Tuesday, May 07, 2013

S&W Setting Musings: Religions

I've always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with how faith is handled in lots of D&D editions. Basic, which is serving as the foundation to the setting, had Immortals: adventurers that have grown in power to the point that they are deified. AD&D through 4E (and well, D&D Next as well it appears) have gods that are worshiped and may take an active role in the setting. These pantheons are typically set and most races at least acknowledge the existence of these gods. The barbaric humans and demi-humans may worship other, lesser, gods, but these are typically seen as false gods, or more "cthulhuesque" old ones. Neither option really feels right to me.

I've never really liked the idea of the gods playing an active role in the world. Some of the worst things to happen to two of D&D more popular settings have been due to the activeness of deities in the world. It's an easy way to re-set a setting for a new edition of the rules, but it's always struck me as a bit lazy. After all, if the gods are going to come down and mess everything up, what's the point of adventuring in the first place? I don't know why I never liked the idea of the players becoming gods in their own right. It seems like a logical conclusion to an epic run. The players have become more powerful than anything else in the world, why shouldn't they become gods in every sense of the word? Meh. Maybe it's because I never really got to those dizzingly high levels (and therefore never got to use the Immortals rules), so I just don't fully understand the fun of playing a god-like being? Possibly.

The set pantheons of many settings, where all the races worship the same gods or at least know that the gods of other races exists alongside their own is just as boring to me. I've fallen into this as well over the years as well. This also leads to the same gods being used over and over, just with a new name. There's a god of Justice, a god of Death, a god of Nature, the chief gods of the elves and dwarves and orcs ad nauseum.

For this setting, I'm taking some hints from the Basic D&D Gazeteers and running with them. Religions are going to be plentiful, but localized. There are only a few widespread faiths (like the Eternal Truth of the Emirates), but many are still hero worship (like the Cult of Halay in Karameikos) or the worship of spirits and ancestors. Even the more contemporary churches may not be tied to any specific god, but to moral ideas (like the Church of Karameikos and the Church of Traladara). How will this affect clerics? Very little. They will still need to meditate on their spells to gain their suite of castable spells like normal. Even if a cleric's faith isn't tied to any particular god, but more to an ideal they still get to cast spells as the cleric that worships a specific deity or demon. There will still be pantheons and families of gods like those found in Greek and Roman myth, but they will be tied to cultures where is makes more sense to have them.

I think this more natural (for lack of a better word) track of using faith will better fit the setting and the various cultures. I can see it being more work, but since religion rarely comes up in game unless the party has a cleric who is prone to proselytizing their faith I won't need a ton of detail on each and every faith. Much like the real world, where there are numerous religious beliefs, it is interesting to see how many un-connected cultures have faiths that are very similar to one another. I can detail a cult, and those details can work for a couple other cults as well with just a little tweaking of the flavor text.

How will such an approach affect the cosmology? Well, I'm tossing out any ideas of an orderly planar wheel like what was found in AD&D and expanded in Planescape. I use the simple Law/Neutral/Chaos alignments, and even then I'm not overly slavish to them (unless a character's class or background demands that I pay close attention to their in-game decisions), so having an alignment-based cosmology doesn't make much sense. There are planes in the setting. Ethereal, Astral, and the Elemental Planes are a given. Other planes of existence will be largely based on the faiths. A lot of faiths that have a "hell or hells" in them will all be tied essentially to the same group of torturous planes that are the home of demons. (I don't make any distinction between demons and devils in my games. They are all just infinitely evil, horrific beings.) Many "heavens" may all be tied to essentially the same place as well, especially if the faiths are more tied to moral ideals than to any specific god. "The Green" will be a place in which the Faerie Court will be located, which will tie heavily into the elven myth and legends. Pantheons will still have their own planes...possibly. Some of the ideas I'm toying around with on how faith and cleric spellcasting actually work would make the need for pantheonic planes.

There you have it, some general ideas on how I'm going to handle religions in my S&W setting.

Next post is #100...I don't know that I'll do anything overly special or not to mark hitting the century mark or not.


Cirsova said...

Pre-Mentzer Basic allowed a lot more freedom, in that there were no gods, no religions, no immortals or any of the sort mentioned or included. In B/X, it was left entirely to the DM and/or players to create the Gods and religions to populate the world.

Then BECMI came along and pooped all over everything, with its immortals, paragons and 36d6 fireballs & lightning bolts. Though it's under the flag of "Basic", Mentzer's D&D is more like playing Exalted once you get past the Moldvay/Cook content.

Giles Kiser said...

Exalted D&D is a good way to put it. I'd never thought of Immortal play that way, but that fits pretty well.

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