101 Damnations: Creating a Pantheon, Part 1 1

Hello LP readers! Here I’m going to discuss the practical and impractical when it comes to homebrewing your very own pantheon of gods for your own game of D&D.

Decisions, Decisions

When homebrewing your own campaign, you should establish early on if you want to create your own pantheon of gods and goddesses, or if you’re going to use an established group (or groups) of deities for the campaign. There are certain pros and cons to both options, and you might want to compare them before ultimately deciding which path you want to take. Starting off with a premade pantheon is a good deal less work – you literally don’t have to do anything. There’s a list of dozens of gods in the PHB and you can pick and choose the ones that you like. However, you’ll then probably want to create a reason why those Gods exist in your world, unless you decide to erase their personal histories and legends and just use the bare-bones statistics. Your players also are probably more familiar with these gods as well, but that can be a double-edged sword: they might want something new and even offer to make their own god (especially those playing clerics, druids, and paladins). However, to really make an adventuring world unique, creating your own pantheon can add an immense wealth of lore that you can build on and have your players explore. In addition, it gives your campaign an extra dimension to your players, who have that many more options for characters and backgrounds. A custom pantheon can tie together a homebrew world, giving it balance and legitimacy.

If you do decide on customizing your own pantheon, you will inevitably have to answer a few basic questions about their role within your world.

First, are you going to create a world and model your gods after you’ve established races, kingdoms, and regions? Alternatively, are you going to start with this new collection of gods and create a world to match the beings you’ve created?

Secondly, what type of role will these gods take? Are they going to be like the Greek gods, moody and active, always meddling in the affairs of humans? Or will they take a backseat to the whims and tales of the Material Plane, stepping in only in the most extreme cases?

Finally, how many gods will you want in your campaign? This last one serves mostly as a balancing act, and is a hard number to pin down. You’ll need a representative for each cleric domain you allow, and sometimes gods can overlap in power so choosing the right amount is tricky. Currently as of the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, there are 11 domains. Even the smallest pantheons can house two dozen major deities – Greyhawk has 25, Forgotten Realms has 37, Dragonlance has 21, and Ebberon has 21. These don’t count the non-human deities such as racial deities or animals gods, which end up with another 24 on top of whatever setting you’re using. This can be quite the daunting task, which is why is often takes a backseat to some campaigns, or is never fully realized. Numbers like these need serious consideration on how big you want your campaign’s pantheons to be, taking into consideration your players wants, your time commitment, and how you view the world you’re making.

As for the act of creating a god, I’ve broken down gods into four major categories. However, I don’t want you to read them as exclusive zones, but quite the opposite. These four categories are all part of the cosmic Venn diagram that will be your pantheon. Gods will overlap in power and that is totally permissible. Few campaigns could sustain a different god for every holy power. How tedious would it be to create a god of the Sun, a god of heat, a god of life, a god of grass, a god of flowers, and a god of spring and summer when those can be all one god? We know from the premade pantheons that you’re going to have many gods already, so combining their domains (hopefully in unique and creative ways!) can save you hours of work. The four inclusive, overlapping categories are Natural, conceptual, regional, and racial. The first three can be seen in our own world, like the Norse pantheon, while the last category, racial, plays a special part in Dungeons and Dragons lore.

Categories of Deities

Deities in the natural category aren’t just gods of nature, but of natural phenomenon, animals, plants, and generally all things on the material plane (like the Earth, the Sun, or the Moon). In the real world, many ancient gods and goddesses were created to explain why things worked in the world before scientific advancement answered those questions. Why does the river rise and fall with the season? Who causes the seasons? What are those glowing orbs in space? While there can be some crossover with conceptual deities, they generally have a good reason to include those specific aspects within their pantheon. Natural deities are staples for druid, rangers, and many barbarians. Monks can even be linked to natural deities, such as Buddhist monks who value every living creature right down to the tiniest bugs, or maybe monks of your own invention that believe in reincarnation and transformation. Natural gods include Thor, god of thunder; Chauntea, goddess of agriculture; and Pan, god of nature and fauna. A good example of natural crossing over with conceptual would be Malar, god of the hunt (combining a natural order of predator and prey, but also with the intent of killing). A good crossover between natural and regional would be Umberlee, goddess of the sea (worshipers can be both reverent to the ocean and its place in the world, but also to coastlines and coastal communities that depend on the sea).

Conceptual deities cover emotion, ideas, philosophies, alignments, and the abstract. Often they deal with things that can’t be held, only thought or felt. Conceptual deities run the gamut of power, with some being extraordinarily powerful, to being so niche that there aren’t many followers but more drop-in prayers. A god of all magic and creation might be the most powerful deity in your world with millions of followers, but the god of humor and laughter might only be worshiped during parties and rabble-rousing. Fighters worship conceptual gods of war, strength, and conquest, paladins worship conceptual gods of valor, honor, law, and justice, and rogues worship the conceptual deities of trickery, cunning, and deception. Spell caster worship conceptual gods and goddesses of knowledge, discipline, and power. Conceptual deities include Bane, the god of tyranny; Heironeous, god of chivalry and valor; Anubis, god of judgement; and Aureon, god of law and knowledge. Crossovers between conceptual and natural gods would be Apep, god of fire and serpents or Zeus, god of the skies and god of gods. Crossovers between conceptual and regional would be Athena, god of wisdom but also the god of Athens, Greece; another would be Horus-Re, god of leaders, the sun, and of Mulhorand.

Regional deities are gods that hold dominion of a specific physical place or area. They can be the gods of a forest or mountain, a city-state or country, or can be the god or goddess of a culture. It is possible to have a regional deity also serve as a racial deity, but for now, we will make the distinction. These gods are usually part of a greater collection of gods and can often be in direct opposition, competition, or alignment with similarly stylized gods. Theses gods stem from tribalism and division among worshippers, and can vary in power a great deal. Examples of regional deities include Mixcoatl, god of the Tlaxcalteca people; Marduk, god of Babylon; and Dionysus, god of Thebes. Regional gods usually have secondary functions, and rarely are the gods of one specific place alone. Many times, they are adopted as patron gods because of their actions; or how a culture venerates the gods’ abilities and personality. Huitzilopochtli is the god of the Mexica of Tenochtitlán, but is also a natural god of the Sun. Itzamna, god of the Maya, also serves as the conceptual god of medicine and time.

Racial deities are gods and goddess that are tied to the creation of protection of a specific race within D&D. They have the unique property of being tied to one race, and are almost universally respected by all members of the race (either proudly or begrudgingly) and are almost never worshiped outside of it. This serves as the most D&D-esque category for gods, mostly because almost every race has a creation god, and there are so few real world examples that are good parallels. Everyone in Greyhawk, for instance, knows who Moradin is even if they aren’t a dwarf, but almost no one in pre-colonization Europe would have been able to know who Asdza’a’Nadleehé (a Navajo goddess creation spirit) was. Moreover, invariably religions in our world often supplant one another – the Aztec gods were erased and replaced with Christianity in the 1500’s, for example, rather than there being a separate but equal pantheon. In D&D, the goblin gods are the goblin gods, and won’t be worshiped by gnolls or giants or dwarves, no matter who conquers who. This is mostly a function of reality – gods in D&D are tangible, active players in the affairs of the Material Plane, so they carry more gravity of worship by their created peoples. Racial deities include Corellon Larethian, god of the elves; Gruumsh, god of the orcs, Surtur, god of the fire giants, and Maglubiyet, god of the goblins. Almost every racial god has a secondary or tertiary domain: for example, Kurtulmak is the god of kobolds but also the god of mining.

Things to Come

This should be a great primer to get your cognitive activity warmed up. Take some time to prepare what kind of gods you want to see, and experiment with combining and replacing some of the old tropes. Twist the classic parallels and see what you can come up with. Separate common pairs like life and death or fire and water, and mash them up and see what happens. And, when we examine Part Two, we will go over how I decided on the Dragon Pantheon (with only three gods!) to cover all 11 domains.

Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out for our second half!

About Cassiyus

Cassidy loves translation, snow leopards, and creating characters he’ll never play. Charisma is never his dump stat.

One thought on “101 Damnations: Creating a Pantheon, Part 1

  • Jason Scott Gleason

    I really enjoyed your method of categorizing pantheons here. I’m looking forward to the second part of this, to see how you created a Dragon pantheon.

    I took a very different approach in my game world, because my world evolved differently than the classical D&D model. What you’ve outlined above, however, does a great job of providing an imaginative scaffold on which you can hang the existing D&D rules set in a way that is infinitely malleable. My complements!

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