Creating Deities for RPG Campaigns
Greetings gamers, today I'm going to be walking you through my process for making custom deities for dungeons and dragons and other RPGs.
There are a whole bunch of official and 3rd party RPG Pantheons out there, so why would you want to create your own?
Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first is that you enjoy the process of creation. Some people look down on the writing of "lore" as a waste of time and inferior writing. But I say so long as your game isn't suffering for it, spend as much time world building as you like. Building new worlds is a lot of fun.
The second is that you can't find a pantheon that fits the style and tone of your world.
And the third is that you want the players to believe that this is a real world. And a custom pantheon is a great way to improve their verisimilitude.
Think About Region
So how do you start creating a pantheon? I think the first thing you need to do is think about the region your game is taking place in. I draw a lot of real world parallels when creating my game worlds, and will usually base them on something from the real world; either an ancient people, a place, or a language.
For the example we are going to use today, we will make a god for the realm of Ashk, which is an ancient Egypt allegory in my game.
This tells me that I'm going to be drawing a lot of inspiration from ancient Egypt history as well as the Arabic language, as I haven't been able to find a good translator for Coptic, the actual language of ancient Egypt.
Alignment & Domains
Once you know the region and any real world allegories you'll be drawing from, I find the best place to begin is with alignment and domains. Decide on what alignment you want the deity to exemplify (LG, for example).
Then decide what domains you want them to preside over. This will give the flavour of the deity. For example, a LG deity that covers the domains of Order, Protection, and War would be VERY different to one that covered Life, Light, and Nature.
Next, I head over to google translate and start looking for names. I do this by translating "keywords" into different languages until I find a word that sounds cool.
So you might start by translating "Protection" into Arabic, which is "Himayatan" - I'm not a huge fan of that, so change the wording. You might translate "defend", which comes out as "Aldifae", which is pretty cool.
Now, Aldifae - because of the "ae" sounds feminine to me, so you might decide to make the deity a goddess.
So now you have "Aldifae the Defender" - a pretty convincing sounding deity if you ask me.
From there, think about her virtues. Her domains are Order, Protection, and War, so she probably espouses defending order through strength, keeping her followers safe through military might, and settling disputes with the sword (or hammer, or mace etc).
She's fond of order, so she probably wouldn't be too keen on underhanded tactics, and would probably hate assassins and tricksters, and as War is one of her domains, she would probably view cowards and deserters with disgust.
So we have a name, a region in which the god is worshipped, we know her domains, and we've got some idea about her virtues and how she might view the world.
From here I would start thinking about the way in which the deity is worshipped.
We know that Aldifae is a LG deity, and that she values physical and military might, so she would likely have a lot more paladins rather than clerics, because her worshipers would be more martial. The clerics she does have would probably be more offensively focused rather than using spell slots for a lot of healing.
Another think I like to do is think about the deity's signature weapon. As this deity is going to be really popular in an Egyptian allegory, I want to use an appropriate weapon, and I think a Khopesh and shield would be perfect as the preferred weapon of Aldifae.
When thinking about her saints, I think she would probably have a saint who is a renowned martyr. That seems like it would fit with the zealous desire to protect and defend people - I think her worshipers would hold a famous martyr who died in a great battle in high esteem.
So we need a name for our new Saint. Again, I'd consider my world and think about where this character died and in what circumstances. As Aldifae is worshiped in Ashk I think the saint should also be from that region, so we will be looking for names with a middle-eastern/north African feel to them.
You can either follow the same process as we did for the deity and translate some keywords to get a name, or you can search for a list of traditional names.
I really like Kamal, I think it fits the region, and Kamal the Martyr sounds like a saint that followers of Aldifae would worship.
Now we know a fair bit about our deity, their ideals, and their saints, its time to think about where and how people worship them.
Aldifae has a strong martial core, so I think instead of traditional churches, her temples should be glorified gyms and fighting pits. Some kind of martial arts routine, or sparring would be a great way to "pray" to her. Which means there will probably be a fair number of Monk's in Aldifae temples.
So, we've got a name for our Deity, their alignment, their domains, how they approach situations and the types of people they look down on. We know about one of their saints, their signature weapon, and how and where their followers worship.
Now you can put this together into something you could give to your players.
This is a really strong foundation to build upon and expand to give a player who has chosen to worship Aldifae more information about their faith.
If you are planning on creating a complete homebrew pantheon, I would suggest starting by coming up with names, alignments, and domains for all your deities first, and then show that to the players. If they decide to play a divine character and say they'd like to play as a certain character based on their alignment and domains, you can then go in and flesh that out for your player to know more about their religion.
Hope this helps!