One of my favorite memories of AD&D, First Edition, was the section in the original Deities&Demigods regarding non-human deities — by which I mean the gods of the hobgoblins, trolls, kobolds, and so on. The long series of articles in "Dragon" expanding those individual deities to full racial pantheons was even better. While most real-world deities were a poor fit for the clockwork, number-driven, if-it-has-stats-we-can-kill-it world of Dungeons & Dragons, those gods made up explicitly for the game fit perfectly. Further, racial pantheons made the world feel more real — it makes sense to me that elves would have one god of fire and orcs another.
Third edition tried to straddle a line between "Gods are really, really, high-powered monsters" and "Gods are abstract entities". The 3e Deities & Demigods book created insanely powerful gods, a 20 level ranking system for deities, and all sorts of other Asberger-friendly content, then made those rules 100% different from the Epic rules, making it nigh-impossible to go on a god-killing expedition because everything was done and scaled differently. Fourth Edition just said "To hell with it" and de-statted gods, which has its pros and cons, but it also did something I really dislike — it created a one-size-fits-all universal pantheon, turning racial gods like Moradin and Corellon into Generic Deities worshipped by all. This was due, in part, to the anti-worldbuilding, the DM should just create "encounters" and chain them into "delves", attitude which infests the 4e rules. It’s easier to have a shared, but vague and inchoate, "assumed world" when you don’t have to worry that some uppity DM, who might still have delusions that a game is better when it takes place in a world, not a sound stage, will create his own gods. Racial pantheons are a clarion call to creativity; once you see that there’s orc gods and dragon gods, it’s hard to not start thinking of treant gods and merfolk gods and flumph gods. And, hey, maybe there’s multiple pantheons of human gods, and that might mean nations, and cultures, and languages, and pretty soon we’ve left the track entirely and we’re drawing maps and writing histories and, sin of all sins, giving stats to things the players aren’t supposed to kill. Cats and dogs, living together! But I digress.
Anyway, the focus of this next series of articles is going to be racial and cultural gods, done up in the 4e style, with Channel Divinity powers, etc. Because I’m trying to leverage my time (proactively and synergistically!), I’m going to focus on rounding out a few corners of my world. Making these gods into generic, "Sure, orcs and dwarves both worship the same guy!" gods should not be very difficult at all, if that’s what floats your boat.
Anyway, since my current game world is a classic Sword & Sorcery realm, owing a lot to Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Fritz Lieber, it has a nation of serpent worshippers, a supposedly human kingdom whose ruling family are all tainted with Yuan-Ti blood. The pantheon they worship is followed by the humans, the Yuan-Ti, and the surrounding lizardmen.
Using This Material
Obviously, a lot of this isn’t directly usable by player characters, though it could be. NPC Clerics can make use of Channel Divinity (whether they are templated clerics or built using the NPC rules), and it’s trivial to turn the Channel Divinity powers into Encounter or Recharge powers for monsters.
Ralissi, The Cold Mother
Ralissi is the undisputed Queen of the Zaalian pantheon. She is usually depicted as a cobra of immense size, with venom eternally dripping from her fangs, venom that becomes snakes when it touches the ground. She is also sometimes shown as a haughty, disdainful woman of unapproachable beauty, sometimes clad in green silks, sometimes naked. She is the goddess of rulers, of planners, of commanders; she oversees all. Her motherly aspect manifests itself in the form of forcing one’s offspring to fend for themselves and encouraging them to advance — and casting aside the weak and unfit of one’s own brood in favor of nurturing the strong.
Her commandments are:
- There can be only one leader.
- Letting the weak prosper destroys the strong.
- Your children are not all equals; nurture only the most deserving.
Channel Divinity: Ralissi’s Disdain
Once someone begins to fail, they will continue.
Encounter * Divine
Trigger: An enemy misses an attack against you.
Effect: Until the end of your next turn, that enemy grants combat advantage to you and one ally of your choice.
Salanias, The Unheard Rustling
Salanias is often shown as a small serpent of purest green. In most images of him, he is hidden — the viewer must study the carving, painting, or tapestry to discern the form of Salanias among the many twisting and writhing shapes of vines, roots, and grass. As one might guess, Salanias is the deity of spies, criminals, and liars, and perhaps not entirely unexpectedly, also of merchants and trade. When shown in human form, he appears as a handome, but unremarkable, young man, wearing expensive but sedate clothing. Salanias informs his worshippers that:
- Truth is what you wish it to be.
- A whisper in the ear can kill just as surely as a knife in the back.
- Your friends will betray you unless you betray them first.
Channel Divinity: Salanias’ Subtlety
It is your blade which strikes the foe, but your friend receives the blame.
Encounter * Divine, Poison, Weapon
Standard Action Melee or Ranged Weapon
Attack: Wisdom vs. Reflex
Hit: [W]+Wisdom damage, and target is Marked by an ally of your choice within 10 squares.
Special: Increase to [2W] at 11th level and [3W] at 21st level.
Brallios The Crusher
Subtle? Brallios does not know the meaning of the word! Brallios does not know the meaning of many words, come to think of it. Often depicted as a python of truly awesome size, dwarfing even his mother Ralissi, Brallios is a god of might, power, strength, and squeezing your enemies until they are pulp. Even so, as befits his nature, he prefers to strike first from ambush, and teaches his followers that the first blow can also be the last. When shown as a human, he is portrayed as an immense wall of muscle, garbed in leather armor and brandishing a short, serrated, blade. The followers of Brallios know that:
- No matter how slippery someone is, he can be crushed with a good enough grip.
- It is often faster to go through an obstacle than around it.
- Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, someone else dies. Maybe today, too, if you get the chance.
Channel Divinity: The Grip of Brallios
Nothing escapes you. Especially not enemies.
Encounter * Divine, Implement
Minor Action, Close Burst 2
Target: One enemy in burst
Attack: Wisdom vs. Fortitude
Hit: Target is pulled 1 square and is marked by you. Until the end of your next turn, target must remain adjacent to you unless you choose to move away.