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. I agree about the Finnish gods. They are more like the Dark Age versions of many Norse gods, so they are a little less refined. I have a small pantheon of gods that I am using with my Swords & Wizardry setting that are developed right from them. I even gave each of them very Finnish names.

  5. Rob, I just skimmed through your write up on the Greyhawk gods - it's fantastic!


  6. I haven't worked on these in a year or so, but they are on my to-do-list:

    The Blessed Family Pantheon
    This tiny pantheon of gods came to the Old Isle when a small group of a few hundred humans, facing near extinction from some unspoken evil, were transported to the old isle by divine magic over a century ago. A very rustic people, these humans set out settling along the coasts of the western side of the Old Isle. Since they did not encroach into the depths of the forests, the Eloran elves paid little attention to them. These humans seek the joys of a simple life lived off of the bounty of the land and sea. The gods they revere are found in a small pantheon they refer to as the “Blessed Family.” At the head of the group is Voluska, “Father Sky.” Also included are Ineda, “Wise Mother,” Olmina, “Sister Sea” and Oska, “Brother Harvest.” Not concerned with the grandeur and opulence of other deities, these pastoral gods see their role as nurturing and guiding humans in their daily life. As such, their clergy are always active members of every local village and thorp and are directly involved in all the major events and issues of the daily life of the people. Two other gods not directly worshipped by the majority of these humans are Ladenka, the “Witherd Old Witch,” and her son, Miven, “The Shameful.”

    Voluska, “Father Sky”
    Alignment: Neutral Good
    Portfolio: Sky, weather, and strength
    Symbol: A cross from an upturned sword with three small circles on the end of the hilt and guards and all encircled in a band that is slightly smaller than the guard.
    Favored Weapon: Bastard Sword
    Typical Worshipers: Barbarians, fighters and farmers (who pay him homage for bringing seasonal weather to their crops).
    Description: Voluska appears as large, powerful fighting man with white hair and a full beard. He wears a metal breastplate, carries a round wooden shield with a metal edge and flaming bastard sword. Voluska is a god who enjoys the good things in life like hard work, a good meal and friends. It is only when the threat of evil emerges that he aggressively attacks, preferring marital combat to magic. Voluska‘s clerics share his love for life and his hatred for evil. They are often found in small villages sharing in the most difficult work as well as every local celebration. Voluska’s churches tend to be small, rustic wooden chapels that appear to have fallen into disrepair. Priests of Voluska are often among the best fighters and part of the militia. Even though his clerics fight as fiercely with a shield and sword as any fighter, they are not nearly as accomplished with rituals or divine magic. Voluska is often portrayed as the husband of Ineda in the pantheon of the Old Isle.

    Ineda, “the Wise Mother”
    Alignment: Neutral Good
    Portfolio: Hearth, Home, Family & Healing
    Symbol: Steaming pot hanging over hearth
    Favored Weapon: Wooden Staff (Some say - Ladle)
    Typical Worshipers: Commoners, midwives, mothers and healers.
    Description: Ineda appears as a happy rotund matronly woman who is usually caring for some simmering pot while kindly offering her wisdom. She promotes the benefits of a happy home and the joys of children. Indeed, large families are often thought to be a sign of her favor. Priestesses of Ineda spend their time nurturing the homes and families of the local village as well as helping bring their newest members into the world. A number of her clergy specialize in healing skills, medicines, potions and remedies. A very popular non-combative god, Ineda’s faithful often find a sure defense from sword arm of followers and clergy of her husband, Voluska. There is great hostility between Ineda and Ladenka who are thought to be sisters.

    Oska, “Brother Harvest”
    Alignment: Neutral Good
    Portfolio: Crops, livestock, and wealth from farming
    Symbol: Overflowing basket of produce, goat or ox
    Favored Weapon: Club or shepherds crook
    Typical Worshipers: Farmers, shepherds and some merchants
    Description: Oska appears as middle-aged, goat-horned human male with dark hair and a full beard. His main concern is blessing the annual planting and harvesting of crops as well as the care of village’s cattle. Oska also teaches the skills of storing and preserving foods for the long winter. Lastly, he extols the wisdom of fair bartering practices in the marketplace. Clerics of Oska are usually found working in the fields during the Spring planting and during the Fall harvest. They also bless the local village market and oversee the construction of grain bins and smoke houses. All rituals and celebrations of Oska take place in the fields and around family and community feasts. For this reason, he has no formal temples, but small shrines can be found in nearly every farmhouse and storage bin.

    Olmina, “Sister Sea”
    Alignment: Neutral Good
    Portfolio: Sea, sailing and wealth from the sea
    Symbol: Cresting wave or sea serpent
    Favored Weapon: Spear or net
    Typical Worshipers: Sailors, fishermen and those who make a living from the sea
    Description: Olmina often manifests as an aged mermaid or as a huge sea serpent when into anger. He dogma affirms the sea as a dangerous place with tremendous treasures and beauty. Folk who travel the sea or draw a living from it offer frequent prayers to her as well as small valuables that are sacrificed to her by being thrown into the sea. Oslmina has a few chapels and clergy in coastal towns where the sea plays and important part of the community’s life. A distant deity, she is nonetheless known to save the hardiest of sailors from the worst situations the sea can offer. Some traditions state that Olmina is the daughter of Voluska and Ineda and that Oska is her younger brother.

    Miven (miv’ en), “The Shameful”
    Minor Deity
    Alignment: Neutral
    Portfolio: Stealing, Deception & Wealth (from dishonest means)
    Symbol: A black hand
    Favored Weapon: Dagger
    Typical Worshipers: Thieves and anyone attempting to get ahead through dishonestly  
    Description: Miven is widely thought to be the son of Rhuynda by an ancient, deceptive interlude with Valtor.  In any case, Miven is most certainly a minor deity that thinks a great deal of himself.  He is constantly looking for underhanded schemes to steal power and glory from other gods.  His followers typically join him in dishonest enterprises.  Many thieves guilds have shrines to Miven, but they are always hidden away behind closed doors.  Offerings are given to Miven for blessings upon their plans. Sacrifices of a portion of the successful bounty are likewise supposed to be given to the god.   Miven appears as a handsome, brown-haired rouge.

    Grimic, “The Slaughterer”
    Alignment: Chaotic Evil
    Portfolio: Giants, Conquest and Pillage
    Symbol: A grinning skull with Viking horned helm
    Favored Weapon: Two-handed sword
    Typical Worshipers: Giants of the Old Isle

    Description: Grimic appears as giant skeletal warrior adorned in red chain mail and a horned helm. His constant companion is his giant, blood-stained two-handed sword. Grimic enjoys battle for its own sake and the accompanying plunder of his victims. He proclaims that the true test of a creature is in its ability to kill in the arena of combat. Grimic’s decrees state that the strongest and cruelest deserve the service of all inferior creatures - thus, gianst should rule. Not a god of strategy or tactics, Grimic thinks all one needs is sheer strength, will and rage. Prayers and sacrifices to Grimic take place just prior to battle and always involve the shedding of blood. With only a handful of proper temples and priests, he is nonetheless called upon by the giants on the Old Isle. Thus, small shrines to Grimic can be found nearly anywhere. His clerics dress similar to their god and seek to spread the glory of battle and the pleasure of plundering.

    Ladenka, the Withered Old Witch
    Alignment: Neutral Evil
    Portfolio: Evil Magic, Death, Disease and Deception
    Symbol: Skeletal hand holding a gnarled old crook
    Favored Weapon: Dagger
    Typical Worshipers: While Ladenka is the patron of witches, she is also worshipped by wizards, evil fighters, rogues, and assassins.

    Description: Ladenka appears as rotten, dried-out corpse dressed in ragged and torn clothes and covered by a tattered, black cloak with a hood. She delights in bestowing misery, disease and death through magic and trickery. Her clerics (witches) typically carry out their vile deeds alone and in secret, only gathering into small covens seasonally to perform specific rituals as a group. Many of them possess an old crook and often wear black cloaks when in the service of their goddess. Holy places to Ladenka include dark caves, old mausoleums and hidden shrines. The season between harvest and winter is sacred to her. Some sages have speculated that during this time, Ladenka‘s clerics are the most active and their spells seem to be more potent. She often directs her faithful to hostility and violence against the followers of Ineda, her divine sibling.

  7. 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


  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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.