Archive for July, 2016

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The American Indian Pantheon

July 30, 2016

“Pantheons of the Multiverse” is an open-ended series of posts I’ll be doing where I talk about the various D&D pantheons. This isn’t meant to provide any particular sort of holistic overview of a given pantheon’s material, nor present any new materials to use in-game (though I may do either of these on a whim). Rather, this is just me looking at each collection of deities and expressing some thoughts on them.

While I’m not limiting this to any particular edition of D&D, there’s likely going to be a noticeable presentation of AD&D Second Edition resources here. That’s due to that edition having the most material where deities are concerned, as well as personal preference on my part.

What I find most striking about the American Indian pantheon is how completely they were forgotten. They currently have the dubious distinction of being one of the least-utilized pantheons in the whole of D&D lore. While it isn’t the most ignored collection of gods in the game’s history, you can count on one hand the number of game books in which gods from this pantheon appear, even in the latter days of AD&D 2E, when the holistic multiverse was given the greatest focus.

AD&D First Edition

Initially presented in the AD&D First Edition book Deities & Demigods (later renamed Legends & Lore), the American Indian pantheon has nine deities: Raven, Coyote, Hastseltsi, Hastsezini, Heng, Hotoru, Shakak, Snake-Man, and Tobadzistsini. Several heroes (Hiawatha, Qagwaaz, Stoneribs, and Yanauluha), and a single monster (Thunder Bird) and magic item (sacred bundle) rounded things out.

But after this, the pantheon disappears from the pages of 1E. The sole exception is an appearance by Raven in a single adventure in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes, where he butts into a love triangle between Enki (Sumerian pantheon), Lliira (Faerunian pantheon), and Hecate (Greek pantheon). His appearance there is fairly ironic, considering that OP1 is the unofficial adventure supplement to the 1E Manual of the Planes, which didn’t feature any American Indian deities. (To be fair, that can be partially explained by most of the American Indian deities living, according to their entries, on the Prime Material Plane, which the Manual of the Planes ignored. This is an imperfect explanation, however, because the book also overlooked those deities that did live on other planes, such as Raven being on the Elemental Plane of Air.)

(EDITED TO ADD: One of the most interesting aspects to the pantheons found in Deities & Demigods is how they’ll introduce particular alterations to the priests who worship them. For instance, the opening paragraphs of the American Indian pantheon tell how symbolism is so important to Indian priests that they must have part of something to control it, such as sprinkling water to summon rain, or needing a fire in rituals involving demons or devils. Conversely, anyone wanting to cast any kind of charm spell on an Indian priest must know the priest’s name in order to affect them.

These flavorful alterations are largely absent in AD&D Second Edition, presumably because the introduction of specialty priests made this level of distinction unnecessary. Still, there’s something to be said for having particular quirks that are representative of a pantheon as a whole.)

AD&D Second Edition

When AD&D Second Edition released its own Legends & Lore book, the American Indian pantheon was presented again…but with several changes. A number of gods had been deleted, while a few others had been added, and several more had been renamed. The new pantheon looked like so (gods who had a different name in 1E have that name listed in parenthesis): Great Spirit, Sun, Moon, Earth, Morning Star, Wind (Hotoru), Fire (Hastsezini), Thunder (Heng), Raven, Coyote, Snake (Snake-Man), and Spirits. The same four heroes were also listed, while the Thunder Bird monster was gone (though there was a brief note in Thunder’s listing saying that it was an aspect of him), replaced by three new monsters: big head, gahonga, and ohdowa. Finally, the sacred bundle magic item was still there, along with two new spells: spirit animal form and bad medicine.

(EDITED TO ADD: Like all of the deities from Legends & Lore, the information for priests of the American Indian pantheon does not include listings for spheres from the Tome of Magic, as that book wouldn’t be published until almost a year after L&L came out. Skip Williams would later start writing unofficial updates for these spheres in his “Sage Advice” column in Dragon magazine. The update for the American Indian pantheon appears in Dragon #197.)

This is the single largest shakeup that I can recall for a pantheon, with the new presentation has a much more pantheistic/shamanistic feel to it. While this is presented in the 2E Legends & Lore as a complete retcon, I can’t help but wonder what an in-game explanation for why the pantheon is so different now would look like.

Such an explanation would require a history and presence in the game world, however, and without that there’s little that can be done based on the minimal presentation given here. Probably the best that can be done with that is to present a fantasy analogue of the European colonization of the Americas; that would probably have the American Indian pantheon being the original pantheon of humanity (or at least a large part of humanity) before other human gods came in and took over, marginalizing them. That could certainly explain why, in 2E’s Legends & Lore, the American Indian gods are now said to live in a demiplane that connects to the Happy Hunting Grounds (e.g. the Beastlands), rather than on the Prime Material Plane.

Of course, that’s just an off-the-cuff idea (and probably not a very good one, since I suspect that quite a few people would find offense in that). More likely, the easy way out would be taken: that both the First Edition and Second Edition presentations are said to be incomplete, and that the “full” American Indian pantheon consists of the aggregate list of gods from both.

Interestingly, there’s one more product in AD&D 2E that mentions at least some of the American Indian gods. Surprisingly, it’s not a product from the campaign-crossing settings like Planescape or Spelljammer. Rather, it’s found in the Forgotten Realms: FOR5 Elves of Evermeet. In chapter 4, it mentions that the green elves (e.g. the wild elves) of Evermeet worship Thunder (though they call it Eagle), Raven, and Spirits from the American Indian pantheon. More notably, they also have two other deities who – while not expressly said to be part of that pantheon – seem like a perfect fit for it: Bear and Wolf. Neither have priestly information given, unfortunately, instead having a brief description and abbreviated avatar stats.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I recall being quite intrigued when I first read the listing for Spirits in the 2E Legends & Lore book, as that entry was a catch-all for pantheistic demigods that were all around. As such, that seemed like a great “canon” way to have divine spellcasters based around local deities, rather than better-known gods. Unfortunately, the Spirits entry said that they didn’t have normal clerics, instead granting temporary powers to those who made a genuine plea with a sufficient sacrifice.

While disappointing, there turned out to be other entries that were closer to what I was looking for. But those are for another post.

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Demographics in D&D – Another Look

July 16, 2016

Demographics in your role-playing games is one of those subjects that people either love or hate. Or rather, they tend to either find it to be either fairly useless (and probably rather boring) or a very engaging facet of world-building. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably one of the latter individuals.

In 3.X d20, demographics were baked right into the rules. Specifically, there were a series of tables in the 3.0 and 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide that allowed for settlements of various sizes to be created, with subsequent tables allowing for determining how many members of various classes were present, and what their levels were. Unfortunately, these rules weren’t added to either SRD, but we can still discuss them in general.

Personally, what I found frustrating about these rules was that you could only use them to generate populations – and, more importantly, the class-and-level breakdowns – for a single settlement, instead of a larger area such as a country. To my mind, what we got was a bottom-up level of world-building that stopped at the halfway point. But recently, I’ve hit upon an idea that’s made me reconsider the population tables in the DMG:

Specifically, look at Table 5-2: Random Town Generation on page 137 of the 3.5 DMG (Table 4-40 on page 137 of the 3.0 DMG). What if the percentage listing for each town on that table was the breakdown of how many settlements of each type were in a given country? For example, there’s a 10% chance of rolling a thorp on that table…so 10% of the country’s people live in thorps. The 1% chance of rolling a metropolis means that only 1% of the population live in metropolises, etc.

Now, that still doesn’t tell us how many people live in a given country. For that, we need to take a top-down approach, which means picking how many people we want there to be in total and then plugging that into the various percentages.

Once we do that, we just pick a suitable number of people per settlement size (using the ranges given on the table in the DMG), and divide that by the number of people who live in settlements that size, and voila! Now we know how many settlements of that type are found in a given country.

For example, we want to make a generic kingdom with a total population of 5,000,000 people. As such, 10% of them, or 500,000, will live in thorps. Since thorps are listed as having 20-80 people live in them, we’ll assign an average of 50 people to a thorp. Ergo, our generic kingdom has ten thousand thorps in it.

One thing to keep in mind is that these numbers are meant to provide a framework, rather than a mandate for how the population breakdown needs to be. If you’re using this method to make a campaign world, then once you’ve plugged in the various numbers at the various levels, go ahead and start making edits based around how you want various countries to look. What’s here is to help inspire, rather than present a straitjacket.

One question that often arises when looking at a game world’s population is who does it count among its people? Does it only look at the core races (e.g. humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-elves, and half-orcs)? Or are all Humanoids part of the count?

Insofar as the tables in the DMG are concerned, this is decidedly the former. Only the core races are listed on the Racial Mix of Communities (p. 139 in the 3.5 DMG; Table 4-46 on p. 140 in the 3.0 DMG). As noted above, you should feel free to disregard or alter that as necessary to suit your world-building.

Let’s go ahead and take the “Generic Kingdom” from the previous example and flesh it out using this method. With five million people, its settlement breakdown will look like so:

  • 10% of the population (500,000 people) live in thorps. Presuming about 50 people to a thorp, then the kingdom has 10,000 thorps within its borders.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in hamlets. Presuming about 250 people to a hamlet, then the kingdom has 4,000 hamlets.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in villages. Presuming about 800 people to a village, there are 1,250 villages in the kingdom.
  • 20% of the population (1,000,000 people) live in small towns. Presuming about 1,600 people to a small town, then the kingdom has 625 small towns.
  • 15% of the population (750,000 people) live in large towns. Presuming about 3,500 people to a large town, then there are 250 large towns within the kingdom.
  • 10% of the population (500,000 people) live in small cities. Presuming about 10,000 people to a small city, then the kingdom has 50 small cities.
  • 4% of the population (200,000 people) live in large cities. Presuming about 20,000 people to a large city, then there are 10 large cities within the kingdom.
  • 1% of the population (50,000 people) live in a metropolis. Since there’s no upper limit on the population of a metropolis (minimum 25,001 people), it’s easiest to say that this will give us a single metropolis of 50,000 people.

Profession (cartographer)

A DC 10 Profession (cartographer) check will produce a map of the kingdom that has the metropolis and large cities marked on it. For each additional +5 to the DC, the map correctly notes all of the settlements one size smaller. For example, with a DC 25 Profession (cartographer) check, a map will accurately place the kingdom’s metropolis, large cities, small cities, large towns, and small towns, but will not have the villages, hamlets, or thorps.

One thing to note about the above aid for world-building is that this will cause problems if you have a kingdom with a population of 2,500,000 or fewer. That’s because, if you take 1% of the population for a metropolis, you won’t hit the necessary minimum for a settlement that size according to the DMG table (e.g. a metropolis has 25,001+ people living in it).

In this case, simple create the country using the method outlined above, and when you hit a point where the population assigned to a particular settlement size doesn’t meet that settlement’s size prerequisite, simply redistribute them among the next-lowest settlement.

For example, if you’re making a country with only 2,000,000 people, the 1% of the people that would go into a metropolis (20,000) are instead added to the 4% of the population (80,000) that would live in large cities. At that point, we decide to make five large cities of 20,000 each.

Overall, this method of fleshing out the number of settlements in an area helps to provide a basic overview of a particular country – though it should be noted that this doesn’t need to be for a country per se. Rather, this can function for any region that has multiple settlements within it, whether political, geographic, or whatnot.

At that point, if you want further inspiration, you can start using the supplementary tables, specifically the ones for Community Modifiers and Highest-Level Locals. Obviously, I don’t mean that you should use these to generate every single NPC in every single settlement! Rather, a few random rolls can help to generate ideas about who the power-players are in a given settlement (or larger area, if you think they’re high-enough level to warrant it).

Unsurprisingly, the DMG tables only deal with the Core PC and NPC classes. In the same vein as the rest of this article, we can presume that tells us something about the state of the rest of the game world. Specifically, that these classes are far and away the most common, with classes from other supplements being exceptionally rare, as per your needs.