Building a D&D Pantheon - Part 2

The minotaur, Alovnek, shut the door in his face. The robed man had better leave now, the minotaur thought. Three denials, a feigned gore, and a face full of minotaur spit would drive him away. To Alovnek’s surprise, he still heard breathing on the other side of the thin, wood door a few moments later. He waited longer. The breathing continued. “You’re stubborn. You’re good and stubborn. The Azurian Order likes those kinds of people.” The voice was muffled but still rung in Alovnek’s ears. “You and I both know you’ve felt it- the call of Ispiria; it’s the only reason you let me, a diminutive man wearing strange white robes speak to you.” The minotaur groaned. He knew the man was right, he’d felt the call days earlier...but he was so young. Why would Ispiria rob him of his youth? Life was good here, among his people- “Come on, Alovnek. We need fighters like you. And trust me, in good time, you’ll need us. The goddess’ call might not come again. I’ve risked much in coming here.” There was a pause, “I won’t be returning.” The robed man let his words pass through the door, sighed, and turned to the east, to the road that led back to the coast. He’d need to leave soon, his presence would be noted by any Kothians in the area. No sound of movement or breath came from inside the hill-home for many moments. Disappointed but hopeful, the robed man started eastward, stomping his steel boots into the mucky ground of the hillocks, leaving a clear trail behind him...just in case.

Deities can drive the stories we tell at the table. They can be the basis of your character’s beliefs, the villain pulling the strings of evil-doers, or the guardians of an ancient artifact that helped lock away the primordials. If faces don’t grace the sources of your divine power, folks are always chasing after a way to give that cosmic energy a name, trap all of it for themselves, or channel it for all the world to see. Divinity is ever present in our D&D worlds and it helps us create compelling stories, from the humble beginnings of a simple cleric in a village to battling the god of death atop of crumbling primordial of earth.

Welcome to the Worldforge, an ongoing series about building your D&D world or setting, step by step. Currently, we’re in the midst of molding a pantheon for your world. Last time, we discussed whether or not deities or divine forces existed, where they were located in the multiverse, and their level of interference and/or influence in or on the world. With those three basic questions answered, we’re ready to begin making actual deities!

Between this article and the last, I made a separate page on this website called the Worldforge Library; the page will keep an updated, chronological list of all The Worldforge posts, so you can easily bookmark and reference it while creating your world! Alright. Let’s get to building some gods.

The Starter Set

Deities, divine forces, cosmic energies, whatever, they exist in your world. Now, we must put faces to them. Using DUNGEONS & DRAGONS as your game of choice, I’d recommend creating a starting pantheon, a starter set: Deities worshiped worldwide. They can be good. They can be evil. They can be recently ascended gods or beings of divine power who’ve ruled over the cosmos for millions of years. It matters not. However, we should begin with a set of gods that relate or represent the eight, core domains of fifth edition D&D: Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, War, Forge, and Grave. This starter pantheon should have at least one god that relates to each of the aforementioned domains.

Okay, we know we’re creating eight initial gods. But who will these gods be? In a general D&D setting, many different pantheons exist, from the pantheons of elves, dwarves, and humans to pantheons of orcs, devils, and even lizardfolk. This leads to hundreds or thousands of deities existing, which can seem daunting, and it is. That’s why we’ll be starting with a starter set; eight deities that are widely known in your world that can come from any of your world’s cultures.

Side note: Even though we’re creating an established set of deities right, as I mentioned before, hundreds if not thousands of deities might watch over your world. This means that if a player creates a cleric or paladin, looks over your deities, and isn’t interested in any of them, you should work with them to create a deity that they do enjoy! Even if your world has but a few gods, try to work with your players to meld one to their liking; they’ll be interacting with it far more than your musings in Google Drive or your journal. I’ll say it again: Your players drive your games forward. They are the main characters, the stars. It may be your world, but they’re the primary drivers and you should create stuff they enjoy. If they want to worship a god that doesn’t exist, make it in your world, but ensure it fits your world’s tone.

Back to making a starter pantheon of eight gods. Where to begin? First, I’ll let you in on a well-known secret of worldbuilders: Steal and reskin. I like to make lots of my own material from scratch and so do many others, but swiping content from elsewhere is a great tactic. This definitely works with making a pantheon as well. Gods and goddesses are everywhere. You can utilize Zeus and Hera from the Greek pantheon for your world, taking them as is or skinning them to be completely different. You can pick up the goddess Mystra from the Forgotten Realms and have her oversee all of your world’s magic, or turn her into an arcane goddess of war. From Eberron, you can lift the Silver Flame, a cosmic force that represents goodness in the world, but in yours, could be a force that represents the creation of all things. As long as you’re not selling your world for profit, using pantheons, deities, and cosmic forces from other settings is perfectly legal and not frowned upon at all. Do it and be proud! It’s what the content is there for.

However, if you’re up for creating completely new gods, it’s back to asking yourself questions. What are the deity’s ideals? What do they represent? Where do they live? What do they look like? Who are their followers? What is their symbol? Lots of questions, lots of answers, and lots of fun. Let’s begin. For this article, we’ll create a goddess or god of knowledge.

Their Name and Ideals

Start with a name and be careful: A new is the first aspect of your god that any outsider sees. It needs to sound cool and fit the overall theme that you want to give the god while fitting the theme of your world. Look to real-world gods for inspiration: Ares and Set, Athena and Isis, Freya and Idun. Next, think about their ideals. What are their leading principles? What do their clerics preach? A goddess of knowledge can represent a lot of different aspects of “knowledge.” Is she a goddess of knowledge, creativity, and growth? How about of knowledge, peace, and pleasure? Maybe of knowledge, wisdom, and success? All incredibly different goddesses, all amazingly unique. These ideals will influence her, her followers, and her image across your world. A goddess of knowledge, creativity, and growth is probably referenced by craftsmen and farmers and her clerics probably help build not only structures and cities but the knowledge of those folk. Let’s look at a goddess of knowledge, peace, and pleasure; she’ll probably have followers that spread peace, rarely fight, and seek pleasure in all things, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Think of the possibilities!

Their Home and Followers

Now, let’s think about where this deity resides. A goddess of knowledge could live in her own plane of existence, an enormous study of her own design. If she’s good-aligned, maybe she lives on Mount Celestia, among the Seven Heavens and celestials. If she’s evil, either the Abyss or the Nine Hells could be a great lair for our goddess. Once you’ve figured this out, you also know what type of followers she has. If she lives in the Nine Hells, legions of devils and spellcasters serve her. In a realm of her own, perhaps golems of all types protect her, spellcasters praise her, and living spells made by her own mind patrol her realm and the entire multiverse.

Their Appearance and Symbol

Finally, conjure up and image of her in your head. Is she a beautiful, human woman with stark white hair that floats ominously behind her and robes that glow with the power of a thousand arcane runes? How about a well-crafted tome whose pages flap in an imaginary wind? A humanoid creature composed of prismatic shards that glow with azure energy? Put yourself in the deity’s head. What would she want to appear to the world as? The possibilities are endless. Afterward, it’s time to come up with a symbol for the deity, something that can be emblazoned on armor, flags, and weapons. For a goddess of knowledge, a simple, open book, a fiery rod, or a bright sun could do. Think of something unique and attach it to your deity. Once you’ve done that, you’re done; you’ve created the first deity of your world. Now it’s time to do it seven more times so you have a complete starter set.

Eldar Lore...

Here’s the deity of knowledge I created for my world of Eldar. His name is Ether and he is one of the Draconic Deities; he usurped the divine power of the previous goddess of knowledge, Mystra, when the dragons slaughtered the old gods during the Draconic Incursion. Ether is the god of knowledge and secrets; he and his followers believe only the most powerful should be given the secrets of this ancient world, primarily his worshipers. They keep forbidden secrets away from the general public, not only for fear that if it was released their enemies could use it against them but for the fear that their allies could use these secrets to overpower them. They also scrape the Mortal World and all of the Planar World, always searching for undiscovered secrets lost to the ages. Lots of secrets, lots of intrigue, lots of vaults with this knowledge locked away...Ether lives in Kestavar, a plane of existence that he made himself from the shell that Mystra left behind. It’s a grand, blue expanse of buzzing energy, spells that are actually alive, and enormous, floating libraries with the compiled knowledge of the multiverse. Each library is protected by a Keeper of Secrets, one of Ether’s personally created golems. Only those he trusts, or those who can overpower the golems, can enter these massive libraries. Ether’s followers include arcanists, spellcasters, dragons amassing knowledge, golems, and aboleths. To those he deems worthy, Ether appears as a skinny gold dragonborn adorned in pale silver robes inlaid with glistening mithril. His symbol? An open tome obscured in shadow. That’s my god of knowledge!

In Summary

It’s time for you to create your starter pantheon: Eight gods that represent eight of the choosable player character domains for D&D 5E. Remember:
  1. These deities can be from any culture in your world: Deities of the dwarves, gods of the drow, cosmic forces channeled by fiendish beings.
  2. Use inspiration from established D&D settings (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, et cetera) and the real-world (Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, The Norse, Native American Mythos) when making your own gods.
  3. Each deity you create should have a cool name, certain ideals, a host of followers, a home, a certain look, and a symbol.
Once you’ve created this starter pantheon, it’s time for you to think about religion in your world...from polytheism to animalism. But that’ll be in the third and final part of the Building a D&D Pantheon portion of The Worldforge.

Until then, farewell!

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