My Ulfgar’s Pack campaign has been running for a long time now, and I haven’t really given it enough thought.
Specifically, religion; I’ve failed to flesh it out. I have a church! It has schisms! And yet, what exactly does it preach?
The 5e domains are Life, War, Light, Trickery, Tempest, Knowledge, Nature and (yet to be published) Death.
I’d hoped to use the domains to suggest a Grand Philosophy for my priests: each domain representing some atomic essential thread of the human spirit. Unfortunately but inevitably, 5e’s domains are more gameable than they are deeply insightful.
Even drawing on actual mythology, these domains capture badly deities of love (“Use life instead”: okay, but what about charm? “Use trickery instead”: hmm. Maybe. “Just make them bards”: well, yes.), protection/civilization/craft (knowledge isn’t necessarily a great substitute, though nature works for agricultural deities; “just make the rest paladins”: well, yes.), and rulership (” just make them paladins”: well, yes.).
They’re also pretty bad matches for priests of chaos, but warlocks pretty amply pick up that slack and feel like a very natural fit.
So that’s a wash. Here’s what I’ve got.
My campaign’s central religion is variously titled: the True Faith, the Thranish Religion, or worship of the Seven Gods. These latter are known also as the Septuagent. Individually, Eru is used as a title or address of respect to refer to any divine being or saint.
Anyway: The Seven are the council of seven arch-solars who rule the seven heavens of celestia. The Iluvatar are their armies, and synechdocheally the Seven themselves. These beings are as old as the planes and will honestly discuss their natures with those able to contact them; while they do not reject the existence of other deities, they (broadly, collectively) approve of the mortal church as an instrument for improving the lot of mortals and a recruiting arm of the Iluvatar. They didn’t necessarily create the world (though they did affix aspects of it in their current form, sealing away certain threats, interceding in prayers, etc), they believe souls may ultimately be recycled though are not sure what happens to those lost to the negative energy plane they believe they are restored through the positive twin of that place, and human suffering exists because, while they are benevolent, the universe itself is not.
However, the Thranish Church doesn’t have a monopoly on spirituality, and the precise nature of the Seven Gods is the heart of the schism.
The Thranish church teaches that this ruling Septuagent are different in kind from other beings: their divinity is tangibly invested in themselves and flows from them to their followers; the fact of their divinity defines their actions (and therefore, hierarchically, those of their true followers!) with moral correctness, and thus a deed done for the gods is definitionally good.
The Khufic heresy is that divinity (thus morality) is relative and invested in part in all things, and so one may conflict with the gods without being wrong to do so. This has led to an entire wing of the church separating from the Emperor of the Church, at first due to The False Emperor’s corruption of the church, and then by failing to reintegrate after their success in restoring the temple. To this day, the Khufic Mystery Cults persist, often led by charismatic and secretive leaders, with varying aims.
Muddying the waters, this concept of morality and divinity seems to be a mortal concept. The Septuagent themselves perceive their divinity as a product of their extraplanar nature, power, and wisdom; closer to the Khufic heresy than the teachings of the church. But they are benevolent and wise in nature, preternaturally so, and so the Church’s stance is more beneficial for all than the Cults, most of the time and generally. So the Church is wrong, but in matters of fine dogma, not in its general profession of the angels’ work.
In practice, the non-hierarchical pastors and wandering priests of Breland, far from the resources of the mother church, tend to be more populist about the divine. When something is judged a sign, it is treated as a sign, whether it be approved through the overtaxed church hierarchy or not. This is more prone to active error, but more practicable to the limited resources available in the field. Still, proper agents of the Thranish church reject this stance for themselves for as long as they can, creating tension and a perception of foreign control.
The concept of a False God is therefore a Thranish one; a being of power which is supplicated to, but which is outside the celestial hierarchy. Heretics are therefore a threat to secular and spiritual order, and represent a defect in the laws of the church. Inquisitions to detect and remove members of the Khufic or Asmodaic heresies are not uncommon.
I’d given my seven gods names using Latinate or Greekish roots suggestive of the classical metals associated with each deity from which I was pinching their deific characteristics.
However, I’m dissatisfied with their names now. They’re too similar to each other and the ones I use the most ring artificial to my ear.
The (pre-this-article) seven deities:
The sun (life, art, knowledge: gold, Apollo); had been Auriel.
The moon (protection, magic, birth, healing: silver, Isis); had been Seliel.
Mercury (travel, craft, intellect, meddling: mithril, Athena/Gandalf/Hermes/Odin); had been Mithrael.
Venus (love, agriculture/fecundity, beauty: copper, Sune/Aphrodite); had been Cupriel.
Mars (war, strength, storms, the sea: iron, Ares/Torm/Tyr, Thor); had been Ferruel and since the Sisters of Iron have been such a big force in my game, the lack of a good name here has hurt.
Jupiter (crafting, riches, law, armies, distribution of resources/judgment/planning: Hephaestus, Zeus); had been Admael.
Saturn (death, suffering, humanity, reincarnation, mystery, the church); Naiel is the only one of them with a story. Naiel was slain by Asmodeus; Ilmater of Thrane was born at the same moment, Ilmater founded the church. Naiel’s presence reappeared in the heavens after Ilmater’s death; they’re frequently co-identified.
I like Mithrael (the Grey Traveler) and Admael (the Stern) as names, and they work reasonably well for who and what they are, but the others don’t work for me/anymore. Well, Naiel isn’t too bad either, especially since I can use Ilmater in most contexts when referring to the Sufferer.
Selune (the Wise) seems pretty hard to get away from for my lunar deity, so I may as well stick with that. She’s probably multiply-aspected, giving her other names like Hathor and Isis and Athena
Sune (the Glorious) seems good for a solar deity and chief(tess) of the gods; I may as well go with that. It makes the set of characteristics of my central goddess pretty broad, but I think that’s not so bad.
This means I need a new goddess for agriculture and hearth and marriage; she’ll get crafts and childbirth too. I choose you, uxorious Juno! Or Hestia! Or Demeter. Or Freyja. Heseter. Jestia. Yuck. Still, “the Faithful”.
That leaves Mars. There are just so many war gods that picking just one is hard. Sticking with a war and thunder theme would benefit me; Dror or Thor or Tyr or Torm. But I’m not sure those capture what I’m after, either. Michael or Nimrod or Miles, similarly, not Giants-in-the-Earth enough. Mithras is taken already by too-close-to-count Mithrael. Stark might work (Tony, not Ned), or something.
I want this one male, so I can’t use The Morrigan (the death/war deity of the Old Faith is female, natch; I want to use that tension).
For now, Marduk (the Iron) works here.
Okay. So, remember, qualities associated with the Iluvatar aren’t domains per se: the Iluvatar didn’t create the world, so much as caretake it, via self-imposed approaches to the problem of evil.
The Life domain’s patron Eru are Ilmater/Naiel, Sune, Selune and Freyja.
The War domain’s patron Eru are Admael and Marduk.
The Trickery domain’s patron Eru are Mithrael or Sune.
The Tempest domain’s patron Eru are Marduk and Selune.
The Knowledge domain’s patron Eru are Mithrael, Freyja, Admael, and Selune
The Nature domain’s patron Eru are Freyja and Sune.
The Death domain’s patron Eru are Marduk, Admael, and Ilmater/Naiel.
Priests frequently select a patron Eru on their investiture, but this feudal-like relationship is cultural, not mystical.
There are several sub-divine features of Thranish belief as well; unworthy of worship but acknowledged as important. There are several psychopomps who oversee the functioning of life and death; there are many mothers of monsters, and there is Morkoth the traitor, Asmodeus, slayer of Naiel and chief devil and ruler of the (now nine) Hells.
There are other, still-extant religions including the Old Faith (deities of the nonhumans, often worshipped by druids and rural humans as well) and the mystery cults of the Khuf.
More next time!