(This article is currently being updated in layout and content- check back soon for updated versions of Parts 1 and 2 and a new Part 3!)
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.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | 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 got the basic Who and What figured (Edison, God of Light), but are there other things that he can be Who or What? For example, he’s the god of Light where Light is a game mechanic, but specifically is he the god of the sun? The god of all light Asking the ‘What’, maybe he’s also the god of the sun, or maybe he’s the god of fire. Nothing says he even needs to be the god of light per se, so long as what he is the god of is relatable. You can even add a secondary domain that is less pronounced in his worship, such as Tempest. Then you can revisit the ‘Who’: Maybe he’s a hive-mind, or maybe he’s part of a duo, Edison and Sol, that co-rule this domain. This is a chance to break out of the cookie cutter and create something unique, especially if what you choose is dynamic. Going off of the co-deities idea, maybe Sol acknowledges that at night their job is done, while Edison’s goal is to make it light out forever. Their clashing over their domain could mean that worshippers of these two are at odds with one another, or if they have co-worshipers, their followers could be really confused on what tenets to follow!
Next we have the When, Where, Why, and How. I group these four together because they often are asked together, and are all a part of the detail phase. Examples of things to ask here would be: How did they become a god, and when was it? Where are their worshippers, and why do people worship them? How do these gods express their will? When and how do they help their people? If this seems like a lot to think about, it is, or rather it can be. Sometimes you don’t need to think of it all right away, or even at all. For example, maybe no one alive knows the story of how Edison became a god. You can decide to not write that, unless it becomes important in your campaign later on. Or maybe you’ll end up improvising it along the way, which is perfectly fine! Just make sure you write down anything you improvise for consistency later on.
After you feel more acquainted with your deity, and you have a better idea, they might be looking like this:
Edison- God of Light and Warmth.
Edison wants to bathe the world in everlasting light and drive out the darkness and cold. He was once a powerful wizard who tried to create permanent light that gave heat 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 sheds warmth, and by providing needed light to his people’s crops on overcast days.
We now have a decently fleshed out god to use, and I didn’t answer many of the questions I listed out. 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 go through it with each being. 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. Later on in the series I’ll also give you an expanded list of questions you can ask about your deity like we did above and talk about tying the pantheon together with relationships and followers.
Until then, see what you can come up with using for deities using the steps above, and share them in the comments!
Category: Roleplaying Games
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