods, maybe because they already have some divine blood (being descended from Empyreans and/or commonly producing Divine Soul Sorcerers). Basically magic Nazis that believe in their children will/can be something like The Becoming God from Eberron.
  2. Aid in Fertility. They think venerating/worshipping their unborn children will somehow allow them to give birth (or make the birthing process easier). Maybe this culture for some reason believes that all the souls of people that will ever exist already exist and the souls of the unborn can choose how and when they want to be born, thus only choosing families they want to be born in, possibly ones that already "love"/"worship" them? This might make sense for some race that has difficulty reproducing, like Elves or maybe some artificial race (Autognomes? Warforged?) that believes that venerating/worshipping their unborn will make them more likely to give birth/reproduce.
  3. Children Are Innocent. They revere the perceived innocence that comes along with childhood, believing that children are perfect and adults are inherently sinful/imperfect. They could be attempting to use magic to either stop aging at a certain maturity or somehow return their minds to that level of maturity. How this society survives would be a wonder, but it might work for some species that don't need the common necessities.
So . . . what do you think? What other ideas do you have? Do you think any of these would work? Is it a unique and interesting concept or a stupid idea that I should feel ashamed for coming up with (not being serious with this question, obviously)? Has anyone ever done anything like this before, in the real world or fiction?
 

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GuyBoy

Hero
Interesting idea and certainly a first for me in terms of ever hearing anything like this.
My first thought is that it might be tricky to see this applied to all children: there are a lot of children born into any society, they need lots of care as babies, are fairly helpless, and eventually need to start being economically viable to society. All this mitigates against being divine in any way.
What could be interesting would be a very small number of unborn children being considered divine and worshipped both in the womb and as babies/children/adults. Particularly if this wasn’t tied to inheritance or existing power, but from some sort of “sign” that a particular unborn child was to be divine.
This could be a good hook for an adventure too.

Anyway, good luck with the idea.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
Interesting idea and certainly a first for me in terms of ever hearing anything like this.
Yeah, that came to mind when I came up with this idea. I tried to Google if there were any examples in pop culture of anything like this, but couldn't find any.
My first thought is that it might be tricky to see this applied to all children: there are a lot of children born into any society, they need lots of care as babies, are fairly helpless, and eventually need to start being economically viable to society. All this mitigates against being divine in any way.
There are also a lot of ancestors, but cultures that venerate the dead are still abundant. I don't think
What could be interesting would be a very small number of unborn children being considered divine and worshipped both in the womb and as babies/children/adults. Particularly if this wasn’t tied to inheritance or existing power, but from some sort of “sign” that a particular unborn child was to be divine.
This could be a good hook for an adventure too.
The main part of this idea is that this I don't want it to be that rare. I want at least one whole culture/religion built around this concept. "Chosen One" babies are already a staple of fantasy. Something more like basically everyone in this society believes their children are/could be the Chosen One, and are doing whatever magical stuff they can to make that happen. What happens if a culture is founded around that concept? What would the consequences be?
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
If the descendants are sacred, then having children and raising children becomes a sacred duty. Adults that lack children help others raise kids, as teachers, mentors, even financial support.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
OK, just some random thoughts:
How long has this concept existed?; were the current adults themselves divine as babies or is it a new thing?

If everyone reveres the unborn children, who cares for the pregnant women? Is it everybody or a ritualised priesthood of some type?

Are all babies considered divine once born? If so, for how long and what happens about their economic role in society? This economic role tended to kick in much earlier in pre-industrial societies.

I imagine the obvious consequences would be the treatment of pregnancy. It would likely become very ritualised, possibly in terms of kindness and care, but also possibly less pleasantly.
Choices of partners may also be controlled by a priesthood?

It’s certainly an interesting idea. Good luck.
 

I associate ancestor worship with fundamentally conservative, deeply traditionalist societies that believe in doing everything "the way it's always been done" and look on "innovation" as a dirty word. Therefore I would make a descendant worshiping culture hardcore technologists with no reverence whatsoever for (and a bit of contempt for) their own history, who believe the only good generations of people are yet to come. They could be literally religious in their worship of the future and its denizens, or just have a figuratively religious zeal. As long as they have contempt for the heretics who suggest old ways might have some occasional value it's really the same vibe.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
It wouldn't work well unless biologically they guarded their young like octopus & some fish till they starved to the point of being too weak to recover. Some insects might work too. Either way it crashes into starfish alien territory
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
How long has this concept existed?; were the current adults themselves divine as babies or is it a new thing?
Not a new thing. Old enough to be a multi-generational culture. Probably at least 200 years if it's for a human lifespan, depending on the age span of the race this culture is attached to.
If everyone reveres the unborn children, who cares for the pregnant women? Is it everybody or a ritualised priesthood of some type?
Hmm. I was thinking the culture might be more segmented into individual families. Like, every couple is kind of competing to see who can produce a God Heir first. So the individual families would be self-sustaining. However, I'm starting to think that this might be able to be split into a few different cultures.
Are all babies considered divine once born? If so, for how long and what happens about their economic role in society? This economic role tended to kick in much earlier in pre-industrial societies.
Probably not. If it's following option 1, then they're trying to produce a God Heir, so if they can't tell that you're divine upon birth, you're just treated like a normal child. If it's option 2, they probably treat their kids better than human society, just to make it so they're more likely to have more children in the future. If it's option 3, then all children would definitely be considered "divine" or at least "perfect" once born until they get to a certain maturity level (sexual maturity, maybe?).
I imagine the obvious consequences would be the treatment of pregnancy. It would likely become very ritualised, possibly in terms of kindness and care, but also possibly less pleasantly.
Choices of partners may also be controlled by a priesthood?
Yeah, that's all possible. I was partially inspired by Tevinter from the Dragon Age series (if you know anything about it) when thinking of Option 1, so the choice of partners being an arranged marriage situation would definitely make sense. And pregnancy would definitely be ritualized in some way.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
I associate ancestor worship with fundamentally conservative, deeply traditionalist societies that believe in doing everything "the way it's always been done" and look on "innovation" as a dirty word. Therefore I would make a descendant worshiping culture hardcore technologists with no reverence whatsoever for (and a bit of contempt for) their own history, who believe the only good generations of people are yet to come. They could be literally religious in their worship of the future and its denizens, or just have a figuratively religious zeal. As long as they have contempt for the heretics who suggest old ways might have some occasional value it's really the same vibe.
Hmm. I was thinking that they could also be fundamentally conservative with Option 1, but this also could work. Interesting. I'll have to mull it over.
It wouldn't work well unless biologically they guarded their young like octopus & some fish till they starved to the point of being too weak to recover. Some insects might work too. Either way it crashes into starfish alien territory
Why wouldn't it work with "normal" humanoid races? We have some religions/cultures that believe similar things in the real world, this is just an extreme version enhanced by fantasy.
 

Baba

Explorer
Fun idea!

Here’s a posibility: Maybe there are spirits everywhere, in streams and trees and so on, and all humans were once spirits who chose to be born as humans.

Everyone wants great descendants who will do good for their family, so they seek out spirits with qualities they admire, and try to entice them to become their children by ritualistically treating them as if they allready were their children - set out food for them, and so on.

Then, when they are born, the children cease to be divine and forget a lot about their earlier existence, but are still treasured as the future, and maybe keep some special abilities based on what they were before.

Before they decide to be born, the spirits can help the families who court them in different ways.

Maybe a great spirit will attach itself to a family line and send signs that it intends to be born in that line some time in the future, but only when the time is right - maybe when a set of parents perform some great feat or service. («Oh? So you went beyond the dark forest, drove away the bone horse, and picked a fire berry? Ok, I will be your child.»)
 
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Yora

Legend
The most plausible approach that I see is that there is a believe in the reincarnation of certain great heroes or divine beings. The priests identify when such a being is incarnated in a newly born child by reading certain signs, and the child is then revered as a living god for its entire life.
 

Possible further options (which may or may not be compatible with the above):
  • Children in this society actually do have the ability to perform certain magical feats which adults can't. Whether it is a physical maturity thing (e.g. puberty causes the magic to go away) or a mental/emotional maturity thing (e.g. someone who never "grows up" can still practice it even though they're physically adult). This would lead to a society that shelters certain segments of its society, particularly the latter; if these (mental) children are also in some kind of religious-leadership role, it would likely require some kind of moderating influence or else...well, children aren't exactly the wisest people in most cases.
  • This society is much more literally "matriarchal" than normal: only mothers are allowed to lead, because only mothers have created life. The creation of life is the highest calling, followed closely by the nurturing of life. Mothers, wetnurses, animal husbandry types, gardners, etc. are exalted in this society. Perhaps it has a "maiden/mother/crone" triune structure, but the emphasis is on the rebirth of the maiden from the crone, rather than on the maiden maturing into the crone.
  • Some children in this society are literally born divine or otherwise magical, which causes them to live very different lives and to never physically age once their magic manifests. (This is strongly inspired by the Padjali who lead Gridania in the game Final Fantasy XIV; physically they remain childlike for the entirety of their longer-than-normal lives, but they are mentally adult and one that you meet in-game is thought to be more than two centuries old.) Thus, the emphasis on children is more because any child might become a Divine Child, and superstitions (whether correct or not) have arisen about what it is that triggers the revelation that a particular child is a Divine Child.
  • Ancestors are held to not retain any independent existence; the dead immediately get recycled back into the living, so calling out to your ancestors is pointless. Instead, you should appeal to the not-yet-faded lingering essences of their souls, which have been reborn into new bodies. You may even be visited in a dream by the child that that soul has become, granting you a vision or a boon. Those children who are born with brand-new souls, rather than souls that came from someone else who has died, are held in especially high esteem. They prove that The People are continuing to grow and improve. Years in which no "gift children" are born are considered a bad omen.
  • Children form a vital part of society's social structure, because once you have become an adult, you are locked into a rigid and unbending social hierarchy; while advancement or demotion is possible, both are rare. Instead, children take a leading role in greasing the wheels between the many different rigidly-defined roles of society, as a child by definition cannot have chosen their one (and only) eternal future. This means that the monarch has, more than once, truly been a puppet of their youngest child, who schemed from behind the scenes to eliminate their elder siblings from the line of succession and then "choose" the path of monarchy for themselves.
  • Until a child reaches the age of majority, it will receive divine protection from the gods (or perhaps one specific god.) This protection extends to the child's living place and close relatives/guardians, up to a certain limit in both cases. Because the world is incredibly dangerous and full of big nasties (maybe demons or zombies or something), this protection is absolutely essential for ensuring that society itself does not collapse overnight. As a result, children are incredibly highly prized, and careful planning of when children will be born and the like are a staple of this culture.
 

aco175

Legend
I was thinking that this would be great if the line of kings descended from a divine being and the royals are thought to be able to produce more since several children along the way could perform 'miracles'. This led to eventually others in the kingdom being able to do something since there are plenty of Jon Snows around and 3rd cousins of the king that need to marry merchants and get away from the direct royal line. At some point, the population at large is waiting for another child to be born with powers and after soo many generations it could come from anyone in the kingdom, it has led to everyone thinking they could win the lottery.

Most might only play partially or not at all, since how many of us actually think we will win the lottery. There is a chance so people may do little things like make sure children are learned and do not go hungry since they can expect this revisited back to them.
 

RainOnTheSun

Explorer
If you're looking for some villains while you're at it, you could add in a radical splinter sect that takes the idea to a Logan's Run type of extreme: if birth and childhood are sacred, one might reason, the older a person gets, the further from that state of grace and the more profane they become, and the elderly become contemptible or outright wicked.
 

Voadam

Legend
The closest analogue I can think of would be expecting an upcoming Messiah type figure. Maybe there is one every certain period so most of the time the religious fervor is directed at an upcoming figure.

You could do loop ancestor worship with a reincarnation angle. We worship the ancestors, who are also future unborn.

For children worship instead of unborn you could go full helicopter parent parody.
 

Mallus

Legend
How about making them fantasy Transhumanists? Worshipping the children of the Singularity to come? Their gods are their future ascendant selves.

This gives you plenty of space to play with idea 'the gods are just mirrors of ourselves'.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I think this is a fascinating idea. Personally, I'd make it not so much that children are sacred, but some future children, always a generation away from arriving and ushering in the age of these "new true gods." In that way, you can add some of the contradiction and paradox common to religious mysteries. The actual children born are considered "disappointments" by some sects and by others a generation that must adhere to these beliefs and work harder to make sure the generation they produce achieves this future.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
The closest analogue I can think of would be expecting an upcoming Messiah type figure. Maybe there is one every certain period so most of the time the religious fervor is directed at an upcoming figure.
Yeah, that's what I was thinking. An Abrahamic "our Savior is yet to come" culture combined with the belief that any of them can give birth to their version of a Messiah through some magic ritual. That works very well with the "Unborn Gods" option.
You could do loop ancestor worship with a reincarnation angle. We worship the ancestors, who are also future unborn.
That could work for Elves, given their reincarnation cycle in 5e.
For children worship instead of unborn you could go full helicopter parent parody.
That's also what I was thinking for full children worship.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
Going with the reincarnation idea others have mentioned, what if the good are reincarnated to a higher order (with humans being at the top) and the bad are reincarnated down. So each generation, in theory, should be better than the one before it.

Could have some interesting philosophical things too. If you have too many children you are forcing some sub-standard souls to be bumped up to fill the quota.
 

Levistus's_Leviathan

5e Freelancer
How about making them fantasy Transhumanists? Worshipping the children of the Singularity to come? Their gods are their future ascendant selves.

This gives you plenty of space to play with idea 'the gods are just mirrors of ourselves'.
Yep. That is kind of what I was thinking for "The Unborn Gods" option. They believe that they can bring about a perfect version of themselves through some magic that they believe will let them ascend to godhood. Transhumanism combined with a pseudo-Abrahamic belief that the Messiah(s) are yet to come.
 

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