Brooke Shaffer

Author, Gamer, and Cat-Collector Extraordinaire

World Building: Social Life 3

Welcome to the last installment on Social Life in the World Building series. Previously, we have covered childhood through adulthood. Today we’re going to cover old age and retirement.

When is someone in your society considered old? Is there a physical age that must be reached, or a mental state? Compared to the overall lifespan of your people, how long does old age last?

How can a person tell, at a glance, that someone is getting old? Are there perhaps certain markers that only the aging person knows about? Are there signs that may go missed for many years? For example, the human body starts to break down in the early thirties, but some things may not be noticed for many years, even decades. Things like arthritis, stamina, libido, and so on. Other things may be inconsequential, happening to some or not at all, such as hair loss. Still other things may not be considered signs of aging, such as changes in food tolerance.

For the Borelians, horn growth is often an indication of age. Borelians are not born with horns, but they grow steadily in childhood, then more rapidly during adolescence and prime adulthood, slowing as they age. Eventually, horns may become brittle or even break. As blood flow decreases, a buildup of keratin and other substances inside the horn effectively amputates parts of the horns until they break off.

Could it be, perhaps, that your aging alien only gets stronger and better as life goes on, to the point where their body can no longer sustain their greatness and they simply die, or something similar? How would such a lifespan affect your society at large? Are there other ways that your society can age without breaking down into frail shells?

How are elders viewed by society at large? Are they considered the keepers of wisdom, the passers-down of knowledge? Are they seen as a burden, something to be ignored and discarded? How are they viewed by different age groups? What is their relationship to those age groups, and how does it differ between familial relationships and strangers?

How do your elders relate to their families as they get older? How has the relationship with their children evolved? What is their relationship to any grandchildren? What about other relatives? What is the elder’s role in the family? Are they called upon as the ever-present babysitter? Are they ignored and excluded as they deteriorate? Are they cared for by family, or shipped off to an institution? Something else?

How do the elders view themselves? What do they think about getting or being old? Do they think it’s a humble honor? Are they conceited about it? Are they afraid? Indifferent? Something else?

How did they used to think of elders when they were younger, and how has that view changed? What do they think of those old views?

How do the elders reflect back on life and their youth? Do they hate their younger selves? Do they laugh at it? What are their feelings toward certain choices they’ve made? Do they have regrets? Are they content with their life?

Are there any new roles or rights that your person gets as they get older? Do they continue to work in their same capacity until they simply drop dead? Do they have new responsibilities that they must fulfill? How are these roles filled as your person ages?

For the Borelians, getting old enough to be considered old is considered an honor and an achievement. Once one passes the physical prime, into a time resembling human fifties, or maybe late forties, a warrior will often choose to leave the field and instead take a based command position, perhaps sent to an outpost or oversee a death camp, something that is more of a desk job but with considerable power. Others may choose to teach new recruits.

As the Borelian continues to age and late physicality turns into old age, he may retire completely and instead take over a slave plantation, overseeing operations and other mundane tasks. Borelian elders are also the primary producers of art and other cultural works, taking their years of experience and memorializing it for the next generation.

How do elders care for and provide for themselves if they cannot or are not permitted to work? Are they the responsibility of their family? What if they don’t have a family? How do elders care for each other, whether within family, friendship, or merely common interest?

How do elders view death as it approaches? Are they afraid, skeptical, uncertain? Are they indifferent, that it is simply a part of life? Are they eager for it, that it will release them from misery? Are they excited for some promised afterlife or other religious prophecy?

How do your elders prepare for death? Is there a grand celebration that everyone is expected to attend? Do they simply pass away quietly with no fanfare?

Is there anything an elder is expected to do before he dies? Is there some story he must tell? A bit of knowledge he must impart? A place he must go? Some ceremony he must perform? How important is it that he do this? What would happen if this thing is not done? How concerned is he about it compared to his family?

How important are the life lessons and experience of the elders to the younger generation? What value is given to “the way things used to be”? How much hope for a legacy does an elder have? What would an elder consider to be his ideal legacy that he leaves?

What are the most common ways for your elders to die? Physical ailment? Natural causes? Lethal injection? Something else? How does your elder feel about these things? What if his death were to be uncommon? How does the manner of death affect the family? Does the manner of death have any impact on the social, political, religious, or other standing of the family?

How would an elder feel about “cheating” death, perhaps by beating “the widow maker” or something similar? What if, should death be a prescribed occasion such as forced lethal injection, an elder decides he doesn’t want to go through with it? How does the family feel about it? How might other interested parties feel about it? Are there any social, political, or religious repercussions for the elder or the family?

What is the expected reaction of the family when an elder dies? Are they expected to mourn openly? Remain stoic and composed? Are they completely indifferent?

What duties or ceremonies must be performed after death? How are bodies disposed of, and what are the moral or religious implications of each? Are some more common than others? Are some more practical than others? Are some more socially acceptable than others? What are some of the more uncommon ways a body may be used after death?

For Borelians, one of the most common methods of body disposal is cremation. However, equally common, especially among followers of Tujor, (though more expensive and more time-consuming) is dividing, in which the person’s bones (either all of them or just certain ones) are removed from the body, cleaned, bleached, and arranged into any number of talismans and good luck charms. Even among the unfaithful, this is common practice for especially distinguished military officers, or others of particular distinction.

What other effects does the death of your elder have? How large was their circle of influence? Are there any special considerations for the work they might have performed, titles they held, or other factors? What happens to your elder’s possessions? Do certain items go to certain people, or is it a free for all? Are they acquired by the government and redistributed? Something else?

When does life go back to “normal” for those affected by your elder’s death?

So that does it for Social Life. Hopefully some part of this got you thinking and helped in some small way. The next topic we’ll be covering is Environment, World and Space. See you there.

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