Ye gods!

My brother has been DMing for a long time — around 30 years, if my memory is right. One thing he’s been pretty worried about lately is the place of gods in the game universe. He’s felt for some time that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for anyone to worship an evil god. Pretty much every pantheon has several evil gods. Moreover, if every god can work miracles, why should anyone worship just one of them? He’d rather just take the old “implied Christianity” of D&D to use a stand-in Church of a creator, with one god. I’ve pushed him to make room for Druids, which are nature-worshipers or perhaps pagans in his games but he like to leave the Church ascendant in most civilized areas. He definitely doesn’t like the idea of introducing multiple conflicting pantheons, as some D&D campaigns did back in the days of Gods, demigods & heroes and Deities & Demigods. (In fairness I think both supplements instruct DMs to choose one pantheon, but there has always been an anything & everything goes mentality among a lot of players!)

Anyway, in an effort to mitigate some of his concerns I suggested that the gods might be called various names but all actually represent a small set of actual divinities. We both prefer historical pantheons, so I created a table of corresponding gods & goddesses, allowing a multitude of cultures and cults while keeping the divinities down to about a dozen individuals. I had it in my mind that any gods from each pantheon that are not covered should be equated with demons, devils, aliens, or other less-than-divine beings, perhaps demigods (which could still exist as distinct entities in their multitudes, but which would in principle be mortal). A pdf of the chart is here: The universal pantheon. I tried to correlate Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Hindu, and Mesopotamian gods into the list, as well as Christian saints and the Trinity. The Mesopotamian gods are combined from the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Syrian pantheons — I just used the names I was most familiar with.

I don’t think this idea is really all that original; I suppose occultists have attempted such correspondences for centuries, and the Greeks and Romans famously identified their gods with the gods of other cultures.

I based my chart partly on the Interpretatio graeca linked above, and partly on some work I’d done for my GURPS Bestiary of Spirits, as well as additional research. The infamous list of saints from Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming certainly helped too!

Although I have problems with the conceit of clerics just worshiping one god in a pantheon, this system would allow such dedicated clerics to recognize their own god as another when in a different setting. But mainly it would give a DM some rationale for why the northerners worship Odin and the southerners worship Zeus and the two gods haven’t smitten each other’s followers.

We have not actually used this idea in a game, but I though I’d share.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:14 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That Universal Pantheon PDF is incredible. A chart like that should have been in Deities & Demigods or the DMG.

    Looking at it, I begin to wonder about having the Gods and the Planes be two aspects of the same thing. I wonder how Alignment would graph out in a 3-D plot with the table of gods.

    Very nice work.

    • Thanks!
      I’ve always been pretty ambivalent about the “offical” planes in AD&D … they always seemed like such a mishmash, but on the other hand if the Happy Hunting Grounds, Elysian Fields, and so on all exist, it does help explain the many pantheons in DDG. I kind of prefer the planes to be either parallel dimensions or simply other planets, though.

  2. I always played it that the clerics were the individual gods fanatics, but that most people just worshiped the whole pantheon, calling upon whatever god was most appropriate for the situation.

    The PDF is pretty nice, though I’d have put Demeter rather than Pan as the nature god.

    • That makes sense.
      I went with Pan over Demeter because Pan seemed more like the Egyptian Min (what with his satyriasis) and the Celtic horned god… but as a hunter, I guess Demeter better matches the master of the wild hunt… Really a lot of this is forcing square pegs into round holes. Just look at the Christian saints! There’s some really tenuous connections there. Of course having added the Christian saints, I guess I could look at Santeria to figure out where to put the Yoruba gods…

  3. Why would people worship evil gods? Let me count the whys:
    1. They choose to because they are evil themselves. Christianity may be the dominant religion here and now, but there are plenty of Satanists in the world.
    2. They do it out of fear. Horrible, horrible things will happen if the evil one is not placated.
    3. They do it in hopes of gain. Worship Mammon and he will make you wealthy.
    4. Evil is just a point of view. Who is to say that my god who requires human sacrifice is any more evil than your god who requires animal sacrifice?

    That’s 4 good reasons for worshipping evil gods.

    –Ken St. Andre

    • Thanks, Ken! I actually agree, and between you, me, and my legions of adoring blog readers, I would argue pretty much every real religion is evil… 🙂
      In the context of swords & sorcery, you really need evil gods if only to provide hordes of evil followers to battle. I think Tom’s concern was about PCs worshiping evil gods, or something like that … we’ve actually never discussed it too deeply. I think he gets why a person might worship an evil god but since most historical pantheons have the bad guys coming to bad ends sees a problem. I should probably not speak for him, though, he comments here occasionally and may explain his views. I think he was thinking in terms of “PCs are heroes and should not worship the Dark Ones” or something like that…

  4. When I ran my d20 game, it was based on a fantasy world of my own creation, and I changed up the rules on religion a little. Over a two-year campaign, the characters eventually learned that their gods were really members of an advanced race that had crashed on the planet eons ago as part of a scouting mission gone wrong.

    I know now that it’s an old idea, but it was fun at the time to get people new to roleplaying interested in these science fiction concepts. Taking fantasy characters and dropping them into a high tech sci-fi universe for a while was fun too. But I think it’s still an effective way to explain a diverse pantheon.

    There’s also deism, which basically says that the multitude of gods and spirits are just hundreds of thousands of facets of a singular entity. Like the different real-world pantheons with a bit of the voudou loa thrown in. Sort of.

  5. This was a great post Mike! I guess the lack of real world religion does not help my confusion but I always have trouble keeping up with how things relate in game. I still don’t even know what really is going on in our game as far as religion other than there is a creator and Tom mentioned my beliefs would follow more closely to ancestry worship than gods. I like that twist but I don’t really know how it all ties together between good, evil and other.

    I have always wondered what a campaign would be like to run either an evil party or a mixed party. I know most GM’s and PC’s would see the obvious and it would just never work but I bet with some creativity and some thought it could be very fun and interesting.

    Ultimately, I think anything that creates more depth for a campaign’s world makes the game that much more enjoyable for me. I have and will continue to learn a lot playing with our group. When I first joined the group it was simply a piece of paper with some numbers on it and a new set of dice. But I am slowly becoming more creative in our adventures and more attached to the characters within our world. The current campaign is the most fun I have had table top gaming in the past 13 years or more!

  6. I sum up the alignments in one word like this: Good=Altruistic, Evil=Selfish.
    Neutral is a sticky wicket in many games. Many see it as Relativism. It think that only True Neutral see the world this way. Personally, in a world with Heaven/Hell and raise dead I think that position is ridiculous and semi insane. This is the alignment of druids and influenced my decision to call the druid in the C&C game the Mad Druid. Personally, I define the neutral as realist or flawed. They know what good and evil is and would choose “good” for everyone else even themselves occasionally commit a small intentional wrong for the own gain. For example, a LN merchant may charge refugees more for supplies (as small act of selfishness, but he would not then say turn them into an evil authority figure for a reward (a great evil). LG merchant would sell them his goods at a fair price perhaps even on credit or at a discount.
    Most people today probably fall into the Neutral, although I would bet most people would not in the early days of Christianity.
    In a fantasy world with raise dead I don’t think this would be the case. There would be people walking around talking to gods etc.
    I think even more than the gods the afterlife would shape society. In AD&D there was basically three places your soul goes (not including undead). The first is heaven (a place of reward), Hell (A place of suffering) and Limbo (a place of waiting or rebirth). This is why Druids Reincarnate (they are neutral) and cleric raise the dead (they are good evil). AD&D included most pagan religions names of these “planes”. The dwarf heaven is “the grand stone halls” where good and just reunite with their ancestors, feast and practice their craft.
    Alignment is the determining factor as to where you go after death. Which plane of heaven, hell or limbo is determined by personal preference.
    In my cosmology, there is a creator and it is good. However, there are also gods who are imperfect beings like the Greek and Norse gods. The creator went dormant (defined as ceased giving magic support to worshipers) shortly after creation leaving creation to the gods. This is when religion blossomed. Most religions know there is a creator some believe he died others belief he went dormant.
    Now the creator has returned, clerics who worship him now have magical powers. The religion of the one god is sweeping away the religion on the many. Dagodart comes from a land not familiar with the New “Old” religion and he worships a sun god (I think). Crassus comes from a land where the creator is known and is actively converting other religions. Unlike medieval Christianity it is not through violent coercion (since the religion is truly good) but it is convincing (the magic of his followers seems greater than other goods)
    Unfortunately, the adventure takes place in an evil where there are no cleric of good gods. A fact I did not remember last session. So I think I am going to have to do a DM do over before next session. So the Paladin is still dead. But don’t dismay there is still the chalice.

    • Ok — I guess I kind of misrepresented your views! Basically it is neutrality in a world where good and evil gods are verifibly real that you take issue with ,and the notion that “Neutral” could mean indifferent to good vs. evil. Got it.

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