Friday, April 3, 2015

Designing a campaign world - pt. 2: the Gods of Atheon

Religion, for me, can go either way in a campaign setting. In more Sword & Sorcery - flavored campaigns, I typically don't put a lot of emphasis on the gods, there are hundreds if not thousands of them in many such settings, but the trade-off of such profligate deities is a drastic lessening of their overall influence. For Atheon, I want them to play a much bigger role, part of the warp and weave of my setting's fabric.

Since I'm making the setting specifically for a (potential) future 5E campaign, I'm basing the gods on the eight domains D&D currently offers: Knowledge, Light, Life, Tempest, Nature, Trickery, War, and Death. There is a ninth god as well, but we'll discuss him later. So here's Atheon's pantheon of deities:

Izkalal (Knowledge) - Also known as the Master of Tomes and the Old Ibis, Izkalal appears as an old, bearded man clutching an Ibis-headed staff in one hand, and a bronze-covered tome in the other. He is the patron of learning, of libraries, and of the sciences. His priests practice fanatic austerity, and dress in simple white robes hemmed in runes of brass thread. There are no true formal temples to Izkalal, per se, though all the great libraries of Atheon possess a chapel in his honor.

Nabara (Life) - Also known as the All-Mother, or Mother of Mothers. She appears as a curvaceous woman of fertile age with angelic wings and bearing her holy golden sickle in one hand. She is the patron of Fertility, Food, and the flood and fall of Atheon's rivers. Her clergy is predominantly female, and wear diaphanous robes of white and silver gossamer. There is a militant wing of the clergy known as the "Arak-Nar" (or colloquially as Spear-Maidens). It is considered a great crime to harm or otherwise molest a priestess of Nabara, as the withdrawal of their favor can result in blights and starvation for entire regions. Her temples are great domes, built over natural springs when possible.

Sinma (Light) - Also known as Lord of the Sun, Nightslayer, and the Shining Man. He appears as a young golden-skinned man with golden wings. He holds a rod of pure light in one hand, and a golden circle in the other. Occasionally, he may appear as a golden eagle, or as a male sphinx. He is considered by some to be the brother of Nabara. His temples feature great amphitheaters open to the sky and ringed with monoliths that mark the movements of the sunrise and sunset year-round. His priests typically wear bronze scale and robes of blue and bronze, and each bears a branded symbol of the sun on his forehead.

Myli (Tempest) - Also known as Stormrider and Lady of Deep Waters. She appears as a green-skinned female with the lower body of a sea-serpent and holds a long-bladed spear. She is the patron of sea travel and succor from storms. Her temples are typically galleries of green or blue stone featuring a statue of Myli at one end in the center of a ceremonial pool or fountain. Her clergy wear scale mail chased in silver, and robes of pastel green and blues. They are typically shaved completely hairless, and many paint a series of runes on symbols on their flesh. Worship of Myli is, understandably, much more prevalent in the coastal regions of Atheon.

Saba (Nature) - Also known as the Summer King. He appears as a strong, bearded man wearing the hide of a bear. He carries a bow and a sheaf of arrows, which are said to give life or death at his whim, and he is flanked by a pair of great lions. He is said to take Nabara as his consort in Spring and Summer, and Myli in Autumn and Winter. Vines and blooms spring from the earth where he treads. His clergy has no real standard dress code, but all carry his symbol, a man's face surrounded by vines. He has no formal temples; his faithful gather a natural landmarks such as small forests, oddly shaped rock formations, and oases.

Eretu (Trickery) - Also known as the Laughing Prince, or Prince of Mysteries, Oathbreaker, Dreamwalker, and Lord of Grapes. He is the patron of dreams, wine and song, of revelry, of luck and of bravery. He appears as a lithe young man just out of boyhood, wearing only a loincloth and wreathed in grape vines. He carries a bag in one hand, and whatever tool he needs for his mischief may be conjured from the bag at whim. It is said all birds serve him and act as his messengers. His symbol is a crook-tipped rod of silver entwined with gold, and clergy bearing this rod are entitled to free room and board wherever they travel in Atheon. His temples are round galleries of stone, and these host an annual "Night of Masks", a popular festival in Atheon.

Ephus (War) - Also known as Prince of Blades, War-Crow, and Herald of Mozu. He is the patron of war, warriors, and victory in battle. His temples are marble galleries with red floors and black ceilings adorned in the bones of the faithful. Ephus appears as a powerfully built man in armor with a red cloak. He carries a spear in one hand and an axe in the other, and his face is always obscured by a full helm. His clergy celebrate battle as holy, and often serve as mercenary forces when the temple is need of funds.

Mozu (Death) - Also known as the Lady of Graves, Soultaker, and Mistress of Night. She appears as a beautiful woman with pitch-dark skin and white eyes, wrapped in a white shawl. She holds knife and one hand, and a scroll in the other, where it is said the fates of all men have been scribed. Her temples are typically underground galleries kept in near-complete darkness, and her clergy wear robes of black and ring their eyes and mouths in kohl.

Next time, we'll learn about the Ninth God, and the place of religion in the setting, as well as its relation to the nature and practice of magic.


  1. Some interesting divinities and the color for their priesthoods.

    How do you find gaming in 5e, after you've returned to old school gaming? Is there a reason for returning to a newer iteration that the older versions can't handle? Since, none of the original creators of D&D has anything to do with the modern variants using that brand-name, why not just use the mechanics or settings for something like Runequest 2, Tunnels & Trolls, Traveller, etc? I'm open to whatever rationales there are, and I'm curious as to how rules heavy you find these other systems, after returning to more rules light older versions.

  2. Lol that's a good question RG. On one hand, there's a new edition of D&D out, and I want to put it through its paces. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to find people to play newer editions - edition isn't really as important to me as a cool group of folks to game with, which is what I'm lucky to have at the present.

    So while my personal interests lie more in the 1E / BX arena, my actual game hours are typically more often spent on newer stuff.

    I'm planning a blog post on 5E from an old-schooler's perspective, so stay tuned!

  3. "I'm planning a blog post on 5E from an old-schooler's perspective, so stay tuned!"

    You anticipated my next question!

    I've never played any of the latter versions of D&D, and when I got back into researching gaming, I finally went to a FLGS and found everybody playing various collectible card games, with a few books on the shelves for 4.0 that didn't seem to be getting any attention. And TONS of elaborately detailed minis that were insanely expensive resin (plastic, for $80.00), for sale on the shelves. Lots of comics, that also didn't seem to get any attention.

    The newer D&D books I looked at seemed to have little artwork, of very shabby sketchy quality, and way too many detailed and prolific rules, that aren't very connected to "realism", anyways, so it's clear to me its a case of generating more rules to generate more pages of content to generate higher costs per book and per greater numbers of core rule books. The industry perverting the hobby. That said, some of the innovations in thinking for some latter-day games sound like they could have value as a hybrid-old school gaming style.

    How many people do you encounter that are familiar with the more recent games vs 1E/ BX/ other old-school games (Runequest, T&T, Traveller, etc)? Is it really that bad, that old-schoolers returning to the scene can't find enough people willing to play a more rules-light style? What attracts people to the newer stuff, and not the older, so much. Is it just the effects of millions of dollars spent saturating the common consciousness via advertising and deceptive claims of the industry protecting players from tyrannical 14 year-old dungeon masters (for a mere $700 of core rule books)?

    Sorry for the mass of questions, I've got lots to catch up on before Reffing, again. Sites like don't seem to offer anybody interested in anything but the modern game versions. Conventions seem to be similar, and Game stores seem full of card-players. Makes you feel like a dinosaur, and it doesn't seem reasonable the hobbyists agreed to go along with this paradigm. Especially, since I think it's strongly against their interests in pursuing a better gaming experience.

  4. Very interesting. I posted on my own blog a couple of weeks ago asking the question 'how do you run your cults?' so it's nice to have an idea about how you set up your world's mythology. There seems to be a Greco-Egyptian flavour to them (as there are to the main gods in my campaign setting, at least, in the place my PCs are at present - the main local gods are the Mother, the Avenger, two different gods of war - one old, one young - a cat goddess, a goddess of the waters, a god of light, the Archer and an underworld snake-god, as well as a benevolent creator/protector who has no clergy but is prayed to in the home), but you've avoided direct parallels by linking them with the current 'domains'. I like it, even though I have no real notion what the 'domains' entail beyond the description above.

    I especially like how in five or six lines you've sketched out some details of the deity, her/his followers, and the temples they inhabit; I feel I should adopt the same method with my gods, to help me think about how they fit into the space of the campaign world!



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