One God, Many Faces

How I view the gods has changed over the years. When I started playing, we were in Greyhawk. Being young, having a character worship a god was a really big deal. I had a couple of players write "God" as the deity of their character. Most of the time it was blank. I even found a character sheet from 1984 of a Human Paladin character that had the word "None" scrawled next to Religion. (This was one of the yellow AD&D character sheets.) The deity was left blank. The big deal about the choice of deity was the feeling that no one was interested in roleplaying how a character worshiped at all. The cleric was just another magic-user with better weapons and armor who was indispensable in a dungeon crawl.

As we starting to mix elements of 1e, 2e and Dragonlance into the mix, we finally had an in-game reason to care about deities. This concern about religion was limited to clerics, but it was a big deal, nonetheless. Choosing a deity affected the weapons and spells a cleric could access, so we not only decided to be choosy, but we began to build our own worlds with a sense of who the deities were.

This is where I, as an adult that loves RPGs, would like to say that my 12, 13, and 14 years old selves were not really into the possibilities of a pantheon for the granted spells and powers, but for elements of story, added plot tension and seeds for higher-level adventures. I would love to say that, but it would be a lie. Bless my little munchkin heart, I kept trying to design the equivalent of Meteor Swarm for all my clerics.

Some of this reverted back to apathy with Spelljammer. All the clerics were followers of Ptah because no one wanted to lose their spells.

It wasn't until I played in college that I really saw how religion and deities could add fun playable things to a game. I encountered a man about four years older than me that had cool stories about his pantheon and the way ordinary worshipers, not just clerics, found favor and performed epic deeds. He also ran an Ars Magica game that was extraordinarily fun. Looking back, I can see a bit of influence of Ars Magica on how he ran spellcasters, both arcane and divine.

My later games, up until my hiatus, featured groups of gods that weren't a list of retreaded Greek and Roman gods that controlled one sphere of influence. My deities were powerful beings that had their own plots and schemes and battles with each other. In making them into super-high level characters, they took on a depth that transcended spells, rituals, how prayers were said and sticking to alignment. These gods were dynamic characters that changed over time.

That brings me to my two favorite deities, that weren't my creation: Paladine and Ptah.

I knew that Paladine was Good and that meant many in the party would probably choose him as the patron deity. But not only was he good, he was a dragon that loved to do things in humanoid form. I wondered why he would choose to live as anything *but* a dragon, especially a bumbling wizard named Fizban the Fabulous. I never read the books, so all I knew was the mention that he was thought to be Huma and that he actually was Fizban showing restraint in using his mighty powers. I don't remember how we figured out that he was also Bahamut, the platinum dragon.

I loved it because he wasn't Greek and he didn't fit into the stories of the saints I read in college. I wanted to read the books, but never managed to get one.  He was good because of his self-control, not because he attacked evil and overcame them with all his power. That still remains cool to me.

Then, there was Ptah. I read everything I could about the real Egyptian god hoping to use it. Ankhs were everywhere in all spheres, even the Space 1889 sphere. (I put a large Ankh monument on Venus in that sphere). He didn't live in the Outer Planes, but the ethereal. The Ethereal Plane, by my definition, was everywhere, so it made sense that Ptah was everywhere. He was the god of creation, so that attracted elves to his cause. He was the god of blacksmiths, so he attracted dwarven worshipers. As Hephaestus in real life and in my game world, he was the god of artisans, so he even had Gnome believers.

Ptah was everywhere and he was unavoidable. Was that Arcane trader wearing an ankh? Was that a flying pyramid? Who was that En Sabah Nur guy that is looking for a ship? Even the neogi and beholders knew that Ptah was nothing to be trifled with.

Ptah simply was. I had the hard-core worshipers chant something like Ptah is, Ptah was, Ptah will incessantly. It drove everyone crazy and made one of the characters question their belief. 🙂

Anyway, that the two favorite deities. One because of story, the other because he was inescapable. Next time, it will be a foray into edition wars. Oh noez!