World Building 101: You Shall Be As Gods

Last week, I discussed some of the issues to be considered when deciding what to include or exclude from your campaign setting. One of the most critical elements of any campaign—mechanically and flavorfully—is the nature of divinity and belief in the setting.

Your world’s gods, and their followers, can help lend a distinctive feel to the campaign setting. Whether the deities you create are unique or drawn from pantheons found in Earth’s history, the names, stories, and faithful will create atmosphere and mood that can permeate your entire campaign.

More than that, though—the deities of your campaign affect the options your players have when creating characters. Every divine class requires being faithful to at least one deity, and characters from other power sources may believe in and follow them as well. That is why it is so vital to give due consideration to the deities of your world.

There are many approaches you can take when creating your world’s religions. You might design a large pantheon, complete with intricate and complex relationships and histories between all of the gods and demigods. Alternately, your campaign setting may only have one deity, served by a host of angels. The gods may take an active role in the affairs of mortals, or they may be aloof and distant. The behavior of the faithful, as well, can be widely varied—you may have each god’s believers worship the same way, or you may have multiple conflicting sects, each claiming their way is the right way.

Monotheism vs Polytheism

D&D’s core setting—and most, if not all, of the published campaign worlds—are polytheistic. This means they have a varying number of gods, each with a particular sphere of influence. A polytheistic setting gives you freedom to have a wide variety of forms of worship, as well as a large number of interesting myths and legends to explore. It’s relatively easy to convert channel divinity feats from other settings, either from the core deities or the domain feats from Divine Power.

A monotheistic campaign, on the other hand, can set a different tone entirely. You could design a monolithic church, or a number of different sects all following the same god in different ways. Be careful with this kind of approach not to cut off access to channel divinity feats—consider granting them to different sects, perhaps belonging to different aspects of the god of your setting rather than multiple deities.

Active vs Aloof

Your setting’s gods may be actively involved in the affairs of mortals, for whatever reasons. Perhaps their power comes from the belief of their faithful, and they therefore spend time actively cultivating new followers. Perhaps they act to prevent a rival power—another god or something else—from taking control.

On the other end of the spectrum, the gods of your setting might only rarely appear before mortals, preferring to act through mortal agents such as clerics, paladins, or other divine classes. These gods may find mortals beneath their notice, or perhaps they are otherwise engaged with an extradimensional foe—if they are even still alive at all.

In either case, consider the implications of this decision on the followers of the gods. Gods who make regular appearances in the world are far easier to believe in than a deity whose existence is unproven and may even be dead or long since passed from the world.

The Faithful

The way mortals express their belief in the gods is at least as important as the gods themselves. However, there’s no need to spend too much time focusing on the exact details—always remember that minutiae bog down a campaign bible. Another reason not to go into too much depth is that by leaving some blanks you give room for players to bring their ideas to the table. Letting them create the religious orders to which their characters belong is a great way to get story hooks for divine characters.

Almost invariably, the divine has an important role in fantasy fiction. Regardless of your choices, you will find that spending time deciding on the pantheon for your world is valuable when you want to add flavor to the setting, or when your players want to choose a deity to worship. Creating a mythology for your world’s gods contributes directly to a richer game.

Comments (1)

Scott Lykins (January 27th, 2010)

ah, yet another i must reply..gods are a mere figure in RPGS and its becomeing more then not a problem for new Gms that they use “gods” to help out the players in tough situations..and as you can see this causes a problem and pulls away from the action of the players…

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