Friday, October 9, 2009

The Oeridian Pantheon

Allitur (God of ethics and propriety) LG(N), Flan origin
Atroa (Goddess of spring and the East Wind) NG
Beory (Oerth Mother, Goddess of nature, rain) N, Flan origin
Berei (Goddess of home, family, and agriculture), NG Flan origin
Bleredd (God of metal, mines, and smiths) NC
Boccob (God of magic and arcane knowledge) N
Bralm (Goddess of insects and industriousness) N(L), Suel origin
Celestian (God of the stars, space, and wanderers) N(G)
Saint Cuthbert (God of wisdom, dedication, and zeal) LG(N)
Delleb (God of reason and intellect) LG
Ehlonna "of the forests" (Goddess of forests, flowers, and meadows) NG
Erythnul (God of hate, envy, malice, and panic) CE(N)
Fharlanghn (God of horizons, distance, and travel) N(g)
Geshtai (Goddess of lakes, rivers, and wells) N, Baklunish origin
Heironeous (God of chivalry, honor, justice, and valor) LG
Hextor (God of war, discord, and massacre) LE
Incabulos (God of evil, plagues, and nightmares) NE
Joramy (Goddess of fire, volcanoes, anger, and quarrels) N(G)
Kurell (God of jealousy, revenge, and thievery) CN
Lirr (Goddess of prose, poetry, and art) CG
Lydia (Goddess of music, knowledge, and daylight) NG, Suel origin
Myhriss (Goddess of love and beauty) NG
Nerull "The Reaper" (God of death, darkness, and the Underworld) NE, Flan origin
Obad-hai (God of nature, wildlands, freedom, and hunting) N, Flan origin
Olidammara (God of music, revelry, rougery, and wine) NC
Pelor (God of the sun, strength, light, and healing) NG, Flan origin
Pholtus (God of light, resolution, and law) LG(N)
Procan (God of the oceans, seas, and salt) NC
Rao (God of peace, reason, and serenity) LG, Flan origin
Ralishaz (God of chance, ill-luck, and misfortune) CN(E)
Sotillion (Goddess of summer, the South wind, ease, and comfort) CG(N)
Telchur (God of winter, the North wind, and cold) CN
Trithereon (God of individuality, liberty, and retribution) CG
Ulaa (Goddess of hills, mountains, and gemstones) LG, unknown origin
Velnius (God of the sky and weather) N(G)
Wenta (Goddess of autumn, the West wind, and the harvest) CG
Xan Yae (Goddess of twilight, shadows, stealth, and mind over matter) N, Baklunish origin
Zilchus (God of power, prestige, influence, money, and business) LN
Zodal (God of mercy, hope, and benevolence) NG

I'm deliberately leaving demi-gods out of this listing, as I think they have a different status in the context of cultural pantheons that I'll address at a later time.

We have a few Divine Groupings here. Atroa/Sotillion/Telchur/Wenta are an obvious first choice, but it is interesting to note that their genders seem a tad out of whack. Three females and one male. Indo-European tradition allows for Divine Twins to be of either gender (Pollux and Castor, for example, or Freyja and FreyR), but a four-way split seems intuitively to want two males and two females. But it is not so. Perhaps Atroa(spring)/Wenta(autumn) and Sotillion(summer)/Telchur(winter) function as a sister/sister sister/brother combination. Perhaps some Oeridian myth recalls the bitterness felt by Telchur at being the "odd man out" (literally) and thus his affinity with the harshest time of the year. Pehaps Velnius would be their father, and this would be a myth that originated with the Oeridians?

The brotherhood/rivalry between Hextor and Heironeous is already well-attested. There seems to be a bit of a brotherly rivalry between Celestian and Fharlanghn as well, but its nature is unknown to us. Why, exactly, does Fharlanghn wander endlessly?

It's interesting that both the "noble" warriors-for-Good Gods (Saint Cuthbert, Heironeous, and Pelor) as well as the "soft" Good Gods (Allitur, Delleb, Rao, and Zodal) are here. I think it's possible the two leanings of Good; "active" vs. "passive" could have a mythological conflict.

What I find ultimately fascinating is that, looking at things from a pantheonic perspective, "common" deities like Boccob could be very different in an Oeridian church than he would be in a Suel temple. I'd probably do a whole new write-up for each, one for each perspective (i.e., pantheon).

In terms of numbers, 19 members of the pantheon have Good as part of their alignment. Only 5 have Evil. 10 are Lawful and 8 are Chaotic. A full 29 have at least some part of Neutrality (I'm pretty sure that is a trend we'll see throughout this exercise, and it's a function of Gary Gygax's innate sense that deities should be ambivalent at least on some level). There are 39 deities in all, 25 male and 14 female.

Pantheons and Henotheism

James over at Grognardia made an excellent post about the background of a certain religion in his campaign, and in the comments made the following observation:
I always found the quasi-medieval society of D&D a poor fit for the kind of religion we see in most fantasy settings. Likewise, such religion is rarely pantheonic, tending more toward a kind of weird henotheism.
Now, for the benefit of those who might not be as up on henotheism as I am (it's really weird how it's come up in two completely unrelated blogs I frequent in two days), henotheism is essentially the practice of worshiping only a single God, while acknowledging the existence of others.

While I would vehemently disagree with James on his first assertion about the suitability of quasi-medieval societies for polytheistic religions, I agree wholeheartedly with his point that most fantasy RPGs (or, at the very least, D&D and its derivatives) encourage a certain henotheism by positing a world with many Gods, but requiring clerics (and, by implication, encouraging other characters) to worship a single "patron deity". AD&D was particularly rife with this idea, and it is apparently to be found in the very original Greyhawk campaign as well, with the Gods Pholtus and St. Cuthbert only being invented so clerics in the campaign would have some sort of deity upon which to hang their spiritual hat (or, perhaps in the latter case, chapeaux). The original AD&D goldenrod character sheets even had a box for "patron deity".

Historically, of course, there is a certain precedent for such a thing. Ancient Egypt toyed with the idea, and there are some indicators that the pre-Biblican Hebrews had a similar arrangement (hence the "thou shalt have no other Gods before me" in the Commandments; it is difficult to have other Gods if no other Gods exist). The ancient Romans certainly had folks who worshiped a particular God to the exclusion of all others (although, in a key distinction between themselves and the Jews (who had an official exemption from the practice) and the Christians (who, originally, did not), they found themselves capable of making pro forma offerings of incense to the deified Emperor (and, presumably, other Gods as well). We are told that, among the ancient Norse, certain individuals were known to be especially close to certain deities, but it is unclear whether that precluded them from attending a sacrifice on behalf of another. One imagines not, but their private practice was almost certainly henotheistic.

Anyway, to the gaming point here; James made a good point about the lack of historically authentic polytheism in many (if not most) fantasy RPG settings. Greyhawk is no exception to this, although it does have the seed of a solution, originally presented in the gold boxed set. Therein, on pp. 63-64 of the Guide, we have a list of deities that includes, among other things, their racial origin (common, Oeridian, Suloise, Flan, Baklunish, and unknown).

This, I think, provides the kernel for the development of a pantheonic approach to religion, vis-a-vis Greyhawk.

When we break down the Gods listed there by pantheon, assigning the "common" deities to each, we come up with a much more interesting breakdown. Some of the more immediately notable points:
  • All of the Flan Gods are common. They have been absorbed by all the other cultures in the Flanaess. Presumably, this is because they were present when the invading Suel and Oeridians came into the Flanaess.
  • Oeridians have some unique deities, as do the Suel and Baklunish. Some of them cross over, but not all.
The listings do bring up a few questions that, as far as I know, have never been answered. Some of the "common" deities are listed with a specific racial origin, and some are not. I might speculate that this means they have retained some of their "foreign allure" even though they have been otherwise assimilated into other religions. The others, presumably, each appear in identifiable form in each religion, albeit wrapped in a completely culture-appropriate bundle.

Three Gods are listed as having "unknown" origins; Tharizdun, Wastri, and Ulaa. Tharizdun and Wastri make sense; they are not part of any pantheon, and I can easily see how their worshipers would have an exclusive bond with their Gods. However, Ulaa is also listed as being "common"! If I am following the "foreign allure" concept from above in such cases, it leads me to the conclusion that she is present throughout the three cultural pantheons, but her presence is discordant. She's universally alien; obviously an import from someplace, as she doesn't fit in to the normal pattern of worship, but her cultural foreignness is truly foreign. Where Pholtus speaks with an Oeridian accent, nobody can quite place Ulaa's.

In the next day or two, I'll post the specific breakdowns by pantheon as it relates to the World of Greyhawk, along with a few thoughts on the implications of each.

Regionalizing Humanoids

Honestly, what is the difference between an orc, a hobgoblin, a goblin, a kobold, and a gnoll? It's not hit dice; they range from 1-1 to 2 HD, hardly a vast range (3+1 if you include bugbears, but the point remains). Some are lawful evil, others chaotic evil; the way I play them, that would be seen as a difference in tactics (LE being prone to fighting in close order squares, with CE attacking in swarms), but that's not necessarily a universal thing. Weapons? Pole arms, mostly.

And if there's no real difference between them, why have different species of humanoid in the first place

One way to give them that real difference would be to distinguish them by geography. I could envision a campaign where, say, there are humanoids all over the place, but where you go determines what sort of humanoids you find. This could be done in the Flanaess; the hobgoblins of the Great Kingdom, the orcs of Iuz and the Bandit Kingdoms, goblins as the scourge of the Sheldomar Valley, etc. That would give some nice flavor in terms of distinguishing one area from another, as well as providing for a means of tipping off players that something's Not Quite Right ("Those were kobolds! There shouldn't be a kobold within a thousand miles of here

Another way to regionalize your humanoids is to give them some real distinguishing characteristics or abilities that differ by geography. If you just have to have your orcs and goblins shuolder-to-shoulder across the land, you can still break things up and give the players an unexpected twist. Perhaps the orcs in the northern Vesve Forest have honed their archery skills out of necessity from combatting the nearby elves, and now have a +1 to hit with the longbow (which is carried by 75% of them in addition to their regular weapons). The hobgoblins of the Bone March, on the other hand, might have mastered the giant lizards of the region, and formed a force of cavalry mounted on the beasts. Perhaps the goblins of the Pomarj are chaotic evil rather than lawful, and their behavior and tactics will be changed as a result. The kobolds of the Hollow Highlands could get a +1 to hit with their trademark blow guns.

Humanoids don't have to be as cookie-cutter as they are in many games, or as uniform as they are presented in the Monster Manual. On the other hand, their modifications shouldn't be capricious (well, *these* gnolls are blue, and they have 8 HD each!). Assigning the characteristics by region helps with both of these goals.