Monday, August 5, 2013

Obscure Divinity

Art By William O'Connor
As I've mentioned before, I have always enjoyed designing new and interesting pantheons of gods and goddesses. Creating different gods and goddesses and figuring out how they interact and influence the world is an interesting exercise for me. Also, it's just fun to play god with the gods sometimes.

When designing pantheons for campaign settings, I usually prefer pantheons that have about five or six major deities with broad areas of concern, such as a deity of artifice and order or a deity of light and mercy.

While these five or six deities represent the major divine powers in the world and are probably the most commonly worshiped deities, it doesn't mean they are the only gods and goddesses that exist. One of the nice features about having a smaller pantheon of major gods to work with is that you have a lot more room to expand the pantheon with more obscure minor deities that have more focused portfolios that causes the religions build around them to be smaller.

Creating these more minor and obscure deities really isn't that hard. However, if you want these divine entities to be unique and interesting, you can't just throw something together at the blink of an eye. You might want to think about a few things first:

  1. What is the deity's theme and purpose in the setting?
  2. Why is the deity so minor and obscure? 
  3. How do you expect players to encounter the worshipers of this deity? 
Like the major deities, you need to sit down and figure out what your minor deity's theme and portfolio is. Let's say you want to create a minor, villainous deity for a secretive cult to follow. Since the cult is located in a city known for being a wretched hive of scum and villainy and its hidden temple is within the sewers, you decide the deity might have something to do with filth and sickness. After some brainstorming, you've decided the deity this cult will be worshiping is a mysterious goddess of pestilence and vermin known simply as "The Mother of Rats." Also, with the creation of this deity, you decide the cult is populated by wererats and their major plan is to spread a deadly disease throughout the city to win favor with their patron deity. 

You also need to determine why this god or goddess you've just created is so minor and obscure? You need to figure out why the players' characters or the general inhabitants of the world have never heard of this minor deity. There are two easy ways to handle this. You can A) have the deity be very mysterious and its religion incredibly secretive, or B) have the deity be tied to an exotic culture the character have yet to meet. For example, your characters could discover a group of tribes living along the coast that resemble the Maori. While interacting with them, the characters learn of a god these tribes worship known as Taniwha. He is depicted as a gargantuan shark covered in tribal markings that acts as both a guardian of the tribes and a destroyer of their enemies and those who dare harm the sea and the coast. 

Once you figure out the minor deity's theme and the reason for its obscurity, figuring out how the players will encounter this entity shouldn't be that hard. With the Mother of Rats, you can have the players arrive in the city and notice a large number of the citizens are suffering from a strange plague. They decide to see whats up and end up encountering the cult and this filthy deity. Also, as I described above with Taniwha, you can have the characters meet these tribes of someone from this culture and during the discussion, have the NPC or group of NPCs mention the god and talk about him. On the other hand, if you don't want to be as direct about it, you could have the characters find an old holy symbol or the deity's holy text and do some research on these items to figure out what deity they represent. 

Minor, obscure deities can had some spice to your campaign setting. They can create some interesting mysterious and secrets for your characters to learn about and discover, or they can represent distant and exotic cultures. As with the major deities, the possibilities are endless.