Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pantheon, Part I

So, I began my researches into creating my own pantheon by cracking out my copy of Supplement IV to OD&D: Gods, Demigods & Heroes. It's the precursor to Deities & Demigods (Legends & Lore to you whippersnappers) and it benefits from being quite a bit more idiosyncratic than its AD&D counterpart. Tim Kask, in his foreword, notes that the authors -- Rob Kuntz and James Ward -- had undertaken "months of painstaking, arduous research" before writing supplement. I don't doubt that's true, but I am curious about what sources they used, because the interpretations of many mythological figures just seem ... odd compared to the way they're usually described. For example, the Egyptian deity Ptah, who's traditionally associated with the creation of the world and thus with craftsmen, is called, in Supplement IV the "god of outer space." Now, I happen to think that's really cool and I'll likely grab Ptah and use him as a god of travelers -- including space travelers -- but you have to admit that's a somewhat peculiar interpretation of the deity.

Anyway, one of my cardinal principles in my mix and match pantheon is that I won't use major deities from any pantheon without good reason. Instead, I want to stick to also-ran gods, for the simple reason that certain divine beings, like Zeus or Odin, carry with them so much baggage that reinterpreting them for a fantasy setting is harder. It's not impossible, of course, and I'm not unilaterally opposed to accepting them if I have a good idea of how to use them. Still, my intention here is to go with deities that have some resonance without having such strong connotations that they might inadvertently wrench players out of the fantasy world and into the real one.

Egyptian Gods
I have a lot of fondness for the Egyptian gods and they certainly work well in a sword-and-sorcery setting. I've already mention Ptah as a possible god of travelers. Set, of course, is very tempting and might well nab him in some form as one of my big evil gods. Thoth is another deity that tempts me.

Greek Gods
The Greek gods are, of course, classics (no pun intended), but they're also very well known and it's hard to use them straight without generating the wrong vibe. I think Athena is very nifty, but I'd probably call her Asana or Cydonia if I decided to use her. Hephaestus is also cool.

Indian Gods
In general, I think the Indian mythos has the wrong feel for what I'm doing, so I wasn't keen to use any of them. However, I rather like the idea of Visvakarman, who's described in Supplement IV as the "demigod of weapons and science." The possibilities there are simply too good to pass up.

Celtic Gods
I have a fondness for Donn, Oghma, and Dian Cecht, but I'm wary of using the Celtic gods, given how easy it would then be to make the druids serve them. In my vision of things, the druids are the only Neutral "clerics" and they serve impersonal Nature, not any deities.

Norse Gods
Like the Greek gods, they're very well known, so that limits the possibilities. Still, their names have the right feel to them and some of the minor figures, like Uller, could be repurposed for my setting. I think the sea goddess Rán is rather intriguing, especially if I go with the notion that she's malicious and must be propitiated before any maritime journey.

Finnish Gods
The deities of the ancient Finns are pure gold. Not only do they possess lovely, evocative names with the right feel, but they're largely unknown to gamers nowadays. That makes them ideal for swiping. I like, for example, Melatar, goddess of the rudder -- the very idea gives me great ideas. I see her as being perhaps the rebellious daughter of Rán the sea goddess, who taught Men to withstand her mother's terrible fury.

Other Sources
I fully intend to swipe some names and ideas from non-mythological sources, such as pulp fantasies. For example, Tsathoggua and Mordiggian will have a place in my setting, perhaps as demons, if not outright gods.

More thoughts in a future post.


  1. Don't forget the wonderful monsters from the various mythologies, in addition to the gods, godlets, and such: the Greek gigantes and monstrous titans, for example, along with other beasties (Dragon 58 has a great article on some, "Blood of Medusa"), for example.


  2. This is a good subject for a blog entry I might write sometime in the future. What you wrote about creating a pantheon from out of existing pantheons is true. It's much easier for players (especially westerners) to relate to the gods that they have already known for years. I've always found it difficult to relate to invented gods that appear in various campaign source books (such as Forgotten Realms).

    I'll go into more depth of how I constructed my pantheon some other time. But basically I created a blank chart with 3.5e cleric domains along the vertical axis and the nine alignments along the horizontal axis. I went through the 3e Deities & Demigods and picked out my favorite gods. There were some gaps and I filled them in with familiar Greyhawk gods.

    It's worth noting that the Greyhawk gods that were developed in the late '70s and '80s have a very comfortable place in any D&D campaign. Boccob and his buddy Zagyg have a place in my pantheon, for example. Vecna is always a good mainstay, too.

    Then there is the issue of non-human pantheons. The heavens could get crowded if you don't watch out!

  3. One point on making up a pantheon is that you should focus on making up the RELIGION not the DIETY. For 90% of their adventuring career the party is going to be dealing with their clerics, theology (think motivation), temples, rites, etc of a deity not the deity itself.

    So the fact that Mumbar the Magnificent wears a purple shirt, yellow pants, has the Magnificent Staff of Shining, and messed around the Sky Father wife is all very interesting but not really relevant to the players as the religion itself.

    For example look at how I wrote up the Greyhawk Gods here


    as opposed to their descriptions in the folio. Which is more useful to a DM trying to run a party of 6th level characters?

    Note that this is an very early piece of writing circa 1980's so it is a bit rough.

  4. rob conley wrote: For example look at how I wrote up the Greyhawk Gods here


    as opposed to their descriptions in the folio. Which is more useful to a DM trying to run a party of 6th level characters?

    Nice stuff, Rob! I've bookmarked, and will add it to my GH links. Do you have other GH stuff that you haven't been sharing? :D


  5. Nice stuff, Rob! I've bookmarked, and will add it to my GH links. Do you have other GH stuff that you haven't been sharing? :D

    A rewrite of Hommlett into GURPS. It included some changes to the village to add more plot. The most notable was a riot of the castle workers over their treatment by the villagers.

    I don't need to say who was behind making the that situation worse than it needed to be. ;-)

    I will see if I can rewrite it to avoid copying any of the original material.

    I have a Harn style map of Central Flanass somewhere in my RPG storage in my Garage. It about 24" by 36" inches. I will see about scanning it in. It is hand drawn in the late 80's.

    I am afraid that all I have as my Greyhawk period was very brief before making the Wilderlands my permanent fantasy campaign.

    As much as I love the politics, and cultures the howling emptiness of the 30 mile hex made the Wilderlands much more appealing to me.

    Then I expanded the hexes from 5 miles to 12.5 miles go figure.

  6. Its interesting that I am not the only one to mix and match gods for my pantheon. I did it for my Mystara campaign since I am not fond of the Immortals thing.

    My gods?


    Yog Sothoth (God of Violation and Things That Should Not Be.)

    Loviatar (Goddess of Pain and Torture.)

    Asmodeus (God of Evil, Master of Devils.)

    Kali (Goddess of Destruction.)


    Thoth (God of Knowledge.)

    Indra (God of the Atmosphere, Storms, and Rain.)

    Yama (God of Death.)

    Ki (Goddess of Nature.)


    Ushas (Goddess of the Sun.)

    Athena (Goddess of Wisdom and Combat.)

    Meilikki (Goddess of Nature.)

    Isis (Goddess of Magic and Fertility.)

    Its been well over a year since I selected my pantheon, 4 good, 4 evil, 4 neutral, so I am not quite sure why I picked the ones I did. I vaguely remember not worrying too much about gender though, which is probably why the good pantheon is all female. That or I just liked those goddesses more.

    Who knows?

  7. Ahh what old school memories this brings up. summer of 1981 my friends and I decided to have a Battle Royal to decide the pantheon for our homebrew campaign world. each guy took a pantheon and then we slugged it out. all the gods of war fought each other. all the gods of love same thing. the winner of each bout got to be the god of that sphere on our world. good fun. And no, none of us had girlfriends at the time. That would have just ruined everything.