Creating a D&D pantheon from scratch can be a seriously heady task. After all, you are literally creating fucking Gods. If you want the pantheon to play a central role in your campaign, you should spend some time developing it before you begin working on the actual world. In order to have a society shaped by the Gods, you first need a whole crew of unique powerful deities.
Covered in today’s article:
- What is a pantheon in D&D?
- Step 1: How many Gods?
- Step 2: What do the Gods embody/represent?
- Step 3: Naming Gods
- Step 4: Relationship with mortals
- Step 5: Relationships between Gods
What is a pantheon in D&D?
When I first started getting into playing D&D, I was admittedly a bit confused by the term ‘pantheon’ being thrown around. Seriously guys, what the hell is a pantheon and why does it even matter?!
Basically, a pantheon is a collective, group, or loose association of Gods.
Consider the different Gods in Greek mythology: Zeus, Apollo, Demeter, and Ares (among many many others). They are all part of the same general group of “gods that exist”. They live within the same universe and are able to interact with each other and with the realm of mortals.
Check out pg 293 of the Player’s Handbook for examples of the different pantheons that exist within the D&D multiverse, as well as more historical examples:
Looking at the lists of historical pantheons, as well as deities native to the D&D multiverse, can be incredibly overwhelming. You may consider creating your own small pantheon to include in a campaign. It’s a fun creative exercise, and you’ll probably have a lot better grasp on the Gods of the realm if you are creating them yourself.
Now let’s get started with creating our own pantheons for D&D!
Step 1: How many Gods?
The very first step you have to take is to determine how many gods/goddesses you want in your pantheon. Some of the D&D pantheons (Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Eberron, etc), as well as various historical pantheons have about a bajillion gods, goddesses, or celestial beings. If you’re anything like me, this is absolutely way too many to keep track of – let alone care about.
I recommend starting off with about 5 goddesses/gods, especially if this is the first pantheon that you will be building. Of course you are welcome to create more than 5 if you’re feeling extra creative and ambitious.
Using 5 deities will put you right into the “Goldilocks Zone”. The goal is to not be overwhelmed, but still create a world that feels complete and fleshed out. Plus, by limiting the number of gods in your pantheon, you can actually establish relationships and a history of the divine without writing an entire novel.
Keep in mind that many mythic legends were crafted and retold by countless people over thousands of years. You’re just one person with some extra free time. Quality > Quantity.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I think 5 is a super-duper number of gods to have in a D&D pantheon. For now I’m just going to call these gods A, B, C, D, and E.
Step 2: What do the Gods embody/represent?
Often, gods are used as an explanation for – otherwise inexplicable – natural phenomenon. A erupting volcano might represent the wrath of a super pissed off god. Howling winds and rain might represent a goddess mourning her lost child. A boom of thunder could very well be the sound of a celestial getting a strike in bowling.
For now, let’s start a little bit simpler. A really easy way to accomplish this is by making use of opposites. This can be pretty much whatever you want, as long as it has a clear and polar opposite. Assign one aspect to a certain god and assign another god the opposite aspect.
- Life vs Death
- Fire vs Ice
- Farmlands vs Wilderness
- Sun vs Moon (Alternatively: Dayman…fighter of the Nightman)
- Land vs Sea
- Law vs. Order (dun dun)
- Peace vs War
- Wealth vs Poverty
I could keep going, but that would take the fun out of it. Get creative!
Obviously if you are only using opposites, then you cannot possibly end up with 5 different gods. To solve this, consider also implementing some of the ideas below.
Alternative Idea #1: Schools of Magic
Another possibility is to have gods represent different schools of magic. In D&D, there are 8 different schools of magic:
For an explanation of each of these schools, check out this quick guide I made (with beautiful pictures to boot!)
Alternative Idea #2: Geographic Regions
You may have chosen some physical landmarks or geographic regions when coming up with opposites (ie: Land vs Sea). Although not every type of landmark has a polar opposite, you can still give members of your pantheon dominion over singular areas of the realm.
Alternative Idea #3: Labors
Another method is to associate your gods with certain jobs and labors. Villagers and devout followers might pray to these deities before performing an upcoming difficult job. Or perhaps when they make a major mistake in their profession it is because they have displeased the god of their labor.
- God of Blacksmiths
- Goddess of Fishing
- Goddess of the Hunt
- Mercantile God
- The Celestial Lumberjack
- Drunken God of Brewing
- Divine Miner
- God of Glassblowing
Alternative Idea #4: Monsters
Some of the gods in your pantheon may not be commonly worshiped by typical members of society. Instead, they may be a source of strength and guidance for the various creatures and monsters in the realm. Giving your pantheon reign over monsters will work best if the monsters have some form of language, society, and culture.
I previously decided to use 5 deities for my pantheon. So far they have only been labeled with letters of the alphabet. Now it’s time to decide what some of these gods will represent and embody! The most important thing is to remember that it’s completely okay for gods to have more than one of these (in fact I would recommend it). In the examples below you will find a mixture of the different concepts discussed above.
- A: Blacksmithing, Volcanoes, and Orcs
- B: Moon, Rivers, and Fishing
- C: Sun, Order, and Machinery
- D: Thievery, Chaos, and Illusion Magic
- E: Forests, Restoration Magic, and Music
Step 3: Naming Gods
Naming the gods and goddesses in your D&D pantheon can be one of the most challenging parts of making it. In fact, naming pretty much anything (NPCs, towns, regions, etc) in Dungeons and Dragons can feel like an impossible task. Often times for me, I’ll stare at a blank piece of paper waiting for inspiration as the minutes continue to pass. Or, I’ll come up with a name and then decide that it “just sounds stupid”.
In this section, I’ll present an overview of a couple different methods for giving names to the deities in your D&D pantheon (though you can use these methods for anything really).
Method 1: Backwards Words
One method for naming gods (inspired by one of my favorite childhood MMORPGs, Dofus) is to pick a word related to aspects that the god embodies and then spell it backwards. This won’t work for every single word, because of spelling and pronunciation rules, but you can fudge the words a little to make them fit.
Let’s say we’re trying to come up with a god that reigns supreme over a tropical region filled with wondrous fruits and blooming flowers. The most prominent of these fruits might be mangoes. Mango spelled backwards is Ognam. BOOM. It can literally be that easy. I don’t know about you, but Ognam sounds like a pretty believable name for a powerful god to me.
Now let’s try to name a god of brewing mead. Mead is made from honey. Honey is often described as amber in color. Amber backwards is Rebma. Honestly I’m not too happy with this name, so I’m going to fudge it a little bit. I’m going to change the ‘b’ to a ‘th’ and add an additional ‘r’ on the end, making the name Rethmar. Now that’s the name of a god that I could get drunk with. There’s no real strategy for how to fudge the name to make it feel better. Just keep switching out some letters for other letters or adding prefixes and suffixes until you are satisfied.
God of Tropical region -> Mango -> Ognam
God of brewing -> Mead -> Honey -> Amber -> Rebma -> Rethmar
Method 2: Squished Phrases
Another method for naming deities in your D&D pantheon begins by selecting a short phrase. This phrase could be related to an aspect that you’ve chosen, it could a description of something you can see, or it could even be some lyrics from your favorite song.
Now, say the phrase over and over again while trying to squish it all together.
As the words are getting blended together, listen for the formation of any new interesting words or sounds in the mess. Like before, this may require you fudging the words a bit or changing how you emphasize sounds in order to make a fitting name.
The starting phrase I’ll be using is: I hope it doesn’t rain today.
This has nothing to do with any of my deities, it’s literally just something that I was thinking about. Now I’d say this over and over a couple of times – ideally out loud. As you’re saying it, pay attention to the sounds you’re hearing rather than the actual meaning of the words.
This sound stuck out to me:
Now I would re-write the sound as though it was its own word. The best guess I’d give for this one is “Sintrain”. But having a god literally named Sin Train (choo-choo!) seems a bit ridiculous to me, so I would play around with the spelling. In this case I’m just going to switch out the “I”s for different vowels to end with “Syntraen”.
Method 3: Use Foreign Languages
Another incredibly simple method for naming gods is to use good old google translate! Just take any of the aspects you have assigned to your god and check out the translation to different languages. The best part of this method is that any names you come up with should sound believable. They are real words after all! To increase immersion, try to avoid languages or words that are commonly known to the people at your table.
To check out a bunch of different translations at once, try using Translatr!
One of my deities is in charge of fishing. I’ll just go ahead and put “fishing” into Translatr and see what comes up. Look at that, the first result is “Visvang” (Afrikaans) which sounds super bad-ass so I’m just going to settle with that result. Seriously, it can be that easy. This might even give you inspiration for multiple names. Two other words I really liked for fishing were “Kalastus” (Finnish) and “Arrantza” (Basque).
Now is the time to go ahead and assign names to the deities you are working on creating. For my 5, I used a combination of the different methods used above (sometimes more than one!)
- Tsi-Guvhas: God of Blacksmithing, Volcanoes, and Orcs
- Visvang: Goddess of the Moon, Rivers, and Fishing
- Annicho: God of the Sun, Order, and Machinery
- Skelm: Goddess of Thievery, Chaos, and Illusion Magic
- Syntraen: God of Forests, Music, and Restoration Magic
Step 4: Relationship with mortals
The next step to creating your D&D pantheon is to determine their relationship with mortals. This section will be presented as a handful of questions designed to prompt some creative thinking. Answering these questions will give you a great starting point to flesh out the dynamics of your pantheon.
Do mortals have contact with the gods?
With some pantheons, the people in society have never interacted with the gods at all. An individual claiming that they spoke with the gods might be regarded as an absolute lunatic. Even devout worshipers and priests might only have a one-way relationship with their god.
While with other pantheons, the gods may roam around with humanity and regularly interact and intervene. In this case. the gods may have taken a particular interest in an individual or they may just be observing and protecting their domain.
If so, how often and in what form?
Often times mortals might only have contact with the gods under very specific circumstances or on a special occasion. This could be divine intervention due to some serious shit that’s about to go down. It may also be in response to an important individual’s prayers and wishes. The goddess might only visit the mortal realm during a full moon, or in the midst of a festival centered around their worship.
Most often Gods are portrayed as humanoid in form. This is the most straightforward method to portray your god. Do they have a singular iconic form that is easily recognizable (ie: Holy shit look, there goes Thor!)? They might adopt the form of an unremarkable person in order to blend in and mingle with the regular people of society.
However, you may want to take a moment to consider any alternative forms that members of your pantheon may take. I really like the concept of using special versions of animals to represent the god. Examples might include a rainbow colored fox, an elk with glass antlers, or a 3-tailed puma. Legends and folklore may be filled with stories of adventurers interacting with these divine animals.
What symbols do people use to represent these gods?
Keeping this symbol simple and abstract is completely okay. It could literally just be a couple of lines in a formation (see: Holy Cross, Star of David) or it could be a bit more complex (Crescent Moon & Star). If possible try to use a symbol that is related to one of the traits that the god embodies. For example, three curved lines could represent a river.
You may also consider have a very simplified version that is used for stamping onto armor, swords, pillaged ruins, and slaughtered blasphemers. More complex and intricate versions of the symbol could be stitched onto banners, and carved into stone as part of a temple’s design.
How are the gods worshiped?
Do people even worship the gods at all? The gods of your pantheon might actually be feared; So much in-fact that people don’t even dare say their names. Or maybe the majority of people don’t think the gods exist, let alone worship them.
If people do worship, how frequently? Are there permanent formal settings for worship, such as a church or a temple? Typically the answer is yes, however some deities may prefer that people simply spend time in nature or underneath the stars as a form of worship.
Are there certain rituals that people in society partake in as they worship members of your pantheon? This might include sacrificing valuable items, food, or even creatures. Alternatively, NPCs in your campaign may worship the gods through celebration of holidays in their honor. Each holiday has it’s own weird twist (a rabbit hiding colored eggs filled with candy, for example) so if you decide to include some holidays be sure to have them be memorable for the players.
Step 5: Relationships between Gods
I would consider this step in creating a D&D pantheon optional. Often times the existing relationship between the deities of your pantheon may not come in to play. However, if you are wanting to Gods to be a major pillar of the campaign, then this can be a very useful step. If you are wanting to create a very fleshed out and active pantheon, take a moment to consider how the gods interact with each other.
Here’s a few questions to prompt your thinking:
- Are they related at all?
- What has happened in the past between the gods that defines their current relationship?
- Do they get along?
- Are they currently at war?
- Where do the gods live?
The more you establish the character traits, personalities, and motivations for each of your gods, the easier it will be to expand on their relationships with each other in a consistent manner.
What sort of pantheons have you created in your campaigns? Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know!