"Goddess" by Bob Greyvenstein
This is Part Two in a series on Deities and Worldbuilding. You can catch Part One HERE.
As GM, you're already a God. Hopefully a benevolent one. You are your fates (those pesky multisided dice) reign supreme over your own fantasy world. Just you, your friends and that spicy element of chaos.
Why bother with Gods?
Other than the fear of being struck down? Or the joy of wearing a long white beard when you voice the Almighty?
How do you make believable Gods? (Ha, believable Gods). The little scamps that inhabit your world can be Big Bads, patrons or, most often, interwoven with the lore of your world. How do you come up with them? Make them feel significant and interesting?
It's nice to think the family upstairs is looking out for you. In our fantasy world, they can be as real and involved or as distant and mysterious as you like. Gods tend to be personifications of whatever is important within a society. You have the general ones, God of Light or the Sun, the God of the Dead, the God of Chaos. Then you have your more culture-specific deities like a God of Cactuses or the God of Doorways or the more modern Instagram Goddesses.
This article can help you create your own unique pantheons. This first part focuses on those big boys at the top of the tree.
CREATING YOUR CREATION STORY
Where's the best place to start? The beginning. Traditionally. As in Big Bang, let there be light, Adam and Eve beginning.
1) Look at Creation Stories from Across the World.
I know what you're thinking - ergh - that smells like RESEARCH but come on- you're a storyteller. You love stories and really that's all creation myths are. Little word of warning, many of these stories still have religious, cultural and personal meaning to people so best be careful. Just use bits and pieces for inspiration rather than ripping them off completely.
2) Woah Oh Oh, it’s Magic, You know!
Big difference between real-world creation myths and fantasy world creations is...drumroll please...the fantasy. Now’s the perfect time to explain where your Dragons, Centaurs, Demons and Elves come from. Who's bright idea was it to put pointy ears on elves? Who decided to fill the skies with giant flying lizards who breathe fire? You decide.
3) Start at the Start
So I'll walk you through how these creation stories usually go. We start with a Lone Creator God (who's usually a dude but not always). Sometimes it's a just a horrifying monster. Big creator God is usually hanging out in one of the following:
A) Absolutely nothing
B) A big egg (in the middle of a whole load of nothing)
C) The primordial waters (aka a big sea which contains a whole lot of nothing
D) Land (with nothing on it)
Noticing a theme? It's a pretty good place to start because it's hard to be overwhelmed by nothing - unless, of course, you're having an existential crisis. That, I can’t help you with.
4) Let There be Things
Then, the lone creator dude makes the basics. Light, food, stars, day, night, land, vodka, mountains, Wi-Fi, good and evil - all the essentials.
5) Go Crazy
Creation myths sometimes don't make a whole load of sense…
6) Magical Body Fluids
…they also feature a large amount of blood, sweat, tears and other bodily fluids. Gods can vomit, sneeze, spit, or sweat the world into existence and that's cool. You can have Gods grown from seeds, sown into other things, hatched from eggs, stepping out of flowers, virgin birthed or grown from other God's toenail clippings. Really the possibilities here are endless.
7) New World Who Dis?
You have to decide how your Gods are assigned their jobs, associations and powers. You can start with the traditional elements if you like. Fire, Earth, Water, Air then sometimes Wood and Metal. Maybe Gods pop into existence as things are made. Or maybe they are born with the power to create a specific thing, like fire. Gods could be assigned things to protect or draw their powers from a mystical hat.
8) Add Three Suns and a Blood-Red Sky
Here's a good time to add that fantasy flavor. If I was stood in your fantasy world, how would I know I'm not in Kansas anymore? If the sky here is never blue, just different shades of red- tell me why. If the plants here are blue, tell me why. Have a story behind all your defining world features. Your world might have three suns because the Earth Mother Goddess had three sons. Mommy dearest saw all her boys as big bright stars. You're creating a place with different rules and different visuals, it's a great time to get those down.
9) WAR! HUH! What is it Good for?
Shaping a continent's landscape and establishing an order!! Yeah!!
Sometimes, the Gods get bored of hanging out in the world they've created. So they get together, have a family barbecue and go to war. This can help shape your landscape. Giants falling over and creating lakes. Splitting up the land and leaving a chasm. Falling over and making craters. Building up barricades, which are now mountain ranges. Maybe they'll make some hideous monsters and create corruption and evil. Split up heaven and hell and unleash disease and death for good measure. In some cases, Gods do such a bad job they have to send down a flood as a biblical undo.
10) Establish an Order of Events
Order is important. Which Gods turn up first? Who used to be in charge and who is now? Then we have your fantasy races. The Elves, dragons, Dwarves and Centaurs. Who came first? Who's the eldest and who's the favorite?
J. R. R. Tolkien had his ‘Good Guy Gods’ make the races of 'Men, Dwarf and Elf' at the same time. These are the great pillar races favored by the Gods. They get to be part of all the cool shenanigans. But it's actually Hobbits that steal the stow - an ancient race of people who farm, drink and smoke pipeweed.
You might not be familiar with Tolkien’s creation story and the beginnings of ‘Middle Earth’ but you know through experiencing the world, that Elves, Dwarves and Men have epic histories. They have war-torn pasts, sprawling family trees, cities, forts and settlements. Hobbits are a pretty simple people by comparison. From the literally beginning, they were expected to just chillax. So your heroes are underdogs who rise to the challenge. Tolkien starts his creation story with music in the void, which is pretty nice.
Your story can explain the relationship between Gods and race, explore hierarchies, rivalries and alliances as well as offer explanations of skills and feats.
11) The Age of Mortals
Once your Gods have created all the races, we enter into a new age. Now gods turn up that reflect more human aspects. Like Love and War. Sometimes these things are such big deals they’re added to other Gods. Earth Mother, Goddess of fertility and romantic love.
I’ll leave the specific Gods (or the cultural deities) for the next post.
What's your favorite creation myth? Let me know in the comments!