Continuing my presentation of a complete campaign world for Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition (or, with a bit of tinkering, any FRPG), here are the True Gods of the world of Shail . . .
THE TRUE GODS
The True Gods of Shail are the family of Shail and Avrantos, excepting Halahna, the lost goddess. They are a small and tightly knit group, and have various manifestations across different cultures. A god or godess who is paramount to the Dwarves for example may be a minor deity in the eyes of the Goblins, and vice versa.
Most people are not aware that their deity is the same being as another people’s in a different guise, though some scholars know the truth. The Storm Cloud Orphans for example would be offended at the mere suggestion that their benevolent goddess Luna, guardian of magical secrets, is one and the same being as the Orc’s White Sister. Nevertheless this is so, and Luna herself plays no favorites.
It has even happened that a god has manifested in two places at once and its aspects have offered encouragement to two warring parties simultaneously, as when Avrantos the Thunderer walked with the Black Serpent Orphans at the same time as his Elvish aspect Iya Skyspan gave hope to the Alluviel tribe in their war with the mercenary Humans.
The gods give strength impartially to those who have faith in them, and regard the aims and plans of mortals as beneath consideration. The standard names of the Gods are those of the Khi Empire, old names that are widely used and have found their way into the Common Tongue.
SHAIL (Neutral) is the earth and the mother of the gods and intelligent races. She has several aspects, usually a wise crone or a stern matron, or sometimes a crow. She is the goddess of life and death. Shail and Avrantos together came to the world from a realm unknown, and fashioned it into a living planet, forging The Gloom Barrier from their own essences. Of all the intelligent humanoids only the Dwarves and the Elves were not created by Shail. The former were made by Shotek from earth and spit, and the latter are degenerate descendants of travellers who crashed on the world before The Gloom Barrier was forged. Shail is the name the Khiroans gave the goddess, and other races generally use variations of this name. Shail is known to the Orcs by no name at all, only the title the Dread Mother: She who gives and takes life. She is a hideous Orcish woman with a necklace of skulls who brings destruction and blessings indiscriminately. The matriarchal Orcs regard her as the most powerful of all gods. Shail has no clerics. Her clergy are the Druids, an ancient world-wide cult who were given a secret script by Shail herself and whose motives are utterly unfathomable to outsiders.
AVRANTOS the Thunderer (Lawful Neutral) is the consort of Shail and the god of the sky. He is prayed to by farmers and kings for he guards families and nations and is a lawgiver. Avrantos is the wisest of the gods but has a crooked leg, and walks with an oak lightning-staff which he uses to strike down his enemies. At the beginning of the world Avrantos and Shail quarreled over whether to expel the Elves. Shail wished to get rid of the interlopers, but Avrantos was more cautious. In a rage he struck the earth with his staff, and the sparks formed the god Shotek. More amused than threatened, Shail allowed the Elves to stay. Thus they regard Avrantos as their protector and call him Iya Skyspan. The Dwarves also hold Avrantos in high regard. Avrantos’s bird is the eagle.
Domains: Law, Guardian, Air
ESSA (Chaotic Neutral) is the goddess of love, passion and intoxication. Her worshippers are lovers, warriors, drunkards, mystics and bards. Those who live life to the hilt enjoy her favour, but those who cross her are cursed with addled wits. Essa was washed ashore fully formed from the raging seas at the beginning of the world, so she is also the goddess of the waters. The seagull is her sacred bird.
Domains: Chaos, Water, Luck, Trickery
LUNA (Neutral) is the twin sister of Khiro, the goddess of the moon, secrets and arcane magic. Her symbol is the crescent moon and her totem is the owl. The Elves call her Lirielle and regard her as the greatest of the gods, even above Shail and Iya Skyspan. The Orcs call her the White Sister and fear her as a harbinger of the Dread Mother.
Domains: Magic, Knowledge, Luck
KHIRO (Lawful Good) is the Sun Shield, the son of Avrantos and Shail. He is a hero who protects the weak and is the patron of many societies in many disguises. He is the sun and the lord of day, and his bird is the hawk. Khiro gave his name to the now destroyed empire of Khiroa, but he still has many followers. The Order of the Sun are dedicated to him, but Khiro in some form is held in deep respect by nearly every society. The Dwarves call him Kron, and he is their war god. To the Gnomes he is a cunning and gentle warrior called Kilgillen. The Elves call him Kailera, but they regard him as a minor guardian god who protects civilians in wartime. Khiro is also one of the greatest gods among the wise Hashatra. He is the nemesis of Skorn and is much beloved by many.
Domains: Good, Sun, Protection
SHOTEK (Neutral) is a trickster and the god of merchants, thieves, and those who make their own luck. Among the Gnomes he is a scientist and they think him the father of all things designed. Shotek is a one-eyed wanderer and his bird is the cuckoo. He was born from the sparks of the first fire when Avrantos struck the earth with his lightning, and as such is the god of fire and, by extension, genius. The Goblins revere Shotek for his craftiness and guile. Though he is the creator of the Dwarves many of them have turned to the worship of Kron (Khiro) and Avrantos in recent centuries.
Domains: Luck, Trickery, Knowledge
SKORN (Lawful Evil) Skorn is the Bone King, and though he is also the guardian of tombs and the patron of medicine he is by no means benevolent. Shail gave birth to him to be the bringer of mortality to her children. Skorn competes for his mother’s affection with her other son Khiro, and the Bone King and Sun Shield are mortal foes who have slain each other’s aspects countless times over the ages. The Great Mother is the only being who bears love for Skorn, and in return he serves her unconditionally. His bird is the vulture.
Domains: Death, Destruction, Evil
The thing to remember I think about making realistic gods in high fantasy settings is that they are real. That means that they are not really gods in the way we think of them in the real world – beings that may or may not exist and may or not be omnipotent or immortal or any other attribute we want to give them. Gods in high fantasy are actual beings as real as anyone on earth. More than that, they are people, with personalities and thus strengths and weaknesses. They are basically supremely powerful (but not all-powerful) people.
If you think about this, it means mortal people ultimately worship them out of fear or for personal gain or protection. Of course the same thing happens in the real world, but in a D&D world you have more tangible reason to be afraid of your god or think they can help you out.
This also means that the gods are not subject to mortals in any way. They are so much more powerful that it is always the god’s choice to help or not. The Greeks and the Norse knew this. It makes sense if your gods are just mighty people. So some of the gods I created above I wanted to be unreliable and fickle, and others (like Khiro) have more of a sense of loyalty to their mortals, but even Khiro will abandon or forget his followers sometimes. They just aren’t important enough individually for him to spend all his energy watching and helping if things get difficult.
Conceived in this way, many story hooks are created. Gods can fall in love with mortals (in a selfish way), become fascinated with a particular one, fly into rages and destroy cities with a swipe of their hand. Also the GM has the ability to have a god ignore even his most devoted follower if the story requires it.
The Gloom Barrier Shail created was originally a device to keep other gods out of the campaign setting. It has other interesting implications though. What if a god went through it and became mortal? Or what if a mortal became as powerful as one of the gods but couldn’t pass through the Barrier?
To answer these questions I decided that in the world of Shail there would not only be the True Gods, but also the Gods on Earth, who I will describe next time.