Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Whose Gods are These

When I began work on my Holy Selmat setting, I felt strongly that religion and gods would be central to the campaign, and I've tried to take the method forward with me. It prominently featured three major religions, including over a dozen relevant splinter groups. I don't like the idea of a god who is a mascot for a very strict domain. I like the idea that gods will mean a lot, as represented in complex mythologies. Would you call Odin a "fate god?" Would you call the Christian god a "weather god?" In the interest of showing my work, this is how I do it:

  1. Make a name. It doesn't need to be a good one. Example: Xapt, a bad name that I'm going to roll with.
  2. Start coming up epithets and titles. Think of how many names Christians or Jewish people have for their deity. Since this is fantasy, we should focus on evocative names that characterize this new god. Like with step one, these names don't need to be clever. Evocative positive words work: Renewal, Comfort. Titles that indicate favor: The Hopeful Pilgrim, Sanctifier of Wombs. some great and specific boast: the Endless Chorus, the God of Excess, One Who Hopes. Some allusion to not-yet existing metaphor: the Ploughshare, Of Leaves Born.
  3. From this, we stew and think a bit about what this god seems to be about. I'm getting a utopian vibe and also a sensory one. Once we have better idea about this god, we come up with holy symbols. These aren't just what clerics wave around, they're the imagery that sets out the faithful and marks their shrines and temples. Symbols of Xapt include a bell, tea, boxes, constructed languages, bricks, and ants. Mix the specific with the general. Let the symbols have multiple possible uses and meanings. A bell is a summoning and a warning. A box is a home to the lowly and a stage for the zealous. An ant is an ant.
  4. Establish how hierarchical or distributed worship is. What is the most important holy site of this god, and how does its proximity or distance affect how people worship here.
Once you have an idea of what this god is like, you need at least one group to act as their face in the area where the game is taking place. There should be a conception that many people have different conceptions of how to assuage and serve this god, and rivalries of various sorts. As a rule, you should pick some detail that only matters to members of this faith (the nature of the trinity, minutiae about eating restrictions,) and give it a bazillion spin-offs. There could be:

d20 Religious Sects
  1. a central church that claims general authority
  2. a populist movement
  3. a group within the existing framework that has some kind of political agenda
  4. an isolationist movement that emphasizes fundamentals
  5. a revitalizing movement that wants to return to ancient ways
  6. an exclusionary movement that wants to license and restrict converts
  7. a missionary group, aiming to gather new converts
  8. a group representing aristocratic or elite members
  9. an itinerant group, seeking to do good works
  10. a crusading force
  11. a literary retreat, debating philosophy
  12. an apocalyptic cult
  13. an apocalyptic cult, but with bake sales
  14. a group with a mission against ghosts, demons, and the like
  15. a group with a secular aim, like healing or the production of art
  16. a group that exalts a prophet or saint above all others
  17. a sect that dismisses certain traditional rites as pagan
  18. a spin-off that seeks to merge the faith with another
  19. a cargo cult, idolatrous sect, or other cut-off spin-off
  20. the baseline faith, but more esoteric and with kaballah

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