Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for ... Gods...

Well, G has so many possibilities, but most of my considerations can be covered under other letters - goblins = orcs (according to LOTR), gems = jewels, gold = precious metals, but for gods, only deities would work, and that's already taken.

So many fantasy worlds have gods.  Most of these are blandly interchangeable, as a god of the underworld looks the same anywhere, more or less (depending on your underworld, I guess), as do most gods of war, death, life and all the normal things.  Talking of Gods of Death, most examples are either really really evil, or the same as, or polar opposites to the Discworld version.  And the most important things in most versions of D&D is what they dress like, and what weapons they can use.  These things are probably important, but don't really cover the complex realities of religion, even made up ones.

I've taken a different approach in the gods of my main campaign world.  Based a little on Discworld ideas, and strangely stealing a lot of concepts from the Way of the Tiger gamebooks I loved when I was much much younger, as the worldbuilding there was very good.  I've taken the idea that big cultural forces provide the ... energy... for deities to do whatever they do.  Not every cultural idea, but the ones people spend a lot of time thinking about - sex, death, war, darkness; and a few more specialised ones that involve a bit more thought.

Gods don't come into the world from outside.  The Ancients probably had theirs, but when they all vanished during the night that was their fall, they left us no ideas of what they might be, and in the devastation of that night, nothing recognisable as a temple have ever been found.

The gods we have have all once been human, or at least, we think they once were.  Some have changed as a result, and others must have become gods long before anyone thought of writing things down for history.  Others have, well, complicated stories, with many holes, pieced together from all manner of sources, that give a reasonably coherent story.  Which invariably isn't true, but is closer than most other guesses.  They have moved into wider circles, and play games that we couldn't even imagine, with powers that we couldn't guess at, but they also need to ensure that their 'power base' of mortal worshippers is secure. 

From an Ann Stokes card...
The god that all agree was probably first, and is most ingrained in peoples conciousness is the All Mother.  She's the representation of the natural world - seasons, the cycle of birth, life and death, abundance, wild animals.  It's thought that whoever she is become that back in the primordial days, when humanity was first set free on this world.  Her clergy exist, paradoxically, in most major cities, where their temple, and its walled forest, provides a link with nature for those that choose to enjoy it.  The goddess herself has not been seen for millennia, but High Priests in different cities all receive the same vague dreamlike messages.  They are most concerned with preserving life where possible, and preventing the destruction or desecration of the sacred, natural places.  Not every tree, just the really, really important trees.

Yes, the Discworld Death...
About the same vintage as her is the god Death.  He is remembered in the most ancient chants as a Shaman determined in conquer the power of death, and crossed over to the 'other side' without dying first.  He may have won, or been trapped, or lost, but now is the god in charge of this.  Not all dying.  That's natural, even when it's not my natural means.  His clergy are almost fanatical about preventing any messing with the sacred boundary between life and death.  This means the Undead, and Death's Champions exist only to destroy it, wherever it exists.  They are also the only church that offer magical healing and raising the slain from death.  And offering timely death to the terminally ill.  Their Gothic temples are usually surrounded by the infirm and sick, seeking healing, as white and black armoured inquisitors stride the hallways.  Complicated?  You bet.

Next was probably Gord.  God of humanity's careful custodianship of nature - crops, domesticated beasts, brewing, village life, village militia.  Every village or hamlet will have a Priest of Gord before all others, unless there's something rather special there, and they advise and organise all the things needed to sustain, grow and defend a rural community.  Gord was probably a farmer that a lot of other farmers looked up to, and it grew from there.  Strangely, or perhaps not so much, he and the All-Mother are seen as closer than most other gods.

There is no apparent god of war.  In fact, none have been visible since the last incumbent, Moraine, left it to become the god of Empire.  It is one of the greatest secrets of the world that the god of war is a mad, broken man who sits in an isolated tower, reliving his greatest failures with each new day.

Moraine was a mighty warrior, never king, but the advisor and maker of rulers, and fair in thought and judgement.  He won his first godship as god of war, as all soldiers, on all sides, believed in his power.  He remained immersed with mortal concerns, though, and eventually raised a young warrior to fill his place, as he became god of Empire, whom kings and emperors looked to for guidance and support.  His temples exist where any major power with a martial bent thinks is appropriate, and his clergy are warriors and advisers to normal armies.  The sight of two armies meeting with Moraine's priests advising both sides is not unheard of, and allows for the refinement of martial science... His underlying aim is to support empires becoming larger and more powerful by conquering others, but the impreciseness of life and the attentions of other gods usually stop this at an early stage.

There is the Mistress of Elements, an upstart goddess that has only been apparent for the last millennia or so.  Worshipped by those that use elemental magic, she is capricious, but steadfast in defending, and lending power to, her own.  Frequently tasks minor mages to accomplish certain actions, undoubtedly playing a very long game.  Interestingly, the texts of elemental magic remaining from the First Empire do not mention her, and speak of the Elemental Princes being the source of this magic.  It seems she may have been a mage once herself who subjugated or overthrew these mighty rulers of magic.

The best I could find...
The Huntress is a young woman, almost Diana-like, combining the attention for the natural world of the All-Mother with the martial sense of Moraine, and seeking to retain freedom for those that want it.  Hunters, sportspeople, those involved with working with animals, or animal products, and those who enjoy the sense of nature without the structure of the All-Mothers worship.  Large warhalls in borderlands are usual places for her forces to be based, but several Free Cities have invited her clergy in and established trained fighting forces that help temper outside aggression.  Interestingly, although the leaders of this army-like priesthood are all women, the majority of the common fighters are men (60:40 spilt).  The church is currently split, as the Huntress has apparently appeared to a male ex-convict who had recently signed up, and he and a motley group, including a recently excommunicated High Priestess, are searching for something near the Whorim Marshes, with most other forces in the region looking for them.

And The Lady, goddess of night, lovers, thieves and marriage.  I'm still trying to work out the associations myself, but I;m sure I'll get there.  She takes an active role in ensuring the stability of her worship base, and in undermining that of the other gods.

There are others, but the concepts are less well refined.

Apologies as I've gone on a bit here, which tends to happen when I'm basically thinking out loud. Thanks for all the comments so far, and I can't wait to see what I come up with for 'H', as I'm clueless at the moment...


  1. A very cool discussion on theology in gaming. It isn't talked about enough. Most people just view the line on their character sheet about their "deity" as another blank to fill.

    Good luck with the challenge! I'm sure "H" will come to you!

    Dianna Fielding

  2. Thanks - I think this is trying to make a blank box into something difficult and creepy, which has got to be worthwhile... :)

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