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Building a D&D Pantheon - Part 3

“The ancient texts, you’ve not read them?” the robed figure asked. Her voice sounded accusatory, angry even, but the minotaur shook his head. “Then the time, it has not come.” The robed figure turned to leave but paused beneath the worn stone doorframe. “Understand this: Our way is not the only way. Before us, there have been many, and still today, there are people different than us.” Her voice quieted. “The Azurian Order rarely acknowledges it. The only way, polytheism is not. Elves of the wood worship spirits of old beasts, bearfolk only the stars. All power rests in the trapped primordials, firbolg think, and kenku think a single god rules all.” At this, the minotaur scoffed and the robed figure appeared before him in a moment, somehow looking down upon him even though he stood a good four feet above her. “I knew, ready you were not. How?” Her eyes locked with his, “...because respect, respect for other religions, you lack.”

Welcome back to the Worldforge, a series in which we build our own homegrown world together. For the past two articles, we’ve tackled creating a pantheon for our world. We’ve discussed whether or not deities exist, where they live, how often they interact with the material world, and more. Last time, we created our first pantheon: Eight deities or divine forces that represent the domains usable by clerics in fifth edition DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. This article will conclude this particular arc of the Worldforge and talk about more pantheons, other possible religious systems, and hooks related to the divine.

If you missed any of the past Worldforge articles, check out the Worldforge Library for a complete listing.

Okay - let’s begin.

Pantheons, Pantheons, & More Pantheons

Last time we created a general pantheon for our world: a grouping of gods worshiped across the planet, from dark deities of the world below to goddesses of light and health hailed as heroes to the goodly folk of our realm. That’s the baseline. You’re set, ready to move to the next step - if you’d like. Of course, if you’re crazy like I am, you’d probably yearn to flesh out more of your world. For a standard D&D adventure or campaign, one pantheon is all you need, eight or so deities for your players to choose from, as well as the wanting to create new gods if your players also want to. This set and attitude to create more will provide you with more than enough divine content for plenty of escapades across your world.

But...let’s say you’re insane like I am. Why stop with a single pantheon? Usually, cultures have distinct pantheons. For example, the Greeks had a very different outlook of the divine than the Egyptians or the Norse. And all three of those cultures had a drastically different idea than the natives of North America...and still, that culture had a completely different concept of the divine when compared to their “neighbors,” the natives of South and Central America. Taking this to the next level, it wasn’t uncommon for tribes and clans that lived rather close to have conflicting opinions on their own culture’s interpretation of deities.

What I’m saying is, in a fantasy land where deities and cosmic forces exist, there can be an unlimited amount of them, acting and reacting in the cosmos. You can channel respectable amounts of creative energy into making a pantheon for the hill dwarves of the snowy hillocks, the eccentric sun dwarves of the blazing desert, and the ore-obsessed mountain dwarves deep within the earth. Go wild...well, not to wild. Don’t make an infinite array of deities - one for the elves in the west, one for the elves in the southwest, one for the elves in the know what I mean. Generally, I’ll outline what each of the cultures of civilizations in my world believes in. Elves have their own pantheon, orcs have their own pantheon, humans steal from other pantheons, and some cultures don’t have pantheons. This brings us to the next portion of this article...

Other Religions in Your World

I know we’ve just spent three articles talking about the importance of creating a pantheon for your D&D world, so what I’m about to tell you might hurt. The worship of a pantheon of gods, or polytheism, isn’t the only type of religion that should be in your world. Polytheism is important and integral to a fantasy roleplaying game like D&D, to most settings anyway, but there’s more out there. Briefly, we’re going to explore other belief systems that you can weave into the fabric of your world.
  1. Monotheism is the belief that a single deity overlooks the world. A culture in your world could believe a small alteration of this and only allow the worship of a single deity, although folks know many do exist.
  2. Dualism is the belief that two, great deities exist with completely opposing viewpoints: Good versus evil, night and day, summer and winter. A civilization or two opposing civilizations could each believe in two gods that are greater than all other gods. These civilizations would constantly be in conflict, conflicts that have lasted for hundreds of years.
  3. Animalism is the worship of animals or beasts. I tend to use this in conjunction with a form of spiritualism: Cultures worship powerful animal spirits locked in the Feywild. These spirits grant them divine power and gifts. Animalistic cultures hold animals in high regard, sometimes preferring a single animal or a group of animals to all others.
  4. Spiritualism is the belief that spirits in the worlds beyond grant divine power. In D&D, this could totally be possible. Powerful ghosts and specters (godlike ones) could grant power to a certain culture or people.
  5. Shamanism is the worship of a people’s ancestors. Think barbarian tribes and those who hold elders and those who’ve passed on in high regard.
  6. Deism is the worship of a single, supreme being that created all that exists and left this world long ago. Some creatures, like illithids and beholders, could believe this.
  7. Astrolatry is the belief that the stars pulse divine power and guidance. This could be 100% true in some worlds. 
  8. Cultism is the belief of something extremely frowned upon or downright wrong. Cults of demon princes, archdukes of Hell, eldritch entities, and more can capture the hearts and minds of an entire civilization...
Adding a lot or a few of these different beliefs or systems of worship can create the opportunity for compelling stories in your world. Why do the humans of the south fiercely follow this single deity? Who eventually wins the dual of the gods in a dualistic society? Can the animal spirits of an animalistic culture project themselves onto the Material Plane? Do the stars truly grant strength and clairvoyance to the bearfolk elders of the moving glaciers? Give it a try. Pick three different beliefs and add them to your world. When we eventually get to creating cultures, we’ll return to them.

Divine Hooks

How can you incorporate all this work you’ve done into your campaigns and adventures? Here’s how!

d4 Plot Hooks

  1. Who and How? A holy relic is stolen from the local temple, but only true worshipers of the temple’s deity are allowed entrance into the treasury.
  2. The Dark Daughter. An avatar of a deity appears in front of a queen and warns her of the birth of a dark god’s daughter in her country. She will grow quickly and head a horde that will lead the country into ruin.
  3. The Divine Quartet. Four cults merge into one, heeding the call of a goddess long thought dead.
  4. The Death of Magic. The death of the god of magic throws all arcane magic off balance, leading to deaths and disasters across the planet. How can this be remedied?

d4 NPCs

  1. Ulrian de'Turn. A divine leader of a group of drow trapped in a jungled part of the Underdark. Following the lead of him and his ancestors, these drow have become one with the strange, twisted beasts and monsters that roam this subterranean thicket.
  2. King Coralius. A son of the god of justice and chivalry, born to a human mother. He’s risen to the top of this society, becoming its god-king from his humble roots as a commoner. If his secret were to be discovered, it could be manipulated for vile gain.
  3. Duugenveim. A powerful animal spirit that lives in the Feywild. It appears as an enormous, green-furred moose. The creature is worshiped by a tribe of hill dwarves of a northern realm. Their enemies, a town of duergar, know the hill dwarves obtain their power from this beast and seek its demise.
  4. Alactraz Bent. An eccentric gnome diviner who’s convinced he’s discovered the true secret behind the universe’s creation: The Lawful Maker. No one believes him...but is he right? Can it be proven?

d4 Cultures

  1. The Skywatchers. A society of bearfolk who follow the messages the stars and constellations send them. Their power, they believe, grows the fuller the moon shines in the night.
  2. The Halfhearts. A cult of halflings that are convinced the gods of humans created the halfling race as a cruel joke. They’ll get their revenge, by any means necessary.
  3. The Children of Hell. A clan of tieflings that worship the souls of their devil mothers and fathers. They try to emulate their past deeds, their appearance, and current goals.
  4. The Lolthian Empire. An empire of drow ruled by the firstborn daughter of the Spider Queen. Under her rule, much of the Underdark has been conquered by the dark elves.

In Summary

Phewph! We’ve done it. The basics of religion in our world are established. Alas, we’ll still tinker with them forevermore - that’s part of the fun - but at least we have an outline created. To recap what we accomplished in this article:
  1. There’s no limit to the number of pantheons you can create, but there is to the amount you should create. One or two for every culture or civilization in your world should suffice. Go wild, but not too wild.
  2. Not all cultures necessarily pray to a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Lots of religions can exist in your world, from monotheism and dualism to animalism and spiritualism. Varying your cultures’ form of belief or worship is refreshing and can lead to interesting stories.
  3. Gods and goddesses, spirits and cosmic forces, holy symbols and divine relics, zealous priests and rampant demigods - religion in D&D is a deep and profitable mine of plot hooks, adventures, items, and NPCs. Don’t refuse to dig it. Pick up a pickaxe and start swinging!
And so this chapter of the Worldforge series ends. Your world, while not shaped yet, has a few pillars and at least one pantheon of gods or other divine entities. Look out for the next part of this series; I believe what we’ll do will surprise you.

Until then, farewell!

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