Do we really need to bring in creating gods there, too? The existence of a pantheon of gods and fantasy role-playing is one of those things that I find very bizarre personally, because the Pantheon’s that are created for these fantasy role-playing games very rarely resemble the pantheon like pantheon of deities that we can point to in in.
Like Earth’s own, religious history, where the gods are intimately tied to some sort of mythology or something and very closely connected with each other and there’s all these stories about them that that tied them together well, yeah I mean you, know: Athena busting out of Zeus’s head And her daughter, blinded and it’s all very interconnected, like almost like familial there’s that there’s the whole like the world is a rotting carcass and the animals and monsters and gods come out of it.
That’s sort of like Norse mythology, as I as I understand it. At least but then you get to like Dungeons and Dragons and Dungeons and Dragons derived fantasy, which dungeons of dragons has been around long enough. Now that it has both influenced other genres, like iterations of fantasy role-playing, whether it’s tabletop or article games or whatever and then has in turn been influenced by those that it influenced first off.
So it’s sort of like having a conversation with itself and I think it is eating its own tail right and I think when some things are introduced into that and they’re not examined and they’re, not reimagined, then they just get regurgitate it ad nauseam to the point Where it’s like here’s another bog-standard, fantasy pantheon, which is just a collection of micro monotheism’s that have no weight to them, there’s not a faith, that’s necessary for your character to belong to and to practice and to engage with it’s just like this is the god of Fire and the goddess of the earth, and the god of whatever in commerce and whatever, and it’s just like it’s bloodless tooth gods and I frankly am tired of them.
And so I I it’s one of those things when I, when I see a fantasy setting, and it’s got yet another fantasy Pantheon, that’s like why did you even go to the trouble of making this up yourself like it’s nothing original about it, there’s nothing different about It it’s just the same thing, I’m talking strictly in like a published adventure type. You know I’m buying a campaign setting if it’s if it’s got another fantasy Pantheon in it, it’s a mark against it.
For me cuz, it’s like right. I don’t you, don’t even need to think to create up one of these. You just do it well yeah. I mean okay uh. What’s the what’s the the god of the Sun and morning’s a new beginning yeah, you know you’re just slapping a different face and a different name right on an already known concept, and that, while that is easy to do what are some different kind of schemes that You could at least draw from right, so, if you’re looking to freshen things up, you want something different.
My suggestion would be to first look outside of the Pantheon model of divinities polytheism right. It’s a polytheism that I find very bizarre and very little connection to the historical modes that I’m familiar with, and maybe for some people who are not steeped in like ancient religion and whatever else you know that they’ve spent way too much time reading about they don’t Care, you know, and in a bog-standard by-the-book kind of pantheon.
I do this when I’m like. I don’t want to think about it like this. My the point of this world is not to go in-depth about the gods or I’m going to let them come from the bottom up, in which case I will let the players take the lead on what kind of gods there are yeah. This show is a top-down approach, type show we’re talking of world building we’re talking crafting the deep backstory of your world that will inform your campaign, and so, in that sense it’s worth taking a look at the divinities and-and-and gods and the like that you have in Your setting and asking some real questions about them.
Why am I making the choices that I’m making? Is there something about the choices that I’m making that I’m just like going off of what was there before and if I’m doing that, then doing it because you’re conscious of it not because you’re, just like replicating the same mode of the pantheon of monotheism, the collection Of monotheistic religions that the most fantasy is, you could go like full-on straight monotheism, and this is one of those that I have personally found and at both, in my experience as a dungeon master and in reading about online, that it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
That when you say there is one god in my setting, this is it. These are the powers associated with it. These are the social structures that are associated with it. This is the religion. That’s attached to it that when you do that, you number one your if you’re not creating an expansive enough monotheism, then you might be limiting character concepts for your players. They might be resentful of that.
There’s a whole real-world angle going on over here right, where people are just you know, maybe they’re uncomfortable with real world religions, they’re not familiar with it. They don’t like it they’re, irreligious or a religious or atheist or whatever stripe of non-religious participating. They are they just don’t want to have to deal with it. Right of monotheism is one that’s something to bring up in a session zero there or even before then it’s just like hey my setting has a you know monotheistic flavor, there’s one God.
You could go the other route like dual gods: sort of man, icky and dualism, where there’s one god and then an opposing God, whether that’s light and dark creation and destruction, good evil law chaos, whatever dichotomy you’re going for that, can be one that ties nicely in With a cosmic conflict of some kind, you know I’m thinking of something like middle-earth the main deity, that’s in middlee of middle-earth, aloo, guitar and nel, cuore and worn off, and all the other sort of like dark and gellick beings and and the that’s kind of a Setting that has a monotheism right, there’s like this one God and then created all these other celestial beings to help it create the world and earth and all that other business.
So there’s celestial beings that you can appeal to that. You can interact with and whatever, but they’re not gods, they’re more powerful than mortals might as well be gods, but there’s still a ranking there. So that’s sort of a way of blending the two. If you’re doing like a dualism, maybe one of the deities is it proper deity and the other is more of like a demonic figure of some kind, lesser in power, but because they’re lesser in power, they’re, it’s easier for them to interact with the mortal world or Something we can go the opposite end of the spectrum and be like full-on animist, where, like everything, has a spirit and a godling and elemental spirit of something or other and and the role of divine classes in the game is play cating all of these spirits.
So if you have say a cleric of war, for instance, then there’s no God of war that they appeal to. But there are spirits and gods of war, maybe a god of fear or a God of discipline, or something like like that. Where they’re not like, all-powerful all-encompassing, deities, they’re more like forces that move in the world that declares a part of so those are some options that are available and the reason why I kind of bring it up – and I don’t mean to like misdirect our viewers here, Where it’s like we’re going to talk about building a Pantheon, a Pantheon you shouldn’t do we will get to building a Pantheon here in a minute, yeah yeah, but before you get to that step of laying out which gods are in your setting, it is worthwhile to Ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is the point of the divine beings in my setting? Why am I choosing a Pantheon over some of these other schemes or get other arrangements of divinities in your game like? Why is that? And if the answer is just kind of like mm-hmm, there should be gods or spells right.
That’s an opportunity for a Dungeon Master to sit with that concept a little longer and think it through and fully develop. It yeah. Thinking of some questions that we can ask ourselves for for those things, I really think that a founding myth well yeah, it’s important right. I was going to say Jim. Where do you begin? I begin at the beginning. At the beginning, in the first chapter, the founding myth is important because it sets the tone for everything in your campaign you’re starting at a cosmic level, a large scale right.
I’m a big advocate of the bottom-up approach to campaign design, where it’s like. You really just need a starting Adventure, location and stuff that’s going on there and is there go there? No! Well, then, who cares like then? Who cares but world building is a fun exercise. It helps us and, as you build a campaign from the bottom up, you can take the time in between sessions to start top down building as well and see what I mean and see where they meet and – and you know you take the elements that are mentioned In the bottom-up play and then create a top-down elements for them in between sessions, for instance, and so thinking about a founding myth is important.
Where do the planes come from who lives there and how did they get there? That’s kind of where I would start. This is the entire cosmos. Is it the Great Wheel, cosmology of outer plane transit, though you know astral, Prime ethereal inner? Is it something completely different? Are you going with like the fourth edition model of the elemental chaos and then the sort of the astral sea method? There or something completely different thinking about that is going to be important, considering the place of the multiverse and the planes, and everything is important.
Those chapters in the dmg that talk about the different planes and what happens there, our jumping-off points for this. Maybe you start combining different ones or coming up with your own altogether, moving on from that, if there are planes and if there are inhabitants to those planes, then what about the gods? What are the gods come from where they eternal yeah? Are they always present? One day decided to start creating things or do the mortal races and creation precede the gods and later on, the gods come about because of belief and faith, and even the gods there could be from a bottom up approach right and the people actually create the gods.
That’s kind of a strong theme that runs through Dungeons and Dragons. We’re, like the active faith of a bunch of people, brings power to the gods, that’s kind of a default mode for it yeah kind of bring up a point. You you you, you touched on earlier when it comes to faith and in the creation of if it’s God’s versus men like who created who huh in in D & D, such a thing in our own world with religion, is the fact of faith.
It’s it’s. The fact of you know it’s in the absence of evidence like, but in D & D, like evidences everywhere you, if you do your prayers and you cast a spell you’re a priest or a cleric. You get spells. How does that affect faith? And how does faith change because there is direct evidence? Maybe if you’re going by that baseline, where existence of the deities in Dungeons and Dragons worlds and other sort of typical traditional fantasy worlds is real and there’s evidence for it.
Because of spells, you can talk to them, you can summon their servants. You can do all these things. Then faith is less a matter of like the kind of faith that we understand it of like a devotion to a principle or an ideal or a something that we have no tangible proof of, and it is instead adherence to a stricture of rules and and a Code of conduct that is handed down from a higher order being and then faith there is less about like trust and hope, and it’s more about obedience and and conformity yeah or the faith that that what you adhere to is the right path.
I like personally like adding in that element of our their gods or their. Not that’s why I really liked ever on right, like there is no evidence of gods in everyone. There’s clerical magic, there’s divine magic, but there’s no evidence of gods, necessarily there’s enough that people are faithful. But it’s not like traditional D & D, where there’s concrete proof, yeah and even and then there there are factions within D & D who are like.
Well. Those aren’t gods, they’re, artists, well, it’ll, be an example. From my own experience, the way I decided to handle that in story valve uh-huh, religion isn’t really talked about a lot, because all these people came from all these different spheres and all kind of jumbled together and thrown together and the blender on this one planet. So you have all these people that believe in all these different concepts that are similar, but they call them by different names.
So there are shrines everywhere too, like oh, the shrine of the morning Lord or the morning, or you know new beginnings like there’s a shrine to that concept, and people go and pay homage to their God at that shrine, but other than that like people. Just it’s more of a personal thing, because I wanted to have it that way, because I really wanted the players any of the players that wanted to play a cleric or someone who would believe in a higher power to bring like.
What do you want to believe in like I want you to create that really and for you to express that? Not me informing you how you should behave right, because I think that that’s just far more interesting, I can see that sort of like player led a Pantheon creation, is something I fall back on a lot just because it really tailors what the player wants to be. Most relevant to that particular campaign. Now I’ve done ones where you know it’s monotheism with different factions and divisions within the faith within the Church of it that represent.
You know different elements and allow for different kinds of clerics. Moving on from sort of the the founding myths and all those are there, certain high-minded questions and getting down like the nitty-gritty of design yourself, there’s two main approaches right, like sort of the ways that you can look at creating a Pantheon, you can either take the Game first sort of like build a game, build a set of gods that are supported by the existing game, mechanics yeah, yeah or you can flip the script and create a set of gods.
And then, if there are no game mechanics to back it up, you create them yourself. So, looking at game mechanics for gods, how do you do that? Where you’re not just filing off Lysander and putting a new name on for your morning boy, I mean, if that’s what’s working for you right, like don’t forget to skip the first part of the article and the rant and everything you know. If what you want is the standard fantasy list, you know maybe you’re new to the game.
Yeah, maybe you’ve come from. You know a popular stream or something like that and you’re like all right. Well, they’ve got these gods and critical role or high rollers or adventure zone or whatever it is that you’re coming from you’re, not steeped in years and decades of crusty game experience that you need that newness to kind of get any more more, that dopamine rush anymore And and the new stuff is fresh: it’s not cliched, it’s not old hat, it’s not boring, then taking the existing Dungeons and Dragons domains and alignments.
That’s a good place to start, and so you can go all right either. I’m going to take the domains that exist in 5th edition, dungeon, dragons or whatever game I’m using and create gods based on those. So there’s going to be a god of war, god of light or whatever or whatever, that mischievous guy, mischievous god knowledge, etc, etc. Or maybe the alignment chart you’ve got at least one for each alignment, or maybe others, and that all the very least you have a baseline there.
That’s one way to do it and, if you’re looking for something quick, if you’re looking for something easy, if you’re looking for something that’s a low barrier of entry for your players, you don’t want to overload them with lore or you want to leave the door open For them to interject their own war, for those classes or for those players who are playing divine classes, then maybe that’s the way that you go and – and you don’t have to spend a ton of time on it.
You just give it some thought present it to the players they’re going to run with most of it, you’ll fill in the gaps there, but you’re just sort of done: you’re, assigning names and they’re moving on yeah. That’s one way of doing it and if speed is good, if you’re looking for something, that’s more traditional, that’s the way to go, but if you’re looking for something different, you want something unique.
You want something that that’s tailor-made to your setting, then you’re going to have to homebrew and you’re going to have to the gods of the setting that you need based on whatever criteria you think is appropriate and then, if there are any holes in the game, mechanics You’re going to have to create your own domain and you’re going to have to create your own game rules to fill in that gap I mean, if you need them right, like I mean it’s like, if you see it as the DM, like, oh there’s, a hole There, but if nobody’s playing a cleric that needs that right, then why worry about it right, yeah until it’s necessary and then you bring it up.
An example of this would be something like I’m looking for a game world that has a polytheism that I recognized from ro from like the ancient Mediterranean and and I’m thinking here, something that’s more along like not necessarily like the Greek city-states with their patron gods. But more like the Fertile Crescent and in that era, where it’s like there’s a and yeah they’ve got like each city has its own deity and part of warfare is like stealing that God from the city, because it’s going to steal the you know the power of That city, let’s make that fantastic, yeah and now I might have each nation or people or polity – that’s in the world – might have a god that backs them up, but those gods might not map on to the existing divine domains.
And so I might chop up to the domains and make then rearrange the abilities within them so that they fit the you know the new Pantheon that I’m creating. I might homebrew some content and say, like you know, this is the city state and there’s a goddess here that rules over it, knowledge isn’t quite working for me here. War isn’t quite working for me here, but I’m going to come up with something that that’ll work for me yeah.
This is something about being a dungeon master that when it I find personally, is the most frustrating for me as a internet, Dungeons and Dragons personality, because I look at home brewing content as you go nuts right there. Is there your no barriers here, there’s no wrong answers, there’s! No! Whatever there are things that won’t work for your table yeah, but unless it’s a catastrophic Games, chances are unbalanced.
Homebrew is not going to ruin one session of your game, and if it is the you need to take a step back and talk to your players about what’s going on why this game element is ruining it, but creating your own homebrew content is just you just Do it you don’t need my approval, you don’t need the approval of the deity designers, you just do it well, I mean, if you’re talking about like concepts for like deities that might just totally destroy a setting.
Remember that people, even in the real world when it comes to religions, have accepted some crazy. I mean to go back to the Mediterranean. There I mean the big thing about inky and in Yana, and all that is inky goes down to the tigris-euphrates and-and-and Skeets won out and that’s how you have those rivers right, as that’s literally from the the girding of his loins in the fruit of his loins. There’s a lot there’s so much like there’s like a bodily fluid.
That’s what I’m saying is like you got to go pretty far, do people go whoa, whoa, whoa yeah and it’s sort of like taking the ancient Mediterranean in the ancient ancient Mesopotamia as as sort of our our archetypes for this, because I do, I think that those Analogs in our own, real world are better suited for the type of gaming with Dungeons and Dragons is, as opposed to medieval history. I don’t know that medieval history is a good historical example to you, and ancient history is a huge period of time right, but taking those models and mapping them on that means that your Pantheon czar, local and particular and idiosyncratic – and it’s not like yeah the Lysander – That they worship over in the Northeast is the same as a little painter.
They worship in the southwest yeah. It’s like franchising right like a franchise. I’m a Donald, that’s what I mean when I say that they’re, a collection of like micro, monotheism’s and then in baseline D & D. You’ve just got these. It’s it’s like! Okay, ima! I follow this one God it’s the same everywhere I go. There’s no division! There’s! No conflict, there’s no particularity to it. It’s just is it’s easy is what it is.
Yes, it’s a low barrier to entry. I find it so uninspiring and I would much rather have a a collection of just like well. This is this city’s God, and then this god is the god of the river and maybe there’s a really powerful God that that has control over something. You know that’s very influential, but there’s a mix match and they’re all related to one another or interact with each other in some way.
A good example that I use for this, sometimes, if there’s a role-playing game that came out gosh 10 or 12 years ago, now, Artesia Adventures in the known world right. What I’m talking about it’s based on a comic book series Artesia, is cancelled and I have no idea what’s happening to it anyway. It’s one of my favorite comic book series and one of my favorite games, even though I’ve never really had a chance to run it.
The whole world is created by this founding mythology and there’s a goddess and her daughters are, you know, Sheba gets daughters and they beget offspring and their offspring begets more and eventually mortals into the picture, and some of the offspring are monsters and the interaction between the Offspring and and the mortals creates the ages of this world, and you can see as you’re reading sort of the history of this world up to the present day.
The interaction of the gods, both in intensity and like early on they’re, really intends and the gods are everywhere – mortals – are interacting with them and then over time, mortals becoming the driving factor in history and the gods receding, but the impact of those gods actions are there. I like using it – and I like, using it as an example because it’s very tightly focused all of the gods – are bound in with each other.
There’s not that many of them and everything that exists in the setting has its origin at some point with a god. Either an offspring of one of the gods or goddesses, that’s there or it was created as an interaction between like okay. Well, this demigod stole the Sun at one point and took the Sun into the underworld. So it’s just like a very well thought-out example of how to present a fantasy Pantheon that has the hallmarks of real world religion, but is is definitely fantastical and and it’s one of those things where, if you get your hands on a copy of this book or Some of the the trade paperbacks that are out there for the comic book series like understanding a bit about this fantasy Pantheon.
For me, it was like setting my brain on fire with like I was calling my god here are all the things you can do. The thing that gets me about a lot of fantasy Pantheon’s is that it because they’re imported from our own history, they carry artifacts with them that I’m not sure it’s like. Would these gods have grown up naturally, in this fantasy environment? Here like it seems like that, there are other types of gods that would come about as opposed to ones that came about in our own real world right, like the big one that I’m thinking of the big example of this, for me, is real or the Lord Of Light from Song of Ice and Fire, this is a god that is harsh.
What it wants is a little murky right. What are we doing other than obedience yeah? It seems that what it wants, obey obey and deny your other gods right, deny the Seven deny or others etc. But the message that that that phrase, the night is dark and full of terrors to me describes every Dungeons and Dragons world that exists. The night is dark and there’s a monster manual, full of terrifying creatures, many of which have dark vision interactive at night like.
Why is there not a god or a deity of some kind, particularly if you have gods that are overarching that are present from region to region that have a consistent and non localized presence? Why wouldn’t you have a guy? That’s basically like yeah. I fight monsters. I’m here to fight monsters, I will keep you safe from monsters. I am here to you know, to fight all of the things that go bump in the night.
Yeah burn it away with my purifying light burn it away with my purifying light or our allies in shadow that we use. You know to fight the enemies of darkness, know that kind of because, as we know, there would be no shadow without life, there wouldn’t be right and that’s what makes it interesting. That’s what makes as a faith, makes it interesting and go from one dimensional and adds depth and complexity to it.
The Dungeons & Dragons world seems to me, like there’s all these little gods of each race right, there’s the orc gods and the nolo gods and the goblin gods and the whatever. What if you took all those monster manual, all the monsters in the monster mountain you you ignore the lore, that’s that’s already in there and you rewrite that monster manual to be like these are the offspring of deities. Right, like all of these monsters in here, come from somewhere someone birth to them or created them or brought them to life.
You could create a pantheon in which you create an intricate web that incorporates the mantra manual and your gods, and now it’s like you don’t just go say: fight and Griffin and Griffin is the offspring of this particular deity. That controls this particular thing and harming a Griffin will analog out uses is historical, Tiamat, yeah, a creature or goddess that that sort of is, is angry at the mortals who slay her her children and Abzu.
Her husband, I believe, is like slain like Gilgamesh. Maybe it’s been a while, since I’ve read the Epic of Gilgamesh, but there’s just this kind of like the sense that Tia montt is was fine until a bunch of mortals started messing with her yard, getting their yard, making a bunch of noise coming up in her Business sort of their nap right and then it awakens the chaos dragon right. That is to you, mom.
So that’s another kind of thing, and so, when you’re, looking at your campaign world, you know you’ve made this thing. You’ve got this all laid out. You’ve got your countries and your whatever and when it comes to looking at the gods of your setting, are the gods that are suggested in The Player’s Handbook working for my setting mm-hmm. If they do great, if they don’t making ones up that are integrated and fit within your campaign, setting is a very satisfying experience and then you can present that information to players, and it makes them feel like the campaign world – is much more alive and and and Realized yeah and I mean – and you know everybody typically has like gods, but like aren’t there other ways to kind of express that divine power, like I mean they’re, like hero gods like a Warhammer, even mortals that kind of rise up to the right hood or just Different kinds of like divine power that manifests that maybe it’s not a straight-up God yeah with a with a place waiting for you when you died right right with a home in the outer Plains, yeah Celestials, as intervenors yeah, I feel like a heroes and hero cults – Are one and these would be sort of like in D & D terms, these would be like epic level characters, who’ve transcended mortal limits, but are not yet gods, but maybe a really high level warrior in your campaign world that died a long time ago.
Has a cult following of people that are devoted to them that that take the practice. Is that this that this warrior wrote down or or their exploits and like form a cult based around? And it’s not quite religious, but it’s definitely not just like a fan club. Maybe there are mystery religions in which the adherents have to under grow certain. You know secret initiation, rites and understand secret knowledge about the world.
In order to be inducted into these into these mysteries, there are demigods and gods of cities. You know a god of a river or a mountain or forest little dog Ling’s, that are powerful spirits, that they didn’t have at a location or a place, or something like that. Those are all ways of interjecting, a vibrant world, of the divine into your campaign. Without having to resort to you know, zeus not knock off zeus up and knock off mount olympus.
You know not doing anything interesting, the divine community of your game as something more than just that bog standard, fantasy pantheon means that first off your tailoring it to the campaign world deepening your own campaign setting and when the players finally interact with something like that. You have something that’s fleshed out, that’s different than new. You might be showing them something new that they haven’t seen before, letting them interact with something different and you’ll create moments in your campaign where, before your players might look like, i’m not really care about.
What’s going on with this church or temple or whatever, by having something different and making it weird and unusual and and fitting with your game and not just taking the standard, that’s there you create an opportunity to make a really memorable element of your setting. Come to life and and presenting it to your players and saying like here’s, something different, i’m offering up as a way to you know, do something different with your character or help me create something new for the world that we’re playing in right.
In the book of revelations here for you gods, how does it all end? What do you I mean? What what’s that? What’s the you got a founding myth, you should have a apocalypse myth, certainly like a founding myth having these other things about how the world is going to end, how the guys would participate in that. What are the role of mortals in that end of the world? Is it a conflagration that ends in Oblivion, or is it a change of cycle a period of turmoil before the new thing happens? Is it prophesied? Is it something that the players can stop or or influence in some way? I think it’s just as enriching to to talk to think about like the end of your world, of your campaigns world and the role that the gods play in it as it is the beginning of the world and how the gods, God creates dinosaurs.
God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs. Women inherit the earth.
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