Thinking through the various stories of gods in the modern world for my Godlings Fiasco scenario, I started to wonder why all these tales seem to be snapshots of the past. If the gods are real and they’ve been around since the beginning of civilization then what have they been up to for two thousand years?
Series like Anansi Boys, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, and even The Dresden Files all base their encounters with the divine on a lot happening in prehistory, then a whole bunch of nothing, then the present day. American Gods is a little better with its new deities but there’s still the question of what happened five hundred years ago or a thousand and why aren’t there gods from that time?
With the upcoming release of Scion 2e (any time now, Onyx Path…), I started to think about how you can enrich a game where the gods are real by filling out the history of the pantheon since their early days. Last week I published a look at how the Aesir might have changed in two millennia and today I’m going to pull back the curtain and show you how I got there.
Option 1: The Long Sleep
The classic situation is that the gods of the ancients have been asleep for millennia, or at least mostly asleep. Maybe they spend long periods in hibernation them pop out for brief periods of activity… like divine cicadas. Having them wake a little let’s you include them in some parts of history if you want.
On the other hand, cicadas all operate on different schedule. Sometimes multiple species wake up at the she time to give us a staggeringly loud summer but these are notable because they’re rare. So why is the present day one of those confluences? Or maybe it isn’t and you only let your players choose from a small palette of gods. This saves you from straining to connect disparate character concepts and it relieves the pressure of including every culture’s stories but it may not work for every group.
A final option is that they mostly operate in their otherworlds and get stuck in their own stories. It might seem crazy to us to have a feast for five hundred years or battle endlessly for seven centuries to keep your battle skills sharp. But we’re not gods. This might just be the way of things for the world’s pantheons.
Option 2: They’ve Been Hiding in Plain Sight
Maybe the gods have been here all along but their actions are masked somehow. The classic “mist” hiding the magical from mortal eyes works for this but you still have to think about where and when and why the gods were doing their thing in the mortal realm. You don’t need to rely on “bad eyesight,” though, and instead think of ways that the gods could continue changing with the world around them to keep their privacy.
I was talking this over with Mrs. James, Ph.D. (she’s the brains of the operation) and she had a great response to the whole issue: “Wouldn’t they just do what happened in the real world?” After all, the stories of the old gods didn’t just disappear as worship of them faded. They became stories told around campfires, tales of legendary figures from the past, and stories incorporated into other religions. Various European deities ended up as Christian saints and the tales of the Arabic and Persian gods ended up as local Muslim traditions. The gods themselves could have done the same, shifting from the halls of Asgard and into new cathedrals where they kept the traditions alive as they could.
The best part of Mrs. James plan is that the Catholic Church’s practice of celibacy for priests was meant to stop all the god-blooded heroes that came from the clergy fraternizing with these gods in hiding. Now that denominations without mandatory celibacy are around, more demigods are being born. Meanwhile, changes of practice around the world might prevent any potential new gods from accepting their heritage which would be almost the same as having no new gods.
Option 3: Make Your Own Gods
If you want to create past legends by the past equivalent of PCs… Just go for it! You could imagine campaign after campaign where heroes become demigods and then become gods, but all of that may be more than you want to do as a GM. Instead, use these steps to create a series of historical campaigns without all the fuss.
How Many Gods Have Joined the Pantheon?
The first thing to figure out is how many gods you’re adding to the pantheon. You can do this in a number of ways (world population is a good one, since surges in population theoretically means more potential gods) but the easiest way is to just pick a rate that gives you a number you like. I’ve crunched the numbers in a half-dozen different ways and nothing feels better anyways.
If you assume that there’s a new god every two centuries (nice round numbers) then in the last two thousand years a pantheon would have gained ten or so new gods. If this seems like more than you’d intended then you can decrease the rate, but if it seems like too few then increase it. You can also randomize it a little by just considering that 1d10 gods have arrived in the past two thousand years (or whatever dice you like), which is especially a good option if you’re really just interested in the current situation and not making a timeline.
How Did the Gods Ascend?
For each new god, consider what the circumstances were surrounding their entrance into the pantheon. Did they displace an older deity? Did they just settle in among their elders? Did they leave the pantheon altogether and start something new?
If you don’t want to come up with the circumstances, use the table below to randomly determine what happened.
|1-4||The god joined the pantheon as a new deity.|
|5-6||An older god was killed just before the new god’s ascension or during it.|
|7-8||When the new god entered the pantheon, an older one faded to obscurity.|
|9||The god started a new pantheon rather than joining an existing one.|
|10||Rather than join their home pantheon, the new god joins a foreign one.|
What Are the New Gods’ Areas of Interest?
New gods have divine purviews just like the old ones. If you know a god’s story already, obviously pick something that matches the god’s story. If you’re just determining things randomly, feel free to use the following table or one from your favorite worldbuilding resource. If you come up with something that is already claimed in the pantheon (such as another god of storms in the Aesir or another god of the dead among the Pesedjet) then roll again and think of how the two different aspects of the god’s purview would set them apart from their elder. A goddess of storms and messengers, for example, could concern herself with navigation and sailing as a natural intersection of those two topics. She would be very different from Thor in that way and also from another potential new god of fear and messengers (who is a god of threats and organized crime, perhaps).
What Has Happened With These Gods?
Just like the pantheon shifts, individual gods have new adventures and changes. You can just roll once for each god in the pantheon (including the traditional ones) to see what’s happened in the past century or so, or you can roll once for every century or whatever else you like.
A way to make it more random is to roll 1d00 for each god for each century (starting in 0 CE or whenever you like) and give each god a 10% chance of something momentous happening. Even with twenty centuries to work with, you shouldn’t have an unmanageable number of events for each god.
Regardless of your approach, use the table below to determine the events for each god (or make up your own).
|3||Faded to obscurity.|
|4||Gave humanity a new technology.|
|5||Married other god.|
|6||Claimed city as their own.|
|7||Added to purview or changed it.|
|8||Sired an important hero.|
|9||Fought with other god.|
|10||Created important site or relic.|
|11||Went on an important journey.|
|12||Defeated an important enemy.|
|13||Lived as an important mortal.|
|14||Gained a legendary relic.|
|15||Caused an historical event.|
|16||Fought an epic battle against the titans.|
|17||Had a child with another god.|
|18||Lost an important item or site.|
|19||Left their pantheon to found a new one or exist alone.|
|20||Merged with a foreign pantheon.|
Making Something of This
When you finish with all of this, you end up with a set of blanks and hooks for events. This spreadsheet shows what I started with for the Aesir and also an example for the Greek and Roman gods (that example will come up next). In both cases, I turned this into a narrative with a few easy steps.
- I organized my rolls and the gods into a spreadsheet (see above) noting what gods had notable events in what centuries and also when new gods appear (and, when applicable, who they replace).
- I looked at the Wikipedia page for each century, starting with the first century and going step by step forward.
- Each century has a list events and I used those to fill in the blanks for the events that got rolled up. Some pages are organized into geographic area; others you can do a search for. You can also just look at a “history of” page such as the History of Egypt.
- These rolls are just guidelines. If it ever seemed like things weren’t making sense or that what was randomly determined didn’t make a good story, I either rerolled or I shifted things.
- On that note I used themes that came up with particular legends as a suggestion. The gods of Asgard, for example, quarrel and fight, often physically. The gods of Olympus are generational and older gods are replaced by newer again and again.