World-Building Tool Review - Pamphlet of Pantheons

One of the joys of getting involved in the Zine Quest on Kickstarter was getting the different projects in ones and twos over time like little presents. Today’s topic is one that I was particularly looking forward to because of the topic material.


I have always tried building out the societies of my worlds whenever possible. This frequently includes the development of religious structures for its cultures. World religions is even something I studied in university!


However, the development of realistic religions in a fantasy world is not always the easiest thing to do, especially in the case of polytheistic religions. Quite often the mythology and pantheon it is built around is either far too complex and developed for a casual player to easily understand, mirrors real-life mythology or existing religions to levels of misappropriation, or comes off as is flat, disjointed, and hokey. In the past, I will confess to finding my worlds most frequently falling into the first problem of being complicated simulations that made engagement for my players difficult.


James Hollaway in his Pamphlet of Pantheons has sought to simplify the creation of fantasy religions for world builders, allowing for the creation of realistic-feeling and interconnected pantheon without resorting to the level of complex simulation I mentioned previously. The pantheons created are instead a starting point for you and the players to build from.

Before we go further, I want to point out an important author’s note. In the introduction of the text, James emphasizes that his familiarity is mainly in the religions of “Europe and the Near East” and as such the pantheons “may feel a little ‘European’.” As my knowledge is stronger in religious practices of South and Northeast Asia than the various Mediterranean peoples, it will be interesting to compare this tool to how I might create a fantasy religion.


 

Steps of Creation

The creation of a pantheon goes through a series of steps. Most of these steps have randomization tables to go with them, but certainly don’t feel beholden to them. The steps listed below are in the basic order where things appear in the book, but you also should not feel like you have to go through the steps in this order.


The steps:

  • Pick the divine Archetypes for your major deities

  • Add complications and flavor to the Archetypes

  • Develop a pantheon aesthetic

  • Creating some Archetype duplicates or overlaps

  • Add secondary aspects, titles, and epithets to deities

  • Add some “minor” deities to the pantheon

  • Develop some of the main culture’s religious structure and worship practices

  • Develop some divine elements that surround the pantheon like servants and treasures


One thing that I would encourage you do is have a basic culture that you are creating this religion for. It is good to have a start to begin to flavor your deities.


 

My Divine Creation

My deities are going to be the pantheon of a coastal culture that rely on the sea for much of their livelihoods. The interior of the land is a hot and rocky desert, though remnants of the ancient forests that use to grow here still dot the hillsides. Because of the climate, the people make their homes in caves or carved alcoves in cliff-faces. They have learned to utilize crystals that were created by many ancient volcanoes and dried minerals from the sea to meet many of their needs such as constructing ships from carefully grown crystal structures or fertilizing the few plants they can grow in greenhouse-like, crystal-roofed pits.


Through some randomization, I got the following Archetypes along with the following additional information:

  1. A Celestial Sovereign who created the universe and is also a matchmaker.

  2. A Wild Card deity that is the rival to another deity and and a Diverter of Curses.

  3. Another Wild Card deity that is a legacy of a past time.

  4. A Keeper of Mysteries that is the center of an esoteric cult.

  5. A Worker of Evil that is worshiped by many to divert disaster, but misunderstood by many.

  6. A Force of Nature that is a trapped monster of daemon in divine form.

  7. A Bestower of Plenty who was “previously a mortal who struck the first gold coin” and the patron of mothers.

  8. A Divine Physician who encourages health, strength, and athleticism.

  9. A Deity of the Fruitful Earth from a previous age that has been adapted to the new society.


I also created one minor deity and on the randomization table rolled that they were a deity of bees.


My first decision was to take Deities #4 and #5 and combine them together. I decided they were a deity of nightmares and earthquakes, a major natural disaster for this society. The esoteric cult would be a group that helped heal and strengthen those who suffered from self-doubt or had survived great harm.


I then created a conlang on the website Vulgar, which I highly recommend for general use. I used it along with the epithet creator in the pamphlet and some suggestions from my son to help me with names. The number next to their name coincides with the archetype they are based on above.


A photo of a large blocky crystal of Halite or Rock Salt
Halite or Rock Salt is a crystal for Nan ©Didier Descouens

(1) Nan, the Golden Uncreated Sage

(2) Wembap the Diverter, They Who Shatter

(3) Nekerkul, the Wooden One

(4) Diilut, the Last All-seeing Spirit

(6) Aklorer, the Raging Sun, Volcano’s Birth

(7) Habnu'pap, the Crystal-singer

(8) Eshundee, the Healer of Cracks

(9) Shoon, Sea’s Bounty

Bee deity- Waaḥib, the Cloud-born


One religious practice that was rolled on the random table is that they celebrate Nan’s creation of the universe by having a symbolic marriage between Nan and Shoon. I also decided based on the tables that the deities would take the form of non-humanoid beings and that a symbol of divinity was a radiant glow unique to the type of crystal associated with a particular deity. The exceptions are Waaḥib, who is represented by either beeswax or amber and Nekerkul who is represented by pieces of petrified wood that is found in the desert.


 

My Impression

I can certainly understand why James said that his pantheons will seem "European." I can see strong Mediterranean and Mesopotamian in my own creation that mainly utilized his tables. Looking through the other options in the tables, I can certainly identify elements that suggest strong influences from Babylonian, Graco-Roman, Egyptian, and Germanic mythology with at least small nods to East Asian, Mesoamerican, and the traditions of several other regions.


It might be interesting to see a wider verity of choices associated with each of the Archetypes, the religion structure, and pantheon aesthetics options. However, James does say that this is supposed to be a starting point that you can build off of. I would find it interesting to see how someone with a strong or how the religion might look if I drew more from my wife's Korean heritage.


I would strongly recommend this tool for anyone who has never made a constructed religion for their fantasy work. This tool will certianly provide a good seed for further story development in a quick and easy way for someone without a lot of experience in religious studies or different cultural practices.


Thank you all for reading and thank you James for making a good World-Building resource!

James Hollaway [twitter] is also the host of the MONSTER MAN podcast and has several creations on their itch.io page.

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