Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Making Interesting Pantheons

I have always enjoyed crafting new and interesting pantheons of gods and goddesses for my fantasy games. While this might arise from my love of the cleric class (I'm a weird guy like that), I also find it fun to "play god with the gods" in a way. Since I know crafting a pantheon of deities can be a daunting task at first glance, I thought it would be helpful if I gave a few suggestions and guidelines to those wish to create interesting religions for their next game.

First, I suggest starting with a small group of about 5 or 6 core deities and slowly expanding the pantheon as the game progresses. While you could create a large pantheon with numerous deities, you most likely won't be able to put very much detail into the gods themselves or the religions based around them. Focusing on just a handful of major deities that cover your setting's basic needs (like a god of the sun, god of nature, god of death, etc.) will allow you to put a lot more detail into them and make them fleshed out beings that the players will hopefully find interesting and actually want to worship.

Also, when coming up with your core deities, try to add some interesting bits of flavor to each deity so they don't seem stereotypical. While you could have your typical neutral evil god of death who looks almost identical to Charon, it would be more interesting to have a neutral god of death who happens to also be the god of knowledge and prophecy.

Once you have your 5 or 6 core deities created, I'd suggest creating 3 or 4 minor deities based on the needs of the players. For example, you might create a minor god of justice for your paladin player or a goddess of magic for your wizard player.

After creating some minor deities, you should take all your gods and goddesses and create some relationships and rivalries between them. For example, the moon goddess might be the estranged wife of the sun god and the god of justice is their son with the goddess of death being the sun god's sister and mortal enemy. These relationships will help creating a more interesting pantheon and could add some interesting tension to the game. For example, the clergy of the moon and sun deities might not be so friendly with one another because of patron deities' relationship with one another.

Finally, I suggest figuring out how each race in the setting views the deities of the pantheon and some divisions within the churches' of each deity. For example, the dwarves might view the god of the forge as the creator of their race, but think the way humans worship the god as just a deity of smiths as blasphemy. For and example of a division within a religion, you could have the previously mentioned neutral god of death have a sect of followers who worship him as merely a god of knowledge, while another sect is made up entirely of fanatics fascinated with death and necromancy. These divisions better mirror the contradictory nature of many real world religious sects and will add some interesting flavor to your setting. However, I wouldn't suggest having more than three major divisions in each religion. You don't want to have so many that you can't keep up with them.

I hope these suggestions help you make some really interesting deities and help you add some more flavor to your game worlds.