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Monday, November 19, 2012

Cthon: Elder Gods


And it's the second post detailing my World of Cthon cosmology!

I'm happy to announce that, along with the previous post and the next ones, this series/project will be part of a "blog carnival" as of now titled "If I Ruled The Multiverse" (Twitter hashtag: #5eplanes), aimed at writing our ideal cosmology for D&D Next, but more than anything just at jotting our cosmological thoughts out!
An idea of Richard Green, of whom you can read the related blog post here, along with the rest of his very interesting blog, while you're there! Our great looking logo is instead made by Symatt!

As it is natural for this particular cosmology, which aims to be so "concentrated" that it inevitably also becomes a psuedo-setting , I'm going to start from the origins, talking about the First Age, dominated by the Elder Gods.

A note for those not wanting to read the first post first, even if this First Age is not the age in which games should be set (although it could be, at DM's discretion and players' will), the World of Cthon's peculiarity is that these ages, and the world they created, are not lost in time, but merely in space. This First Age becomes the Underdark of the Second Age, and goes even further down to constitute the deepest parts of Underdark and even the Abyss of the First Age, which is default age in which adventures are set.

About this post: all of this was once part of the previous post: "The First Age", but I think it was too heavy, so I decided to create a separate post for the Elder Gods, adding a bit more information to the previous post that would have been too much combined with all that we got here.

As with the previous post, the most "meta-gaming" info, for DMs, will be written in italics.

What are the Elder Gods?


The mortal sages of later ages tried to study the Elder Gods of the First Age (since some of them remained dangerously alive well into the Second and Third Ages), often and unsurprisingly without much success.

Sources of knowledge about the Elder Gods during the Ages.

In the Third Age, the influence of rationalism and theology both drove the studies of these beings, leading to many classifications without any factual meaning. Scholars called some of the Elder Gods "demons", some others "aberrations" or "abominations", and went on trying to fit each of these beings (and the countless creatures they spawned in their inexplicable, godly thirst for creation), always ending up into dead ends: very few if any of these creatures could be related to one another except for the most direct relationship of "creator and spawn".

In the Second Age, humans were still a young race, and rational thinking was something they enjoyed very rarel Probaly because of this, they understood the Primordials quite better than later sages. They understood that they were like "experiments" of the world itself. Beings that defied reason because they were created by irrational forces. They limited their classification to what each and every Elder God seemed tied to, both among natural concepts or immaterial and irrational ones. The runic grimoires of the deep-delving dwarves of the Second Age, the stone tablets of the ancient human philosophers, and the speaking trees of knowledge of the elves are therefore among the very few sources of reliable knowledge on the Elder Gods.

The third age "demonomicons" and "eldritch bestiaries" are instead full of misguided attempts of classifications and more often than not also completely false information, mostly because they are influenced by the various churches of the Celestial Gods which, often at war with one another, tried to associate these beings with rival gods, manipulating the facts to reach these goals.

So in the troubled time of the Third Age, adventurers are deeply ignorant about everything related to the Elder Gods and the First Age, and should first try to locate and recover some source of knowledge coming from the Second Age World before even thinking about battling with Elder Gods or their spawns.

The birth of the Elder Gods and their godly status.

Not even the most informed sages of the Second Age, and the invaluable words that reached the Third Age folks, know how or why the Elder Gods came to be, and especially how such strange beings became gods.

The Third Age lore even negates the godly status of the Elders, explaining that they can't give powers to their followers as the Celestials or some Primordial/Titan God, and that they aren't immortal, and that they can't call souls of mortals to their domains after the mortals' death. One can't blame them for such ignorance: none of them ever died and returned to the world to tell a different story, after their souls were taken deep into the Abyss, tortured and transformed to create countless more wretched creatures..!

The Second Age sages were far more cautious in their trying to understand the world, and they left these fundamental questions unanswered, simply recognizing that if more often than not many a Titan were needed just to imprison a single Elder God and thus avoid world destruction, then they were godly just as much as the strongest Titans and Primordials, if not more. They also knew for a fact that they could grant powers to mortals, since cults that venerated them abounded in the many uncivilized areas of the Second Age World, and those tribes often threatened the most civilized empires with terrible eldritch powers.

However, nobody knows for sure how the Elder Gods attained their status. It wasn't the earth itself trying to put some order back into a nearly destroyed world, like it was for the Titans, and it wasn't spiritual divine ascension as with the Celestial Gods.

There truly are some sources of information about this, but they are hidden and extremely rare, because they come from nothing less than the eons-old and defunct First Age civilizations. There are stories of Shadow-Web-encased dark jungles, recalled by the maddened and lonely survivors that went there and managed to come back, that talk about colossal stone temples devoured by alien vegetation of enormous proportions, and in these structures, written in the cursed languages of Yuan-Ti, Troglodytes, or even worse creatures, there are dreadful accounts of the history of some Elder Gods. Even if one wants to believe to the confused stories of this maddened adventurers, there seems to be no single version of the facts.

So the question remains unanswered, with certainty belonging only to the ones who lost their sanity while voluntarily or accidentally seeing an answer with their own eyes.

Note: I don't want to specify a fixed way for gods to become gods, especially with the chaotic Elders, so here are a a few possible origins for the godhood of the Elders:
  • - A being becomes so venerated by a lesser race that it acquires godly powers and status.
  • - A lesser race becomes so mystically powerful that it creates a god in its image by sheer force of will and psionic power.
  • - A being becomes so powerful (due to the exploding force of life proper of the age) that it becomes an Elder God.
  • - An already god-like being descends upon the world from outside of it.
In the last two cases, the god can also create a mortal race, which could be similar to it or not much.

How godly is an Elder God?
Elder gods are physical beings. As such, they might seem to be less godly than the later gods, such as the abstract Celestial Gods, or the mighty Elemental Titans.

In some cases it's true, but more often than not, their power is equal, and in a few cases (perhaps only one), the power of an Elder can even be greater than any other god.

Even in these terrible cases though, the Elders often have limitations that are connected to either their physical form, or their alien minds. Many sleep for ages, others have absolutely no interest in the world, and others still were cast so deep and far into the bowel of the earth, that even if they want revenge on the whole world itself, it will take them ages for them to actually drag their bodies out from their rock prisons.

Another way in which Elders are "disabled" despite their incredible power is because they were later hunted down and imprisoned, especially by the Titans, sometimes aided by mortals.

In very few cases and under very strict conditions, some of the less powerful Elder Gods can even be permanently killed. But the most powerful ones, even when completely destroyed, will often rise again, perhaps eons after having poisoned the very planet with their blood.

The Most Famous Elder Gods


Here are some of the most famous Elder Gods are listed here, including the name by which they came to be known in later ages, their areas of influence, and the race or races that adored them.

  • The Prince Of The Depths
    - A fish-like being of enormous size, combining the worst characteristics of the worst aquatic species with a malicious and keen mind and a vast knowledge. It lures creatures inside the deepest abysses producing an entrancing song.
    - Portfolio: the abysses, knowledge, music
    - Favorite races: Locatah, Kuo-Toa
    - Historical name: DAGON
     
  •  The World Serpent
    - A snake so enormous that it could strangle mountains and poison whole continents. It had a large role in the disaster that destroyed the First Age World.
    - Portfolio: hunger, poison, apocalypse
    - Favorite races: Yuan-Ti
    - Historical name:  just World Serpent, sometimes SSETH
  • The Night Serpent
    - Another enormous snake, probably brother or sister of the World Serpent, which threatened to eat the Sun itself.
    - Portfolio: darkness, nightmares, apocalypse
    - Favorite races: none
    - Historical name: DENDAR
  • The Lord of Vermin
    - An elder being combining the worst traits of every insect and vermin.
    - Portfolio: insects, metamorphosis
    - Favorite races: insectoid demons, insectoid mortals
    - Historical name: OBOX-OB
  • The Great Spider
    - A colossal and armored spider.
    - Portfolio: spiders, death
    - Favorite races: ettercaps, bebiliths
    - Historical name: The Wolf-Spider or MISKA

  • The Mad Jungle King
    - A giant bipedal reptilian, also covered in fur and with tentacle-like arms, with two baboon-like heads. Mad becaue of the two personalities of his two heads, and constantly at war with others, mastering great armies of demons and jungle behemoths.
    - Portfolio: jungle, madness, tyranny
    - Favorite races: Bar-lgura, Girallons, others
    - Historical name: DEMOGORGON
  •  The Prince of Undeath- Historical name: ORCUS
     
  • The Many-headed Dragon
    - Historical name: TIAMAT
  • The Dreaming God
    -  Favorite races: Illithid
    - Historical name. CTHULHU 

And so on..! As you can see, some of these were regarded as primordials, one even as classic god, some as Obyrith demon lords, classic demons lords, and then aberrant/lovecraftian beings.
Basically, every demonic, aberrant or simply gigantic being of D&D lore can be an Elder God in this cosmology. Even the infamous Tarrasque. Not all of them need to have a race that venerates them, or a clear protfolio.

An interesting thing is exploring the concept of how a being later known as an obscure demon lord could once have been a god that was venerated by entire empires, and how it once had a portfolio a bit wider than just "world destruction", which instead became their only objective when they were cast into the underworld. It gives these beings a little more character, lore, and reason, although they still always are mostly destroyers.

A few elder gods might also be forces of good. In the First Age, being good or evil didn't matter much, since everything and everyone was under the classic Law of the Jungle first and foremost. But in later ages, the substantially good nature of a few Elder Gods might become more important, since they could constitute allies that are not affiliated with the normally warring Celestial Gods and Elemental Titans.

Examples of possible "Good" or even "Lawful" Elder Gods:

  •  Qotal, god of the Couatls. (a solitary elder god that continued to be revered in isolated continents of the word even by later humans)
  •  Ubtao, the god of behemoths. (an elder god that often protected the world against other destroyer elder gods)
  • Chronepsis, the watching dragon. (possible "good" elder god of death)
As you can see, any god, primordial and so on, with a physically distinct appearance and an "ancient feeling" can be made into an elder god, and this may include a few good or even lawful ones. After all, the First Age was so chaotic, that even some lawful forces existed, to generate even more conflict..!

False Elder Gods and Creatures: Devils.


In one thing, the scholars of the Third Age were right, about the Elder Gods. There are certain creatures and powers that resemble them but are unrelated. This is the case of Devils, for example.

The origin of Devils is another mystery, a lot like those of the Elder Gods. But at least, it seems, it doesn't go as far back in time.

Although I will talk about Devils more in detail later, there seem to be fundamentally two different theories, perhaps not even mutually exclusive, about their origin and their relationship with Elder Gods.

The Fallen Angels

The Third Age and perhaps also the latest moments of the Second Age saw the birth of Angels. They are mysterious beings that don't offer but riddles about their nature, but what everyone knows for sure is that they serve the Celestial Gods.

It is said that among these beings, loyalty is unbreakable, but that at least once, during the chaotic times of the Great Disaster between the Second and Third Age, one of them would have betrayed its god. Some say that by doing so, it also killed the god and acquired godhood for itself. Others say it couldn't make it, but everyone agrees that one god or a coalition of allied gods, cast down the betrayer into the depths of the earth, imprisoning it for eternity.

The Evil PrimordialsThe second theory dates back the birth of Devils at the start of the Second Age. They would be the offspring of Titans and Primordials or even their half-blood siblings, who would have taken small godly portfolios, often connected with negative concepts such as Revenge, Murder, Hate, Terror, Incest, and other terrible acts and sentiments.

This theory, deduced from cryptic passages of epic poems of the Second Age that survived into the Third Age, doesn't speak of a "Prime Devil". There would only have been a countless number of minor devils, that lived underground to escape the fury of the Titan Gods, and to be nearer to Hades, the portion of what would later become the Shadow Web which was the domain of the first God of Death and the Underworld.

In the shadowy underworld, these devils would have tempted the souls of the dead to reach their own, deeper domains, in which they would have tortured these souls, sometimes "cultivating" the negative thoughts and sentiments these souls had when they were living, to either empower themselves or spawn more devils.

The relationship with Elder Gods.

Whichever theory is true (if any, and if not both are), what is sure is that these devils dwell somewhere very close to the domains of some Elder Gods, and in particular to the portion of the First Age World that became known as the Abyss in the Third Age. The scholars of this age who distinguished these beings, also distinguished their domain, calling it Hell or The Nine Hells.

What these devils have in common with Elder Gods is the terrible use they make of mortal souls.

It could be that they even learned these dark arts from some Elder, or it could be that their formerly godly (or half-godly) nature empowers them to do so.
Some say that the Prime Devil is nothing but an Elder God that is trying to take over the world. Others say that the Fallen Angel might have robbed an Elder God of his power. Others still say that the Devils are at war with the Elder-spawned Demons, deep into the bowels of the earth, and that this is the only reason why neither side has yet conquered or destroyed the world of mortals.

Whatever version of the story is true, everything about devils is probably as mysterious as the truths behind the Elder Gods. With one additional complication: devils don't just want to destroy the world and eat the souls of the mortals. They want to corrupt them, and they want to conquer the world, possibly without the mortals even realizing it.