As the first article on this blog of mine, I wanted to discuss the role that the deities, religions, and pantheons in your world plays, both in worldbuilding and your tabletop games. I’m now figuring out the deities for my world of Ae’thar, and I wanted to share my thoughts about designing them in this article.
Personally, I use deities and pantheons because I really have to, most TTRPGs kind of expects you to have them in your world. They’re a great way to explain the creation myth of your world and exemplify some aspects of your world by making the most forefront deities inhibit those aspects. An example of this in my pantheons would be the deity Lumen in my abandoned world of Xhoria. He personified light, order, law, and the sun. Xhoria was a world split between law and chaos, or at least, that’s what it was supposed to be. (I abandoned it for a reason.) Many of the civilized nations worshiped Lumen because he personified order and law, in the hope that he would bring stability to the nation.
One of the main choices you make when designing deities is their involvement in the world. Do they answer the call of prayer often, or are they absent from the world? Do they even exist? (Hey, that’s an option as well.) I like the idea of them being not too benevolent, but also not too absent either. The middle ground seems to be fine for me.
There’s also the distinction between what kind of religious system you want to apply to your world. There are a couple of systems in the DMG, like the Loose Pantheon, which according to the book is: “A multitude of deities rule the various aspects of existence, variously cooperating with and competing against one another to administer the affairs of the universe.” I don’t like this type, seems like a lot of work that isn’t really relevant to what I need and want for my games.
In contrast to the Loose Pantheon, there’s also the Tight Pantheon, which “focuses on a single religion whose teachings and edicts embrace a small group of deities.” I like this one more than the loose one, since it has a lot more structure, while you still can have the inter-deity squabbles you want.
There are also the monotheistic and dualism systems, meaning one or two deities respectively. Monotheism always felt a bit… boring to me, personally. Especially in a fantasy setting. Dualism is a lot more interesting, since it has an inherent conflict, which creates drama. Drama is inevitably what I want in my stories and worlds.
So when it comes to religions and their ceremonies and rituals, I do not have much experience with that. The designated behaviors and practices, morals, beliefs, and worldviews that are attached to a religion, have always been fairly simple in my worlds. For this, I highly recommend watching Matthew Colville’s series on creating a Pantheon, Religion, and a culture surrounding it. He explains it much better than I could.
I think the main takeaway from this is to shape your own deities and religious systems to what you think is relevant to the story or world you want to make, which isn’t really the best kind of advice since that’s kind of what you’re doing with most of your worldbuilding anyway.
Their use in TTRPGs
My experience with TTRPGs is not awfully long, only around 4 years of playing (as of the day that I’m writing this), but I’ve played D&D5e, had a thorough look at Pathfinder 2e, and dabbled a bit in SWADE. In D&D and in Pathfinder, it’s automatically assumed that gods exist and exert influence. Obviously, divine magic has to come from somewhere. Now, I love clerics, they’re probably my favorite class to play in D&D because of the amount of options they have in and outside of combat. Clerics (and sometimes Paladins) get their powers from the deities, posing as conduits for their god’s power and will. I love it if non-clerics also are religious in some aspect, since it can actually give a quick glance into the personality of a character through what deity they worship or at least associate loosely with.
Adventures and Stories
I think in most games deities only really come up in medium to high level story arcs, helping the gods beat up an evil god, stopping a very evil god from resurrecting due to a large cult of some kind, stories like that. In lower level situations, you will probably deal more with the people that serve the bad gods than the gods themselves. They’re definitely a good source for story and adventure ideas for your players.
Pantheons, gods and religions are very deeply engrained in most fantasy TTRPGs, it’s kind of expected. They’re a great source of adventure ideas and stories as well.
My Attempts at Pantheons
So I’ve had two different worlds with pantheons, working on a third. One has a lot (and I mean a lot) of deities, and one only has two.
A lot of my time building Xhoria has been, arguably, wasted on its deities. It contained 100+ deities over multiple pantheons… of which only a group of twelve were relevant, while taking a lot of my creative energy. It’s one of the main reasons I abandoned that world, but I’ll write a longer article about that some other day. You can read more about a couple of them on my wiki.
Eden has an interesting system of only two assumed deities, Lux and Nox, who are both not very friendly towards mankind. They’re both responsible for the two big troubles of the City of Lights. Clerics in Eden believe in the domains and not the gods, and get their divine magic from their conviction and dedication to that domain.
Very big spoilers below for my players who play in Eden, or if you don’t want to know.
So, between you and me, Lux and Nox do not exist, powerful forces do inhabit the world, like His Radiance and the Twelve Knights of Radiance, but they’re not considered deities. Lux and Nox aren’t relevant entities in my story, either, which gives me a little lee-way when it comes to that. This does go against D&D’s assumptions that gods exist and influence the world, I know, but bending those boundaries is just as enjoyable as staying within them.
I am going to write a separate article on my pantheon for Ae’thar, and what my train of thought was designing them. Hopefully you look forward to reading that!
Deities are great, y’all. They’re great ways to explain things in your world, from a planetary-scale to a small village’s culture. They’re also great vehicles for story arcs and adventures. While also keeping in mind that you don’t go overboard like I did, and keeping them relevant to the story to not overuse your creative juices.
This is also my first article, so I would love to hear your thoughts about it in any way you can. I’m pretty sure I’m mostly just rambling about things and throwing some of my thoughts on it here and there, but that’s what this blog is for, right? I’m open to suggestions, criticism and discussion about the things I write. Thank you for reading, and I hope you look forward to my deep-dive into my deities for Ae’thar!