Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Creating Like A Creator: Pantheons

Creating Like A Creator

Art by Chris Scholten


Even before I'd become familiar with role-playing games and GMing, I'd been enthralled with building my own worlds. Drawing maps and inventing cultures has always been a lot of fun for me, and was a tremendously fun exercise to help me practice fleshing out my fiction. Today for Creating Like A Creator, we're going to examine the different ways in which you can use deities in your world to not only create a more ripe and flavorful world, but add tangible tools to use to stimulate your players imaginations and minds. Now, I'd like illustrate the point that this is not a comment on the spiritual weight of including deities in your game.

Generally, with most roleplaying game systems that have deities as a defined mechanical element  simply include deities for flavor and to add mechanical diversity to the magic rules, character creation rules, etc. This is all well and good, but I feel that there are more interesting ways to harness this concept.

Since 1st edition's Deities & Demigods, there had always been deities that governed various domains and had a portfolio of various aspects of the world under their control but what purpose did this serve? The concept of including deities in the game has become so ubiquitous that clerics and paladins merely fill out the forms to join their Deity's clubhouse. Matching alignment? Check. Hate the undead? Check. Congratulations, you're now a cleric of Pelor! Theoretically, deities operate differently and carry different levels of power, but a cleric of the deity of justice will mechanically function the same as a cleric of the deity of necromancy.

I'm not opposed to this clubhouse style of dealing with deities, mind  you. I just want to see something more, something different that my players aren't accustomed to. So I'd like to share with you the different ideas I've tried and more importantly, I want to hear your ideas. As it stands, I have two examples I'd like to share with you. Perhaps I'll detail more in the future, but as it stands, 60 hour work schedule puts a distinct limit on my writing.


This is my favorite idea that I've been toying with. Presently, I am devising a world which is not watched over by a pantheon of deities. Rather, it is governed by a council of Arbiters. These Arbiters are powerful personas that maintain balance in the world. While they do not hold the near-omnipotence of traditional fantasy-pantheon deities, they are more akin to manifestations of the natural laws of the world.

This concept was inspired by the Judges of the Old Testament, blended with a hint of inspiration from the Daedra of The Elder Scrolls, the gods of the Bastion video game for flavor, and the Judges of the Final Fantasy Tactics/Final Fantasy XII series (who, in turn, were inspired from the Judges of the Old Testament anyways). I wanted to create a supernatural power structure that was not uniform with the traditional struggle of good versus evil. Instead, the rules that have been set in place at the creation of the world are manifested and maintained in the form of these Arbiters.

When a lich tries to spread undeath to all life, or a tyrant seeks world domination, Arbiters arise to uphold the balance. They enter the physical world through human vessels who become transformed into the Arbiter that holds them (Think of the Smiths from the Matrix, only not so malevolent). Arbiters, while not omnipotent, are vastly powerful and, given the manner in which they enter the world, can be nearly anywhere at any given time.

Many mortal creatures give homage or even worship various Arbiters, but by and large their tributes are met with silence. Arbiters do not seek worship, only the preservation of the world they steward. There are, however, those that swear fealty to the Arbiters, dedicating their lives to the values and laws the Arbiters govern. Those who swear fealty are given in return the responsibility to uphold these values. Some are said to have even served the Arbiters directly for a time, fighting in battle, preventing catastrophes, or responding to disasters. There are many orders that have been formed around a common fealty to one ore more Arbiters; Paladins, Clerics, Monks, many sects from many cultures devote themselves to these ideals, independently of each other.


Primarchs are a concept I devised in an effort to run a traditional Dungeons and Dragons game for some of my friends who weren't comfortable with having a cadre of fictional deities that their character might worship. The idea came to me when talking to my pastor about the characteristics of God; the three chief qualities that determine God's vastness are omnipotence (having all power), omniscience (having all knowledge), and omnipresence (being everywhere at once). At this point I had read the Deities & Demigods handbook for D&D and according to their stats, the deities were none of these things.

This gave me an interesting idea. Perhaps the deities detailed in the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Master's Guide indeed were not deities. Rather, they were powerful beings mandated by an entity that was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. So, like archangels at the service of God, I decided that Moradin, Bahamut, Obad-Hai, and the others were in fact Primarchs (a portmanteau of 'prime' and 'archangel'. I'm clever right? :P ) that served the Overdeity. 

Making the pantheon more allegorical and 'C.S. Lewisian' (Sorry J.R.R. Tolkien), made the world more approachable to my friends who were more sensitive about the subject of fictional deities. Plus, it allowed me to include the traditional pantheon for my other players who wanted a regular game of Dungeons & Dragons.

That's all for this week, my friends. Please, tell me about your games! What sort of supernatural power structure does your world contain? Does it contain any at all? I want details ladies and gentlemen. And please, feel free to use any ideas here on Casting Lots for your campaign. That's why I'm doing it after all.

Remember friends, heroes innovate, but GMs duplicate!

No comments:

Post a Comment