Monday, February 14, 2011

MyD20 Lite: The Role of Gods...

Good Evening, All:

Here's another snippet from the MyD20 Lite Referee's Guide. In this particular case, I'm exploring the role of Gods and Pantheons from the perspective of the Referee. Please read through this and let me know if you have any questions, comments and concerns.

The role of Gods in most fantasy campaigns tends to fall into one of four basic categories: monotheism/dualism, one common pantheon, multiple regional pantheons and the use of religious organizations instead of individual gods. As the Referee, one of your decisions is to decide on which approach to take for your campaign. A great majority of campaign settings typically promote the concept of one common pantheon. For the purpose of discussion, however, the other three types are also presented in this section.

Monotheism and Dualism
Campaign settings cast in this particular model typically reflect the monolithic presence of a single church devoted to one God, much as the Roman catholic Church existed in the late Middle Ages in Europe. In such a setting, those spellcasters that do not worship the single God of the setting are arcanists, and do not have access to divine magic. The social role of arcane spellcasters is seriously impacted by this association, even if they are devoted to the single God of the setting.
As an interesting variant of this concept, two Gods vie for the souls of the mortal world, each diametrically opposed to one another. This alleviates the social pressure on arcane spellcasting characters, as now there are two sources for divine magic. Due to their opposed nature, one of these Gods is often portrayed as Good, while the other is seen as Evil.
Before making a decision to develop a campaign setting under this model, Referees should discuss the matter with their players. Some people may feel that this arrangement reflects their own personal beliefs, and may have strong feelings regarding the depiction of something resembling their own beliefs within the context of a fantasy game.

One Common Pantheon
This is the most common model used to depict deities in published campaign settings. In essence, these campaign settings describe the presence of five or more (sometimes over a hundred more) deities, all worshiped individually as part of one gestalt pantheon. Each deity in the pantheon embodies one or more archetypes or aspects of the world, and are often drawn from or inspired by historical and mythological pantheons from various Earth cultures. In some cases, archetypes unique to fantasy settings have evolved to handle the presence of races and professions that are common to fantasy literature, but did not exist historically.
As a Referee, should you decide to use one common pantheon, it is suggested that you identify ten to twenty different archetypes you wish to include in your campaign and then build from there. As mentioned previously, you could easily review historic and mythological pantheons for inspiration, and possibly even use the deities you find directly.

Multiple Regional Pantheons
Another common practice in published campaign settings is the use of multiple regional pantheons. For example, many settings have one large common pantheon, supported by smaller racial pantheons. (Frequently, fantasy races are divided into separate regions with their own cultures, which lends itself well to a regional pantheon concept.) Alternately, a setting that emulates different Earth cultures will also include regional pantheons, one for each culture, to give these regions their own unique identity.
When using multiple regional pantheons, it is recommended that each region have a fairly small pantheon, to make it easier for you as the Referee and for your players to keep things straight. Too many gods in too many separated pantheons can easily lead to confusion.

Religious Organizations
As a final note, a few published campaign settings have forgone the use of deities and pantheons, and instead used religious organizations in their place within the context of their worlds. Such organizations may be modeled after real-world religions, or may take a more fantasy-oriented bent to them. The influence of such organizations tend to be much less pervasive than a divine pantheon, extending only so far as the originating culture has spread. This particular model suggests adventures based on political intrigue within the hierarchy of an organization, as well as the interaction between various organizations. With no omnipotent, omnipresent deity actively involved in the matters of mortal men, there's a lot more room for story lines that involve the darker aspects of human nature where secular power is concerned.
Bear in mind, however, that should you, as Referee, decide to pursue such a setting, you should check first with your players to make sure that they are comfortable with the religious organizations you decide to implement in your setting. As with the One God concept above, fantasy game elements that bear too much of a similarity to strong personal beliefs may make one or more player-characters uncomfortable.


1 comment:

Rob Conley said...

You raise good points in your posts. The think I try to do differently in my campaigns is to define religions as a type of culture.

There are the gods which have a mythology with describe them as beings. Then there are the religions which are the beliefs and customs of the people who worship gods.

I tend to stay away from using real world religions in my campaigns but I do take elements and alter them.

For example the Ghinorians believe that they are the chosen people of Mitra the goddess of Justice and Hnore. As a consequence their culture has a strong code of ethics. However their history reads more like Rome than the history of Judaism.

The Tharians are a nomadic horse culture based on clans. Their religion revolves around reverence for the Lars which is a council of the clan's ancestors. They guide the clan through their priest, the Mystics.

The Elves don't worship Silvanus. Instead they revere and honored him. Elves are immortal and there are more than a few that knew him personally. In contrast Elven influenced human cultures have a Druidic religion known as the Trehaen based on the worship of Silvanus. The Elves have long given up on trying to correct the error.

In each of these I tried to focus on the culture rather than Forgotten Realm or Deities & Demigods style listing of deities. I find this generates more interesting adventures.

In recognition that some people may be uncomfortable with too much religious detail I try to create straight forwards "codes" and short explanations and let the players fill in (or not) the rest in their head.

As an aside the two outer planar settings in Points of Lights represent pretty much the first time I detailed any of my deities in the traditional manner of RPGs. The Swamps of Acheron is adapted from the one and only extra-planer adventure I ran in 30 years of the Majestic Wilderlands.