Setting Planning: Pantheon Thoughts

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I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want to do with my D&D campaign setting. Ideally I’d like to start it up again “soon” (whatever that means). However, since I’m not currently running the game I have the opportunity to play around with setting details to create a more interesting campaign setting to play in. One specific area that I’m thinking of doing some major changes to is the pantheon of my world.

A little bit of exposition: In my campaign setting there are about 13 major gods. This isn’t a huge number but it is a significant number. The trouble is, in any homebrew campaign setting you’re essentially throwing out a lot of the passively accumulated knowledge that players may have. In some senses this is good, because you’re throwing out the expectations for established D&D settings. But when it comes to actually interacting with the environment it helps if you know who you’re dealing with, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and all of those other critical questions. Your players might not know everything about the setting, but if you’re like me you’ve been encountering Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk material for decades. Even though I’ve never consciously set out to learn about either of these settings I know enough that it’s very helpful.

So what can you do? I don’t like throwing thirteen (and, in reality, about fifty major gods, but thirteen primary ones) names at players and expecting them to remember them. They need to remember plot events, character names … Having huge rote memorization tasks to function effectively in the setting is not something that I want.

I’ve decided that I probably want to pare my “Olympian” gods (So to speak) down to twelve. If I can think of a way to do so, what I really want to do is pare it down even further to something like Guild Wars’ pantheon. In Guild Wars you have five gods: Balthazar, Dwayna, Grenth, Melandru, and Lyssa. There are other lesser deity figures, but they aren’t the sort of figures you need to know to grasp the general setup of the religion of the gameworld. Another interesting thing Guild Wars does to add a bit of flavor is to reference the gods in many of the skill names (e.g. “Dwayna’s Kiss,” a Monk spell that does healing). Assuming I wanted to, I could reprint all of the classes from Iron Heroes with modified skill / feat names. Unfortunately, unless I printed out a couple of nicely bound copies of this modified material I think this would just be a headache for referencing purposes.

The real trouble is, I don’t know if I can do what I want with the religions of the gameworld and simplify things down to five or six major deities. The sort of twist I want to put on the religions in the campaign world is pretty academic and thus I’m inclined toward basing my fictional polytheistic religion on … real polytheistic religions. Having an obviously artificial system like Guild Wars’ is nice for players because each core class is basically associated with one god and everything stacks up nicely. Unfortunately I’m coming to believe that the messiness inherent in real life polytheism is antithetical to the goal of making a religious pantheon easy to handle for players.

The one thing that I’ve been strongly considering as of late is to simply throw out the idea of creating a unique pantheon. Why not simply utilize a real pantheon like that of the Greeks? I have to say the possibility holds some appeal. It resolves my own hangups about believability and complexity. At the same time, I’m sure the players in my group know who Zeus is, they know who Apollo is, and so on and so forth. Virtually everyone has at least some background with the Greek/Roman pantheons, whether it’s from school or God of War.

This is seriously tempting.

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