View Full Version : Building Pantheons for Fun and Profit

2007-01-05, 12:05 AM
When you guys go about making your own pantheons, what process do you use? Personally I don't like the PHB dieties much though I can't put my finger on why.

You can follow me through a pantheon creating process much like Rich's world building process save I lack the prestige he does so much fewer people will read this or care.

I recently made one for a game I'm running and I realized there is a lot of ways to go about it. I created these criteria. Obviously you can't always satisfy them all and have to pick and choose.

1) The dieties are based on something that the players are familar with and can understand.

2) All important aspects of life have a god associated with them. If something isn't included, there should be a good reason for it.

3) It needs to fit in and around the planar cosmology that D&D possesses, since very few DMs would want to homebrew something that complex.

4) The alignments need to be in balance with each other. Either through number of dieties or power of dieties. If there is an imbalance between the alignments, it should be reflected on the world.

5) The creation of your gaming world should be addressed and tie in with your setting.

6) The various gods should tie in with each other.

7) The domains should be more or less equally distributed, or if not equally distributed, two gods should avoid having identical domains associated with them.

So I looked at these criteria. I wanted each of the nine alignments to have two dieties. I debated with giving each alignment a male and female diety but changed my mind on that one. I kind of liked how OoS had one world with Greek, Norse, and Chinese gods so I thought I'd borrow from other religions. This created a hodge podge so I basically put criteria 6 away.

First I made a list of all the dieties I was fairly familar with from all the mythologies I'm fairly familar with. I'm a high school graduate so Greek went to the fore followed by Norse with Egyptian trailing behind. I quickly realized that few pantheons in the real world have a lot of evil dieties so I had to dig more obscure stuff for that. I made a nice list but I had too many LG dieties. I couldn't for the life of me cut this list down to two.

Pallas Athena, Vesta, and Thor (I know Thor isn't really Lawful in Norse Mythology but he is in OoS) so I decided to have seven Good Dieties. I had similar problems trimming down my Netural dieites so I decided to have seven of each it looked like this.

Pallas Athena LG
Vesta LG
Thor LG
Coyote NG
Lady of the Lake NG
Raven CG
______ CG

Anubis LN
Hephaestus LN
Gaia N
Hermes N
The Fates N
Artemis CN
Dionysus CN

Pretty Greaco-Roman huh? It's not my fault they have the most fleshed out neutral dieties I am aware of. I didn't fill CG because most pantheons evolved to support the status quo of the ruling caste and the status quo is Lawful and they want to protray it as good, therefore Western and Eastern culture is very pro Lawful. Notice my first CG diety is Native American. Speaking of which, Coyote is pretty Chaotic with how he is traditionally protrayed. That is true but I wanted a Neutral Good God to be the patron of the Gnomes who gravitate towards Neutral Good and Gnomes like pranks and teaching people so Coyote fit very well.

So far I see Good is leaning towards Law on Neutral is leaning towards Neutral on the Law and Chaos aspect (how appropriate!). To balance it out I'd make Evil go towards Chaos. That's how a lot of people view D&D anyway, that CE is more evil somehow than LE and LG is the most goody goody of all the Good alignments. Here's what I had.

_______ LE
Set LE
Aries NE
_______ NE
_______ CE
Kali CE
_____ CE

Woe is me! I am having trouble with evil on all levels and CE especially. I knew that I'd have Set be the state religion of a powerful LE nation that I wanted to be involved with ancient lore. Perfect, my players are familar with Vampire: the Masquerade and the Setites are all about lore. Also we are Conan the Barbarian fans and Set is all about conquest there. Kali is good as my first (and probably only Eastern diety). I wanted Aries to be a hidden power offering aid to the underdog in any conflict in order to increase the number and length of wars, hence the neutral evil so he'd work with anyone as long as the end result is destruction.

I got to fill in the blanks. Since I was making Set a big player in my world, I opted to the empty CG slot to an Egyptian diety that opposed him. I chose Isis so there'd be more female dieties. I was struggling with whether or not to use Fyren. Fyren is a demon my friend and I created whole cloth for a World of Darkness game and he didn't really want me to use it. But it was so fleshed out and all my players understood it so I just had to use it. Fyren was almost the definition of NE. I made Fyren the main opponent to the good and neutral gods and the one who created most non-humanoid monsters in order to drive the other gods creations from the world. But what about the monstrous humanoids. I didn't want them each to have their own diety. I thought that was cumbersome, so Fyren had a child who became the mother and patron of all monstrous humanoids. Her mantra is very simple, the last race standing inherents the Earth. Close enough to CE because it glorifies extermination. I named her Firbolga. I noticed that many of my good gods can tie into one of the four elements. Evil should too. Fyren ties to the Earth, Kali to fire. But evil lacks Air and Water. Could I lump them together? Air and Water, storms at sea! Storms at sea, shipwrecks. Shipwrecks, Sirens! I made a CE goddess named Siren who is the mother of most of the womanly monsters (medusae, hags, harpies, lesser Sirens). Since Siren lures men to their death with her seductive song, why don't I make her clerics kind of like that. They lure men (and women) into vice in order to corrupt and weaken them. Siren cults are very popular among young nobility who do it to revel in abusing their power and cheese off their parents. These Siren cults debaucheries destroy society within. That's how I justify the Chaotic Evil part. For the last LE slot, I chose Darkseid from DC comics. He is very evil and very lawful wanting dominion over everything. He's the youngest of the dieties having only recently (in the way dieties measure time) put his sights on the gaming world and he is trying to subvert power away from both the good gods and Fyren and Set.

Now domains, I thought it was unfair that some gods got three domains and others got four so I gave each one four.

Darkseid LE Law, Evil, Sun, Travel
Set LE Death, Evil, Knowledge, Magic
Aries NE Destruction, Luck, Strength, War
Fyren NE Earth, Evil, Protection, Trickery
Firbolga CE Chaos, Evil, Strength, War
Kali CE Death, Destruction, Fire, War
Siren CE Air, Water, Travel, Trickery

Anubis LN Death, Law, Knowledge, and Magic
Hephaestus LN Earth, Healing, Law, Knowledge
Gaia* N Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water
Hermes N Air, Luck, Travel, Trickery
The Fates N Knowledge, Luck, Magic, Travel
Artemis CN Animal, Chaos, Plant, Strength
Dionysus CN Chaos, Fire, Luck, Trickery

Pallas Athena LG Good, Law, Knowledge, War
Vesta LG Fire, Good, Healing, Protection
Thor LG Destruction, Law, Strength, War
Coyote NG Animal, Good, Luck, Trickery
Lady of the Lake NG Good, Magic, Protection, Water
Raven CG Air, Sun, Travel, Trickery
Isis CG Chaos, Good, Healing, Protection

Gaia is the exception, she gets six, but I added the stipulation that her clerics can't have opposed elements (Fire and Water is verboten for example)

Now for politics. There are no racial gods per se but most demihumans consider one god or goddess their patron since most gods had a hand in creating everything.

-Coyote gets Gnomes
-Thor gets Dwarves (there is a secret group of dwarf barbarians in the frontier who worship a Chaotic Good Thor who they claim is the true Thor)
-Pallas Athena is the patron of Grey Elves
-Artemis is the patron of Wood Elves (there are no High Elves in this world in order to heighten the differences between these two groups)
-Vesta is the patron of halflings and generally the most popular diety among humans though Vesta has few adventuring clerics, Most good aligned human nations have another good god as a patron and Vesta in a supporting role (would you expect less from the goddess of the hearth?)
-Gaia is the patron of most druids (if they choose a god at all), though many good druids worship Coyote and many evil ones worship Fyren
-The Fates are the patrons of sorcerers because they shape the weird destinies of these marked individuals
-Hermes is the patron of travelers. His clerics are commonly used as messengers because most warring factions know better than to mess with them.
-Set is worshipped by Lawful Evil people in power (unless they have to pretend to be good or neutral). Darkseid is worshipped by would be usurpers.
-Siren gets people who just revel in decadence
-Fyren is the patron of most noncivilized monsters, and any evil races with a tie to the Earth like Kobolds, vampires, and Underdark creatures.
-Firbolga is the patron of most other monstrous humanoids. If the goblins and orcs are cooperating, Firbolga's clerics are probably involved. "Kill the humans and then we'll fight each other"
-Aries followers either revel in conflict if they lean towards Chaotic, or try to play kingmaker with evil powers if they lean toward Lawful. All that's important to Aries is that the encourage strife.
-Kali is favored by bandits and evil barbarians. Kali tends to have few followers because their unsubtle ways (like lighting everything on fire) makes them easy for Lawful and/or Good adventurers to find them.
-The Lady of the Lake is popular with paladins and good aligned wizards
-Dionysus has few followers but most pay him heed on days of revelry, even the stuck up Grey Elves give him one day a year.
-Isis is the patron of just rebellion
-Raven is popular in small frontier areas as the god of self reliance. Being CG means his priesthood can't sponsor many clerics but a disportionate number of them go adventuring as Raven favors traveling a lot and is associated with the Sun (which is the bane of many undead). Many adventurers who became adventurers because of righteous anger follow Raven.
-Anubis and Hephaestus make sure kingdoms are run smoothly and many good and evil lands have them as administrators. Anubis' clerics focus on funeral rites and take care of burying anyone who cannot afford a funeral. They also make sure the dead stay dead and make sure that undead don't get out of control and that ressurections aren't used too often. Hephaestus makes sure the wheels of progress keep moving smoothly.

2007-01-05, 12:30 AM
I like the idea, overall, although I'm not sure about how Lawful Thor is. Do Clerics have to be the same alignment as their god in OOTs? Because maybe he's CG and Durkon is LG... but either way.

For Evil I submit two Norse gods: Loki and Surtur. Loki is portrayed as kind of Evil in OOTs, although I disagree with this. I would make him Chaotic Neutral and remove one of the Greco-Roman gods (which, NB, is how I spell it) for more diversity.

Surtur, I don't know much about, whether he's Chaotic, Neutral or Lawful.

2007-01-05, 07:04 AM
The Celtic Deity Epona might be able to replace Isis, and swap Animal for Chaos with Coyote. Perhaps switch alignments as well.

2007-01-05, 10:20 AM
Right now I am in the process of homebrewing a pantheon and these are the ideas I have. It's still a rather rough sketch of the world's religion.

- I want to make all gods true neutral. Remove the alignment requirement for clerics (btw. I'm gonna nerf clerics in my campaign anyway, so please don't start about balance issues).

- No gods based on races

- The gods are have no influence on the outer planes. They are native to the Deific plane, a plane which is coŽxistant with the material plane (just like the Ethereal plane)

- There are different sub-pantheons in the world, which are tied to geographical regions.

- Gods can be influences through sacrifices or prayers, but are not omnipotent.

I am not looking for a discussion about whether this system is good or not. I just wanted to give you an idea about the countless possibilities for religion.

edit: I realise that is not really a pantheon, but more of a whole religion system. The pantheon that I'm going to design for the region where the PC's start in, will be based on the ancient greek pantheon.

2007-01-05, 11:45 PM
what you seem to have is a system of gods that are more or less deist. From my limited understanding of that term. A deist is one who believes that God (or some other divine being) created the universe and then left it to it's own devices. I can see how it work for an RPG setting since it makes the actions of mere mortals more important. It would especially be a good idea for a low magic setting.

2007-01-06, 04:39 PM
Oof. Any number of ways to approach this one, all depending on just how influential you want your gods to be, where they came from and how real they are. Let's see what we can come up with.

Divine Intervention
Just how active are the gods? Do they intervene on a daily basis or are they almost never seen? Do they act by proxies and if so by divine or mortal ones?

Methods Of Intervention
Direct Intervention, Personal: The gods conduct minor miracles by themselves, occasionally appearing in person.
Indirect Intervention, Personal: The gods conduct minor miracles but wherever possible use natural force to disguise their invervention.
Direct Intervention, Proxy: The gods do not conduct minor miracles personally but instead send divine emissaries to do their work, meeting with mortal worshippers to oversee their faiths.
Indirect Intervention, Proxy: The gods do not conduct minor miracles personally, instead contacting their mortal priests and possibly imbuing them with power, providing them with knowledge and techniques or simply pointing them in the right direction.

Reasons for the methods of intervention may vary depending on a number of factors.
Distance: If the deity controls a number of worlds, the worlds closer to her home plane will probably get more attention purely because she can pay more attention to them. It is easier to send proxies out to govern distant realms, or else to leave mortal worshippers to their own devices. Alternately, the deity may not be able to directly extend her power to distant realms and so is forced to work by proxy out of necessity.
Belief: The deity may choose not to intervene through direct means because the uncertainty of provenance (who just caused that miracle) may result in greater faith than knowing the source of the intervention. For deities who are belief-dependent, this may mean greater strength for them. Belief-independent deities may still garner benefits because uncertainty disguises the limits of their abilities and faith may prompt their worshippers to do greater or riskier deeds than they might otherwise.
Power: The deity may not have sufficient power to intervene directly, by reason of distance or personal limitations. If the deity is belief-dependent, they may not have sufficient numbers of local or overall worshippers to manifest direct interventions on a regular basis.
Free Will: Quite simply, some deities take the viewpoint that direct intervention robs their worshippers of the power to determine their own fate, or that free will allows for greater belief than direct obedience. They may choose to make indirect interventions, no interventions at all, or only intervene at the behest of their mortal followers (usually if they can prove their worthiness and faith by means of material or spirital sacrifice).

Occurence of Intervention
Regular, public: The gods often contact their mortal worshippers through visions or in person, possibly sending divine proxies in their place. Miracles are generally observed by large numbers of people and open in nature.
Regular, discreet: The gods may regularly contact their mortal priests through visions or divine appearance, possibly sending divine proxies in their place. Appearances are restricted to small numbers and may be easier to explain away.
Sporadic, public: Every so often, the gods execute a significant miracle that affects a number of people in some way. Most people may see one of these in their lifetime. The gods may send visions or proxies at roughly the same intervals.
Sporadic, discreet: Every so often, the gods provide individual visions or make appearances to small numbers of people, possibly providing minor miracles. Most people may hear of these in their lifetime and some may experience them.
Rare, public: Perhaps once every century, usually in times of crisis, a major miracle may occur or a new prophet may receive visions and power from their diety in order to lead their people. A proxy may be sent to lead the people or intervene in some way.
Rare, discreet: Perhaps once a century, usually in times of crisis, a prophet may be granted individual visions or a small group of people presented with information as to how to save the day. Due to the nature of these interventions they may well not even be believed due to the difficulty of backing them up with hard evidence.
None: The gods do not intervene, for whatever reason. They may have intervened in the past, but do so no longer, or they may have pointed their prophets in the right direction and let mortals sort it out for themselves.

Reasons for the regularity vary again, generally along the same lines as before.
Distance: Intervention may be limited by attention or ability.
Belief: Intervention may be limited for the benefits of faith.
Power: Intervention may be limited due to insufficient power.
Free Will: Intervention may be limited due to a need, desire or imperative to preserve free will.

Existence and Sources of Power
Do the gods exist independently, or are they manifestations of human belief? Are those manifestations imbued with supernatural powers, or do they only have the power they are attributed? Can they grant spells or perform miracles, or are their methods of intervention limited to the resources of their priesthood?

Independent Existence, Belief-Independent: The gods existed before anyone was around to believe in them. Their powers, if any, come from natural or divine pre-existing sources and are independent of their followers' faith in them.
Independent Existence, Belief-sourced: The gods came into existence as a result of belief. Their powers, if any, come from natural or divine pre-existing sources (or sources they have created by tapping into) and are independent of their followers' faith in them. They may continue existing regardless if belief is lacking.
Independent Existence, Belief-powered: The gods may have existed before people believed in them but had little or no power of their own. Their power results as a manifestation of the belief in them and they are effectively powerless (or unable to use those powers) without belief in them. If they were created from belief, they will continue to exist after people stop believing in them but be powerless.
Belief-dependent Existence, Independent power: The gods came into existence as a result of belief in them. If people cease to believe in them, they will fade from existence or die. Their powers, if any, come from natural or divine pre-existing sources (or sources they have created by tapping into) and are independent of their followers' faith in them.
Belief-dependent Existence, Belief-powered: The gods came into existence as a result of belief in them. If people cease to believe in them, they will fade from existence of die. Their powers are direct manifestations of the belief in them and their power waxes and wanes with the belief in them.

Deities may likely provide their priesthoods with power using any, all or none of these methods. Some priesthoods may have solely their mortal resources at their disposal, particularly in low-no intervention campaigns or campaigns where the deities do not exist or cannot be proved to exist.
Spell Granting: The divinity affords their clerics a certain number of divine spells per day, usually sourced either from whatever power the deity obtains their power from or from the belief the cleric inspires in the deity. The cleric can use these spells at his own discretion, causing minor miracles on a daily basis. These spells may be obvious or subtle to the point of being potentially explained away to natural events.
Requested Intervention: This is similar to the method of spell granting, although more direct. The cleric performs a special rite or ceremony to request a divine intervention and the deity or a proxy directly causes the miracle to happen if they are suitably pleased. This tends to be less 'automatic' than spell-granting.
Divine Augmentation: The deity somehow alters their priesthood or grants them special abilities beyond normal men, usually granting them power over or at least distinction amongst others.
Revelation: The priesthood is granted some sort of special knowledge either directly by the deity or from knowledge passed down in the priesthood from when the deity last contacted her mortal adherents. The knowledge may be how to obtain arcane or divine spells (presumably not from the deity herself or over which she has little control), may be of cosmic secrets or may simply be of advanced skills or techniques to give them an edge over or to parcel out to the faithful. Priesthoods without divine spells or augmentation or with a monopoly on their access make judicious use of revelation as a means of power.
Mortal Means: These powers are not usually provided directly by the deity as succour but are obtained by her priesthood over the years and more often than not form the bulk of their temporal power. Such powers include land, money, military assets, diplomatic links and command over the followers of the deity.

Organisation - Relations and Portfolios
Sources of portfolios of deific influence depend strongly on the nature of the setting and are generally divided into two camps. It may be assumed that if there is a pantheon rather than a singular God, all deities are transpotent and their actions may potentially be counteracted by opposite and equal deities.
Animistic: Deities with control over elemental forces - storms, the sun and moon, darkness, birth and death, the harvest, pestilence and so on. These deities tend to be favoured more by 'primitive' societies and those without scientific understandings or explanations of natural phenomena, as explanations of physical phenomena can (but do not necessarily) make it more difficult to believe in divine beings controlling them. Deities with these portfolios in more cultured socities tend to have them as sources of more humanistic aspects that are the focus of their belief, particularly deities who have developed into humanistic deities from animistic ones due to changes in society. Miracles performed by animistic deities or their priests are generally more dramatic (bringing a storm, causing the sun to rise or be blocked out).
Humanistic: Deities with control over social or civilised elements - fear, hate, love, war, trade, healing, midwifery, beauty, procreation, theft, entertainment and so on. These deities do exist in less advanced societies but may get a backward seat to the more potent animistic deities. As more knowledge is revealed to the populace belief in animistic deities may wane, paving the way for proliferation of humanistic deities or a shift in focus from the animistic to humanistic aspects of existing deities. Miracles performed by humanistic deities or their priests tend to be subtler (an easy birth, good fortune in love, a successful ship voyage).

Most campaigns will have deities with influence over both aspects, reserving the more dramatic animistic powers for higher level interventions with subtle day-to-day miracles available at lower levels.

Putting Together a Pantheon - The Divine Family
Or whom begat whom. Regardless of the nature of divinity, there is usually at least interpreted to be a pecking order between different deities, giving rise to allegiances and rivalries between gods. This can take any number of forms, a basic few of which will be covered here.
One Big Family - The gods are all the children of gods/giants/elemental forces who came before them but whom have retired, died or been removed due to judicious acts of patricide on the part of the present-day gods. Usually, most of the gods are subservient to one or more father gods (who are usually rivals) by virtue of being born from them. The exact relationship of whom begat whom is usually thematically related to associations between spheres of divine influence. The god of fire, for example, may have spawned the god of hate who in turn is the father of the god of war. In these circumstances the relationship between gods can be outright incestuous at times, often reflecting marriages and alliances between different churches.
The Council of Twelve - Twelve is an arbitrary number, but such pantheons consist of a number of active gods who may simply have always been or who were created by one or more now-inactive progenitor gods. All the gods are more or less equal in rank and oppose each other equally, maintaining a rough balance of polytheism. There are usually ancient ties preventing the gods from seeking to outright destroy one another and thus forcing them to work through mortal means.
Multiple Personality Divinity - All gods are actually aspects and personas of an overarching superdeity who apparently has some mental issues to work out. These 'gods' usually follow the same trends as for the Council of Twelve pantheon but carry the assumption that underlies most essentially monotheistic beliefs; that there is some overall plan on the part of the superdeity and that the individual gods can be considered tools used to accomplish it.
Hero Worship - The gods were mortal heroes who passed on and became minor gods, eventually fighting their way into the prime pantheon and stealing the centre stage. This is particularly well suited to the As Above, So Below model below.

Interplanar Relations - Do gods control mortals, or mortals control gods?
For religions where the god is belief based or belief-powered the question comes as to who is really dictating what happens? If the persona and power of a god is dictated by its followers, has it any power to affect them? Three models are outlined.

Orders from the Top: The persona and power of the god is not controlled by the belief of its followers, or at least not sufficiently controlled to prevent the god doing whatever it wants. The god can quite cheerfully destroy most of its own following in this manner if it so pleases without really suffering any change. This is more or less the default model for gods who will exist regardless of followers. In this model, the god's power is firmly in the hands of the god.
As Above, So Below: The basic persona and powers of the god may be defined broadly by belief, but individual decisions typically rest in its hands. Events in the divine realm echo down into the mortal world and significant changes in the mortal following make their presence known in the deity's kingdom. If the god of trade and the goddess of love get married in the divine realms, events in the mortal world move to reflect this as the two churches formalise a relationship of good nature and alliance between them, echoes of the events drifting into the mortal world as metaphors and stories of the two gods marrying. If the love goddess' church then backstabs the trade-based religion and takes control of its physical assets, in the divine realm the goddess is compelled to steal the trade god's magical scales, weakening him and gaining the power over trade for herself. In this sort of relationship, it is hard to say whether the chicken or the egg comes first.
People Power: The collective beliefs of the people define the god's power, persona and even activities completely. If enough people believe the god to have acted in a certain way, it happened. If the people believe their god would never strike them down, it won't. If the people believe strongly enough that their god intends to kill them, their religion probably won't last very long. This is more or less the default model for religions based on non-existent gods, or gods who are so inactive it makes no difference what the people think of them. In this model, the god's power is firmly in the hands of the people.

2007-01-06, 06:36 PM
If you're looking to fill more pantheon slots, I would suggest looking to the DragonLance campain setting. Their gods are some of my very favorites, especialy Chemosh, who makes a great public evil diety.

2007-01-07, 12:53 AM
Oh man, my life is devoted to Reorx. Well, my character's, anyway.

But I thought the point was to base it off gods in real mythology/religion.