Three issues ago, "Dungeoncraft" started crafting an entirely new D&D campaign to showcase the rules of the new D&D game. This time around, the goal is to build a rough and tumble "lost world" dominated by dinosaurs, volcanoes, and primitive tribes. So far, a basic overview of the world and a first look at the basic political situation in the campaign's starting area have been developed. Some of the D&D game's races have also been customized to make them more at home in this creation. This month, let's flesh out a few details about the gods, myths, and faiths of the lost world.
The subject of designing gods and faiths for D&D campaigns was first dealt with way back in Dragon 258. That installment noted a few reasons why it was particularly important to start thinking about the deities and religions that will dominate your campaign setting as early in the world-building process as possible. In addition, a five-step process for creating a suitable faith from scratch was outlined. Rather than repeat that advice here, go ahead and either dig into your collection of Dragon back issues or point your web browser to the "Dungeoncraft" archive online. If possible, you might want to peruse the earlier column right now, before reading further.
Fortunately, almost all of the earlier advice is still sound even in the wake of the new edition. Therefore, we're going to create the gods of the lost world by stepping through the same five-step process used last time, while selecting some different options on this go-round. This is also a good opportunity to demonstrate a technique or two for tweaking the D&D game rules to help lend your campaign its own flavor.
Step One: Polytheism vs. Monotheism
Just in case you don't have your dictionary handy, "polytheistic" faiths believe in a multitude of interrelated gods, while their "monotheistic" counterparts believe in a single supreme deity. Since most D&D game worlds feature polytheistic religions, a monotheistic faith was incorporated into the last campaign just to be different. On that world, the only true god was Aris, the living consciousness of the planet itself. This time, in the interest of variety, we'll design a polytheistic faith. The next step, therefore, is to figure out roughly how many gods are necessary and how they are interconnected.
On most D&D worlds, the gods are organized into pantheons that give each god complete dominion over one particular realm. In other words, there might be a god of the sea, a god of the sun, a god of poetry, a god of war, and so forth. Similarly, most D&D campaigns are built around gods who walk in human form and manifest larger-than-life human personality traits.
Because this is our second time around the block, let's avoid these D&D conventions when possible in the hope of creating something a bit more ambitious. The idea of all-powerful gods lording over the lost world just doesn't seem right. One of the campaign's major themes is that savagery is everywhere and survival is difficult. If possible, this theme should be reflected in the gods created for the world. Deities should find life every bit as rough as their mortal subjects. Also, since the dinosaurs are the real "stars" of this world and represent its major differentiating feature, there should be a way to reflect them in the gods as well.
It makes a certain amount of sense to turn some of the dinosaurs themselves into gods. As it's been presented thus far, the lost world is the ultimate venue for Darwin's concept of the survival of the fittest. What if the very oldest and fittest survivors acquire a reverence from Mother Nature and their fellow creatures that is akin to a spiritual aura? In other words, somewhere off in the forest is a tyrannosaurus rex that is so old, so large, and so fearsome that it has become a sort of god. All the other inhabitants of the lost world immediately recognize the halo of power that surrounds this creature, and even the planet itself seems to shake with fear when it passes. The mysterious energies that emanate from the tyrannosaurus rex somehow stem from its long history -- all the battles it has won, the years it has seen, and the other creatures it has subjugated. These forces are so powerful that some of the world's humans, humanoids, and lizardfolk cultists who revere these beasts are capable of tapping into the energy themselves to manipulate the natural world (that is, through divine spells).
This concept is appealing for a number of reasons: Not only does it meet all the goals and establish that the lost world is quite unlike the standard D&D setting, it also has the advantage of providing some interesting springboards for potential adventures. Although they should be rarely seen, the fact that the gods walk the earth alongside the player characters is appealing. The idea that the PCs might one day confront a god also provides some interesting adventure ideas. It's not clear exactly how or why this would happen just yet, but it sounds heroic and interesting.
This idea also fits well with the various concepts already created. The Solaani (elves) enjoy a special bond with pterosaurs, for instance. Undoubtedly they worship some sort of enormous pterosaur who has become one of these gods. Similarly, it's already been established that the tyrannosaurs possess some mysterious form of group intelligence and have actually hatched a scheme that has torn the Bruun, one of the human tribes, in half (see last issue). It looks like the great tyrannosaurus rex god is the source of that strange intelligence.
Of course, this concept does have one drawback: The gods usually suggest a few interesting details about the campaign setting: How was the world formed? What is the nature of good and evil? That most of them will have fascinating histories of their own is an easy assumption to make, but these gods are really little more than glorified animals. They didn't create their world; it created them. Most of the central mysteries still remain.
To solve this problem, a second set of even older gods can be created who are now extinct. These elder beings were much closer to human in composition and attitude, and it was their power that created the lost world. This second pantheon consisted of two arch-gods: one representing light and symbolized by the sun, the other representing darkness and symbolized by a moon. Each of these elder beings was totally consumed by a hatred for his rival and the pair of them spent the whole of their very long lives battling each other. In fact, they created the lost world to serve as their battleground, standing as it does at the midway point between the sun and the moon. Over time, the lost world itself gave birth to the various creatures who came to dominate it, including the various dinosaur gods and the lizardfolk who built a civilization and a faith to celebrate them.
One day, the god of darkness finally struck a blow that was powerful enough to shatter the god of light into countless little fragments, each of which was an individual living being. These fragments became the Solaani (elves), the first mammalian inhabitants of the lost world. Over time, the Inuundi (dwarves) and the humans gradually evolved from the Solaani. Although these newly formed savages didn't realize their divine origins for many generations, most of them did manifest a natural aversion to darkness almost immediately, explaining perhaps why most of the humanoid inhabitants of the lost world favor nonevil alignments.
Once he destroyed his brother, the god of darkness was faced with a dilemma. His entire existence was defined by his hatred for his rival, and if the great battle was to come to an end, his life would have no more meaning. For about a century he tried to figure out how to continue the struggle against his hated enemy before he finally noticed the Solaani and resolved to destroy them. Since there was no effective way to battle so many Solaani in his singular form, he traveled back to the lost world and let the great tyrannosaur god and its followers devour him. That way, the beasts and their followers among the lizardfolk would absorb his essence and his hatred, driving them to hound and hunt the Solaani and their descendants. The tyrannosaurs' plot against the Bruun is probably a direct manifestation of the darkness god's evil influence.
Before going further, it's worth deciding how much of this backstory is generally known to the world's inhabitants. While it's safe to assume that the denizens of the lost world are aware of the role the gods of light and darkness played in the creation of their world, only a few truly enlightened individuals should understand the elder gods' final fates. The idea of keeping the true origin of the Solaani a secret, as well as the fact that the spirit of the darkness god lives on in the tyrannosaurs is likewise appealing. This leaves a couple of big mysteries for the players to uncover and neatly takes care of the obligation to the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft: Most of the world believes that the old gods simply perished in one last cataclysmic battle.
Speaking of big secrets, this latest bit of backstory has provided some inspiration that allows the opportunity to plug an earlier hole. As you might recall from the last couple of installments, the Solaani were somehow responsible for the downfall of the lizardfolk, and this triumph is slowly leading to the end of their civilization. It was never established, though, just how the Solaani accomplished their victory. Now that the elves' true origins are set down, what if the elves are secretly "reconstructing" the god of light? Since the elves are fragments of the elder god, several of them somehow reunited themselves to form a lesser version of the long-dead god. It was this measure that was finally necessary to defeat the lizardfolk, and it was this move that is slowly making the Solaani extinct. The reconstruction was accomplished through some sort of powerful magic spell, and a side effect of that spell is that the life essences of more and more Solaani are being drawn to the proto-god and rejoined over time. This phenomenon manifests itself as a strange plague contracted by the elves. The victims of this plague aren't really dying, though; their souls are simply being absorbed back into the god of light. Eventually, the god might be entirely reassembled.
All of this might also explain the strange plot of the tyrannosaur god and its followers. Perhaps the god of darkness knows what is happening and is influencing the dinosaurs to snuff out his newly reborn foe and destroy the Solaani before the god of light can grow any more powerful.
These ideas are useful because they should provide lots of interesting ideas for adventures. A Solaani PC might contract the plague, the characters might find and confront the newly reformed god of light, they might get caught up in the plot of the tyrannosaur god, and so on. For maximum effect, this should be a secret for some time (as per the Second Rule). Only the very highest level elves understand the true nature of the plague that is slowly wiping out their civilization.
Step Two: The Nature of the Gods
Now that the pantheon of the lost world has been sketched out, it's time to consider their basic natures. Fortunately, most of the information has already been created. But since the dinosaur gods are going to have the biggest impact upon the game world for the foreseeable future, it's necessary to flesh them out just a tad more. How many of these gods exist, what are their spheres of influence, and how do they conduct themselves?
Although it's obviously an arbitrary decision, four dinosaur gods seems just about right. That provides enough gods for variety, but not so many that a lot of early effort is expended creating them. Fortunately, this decision isn't restrictive -- with the way the structure is set up, it will be easy enough to add more gods later should the need arise.
As indicated earlier, one of the dinosaur gods is a tyrannosaur and another is a pterosaur. This leaves two slots to fill. One obvious choice is some sort of sea creature, perhaps a giant plesiosaur (something akin to the Loch Ness monster for those of you who are dino-challenged). A second good choice might be an ultrasaur (a classic bulky plant eater with a long neck and tail). Although the ultrasaur is not really sentient, it's necessary to assign a "personality" trait or two to each of the gods to help differentiate them from each other. Each god should also possess a mystical bond with certain aspects of nature. Finally, each god should get a name. "Tyrannosaur god" is getting old.
For maximum effect, the dinosaur gods should rarely show themselves. They spend most of their time hidden away in valleys and grottos unknown to the lost world's sentient inhabitants. When they do appear, they are always accompanied by a hefty retinue of lesser dinosaurs who serve as their followers. Although most of the dinosaur gods are generally disinterested in the affairs of the world around them (Kor being the obvious exception), they do occasionally use their considerable influences to defend their territories or aid the cults of worshippers who have sprung up to honor them. For now, these are probably the only important factors to worry about.
Next month, we'll translate this bizarre mythology into D&D terms and offer some tips on how to customize the game rules to lend your clerics a little extra flavor.
Name Type "Personality" Aspects of Nature
Kor Tyrannosaur Vicious, predatory, regal The hunt, death
Abrexis Pterosaur Wise, inquisitive, free Skies, wind
Haali Plesiosaur Vain, tempestuous Seas, storms
Kalaar Ultrasaur Serene, matronly The land, family
Solaani Inuundi Half-Breed Bruun Vistiiri
Solaani P N S N F E
Inuundi N P S N T E
Half-Breed S S P S T S
Bruun N N S P S E
Vistiiri F T T S P T
Lizardfolk E E S E T P
P: Each tribe generally prefers dealing with its own kind
T: The Vistiiri trade with all most other inhabitants of the lost world, including some lizardfolk. The one exception is the separatist Bruun faction. By and large, the Vistiiri have cordial, but not particularly friendly relations with their trading partners.
F: The two tribes favor each other and enjoy friendly relations.
S: The tribes view each other with suspicion, though they are not openly enemies.
E: The tribes generally view each other as enemies.