Worldbuilding pt. 02: pantheon

Worldbuilding pt. 02: pantheon

· Caio Lente · #d&d  #worldbuilding 

Previously, in Worldbuilding pt. 01, I wrote about the creation of the universe and the forces involved in that process. By the end we were left with four “threads from which all other things are woven”: Freedom, Autonomy, Order, and Unity. I like to think of these four threads as something akin to the four fundamental forces of nature, not as gods or any other kind of supreme being.

TTRPGs, however, usually have divine persons and I don’t want to tell my players that their characters have to worship the equivalent of gravity or electromagnetism. This is why today I will create an actual pantheon!

Gods of the universe

As I’ve said before, I don’t want gods like the ones we usually see in TTRPG settings. Most pantheons are made up of gods that have humanoid depictions, well-defined spheres of influence, and bicker amongst themselves like schoolchildren. I’ve come to find this paradigm pretty boring.

My biggest problem with this kind of pantheon is that it begs the question: what is stopping the gods from doing whatever they want with the mortal world? For example, the Forgotten Realms has a Divine Edict that forced the gods to leave the world to mortals, Exandria has a Divine Gate that prevents the gods from crossing into the Material Plane, etc. If you have to stop all-powerful beings from being all-powerful, then what is the point?

On the other hand, I can’t create a pantheon which deviates too much from the default assumptions because players bring some expectations to the table and they’ll get upset if you subvert all of them. My solution is a compromise:

If my gods indeed are to follow the criteria outlined above, then it will be very hard for mortals to truly comprehend them. This presents a cool opportunity: what if gods’ names and domains are based on mortals’ attempt at describing the feelings they evoke, the phenomena they influence, and the people they shepherd?

A god venerated by wizards, for example, will also necessarily be associated with the muggles it attracts; it will be a god whose followers always regard themselves as novices in search of more and more knowledge. The “opposite and complementary” aspects of the Prime are baked in to this system!

All I have to do now is find some inspiration. This time I’m going with Buddhism, specifically the Eightfold Path, a series of eight practices which are supposed to help one reach nirvana. I like this as an inspiration because of the qualities associated with each practice:

Making it mine

Now it’s time to adapt the Eightfold Path and actually create the gods of my setting. In my opinion, having contradictory attributes tied to each god is a feature, not a bug; this adds to their mystery, to the fact that these are just mortals’ interpretation of unfathomable beings. In this system we won’t need a god just for the sea, because every god might have some aspect which relates to the sea.

After a few hours staring at the wall and thinking about Buddhist practices, I think I reached something satisfactory. It’s not a perfect parallel of the Eightfold Path, but you might see some intersections. Each god is named after a quality1 of their followers and each domain is composed of multiple abstract and complimentary concepts:

The last step is to add the gods to the creation myth. I want to give the impression that the four threads can’t create matter by themselves and this is what gods are for. This is what I came up with:

Even before time itself, there was the Infinite. The Infinite gives birth to the first of all things, named the Prime. The Prime has Light and Dark aspects, which are simultaneously opposite and complementary. Light and Dark together create the threads from which all other things are woven: Freedom, Autonomy, Order, and Unity.

The weavers are eight and, intertwining themselves with the threads, they make the mortal realm. They craft heaven, earth, and everything in between. They are part of creation and creation is a part of them.

See you next time, when I’m going to create a planet!

  1. Special thanks to the kind folks at Dael Kingsmill’s Discord for helping me come up with better names. Make sure to check out the #worldbuilding-and-writing channel over there! ↩︎