Lets Build A Campaign Setting - Part 4: Gods (Building A Pantheon)
Part 1: The Foundation
Part 2: Inspiration
Part 3: Gods (Their Roles)
Gods can be some of the most mythical entities in any campaign setting. They can also be the most diverse and varied, ranging in power and skill from demigods, like Hercules, to Overgods, like Faerun's Lord Ao. Their appearance can be something as simple as an old crone to a multi-horned, four armed muscular dog-man with a crown of ever-burning flame.
Since we have already established what the role of a deity is in a campaign setting, we can focus our efforts on building our own pantheon, with a unique flavor that fits with your world.
A domain is is an abstract or elemental concept that the God represents and embodies. Over the course of their divine career, the deities collect a few of these domains and add them to a portfolio, like some kind of heavenly or infernal investment banker.
"Okay, so maybe not heavenly."
Domains can literally be anything. Weather, the sun, burnt meatloaf. There is a lot to choose from when you variety is endless, so I find it's best to just keep it simple. There is a much shorter list of of the big domains, which encompass a lot of smaller ones. It is from these domains that your major gods (the movers and shakers of your campaign world) will be born.
Every domain should have another that directly or indirectly opposes it. This gives both a reason to exist, because without one, it is hard to have the other. This likewise applies to elemental domains as well; fire and water oppose each other, earth and air are direct opposites, and so on.
Some domains don't really have good domains that oppose them. Take war and strength for example. We all know the opposite of war is peace, and strength's antithesis is weakness. From a game mechanic stand point, few players are going to be excited to roll a cleric of weakness, and while some characters may wish to create a character that has taken a vow of non-violence, that can easily be achieved through the good or life domains without having to create one just for peace. That is why I find that domains like war and strength do a good job of straddling the line, as both can be used for good or evil, so on and so forth.
Yeah, even Gods have them too, but unlike we mere mortals, with our pesky free will, Gods are unable to act outside those alignments. Good Gods can't behave in any way that is even remotely evil, nor can evil Gods walk by a box of mewing kittens without giving it a good kick. So, when crafting a God, take a long look at the alignment, break it down, and see where it falls on the spectrum of Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, True Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil.
This is the deity's identifying mark on the material plane, the one their priests and servants use as a conduit to contact them and draw a portion of their divine power. It should be able to sum up the God or Goddess in a simple, easy to understand way. Some examples are a skull for a God of death, or a dagger plunged into a moon for God of trickery.
Each deity has a weapon associated with that that best fits their demeanor and alignment. Chaotic Gods are more likely to have chaotic weapons, like flails, whereas Lawful Gods are more apt to wield very straightforward weapons, like swords. Take a long look at your God's alignment and domains. Find the weapon that fits best, or acts as a point of symbolism, like a dagger or heavy pick acting as a fang.
While we won't get to naming them quite yet, we will be giving them tentative names the way old societies would have addressed them. These names will be simple and right to the point, and will serve as placeholders until we get to actually naming things.
Building The Pantheon
While you don't have to create a God or Goddess for every alignment, I find it helpful to start there. This creates a robust pantheon for your players to choose from, and for you, the Game Master, to play with. Below, I am going to detail each God for our campaign world by their domains.
The Gods of the Court of Creation
This was the previous pantheon. The "Old Gods" as they are refered to now. As we already determined, the forces of evil won in the decisive battle against good, and had set up a monotheistic religion, revering a new, powerful God. The Old Gods still how some sway over the material plane, but not like before. Their names are mentioned in whispers, and their prayers are said in secret, as the price for praying to these Old Gods is death at the hands of the new regime.
Deity of Life
Life, birth, creation, light, goodness. All seem to fit into this deity. Al these things also seem to evoke a motherly vibe. I think this one should be a Goddess, a sort of "mother of the world" type, where all living things are her children.
Tentative Name: The Lady of Light
Description: Appears as a young woman with golden hair the color of sunlight, and brilliant, glowing white robes. She is married to Father Death, and sits next to him upon the twin thrones of existence. Her demeanor is always positive, and those in her presence feel an overwhelming sense of calm and security.
Alignment: Neutral Good
Domains: Life, Light, Creation, Good, Air
Symbol: A lone dove flying over a sunburst
Deity of Death
Death. It's pretty heavy. It is the end of all things, the one true inevitable fact in the universe, which makes this God one of the most powerful. Certain symbols of death include scales for judged souls, embodiments of time, and a scythe for 'reaping' souls like wheat. Many cultures envision this as a grim reaper of sorts. I dig the hooded figure aspect, as death is mystery, and the hood symbolizes that perfectly. While the Lady of Light has a motherly vibe, her opposite should maintain a fatherly aspect.
Tentative Name: Father Death
Description: Appears as a hooded man in robes of either black or stark white (depending on the culture you hail from), draped in the broken chains of mortality. In one hand he holds a golden hourglass, and in the other he grips a scythe. He is married to The Lady of Light, and sits by her side upon the twin thrones of existence. His demeanor is somber, and those in his presence feel a sense of finality and acceptance.
Alignment: True Neutral
Domains: Death, Darkness, Destruction, Water
Symbol: A raven perched atop a golden hourglass that has run out.
Deity of Nature
Ah, nature. Things in bloom, cute cuddly creatures, and green, verdant pastures. Then of course you have the tornadoes, volcanoes, thunderstorms and earthquakes. There is a duality to be observed in nature, the peaceful and pristine, as well as the the fury and awesome power behind it. Nature is equal parts creation and destruction, meeting in a perfect harmony. A balance. I feel that this deity should represent both aspects, and therefore both genders. While we have The Lady of Life and Father Death representing creation and destruction, I think it would be fun to switch it up, making the male side of this God the peaceful, calm one, and his female half the furious and destructive side, like a living ying-yang
Tentative Name: Lord Green and Lady Tempest
Description: Appears as a person divided. The right half is female, with dark hair that flows like a thunderhead. Her face is twisted in rage, her eye glows with flickering electricity and her ashen skin is crisscrossed with cracks that glow as if magma flowed through her veins. The left side appears to be male, with hair like long, waving grass in a summer's breeze and a mossy beard. His skin is bronzed from the sun and he has a look of serenity upon his face. Lord Green and Lady Tempest sit to the left of The Lady of Light.
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Domains: Nature, Storms, Chaos, All Elements
Symbol: A green field with a single tree at the center which is being struck from a lightning bolt from a blackened sky.
Deity of Knowledge
Knowledge is power, those with it can do anything, which is why so many quest for it, especially wizards. The God of knowledge should be a wildly mysterious being, with little known about them. This lends a bit of irony to the position, as the being that represents all knowledge is the being few know much about. Knowledge can also come with a price, especially when it comes to things that are never meant to be known. Forbidden things. While this God may represent the pursuit of knowledge, I don't see them pitying those who delve to deep and learn too much. He holds the secrets of the universe, and wants those secrets to be found, but wants those seeking such knowledge to work for it.
Tentative Name: The Keeper of Records
Description: Appears as a tall man draped in dark blue robes, his face hidden behind a featureless mask and a cowl. A book with a heavy lock is chained to his side, which holds the collected knowledge of the universe. His demeanor is reserved and stoic. Those in his presence feel inquisitive, and find themselves asking many questions. He sits to the right of Father Death.
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Domains: Knowledge, Magic, Secrets, Air
Symbol: A tome with a candle burning behind it.
Deity of Trickery
Deception and trickery are tools that, while not inherently evil, are also not too terribly good. The deity of trickery should posses charisma, guile, and the uncanny ability to weave lies without effort. They should speak in half-truths and purposefully misleading statements. They hold no allegiance to anyone but their self.
Tentative Name: Lady Chicane
Description: Appears as a lithe young woman with black hair and bright eyes. She is wrapped in a cloak made of living shadows and armor that seems to blend into her surroundings. Those in her presence feel at ease, and completely unaware. She sits to the left of Lord Green and Lady Tempest
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Domains: Trickery, Chaos, Darkness, Light, Air
Symbol: A dagger crossing a crescent moon.
Deity of Valor
Description: Appears as a fiery haired woman, clad in plate armor with a crown-like helm. Her eyes are steely blue and seem to pierce one's soul when she gazes upon them. She wields a mighty shield and a flaming longsword, and is held aloft by four wings seemingly made of golden blades. Those in her presence feel a swelling of courage. She sits to the right of The Keeper of Records.
Alignment: Lawful Good
Domains: Valor, Light, Good, Law, Fire
Symbol: A sword standing in front of a shield
Weapons: Longsword and Shield
Deity of Freedom
This is the embodiment of a free spirit, unable to be bound. They roam where the wind takes them. They follow their passions, and are prone to flights of fancy. This being cannot abide or allow others to be stripped of their freedom, and openly opposes slavery in all of its forms.
Tentative Name: Mance Chainbreaker
Description: Appears as a human with three days of stubble clinging to his face. His hair is long and wild, blowing in the wind. His attire is a simple shirt and breeches, with leather boots. Strapped to his hips are a pair of warhammers. Those in his presence feel an insatiable wanderlust. He sits to the left of Lady Midnight.
Alignment: Chaotic Good
Domains: Travel, Chaos, Good, Valor, Air
Symbol: An open road with a sun setting on the horizon
Deity of War
War! Huh! Good God y'all! What is it good for? F-ing up everyone's day, that's what. The God of War is the embodiment of battle. He presides over new advancements in waging conflict, and inspires armies to fight with everything they have. He is a survivor, and refuses to surrender. Not because he is proud or stubborn, but because it has never come up.
Tentative Name: Lord of the Fray
Description: Appears as a massive hulk of a man, with a smoldering beard and a mane like a cloud of smoke. He wears a cold, iron eye patch that looks to be bolted into his skull. His remaining eye burns with firelight. He is adorned in partial plate armor that is as scared and pitted as his own flesh. He wears these like badges, the undeniable proof that many have tried to slay the God of War and all have failed. Despite his rough appearance, he is a master tactician. In his hands he holds a massive notched greatsword that glows as if it had just been pulled from a fire. Those in his presence feel a rush of adrenaline, screaming for them to do battle. He sits to the right of The Shield Maiden
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Domains: War, Law, Creation, Destruction, Death, Fire
Symbol: Two swords crossed over a roaring fire
Deity of Strength
Strength is more than just prowess in battle. It is the measure of one's body, and the limits it can reach and shatter. The Goddess of Strength stands tall and resolute, as unbreakable as a mountain, as powerful as a landslide.
Tentative Name: Lady Stonefist
Description: Appears as an athletic-looking young woman with shoulder length dark hair. She wears a simple tunic with bracers. While she does not look like much, she was able to defeat The Lord of the Fray in a test of strength. She wields no weapon, as her body is tuned to perfection, and deadly as any blade. Those in her presence feel an increase in physical prowess. She sits to the left of Mance Chainebreaker
Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Domains: Strength, Chaos, Earth
Symbol: A granite fist
During the final battle between good and evil, two Gods turned on their kin in favor of The Final Sovereign. They helped to turn the tide, and for their betrayal they were made saints in the new pantheon of the Empire.
Deity of Tyranny
Domination. Control. Power. These are the three all encompassing drive behind the God of Tyranny. He is cunning, deceptive, and prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve and maintain dominance over others.
Tentative Name: The Lord of Pain
Description: Appears as a tall, bald man with eyes like smouldering coals and pale skin. He is adorned in finely crafted plate armor as black as midnight. At his side is a wicked-looking mace covered in dried blood. Those in his presence of this frightening being find themselves terrified and submissive. The Lord of Pain, along with the Lord of Decay, betrayed the Court of Creation during the final battle.
Alignment: Lawful Evil
Domains: Tyranny, Evil, Law, Fire
Symbol: A mace over a broken shield
Deity of Undeath
Necromancy is a forbidden and dangerous form of magic. The ability to imbue life into another creature is the closest thing to being a God, but The Lord of Decay has turned what would be a blessing into a twisted mockery of life. Animation, but no soul. It is the ultimate perversion of life, and so the God himself should embody that.
Tentative Name: The Lord of Decay
Description: Appears as a gaunt, emaciated figure with pale, sunken eyes and a chilling rictus grin. His body is covered with open, oozing sores, and the stench of rot clings to him. Tattered robes hang loosely from his near-skeletal frame. Those in his presence feel ill and uneasy. The Lord of Decay, along with The Lord of Pain, betrayed the Court of Creation during the final battle.
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Domains: Death, Destruction, Knowledge, Evil, Chaos, Water
Symbol: A maggot in the palm of a skeletal hand.
And now the big one...
The Final Sovereign
The "New" God is shrouded in mystery. It is unknown where it came from, or how it amassed so much power so quickly. What is known is that this God became revered in the new Empire, and was vital in their forces dominating the land. It is said that this God resides on the material plane, within the capital of the Empire.
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Symbol: An eclipsed moon
Now we have us some Gods, both legal and illegal. Each with their own quirks, flavor, ambitions, and domains. From here we can move on to the real meat of our campaign setting. Next time, we will discus this history of the world, and the events that shaped it to the dark place it is today.
Just to recap, so far we have:
- A world where the bad guys rule in a lawful, militarized government that reduces the personal freedoms of its citizens in exchange for protection from crime and foreign invaders.
- The Empire has outlawed the worship of The Court of Creation. People still worship the Old Gods, but do so in secret, or risk execution.
- Technology sits around the 1700's, with guns a rare, but available commodity, likely in the hands of the evil empire.
- Magic and science are one in the same.
- There are corners of the world still left unexplored.
+Ed The Bard
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