Clerics and Pantheons

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Xaossa

Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Xaossa » Fri Aug 14, 2015 3:33 pm

I'm playing around with making my own setting for a 5e, but instead of making up new gods for this setting and having to explain a lot of lore to new players, I kind of liked that the back of the PHB has the lists of these pantheons. The problem is that, I'd like a set of gods that are not tied to another, pre-existing RPG setting.

So, I decided to go with the handful of historical (Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Celtic) pantheons in the book, plus the Nonhuman deities. All 5 charts are within a page turn of each out!

The demihuman creators have their own backstory, but they have been used and reused so many times in many setting that they seem to have a fairly small "lore buy-in". Even to completely newbies, they mostly just need to understand that "Corelian is the Elf-god. Gruumsh is the Orc-god, etc." I actually have some lore ideas peculating about them, but I'll post them later in the post for the one person who cares.*

Those four Pantheons in the book actually seem to have more overlap then I thought, with a Helenistic-era setting (maybe) having them all. The problem is each pantheons creation myths and claims of importance. The Egyptian Pantheon seems to elevate the line of Pharaohs not only to divinity, but as playing a role in safeguarding the Sun as it travels through the underworld each night. Atum (who might be Ptah? I'm not sure) and Buri and Eoicha and GaiaXUranus (the literal Earth and Sky) are all attributed as Primodial ancestors of each Pantheon at the dawn of time. Which is a problem if the gods are at all present and active in your campaign.

(It only gets weirder when you try to add in all the different gods Re/Ra has been by melded with, including Zues to create Zues-Ammon, the ram-horned Father of Alexander The Great, who the Ptolemies encouraged worship of as the patron of their claim to rule Egypt as heirs to Alexander.)

Of course, I could handwave this problem by coming up with the idea that the gods worship Primodial forces (the Sun, the Night Sky, the Polar Frost, the Wind, the First Tree, etc.) and personify them into Ultra-Super-Mega-Divine Ancestors as claims to their right to be "rightful heirs" of the cosmos. I mean, that or keep the gods distant and unknowable.... But, I guess I'd like to hear some more brainstorming ideas.

So, I guess the whole point of this thread is to ask: Has anybody ever handled multiple pantheons like this before?

Or, forgetting about using pre-made gods altogether, how do you go about making your own pantheon when making a new setting? There are eight domains in 5e.



*-The logic is that the demihumans and their gods are part of the larger history from before humanity. Their "cliche" lifestyles and lack of diverse pantheons is due to the fact that their species were hard-wired to be what they are and better serve/prefer their creator. See, it just doesn't make sense to a dwarf to go about praying to Hephaestus one day and to join the mystery cult of Dionysus the next because Moradin is the dwarf's one-stop-shop for smithing and boozing and everything else they'd need! Furthermore, most of these gods bonded their divine essence with the stones or the soil or the sand when they created their servants, so dwarves live in the mountains in part because they are adapted to carve out and live in stone tunnels, but they adapted to it in the first place because that literally brings them closer to Moradin! And then they mine, forge, survive earthquakes, and fight goblins, all of which lead to the sorts of problems that keep them praying to Industrial/Geological/Alcoholical/War god Moradin!

Its a really vicious cycle!
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Supahewok

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Supahewok » Fri Aug 14, 2015 4:57 pm

The cleanest way to handle multiple pantheons that I know of is to only give them domain over certain geographical areas. Norse are gods of the North, Greeks gods of the East, etc. Its how both Order of the Stick and Forgotten Realms handles it. Whether gods with similar portfolios are different aspects of the same god or different beings all-together is up to you.
Xaossa

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Xaossa » Fri Aug 14, 2015 7:50 pm

Supahewok wrote:The cleanest way to handle multiple pantheons that I know of is to only give them domain over certain geographical areas. Norse are gods of the North, Greeks gods of the East, etc. Its how both Order of the Stick and Forgotten Realms handles it. Whether gods with similar portfolios are different aspects of the same god or different beings all-together is up to you.


Yeah, that's also how Hercules: The Legendary Journeys handled it (er...except for the Aspect thing. Maybe that idea could lead to Zues-Ammon being seriously a thing that exists in a setting. Just a "big daddy god" that people have seen revelations of and then interpretted them slightly differently.) The whole "Dahaak" arc had Herc going to Sumeria, Ire, and.....Norway, maybe? And each. Hercules also fought a mummy in Egypt, and Xena fought a Chinese (I...think? I only caught the end of the episode) demon to free trapped souls and went to the Christian Heaven for a little while.

There's nothing I object with doing things that way, I guess my problems are Cosmological. But now that I thought about it, perhaps each of the "Primodial Gods" created the Pantheon's home plane.

The Nun became (among other things) Osiris's First Garden, Ginnungagap became Asgard, Xaos became Mount Olympus and the Elysian Fields, and all of these are separate demiplanes. And visions of these outer planes and the Gods and their interns fill the dreams of the prophets of men.
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michaelE

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby michaelE » Thu Aug 20, 2015 1:59 am

Having gone to the effort of creating my own world, I had to have my own deities - just 4 of them. The one I'm most proud of is the White Lady, Goddess of Death. She's true Neutral and her priestesses, the White Sisters, both heal and help those beyond healing find peace (in addition to burial preparation an tending to the sick). It made for a unique cleric variant in D&D 3.5, with the dual Domains of Life and Death.
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Cuthalion

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Cuthalion » Thu Aug 20, 2015 2:45 am

In a game my brother ran (D&D 5, custom setting), he made up a half dozen or so deities with various attributes and philosophies rather than particular, strict domains. They also each had a title. So, Ravi, Nature's Wrath, was the deity our druid character worshiped, and Ravi was all about keeping certain lands untainted by people, survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw, etc. Another one, Titania, The Eternal Tree, was more about life, and so Titania and Ravi naturally both concerned themselves with nature, but in different ways. I think this approach of giving them outlooks and letting their domains flow from those and overlap with others worked well.

I found the list of "widely acknowledged deities" from that game:
Sharn, The Eight-Winged Angel
Titania, The Eternal Tree
Yim, The Thousand Faces
Crossos, The Shadowed Blade
Ravi, Nature's Wrath
Mijan, The Lion of Heaven

I don't remember what they all did, and they didn't actually come up much in the game, but the simple, semi-abstract titles did a lot to imply detail that we didn't have to actually memorize. And that made the world feel more interesting, having that background.

------

Another way I've done it is in a couple of games I've run, I've used the Dawn of Worlds game (which I found from a thread on these very forums) to create the world with the players before the game started. This got the players all invested in the world and made sure they knew basics about it, while still leaving me plenty of room to flesh things out and retain mystery when needed. As a result of using Dawn of Worlds, there are five vague, assumed gods and goddesses in the background (because I supervised while the five players made the thing) that provides a loose, built-in cosmology for the setting. This worked well last time, and it has so far this time.

I also gave each player a secret domain (Chaos, Order, Destruction, Wealth, Knowledge) and goals and rewards that went with it this time (like, "Destruction: If at least two catastrophes occur and one city is sacked before the end of the game, your character starts with an artifact weapon."). This built in a little good conflict to the process, though some players ended up getting too wrapped up in accomplishing their goal and got frustrated if it looked like they wouldn't "win" instead of just enjoying the world-building process. (Though they did all manage to reach their goals.) Also, giving them rewards meant their characters are a little overpowered for their level. So use this approach carefully.

-----

For my standard setting, I combine pantheons in more or less the real-world way. Because there are no canonically-confirmed divine sources of magic, the gods can be contradictory and their existence can be questioned. So, I handle it by having different cultures have different forms of religion and, since most of those involve deities of some kind, different pantheons. They don't all have to be true (and maybe none of them are! I won't tell!). Some cultures insist theirs is the one, true deity or pantheon or lack thereof. Others are syncretistic, happy to assume any gods you care to introduce them to are real and add them to their list. They might believe in spirits under every rock and tree, a single creator-deity, a hierarchy of gods, a multifaceted/multi-aspected deity or deities that manifest in different ways or persons, we-killed-our-gods-Klingon-style, no gods, everything-is-divine, or some combination thereof. They might think magic is a natural phenomenon, a divine reward for the faithful or power for the clever, or they may not even make the distinction between the two!

With this approach, you don't have to have a canon answer as to which ones are right or how to make all the pantheons be real at once. But this only really works if the deities aren't running around in broad daylight, manifesting in front of every other mortal and granting spells in-person to their priests (unless you want to surprise your players by revealing that some of their gods are false partway through the game).
Xaossa

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Xaossa » Sun Aug 23, 2015 3:19 am

Cuthalion wrote:In a game my brother ran (D&D 5, custom setting), he made up a half dozen or so deities with various attributes and philosophies rather than particular, strict domains. They also each had a title. So, Ravi, Nature's Wrath, was the deity our druid character worshiped, and Ravi was all about keeping certain lands untainted by people, survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw, etc. Another one, Titania, The Eternal Tree, was more about life, and so Titania and Ravi naturally both concerned themselves with nature, but in different ways. I think this approach of giving them outlooks and letting their domains flow from those and overlap with others worked well.

I found the list of "widely acknowledged deities" from that game:
Sharn, The Eight-Winged Angel
Titania, The Eternal Tree
Yim, The Thousand Faces
Crossos, The Shadowed Blade
Ravi, Nature's Wrath
Mijan, The Lion of Heaven

I don't remember what they all did, and they didn't actually come up much in the game, but the simple, semi-abstract titles did a lot to imply detail that we didn't have to actually memorize. And that made the world feel more interesting, having that background.





Sharn, The Eight-Winged Angel- Light or Death
Titania, The Eternal Tree- Life
Yim, The Thousand Faces- Knowledge or Death
Crossos, The Shadowed Blade- Trickery or Death
Ravi, Nature's Wrath- Nature
Mijan, The Lion of Heaven- War

I decoded their domains for you, based on their titles and what you already said about Titania. All of the "or Death" ones are because I don't know what exactly type of "Faces" or "Angel" or "Shadowed Blade" these titles are trying to point to (although, Shadowed Blade is totally trickery. Plays right in with its poison-based powers), but Death domain is restricted to the DMG, so these seven gods could have been one for each PHB domain.


Another way I've done it is in a couple of games I've run, I've used the Dawn of Worlds game (which I found from a thread on these very forums) to create the world with the players before the game started. This got the players all invested in the world and made sure they knew basics about it, while still leaving me plenty of room to flesh things out and retain mystery when needed. As a result of using Dawn of Worlds, there are five vague, assumed gods and goddesses in the background (because I supervised while the five players made the thing) that provides a loose, built-in cosmology for the setting. This worked well last time, and it has so far this time.

I also gave each player a secret domain (Chaos, Order, Destruction, Wealth, Knowledge) and goals and rewards that went with it this time (like, "Destruction: If at least two catastrophes occur and one city is sacked before the end of the game, your character starts with an artifact weapon."). This built in a little good conflict to the process, though some players ended up getting too wrapped up in accomplishing their goal and got frustrated if it looked like they wouldn't "win" instead of just enjoying the world-building process. (Though they did all manage to reach their goals.) Also, giving them rewards meant their characters are a little overpowered for their level. So use this approach carefully.


Oh, hey! I have Dawn of Worlds! ....Maybe I should I actually play it with another human being at some point...

But, yes, that's a great idea. DoW already encouraged the players to assume the title of specific god or force, and giving them in-campaign rewards for completing them does sound like a very good carrot. (An artifact, however?)
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Sudanna

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Sudanna » Sun Aug 23, 2015 6:20 am

I've run a few Dawn of Worlds games on other forums, after participating in the one we had here. We should do that again.
Ivellius

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Ivellius » Mon Aug 24, 2015 6:40 pm

In the current setting I'm using (inspired by early imperial Rome just after the Punic Wars), different cultures have different pantheons but are all (probably) worshipping the same gods under slightly different aspects / names. For example, Anubis is a death god of the Egypt analogue but also worshipped by the gnolls and barbarians at the fringes of society in aspects as both "Pack Lord" and "Den Mother."

I'm not entirely sure if racial pantheons even exist--the Greece analogue is dominated by elves but still has a large human population, and I think their pantheon is mostly similar to the Rome analogue's pantheon. The dwarves would have Slavic or Nordic inspired gods that would be interpreted through a cross-cultural lens: their "Moradin" is probably "Vulcan" to the humans.

Essentially, in our world people have had broad, generic ideas about what the gods would look like and have often assigned foreign gods the title of their closest counterpart, so I think that works for a campaign setting, especially if the gods can have different aspects that gain worship independently.
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Cuthalion

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Cuthalion » Thu Aug 27, 2015 2:43 am

Nalyd wrote:I've run a few Dawn of Worlds games on other forums, after participating in the one we had here. We should do that again.

That's what inspired me! I read the first several pages of that. (I lost track sometime in the 2nd or 3rd age, I think.)

Xaossa wrote:But, yes, that's a great idea. DoW already encouraged the players to assume the title of specific god or force, and giving them in-campaign rewards for completing them does sound like a very good carrot. (An artifact, however?)

Well, in this case, "artifact" wasn't a particular game term like it might be in D&D. It meant "a magic weapon [because destruction was the domain/goal] that you'd normally not get something like until higher level". He didn't really want a weapon per se, so we compromised on a staff that effectively increases his summoning limit. (Kind of like population limit in RTSes, my game uses "MP debt" for sustaining animated creatures, elemental constructs, and necromancy. It means your max MP is lowered for as long as you have a summoned creature around. So the more MP you have, the more or more powerful minions you can afford to keep around, and the more of those you have, the less MP you have for unplanned spells. Enchanting works the same way. In the case of this staff, it has its own MP pool solely for summoning and increasing in capacity as he levels up. So, basically it lets him get extra minions. Unusually well-equipped for his level, but not "I can blow up a city" kind of power. And since all the other players got a bonus of some kind, it evens out.)

I decoded their domains for you, based on their titles and what you already said about Titania. All of the "or Death" ones are because I don't know what exactly type of "Faces" or "Angel" or "Shadowed Blade" these titles are trying to point to (although, Shadowed Blade is totally trickery. Plays right in with its poison-based powers), but Death domain is restricted to the DMG, so these seven gods could have been one for each PHB domain.

Yeah, they were fairly vague in-game. I think your decodes are fairly accurate to what he had in mind. I think Ravi and Crossos are the only ones that had specific characters/NPCs dedicated to them, so the others stayed fairly background-level. I don't recall if the cleric (who was in a different game night than my group once we got too big and had to split up) had to pick one of those deities or not.
Xaossa

Re: Clerics and Pantheons

Postby Xaossa » Mon Sep 14, 2015 4:35 am

Xaossa wrote:

Sharn, The Eight-Winged Angel- Light or Death
Titania, The Eternal Tree- Life
Yim, The Thousand Faces- Knowledge or Death
Crossos, The Shadowed Blade- Trickery or Death
Ravi, Nature's Wrath- Nature
Mijan, The Lion of Heaven- War

I decoded their domains for you, based on their titles and what you already said about Titania. All of the "or Death" ones are because I don't know what exactly type of "Faces" or "Angel" or "Shadowed Blade" these titles are trying to point to (although, Shadowed Blade is totally trickery. Plays right in with its poison-based powers), but Death domain is restricted to the DMG, so these seven gods could have been one for each PHB domain.


Oops. Did I say 7? I meant six. Tempest is the missing domain. (Although Mijan, the Lion of HEAVEN might be a good candidate for Tempest. Of course, each god probably had multiple domains as usual. Yim could also be Trickery because he apparently has 1,000 faces.) I guess I had gods being matched with domains on the mind, so I thought I saw a pattern.

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