Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Cleric and the Faith Part IV: All Gods Are Local

One of the tenets of Old School gaming (and life in general really) is that "all politics are local." That translates to, in my book, no grand overarching plots to save the world against the Big Bad Evil Guy, or righting the cosmic balance, or whatever. The happenings within any campaign are due mostly, if not entirely, due to local forces. Which is, of course, not to say that local happenings can't cause a chain of events that lead to greater and greater effects: the cold grows deeper and more deadly in the north, driving the orcs out of the mountains to compete for space with the hobgoblins on the plains, who move west and begin taking border forts of the human lands, who . . .

This is one of those tenets that is carried forward into Middle School gaming many times, though, to our shame, we did futz around extensively with heavy handed plots and ridiculous "save the world" schemes.

If we can apply it to politics, why wouldn't it apply to gods? Instead of cobbling together yet another standard fantasy pantheon, the assumption is that there are simply no hugely powerful deities (in AD&D 2e terms, that would mean nothing above a lesser deity) and that there are no universally or broadly worshipped entities. Instead, various beings rule over smaller geographic or cultural regions: a valley for instance, or a small chain of islands. For whatever reason, the being draws worship in sufficient quantity and quality that it empowers them to the point of godhood. Govgim Dahl is a great example. Or perhaps a brass dragon who has lurked in the neighborhood of local villages for long enough that the human folk look to it as a protector, guardian, and worship object. A solitary Illithid, lurking in a cavern 'neath a moderate city that collects human sacrifices in order to stave off its wrath.

The possibilities are endless here, and best of all, I don't have to worry about such piddling things like consistency across vast regions as pretty much everybody worships whatever strikes their superstition just the right way. It also leaves the door open to player creativity as their characters could be devout worshippers of whatever local city god or god of the forest they knew as children. It also helps me to take out the broad and sweeping religious issues such as crusades, inquisitions, and mass conversions as no single deity has that level of raw power or following. A creature with a mere thousand living worshippers is probably not going to want to risk them all in some brash attempt to increase its demesne.

This is the other method that I am leaning heavily towards for Thylia. It's suitably complicated that I can have a panoply of gods making appearances here and there, but simple enough that I can throw in another two or three at random intervals and not upset matters. Of course, the next problem this throws up is that I have to create a deity for every NPC cleric that shows their nose anywhere as it's unlikely that a PC cleric will find another of his faith outside the precincts of his home town.

I've also considered combining this with my simplified dualism, in effect putting up the three largest religions as having been, at one time, much smaller, but having grown powerful and widely over the centuries until they are nearly universal. At the same time, lesser gods grew up on their coattails and even now vie for the opportunity to ascend to that level of power. Or perhaps these lesser gods themselves even worship the Power of Light or Darkness.


  1. I've played with something similar off and on, though usually in the form of ancestor-worship and clan patrons and whatnot. Your notions here are a good deal broader than mine were.

    I like what you have here *grins*

  2. Great post. I tend towards the same thoughts - in the real world, after all, local deities seem to have been the norm, well into the monotheistic era and even up to today. (If you travel through France, Spain or Italy it isn't hard to imagine all the thousands of local saints having roots in local pagan deities, and in countries like Japan this is explicit - shrines to local nature spirits are everywhere, and still ostensibly functioning.)