Welcome to today's #WorldbuildingWednesday post! For those of you new to this series, I'm @oblivioncubed. In this series of posts, I break down what Worldbuilding means to me, how I build a setting, why I choose to build what I do, and hopefully provide you some inspiration to use in your Worldbuilding.
My world - Trothguard - is a setting I've created as a catch-all location for any tabletop RPG games I run, so everything I build is filtered through a lens of 'how will this improve the game for myself and my players?'.
Today we're going to dive into Gods & Lesser Deities.
In my last WorldbuildingWednesday blog, I looked at myths and legends, which I think segues nicely into Gods and Lesser Deities. Due to the overwhelmingly vast number of ways you can build Gods and god-like-entities, this post is going to focus more directly on how I've chosen to do so in my world, and the reasons behind why I have structured it in the way I have. You may find that you're writing a setting that doesn't require a pantheon, or that you need a much more structured set than I have. That's okay! There's really no one way to do this. Build what you need!
When I sat down to adapt Trothguard to a D&D 5e setting, I knew that I would want to be able to support any of the "official" 5e gods, as well as any unique ones that a player could come up with, alongside my own pantheon. To facilitate this I have intentionally left some big gaps regarding Gods so that they can be added to on the fly, without needing to re-work an entire pantheon to fit in a player's ideas.
The one big thing I have decided concerning Gods in my setting is that the vast majority of them are tied directly to a small number of very ancient, very powerful, sleeping Dragons. There are 10 standard colours of Dragon in D&D, as well as several 'Gemstone Dragons' included in Matt Colville's 5e supplement "Strongholds & Followers", and I decided early on that I wanted to tie my gods to one of each of these dragon types without anyone in the setting knowing about it - including the gods themselves.
Unlike most standard dragons, these 15 entities were crafted individually by the same cosmic entity that created the solar system - and they have been imbued with magic, unlike any other dragons. They were then placed deep inside the planet, and as they sleep they slowly leak magic into the solar system. This also had the side-effect of creating "Gods" when large groups of people began believing in and codifying concepts around higher entities. These Gods reflect the people who created them and the things they believe in, but they also reflect a core personality feature of one of the 15 sleeping dragons.
In this way, I believe that I'm able to add any variety of officially supported gods, as well as anything a player would want to create. I don't have to worry if I "already have a god(dess) of Death", because all Death-Aspected gods can be tied to any of the Immortal Dragons I want. If I wanted all War-Aspected gods to be tied to the Immortal Ruby Dragon, I can do that. And, if I decide that it's an opportune time to shake up my setting - I could go one step further and have them all removed or changed by deciding that the dragon they're tied to simply wakes up for the first time ever. Similarly, if I wanted to say that each of the 15 Dragons has aggressive tendencies and thus each should have at least 1 War-God tied to them, I can do that. If I do that, I can decide that only one or two of the Immortal Dragons wake up, and so some Gods are affected, while others are unchanged.
This also means that by virtue of the same mechanic of belief creating new gods, I can also have mortal beings ascend to Godhood. If an individual has done something exceptional that causes a large enough quantity of people to view them as a god, then they will over time become a god. Usually, this process happens after the person in question is long dead, but it doesn't necessarily have to. If we follow the established "rules" of godhood, it also means they become attached to one of the 15 Immortal Dragons. What that means for the Dragon and the Person is not something I've considered much - but it's a question I'll eventually have an answer to!
I hope this has made sense and illustrated how I've decided to tackle Gods in my setting. As I had mentioned, you're really only limited by your imagination when it comes to how you represent gods in your setting - if you choose to represent them at all!
Some useful things to consider when creating a god or gods might be:
- How active are they? Do they directly influence events in your setting?
- Are there many gods or is your setting monotheistic?
- What is the scope of your god's power? Are they bound to rules, or do they have complete control over the fabric of reality.
Another thing to consider with Gods, which I don't touch on today, is how that being is represented by and interacts with religions or cults dedicated to them. Do they demand sacrifice? Do they offer boons? Do they have strange rules that must be followed?
Since I get to lean heavily on the existing 5e content I can use that if they've picked a "standard" god. I don't have to spend a lot of time fleshing out individual religions prior to knowing if my players are going to interact with my pantheon's religions in a meaningful way. If I ever have players for whom in-world religions are interesting and important, I'll flesh them out more. For now, this is one of the many gaps I leave to allow player-guided growth.
In my setting, I count anything on the path of Ascension but not yet at full Godhood to be a 'Lesser Deity". They have some power, and can even sometimes affect change on a local area - but they're not yet powerful enough to be considered true Gods. Many of the Patrons a Warlock can bond to for power are Lesser Deities on their way to full Ascension. Many of the cults in my setting worship devils, demons, spirits, or other entities that are Lesser Deities.
One example of Lesser Deities is the Ancestor Gods of the Goliath. They were once mortals, but generation upon generation told stories of their deeds and eventually, those stories became part of Goliath culture. The figures in the stories were worshiped and prayed to, and as belief in them solidified, they gained some level of sentience. They are relatively uninterested in influencing the world at large, but they very commonly interact with the Goliath race. Particularly noteworthy warriors or hunters might find that their prayers result in blessed/enchanted weapons or equipment. Villages might find that they are blessed with bountiful crops if they hold the favor of Vaniva - The Caregiver. By striving to follow the examples of the Ancestor Gods (which they call Virtues), they gain favor, and favor grants boons.
From a "D&D 5e Mechanics" standpoint - most beings that are equivalent or surpassing Player Level 20 are Lesser Deities. My definition of what exactly a Lesser Deity is is fairly loose, so I don't have a specific checklist that I refer to when deciding who is and who isn't part of this group. It mostly comes down to any being of substantial power that could also reasonably be expected to have amassed a following.
I treat these a little like Demi-Gods of Greek myth, while also drawing inspiration from things like the "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series by Steven Erikson as one example, which heavily features the concept of powerful beings that are able to ascend to godhood.
Many of the same prompts I use for Gods are also used for creating Lesser Deities, but some things I keep in mind are that:
- These beings are powerful but still limited.
- They can be killed or destroyed in most cases with a bit of effort.
- They should be known for something. They should be notable.
- They have desires and goals that they want to fulfill, and usually have more mortal-like personalities than the Gods do.
As with Gods, I've left a lot of gaps for my Lesser Deities so that I can add to them and change them as needed. You may find that you prefer to have everything set in stone before anyone reads / plays in / interacts with your world - and that's fine! My only hope with any of these posts is that I've got you thinking about how you would tackle these topics.
Special thanks to those of you who voted for this topic today!
Thank you for reading today's #WorldbuildingWednesday! I hope this has provided you with some inspiration!
Next #WorldbuildingWednesday we will look at Mythical Beasts & Monsters!
If there's something else you'd like to ask me about, please do so! I will make every effort to answer it next Wednesday.
For previous #WorldbuildingWednesday post you can read them here:
0: Introduction to WorldbuildingWednesday
1: Starting the World
2: Kingdoms, Factions, and Notable People
3: Creation Facts and Creation Myths
4: Shaping History
5: Myths & Legends
5.a: Player Visions (Supplemental)