Giving Personality to Sentient Locations

Yesterday I talked about the factors that might affect a living building or sentient tract of land. Today, I’m going to get into what shapes the personalities of these amazing not-quite-creatures.

Snow and sunlight on Petzl

Photo courtesy of msjr from stock.xchng

The first step in determining a sentient location’s personality is its inherent nature. In the case of buildings, this is determined by the type of the structure and the purpose for which it was built. Castles built to withstand sieges will probably be more martial in temperament than, say, a thinking school, while a living market might be better at dealing with multiple inputs than a battle arena or more sympathetic than a prison, and a house might be both more willing and more able to anticipate the needs and feelings of its residents than most of the above. A sentient tract of land, on the other hand, wasn’t shaped deliberately towards a purpose (at least, not usually), and as a result is likelier to get its personality either from the kind of land formation it is or the magic/event which gave it thought. People whose worlds feature elemental systems might try to figure out what the dominant element in the location is and base the personality off the associated temperament, while others look at it in terms of fertility and habitability (so a high mountain might be aloof, an ocean long-thinking and preoccupied, a farmland warm and caring, or a desert prone to treachery). Bear in mind that there’s a lot of variety even in many of the kinds of landforms you’ll see; a cindercone volcano is likely to have a more explosive temper than a shield volcano, and a sandy desert might be more mercurial than a rocky desert. If there’s an event by which it was created, that’s often invoked, creating things like former battlefields that thirst for blood or god-touched grottoes that welcome and protect the faithful.

Then there are the creatures that call the place home. For most buildings, these will of course be the kinds of people they were built by, for or both, with their varying temperaments, and the building’s personality will reflect either its tenants or its personality clashes with said tenants. On the other hand, a land feature with its own mind is more likely than not to not have a sentient race as occupants, and thus its personality might be influenced more by its animal—or plant—occupants. Imagine a field that thinks like a herd of horses, or a forest like its pines—or if you’re feeling a little more quirky, what about a swamp whose personality is influenced by its swarms of small insects, or a still pool that’s starting to acquire an algal mindset. This can relate to contents as well (consider the difference between a library and an art museum), though that’s as likely as not to mesh more with original purpose.

One interesting question is how well it communicates with the characters. In general, people will expect buildings to be the most like their builders in thought process; overall, there will be more shared concepts and more similar thought processes than there might be with a different race/species’ sentient buildings, and those would be more similar to either set of builders than a place that was only briefly inhabited, or one that’s been left wild. Age might also be a factor; as buildings are generally younger and more prone to visible change over shorter periods of time, they’re likelier to be on the same wavelength as the transient creatures occupying them than would a mountain which has been there and thinking since the world was created.

Senses can create an interesting point of characterization both for the sentient location itself and as a source of commonality/disconnect with the characters. Sight is probable for buildings (or at least, buildings with considerate builders), but slightly less so for a landform (though one might make a case for a pool being able to see whatever’s reflected in it). Hearing will likely vary. I imagine taste to be a greater factor in bodies of water or landforms with permeable surfaces, though (as they get full exposure to anything that might diffuse into their liquid or seep into their soil). Touch is probably the most important, though not as useful for detecting flying creatures; scent is a bit tricky to justify, but can probably be done. Likely, a landform will have senses that don’t parse into the human experience very well, and trying to substitute for them without falling into standard sensory terms is difficult.

And of course, there’s the sentient location’s current objective(s); while it doesn’t have to be in line with the intended purpose, and in fact doesn’t need a purpose, it will often dovetail with or relate to the purpose. Sometimes they’re completely in line; a divinely created landform might be obsessed with its own purity, or a castle with defense. Other times, they’re anything but; an isolated ice cave that wants to acquire residents, or a sentient building that doesn’t want to follow its originally designed goals anymore.

Do these personalities have to stay static? Certainly not. Tomorrow, I’m going to go into what sorts of factors might affect a sentient locations personality once it’s been around for a while. Stay tuned!


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