Thursday, September 16, 2010

Worldbuilding: Jerklandia

I've decided to jump away from deities for a bit, because honestly those last two posts were just me posting ideas rather than actual polished product. They were alright for half-formed ideas, but I think I'll let them bake for a while and jump back to what caused me to write about deities in the first place: I was planning countries and cities for the setting and wanted to know what drove them.


The reason I wanted evil deities in the first place is because, frankly, every setting needs at least one arsehole. It's not much of a game without challenge and opposition, and in D&D that usually comes in the form of someone to kill. Lots of someones, with any luck.

So, as I lay out an abridged map of the world, I should populate it with jerks.

But what kind of jerks, and where?

Jerks can take many forms. They could be moustache-twirlingly evil, flesh-eating cosmic horrors or just... well, jerks. I know plenty of people who proclaim loudly and proudly that they are trolls, foul-mouthed or just generally obnoxious on the Internet like they are expecting some kind of trophy, to various degrees of success, and I actually kind of like some of them.

(I may even have been that guy, earlier. I kind of remember casually trolling the Tao of D&D guy almost two years ago now over some post of his and then killing a few minutes by trolling one of his comments pages. A waste of time for everyone involved, probably, and so I will extend a sort-of apology by not getting the code for a link to his blog messed up this time. Hooray!)

I already have what I'd guess is the standard D&D fare as far as these things go: rogue tribes of orcs, goblins or whatever else is lying around, hidden cults that worship jerks and so on. What I could use more of are larger-scale threats: Countries with an outlook which would naturally oppose wherever the PCs come from.

So, nongood countries. They'd need government, religion (this is why I was thinking of evil deities), resources and a reason for existing wherever it is they exist in the first place. And, most importantly, some kind of theme. "These guys worship the Devil" is a little more exciting than "These guys star in a series of Youtube videos in which they are mean to people and are proud of it".

Let me use this space to jot down some different ways I could run a country of dickmugs:

Tool Casting [Metamagic]

Simply put, an evil magocracy. They don't necessarily have to dabble in necromancy, though they could be more open to it than others. They probably put power above anything else, look down on those who don't know them, and frequently dive into magics men were not meant to know, or preferably to know but not to fuck around with.

Off the top of my head, the first example that comes to mind is probably Thay.

The Necrocracy

Title stolen shamelessly from a TVTropes article which neatly explains the concept for me.

I kind of like the Real Life example though: North Korea's Eternal President, although he's just the normal kind of dead."

The Dicktator

Less about the country and more about the guy in charge. He's a villain, he wants to take over the world or something, and he happens to possess a respectably-sized nation with its own standing army. Is probably more likely to take over the world than the average jerk.

Has it always been like that, though? Did this guy sieze power and abuse a relatively benign country for his own ends or is it the kind of place that always was a pretty shitty place before he took over? Who knows.

Monster Island

Here be dragons! Or goblins. Or... Whatever it is, non-humans feature a lot here. Probably dragons, really. Any kind of dragon! Doesn't even have to be a chromatic dragon. Maybe a gold dragon!

This could just end up being the Necrocracy with non-undead, of course. Hmmm...

Soviet Orcia

A friend just suggested this. I have no idea what this would actually involve but it sounds awesome.

Honey Badgers

Maybe I shouldn't ask /tg/ for ideas.

The Church of Yog-Hadar, Democratic Party Edition

A theocracy. What kind of evil patron they would have I am not sure yet - maybe Zoxxoth, I hear that guy's church has a dental plan that will knock your socks off - but if I threw this in, it could be interesting. Off the top of my head, patron candidates include gods, demons, devils, yugoloths, demodands, hordlings, modrons, Far Realm weirdness, vestiges, Apomps the Three-Sided God, baernaloths, and 4th Edition oh snap!

Just A Different Outlook

They don't have to all be so evil they tie women to lightning rails. Maybe they're neutral-ish and just happen to be warlike. Maybe they're nice but practice slavery. Maybe they just don't see non-citizens (and by extension, everyone outside their borders) as having legal rights. Maybe they're non-humans with a legitimate claim to nearby human (or another nice people's) land.

Maybe they're just douchebags.

Nobody Here But Us Alignments

On the other hand, maybe they are evil and don't have a theme. Maybe they're not theocrats or mages or honey badgers. Maybe it is just a perfectly reasonable government which happens to be in the end of the alignment scale most PCs don't get to access.

Actually, this is making me feel like writing an actual post on villainy in general, but maybe I should put that on hold for a bit. Instead, next time I will see if I feel like actually using any of this.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Worldbuilding: It's Not Silly If It's Religion

I've stopped to think, I've trawled through all my notes looking for any deities I made up for specific purposes, stolen from both D&D and real-world religions in my quest to not be original, and consulted some friends. Let's do this!

The strange thing about tabletop deities is that they seem to have a lot more deities for "adventurer"-type stuff than, say, farming and fertility. It's out of necessity, of course: That is how D&D rolls. It's not Farmville d20, it is about going into dungeons, finding some dragons and killing them to death. It might just seem that way because the player needs to know which gods will approve of his habits of kicking down doors, entering the lairs of evil beings and stealing their shit, anyway.

But having a long list of deities who are mostly about "commoner" things like farming wheat, protecting children and prostitution is boring, I guess. I will actually try and include some of that later, really, but let's start with some evil deities I whipped up to see how they work:

Soapizdun, The Immaculate One
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Domains: Destruction, Evil, Madness, Water

The Immaculate One was once known as Laundrethian, a minor deity of cleanliness and water humans would often say small prayers to as they did the washing. Laundrethian liked things to be extremely neat and tidy. One day he explored the dark realms beyond known reality - nobody is quite sure why, though as a deity he probably did it because he could - and vanished for a hundred years, returning as a twisted, evil mockery of his former self.

Soapizdun is an insane deity who wants everything to be as clean and neat as possible, devoid of any chaos or filth. As the usual culprit in any "dirtying" event is an intelligent being Soapizdun aims to ensure everything will stay clean forever the only way possible: The complete and total annihilation of all life in the multiverse.

In another world, the Immaculate One would be imprisoned by an alliance of deities and lie trapped in a prison realm somewhere, while insane cultists did strange things in strange temples and were stabbed in the head by adventurers trying to save the world. Unfortunately Soapizdun is already in self-imposed imprisonment, constantly cleaning and re-cleaning his own deific realm, and also it is theologically impossible to take him seriously. His followers are all insane and eventually kill themselves by scrubbing too hard.

Soapizdun appears as a handsome, extremely clean humanoid, constantly dripping water and clad in simple robes of pure white. He has tentacled arms and wears a set of trousers on his head. His holy symbol is a washboard.

Note: One of my players (let's call him Ferret) suggested this when I was trying to come up with evil deities. I am pretty sure he wasn't serious. Well, too bad. Also, I remember at least three settings which contained imprisoned evil deities and thought I would have one.

Yzzyx, the Dark Creative
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Creation, Darkness, Dream, Evil, Knowledge

Yzzyx is believed to have once been an oracle deity of a long-dead pantheon. As his brothers out, Yzzyx (if that was his name) decided to simply retire and spend his remaining days quietly contemplating the mysteries of the cosmos. After that... well, some say he just saw too much and became corrupted, while others believe that the original deity passed away quietly to wherever gods go and something crept into his dreams to take his place.

Whatever happened, the almost alien being now known as Yzzyx is a deity of nightmares and dark creativity. His flock are, mostly, monsters and extra-planar creatures, though a few bards Yzzyx has been working on in their sleep can be found across the land if you look hard enough. Unlike most evil deities, Yzzyx is not very active, and it is by choice: He is still content to meditate in his mysterious realm and contemplate unspeakable atrocities. Sometimes, his maddening dreams will touch the minds of artists and "inspire" them, and sometimes they will just spawn monsters of their own accord. Sometimes these monsters are said to emerge from the paintings of those he inspires, causing some to wonder if Yzzyx is inactive or just playing an extremely long-term game.

Yzzyx is portrayed as a handsome, bald man in golden robes, meditating with his hands on his knees and his eyes shut serenely. Around his head, a sickening purple void pulses around a single staring eye. His symbols are as varied as the creatures that revere him, but the most common variant is a spiral made from bristles.

Some old depictions also include a circle-within-a-box symbol on his forehead associated with two ancient deities from different dead civilisations - Dodoni, an oracle, and Boccaseus, a patron of cheesemakers. Mentioning this to a group of theologians is a great way to start an argument.

Note: Another pal of mine thought up the basics for this one, but I added a bunch of things. He did not like my suggestion that Yzzyx may be a sentient hunk of cheese left behind by Boccaseus, though.

Seokore, the Restless Lady
Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Charm, Death, Earth, Knowledge

Seokore is one of quite a few lesser powers of death or the undead. She is the ruler of the Devamanteum, a mysterious realm associated with the deaths of gods and powerful extraplanar beings. From here Seokore watches over the remnants of these beings (though most think they actually end up on the Astral) and records their histories and secrets.

Seokore is not the original ruler of this realm. That was Thantis, an ancient lesser deity who used to guard the underworld realms. After being tasked to watch over the lone Devamanteum, Thantis grew bored and eventually kidnapped Seokore, then a minor deity of cats and leisure and daughter of an archon and the beauty goddess Valen, thinking he could get a wife and a pet at the same time. When Valen sent her strongest champion to retrieve her, Thantis made her eat some of the berries in his realm, claiming that anyone who ate food from the Devamanteum would be unable to return to the realm of the living.

Valen's champion declared that was the stupidest thing he had ever heard and broke Thantis' neck.

Since then Seokore has taken over the role, believing that if the Devamanteum were left unattended it might be plundered and the deities themselves would be in danger. Also, Thantis, who knew the secrets of the place better than anyone, could possibly use it to return to the world, and he would be extremely upset.

For now, Seokore watches over the Devamanteum, but she yearns to return to her mother's side and often leaves the place in the hands of her proxies while she visits the upper planes. Over time she has become depressed and sullen with the burden of her duty, though, and though she is glad her lazy daughter is out of her realm's basement and getting some experience, her mother is constantly searching for a way to free her.

Most of Seokore's followers are necromancers with some extraplanar heritage, though some just like her laid-back approach and lack of exposed rotting flesh. Though most of her followers are evil nowadays, she has a very small following of good-aligned people (who often worship Valen as well) who see it as their duty to remind the world of her goodness, much like Seokore makes sure the secrets of the dead are hidden but never forgotten.

Seokore normally appears as an attractive humanoid female with some cat features and long, dark hair, wrapped in tattered robes. Her appearance has been marred by sleepless yellow eyes and a sad expression, and she is usually drenched in cold water. Her symbol is a silver triangular mirror.

Note: Ex-patron of a player in one of my games, so here is a proper writeup. JUST FOR YOU, RAN.

Alignment: Neutral Evil
Domains: Death, Destruction, Evil, War

Zoxxoth is known by many names - The Heartless One, the Lord of Nightmares, the Black King, the Prince of Evil, the Eater of Hope, etc. Most of his names boil down to this: Zoxxoth is kind of a dick.

Lesser evil gods have tragic backstories, or at least a strange love of the evil deeds they commit. Not Zoxxoth. Zoxxoth was rotten to the core from the day he emerged from the void and every atrocity he commits is for one single reason: because he can. There is no point to seeking any deep meaning in Zoxxoth's teachings, which are seemingly designed to drive people to hopelessness and despair at a cold, uncaring universe. Zoxxoth is just a huge tool in every possible way.

Every one of Zoxxoth's followers, be they marauding barbarians or calculating aristocrats, is a douchebag. This would probably be a requirement if any deity actually used the word "douchebag". They believe that there is no point to anything that doesn't serve their own needs, and if they get their kicks from torture, rape and murder, then why not indulge themselves?

Zoxxoth has made an enemy of nearly every single other deity ever, but frankly he doesn't really give a shit.

Zoxxoth appears as a smooth, grey-skinned man reclining so hard in a black throne that he is sinking into it. He has an extra, longer set of arms in place of his legs and a gaping, bloody hole in his chest where a heart should be. His symbol is a human heart with a knife jammed into it.

Note: Sometimes you don't need a complicated evil god with a specific agenda or lofty goals or some kind of insanity. Sometimes you just need a tool.

Are these the deities I am looking for? Maybe. I am just throwing ideas out there right now. Hopefully some of them are alright and by the end of this I will take the good ideas and combine them into a cohesive whole. No lawful evil deities yet, but honestly I will probably do the usual and use the shit out of Asmodeus. That dude is a bro.

Oh, and I think I am going to ditch the "pantheons" idea for the most part and make nearly all the gods I describe universal - their faiths can be found in all sorts of countries and races. There will be lesser gods, of course, and a lot of regions might have their own lesser deities, but I really don't need to list all of them. Just the important ones will do.

Stay tuned, because I am going to try and get this done in, oh, let's say a week. That means posts!

To wrap up, I would like to present something I found in Wikipedia's article on Abbathor, dwarven god of greed, which may be the best thing I have ever read on Wikipedia:

The beard shirt of Dunforth

The legendary dwarf hero Dunforth wove his beard into a shirt, forsaking all other forms of armor. The dwarven god of battle, Clangeddin Silverbeard, was so impressed by this gesture that he invested Dunforth's beard with power, making it strong as chain mail. Abbathor conspired with Vergadain to trick Dunforth into gambling his beard away. Shamed as only a beardless dwarf can be, Dunforth tried to redeem himself by single-handedly exterminating an orc village. Though he slew thirty of his foes, the overwhelming number of orcs eventually felled the armorless Dunforth, and the beard shirt remains as part of Abbathor's hoard.