Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Religion & Cosmos

I find that I am enjoying chronicling Mythic Greyhawk more than I anticipated. Much of it are impressions from way back when, but some of it is also new discovery from taking a closer look. One thing I like about exploring a non-homebrew setting like this is the sense of exploring an independently existent world. The fact that others have studied the same world, albeit through a different prism than my 'Mythic' one, renders a feeling that somehow Greyhawk exists 'out there' to be explored. My interpretations don't feel like creating either. It is more of a - "when looking through this mythic prism, what is Greyhawk really like?" I study the lay of the land, observe and mull until Mythic Greyhawk reveals itself to me. And putting all this into writing is like a refinement process. Greyhawk stands out much more vididly and alive to my inner vision now than before I started. It's been fun. 

With that said, let's talk about religion, metaphysics and other higher order stuff.


Overall, I am not terribly smitten with the Greyhawk pantheon, to be honest. It's a bit of a hodge podge. I like hodge podge, but it should be blended in with something a bit more thematic that links more visibly to the human cultures. Since they are not in the folio, I could have just discarded them, but I decided to give it a go anyway.

I mapped them out along basic alignment lines: 
  • Neutral: There is the old (druidic) faith. These are predominantly neutral and as such considered heretical by both the Church of the Blinding Light and the Oeridian pantheon.
  • Lawful: The Oeridian pantheon of (which has a number of dark, or at least callous) gods that are predominantly Lawful.
  • Lawful Good: A major driver in the separation of Ferrond and Nyrond from Aerdi was the rise of the heno-/mono-theistic Church of Pholtus/Pelor/Rao (he has many names, depending on which aspects of his being are emphasised as most important) - The breakaways were in part religious wars - Splits that still define the Flanaess.
    The western Pelor/Rao factions are exponents of a new and higher kind of Law (Lawful Good) than the eastern one Pholtus faction, which claims the special relevation of the Church is that Law is unitary (non-comittal on the 'good' part).
  • Chaos: These are the howling demon princes and other lords of chaos that wish to invade Oerth and corrupt its people. But also elemental primordials and such. Basically, nothing that anyone sane would worship or strike deals with.

The Old Faith

The Old Faith was the predominant 'religion' of the Flanaess before the great migrations and still holds sway in many places today.
It is centered around the primal spirits that inhabit the Oerth and whose concerns (unlike gods, demons, et al) are strictly confined to Oerth. They are the Neutral (of the 'leave-us-alone' variety) buffer between the forces of law and chaos that keep gods and demons alike out of Oerth.

As "neutrals", they are not so much interested in balance for the sake of balance, but rather for the self-preserving concern of safeguarding Oerth, their dominion, from being overwhelmed by the forces of either Law and Chaos.
Unlike the gods, they neither require nor ask for worship, but may nonetheless be supplicated for favors through various rites and sacrifices. All priests of the Old Faith are druids of various sorts - even the psychopomp Death Druids of Nerull and the Harvesters of Incabulos (the sane ones mostly work to keep his 'gifts' away. The others are frigging feral). The major primal spirits of the Old Faith are:

  • Beory - the spirit of the Oerth itself; 
  • Elohnna - the Spring Lady of fertility and new life. Patron of all rangers (they all get their spells from her); 
  • Obad-hai - Summer King, The Green Man, Leader of the Wild Hunt; 
  • Incabulos - The Autumn Lord of decay, plagues, sickness, famine, nightmares, drought, and disasters. He who clears away the stale, weak and static so that nature may grow something new when the rot turns to soil. A hard god.
  • Nerull - The Winter King of Death. Even harder.

The Oeridian Pantheon

The gods of Law, the pantheon of the Great Kingdom and beyond, are seen as the major patrons of mankind across the Flanaess. They are the standard-bearers against the forces of Chaos that would otherwise overwhelm the world and the main reason why Man has ascended to its tentatively dominant position in the Flanaess.

They reside in the Overworlds of the Astral Dominions (being barred from Oerth itself by the aforementioned primal spirits) and rely on worship for their power - As such they have a strong vested interest in mortal affairs, which is also reflected in their themes and domains. They are almost all of them gods of human endeavors.

Notable Oeridian gods:
  • Hextor & Heironeous - These opposites are worshipped in the same temples and are considered dual aspects of the same warrior god. A fitting image for the many flip-flops the Aerdi have made on what makes the Great Kingdom Great. Clerics tend to strongly favor one aspect over the other. Currently Hextor is the dominant god of the Great Kingdom.
  • Zilchus - The priesthood of Zilchus perform an invaluable, and mostly impartial, service to the people of the Flanaess: Banking. The Holy Tellers basically maintain the economy and are the only Pan-Flannae bank in Greyhawk. Your go-to-guys for reliable service. Screw them over and you will soon find no one will do business with you. Anywhere.
  • Olidammara - The trickster god of the pantheon. Though often acting highly chaotically and mingling with Chaos, he is nevertheless aligned with Law and on the side of mankind. A less malignant Loki basically.
  • Pholtus - Though heretically seen as the One-Above-All in the Church of the Blinding Light, he is still worshipped as the Lawmaker, a major deity, in the Oeridian Pantheon. His priests often act as judges in secular courts, when the nobility for whatever reasons have disavowed that responsibility.
  • Fharlanghn - Oeridians attribute the spirit of Fharlanghn to their successful migration and eventual domination of the Flanaess. A mentality of discovery and willingness to travel far is still considered strong virtues among Oeridians as a result.
  • Bralm - the god of industriousness has played a pivotal role in building the Oeridian realms, but plays an equally important role in maintaining them. From him comes the righteousness of the classes, that society needs Those Who Toil to be governed by Those Who War. When all remain in their allotted station and perform their given duty, society prospers.
  • Erythnul - Despite his fearsome nature, this dark god has a place in Oeridian society as that which drives their enemies before them and has those who should cower in righteous fear cowering.
  • Ralishaz - Similar to Erythnul, Ralishaz has a place among Oeridians as one who brings misfortune to their enemies.

The Church of the Blinding Light

The heno-/mono-theistic Church of the Blinding Light is devoted to the worship of Pholtus/Pelor/Rao (his name differs depending on culture and theological interpretation of his most important aspects, but all agree it is the same god) as the One-Above-All.

'He' had a presence in all human pantheons but in 251 CY revealed himself to priests of Ferrond to be the one true god of Law (three years later, Furyondy would be founded in Dyvers as a result) and was further strengthened when the people of Nyrond and its satellite states saw the Light, converted and broke away from heretical Aerdy, establishing the Church as the biggest religion in the modern Flanaess.

Certain patron saints of the One-Above-All, who have become hero-deities in their own right, are also supplicated. Most notable of these is St. Cuthbert.

Other Gods & Godlings

The Suel pantheon was once the primary hegemony of Law on Oerth, but fell from power and influence after the Rain of Colorless Fire. These ancient fallen gods  are still found in places, but are mostly degenerate shadows of what they used to be, insane, embittered, turned savage or even feral, or all of the above.

A range of other gods exist who are mostly ignored by the gods of the established pantheons due to being either too insignificant or pursuing aims that do not impact the cosmic concerns of these pantheons.

This covers anything from fledgling hero-gods, highly local deities, forgotten and sleeping gods of ancient pantheons, the gods of the Flan (in addition to the Old Faith nature spirits) and the mysterious Bakluni gods, but also gods such as Boccob the Uncaring, the ancient god of magic who is somehow a tangential part of every pantheon, and his recent vassal Zagyg.

Notable other gods:
  • Thor Kord, the heroic quest god of the Flan.
  • Wee-Jas, a mysterious and ancient psychopomp deity of death, magic and necromancy.
  • Boccob - the uncaring. featured in all pantheons
  • Istus - The enigmatic goddess of Fate among the Baklunish. Some argue she is a female Baklunish emanation of The-One-Above-All.

Non-Human Faiths

Religion is mostly a human thing, that's why humans see themselves as especially privileged species of Law and why they are the ones who tentatively rule the roost of the Flanaess. Halflings and dwarves are also lawful and have pantheons similar to Mankind's (with a few patron gods specific to their own kind), but this is glossed over.

Elves as neutral to chaotic children of the Oerth, have no gods and do not care for the cosmic conflict of Law and Chaos. They have a relationship of a sort with the primal spirits of the Old Faith but do not venerate or worship them the way humans do. They see themselves as being basically of similar family stock as these beings and you wouldn't worship your grandfather, would you?

Other creatures also do not have gods. The "gods" of goblins, orcs, hobgoblins etc. are not gods at all, but the foul lords of the host of Chaos, demon princes and devil lords. That's like totally different.

Cosmos & Alignment

  • Law/Neutral/Chaos axis. Alignment as factions and allegiances moreso than conviction.
    Good and evil exist, but are less important (and optional) in comparison (though adherents of Rao/Pelor might beg to differ) - People who have the good or evil descriptor always have that part of their alignment as a deep conviction.
  • I am using a variant of the 4th edition world axis cosmology. I will probably tweak the mirror realms into more of a localised Fading Lands/Demi-planes thing, but otherwise:
    Astral Dominions (also sometimes referred to as the "Overworlds", or simply "The Overworld") are the cerebral domains of Law. There are many realms besides the god ones, some more wellknown than others. Possibly even infinite in number. Basically, any kind of platonic ideation-as-reality realm you can think of probably exists here.
    Elemental Maelstrom (from whence begin "the Underworlds") is the more bodily/physical domain of Chaos. We currently live in the flawed hegemony of the gods, after the victory in the Dawn War against the Hosts of Chaos. Below that is the abyss, where entropy takes a turn towards oblivion and annihilation.
  • The over- and under-worlds, though principally otherdimensional, are also physically connected to Oerth through the principles of mythic geography. Hence, one can reach the Overworld by simply flying deep enough into space. And the Underworld basically begins below the ground you stand on. Venture deep enough (very deep) and it becomes the elemental maelstrom (this also implies a certain directionality to Law/Chaos).
  • The Homebase vs Weird dichotomy is very much a thing and runs along similar tracks as Civilization/Wilderness, Law/Chaos, Mundane/Mythic, Gods/Demons, etc. A wholly Lawful Oerth would have no mythic fabric left and consequently also no magic.
  • Exposure to Chaos plays a big part in the transformation of mundane characters into mythic (=high-level) heroes. This is the paradox of champions of Law - even as they fight Chaos, they are suffused with it and made greater by it.
    And consequently, heroes are inevitably alienated from the mundane world they started from (Frodo Syndrome).
  • The sci-fi bits are downplayed (for now) and there is a stronger focus on a mythic flavor, inspired by the (often dark) folkloric faerie tales of medieval times.
    I make heavy use of Fading Lands (below) to play up the otherwordliness of encounters with the Weird and fantastical (fx. all elven kingdoms are fading lands). Many, if not most, wilderness and dungeon forays will effectively be in these 'Weird zones'/Fading lands.
  • Alignment Language is a thing. Oeridian is the common tongue and is an offshoot of Lawful. Flan is a mixed offshoot of Lawful and Neutral. Baklunish and Suel are both lawful offshoots.

Fading Lands

Classic example of a Fading Land
When places become too dissonant with the orderliness of the Law set down by the current godly hegemonythey warp and rip out of sync with the reality of the rest of the world to a certain extent. They become more akin  to private pocket worlds or demi-planes, where space, time and other rules of reality can become distorted. Essentially, chaotic pockets and hollowings in Oerth's otherwise regular dimensional fabric of spacetime.

Fading Lands become more frequent once you pass from the corelands of civilization and into the borderlands. In the deep wilderness where Chaos is still thick and unrestrained, the boundaries between fading lands and 'normal reality' become increasingly indistinct and blurred.

Common to all Fading Lands is the sense of otherwordliness, of being in a land-out-time (or at least has its own rhythm and pulse of time), that all visitors instinctively feel after entering one. Fading Lands do not participate in the same flow of time as the rest of Oerth.
They are remnants of something lost, akin to memories of something that once was, which the Oerth can no longer hold without losing its structural integrity in time and space.

Some Fading Lands are more otherworldly than others. Some of them may connect, or be coterminous, with the Overworlds or underworld. What distinguishes them from the Over and Under Worlds is that, though connections may be faded, they still have links or origin on Oerth and are in some way or another connected to Oerth geography and/or history.

Examples of Fading Lands

  • The Elflands: Once the elves roamed and ruled the Flanaess. Though the elflands remain the most accessible of the fading lands which can be entered from many places, as time passes they too are becoming more remote from the mundane lands of Oerth.
  • Faerie - Some say the Elflands are a part of Faerie. Others that Faerie is an Overworld dimensionally coterminous with Oerth.
  • The City of Gods
  • The Isle of Dread
  • The Land Beyond The Magic Mirror
  • Dungeonland
  • Isle of the Ape
  • Most of these
  • And a lot of these


  1. "The fact that others have studied the same world, albeit through a different prism than my 'Mythic' one, renders a feeling that somehow Greyhawk exists 'out there' to be explored. My interpretations don't feel like creating either. It is more of a - "when looking through this mythic prism, what is Greyhawk really like?" I study the lay of the land, observe and mull until Mythic Greyhawk reveals itself to me."

    This is a big part of the motivation I have to look at it through the lens of other game systems (I'm mainly going at it through GURPS, but also considering what it might look like as a RuneQuest setting, using Fantasy Wargaming, and so on). If the game system becomes only a means of approximating an ur-setting that exists separately, then it seems to become more real in my imagination.


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