This is the first installment in a five part series where I take you through my process of creating your own pantheon, from the beginning steps here in part one, to a deeper dive about your deities in part three, and finally a finished example of my Syvega Pantheon in part five.
There is nothing more satisfying than running a game in a world you created yourself. Your cities, your cultures, your continents- your everything! Making a homebrew campaign is a lot like writing a screenplay, and running the sessions is like watching actors without a script find their way through the scenes.
The one thing I often see overlooked in homebrew worlds is an original pantheon, and I’ve been guilty of this as well. When I first began writing my own game worlds it was a lot easier to steal an established pantheon, be it one from our world such as the Greek pantheon, or one from an established fantasy setting, such as D&D’s Greyhawk. There is nothing inherently wrong with transplanting these deities in, and quite frankly I encourage budding Game Masters to use whatever tools are at their disposal. But at some point along the way I had noticed that my players got a little too cozy with their knowledge of these gods- gods who supposedly had power beyond the comprehension of their characters- so I decided to switch things up and make my own pantheon.
I met different amounts of success as I tried different ideas with different campaigns, sometimes scrapping the results at the last minute because the quality wasn’t there. Over time I eventually came to create gods, goddesses, and other celestial beings that my players could buy into and want to learn about and also satisfied my own standards for inclusion in my game. It’s not that difficult and mostly, like a lot of worldbuilding, includes asking yourself a lot of questions and letting your creative juices flow.
As a note, the Dungeon Master’s Guide for 5e has a section on choosing or making a pantheon right in Chapter 1. It talks about the pros and cons of a traditional pantheon, monotheism, dualism, and other theological possibilities. Rather than discuss the pros and cons of each, I’m sticking with the assumption you’re creating a traditional pantheon with multiple deities having sway over different domains, such as life, nature, war, and so on and so forth (Etcetera is the goddess of So On And So Forth, by the way).
The first step is to think about if there are any mechanics built into the game that could help structure your pantheon. For example, in D&D 5e, the different Cleric domains are a natural starting point for deciding how many deities you may need and what they may be the deity of. Domains such as Life, War, Nature, and so on from 5e get your brain moving and give us a default number of deities. Using just the domains in the Player’s Handbook yields seven domains, while incorporating domains from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and other books will give you more, as will some homebrew content should you choose to include it. In other games, narrower or broader categories to choose from could give way to more or less options and as a result give you more or less deities. If your game of choice includes no mechanical features that could dictate this, look to other pantheons such as Greek or Norse to get an idea of what different gods there may be kicking around. No matter what you use and how you get there, you should have a written out list of the different domains of the deities you need or want to include.
The great thing is once you have this list, you can really start to tighten it up or expand upon it. Using the seven domains from 5e, you might decide you only want four deities. You can look at the list and see what domains naturally go together or diametrically oppose each other and could be encompassed by a single being. In this example, Nature and Tempest seem like a natural fit to me, as do Light and Life. That still leaves us with five when you get an idea- combine Knowledge and Trickery (leaving War as the odd domain out) to make a sneaky yet smart deity. As you combine these you’ll find yourself naturally thinking of why they go together and get a really rough idea of who these deities may be.
On the other side, you may wish to expand upon these domains and have multiple deities per domain. Simply leave them as is for now- we’ll cover some ideas on how to make deities of the same type unique and different from one another. However for the sake of our ongoing example, let’s keep to one deity per domain.
At this point, I have my list of domains, I have decided to not combine or expand the domains, and so now I need seven deities. At this point I will normally come up with a name- any name– and assign it to each domain. This may and probably will change later, but it helps me personify them as I go through the next steps. You can decide anything else at this point that is coming to mind- maybe you’ve had a specific idea in mind that you thought would be cool. Write that down! No use in letting good ideas sit and potentially be forgotten.
So, what next steps? Well, let’s take our god of Light as an example. I decided, in the interim, this deity is a god named Edison. So he has a name, he has a domain- but why does he seem lame? Because we need to answer those classic W’s (and H) to give him personality.
We already have the basic Who and What figure out as Edison, God of Light. But before tackling the other questions, I like to expand on these two some more, narrowing down on the What since the Who (Edison) is likely a placeholder.
Light is our in-game mechanical name for what Edison is the god of- but that doesn’t mean he has to be the god of light per se. He could be the god of the Sun or the god of Fire. How about the god of Lightning- wait, no, that would fall under Tempest for sure, but that gives me an idea that I’m going to tuck away and reveal later. Eventually I decide that Edison will be… the God of Light. It may not seem like I’ve done anything, but having thought about it I have decided he sees over all sources of light. Fire is his domain, as is the sun, and even moonlight. As a matter of fact, if Edison had his way, he’d want it to always be light out. I didn’t intend to do any real character building with this one question, but it has occurred naturally while thinking about the What. As for Who- I’m going to stick with just the name and desire for light for now; I want to figure out a little bit more about Edison before I fill in more details.
Now we can start to go wild on the When, Where, Why, and How. I group these together because at this point I try to answer as many questions as I can that could answer one or all four of these at once. I like to come up with a standardized list before working on any gods so that I’m asking the things for all of them. Naturally, the answers you find yourself giving could trigger another question, which is both fine and helpful! Here’s a short sample list of questions that I will ask about Edison as well as the other gods:
Don’t worry if this seems like a lot to think about; fact of the matter it can be a bit overwhelming the first time you go through. The good news is is that you are literally making it up. There is no right or wrong, and you’ll find after a time or two that the answers come quicker and easier. Another thing to think of is, if you’re feeling noncommittal on a particular question (say, How and When they became a god), you can always make it an ominous “no one knows” and work it into your game later- assuming it even comes up! Part 4 of this series will include an expanded list of example questions you may want to answer.
Once you’ve answered your questions, your finished product might read something like this:
Edison- God of Light
Edison wants to bathe the world in everlasting light and drive out the darkness. He was once a powerful wizard who tried to create permanent light for people to save torches, but was accidentally pulled into one of his own spells. As the arcane power combined with his own, his body disappeared and a glowing figure remained. No one knows what happened after that, or how that led to him becoming a god. People worship him because they are forced to live in dark places, or have enemies who are averse to the light. Edison helps people by giving his clerics the ability to create light that lasts for a long time, and by providing the needed light to his people’s crops on overcast days.
We now have a decently fleshed out god to use, and I didn’t even answer all of the questions above. You may go back and edit things here or there as new ideas inevitably pop into your head, or maybe you’ll create another deity and want to link them in some way. The best place to start is to just get to writing down ideas and revising as you. I found that working on each stage across the pantheon works best for me- give them all a name, then give each one the Who/What treatment, and finally answer questions about them- as I can tie them into each other better. You may be better off focusing on one at a time, but I’ll leave that up to you as it is personal preference.
In Part 2 of this series, I’ll discuss how to expand the pantheon beyond the number of domains by using minor deities. Later on in the series you’ll learn how to tie your deities together, I’ll give you an expanded list of questions to ask about them, and you’ll see a finished example.
Until then, see what you can come up with using for deities using the steps above, and share them in the comments!
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