Friday, September 12, 2008

Greyhawk Day #2: Gods, Oerdian and Otherwise

Today's Greyhawk Day article comes from the personal files (circa 1997) of Scott Casper, who like yours truly pines for the Greytalk archives to return. This article provides an interesting look at the deities of Greyhawk (GH), and a through response to an earlier posting (noted in italics), as well as not bad advice for anyone dealing with deities and detail in a campaign setting. Please note minimal additional formatting has been furnished to make an easier presentation of the subject matter, and that this is a partial transcription of a longer Greytalk post. We have a lot more great Greyhawk stuff to come! Send your original Greyhawk articles, maps, stories, and memories to mail.rpgblog(at)gmail.com. Enjoy!:

Since I’ve been the Gods of Oerth series and scouring the various sources for little bits of info which I could exploit, I thought I might jump in to this discussion myself. Kent Matthewson was the original poster.


I. The Problems with the Pantheons

Some problems arise when considering that the gods of GH are real beings in the “game"world, so that unlike the “real” world, it raises these questions in my mind: How many gods can there realistically be, in total, and how do we resolve overlapping spheres of influence? If each pantheon has their sky/thunder god, their god of oceans, etc. – the air and water become crowded, conflicting places – who has precedence in the seas, for example – Xerbo or Procan (ignoring that one is a greater and one a lesser god)?


In my campaign the answer is: “eh?” As a GM I’d like to know *everything* about my world, but with limited resources and even more limited time, I leave it up to the gods, whom the Players will most likely never meet, to decide this. In so far as I’m concerned they can fight it out with all of the Forgotten Realms gods and the Birthright gods and…


It comes down to homodiegetic vs. heterodiegetic. In the latter’s case, we worry about which direction the angular momentum is going, what a deity really looks like in person, and whether the carrying capacity of Oerth would really be exceeded if Orcs were fed aphrodisiacs en masse. In the former’s case, we concern ourselves with what the players might think the sun is, how they relate to their gods, and the taboo of talking about Orcsex.


In the last year or so, after a campaign I hosted sputtered and died due to lack of special interest, I began to worry less about giving the history of Oerik in one hour or less at the beginning, and worried more about telling the players the outlandish (and far more interesting) lies that their grandmothers would have told them. I quickly found that no one but me really cared which way the Oerth turned, but rather wanted to hear more atrocity tales about the horrors which Iuz had perpetrated. My players are human! So I guess my answer is… if you’re Oeridian Procan beat the living crap out of Xerbo who now sits in a sea cave crying all day… if not then Xerbo is the One True God of the Sea and Procan’s priests are a bunch of corrupt bastards (even if they do get spells from someone).


In the “real” world, it was recognized even by the ancient Greeks (Herodotus, for example) that the deities of other pantheons were the gods of the Greeks, but by different names (Herodotus in particular, equates with the gods of Egypt and Asia Minor), and in modern times we recognize certain “archetypal” gods that reappear in differing cosmologies. However, on Oerth, these gods are not variations, but real, distinct beings, so that proposing to fill the “gaps” in the current pantheons creates more problems than it solves.


The Hindus just consider other gods (generally speaking) to be yet another in their immense pantheon. The Romans’ gods, if they did exist, might not have actually been variations on the Germanic/Norse gods or vice versa, but the Romans thought so. So long as they still received spells ;-) who cared?


Of course, we currently have such a difficulty in some spheres – Wee Jas/Boccob, Ulaa/Fortubo, Joramy/Pyremius, Rao/Delleb, Lendor/Cyndor, Procan/Xerbo, Ehlonna/Obad-Hai, and Velnius & the 4 Winds/Phaulkon. Many of these can be resolved on a case-by-case basis, by differentiating subtle distinctions within their spheres, but it takes some doing (and possibly fudging)


But why assume that they have to be differentiated at all? I’m asking this, not as a rhetorical question, but as a serious inquiry. Suppose that the gods never get together across cultural pantheons, that because every outer plane is infinite in scope they just don’t run into one another. If the only access they have to Oerth is the *rare* avatar, then their only agents are their worshippers who can compete or cooperate.


There is also the interesting issue of the merging of faiths due to the Great Migrations. Many of the deities from various pantheons have since come to be embraced as being common to all areas (according to the original god list from the ’83 boxed set). This seems appropriate, especially after a thousand years. The more interesting item on the list, however, are the many gods that are not only common, but of no particular ethnic origin. I can only conclude that these deities were common to all or at least some (more than one) pantheon prior to the Cataclysms. These deities include St. Cuthbert, Ehlonna, Trithereon, Boccob, and Incabulos, as well as several lesser-known deities. I think it would be appropriate to decide on a case-by-case basis which deities were common to which pantheons (ie Cuthbert perhaps being common to the Oerid and the Suel, but not the Baklunish or Flan). When drawing up racial pantheons, any or all of these deities could be included, and factored in when drawing up the cultural traits, political structures, etc. that each race commonly has.


IMC, the ‘common’ deities (of lesser or higher standing) were initially either individual cults or parts of another pantheon all together. As a preview of Gods of Oerth, vol III, the Oeridians were kenotheists in the Hindu sense. That is, every god is great and the greatest one at a time. Praise Celestian, greatest of all gods, in the morning, then pray to Heironeous, chief of power in the gods’ realms and mightiest of all, in the evening. Given this openness and will to recognize gods of all stripes, we see certain absorption and dissemination of religions. That is, the reason that they’re commonly worshipped is because their religions have been changed to a the greatest degree possible w/o being offensive to the gods’ sensibilities. Xenophobic constructs or subversive elements to the cults have been sterilized. “Common” comes to mean not only frequency, but the degree to which the religion has been spread thin over the continent.


Moreover, it will be Kambellian’s thesis that this is absolutely necessary (bloody Oeridian that he is). That is, if any other culture had dominated the subcontinent, we would be looking at a different picture altogether. If the Baklunish peoples (to be Vol II), who were reforming the church of Istus and effectively downsizing the pantheon when the main thrust of their migrations began, were to have dominated the continent these cults would not have been tolerated to any great degree and worship of most gods would have been divided into regional cults. The Suel (to be Vol. IV) would have demanded that their gods, who (according to the Suel) really do determine the events within their spheres of influence, be worshipped as the primary gods. Here again, we see something of a repression and the likelihood that many of the gods would have disappeared.


II. The Oerdians

[Excellent thoughts on the Oeridian pantheon snipped]


Here are some of my own observations. First, we have two sets of brothers, indicating that these gods are thought to have been born and that their interrelationships are a factor of time and history. We can also note that this gives them a mortal quality, at least in the legends.

The pantheon is distinctly patriarchal. You mentioned Obad-Hai, whom I recall being Flan, but aside from her, of all of the intermediate powers, not one is female. Also note that unlike the Suel pantheon, in whose families deity status seems to be hereditary (Kord), the parents of our two sets of brothers, Hextor-Heironeous and Celestian-Fharlanghn, are of little consequence. Whether it is because they were mortals (who gives a damn about them anyway? J) or because they were gods lost to time is a matter which we can debate here ad nauseum without ever getting conclusive evidence.

On the other hand, we don’t (to my knowledge) ever hear of them paying visits to one another. Procan is never found knocking on Celestian’s door asking him to turn down the head of the sun because it makes his oceans evaporate, and Erythnul to our knowledge hasn’t ever invited Telchur over for tea and patries. The many forms of Erythnul seem to hint that he may have come from the humanoids (as opposed to them adopting him). You can tell I’m leaning towards this kind of open-minded adoption hypothesis right through prehistory (similar to what the Greeks did).


Because of the lack of evidence of anything but the most occasional interaction, IMC, the Oeridians are god thieves. Look at the binary Cain-Abel nature of the Hextor-Heironeous pair and compare it to the benign brotherhood of Celestian and Fharlanghn. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent tradition, leading me to view everything through a lens of cultural assimilation.


In my timeline, mostly adapted from OJ1, the Oeridians were the slaves of the Suloise empire. They toiled in the equatorial sun to get what little they could from the soil so that their masters could have time for games and the occasional social gathering. As the original inhabitants of the Plain of Pesh, they had been tribal and each possessing their own god(s) and extremely distinct dialects and even languages. When the Suel conquered the land, the tribes were forced into a mush of cultures. Their treatment and standard of living varied from dynasty to dynasty; some times they had to be paid for their work (a piddly amount).


So each tribe member had to accept her sister’s god. It was a survival thing. Many of those gods have been lost to time for want of worshippers, but we have some in the form of the basic Oeridian pantheon.


To complete the narrative, the Oeridians dribbled out when they could. But, when the time was ripe, they eventually rose and killed a number of their masters in the province of South Pesh. Fearing further uprising, they were emancipated and were force-marched to the north and into the Baklunish empire (who accepted them but resented the influx of impoverished people which devastated the economy, leading to strains in their already bloody relationship with the Suel… and here we go!).


2 comments:

mortellan said...

Very good choice for a GH article this week Zachary! Keep em coming!

Zachary The First said...

Thanks! We're taking a slight break next week for a "refresher". :)