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In the Beginning…Part 2: Religion Shapes the Setting

August 22, 2012
Tips & Tricks

Tips & Tricks

Last week we took a look at some questions to ask yourself when creating a religion for your campaign setting. Now we’re going to take some hypothetical answers to those questions and see how we can use them to shape the rest of the setting.

Let’s call our land “Khemia” and go from there…

The Nature of Gods

Is there one deity or many (or several)?

In Khemia, there is but one deity, and its name is Pthalos

If many, are they worshiped as part of a pantheon (where the gods are inter-related) or simply pantheistic (where there are several individual gods with distinct origins/rituals)?

The Khemians worship but one god, but they have conquered other lands who have their own origins and rituals. The leaders of Khemia tolerate the worship of “lesser creatures” by their conquered peoples (also, lesser creatures). It keeps them docile…

Is the deity a “creator”? A “destroyer”? A “watchmaker”?

Pthalos is endless creation, life everlasting. Pthalos is the force that powers the expansion of the universe. 

Does the deity govern all aspects of existence or only certain spheres of influence (motherhood, war, life, death, taxes, etc.)?

Pthalos governs and shapes all aspects of existence. The Way of Pthalos is interpreted by the Eyes of Pthalos–Seer-Priests dedicated to interpreting the signs left by omens and written in the stars.

Is the deity an epic hero or a “founding father” of the country/dominant culture?

Pthalos has always been. Pthalos has never walked the earth and has not founded any land. However, he has placed his Hand upon this earth in the form of the supreme ruler of the Khemian people (known as The Hand of Pthalos). 

Is there a “judgment” deity? Is there an “afterlife”?

There is no other deity than Pthalos. In death, a man’s heart and mind are weighed against each other on the Scales of Eternity. If one is heavier than the other, heavy with “ka-Pthal” (negative energy), then the man’s “Pthal” (spark) is cast free into the Void.  If heart and mind are in balance, then the Pthal is reunited with Pthalos and used again to begin a new creation.

Does the deity walk amongst their worshipers? Or do they live in a plane removed?

Pthalos exists surrounding all of creation. Like air, fire, water, and earth–it is of and around everything.

Is the deity anthropomorphic? Or a force/essence? Or another manner of creature? Or have a variety of forms/avatars?

Pthalos is a force/essence. The Hand of Pthalos, the supreme ruler of the Khemians, holds a piece of that essence within him/her–the “Ul-Pthal” (supreme spark), and thus can wield its power.

Is the deity immortal? Does it have a period of “rebirth”?

Pthalos is endless life. All of creation is reborn within it.

Is the deity active in the daily lives of its worshipers?

Pthalos only chooses to reveal itself and its purposes to its Eyes and Hand. All beings carry the spark of creation (“pthal”) but do not encounter the essence themselves.

Is the deity a “racial” deity? Or does its influence transcend species?

Pthalos transcends all creation.

Can mortals ascend to godhead?


The Nature of Worship

Do worshipers have evidence of the deity’s existence? Or is it a manner of faith?

Only the Eyes of Pthalos directly experience the deity, thus the common folk only have their faith in the Seers to sustain them.

Is “sorcery” distinct from religious prayer and ritual (invocation)? Are they inter-related?

“Sorcery” in Khemia is the use of ritual to summon “lesser creatures” to do the bidding of the sorcerer. It is similar to religion in that is is invocation but is always attributed to intermediary spirits/demons/etc.

Is there a “catholic” church of the deity, or many forms of worship?

There is very much only one true “Way of Pthalos” and that is what is propagated by the Eyes of Pthalos. All other sects and heresies are fiercely suppressed.

Has there been a dogmatic schism within the faithful? Are there other denominations of the same basic faith?

Other sects have risen–and fallen–among the Khemians. Usually these tend to be subversive in nature, expressing ideas that threaten the rule of the Hand.

Does the government/culture sanction the worship of the deity? Condemn it? How much secular power does the temple wield?

The Hand of Pthalos rules by divine right, a right upheld by the Eyes. Eyes  are considered to be lesser than the Hand, but in fact exert nearly equal power with the supreme ruler. 

In what regard are priests/ministers/monks held by the populace?

The populace hold the Eyes in fearful awe. Their power is near absolute. The Hand is second only to Pthalos itself and nearly worshiped as an intermediary deity. 

Is the religion “the one true faith”? How is it related to other religions practiced in the region?

Pthalos is the only true deity, being endless creation and life itself. Other “deities” are regarded as “lesser creatures”, worshiped by fools.

Is the dominant religion that of the conquerors or of “the people”?

The worship of Pthalos is very much that of a conquering culture. Other religions are tolerated…to a point. Mostly, “folk” religions and superstitions are scoffed at by the upper classes.

Are weddings/funerals/births blessed by representatives of the religion? How important is it to have it done?

Such ceremonies are performed by Eyes of Pthalos for the upper classes/nobility. They seldom deign to perform such rites for the common folks. It is very important in the life of the Hand, as it is a reinforcement of the touch of the deity.

What are the temporal benefits of worship? Spiritual benefits?

By following the Way of Pthalos, and showing deference to the Eyes and Hand, common folks are reasonably assured of safety within Khemia. They are also assured of their balanced measure at the time of judgment. 

Is the pleasure of the deity based upon actions in life (works) or upon ritual?

It would be fair to say that Pthalos finds both works and ritual important. However, the Way of Pthalos is less a path of high morality than a focus on the balance between light and dark. And, of course, showing proper deference to those touched directly by Pthalos is very important in maintaining that balance.

What would be considered blasphemy? What are the consequences for it?

Blasphemy would be denying the supremacy of Pthalos and its vessels upon the world. Denying the divine will as realized by the Eyes and the Hand. Seeking, or claiming to have achieved, immortality–only Pthalos is eternal. The Eyes of Pthalos often reserve their most harsh punishments for those who step aside from the Way…

What or who is the church/temple against?  Is there a religious opposition?

In reality, the “church” would be against any religion/sect that seeks to undermine the control of the Hand or the Eyes. Some have risen against the Hand, resisting their destined place in the Way. Mostly these are political/social battles more than religious warfare. Nevertheless, each walk hand-in-hand in Khemia.

Where do non-human races fit into the beliefs of the temple/church?

Non-human races are lesser creations, animals, and are often treated as such. 

Were the rituals/tenets of the religion handed down by the deity or developed by its worshipers? Or is this known?

According to the Eyes, the Way of Pthalos is a series of divine revelations that have been kept by the Eyes since the beginning of time. No Khemian would ever admit to believing anything any different. 

So now we know a fair amount about Pthalos and its worshipers. But we also know a fair amount about Khemia:

  1. Khemia is obviously ruled by a very elitest class.
  2. Religion is actively used to suppress rebellion and differing opinion. Thus, its people are probably also governed by fear. Which is probably reflected in its customs. People may think it rude or uncouth to discuss such matters. People may have customs that reflect a very private existence, with small tight-knit social circles rather than large groups.
  3. There is much room for other cultures, conquered cultures, to rise against their “betters”–creating a great deal of internal conflict of which the upper classes may, in fact, be willfully ignorant of.
  4. The temples and such erected by the Khemians are probably quite lavish, while the common people seldom see the inside of them. This probably is also reflected in a large disparity between rich and poor.
  5. Class distinctions are probably a very important social component of the culture. There may even be “markers” such as clothing styles/colors, hair  styles, etc. to differentiate between one class or another.
  6. Khemians are likely to be a fairly xenophobic people–all others are “lesser” and therefore to be watched as dangerous.
  7. Because, for the common folk, belief in Pthalos is a matter of faith, there is much room for religious conversion by outsiders. Also, it would not be surprising that Khemians trend toward being cynical.
  8. Because the tenets of the faith are essentially whatever the “priests” say it is, the society is probably very closed and paranoid.
  9. The Way is not a religion based on universal morality, but morality of context–and thus the culture may very well reflect that. Altruism, universal rights, etc. may not hold much water with Khemians.
  10. Religious holidays and celebrations are probably a state-wide, required affair–though, thankfully, not a daily one.

There are probably many other conclusions and paths to be drawn just from what we’ve done with the basic questions. Each answer inspires more details and the tapestry of setting practically begins to weave itself!

From → Tips and Tricks

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