Monday, November 23, 2020

Saints Alive

Without thinking, most of us assume that any given fantasy setting is going to be a polytheistic one, modeled after a crude understanding of the religions of the ancient world. Yet, perhaps the most famous of all literary fantasy settings, J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, is monotheistic, though not explicitly so, at least in The Lord of the Rings itself. Middle-earth is not unique in this regard, but it is unusual, particularly when compared to most fantasy RPG settings. I find that interesting, given early D&D's use of many Jewish and Christian concepts, at least some of which would filter into the wider world of roleplaying, due to D&D's preeminent position.  

Back when I was creating what would eventually become my Telluria setting, I toyed with the idea of making it explicitly monotheistic, but, in the end, went with "secret monotheism" instead. On this model, there are "gods" who are worshipped and around whom religions have grown up, but they are not truly divine. The only true Deity of the setting, know variously as Law, Father God, and the Great Maker, among many sobriquets, is no longer widely known in the main campaign area. Though I like this set-up and have used it to good effect, I find myself wishing I'd gone with my initial idea and dispensed with all the lesser, false gods, if for no other reason than it'd be different.

So, in working on Urheim, I'm playing with this idea a little more obviously. How – or if – this meshes with what I've done before is still an open question. For the moment, I'm developing Urheim as a kind of "parallel" universe in which many of the same elements exist as in the rest of Telluria but that there are also idiosyncrasies unique to it. If nothing else, this gives me a freer hand to create; I don't feel bound by anything I've come up with before and can pick and choose those elements I think fit the overall feel.

In keeping with this approach, I've been mentioning various saints in my Urheim posts, starting with St. Gaxyg the Gray. Being a fan of homages and anagrams, I decided that many, if not most, of the saints would be coded references to noteworthy individuals from the history of the hobby. Thus, Gaxyg the Gray is (obviously) an anagram of Gary Gygax. In a similarly obviously fashion, St. Evad filzArn refers to Dave Arneson. I've also mentioned St. Carmichael, which is a double reference, both to Mike Carr, player of the very first cleric in roleplaying, as well as to Dohram, Servant of Saint Carmichael, a pre-egenerated character from In Search of the Unknown (penned, not coincidentally, by Carr). There's also a mention of St. Richomer the Tailor, whose identity I leave to the astute to undertangle in the comments. (That's in addition to two others, I've not yet mentioned anywhere: St. Iacomus the Warden and St. Andreas the Taker of Fiends)

I've found this exercise of making (I hope) clever homages to the worthies of the gaming pantheon a lot of fun. I'd like to encourage others to take it up too, offering any idea they have in the comments. Should I like any of them enough to make use of them in Urheim, I'll gladly credit your creation and send you a copy of the 'zine or other publication where it appears. 


  1. This is how I fashion my homebrew world.... no gods, just saints. It's fun, because some saints get replaced by "newer" version of the same portfolio, so you are constantly finding info on old, forgotten saints. Also, I have plans to have a "breakaway" group of one saint and his 12 followers, who are pushing a monotheistic approach.... but is it for good, or for ill? ;)

  2. I've always liked the presence of saints in my RPG's pantheons. I'm a catholic and an historian, so I know a pletora of colorfull histories and practices that I like to put in my games.

    Nevertheless, the most prominent use of saints in my games are in Warhammer, but in D&D I use them as patrons of distintc clerical orders to make relevant to the players that the saints are there... and that they are watching them!

  3. You need some female saints:

    Saint Genevra of the Ink Well.

    Enelrad the Far Traveler.

    Sister Indyc, First Herald of Gaxyg.

    Mother Maigret, Dragonslayer

    1. No doubt! These are some excellent suggestions. I hope others will be similarly encouraged to come up with their own.

  4. I wish I could come up with something clever about James Ward (Gamma World is a favorite of mine).
    Hmmm. What about.. St. Iacobus of The Guard, Warden of the First Metamorphosis?
    The First Metamorphosis could be some kind of dogma or philososphic principke, maybe.

    1. St. Iacomus the Warden is my own attempt at honoring James Ward.

    2. Ah, sorry , somehow I had skipped it in my reading.

  5. Richomer the Tailor has me stumped, but is St. Andreas the Taker of Fiends Ken St. Andre? I can add a few:
    St. Erkbar of the Flowery Seat
    St. Timothy of the Barrel
    St. Decius the Cartographer
    St. Jeric of Semloh
    St. Elspeth Forthand

  6. How about St Kalofak the Encratite?

  7. I am pretty sure St. Richomer the Tailor refers to Richard Snider.

  8. St. Ernst the Younger
    St. Isele of the Burning Tresses
    St. Eidhi the Balancer
    St. Lucinda the Namer
    St. Lucion of Otis
    St. Xander of the Storms

  9. Inventing religions or pantheons for rpgs is always a bit of a diffifult thing. There are various issues to be resolved: Do the gods exist in the absolute sense? Are the inhabitants in the world aware of the gods' existence? o the gods (if they exist) manifest themselves directly in the world? Do the gods only exist as a personal choice by the believer (as in our current world)? What is the role of institutionalized religion? Is atheism or agnosticism tolerated in the world (probably only relevant if the gods are mere sociological constructs or only indirectly manifest themselves). Are there competing religions that deny each other gods? Etc.

    There is a tendency in fantasy worlds to accept the existance of gods in the absolute sense as a given, with even direct intervention - possibly going back to Greek myths and legends where this happens all the time. But if our own world would be a guide for creating fantasy world, religion and gods is not something that is universally accepted. It would be interesting to see that reflected in a fantasy world as well.

  10. Thanks for this helped unlock a puzzle that's long been troubling my tiny brain.