JP On Gaming

Monday, December 28, 2009

World Building: Pantheons and deities

I have always been of the opinion that pantheons are as tied to the world as the names of its nations and the uniqueness of a game setting. Each world should have a pantheon of its own giving it flair, flavor, and distinctiveness.

When one creates a cleric or a character with a divine-feel, the choice of the deity greatly influence what type of character will result. A cleric dedicated to the god of death as opposed to a god of healing and life usually play very differently. A holy warrior of the god of war or the god of commerce does not have the same outlook on things. Their choice of deity changes how the PC will approach certain situations.

Existing vs. New Pantheon

There is much to be said about reusing a pantheon when creating a new campaign world. First, it allows the creator to use something he and his players know. No need to spend a long time explaining the god represents what. "You reached the temple of Zeus in town." Most players would know that he is god of lightning and royalty. However, he brings with him a lot of baggage and myths you may not want in your world: his constant womanizing may not be something you wish to include in your campaign, or Hera’s jealousy and constant vengeance upon his loves.

Creating a new pantheon is exciting. It is an opportunity to create a unique cosmology for your world. How was the world created? Did the god of the sea and the god of fire wrestle? Did the sky god and the earth goddess fall in love? However you wish to spin it, the gods and the cosmology of the world are tightly woven together.

What are the relations between the gods? How do they interact with each other? Why is there one who rules over them? Is there a head of the gods? Why?

Regional vs. Global Pantheon

I like having a common, core pantheon of a few greater deities who are worshipped pretty much everywhere. Those deities should be few in number: six to twelve are a good number. Other deities would be local and add flavor.

Changing the pantheon when one travels throughout the world is just complex. It forces so much work on the DM/creator and generally confuses the players. Isn’t Abagug the god of fire? Regional pantheons should add a few gods to the overall, and not make the world much more complex. Locally certain deities might appear major, but when one leaves their centers of worship, they are quickly forgotten.

How many Gods are too many?

If there is more than twenty major gods, there are too many for a unique world. Most of the others simply become redundant or lacking in flavor. Local and minor gods can be added in infinite numbers, being limited in influence.

Yes, the Greeks had hundreds of Gods, but of those only twelve were widely worshiped. The "big twelve" were: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Apollo, and either: Demeter, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia OR Alpheus, Cronus, Rhea and the Charites (the three Graces) (depending on the source). Of those big twelve, each city usually had a patron they worshipped over the others. Thus there were usually two or three main gods worshipped in a given town.

How many Gods are too few?

Obviously, this is a fantasy game and a monotheistic model is not the most interesting thing to have. Similarly limiting a players’ choice to ten or less deities is overly restrictive. I think twenty is a good medium. It allows for variety.

Unclear Pantheon: The "Arcanis" Model

I think Paradigm (creators of Arcanis) first came out with this concept I call the "unclear pantheon". In traditional D&D, a god is given a clear alignment and his church follows that alignement. Any off-the-path cult is usually manipulated or masquerading as worshippers of that god. The unclear pantheon is fuzzier. The gods or their church do not have alignment. A deity can have chaotic, evil, good, lawful or neutral followers. Cults regroup people of a similar mentality (evil people flock to evil cults, good to good, etc). This blurs the line between factions and alignment.

This model is best, I believe for a campaign where the line between good and evil are is not clearly defined and where the PCs must decide on the lesser of two evils.

Portfolio: stick to the important stuff

It is impossible to cover everything when creating a pantheon. The major gods should have defined portfolios that cover whatever is most important in the world. Common themes include the sun, water, family, fertility, fire and death. However in a primeval world, the seasons might be most important.

Don’t try to cover everything. Cover the important things first.

The Forgotten Realms Fiasco

Frankly, I include this one for completeness, but I doubt you will ever see a JP setting with this as a premise. I can often be said that "in Forgotten Realms, the gods play poker and they trade followers, portfolios and influence." That is, gods rise, fall, change folio, all within a ridiculously short time span.

To me, the gods are something that hold the world together and while they can either interact with the world a lot, a little or not at all, who they are and what they represent is mostly immutable. The sun god is the sun god! Not the sun god today, the torture god tomorrow and the god of thieves next week.

Add to that the ridiculous number of deities in Forgotten Realms and you have it. As the title reads: Forgotten Realms fiasco!

Classifying the gods

I think there should be three classifications of god:

Greater A greater god is a deity that is commonly worship throughout the world, or a large portion of it. Finding temples and shrine to this deity is common anywhere. Usually, the church of this deity is powerful and rich, having fortresses and militant orders. Most people can easily identify the symbol of this god. A good example is Pelor in Greyhawk: his followers can be found pretty much anywhere.

Regional A regional god is a deity whose worship is usually limited to a finite geographical area. Regional gods are well-known and their worship might rival that of a greater god in that area. However, beyond that, they are either unknown or with very limited means. An example of this would be Pholtus in Greyhawk: they are extremely powerful in the Pale, but have limited influence outside the theocracy.

Saint or Hero-god A saint or hero god is usually associated with a single location (lake, mountain) or city. The church of the god is limited outside that area. An example of this would be Marduk, the patron-god of the city of Babylon. His influence was initially limited to the city and the land it controlled.

Final Choice

Even after I wrote this, I am not certain of the avenue I wish to take. I like the core and regional pantheons approach, I like the unclear pantheon, I like to categorize the god with their sphere of influence...

This really has not helped. I am still exactly where I was before!


Friday, December 18, 2009

It’s Christmas!

Now comes a time where most of us head out to see family and friends, it also means a time when gaming is meager as getting table together is hard, particularly if you have a non-gamer spouse or family (hey look! That’s me!) During this time, I always try to get a quick gaming fix, but that’s not always possible (especially this year). So what to do when you can’t play? Well, you WRITE of course! I find it is a great time to sit down and put all kind of ideas to the e-page! So I will be writing for Christmas!

Here’s a little Christmas carol for all of you…

Merry Christmas all


Monday, December 14, 2009

World Building: Nations

Last night, I found myself thinking about a new campaign world, something that was both new and old with some interesting twists. A million unclear ideas came to mind, twists on existing nations from other worlds, from the real world, campaign plots and subplots, adventure locations and unique NPCs. I tried to make some sense out of it all and come up with a way I could quickly separate them from one another. Before getting into the hot and heavy of everything, I needed locations. I needed countries to set my world.

My next step was to come up with a way to break down into a few sentences what I would like to do. Since I did not plan to write a whole gazetteer from day one, I could only define those elements I needed and work from there. The point-of-light theory that WotC used to talk about in the early days of 4e is the path I wish to take when defining this world, build from small to large, adding adventure locations, villages and other towns. The big towns are just dots on the map until they are needed in an adventure.

For now, I am not worried about a pantheon, a cosmology or even a game system (although I do have one in mind). I am only worried about defining a few nations in my world.

The 10 Questions

Describe your country/region using as few words or sentences as you can.

  1. Using a base human culture (ie: Vikings, 13th Century France, Ancient Egypt)
  2. Using an earthly location (ie: Himalayas, South American jungle)
  3. By its main villains (ie: undead lord, humanoids horde)
  4. By its ruler(s)/government (ie: feudal monarchy, council of nobles, druidocracy)
  5. By the major alignment of the government
  6. By the major alignment of the population
  7. By the major races to be found in your country
  8. One strange/unique law
  9. What to do in that country?
  10. Give it a name.

Example 1: Amoran

  1. Byzantine Empire (about 10-11th Century), the central authority is seen by most citizen as important, but a series of weak rulers has eroded its actual power. Provincial governors and an endless stream of viziers really control the bureaucratic government.
  2. Aegean Sea (Archipelago of smaller island surrounded by bigger landmasses)
  3. Humanoid hordes: the kingdom is threatened by roving bands of goblinoids. Though not united, the goblins are lead by 3- a tightly-knight group of shamans. Many oultying provinces have been lost to the goblins.
  4. The government is a traditional feudal monarchy ruled by King Alexos III. The king is a sickly young man of about 20. Although his health is failing, he wants to restore his prestige and power. Real power is in the hands of the many Viziers, local prefects and ministers.
  5. The king is N(G) but the many administrator make the government as a whole a CN state. Provincial government' alignment cover all of the neutral alignments (LN/NG/N/NE/CN).
  6. As a whole, the population would be described as N.
  7. Humans, half-orc and halflings mostly. Elf, half-elf and gnomes uncommon. Dwarves are rare (usually foreign mercenaries).
  8. Permits have to be obtained for any excavation or exploration of any dungeon or crypt. Those permits grant the state a 40% share of any loot found AND first pick of any treasure found. Fines for "smuggling antiques" are very steep. However, the many ancient crypts and ruins are often filled with treasure which makes the permits a good idea for most adventurers.
  9. The King is seeking to redress the country and regain the power the crown once held. The Viziers & governors wish to keep their power.
  10. The Kingdom of Amoran

Example 2: Dwarven Lands of Enmel

  1. Early Celtic Ireland: scattering of clans and tribes linked together through a complex system of alliances.
  2. Switzerland: hilly valley separated from the world by tall mountains
  3. Foreign Influence: a neighboring power is attempting to invade the valley. The foreign power tries to take over by any means they can.
  4. One of the clan leaders is elected by the other kings as High King for 10 years. The High King is King Kernan, a lazy hedonist with no redeeming quality.
  5. The government of the high king is clearly CN. Most clans lean towards N, NG or CG.
  6. The people are of the same alignment as their local government: N, NG or CG
  7. Dwarves and Gnomes are most common. Humans and Halfling are rarely seen. Elves, half-elves and half-orcs are rarely encountered
  8. Family legacies are traced through the mother. Thus the eldest woman (or the one with the most children) holds the effective power in a clan. Her word is law to her children.
  9. There are few ruins and crypts, but there are many ancient mines and tunnels. Many of which are controlled by derro and other creatures from the Underworld.
  10. The Lands of Enmel

Example 3: Selimen of the South

  1. Ancient Egypt: central government on mostly docile people
  2. One could hardly think of an Egyptian-style country without the desert and a large, Nile-like river. As a twist, the country is composed of a land of many lakes of varying sizes, mixing to Minnesota and Venice together. Around those lakes would be a vast desert.
  3. The main villains here would be dark creatures from the desert, the Aredjim. They would be a mix of genies and undead, a race of creatures that in the long-long ago ruled the land. They now wish to sink the country beneath the sands.
  4. The God-King is Horemheb, an aging king who was a great warrior in his youth. Most of his sons have been killed fighting against the Aredjim or invaders. Only a few are left and there is much discussion as to which one he will chose to succeed him.
  5. The government is strongly LN.
  6. The people are LN, but LG, LE and N are also very common.
  7. Humans composed the near totality of the population, most other races are rarely found here.
  8. Every citizen must serve as a slave in one of the great building project every 10 years. This service is unpaid, but they are fed, clothed and sheltered. The only way to avoid this service is to join the army.
  9. The desert is full of Aredjim ruins hidden in the sands.
  10. Selimen

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Diversifying: Writing Wargaming Articles

As most of you know by now, I have an intense love affair with history. The Roman Empire, 17th Century France, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Era, the 19th century and the early 20th, hold a dear place in my heart. I read many things about the subject as a point of personal interest. My love of history extends into my other hobbies: role-playing and miniature gaming. I own an extensive collection of miniatures for most of the eras above.

When Wargames Foundry (a UK-based company that produces some of the best miniatures around) posted on their mailing list that they were looking for new writers to write miniature gaming, modeling and historical articles, the temptation was too strong and I sent my name.

I was very happy when, a few days later an email from Foundry popped up in my inbox with instruction and guidelines. I devoured the whole thing, had a look at their website for ideas. I did not wait long for inspiration. Hitting a few choice websites, books and wargames magazines I owned, I tried to find something about the Great Illyrian Rebellion. Although there was some information, I could find nothing I could take with me to a gaming table. My choice was made. It would be about the Great Illyrian Rebellion of 6-9AD. The conflict pitted the elite of the Roman Empire against the wild mountain men of Dalmatia (pretty much Yugoslavia).

At this time, I asked some friends to review my work and give me their impression, the Colorado Spring Historical Group and Linda chief among them. Reviews are positive so far. I can’t wait to submit the final draft. I think the article is solid, but I want to be sure.

More details later.