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Friday, December 21, 2012

Cthon: my #dndnext pantheons

A quick (I hope) follow up to The Jester's (@DnDJester) blog post about deities, part of his ongoing series "WorldBuilding", spawned of course by the slow and steady rise of #dndnext.

As some of you know, I created my Cthon world/cosmology (actually a cosmology encased within a single material world!) dividing both planes and deities among three "ages", which actually give a temporal dimension to these often timeless parts of D&D and generically fantasy settings and worlds.

Since the whole point of Cthon that of also giving a spatial dimension to these ages, that is, not simply ending one to start another but stacking them into the vast underground of the planet, deities from the First and Second Age are not (all) dead, but simply "far removed" during the Third Age, which is the default age for playing.

A Third Age god, with its abstract, rational form, utterly unfathomable for mortals.

This allows for a perfect "mix and match" pantheon, with basically all the types of deities defined by The Jester in his blog, but with a lot of overlap, allowing the Dungeon Master to just choose which elements of the previous pantheons survive in the latter, and so on.

Basically, the changes of the Pantheons during the Ages follow this general pattern:

Alive, material, and physically present - - - - -> Abstract, ethereal, and physically absent

FIRST AGE                                         SECOND AGE                                            THIRD AGE

Chaotic, uninterested, and irrational <- - - - - - Lawful, interested, and rational

(The verse of the arrows is opposite just to represent... Nothing at all! XD)

So it's basically a no brainer to have the evil deities that the PCs would like to oppose belong to the First Age or Second, so that they can be more easily and materially "killed" (for a time, at least..!), at the same time not risking the "evil deity smashes adventurers since day one to avoid further problems"-situation, by putting these deities in very far subterranean domains, perhaps also imprisoned and/or guarded by the Second Age deities or their exarchs/spawn.

The Second Age deities are basically your standard classical mythology ones. 
They never were mortals (most of them are elemental in nature), but at the same time they like to mingle with them (especially heroes), although they have ways to do so without interfering too much, which is something they "don't like", at least compared to the First Age destroyer gods and the Third Age manipulator gods. The Second Age pantheon should be quite Neutral on the Chaos-Law axis, so they basically just care about what they love/hate personally, without following a proactive strategy to reach some goals. For this and other thematic reasons, the Second Age is perfect to put in all the "cool" deities, the Tricksters, the patrons of the demihumans, the Forgers, and basically all the deities that could ally more or less indirectly with the Player Characters.
The neutrality and "social" nature of the Second Age deities also makes them the perfect candidates for demigods fathering... If a creature, character, or even hero has some divine blood within him/her/it, it most likely comes from a Second Age deity. This is also a "campaign-savvy" choice because being the Second Age very far in time from the Third Age, any divine bloodline can be reasonably toned down in power without losing flavor.

Third Age deities are supposed to be the standard ones, the most commonly venerated in the Third Age, those of the big, nation-wide or even world-wide churches. Never was religion so organized in Cthon as in the Third Age. And this can be a source of Good or Evil...
Normally, the "Fallen Angel/God" arhchetype (Asmodeus or equivalent) is not classified as a God of the Third Age, but this is subject to change. Maybe the material "Lord of Hell" is just an avatar or a servant of an abstract and ethereal standard Third Age deity, which maybe seeks to remain hidden. Or maybe this dark power is aiming at becoming one of these powerful deities. After all, Third Age deities are the best candidates to be the "Ascended Mortal" type of deity. After all, the standard concept of ethereal soul that passes to another world after death is born with the Third Age, supposedly as a consequence of the magical disaster that ended the Second Age. So if both souls and gods in the Third Age are ethereal in nature, maybe there's a connection.
Aside from the actual force of classical hellish evil, the Third Age deities can be dangerous even when not overtly evil. Their dogmas, philosophies, and abstract concepts spawn strict codes and laws among the mortal churches, which inevitably bring religious wars, and heresy. It can be cool then to have a small pantheon of two or three opposed Third Age deities, that are practically monotheist religions, each aiming at negating the "false ones". This is perfect to represent the dangers of the power of Law, without even touching Good and Evil.

Player characters during the Third Age can even aim at becoming gods in some way. As The Jester suggests, there can be a universal law allowing for only a fixed and small number of deities, and a hero (or a party of heroes!) could substitute one or all these deities, at the end of a big "ascension-themed" campaign. As previously said, Second Age and First Age deities are independent from all of this (they're not ethereal), and they can be allies or enemies of these characters aspiring to godhood.

All in all, I think that my planning of the cosmology/world based on deities before being based on other things, obviously allows for a very good, coherent, and rich experience in the field of religions and pantheons. And since it takes a lot of inspiration from real world mythology and anthropological concepts, it may also spark some positive and engaging talks at the table, I hope. :-)