Friday, 27 December 2019

Alternate Oerths - Mythic Greyhawk: Deities & Demi-gods


I already wrote about the deities and pantheons of Mythic Greyhawk before
, but after reading Dragon Magazine #67's article The Deities & Demigods of the World of Greyhawk I'm inspired to doodle a bit more about this, taking the implications of that article as a springboard.

The first thing that jumps at me from that article is the initial coverage of the nature of gods. We are told what kind of spell-like abilities gods of various statures have. Each of the four deities (Heironeous, Hextor, Iuz & St. Cuthbert) are statted out as conventional (albeit powerful) critters who, apart from being deities of certain things, can be encountered and killed like any other. We learn this from the note stating how Iuz has a soul object secreted away in the abyss that leaves him free to roam outside his domain with no fear of permanent harm. No mention of 'avatars', or other divine trappings of later editions.
From left to right: Heironeous; Hextor; Iuz & St. Cuthbert - all in their true form.
Some have applied this as a critique of AD&D 1e being so hack'n'slash that even the deities were statted up so you could go and kill them. I've also heard the counterposition argued that they were statted to be so powerful that the designers imagined this would settle any question of ever trying to kill them.

Both to me miss the point of what this actually says about deities in Greyhawk. They are not the transcendent immaterial cosmic beings that modernism tends to envisage as qualities of a deity, but closer to stature to the ancient nordic or greek gods - embodied, fallible and more akin to uplifted humans with great power than cosmic beings beyond the ken of human understanding.

And if they wanted to get shit done, they'd have to run the risk and go do it themselves. Or better yet (D&D rationale:), empower a cleric to do it for them at no risk to themselves.

However, the fact that each entry devotes space to how to treat them as an encounter suggests that Greyhawk deities aren't afraid of getting their hands dirt if need be. More likely than hands dirty is that they aren't shy about showing up in disguise to nudge mortals the way they want them to go, as we are also told of Hextor's strong social skills when in disguise. Greyhawk deities start plot hooks with a tangible guiding hand on Oerth and probably interfere with plots in much the same way.

The deities statted here are not so powerful that they won't get their ass handed to them by a tarrasque, and around the same tier as the demon lords statted in AD&D. Which tallies well with my assumption in Mythic Greyhawk that gods are more like a class of beings, like dragons or demon lords (in many ways the chaotic counterpart to deities).

The article lists the four gods as "deities commonly active and/or known to adventurers and those who travel the reaches of the Flanaess." This is an interesting sentence, given also their writeups as encounters. These four are ones that PCs might expect to actually encounter as adventurers and travellers, because they busy themselves with the mortal realm. They are also all lesser gods (except Iuz, a demigod). Maybe involvement in mortal affairs is a bit of a juvenile affair, divinely speaking. Perhaps greater gods generally have better things to do with their time, whilst the lesser gods haven't quite matured enough to leave the soap operas of the mortal world alone.

Anyway, on to the actual gods:

Heironeous 

I covered my take on the brother gods already in my previous entry on gods. They are basically the best and the worst of the Great Kingdom. Heironeous is a simple god and likes it that way. He is basically the patron of goddamn chivalry and knightly heroism. When people think of the noble fight against Chaos and just causes, he's the archetype. He was the one who showed the Great Kingdom a promise of being more than just an imperalist invader, but a realm that could beat back Chaos and lay down borders of Law for civilisation to flourish. It was a glorious age.

These days, he has all but given up hope for the empire he once helped rise to its greatest heights and turned his sights to the rest of the Flanaess. He is enjoying a renaissance in the Sheldomar Valley, but is somewhat perplexed by the rise of the One-Above-All's henotheism. In countries like Furyondy, Veluna and the Shield Lands, he's even been turned into a popular saint of the Blinding Light, like St. Cuthbert (below).

Hextor

I envision Hextor as more lawful than evil. Sure he is a vicious war diety, but he's also the god of fitness and has qualities that mark him out as a genuine asset to the societies he patronages and it is perfectly possible for non-evil people to take him as their patron deity, including PCs.

Hextor is the great general, tactician and calculator, married to the passion and raw fury of battle. He is never static and always pursuing greatness, skill and victory through changing circumstances. He bring order to the chaos of the battlefield, but doesn't stifle it in the process, transmuting it instead into victory and growth. He represents growth through adversity.
Hextor isn't merciful or lenient, but he’s is fierce opponent of Chaos and so stands high among the gods of Law.*

He often wanders the Oerth, making Law stronger and opposing those who would make it weak (including culling those who could not grow stronger). He sees the doctrines of his brother as Law and strength subverted to vainglorious ideals and fiercely opposes him.
  • Sample Worshippers:
  • The trained warrior who never backs down from a fight yet always seeks to set the terms of battle to ensure victory.
  • The quiet street urchin who finds unbending pride in the path of growth through adversity and never shies away from the next challenge to take her higher in life.
  • The mystic priest who seeks and nourishes discord so that Man will not grow stale but continue to grow - and is himself an exemplary of both internal growth through adversity and external martial prowess. He debates with his brothers whether falling to overpowering adversity represents lack of wisdom in pursuing proper circumstances for growth, or an opportunity for Hextor to cull those too weak to grow as they should.
* An interesting note from the article is that "the lords of evil" gave him his six arms so he could defeat his brother. So while he may not identify as evil per se, he may have cut a deal with some wrong people at some point to win over his brother. One might deduce that the Great Kingdom is paying the price for Hextor's victory and the consequence of his deal inevitably make his actions more evil than lawful. Something that would be anathema to him if he realised this.

Iuz

My impression of Iuz has always been 'evil cambion wizard, powerful' and not really knowing what to do with that to make that interesting and not-one-dimensional.

Here's he's statted as a cleric/assassin and the author of the article (EGG) wonders if he is truly the offspring of Orcus or has simply become more demonic over the centuries. I like this take a lot.

The vision I am having from this article is of a truly successful anti-cleric over the years, the star proxy of the fiendish hordes in the mortal plane who has seen off many an adventuring party in his day, as he completed foul rituals and dark deeds galore.
He didn't just join for the quick route to power, but is a true devotee of Chaos and champion of the cause; a genuine philosopher of entropy. As such, he enjoys the trust and loyalty of many of the demon princes.

The article also tells us that he is "the first known godling of chaotic evil", which is an interesting point. Iuz represents something new, an x-factor in the cosmic game. Not, as one might be inclined to think, because he remains in the mortal plane, but because he's the first godling of chaotic evil.

This is just perfect for Mythic Greyhawk. I've already written of how I see 'gods' as a class of being, primarily associated with Law and something mainly connected to humans, whilst the chaotic equivalent of a 'god' is typically 'demon prince'.
Yet, here we have Iuz, a human (?) cleric-raised-to-godhood who has embraced Chaos to its most evil core. And his apotheosis is a game changer. I am not quite sure how yet. But suddenly, he's a lot more interesting than the faux-sauron he came across to me as before.

It also blends well with how I envision his political game.  Less imperalist Mordor and more like a darker version of Vlad the Impaler's Transylvania; festering, opaque and random. He's not playing the expansionist game of power, but brewing a cauldron of Chaos - A vision borne not from ambition, but philosophical conviction and insight into entropy. I don't really know what the fuck his end game is here, but I don't think I need to either. It's cool enough as it is. Let the Horned Society play their games of power and conquest. Iuz is playing a completely different game.

St. Cuthbert

St. Cuthbert of the cudgel is a fitting opposite to Iuz, as he is also a human cleric-raised-to-godhood, except he stayed on the side of Law. Like a good cleric, he's a missionary, mainly concerned with conversion and preventing "true believers" from backsliding. When he enters the mortal plane (rarely, unlike Iuz), it is mostly for conversion and testing the faithful in disguise.

All in all, he sounds like he could easily be a bit of a holy dick. But given he's also the god of wisdom, truth, common sense and forthrightness, I'm gonnna assume that he's real wise and compassionate about this stuff.

His epic rivalry with Pholtus I am re-tooling into a a rivalry between sub-cults of the Church of Blinding Light (since Pholtus is an aspect of the One-Above-All and Cuthbert a divinised saint of that deity), since Pholtus theology is also big on conversion and preventing backsliding. But more of the 'forceful conversion and inquisitions to prevent backsliding' variety than Cuthbert's wise and forthright style. This rivalry is potentially a schism within the Church, which has so far managed to hold together in spite of its various theologies (violent religious conflict is a good hook).

In my entry on the Church of the Blinding Light, I wrote how Pholtus/Pelor/Rao "in 251 CY revealed himself to priests of Ferrond to be the one true god of Law 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."

I am now thinking: Maybe St. Cuthbert was the original prophet of the One-Above-All back in 251 CY. Yeah, that actually makes a whole lot of sense and really situates St. Cuthbert within the Church. That is also a suitably epic quest for a cleric to complete for apotheosis, so works in a D&Dist sense as well.

1 comment:

  1. I like that idea of religious schism as a means of keeping the forces of weal from uniting fully and eradicating the forces of chaos.

    ReplyDelete