One of my favorite roleplaying podcasts, “Game Master’s Journey,” has been recording a series of episodes about the relative unpopularity of the cleric class, and how GMs can make clerics more enjoyable to play. They’ve echoed some of my own observations, and helped me think a little more clearly about what I wanted to accomplish when I created my own pantheon.
I think roleplaying works best when players feel that they have at least a minimum of orientation towards the world before they begin playing. Certainly, for me, I have never felt attracted towards a cleric or warlock character for that reason. D&D is fairly vague and careless in it’s attitude towards religion, deities, and the way that those concepts interact with the world and it’s inhabitants. Both the cleric and the warlock are conceptually dependent on a defining relationship with a supernatural world that is not clearly drawn.
In list form, here are some of the questions I thought it was pretty important to answer, and the answers:
(1) Are the gods real in a literal sense?
Yes, but they’re not “gods,” exactly. I’ve been calling them Oyarsa (lifted from Lewis’ Space Trilogy.) You could just as appropriately call them Maiar, the minor gods/angels of The Silmarilion. Similar to Midgard, In Felmoor, the only divine is the creator.
(2) Are they physically embodied? Do they inhabit the world in the same way that the players inhabit the world?
Yes. Remember, pure spirits are not permitted in Felmoor, which is the material plane. Immaterial beings that cross into Felmoor from other planes take on a body that matches their essential qualities.
The Oyarsa were powerful, immortal spirits whose nature was so deeply embedded in the material of the world that they split apart along with the planes during the fracture. Each plane now contains aspects of their personality, embodied in physical form. Even though they are diminished in both power and wisdom, they still wield enormous power.
What is their relationship to their worshippers/followers? What are their expectations?
As beings of immense power, Oyarsa naturally attract followers who live lives in service to the interests of the being they have chosen to devote themselves to. Not all the Oyarsa are interested in having followers. Those that are, typically desire collaborators, not worshipers, but there are exceptions. Regardless of the type of relationship between an aspect and their followers, favor brings with it powerful gifts. Unlike in D&D, the Oyarsa cannot hear prayers, and are not omnisciently aware of bad behavior by their clerics. Player clerics that violate the spirit in which their powers were meant to be used should beware encountering their patron, however.
Do the Gods have a tangible history of interaction with the world?
Yes, the Oyarsa interact with the world in very concrete and visible ways, and there are a lot of stories about those events. I have a number of them in my head already, but none of them are written down. Some of the Oyarsa take a more active role in the world of men than others, of course.