One God, Many Faces

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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. ­čÖé

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!

The Numbers of All Things – A Thought Expirement

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This post may seem to be stream of conscious, but the main point centers around having a reason why a setting works the way it does and why people in the setting have the superstitions that they do. Taking the ideas in this post to the extreme can lead to some extreme associations, so caveat emptor. So here are thoughts about my southeastern Asian setting based on setting up a number system to categorize elements within the game world.

Tanah-Con-Rahn is a reorganization of a setting I began developing for Nevermet Press some time ago. I want to make sure that others that contributed to it feel like I am *not* stealing their ideas. So for example, there is no City of Spires in Tanah-Con-Rahn, because John Schutt had a killer idea of an perpetually dying god and various city factions trying to find him. All I did was name the place, John added the awesome.

With recent work on a Verb/Noun magic system, I've begun to work out how magic will work in Tanah-Con-Rahn. Based on an earlier post about how nouns are classified in other languages, I plan on offering NPC wizards with some very unique nouns.

Of course, psionics and ghosts play their part as well. The ACKS Psionicist allows for a specialty in dealing with ghosts that fits a niche for specific settings. Mixing southeast Asia and psionics seem to go together like peas and carrots.

Tonight, though, I was going through some math in my mind in an attempt to go to sleep. While pondering various number sequence, I got out of bed and googled the concept in my head. It turns out to be called the digital root. Digital roots can be laid out in a nine by nine grid to produce a Vedic Square. If you fill in the Vedic Square for a specific number, so get some interesting geometric designs that show some kind of symmetry.

Dude, seriously, you're putting me to sleep. What does this have to do with gaming.

The short answer is that the geometric designs with distinct patterns for numbers 1 through 9 provide a visual code for 1st through 9th level spells. I wouldn't use it much in-game as much as between games in an effort to provide small touches of "otherness" to the setting. I know a lot folks like me that will remember the symbols as a way to classify various power levels of spells. It may not be your thing, and that's okay.

Building on these patterns, I can scrawl some rune-looking glyphs to place throughout a dungeon, wizard's tower, etc. Since libraries are a big part of Tanah-Con-Rahn, the nine glyphs can be used to classify non-fiction material. For priests, the glyphs can represent the eight paths of righteousness and the one path of destruction. Since the present noun/verb system allows most spellcasters to access a specific set of nine verbs only, I could assign one glyph to one verb as a way to list the spells. Rainbows have seven colors. If you include white and black, you have nine colors, one glyph for each color. The list of things can go on and on.

By creating these multiple associations, it provides some subtext for a world without having to write six or seven novels of backstory. These nine patterns have meaning throughout the setting and it can mean different things depending on context. It's not all about magic, like the colors of the rainbow example, and it shouldn't be.

None of this is really game crunch, not yet. Here's where some really out there stuff can help create a seemingly random groups of spells. You can make the group my a mathematic principle instead of effect. Players may forever wonder why every school has a create spell, but if they ever want to know, you can send them on a wild goose chase to find the answer. Here's how it works:

The spell creation system works by assigning effects on a scale of 0 to 8. Then rating the duration on the same scale. Then rating the Range. Then rating the Area of Effect/Number of targets on the same scale. Using the numbers, every spell can be a unique four digit number. Take the digital root of the number and classify the spell book accordingly. In the current draft of the spell system, this would put Create Water and Speak with the Dead in the same school of magic.

Astute players will look at the PHB and see that spells with certain difficulties are grouped together, but at first glance it won't be obvious. Spells with a difficulty of 15 and 6 will be in the same school. One school will be only spells with a difficulty of 9.

Many will probably never, ever care about any of this. But for me as the GM, it lets me sound like a wizard or a numerologist or a half-witted "prophet of doom" that sees patterns in everything. It also lets me sound like a sage that seeks to classify all knowledge according to what he/she perceives to be a universal pattern, like Aristotle. It even lets me throw in day-to-day stuff like why common folk find some numbers lucky in certain situations, but bad in others.

In Tanah-Con-Rahn, the number you are born under (digital root of birthdate) are a boon to specific abilities that benefit a character depending on their class. Others may have a bane, thus they are driven to vile magic, pacts with demons or other horrendous things in an effort to escape their destiny. With some effort, I can come up with a sort of nine month zodiac for beneficial animals or totems and another for detrimental animals.

The number you train under for magic can dictate why some wizards cannot wear certain colors. Such a number would be determined by a number from 1 to 9 that you assign to the verbs of the magic system. The first verb a mage learns determines the number they train under. Nine minus that number corresponds to the color that would be the color that they cannot wear.

Anything you can rate from 1 to 9 will work for this system.

Enjoy!