Fantasy Pantheons: Deities are more fun when there’s more than one

No Gravatar

For a long time, I’ve felt like there was something amiss with the way many fantasy games handle gods. It’s take me a while to put my finger on exactly what the problem was. It finally hit me today when I was re-reading an old Dragon magazine with an article giving mechanics a PC cleric can use to convert an NPC to his religion. Here’s what I realized: most games approach pantheons of deities with a very monotheistic mindset.

It make sense. We live in a world where monotheism is the norm. Religions have one god and that god oversees all aspects of life. Place all our devotion on the one deity who aids and helps us no matter if we’re experiencing money problems or problems with our spouse or kids. We are expected to hold fast to the one singular deity we embrace.

Not so in the pagan world. In a world of pantheons, clerics would devote themselves to one particular deity, but the average person held fast to the gods of his ancestors. Sure, a person might feel a particular closeness to one deity of the pantheon more than the others, say the way a farmer would most likely feel closest to a goddess of crops or fertility. But that would stop her from saying a prayer to the god of oceans, should she need to make an overseas trip. The concept that the goddess of crops would then be offended by this would seem very strange to this farmer.

In a way, you could think of the pantheon as a single god, with each of the individual gods and goddesses as merely aspects of that one deity. Who you prayed or made offerings to would depend on what you needed. Crops withering in the fields? Pray to the god of water to bring rain. Need a husband for your eldest daughter? Pray to the goddess of marriage to find a suitable candidate. Perform regular rituals to the head of the pantheon to assure a stable country.

Using this thinking, a non-cleric character wouldn’t necessarily have to choose a particular deity, but could still be considered very devout.

[Image courtesy of  lizardrinking via Flickr Creative Commons]

Enhanced by Zemanta

5 responses to “Fantasy Pantheons: Deities are more fun when there’s more than one

  1. A solid point. On a related matter, I find it difficult to get my characters to care about the deities when they aren’t playing a cleric though. This is because there isn’t any benefit to venerating a deity unless you are a cleric. So the axe-wielding fighter worships a war god who favours axes, so what? What difference does it make if the rogue worships a god of luck, of thieves, of exploration or a god of lost socks? There needs to be a benefit (even a small one) to praying to the gods of the pantheon. Any ideas?

    • I think it would depend on your group. I’ve been lucky — my players usually have a strong emphasis on role-playing, so the fact that they don’t get any “benis” from it has never been a factor in my games.

      It seems like you want religion to play a larger aspect in your games, otherwise, I’d say let the players be as non-devout as they wish. But if you want the gods to mean something in your game, here’s a suggestion:

      Allow for the chance of divine intervention. Make it fairly low (say a roll of 05 or less on a set of percentile dice — or whatever the equivalent in your system) and allow the players to roll for it when something’s really important in the game or to that character. If they make it, their god smiles on them and gives them a little help. This intervention doesn’t have to be big — a +1 or +2 modifier (or a partial success), just something that would tilt the balance in their favor.

      Now here’s the gottcha–the player only gets to roll for it if they’ve been a devout follower. And by having the player make the roll, you re-enforce the connection between their character’s behavior and the possible benefit.

      Just an idea, but now you’ve got me thinking of another blog post….

  2. Pingback: Henotheism, Kathenothism and Polytheism « Sea of Stars RPG Design Journal

  3. Pingback: 1-4-2010 Dream Fragment Secrets Of Gods The Movie? « John Jr's WordPress Blog

  4. Pingback: Mythology and Folklore 08/19/2011 | The Golden Mean

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge