Aug 102017
 
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Alignment

Anyone who’s played role playing games is familiar with the concept of alignment, or good vs. evil. This oversimplified way of viewing gods helps classify, organize, and balance them so we don’t have too many evil ones, for example. A degree of balance is preferred unless our story requires an imbalance.

We’ve seen “neutral,” but what does this mean? Neither good nor evil? Or does it mean a pacifist position of non-interference in the machinations of gods or species? Such pacifism is less interesting, but it can create resentment among species who call upon a god who won’t answer their prayers, possibly resulting in atheists. By contrast, does a neutral god intervene to stop aggressors from upsetting the balance of good and evil? This can be the attitude of species, too, not just gods.

While “good” and “evil” are widely accepted, the words appeal to younger fans. A more sophisticated audience might appreciate other words that mean the same thing without seeming immature. Some options are “benevolent,” “kinder,” or “helpful” instead of “good,” and “nefarious,” “sinister,” or “feared” instead of “evil.” Readers will get the point without feeling like they’re being talked down to.

Those we consider blatantly evil, like Adolf Hitler, likely didn’t view themselves that way. Our evil gods might bristle at such a distinction and smite anyone who says such a thing—an act which suggests they are indeed evil. Like us, these deities may rationalize the worldview that gets them called that. A god of domination might believe others need to be ruled, justifying abuses of tyranny, but a god of hate likely can’t justify their outlook and might accept being called evil. Giving some thought to this can make our deities more interesting and lead to stories and myths about their interactions.

 

Identifiers

Aside from naming our gods, there are other ways to identify them.

Titles

Deities have titles like “God of War,” “Lord of Despair,” or “The Weeping God.” They can have multiple titles or nicknames, particularly if they oversee more than one area of life. In stories, use only one title at a time to avoid an info dump. One story can reveal one title, another story a different one. We can invent these when needed, skipping this during world building, but always remember to take something invented in a tale and add it to your file on that subject.

Patronage

Gods are sometimes the patron of activities. These can be professions like hunters, farmers, or blacksmiths, or something more general like lovers or children. Who the god patronizes is revealing of their outlook. Look at your god’s attributes to decide who they would patronize and who would be praying to them the most. There can be different levels of patronage, such as a god of war favoring all warriors but bestowing greater favors on knights.

Symbols

Symbols are useful for storytelling and gaming. They can be emblazoned on armor, buildings, ships, space stations, and uniforms, or worn as talismans, even branded into flesh. Each scenario tells the audience, and even other characters, something about location or people, allowing easy characterization. Keep symbols, such as a whip suggesting a god of torture, easy to describe in under one sentence. They are usually fairly obvious because residents aren’t trying to be creative like us and those with no artistic ability need to draw them. This helps us avoid exposition.

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