Dogs in the Vineyard - Post-Apocalyptic 1950s America Setting
The background is actually based on the Deadlands game as past history...ghost rock, basically a strange rock which fueled mad super-science, was discovered and created devastating power as the world also teetered on the fulcrum of the balance of power, the lead-up events to World War I, as we know it.
But our world in my DitV setting is in the 1950s yet still knows it as the Great War or the Demonic Wars or the War of Corruptions, depending on where you are (America - what's left of it - calls it the Demonic Wars, the Eastern Pact (USSR and its satellites) calls it the War of Corruptions). This war lasted from 1905-1918 (though the precise timing isn't important, really, it's just to demonstrate it started earlier and lasted longer but we ended up in the same chronology), and witnessed unprecedented destruction, far worse than anything we've seen in our real world. This destruction was fueled by the use of ghost rock, of course, and involved wholesale destruction of many large cities, on the scale of Hiroshima and worse. California only half-exists, with the fault line having erupted violently and dropping much of it into the ocean - and destroying virtually all of the ghost rock there! Low-lying parts of the south are just swamps, with much of Florida just that alone. The Northwest of the nation is savage land, volcanoes, earthquakes, terrorism, and so on having destroyed this remote region, and the NW of course is cut off by the mountain ranges and has not been resettled - people live there, but they are tribal communities and have degenerated into shocking primitivism and paganism. Much of America west of the Mississippi and through to the mountains is a vast and ugly dust bowl. Some of the major American cities (as with many European and Asian large cities) are horribly polluted near-ghost towns, slightly inhabited although only by mutants and savages.
Along with this, the swine flu was worse than in the real world, fueled as it became harnessed as an agent of terrorist bio-warfare. And wholesale geographical changes have taken place, with a land bridge now replacing the English Channel and Spain joined to Africa (part of a mad scheme by the Uber-Kaiser).
The Demonic Wars came to an end not so much from the victory of a coalition of nations as it did from the rise of the Faith which was begun by the appearance of the One - or at least so the Faithful say, anyway. One thing is clear: a being appeared to the major religious leaders of the world and began to counsel them on the issues of the world. This being was known as the One, and appeared as an androgynous slight-framed person, material in nature but clearly capable of transcending physical laws when it willed so.
The One had two dramatic impacts. The first, and for the world the foremost, was that it galvanized many religious leaders into action against the purported demons that fueled the ongoing global warfare. The One explained the nature of ghost rock in great detail, including how to control and dispel it. It described a cleansing ritual which drove out the demonic soul-energy which inhabited it and input bits of the stuff of good souls, which in turn meant an end to the ever-deepening corruption with which ghost rock infected nearly all those who handled it. Also, the One gave instructions on how to destroy sweeping volumes of ghost rock wherever it occurs. There are stories and legends, some told only to the Faithful and some told to everyone, as to how this information was put into dramatic action to end the evil fueling the Demonic Wars.
Other things contributed to ending the Demonic Wars. The collapse of Russia to communism put that nation out of play. The collapse of Germany did even more to end the wars; the regime of the Uber-Kaiser could not last beyond the destruction of its supply of ghost rock (which is generally attributed to a coalition of Marxists and Faithful). The collapse of the corrupt American "military-democracy" (a state that grew during the Great Emergency of 1915) and its replacement by a secular government founded by Faithful and a parallel religious authority by the Faith also did much to end the conflict.
Of course, the One impacted religion and society even more greatly than it did the wars. The One explained that it is essentially what the Christians know as God and basically the totality that the Hindus believe they join and so on. The One did not explain everything about its existence and metaphysics but did confirm there is an afterlife in which one is neither completely part of a whole nor completely individual and described ascension into it as something that happened for the enlightened. Some details the One simply refused to discuss, others it gave information ranging from broad hints to specific details.
Love for others, honesty, and communality in a global sense were the values the One most praised and indicated were the paths to enlightenment. The One essentially defined sins as those things which served none of these three - pride, lust, gluttony, and such all are sins by this definition. Even pleasures which serve none of these purposes are considered a sin. For example, playing a violent tactical game except as preparation for war would be a sin; an accountant would be seen as sinful for doing this sort of thing. Sports are allowed as they encourage health and can be good for a community, but professional sports as we know it are not allowed as that is a sinful indulgence and too often associated with self-centered pride. Although, of course, such a sin would be minor, almost trivial, in nature. Similarly, masturbation is a minor sin; it 's minor mainly because the religion (the One did not address this topic specifically) realizes there are biological drives in humans, but sees it as not serving community or community (arguments it somehow indirectly assists in loving others or such are dismissed). An angry outburst which hurts others is a very minor sin, if it is brief and no grudges are kept, because honesty is very important and we all naturally have emotions that are difficult to control; so the aspect of honesty rescues such a thing from being significantly troublesome. And righteous anger, even veangeful action, can be considered quite positive for its honesty if it serves the community.
The serious sins most often have their roots in pride or dishonesty. Adultery is certainly considered a serious sin if it is with deception, given it tears asunder the trust developed from love and even community in its side effects; even with consent, it is only not a sin if the adultery is born of true love for the other person, not simple desire for sexual conquest, which is self-serving and denies the value of community and sexuality as the fruit of love. Pride, it should be noted, is defined not as simple pride in a job well done (within reason, assuming the job serves the community or such, this sort of pride is fine), but rather the belief that one is better than others.
Anti-social actions are typically sins, given the emphasis on community. Taking drugs which cause one to be self-centered (unduly introspective, in a dream world) or anti-social (such as encouraging violent or proud tendencies) is a major sin. Encouraging direct anti-government confrontation (not including voting or normal procedures within the government's defined rules), assuming it is not to fight actual sin, is a major sin.
Time-saving devices are often considered sinful if their impact is for the sole purpose of convenience and take away from communal time. The best example, as it is highly controversial in America, is the dishwasher. While clothes-washers and dryers are debatable as the effort to clean and dry clothes can be a significant time-drain on a family, time they could spend on the community or "quality time", automatic dishwashing takes the place of the family doing dishes together and doesn't save against any great task, it seems to be something people do purely for themselves and not for anyone else. Yet many Faithful families have dishwashers, even though the Stewards of the Faith preach that it is a sin to do so. These families, at least if they are in religious communities, typically hide their dishwashers in a "utility" or "storage" room near the kitchen. Of course, this isn't a "major" sin, but it's not entirely trivial, either.
Due to the mixture of war and revelation in which the Faith was born, this is not a simple "peace and love" religion. Community must be served by a willingness to defend community. People need to be strong. So independence and self-reliance are praised. However, as one should serve community and not be proud, it is expected that people will help their fellow man if he needs it. Complicating this a bit, there is, due to some words of the One and the One's concern for life in the material world, a belief that the One smiles on good people and rewards them materially, and that the wicked are punished materially. It is recognized that the evil cheat against the One and are assisted (indirectly) by demons, and that the evil often hurt the good, so material success is not a measure in and of itself. It simply "generally" (according to belief) generally works out to correlate. It should be added that, as one might imagine, this is a social control as well for the wealthy, as they are expected to perform to a very high standard of behavior to reflect how they deserved their unusual status. In any event, it should be pointed out that undue profiteering (at the expense of others) or hoarding of material goods or similar such excessive self-interest is a sin.
Sadly, the bringer of this great Faith no longer manifests on this Earth - because it was killed! When the One manifested, it was entirely physical. Although it could break physical laws by whim, it had to will to do so. It explained that while its mission required it to have great powers, it enjoyed living in some respects as a human, wanting to experience life as much as possible as we do, and it also explained that it had its reasons for being vulnerable, reasons that it wanted its followers to discover for themselves. For protection, the One employed a dog, a mutt (who some say varied in appearance) it only called "Dog". The Dog often was on the lookout for any trouble and watched the One's back, and could be ferocious when needed. But typically the Dog was easy-going and related well to people. Unfortunately the One and the Dog were finally betrayed. The One had long said that they would be betrayed, and said that it was up to humanity how much they could learn from the One before this happened, after which time, not as punishment but simply as the mission would be accomplished, it would not return in this form "for a very long time." Someone fed the Dog poison, but a poison that simply made it appear the Dog was asleep. Then the One was attacked from behind, machine-gunned to death, along with several other religious leaders.
The One indicated that it often comes to Earth and lives as a normal person, completely without power. It even mentioned that at times it has come to Earth entirely as a normal person, without knowledge of itself, leaving the universe to pilot its own destiny for a time; during this lifetime, the One would simply have to reach enlightenment on its own. Although upon death it naturally reverted to being the One, and it always learned a lot from the experiences about humanity, it mentioned. So people often believe that the One may be among them, visiting, even if not without self-knowledge. Those who knew the One indicated that upon first meeting the One it felt as if they had somehow known this "person" their entire lives. So when people meet someone who is androgynous and especially if there is a sense of deja-vu, they often believe they are meeting the One on a visit to Earth. This is not a canonical belief, and it is considered heresy to act out on such a belief, as the Faith has indicated this can just as easily be the duplicity of an evil person or perhaps even a demon if they can manifest on Earth, and, besides, when the One appears in that guise it clearly intends to be treated normally. Nonetheless, occasional cults of personality spring up based on this.
The question of demons manifesting on Earth is a tricky one. It was clear, to many and certainly to the Faith, they did during the sometimes-called "Age of Ghost Rock". But with the One's guidance and the destruction of most ghost rock and the end of the war, it is believed by the Faith that demons cannot manifest physically because, according to the One, a certain cataclysmic level of evil is required before demons can do this, until this happens, they can only encourage humans to evil, manifesting as thoughts or even evil immaterial spirits, but cannot otherwise do much directly. The more evil builds, the more humans they can influence, though. And they can begin to manifest physically - first with simple poltergeist tricks but it could be worse...so the Faith is ever-vigilant against evil.
The Faith employs the Dogs...
The Dogs are a class of religious judges, given wide berth to execute justice on behalf of the Faith. They are known as Dogs, of course, due to the One's guardian. They go where they are directed - they are normally not stationed in one place for too long, a method (among others) to discourage familiarity which might breed corruption. The Dogs can execute any judgment - including life or death - in nations (like America) which officially endorse the Faith.
The Faith, given its origin, is dispersed about the globe, but there are centers where it is more practiced and places where it is not. In communist Russia, for example, it is not officially recognized although for unknown reasons, it is unofficially tolerated; as such it only exists in secretive pockets there. But America is one of the centers of the Faith, as are some parts of Europe and Asia, including notably America's strong ally, the Imperial Japan, which is holding firm in fighting the growing influenced of the newly-communist China led by Mao. In Faithful nations, as mentioned above, the Faith is allowed to exercise judgment on individuals as it sees fit. Some countries - like Japan - are complete theocracies. In America, as alluded to above, there are two social authorities, much like in some real-world modern Islamic-Arabic nations, a secular government and a religious authority. The secular government, seated in the federal District of Detroit, is a democracy not too dissimilar aside from the obvious from real-world 1950s America. It may recruit for an army, deals with foreign affairs, taxes, and so on, the sort of things one expects. However, it can be vetoed (in any decision by any branch) by the Faith, although such a veto is very rare and must come from the Central Temple (which locates its rotation across the globe every few years, though there is talk of it co-locating permanently with the reasonably successful League of Nations in the major metropolis of Indianapolis). The Faith, interestingly, is limited only to vetoing the government; it cannot actually proscribe action. And any influence to dictate specific policy is strictly forbidden by the Faith itself. This has nothing to do with separation of church and state per se (in fact, the Faith is the sole official religion of the United States and other religions are strictly forbidden); rather, it is because the Faith is attempting to stay uncorrupted by politics as much as possible.
In America, the religious authority handles marriages, all matters of personal conduct (relationships, morality), divorces, and, notably, civil suits; essentially all personal and even business conflicts can be resolved by officials of the Faith. The government handles criminal matters, but the Faith ALSO may punish criminals, according to the sin involved (if any)!
The Faith has many enemies. Communism is a big one, and it's spreading. The Faith fears that communism, with its disrespect for religion, may fuel a return of the demons. Dogs in America spend considerable time hunting for Marxists and fellow travelers. Especially those Marxist-heretics! That's the sad part...these people who believe they can follow the Faith and Marxism. They are heretics, and not the only ones. Heretics abound, as so many people have pride and think they know better than the Stewards, or, often, people start having heretical beliefs to justify their minor sins ("self-love is as important as communal love", "drugs help in finding enlightenment"), and evil spreads from that. And some heretics are those trying to mix some former religion with the Faith. Worse, still, are those enemies who are the legacy religionists - people believing in the false religions before the Faith came. There are many of these, especially Catholics in the northeast and Baptists in the southeast. They hide, and, worse, they pretend to profess the Faith. It's this sort of people who killed the One, and they are dangerous.
Communists, heretics, legacy religionists, and the spirits of demons abound! They must be stopped! Only the Dogs can save the Faith!
But America is still a great country, and is now really recovering from the horrible war of over 30 years ago and the military action initiated by the League of Nations to stop the would-be despot Hitler (although, tragically, not until after he had committed substantial genocide against the Jewish people). The middle of the nation (excepting the far west which the US has no control at all over) is where the country is really defined, not the east coast. From Michigan to Texas, the nation is particularly vibrant and so recovered that life feels truly good, finally. There is fear of the enemies, great fear even, but that is mostly hidden by the exceptional economic times. And the help of the Dogs - ever vigilant, ever faithful, ever stalwart, ever true, ever strong - "the Four Evers".
And so the nation is again pushing westward, reclaiming this barren and wild region. The Dogs accompany the pioneers, moving from one station wagon-filled caravan to the next, assuring the people are morally protected in their journey, even as the Dogs busy themselves in the east fighting communists, heretics, legacy religionists, and sin in general.
The reoccupation of the nation and the various enemies are not the only challenges. With ghost rock nearly tapped out and even fossil fuels declining (experts predict they will run out by 2010), atomic energy has become a major focus, and the first atomic plants are going into production. A few old-timers very much fear that this is a revisiting of ghost rock. The Faith makes no statement other than to indicate it has found no evidence of demons in this energy source, even though the presence of this new-fangled "atomic bomb" and the USSR's saber rattling is making people nervous...
In general, technology in this period is much like the regular 1950s technology, except as noted or implied above. However, the major governments have small but important reserves of ghost rock, and this can still deliver terrifying destruction as well as power wondrous devices. It should be noted that the only remaining known mines of ghost rock (very few, only in the US (Texas), Germany (Bavaria), and Cuba...yes, I said Cuba...under Battista...at this point...) are in the hands of the Faithful. The communists would give anything to get a mine of ghost rock...although that is probably for a game different than Dogs in the Vineyard!