This week we have a guest post from Nitai Poddar that looks at religion in the Forgotten Realms and offers a variation where faiths coalesced and organized into a system of religions, each with its own dogma, values and philosophy.
Forgotten Realms is the original homebrew setting, a patchwork quilt of concepts and ideas sewn together over decades. Its heterogeneous, mismatched appearance is part of its style. The deities of Forgotten Realms developed over time, with new authors and new editions introducing new Gods to an ever-diversifying pantheon. Nobanion, God of Lions, first appeared in Forgotten Realms by way of Narnia, as Aslan. Eldath, Helm, Gond, and most of Faerun’s familiar deities first appeared in the October 1981 edition of Dragon magazine. The entire Untheric and Mulhorandi pantheon came from ancient Babylon and Egypt, so clerics of Isis and Horus fight side by side with paladins of Lathander and Torm.
Every new edition introduced some tremendous cataclysm that shuffled the various deific portfolios; old gods made their quiet exit, and new gods took their place. Mystra’s two deaths precipitated the Time of Troubles and the Spellplague. By 5th Edition, Faerun’s deities settled into a stable homeostasis; old deaths have been forgotten, with Tyr and Helm returning to the pantheon of active deities. Lathander and Amaunator, consolidated into a single deity in 4th Edition, now exist as beneficent contemporaries.
Faerun is like a box of miscellaneous LEGO pieces: a bit of a mess, but charmingly unkempt; and implicit in its disorganization is the potential for creativity. It is a setting that invites modification, and for a creative DM eager to put her own spin on an old familiar setting, what could be more liberating than playing around with Forgotten Realms?
This article is an attempt to play around with the deities and pantheons of Forgotten Realms. Faerunians are like ancient Romans: they just cannot stop collecting new deities. Because Faerun’s deities exist as independent entities with their own self-sufficient clergies, they never develop into more sophisticated religions with their own theology. What if we could change that?
The following is a variation on Faerun’s pantheon system. In the years after the Spellplague, the Gods grew distant and silent. In their absence, their faiths coalesced and organized into a system of religions, each with its own dogma, its own values, and its own philosophy:
- The Iron Dominion preaches power, control, right of law; a fascist, rigidly hierarchical religion, the Dominion offers to its worshippers protection and safety in a dangerous world, in exchange for total obedience.
- The Old Path combines classic nature-deities into a holistic, mythopoeic religion that should feel reminiscent of pagan traditions.
- The Curnan Faith is the natural evolution of philosophical, knowledge-seeking faiths of Oghma and Gond; it is a monastic faith, reclusive and scholarly.
- Elahnism is a diffuse faith, linked by a common worship of a ubiquitous Moon Goddess; not tied down to a specific region or people, and with no centralized church, it is a religion that survives in diaspora.
- The Black Wheel evolved from the worship of Shar; the Night Lady’s bleak gospel of despair transformed into a monastic order of crypto-nihilists who believe in accepting despair as an inevitability in order to find freedom and release.
- Sunism transforms the worship of the Goddess of Love into a secret mystery cult with its own revelries, festivals, and initiation rites.
- Finally, the A’taran Faith experiments with monotheism in the Realms, establishing the worship of a single God in a setting overflowing with divine powers.
1) The Iron Dominion
Followers of the Iron Dominion worship Bane, known in the Calimshan-Murran region as Draugh, God of Tyranny, Authority, Divine Rule and Power. Bane is master of his domain; his law is iron. The Dogma of Bane takes the idea of the social contract to its natural extreme in a feudal world: the king protects, clothes, and feeds; the subjects obey. It is a merciless and hard religion that worships power and abhors weakness.
The Iron Dominion is especially popular on the frontier, in bleak landscapes where the line between civilization and the wilds is exactly as thick as the walls of a town. Its worshippers are not themselves evil, but practice the faith because they believe in the power of a strong central authority, or desire protection and safety in an uncertain and dangerous world, even at the cost of their own liberty.
Common Alignments: Lawful Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral
Common Domains: War, Tempest
- Bane – Also known as Draugh, Draugr and Druag. The Black Lord. The Iron God. Bane represents pure authority, power, and the glory of empire.
- Cyric – Also known as Nas’r, the Minister, the Vizier, the Dark Prince, the Prince of Lies and Silvertongue. Cyric embodies the Machiavellian principle of politics. He is an amoral demagogue and schemer, whose doctrine glorifies deceit and subterfuge.
- Goragos/Red Knight – Twin Aspects of the same deity, they are Bane’s Generals. Garagos embodies the destructive passion of Warfare, and Red Knight the impassive brilliance of a skilled tactician. They represent the body and the mind, the sword and the battle-map.
2) The Old Path
Followers of the Old Path are a conglomeration of Faerun’s older deities, collected into a set of syncretic beliefs, mixed with folklore, and worshipped communally. More sophisticated religions view the Old Path with disdain, dismissing their adherents as pagans worshipping backwater Gods. In truth, the Old Path is one of the strongest religions in Faerun, if strength is measured in sheer number of followers alone. What the Old Path lacks in organization and cohesive dogma, it makes up in tenacity and following. The Gods of the Old Path are the Gods of Nature itself, as ancient as the world. They are not easily forgotten.
The Old Path is the traditional way, popular anywhere the old Gods once held sway in the centuries before the Spellplague, and distant enough from civilization to resist conversion by more popular, better organized Faiths.
Common Alignments: Most. The Old Path is communal and usually benevolent, but includes a diverse pantheon of deities, ranging from compassionate Chauntea to violent and destructive Talos.
Common Domains: All. The Old Path is a holistic faith; each deity governs a broad portfolio, and together they encompass every Domain available.
- Lathander – The Morninglord, The Dawn Lord, The Awakened. Lathander is worshipped in many forms, sometimes as Nobanion in the deep south. He is depicted as a tall, youthful man, and presides over healing, light, hope and the Sun. He, along with Chauntea, is the head of the pantheon.
- Chauntea – Also known as Bhalla and Jannath in Calimshan and nearby areas. Chauntea is the Mother Goddess, embodiment of the earth itself. She presides over farmers, the hearth, fertility and abundance.
- Silvanus – The Wild God, with a beard of ivy and a staff of oak. He is an old and primal deity who rules over the forests and the wilds and all things untamed.
- Talos – Also known as Bhaelros, the Untamed God of Thunder, Fury and Storms. Once a God of Chaos and Destruction, the worship of Talos has become folded into the Old Path, such that prayers to Talos and Chauntea are often uttered in the same breath–an unthinkable concept a few centuries prior.
- Tempos – War God, The Battler. Tempos is the patron of heroism, warfare and glory. He is the God of Berserkers, Mercenaries and Generals, and his holy warriors paint themselves in wild colors before throwing themselves into the fury of battle. Tempos is a rival of Goragos/Red Knight.
- Gond – Also known as Zionel. Gond is the God of Artificers and Craftsmen. His worship has become more widespread in recent years, with the emergence of superior technology, and greater dependence on local craftsmen, artisans and smiths.
- Tymora – Also known as Tyche. In Amn, she is still worshipped as Waukeen, Goddess of Trade. She is the Lady of Fortune, a fickle and wild youth-goddess.
Curna is the ancient name of Oghma, God of Knowledge. The Curnans are the scholars of Faerun; they are the archivists, librarians, scribes, monks and teachers. Most Curnans live their lives in monastic placidity, ensconced in the great stone monasteries of the Lord of Lore. Some few venture out into the world to become teachers, perform research, or simply learn through experience. Curnans have few enemies and few friends, and generally keep to themselves.
Common Alignments: Neutral
Common Domains: Knowledge, Arcana
- Oghma – Also known as Curna. The Lord of Knowledge. Oghma represents knowledge itself, scholarship and learning. He is the most cerebral of the three deities of the Curnan pantheon.
- Azuth – Archmage and Loremaster. Azuth represents the academic side of wizardry, more interested in craft and theory than power. Azuth represents craftsmanship, practice, and the practical application of knowledge.
- Auppenser – Lord of the Psyche and the Subconscious, God of Psions. Auppenser rules over that last aspect of knowledge–intuitive knowledge. He is a god of mystics, prophets and seers. Visionaries who understand the world through intuition, instinct and feeling rather than cold rationalism. He is the patron deity of psions.
The worship of the Goddess Selune has developed over the years into a sophisticated and contemplative religion, one that thrives without temples, without communities, without priests. It is a religion of diaspora–shapeless, formless, and therefore nearly impossible to root out.
Selune, also known as Elahn, Nydra and Lucha, is the primeval Goddess of the Moon, the bright twin to Shar, Goddess of Night. She is a goddess of change, movement and subtlety. Every moonlit glade is a shrine to Selune. Any lost traveler in search of a road is her priest.
She is a Goddess of Hidden Paths, a patroness of wanderers, travelers, dreamers, and those who follow their heart. In darkest night, the moon and stars still shine; so it is with Elahnites, who find hope in the darkest of times.
Common Domains: Light, Life
Common Alignments: Chaotic Good, Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Chaotic Evil
- Selune – Also known as Elahn, Nydra, Lucha and the Silver Maiden. She is an elusive and ancient Goddess, and her dogma is almost monotheistic, revering her above all other deities.
- Eldath – The Goddess of Waterfalls, Serenity, Pacifism and Silence. She represents the peaceful side of Selune. Her worshippers revere tranquility, beauty and serenity.
- Malar – God of Beasts, Violence, Bloodlust and the Hunt. He is the dark side of Selune, the vengeful and fierce side, who represents primal instincts, animalistic bloodlust and nocturnal creatures. He is the shadow of Eldath, the fury of Selune.
5) The Black Wheel
Followers of the Black Wheel adhere to an elaborate and sophisticated doctrine of nihilism, in accordance with their dark patroness, Shar. The mortal condition, argues the Wheel, is suffering, despair, and loss. Only by surrendering to despair does one obtain release from it; only by accepting the inherent emptiness of all things does one achieve enlightenment. All Truths are void, and the Void is the only truth.
Shar’s teachings are seductive; wrapped in the message of nihilism is justification for anarchy, and so the Black Wheel claims among its new converts the disaffected, the disillusioned, the heartbroken, the angry, the desperate, and the cruel. Converts come from all walks of life, every race, and every region of Faerun. Misery, after all, delights in company.
The Black Wheel is a dark faith, steeped in a macabre philosophy obsessed with the question of death, suffering, and loss. It is not, however, intrinsically malevolent. Indeed, the Black Wheel tends to attract new followers by teaching nihilism as a way to escape suffering.
Common Domains: Death, Trickery, Knowledge
Common Alignments: Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Evil
- Shar – Dark Lady, Mistress of Night, Lady of Sorrow. Shar is the center of the Black Wheel, the void around which turn the spokes. She embodies the emptiness at the center of all things, the primordial void from which the world was born, into which the world must return.
- Mask – God of Thieves and Assassins. After killing Hoar and stealing his power, Mask assumed his name, and is known as Assuran in the south. He is the patron lord of the the sacred assassins of the Black Wheel. He is the outer ring of the Black Wheel, representing freedom through anti-morality.
- Loviatar – Goddess of Pain, Agony and Torture. Revered by torturers and sadists. The scriptures of the Black Wheel describe Loviatar as the embodiment of the inevitable pain and distress that accompanies existence.
- Beshaba – Goddess of Ill-Will, Misfortune and Accidents. Beshaba is the face of chaos, the Goddess of capricious circumstance, random misfortunes that befall the undeserving.
- Jergal – God of Death. The last spoke of the Black Wheel. Jergal is the only deity in his pantheon not inherently evil. He is a cold, impassive God, without passions or moral leanings. He has few followers, and receives no libations.
More Mystery Cult than religion, Sunites worship their four Goddess of Passion, Revelry, Lust and Joy in wild and esoteric rituals. The worship of Sune has diminished over the ages, and become concentrated into centers of worship, many of which are little more than divinely-ordained brothels. Some few Sunite temples still remain, with a loyal following of aesthetes preserving its beauty in sumptuous gardens and sweeping architecture.
The Lady of Love is a powerful deity, and beauty a difficult concept to eradicate. So she survives, even flourishes, here and there, in incense-filled harems and dancing schools, sacred gardens and local theaters. Sunism claims among its adherents anyone who believes in the spiritual power of beauty and love, even in dark times.
Common Alignments: Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Neutral, Chaotic Neutral
Common Domains: Life, Light, Arcana, Trickery
- Sune – The Lady of Love, Lady Firehair, Goddess of Beauty, Love and Passion. Sune has always had a reputation for being a flippant and capricious Goddess, inconsequential in the grand sweep of history: a goddess of roses and first kisses. Her reputation has kept her–and her worshippers–safe. No one leads a crusade against a cult of scarlet-clad aesthetes who love poetry. In truth, Sune is one of the oldest Goddesses in the world, and rules over one of the great primal forces of the world.
- Sharess – Goddess of Sex, Revelry, Lust and Intoxication. Sharess is a wild goddess of the libido. She is the Id of the Pantheon, an obsessive hedonist and debauchee, worshipped, likewise, by hedonists and debauchees. Her name is associated with brothels and taverns. She is revered in Calimshan and Murran.
- Siamorphe – Goddess of Nobility and Royalty. She is a minor Goddess, and in Sune’s Pantheon, embodies the role of wealthy patrons who support artists, poets and musicians. Aspiring artists often pray to Siamorphe for a kind patron.
- Lliira – Goddess of Joy, Happiness, Freedom and Festivals. The youngest of the four Goddesses. Lliira is a loving and bright Goddess, generous with her blessings and impossible to sadden. She is the embodiment of hope; she exists in every moment of happiness and pleasure, and her presence is essential to the Pantheon.
The A’taran religion evolved out of the Old Faith. It is a monotheistic religion that worships Amaunator, God of the Sun, He Who Is Reborn. A’tarans believe in a concept known as artha, which signifies the performance of duty, obedience to scripture, and strong moral character. The A’taran religion is quickly gaining strength in Calimshan and surrounding areas. A’tarans are nearly fanatical in their faith, and their unflinching opposition to the forces of darkness make them popular among the vulnerable, the defenseless and the downtrodden.
A’tarans believe that the righteous shall be rewarded with immortality in the radiance of Amaunator. For this reason, they are a religion of immense devotion, and count among their ranks some of the most devout clerics and paladins in the realms. Their fanaticism and monotheistic theology often puts them at odds with other faiths, even those of benevolent deities. For this reason, A’tarans have many enemies and few allies.
Still, there is hope in the promise of an afterlife. And the concept of artha is romantic in its own right–a life devoted to cultivating good moral character, opposing evil and performing one’s duty. The A’tarans are gaining converts with breathtaking efficiency.
Common Alignments: Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Neutral Good, Neutral, Lawful Evil
Common Domains: Life, War, Light
- A’tar – Also known as Amaunator. The A’tarans do not dispute the existence of other gods, merely their divinity. Amaunator is the highest expression of Godhood, the purest symbol of life, death and rebirth, and the only true antithesis to darkness. Compared to his splendor, the other Gods are merely powers, ancient forces of an obsolete and primitive theology.
A’tarans are the sworn enemies of The Iron God and the Black Wheel. They despise Shar and never speak her name; she is their Adversary.
I have always thought of Forgotten Realms as more of a toolbox than a setting. It is a piecemeal, modular system that invites modification, houseruling, and revision; compiled together over decades of development, Forgotten Realms has always felt a little bit like an eternal homebrew setting, and every new iteration of the Realms reflects its author’s sensibilities.
Forgotten Realms’s deities have always been a staple of D&D lore. They have always been active participants in Realms history. Creating a distant, silent pantheon of Gods uproots one of the fundamental principles of Forgotten Realms, but creates some interesting effects, and some fantastic storytelling opportunities. Players may find themselves swept up in the internal politics and intrigue of major faiths. Theological debates, heretical movements, and religious reformation seem more plausible in a setting with organized religions.
Consolidating the faiths of Faerun may rob the setting of some of its quirky charm, but Forgotten Realms has always been our collective homebrew; it is the kind of setting that grows, develops, and matures the more we experiment with it.
About the Author
N. Poddar has been playing D&D since middle school, filling spiral-bound notebooks with adventure maps instead of homework. This was the beginning of an incorrigible addiction to roleplaying games. Fifteen years and dozens of ruined notebooks later, very little has changed.