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  • Writer's pictureJ. Griffin Hughes

Welcome to Astratherea (2 of 2)

Not Tied to Judeo-Christian Themes

Making space for world cultures also means making space for world religions. Baked into classic D&D -- and a lot of fantasy worlds -- you find a Christian cosmology of angels and devils in a divine fight for the fate of souls. But that’s only one way of seeing things.

This world will have space for truly cosmic, beyond comprehension divine beings who have brought into existence the world and everything in it. There will also be space for lesser deities, like the Eddie Izzard joke about “Jeff the God of Biscuits.” At the same time, there will be purely good celestials and purely evil infernals.

However, it will not be true that an all-good Divine Creator demands expressions of loyalty from followers, lest they be cast into darkness. Although there may be immensely powerful beings who set such terms -- and they might even describe themselves as the ultimate power of the universe -- something greater will transcend them.

Like actual polytheistic cultures, while a priest may devote themselves to a particular deity or classification of deities, being that kind of spiritual person means having a faculty for interacting with all manner of gods. The same village priest may appeal to a god of the dead at a burial, a god of fertility at a wedding, and a god of war when blessing soldiers going into battle.

Living beings are welcome to have ambivalent relationships with divinity. In a world where their power is made too apparent to disbelieve in the existence of gods, it may still be possible just to not like them or want much to do with them. 

The greatest gods will not depend upon the faith of mortals. While worship may strengthen lesser divine beings, those responsible for the creation of the universe did so before any living being ever imagined them. They will be the ultimate, primordial powers, neutrally aligned, beyond goodness or evil, from whom all power derives.

Animistic worship will also be prevalent. This includes divine appeals to the spirits of ancestors as well as the spirits of plants, animals, natural formations (rivers, plains, mountains), and natural forces. And since such worship predates the worship of many of the named gods of antiquity, that will be the case in this world as well. 

For example, first, there will be the worship of thunder itself. Only later may Thor claim that power. It will always precede and exist independently of him, but he may be more approachable for mortal worship.

Meanwhile, in the absence of divine judgment, mortal souls in the lands of the dead will be dependent upon the living to determine their experience. The veneration of ancestors will magically feed and strengthen those who have passed away. 

Great heroes who are remembered with reverence may even ascend to godhood in this way, and in this world, all anthropomorphic deities like Zeus, Vishnu, and Ishtar, will have once been living mortals who had been greatly admired for many generations. For this reason, the Ascended gods may behave with the pettiness and imperfections of mortals, and their worship will vary with geography. 

Truly terrible people may be remembered fondly. They may cover up their crimes throughout their lives, silencing those who know the truth. There will be no cosmic justice to right these wrongs, leading to the creation of vengeful spirits. As for the forgotten dead, some may dissolve back into the magic of the universe, while others may continue to linger as mindless ghosts who haunt these spaces where they once lived without ever knowing why. Only the actions of the living can provide peace for such dead.

Player Lore Contributions

With these broad strokes in place, players should feel free to provide additions to the world that will allow them to play out scenarios they want their characters to experience. 

Would you like your street urchin to worship Bimble, god of Sneakery, who is generally a dickhead but protector of puppies? No problem. You got your Bimble.

Did a cult of evil lizard worshippers kill your parents? Hell yeah, they did. Although lizards aren’t themselves evil, and neither is the Great Lizard Spirit that governs all such reptiles, there’s no reason that some living being might not have once taken the lizard as his emblem, produced a cult following, and as a result, ascended into a being that grants his worshippers powers to wreak destruction. Tale as old as time.

In addition to such mythologies, players should also feel free to suggest physical features of their world -- the Well of So-Many-Sparkles, Doomskull Mountain, or Renegade Reef -- as well as historical figures and events, and traditions of their particular culture. While some may require DM modifications for the sake of cohesion or plot, the default should be to say “Yes” to player world-building unless there is a particular reason for a “No.”

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