How to write war's effects?

Ok, so in my WiP there was a major civil war forty years ago. The war, with regards to casualties(percentage wise) was absolutely devastating, with a quarter of the population killed. Advice on writing the effects it would have?

Just for my clarity, apologies: are you asking for advice regarding how to express, stylistically, the effects of war and its causalities, or are you asking for advice about the impact that losing a quarter of the population (and other effects of war) might have on the setting?

I’d recommend reading primary sources from a variety of conflicts, looking at civilian accounts as well as soldiers’. Look at a wide range of time periods and types of person writing the accounts.

Game wise, I’ve heard very good things about This War of Mine (focused on survival in civilian life) and Burden of Command (focused on military tactics and decision making), the designers and writers of both of which have done extensive research and put a lot of thought into war’s psychological effects and emotional authenticity.



Post WWII Russia would be a good case to examine. I especially recommend looking at how Russians celebrated (and continue to celebrate) Victory Day.

This is an interesting article about what happened when a news station in Russia asked whether Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) should have surrendered during the siege. There are also siege memoirs and poetry that you could read.

We Are From the Future is a Russian film about WWII that can help you understand the place the war fits into the Russian cultural narrative. You can probably find it subtitled on youtube.

The Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Russia, is a whole phenomenon that shows us what happens when a country loses so many people to war.


From the top of my head, aside from people who died in the war directly…

  • A lot of people with PTSD and physical disabilities.
  • Orphans.
  • Ruined buildings, so most of modern cities are composed of buildinds no more than 40 years old.
  • Famine because of lack of workers and arable lands ruined by remains of war tech.
  • Instead of clearing that land, it becomes easier to cut woods and dry swamps to create new arable land, which solves the immediate problem, but creates ecological problems a few decades later.
  • Remains of old minefields and unexploded bombs will trouble people for generations.
  • Large population loss comes back to haunt you later. There will be demographic pits every 20 years or so, because the geneneration lost in the war never gave birth to children.
  • Which leads to the government policy switching between “We have a baby-boom thanks to our wise policy!” and “These lasy peasants don’t make enough babies! Who will work for us? Need least 5 children per family!”
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For an example of mass civilian (rather than mostly military) casualties, and what happens economically and socially when a third of your population (and your cheap, easily exploitable peasant workforce) suddenly drops dead, have a look at the aftermath of the Black Death. I have a book called ‘In the Wake of the Plague’ by Norman Cantor that examines this. An interesting read.

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I’m afraid you need to be more specific. Forty years is a long time. Depending on the aftermath, the impact on the current setting could be almost unnoticeable, with the war merely being a historical event, something that exists in the national memory, or its effects could continue to define daily life.

It’s probably closer to this, given that it has essentially defined Imperial policy.(autocratic ruler who still holds grudges against certain areas and families)

I disagree that an event (war or otherwise) that kills a quarter of the population would be consigned to historical event within living memory (i.e. while there are still survivors who experienced this event or their children alive). Another source you should take a look at is memoirs and interviews with survivors of the holocaust and their children.

Do some research on memory culture. This is relevant to both Russian WWII experiences and the holocaust. Some other terms you might want to look at: post-memory, cultural memory, social memory, and memorialization


In that case, I feel like the question is too vague to give any real advice on either front. Giving consideration to the cultures of the land where the war took place, the catalyst, the result, propaganda leading up to and throughout the war, present-day discourse about the war (particularly by the victorious), etc etc would help in giving targeted advice.

If you want just some general concepts to think about, I’d suggest:

Propaganda - knowing how the victorious [and, if possible, what’s left of their opposition] talk about the issues leading up to the war, the war itself, and how they’re proceeding forward could give massive boosts to world-building without dumping loads of exposition. I also feel like this aspect trickles into a lot of others.

Education - Be it formal institutions or tutors, thinking of how access to education declined during, and possibly leading up to, a civil war and what the average classroom may look like now (are there fewer students, staff, no formal building, highly regulated curriculum, no curriculum, no funding etc), can reflect cultural shifts in the story.

Migration - In addition to 25% total dead, how many survivors left the region during/after the war? After rebuilding cities (which could still be in-process), did rural inhabitants move to cities for work? Conversely, were there any mercenaries that may have brought their armies and families and stayed once the war ended? What would incoming migrants look like, and why - do they agree with the victors, can they capitalize on a new policy, are foreign skilled laborers needed to fill the gaps, etc.

Infrastructure - touched on this RE schools and cities, but what about healthcare systems, roads, port cities, religious structures? What buildings were targeted heavily by each actor in the war, and why? Answering that question could help narrow down what areas of industry were most affected, and it could also reflect a faction’s ambitions during the war: by knowing what they targeted, the reader can associate say, a destroyed harbor with the work of Faction B, who was known to cause discord to their enemies by burning docks and their moored ships.

Or you get the idea, anyway. Point is, there’s a lot of room for inference when thinking about how the war affected infrastructure and systems.

A succession (the Imperial succession system is essentially “firstborn always succeeds, regardless of gender”) crisis. Basically, the Emperor of the time had four children, a legitimate firstborn daughter and an (legitimised) bastard son. He frequently stated he wanted the son to succeed him.

Second largest city in the realm a smoking ruin, a major House wiped out, countless villages and towns destroyed, the capital sacked, and an infamous treaty at the end which led to another (far less bloody) civil war thirty years later.

They paint it the same way the Lost Cause paints the ACW. (However, they’re far more justified than the Lost Cause, as the final part of the war was “The Empress’ War of Aggression” in that the war could’ve been over six months ago)

Only noble children and rich free children ever get educated (by tutors, there is no school system). So education became scarce during the war, but after the war it went back to normal.

Most rural people are property and are bound to the land. (And the ones that aren’t are generally freeholding farmers or nobles).

Most cities have been rebuilt, but there are some which will never get rebuilt(because the Empress ordered that they remain ruins).

Both sides heavily targeted farms.

Non-existent outside of the capital. The nobility can get a personal doctor(and most do), but the peasants don’t really have a working healthcare system.

Migration is very rare, due to the one land border essentially being the DMZ.

There were plenty of mercenaries involved in the conflict, but almost all of them went to fight elsewhere at the end of the war. They didn’t bring their families(although there’s no doubt a lot of their illegitimate children in the Empire).

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I think Russia is a good example, but I don’t know if I’d look at modern Victory Day celebrations since it’s often blurred with nostalgia for the Soviet Union.

Unless there’s an outside force to give aid, I think reconstruction would have a smaller and slower effect even 40 years later due to lack of funding (especially with the capital being sacked).

It’s possible cities and villages would become ghost towns with populations moving to other villages and cities – even if the rural people were bound to the land before the war, having a quarter of the population killed, and then further loss due to famine (since you stated they targeted farms) and the second civil war, would cause some disorder in society. I’m thinking something like how the Black Death helped start the decline of serfs.

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Sounds like a medieval setting. Random question: what was the main cause of civilian casualties? Were they conscripted/hired by local lords? Fought to the death when their landlord’s farms burned down? Starved because of post war famine?

Killed, mostly. Whenever one of the two factions was losing ground, they’d kill every serf in the area to stop the enemy from using them.

Modern tech, but otherwise medieval.

How did they get to modern tech without basic education…

Can’t think of a real life historical precedent, sorry.
Personally I’m surprised the country has any serfs left. I would try to get out at all costs.


WW2 scorched earth campaigns.

And this.

Read the History on my WiP thread, it explains it.

It’s incredibly difficult to defect, as the one neighboring country hates all Imperial citizens and has issued a standing order to kill any defectors on sight. Most running serfs(an incredibly risky endeavour, as any serf that gets caught running is crucified), go to one of the aforementioned ruins to hide out.

I knew about scorched earth tactics, however all the ones I knew about mainly targeted infrastructure and resources like food, things that the other side’s army could immediately use. Local deaths were more collateral damage from the scorching, not the actual target. Not sure what immediate advantage serfs could provide? If they can be used as cannon fodder, why not simply herd them with you?

Moreso as this is a civil war. Both sides do realize that if they win, they would have to keep on running the country, don’t they? Killing off the work force wasn’t the most thought out decision.

Read all your lore dumps. The countries that developed firearms (and presumably are continuously advancing their tech) should have just invaded and wiped the empire off the map.

Getting extremely off topic here (sorry), but how does this empire even survive? Its people are horribly under-educated, so it will always be on the trailing edge of technological development. They are not some advanced country befuddling its third world neighbors with tech, they are a third world country catching up with the rest of the world. Any thing it can do, other countries can do equally well or better. I’m having a hard time believing 60000 fanatical, entitled, former-absolute-monarchs have enough intelligence and resourcefulness to make a plague that the entire world couldn’t defend against. It is even more unbelievable that they could spread it in secret without anyone knowing they did it. As you mentioned, they aren’t really genetically superior. (Also, why would you give your hated former oppressors a safe research facility instead of chopping their heads off or at least exiling them? If you didn’t allow it, where did these guys get their information, equipment, and research materials? Did you establish no oversight at all? How do you not know about something this big?) (Plus, how dare the Goldbloods spread a bioweapon without having a cure on hand? Even if they specficially engineered the virus to skip anyone who has whatever specific gene the Goldbloods carry, any mutation in the wild or through design could destroy that immunity. If there is no immunity, how do you prevent the plague from wiping out your own side? What’s the point of releasing the virus if it weakens both sides equally? ) (What is the disease vector anyway? If it’s directly released into the air or water, then they would be at ground zero and get hit the hardest. How did they get the virus out of their exile city? Did they somehow manage to make something worth exporting? Did they infect themselves and throw the bodies over the wall? )Even if spreading a plague is easier than containing it, why don’t the other countries use a mutated version (or some other weapon of mass destruction) to threaten them back? (Even if the plague only last one month, people would have kept samples for study. And whatever the kill switch is , as soon as it is released someone will observe it. ) Or just pick them off wherever they go? Or repeatedly assassinate the current ruler until nobody wants the job?

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To revenge himself upon the Duke of Pomerania, the imperial general permitted his troops, upon his retreat, to exercise every barbarity on the unfortunate inhabitants of Pomerania, who had already suffered but too severely from his avarice. On pretence of cutting off the resources of the Swedes, the whole country was laid waste and plundered; and often, when the Imperialists were unable any longer to maintain a place, it was laid in ashes, in order to leave the enemy nothing but ruins.

A lot of the violence in occupied territory was revenge fueled.

Cannon fodder.

They didn’t have the resources.

The Empire ceased to exist five years after the powers found it. And the revolution was funded by them.

The threat of a second plague keeps other countries from invading.

Removing the “kill switch” would be almost impossible.

They weren’t given a research facility, they made a research facility. The Ovtorian Revolution was much more moderate than most anti-noble revolutions, and so most of the nobility were spared.

Sending them all to Sungard was exiling them, for all intents and purposes. (It also forced them to buy Ovtorian food and other imports)

The Empire is very isolationist, so not many immigrants come.(also, First Battalion, Imperial Guard are trained to stop assassination attempts)

They don’t have the resources for that.

They had a cure on hand. (Also, there’s no “Goldblood gene”).

They would’ve. But the plague only lasted a month. (Also, any second plague would be an entirely different strain)

In modern-day take a hard look at countries like Somalia and Mozambique that go through decade-long Civil Wars with incredibly complicated social economical and their own personal issues based on their cultural and geographical regions. I’ve been to Mozambique the country has a non-existent infrastructure and no genuine means to support its people. Relying heavily on foreign support