Interlinking Gods and Domains

Many of the gods we’re used to in Western mythology either created their domains or just took charge of them—whatever happens to the domain, the god stays constant. But a common fantasy element is the idea of gods that are mostly tied to their domains—as the domain changes, so too does the god. These can be at least as much fun, and create nifty thematics. (Exalted players and STs in particular may wish to take notes.)

The most obvious version of this would be the god-powered-by-belief model memorably associated with Pratchett that TheZomb mentioned here. This is both the most straightforward and the most complex method, as the god is most likely what the worshipers believe hir to be. But this can get confusing—what if (as implied by the pronoun) the worshipers can’t agree on their god’s gender? What about personality? Appearance? Powers? Do they follow the majority? Do you end up with a patchwork god that tries to be everything at once? Do they alternate according to certain conditions?

Even I’m finding that a bit too complicated for my tastes.

Now, consider the god of a city. Its appearance and powers are probably thematic to the city itself—mercantile for a trade center, militaristic for a military town, pastoral for a farming village. You can base size and power on population, or maybe something else if you’re feeling clever, and general cleanliness on how clean/intact the city is—pretty straightforward, right? Excellent. Now try giving the place a nasty plague. Or slaughtering half the population. Got an image for what that might do to the god? Good. Those are pretty easy, but what about positive shifts? If you add a spectacular monument, it might manifest as a piece of jewelry in the god’s regalia. Create a library or university; might that make the god smarter? (I almost want to create a divine image generator and tack it onto SimCity to see what happens.)

Gods of natural features are pretty straightforward. Change the landscape, change the god. Pollute the landscape, dirty up the god. Have a war running through the place, the poor god has ringing ears, a foul disposition, and really bad battle odor. Plague the place with unnatural weather problems, and… well, see above, plus add the god feeling a bit loopy from all the Things That Should Not Be There.

Then you have gods of inventions and ideas. This is how you get the Pratchett effect without the complications—while they exist whether they’re believed in or not, they’ll still feel the effects if their domains go out of use. They’re also some of the most abstract of the lot, particularly the ideas. No shape, remember? History can be kind to such divinities, but it can just as easily be cruel—could you imagine how a god of the geocentric universe hypothesis might be doing in today’s world? What about a god of common courtesy? Modesty? Intelligent and reasoned debate on Internet forums? 8-tracks? Storyteller-based Aberrant?

A note: don’t confuse ideas with natural forces, unless you want vastly changeable laws of physics. I at least imagine the gods of natural forces as being the hardest to have an effect on—one can’t exactly go about changing how gravity works except in limited areas, right?

Bear in mind, just because a god can survive damage to its domain doesn’t mean it will stay functional. Sufficient damage might give it crippling injuries, or might do interesting things to its mental processes.

Changing world, changing gods—the concept is good for a lot of things. It makes the world more alive and the gods more approachable, allows for a certain amount of creativity, and can serve as anything from plothook to character limitation without requiring every deus to be treading very close to ex machina. How would you implement it?

(This post, as usual for this month-topic combination, written for RPG Blog Carnival.)

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