pantheons Archives - The Art of World Building

How to Create a Pantheon

 Book Blog, Volume 1  Comments Off on How to Create a Pantheon
Jul 202017

A pantheon is a mythological collection of gods. They are often related by familial ties and recognized by the culture that invented them but not usually by others. While creating multiple gods is more work, dynamic relationships among deities is more entertaining and can drive plot. We can start with a list of traits, such as truth, courage, love, hate, patience, curiosity, peace, greed, fear, sloth, deceit, and wrath. We can use phenomena like gods of storms, war, and death. We don’t have to choose one approach or the other, but mixing them could make our pantheon seem random and not well thought out. One solution is to decide that traits lead to phenomenon, or vice versa. For example, the god of wrath becomes the god of storms. This is expanded on further in the last section of this chapter, “How to Create Gods.”

A pantheon allows characters to show personality by the god(s) they pray to, especially for priests. As our characters investigate catacombs, ancient ruins, or a modern megalopolis, they will see symbols of the gods, encounter overzealous priests, or even visit a theocratic society. These elements can affect the decisions they make, such as not entering a given room due to the symbol of the god of torture on it. Even unrecognized symbols from an unknown pantheon can be useful for creating an unsettling feeling.

Our pantheon might have more than one afterlife (covered in Cultures and Beyond, The Art of World Building, #3), whether it’s as simple as heaven and hell or more complicated, where different deities have conceived different rewards and punishment and oversee them personally. Deities can have a role in how people are judged, whether they can be redeemed, and if the living can visit the dead, or vice versa. When we assign gods different roles, we can create conflict in how (and if) they choose to do their jobs.

A pantheon is often not organized in any particular way, with the exception of familial relationships, should they exist, but if we assign certain traits to every god, we can group them that way. For example, maybe every god is associated with a season, element, or color. This causes multiple gods of spring, fire, or indigo. This may impact their ability to affect elements, their priests similarly affected. A god or priest of fire might suffer more from water-based attacks. Some people also organize their gods by good and evil.