Last month, we thought about the basic geography of the campaign and put simple political and economic systems into place. This month, we'll flesh out a few details about the gods and religions of the campaign world, giving us everything we need to begin mapping out a starting point for play.
Gods, Myth, and Faith
Gods and faith are important components of the average AD&D game world for a couple of reasons. Fleshing out the divine forces that shape your fantasy universe gives you an opportunity to tackle some of the "cosmic" questions likely to be on the minds of your world's inhabitants. Where do we come from? How was the world created? What is magic? Your answers to these questions give your world flavor and help your players relate to the cultures you create. Also, don't forget that three of the game's basic character classes revolve around faith (Priest, Druid, and Paladin). It's quite likely that one or more of the players will select one of these classes, so you'll need some details to share with them before play begins.
If you have a copy available, take some time to flip through the pages of Legends & Lore, the AD&D game hardback that details a number of real world mythologies in game terms. You won't need nearly as much detail about your own gods as Legends & Lore provides, but a good perusal should get your creative juices flowing and get you into the right mood for the work ahead. While scanning Legends & Lore, be on the lookout for particularly interesting concepts or myths you can appropriate for your own world. You might even discover an entire pantheon that you can borrow for your game, particularly if you selected a "cultural" hook for your game world (see this column in Dragon Magazine #255). If you choose this path, you might want to change all the names of the gods, as well as a few important details to "file off the serial numbers" and prevent the players from recognizing them. This lets you keep some of the gods' secrets to yourself, at least until revealing them makes the game more fun.
The rest of this column presumes that you are creating your own mythology from scratch. Any information you borrow from Legends & Lore lets you skip one or more of the steps that follow.
In general, creating your own AD&D mythology is a five-step process. Before you begin, it's important to remind yourself of the First Rule of Dungeoncraft: "Never force yourself to create more than you must." At this point, all you need are a few simple details about the gods, their associated legends, and their followers. Although you might be tempted to start writing scores of elaborate legends and crafting dozens of highly detailed religious rituals, try to rechannel that enthusiasm for now. It will soon be needed elsewhere. You can always flesh out your mythology later, after you see how your players react to the bare bones you establish at the beginning. Once you decide to add more detail to your mythology, you might want to consult The Complete Priest's Handbook, which includes lots of useful tips and guidance.
1. Choose Polytheism or Monotheism
Your first step is to decide whether your faith is polytheistic or monotheistic. Polytheistic cultures believe in a collection of gods (collectively known as a pantheon). Typically, each of these gods has his or her own sphere of influence (such as air, water, wisdom, fire, magic, and so on), and the pantheon is organized according to some sort of hierarchy, with one or more gods ruling over the others. Polytheism is far and away the model most commonly employed in AD&D game worlds-all of TSR's published settings and all of the cultures detailed in Legends & Lore (except the Arthurian heroes) are polytheistic. Monotheistic cultures, on the other hand, believe in a single supreme deity. Although all divine power resides in this single being, even monotheistic cultures typically recognize a host of lesser divine beings such as saints, angels, avatars, or divine servants.
If you decide upon a polytheistic faith, your next step is to think about the various gods' spheres of influence and sketch out the hierarchy that defines the relationships between the gods. Typical spheres of influence include sunlight, earth, air, fire, water, weather, love, war, death, agriculture, wisdom, art, evil, and magic. Select any of these spheres that you feel are appropriate, or invent your own. You'll find plenty of ideas for other spheres in the pages of Legends & Lore or any decent book on world mythology. Try not to select spheres at random. Instead, come up with a reason why these particular spheres have their own dedicated gods. For instance, in a world on which it is believed that all things are composed of the four alchemical elements-air, earth, fire, and water-it makes sense that the four most important gods would command these spheres. If you cannot imagine this sort of direct relationship between spheres, stick to spheres that would have an obvious cultural interest to the inhabitants of your world. A warrior culture has an obvious need for a war god, for example, while a more civilized people might worship gods of wisdom or agriculture.
Typical hierarchies of polytheistic religions have a single god or a mated pair of gods that rules supreme over the others. Sometimes the lesser gods accept the dominion of the chief god, and in other cases they scheme to capture his or her throne. Often, the lesser gods are the offspring of the greater god, though sometimes they are siblings or even totally unrelated by blood. Some hierarchies are quite complex, featuring more than two levels or comprised of several separate and smaller hierarchies. Imagine, for instance, a world shaped by three great gods, none of whom is superior to the others. One god watches over nature, one watches over humans, and one watches over magic. The nature god has three lesser offspring: a sea god, a god of the heavens, and an earth god (who, in turn, has her own offspring, a goddess of agriculture). The god of humans also has three offspring, each representing humankind's most powerful passions: a god of love, a god of art, and a god of war. The god of magic has two offspring: a god of prophecy and a god of death.
Note that such complex hierarchies give you an interesting opportunity to say something about the nature of your world. The previous example, for instance, suggests something about how the inhabitants of the world might behave. Perhaps at any given time, each of the world's residents is under the influence of one of the lesser gods of humanity-love, war, or art. Similarly, the example also defines death (more broadly interpreted as decay or destruction) as a magical effect, perhaps influencing the magic spells you make available in the campaign and prompting you to redefine some of their effects. (If death is a magical effect, characters dying from disease, poison, or injury on such a world might be revealed by a detect magic spell.)
While it's okay to invent many gods at this stage, don't force yourself to do so. Whether you envision many gods or just a few, you'll detail only a few major powers before play begins (in accordance with the First Rule of Dungeoncraft). Since you want to share only as much information with the players as necessary to begin play, the big picture should be sketchy enough to allow you to detail other gods later.
If you'd rather employ a monotheistic approach, your only task at this point is to think about any lesser divine entities that serve or oppose your supreme being. Does your god employ servants, saints, or spirits? Were these beings created specifically to serve the supreme being, or were they "promoted" from among the ranks of the faithful who have passed on?
2. Determine the Nature of the Major Gods
Your second step is to consider the nature of your major deities (or the single supreme being, if you opted for a monotheistic faith). One of your first decisions is whether your god(s) are "personifications"-that is, whether or not they resemble human beings. The deities that typically crop up in AD&D games (and those appearing in TSR's published settings) are almost all personifications, though some cultures envision their deities as animals, spirits, or even nebulous and mysterious "forces." Opting for personified deities lets you set up more interesting relationships between the gods and makes it easier to generate myths and legends that might be used to propel adventures. On the other hand, non-personified deities are unusual enough to go a long way toward giving your game world a unique feel.
If you decide that your deities are personifications, you should then consider their basic personalities and demeanors. Some pantheons are composed of emotionless, otherworldly beings largely beyond human understanding. Others exhibit all the emotions and imperfections of humanity and are sometimes capable of being duped or tricked by mere mortals. In this latter case, the individual personalities of the various gods often stem from their spheres of influence. Sea and fire gods, for instance, are usually short-tempered and overbearing, love gods are carefree, and wisdom gods are thoughtful and taciturn. Try to come up with two or three adjectives that describe the personality of each deity. At this point, you should probably start confining your thinking to the three or four most important members of your pantheon, in accordance with the First Rule. Your goal is to develop only enough information to paint a rough picture and suggest a few options for any players who choose to create Priest, Druid, or Paladin characters.
If you've opted for more humanistic deities, you should now think about the relationships that exist between the various gods. Are any of your gods particularly good friends or particularly bitter rivals? Why? Sometimes the spheres of influence you have chosen suggest some obvious answers. For example, it's easy to imagine a fire god and a water god who are sworn enemies.
3. Describe the Faith and Worshippers
The next step is to think about how your major gods are worshipped (only your major gods; don't forget the First Rule). There are several important questions you should strive to answer. Think first about whether Priests and other worshippers are devoted to a single god or serve the entire pantheon. The former option gives you an opportunity to create interesting variations on the Priest character class, each with its own selection of weapons and special powers (see the Priest section of Chapter 3 in the Player's Handbook). A Priest devoted to a fire god, for instance, might have special access to the fireball or wall of fire spells, while the Priest of a war god might have a broader selection of weapons than the standard Priest class. The downside to this approach is that it forces you to work harder before beginning play; you'll need to create details about how each of your major gods is worshipped. Note that assigning special powers to your own Priest subclasses can be tricky and might easily upset play balance. Unless you have some experience with the AD&D game and a good "feel" for whether a given power is appropriate, try to use the following rules of thumb. Assign each Priest class three special abilities, one gained at 1st level, one gained at 7th level, and one gained at 12th level. The first is no more powerful than a 1st-level spell (of any class), the second is no more powerful than a 3rd-level spell, and the third is no more powerful than a 4th-level spell. Each ability is usable once per day, and any ability that is the equivalent of a Wizard spell is treated as though it was cast by a Wizard of one level lower than the Priest's own level. The Priests of a fire god, for instance, might have the following special abilities: affect normal fires at 1st level, fireball at 7th level, and fire shield at 12th level; a 7th-level Priest of the fire god casts his fireball as though he were a 6th-level Wizard. Alternatively, you can assign special powers by finding a similar god in the pages of Legends & Lore and borrowing that god's assigned powers, or make use of the more advanced suggestions found in The Complete Priest's Handbook. If there is an appropriate nature or forest god in your pantheon, you might simply rule that the Priests of this god are members of the standard Druid class described in the Player's Handbook.
In addition to assigning special powers to your Priest classes, you must also decide which spheres of Priest spells are available to them. (See Chapter 3 of the Player's Handbook for a complete description of all sixteen spell spheres.) Although balancing the number of available spheres against the special powers bestowed upon a new Priest class is more an art than a science, again there's a simple rule of thumb you can use. If you followed the guidelines above for assigning special powers, give each of your Priest classes major access to three spheres and minor access to three spheres. The responsibilities and nature of the deity in question should go a long way toward helping select the appropriate spheres from those listed in the PH. Priests of our archetypal fire god, for instance, might have major access to the Elemental, Combat, and Sun spheres; and minor access to the Healing, Divination, and Protection spheres. Since a Priest's ability to cast the various healing spells is important to AD&D game balance, you should assign each of your Priest classes at least minor access to the Healing sphere unless there is a good reason not to.
If you decide that the Priests of your world serve an entire pantheon or you've opted for a monotheistic faith, it's likely that your Priest player characters will all use the Cleric class. In this case, it's probably a good idea to re-read Chapter 3 of the Player's Handbook to refresh your memory on the special benefits and restrictions that apply to Clerics. Of course, nothing says that you can't create your own custom Priest classes to handle these characters, as well. You might even present the players with several different Priest classes that all worship the same pantheon or supreme being, but represent different factions or sects within the faith. Perhaps the fundamentalist followers of the pantheon have different abilities than the more mainstream priests, or maybe a special order of Priests within the faith have devoted their lives to a specific task or function. Likewise, there's nothing to stop you from making the Cleric class available to players (representing perhaps a special order of holy warriors or guardians) even if you've decided that most of the clergymen on your world are devoted to a specific deity and are members of the Priest class.
Now that you have some of the mechanics surrounding player character Priests and Clerics in place, think about whether the alignments of the Priest and Cleric classes should be restricted in any way based upon the nature of your gods. Depending on the god's personality and attitude, it might not make sense to allow Evil-aligned Priests to worship a god of healing. It's almost certainly inappropriate to allow Good-aligned Priests to worship gods of trickery or deceit. Try to make sure that you're presenting enough Priest and Cleric options to accommodate as many alignments as possible, but don't feel compelled to cover every single alignment. There's nothing wrong with deciding that there's simply no such thing as a Chaotic Evil Priest or Cleric in your world.
At this stage, you should also think briefly about what sort of religious services your Priest or Cleric factions hold, whether non-clergy attend these services, and where the services are held. Are services held once per week? Once per month? Are the services held in elaborate temples, sacred groves, or somewhere else? Does the service consist of a reading or lecture? Is there some sort of sacrifice? Don't get too carried away. For now, you need only a few sketchy details to help flesh out the faith. Later, as play progresses, you can elaborate.
Finally, take a few moments to set down two or three tenets for each of your Priest and Cleric class options. At least one tenet should describe a special belief of that class, and at least one other should consist of a special restriction. Your goal here is to give players a few details they can use to help flesh out their characters. Priests of a storm god might believe that all storms are an expression of their god's anger. Priests of a fire god might believe that fire is a holy, purifying force. Sample restrictions include: tithing (the Priest must give 10% of any wealth he receives to the church), chastity (the Priest is not allowed to marry or have romantic relations), enforced prayer (the Priest is required to spend several hours per week in prayer), and honesty (the Priest is not permitted to tell anything but the complete truth under any circumstance). When assigning restrictions, don't get too carried away. Your objective is to provide flavor, not to cripple members of the character class.
4. Create Two Myths
To seem lifelike to your players, your imaginary faith must consist of more than a few dry descriptions and restrictions. A great tactic you can use to add flavor to your religion is to think about its myths or its "explanations of cosmic mysteries." How was the world created? Where did humankind come from? What's the relationship between humans and the various demihuman races? What happens in the afterlife? How did humans discover the secret of fire? How did humans discover the secret of magic? These are all great examples of the sort of questions that interesting myths might tackle.
Before play begins, try to create two myths exploring any topics you choose. You should share these myths with the players just before the campaign begins to give them some idea of what faith and religion on your world are all about. Don't worry about providing anything too elaborate; a paragraph or two will do nicely. This is your opportunity to be creative. For inspiration, consult Legends & Lore, or head to the local library and spend a couple of hours with a book on world mythology. If you absolutely can't invent any myths of your own, don't be afraid to "borrow" a couple from these sources. Later, as play progresses, you'll create additional myths to flesh out your faith.
5. Imagine Other Faiths
Few fantasy worlds are dominated by a single religion. Take a few moments to think about whether there are any other faiths existing on your world that the players are likely to run across in their first few adventures and describe each with a single sentence. You needn't fully detail these alternate faiths using the procedure described in the first four steps unless you are going to allow the players the option of serving as their Priests or Clerics, a step you should take only if it's really necessary. Under most circumstances, you're better off requiring player clergy to stick to your primary faith at the beginning of the campaign.
Nonhuman faiths are a special exception. On most AD&D worlds, the various demihuman races worship their own sets of gods. If you want to follow a similar scheme on your own world, you must be ready to deal with any player who wants to create a nonhuman Priest or Cleric. The easiest solution to this problem is to adopt the official AD&D nonhuman deities into your own world. These entities described in Monster Mythology, Demihuman Deities, or The Complete Books of Elves (or Dwarves, etc.). If you'd rather create your own non-human deities, just follow steps one through four above. In this case, you can probably get away with inventing fewer details about the nonhuman deities than you invented for their human counterparts; create perhaps a single god in each appropriate nonhuman pantheon and a single myth.
If at all possible, try to determine the relationship between your primary faith and any alternates you create. Maybe the patriarchs of each pantheon are somehow related, or perhaps the various pantheons signed a sacred pact long ago to divide the world among themselves.
Example: Ray's World
With all the previous points in mind, it's time to return to my own campaign. Looking back at the information I've created in earlier installments, I think a monotheistic approach works best for my world. The "living planet" nature deity functions as a non-personified supreme being.
Moving on to Step Two, I think it's clear that the nature deity is not a personification. She (I've decided that the inhabitants of my world use the feminine pronoun when referring to the supreme being) shares all the attributes of nature-she can be bountiful and serene, or cold and destructive. In previous installments, I've already detailed some of her servants: treants she can imbue with a part of her consciousness and animate when necessary to protect her interests.
As for the faith and worshippers, the nature deity is honored, for the most part, by an extensive order of Clerics who maintain temples in sacred groves all over the campaign area. This order worships the deity's bountiful side and its members cannot be Evil in alignment. To make things more interesting, I envision two additional orders dedicated to the nature deity. The first is an Evil group that worships the nature goddess in her destructive capacity. Its leader was a high-ranking member of the main order who became seduced by the goddess' capacity for destruction. In civilized (i.e., Good-aligned) areas, this order operates entirely in secret and none of its members ever reveal their true nature to the outside world. The second lesser order consists of clergymen who devote their time and energies to protecting and exploring the world's extensive forests. Made up entirely of Druids, the leaders of this sect are ultimately responsible for protecting the secret tree mentioned in this column in Dragon Magazine issue #257. Note that all the clergymen in my campaign (so far) are Clerics or Druids; there are no Specialty Priests.
Services & Tenets of the Main Order
The main order holds special religious services in honor of the nature goddess during each change of seasons; the Clerics of the order spend the rest of their time studying, adventuring, trying to aid members of the flock, and spreading the reverence of the goddess. The services consist of lengthy festivals and banquets attended by most residents of the campaign area and designed to celebrate the goddess and her bounty.
The Clerics of the main order believe that the goddess' bounty is a manifestation of the good and evil of the world's inhabitants. So long as the flock continues to do good deeds, the goddess will deliver a bountiful harvest, the weather will be mild, and her people will enjoy long, peaceful lives. They also believe that owls are sacred; the owls are the "eyes" the goddess uses to monitor her flock. Clerics of the main order are required to spend one week of each season alone in the wilderness.
Services and Tenets of the Evil Order
The evil order also holds services during the change of seasons; its Clerics spend the rest of their time trying to attract and corrupt new followers. The evil order's services consist of human sacrifices, ceremonial bonfires, and acts of destruction.
The Clerics of the evil order believe that the main order has blinded itself to the goddess' true nature. Power and understanding, they believe, always stems from suffering and an acceptance of nature's destructive capacity. Clerics of the evil order are required to kill one innocent each season to reaffirm their faith.
Services & Tenets of the Druidic Order
The druidic order holds a service on the night of every full moon, consisting of chanting and a reading of litanies. The Druids believe that the goddess' only daughter (the planet's single moon) will one day take her place in the cosmos; life will eventually die out on the main planet and spring up on the moon. The Druids are required to abide by all the restrictions of the Druid class listed in the PH.
One myth commonly repeated across the campaign area is that all the living creatures on the planet are actually a part of the goddess herself. As they move across the planet, they are like blood flowing through her veins. The main order views evil as a sort of cancer infecting the goddess.
A second oft-repeated myth explains the origin of the planet's single moon. Most inhabitants of the campaign world believe that the moon is the daughter of the goddess; it, too, is a sentient, living being. According to legend, the moon was once a continent on the main planet. It was thrown into the sky by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that took place more than ten thousand years before the campaign begins, a process the clergy equates with childbirth.
I've decided that most of the demihumans across the campaign world don't worship the goddess directly, instead honoring her treant servants. The demihumans view themselves as the treants' heralds and protectors. Humanoids are believed to be demihumans (and their descendants) who were long ago corrupted by evil: orcs were once elves, goblins were once dwarves, etc. Beyond that, I don't envision any other sects that might be significant at this time.
The Second Rule of Dungeoncraft
Of course, now that I've created some new information, the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft (see Dragon Magazine issue #255) compels me to invent a secret that is somehow related to that information. I've decided that the Druids are more correct about the moon than they realize; the nature goddess did originally intend for her daughter, the moon, to replace her in the natural cycle. Unknown to the Druids, however, the moon has already birthed the new life form that is destined to replace humankind: mind flayers! (See page 251 of the Monstrous Manual book for more details.) These creatures are so malevolent that the nature goddess has disowned the moon and is striving to create an entirely new moon to replace her. The mind flayers and their moon goddess, of course, hope to foil this scheme and claim their birthright. While these events won't impact the campaign for some time, they're bound to lead to all sorts of interesting adventures down the road.