D&D has some big Gods. No Joke. Lots of serious deities pouring energy into clerics across the land, often taking a heavy hand to the machinations of men (and women) and sometimes directing the play from high above. In The Realms (the forgotten ones, you remember), they have had trials and travails, even sent down to inhabit the bodies of avatars at one point. They Just always seemed massive to me...just a bit too big for their britches.
Back when I started playing the game (I believe it was the Bronze Age) I was eager to nab my copy of Deities & Demigods (the first ed.) and start getting my clerics connected to their higher power. As a kid I usually gravitated towards the cleric. He could fight and cast spells, heal up in a pinch, and was overall a very flexible class, but when I first started playing them, I was clueless when it came to the Gods. I just used some amorphous concept of ‘god’ and ran with it. It wasn’t until the release of that book that I started giving it some serious thought.
The best part (IMHO) about that source-book were not the larger than life deities, but the lesser ones, the in-betweeners, and even the demi-gods and heroes. They seemed somehow more approachable, more likely to turn their attention towards an individual.
These days, when I create homebrew worlds, I take the ‘local gods’ approach to pantheon building. Sure, I always throw in a set of BIGS. Usually, I make it a small pantheon of Gods of Law and Gods of Chaos. I’ve always liked this approach (it simply drips of Moorcock, and why not?) and it helps quickly explain and manage the larger, outer circle of god-like jobs such as universe creation, light and darkness, higher race building...all of the more serious aspects of gods. Real attention to gods is something I like to do with the players who have chosen to follow a religion, or become clerics. For these gods, I take the low road. We flesh out the deity together, and we grow the dictates, etc. as play occurs.
It’s easier if I just show you an example. A few weeks ago a new player decided to join my game and she had chosen to play a cleric. I asked her what sort of overall character concept she was considering, and after a few emails I had a good idea what sort of god her character would worship. I then whipped up this:
Aeris & Zuris: The Twin Gods of Day & Night, Light & Darkness
In the earliest moments of the universe, soon after the firmament had dispersed and the space and cosmic dust had settled, the creator lit the stars and shone his myriad light upon the places he had wrought. It was at this instant, in a time before time was marked, that the twin gods Aeris and Zuris awoke to begin their watch over the days and nights of a million, million worlds.
Of those that worship the day and the light, we shall not speak. That is a discussion for another treatise. Here we will pull back the cloak of darkness that enshrouds the night and reveal the mysteries of Zuris, and of his priesthood, the Brotherhood of the Ineffable Night.
The temples dedicated to the God Zuris are never touched by light of any source. To do so is a great transgression, a blaspheme against the Lord of the Dark. His places of worship are almost always found underground, and though the path to darkness may be lit, his inner sanctum is an inky-black space. His priests have no need of any light, as they can see in darkness as twilight. In turn, they lead the faithful to their proper places as the worship begins, and then back again when services are completed. All prayers issued to the Zuris in light of any kind are less likely to be heard, and are almost never answered. Only his truly faithful, his Clerics who spread his word and the darkness throughout Thayrun, are able to receive his blessings in the presence of his brother the light.
Spells cast in total darkness have a 25% chance to be doubly effective
Always in dark robes or tabards emblazoned with the symbol of the black sun, the clerics of Zuris elucidate the mysteries of the dark to those who are willing to listen. He is not an evil god, nor are his teachings that of evil. The darkness is simply his domain, and his love is for the creatures and constructs that thrive when the sun has retreated and his brother Aeris turns his face from the many worlds. While he loves all of his supplicants with equal love, he has a fondness for the owl. This bird, a fierce predator and symbol of wisdom, is said to hold dominion over all other creatures who inhabit his domain.
Owls are revered by the Brotherhood of Ineffable Darkness, and its image is often a symbol etched into buildings where the brothers will find safety and assistance when travelling on the road and in the wilds
There are many strictures that guide the faithful. Prayers to the Lord of the Night are offered at the edge of twilight, as the last rays remove themselves and darkness enshrouds the world. The Brotherhood of Ineffable Darkness allows its adherents to wield only the weapons of the night. His Clerics may also use only the armor proscribed by the church. Clerics are forbidden to hold, ignite, or otherwise use implements that product light.
Weapons : Dagger, Dirk, Cudgel, Mace, Morningstar (iron only), Flail, Dart
Armor : Any up to/including Scale, (all armor must be black)
Now, these gods are a bit high up on my god-ladder. Every town and village that the party arrives at, I try and create smaller, local deities if part of the plan is to visit a temple or place of worship (sometimes just for fun). Most of these gods are good aligned, although many are simply neutral (evil gods are fun to build, but that's a whole other post I think). Most farming communities will worship a god or goddess of fertility. In larger towns, craftsmen will often have a ‘house god’, for instance in the new module I’m writing, I’ve created a god/patron saint of Bakers.
How do I keep track? Well, I keep a small black logbook of gods/goddesses I create, but outside of that, I don’t. I don’t worry about it. The people who inhabit these worlds (my worlds tend to be medieval/early renaissance European-style) are mostly uneducated peasants! Why on earth do they need to think about all of the potential gods that some poor peasant 500 miles away may worship? It’s silly. I’ve seen folks on the net agonize over building a ‘proper pantheon’ for their new world...the one they have already spent immeasurable hours and days pouring over. My way is simple, and it fits nicely with my organic approach to world-building. There’s no reason to build it all first...the players will come if all you have is a village and a cave!
What’s my point here? I don’t know. I guess...don’t sweat the small things just because they seem like big things. As long as you keep track of the things you’re building into your world, you’ll be fine. Alot of new players/GM’s agonize over these things...and I know that I used to as well. Over time you just learn to enjoy the entire process once you let go of the excessive preparation some GM’s might scare you with.
It doesn’t matter that you created Hutha of the Hearth to watch over village A, and down the road they worship Fogop of the Fifty Fingers at village B. No one is right, and everyone is right. Just have fun.