Monday, May 21, 2012

Dorky or Dynamite: Real World Pantheons

     Okay, so I'm still working on my brand new RPG campaign world, tentatively called Meraisse.  My old campaign world was just a half-baked sketch from my very early days of gaming.  I later tried to pimp it up with a lot of stuff from the Final Fantasy series of games (particularly the Tactics games) and some elements based on asian cosmology.  After reading through some of the background books for the Exalted game, however, it was clear to me that I really did need to tear it all down and start afresh.  I love the world background and cosmology of the Exalted campaign universe.

     One of the things my new campaign world features is that there are five major world-wide nature deities who are worshipped everywhere, such as the earth goddess.  However in a more recent epoch (well, "recent" as epochs go) two alliances of supernatural beings came to the world and battled long and hard.  They were generally called the Angels and the Demons.  Eventually the two sides were worn down in numbers and exhausted by the constant struggle.  A truce left elements of both sides in possession of different parts of the world.  These elements, usually groups but occasionally a lone individual, are now the everyday deities of the world.  Thus some areas have Holy pantheons composed of the former Angels or Fel pantheons composed of the former Demons.  These pantheons are particularly strong in the geographic areas where the "live", but are also accessible by worshippers anywhere in the world.  They are powerful gods and goddesses, divine immortal beings of great power, but they inhabit Meraisse, not some other plane of existance.

     This will add some cool elements, especially with entire kingdoms/empires under the reign of Demon pantheons.  However, that means coming up with several pantheons, since I'd like to have about three or four each of the Holy and the Fel; in addition I'll have some lone deities here and there in isolated places.  So that's a lot of design work.  I was thinking that an easy out would be to grab historical mythological pantheons, such as those in the old Deities & Demigods or Lore of the Gods by Bastion Press.  It's very easy for me and will be fairly easy for the players to get a handle on.  I would mostly grab the sets of domains/portfolios for each as a jumping off point.  I would then add appropriate alignments for the type of pantheon (Angel/Demon)--although both types of pantheon will have a sprinkling of neutral deities to keep things interesting.  I might or might not keep the names.  If I keep the names (minimal rework) then I have to cobble together an explanation of how they came to be here.  But that would be awkward, what with the rest of the campaign world being built from scratch.  I would prefer to build my own pantheons, but I'm dreading all the detailed work that will entail--plus I'm an ancient Egypt fanboy from way back and I'd love to use the Egyptian pantheon.

     Now, I have played in a game where a historical pantheon was used.  In college I had a character in a campaign which used the ancient Greek pantheon.  My character followed Tyche, goddess of luck. The DM included proper historical worship rituals (pouring of wine on altars, etc.) and it worked okay.  However, it may have worked because the religious background did not actually appear in the story much.  So we weren't constantly bumping into temples of Aphrodite, paladins of Ares, etc. in a manner which would have created a strange clash of D&D vs. ancient Greece.

     So, what do you think about importing real world pantheons into RPG worlds (either the one I'm building or elsewhere)?  Have you used this in one of your games or played in such a game?  Is this whole idea dorky or dynamite?

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