Author Topic: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods  (Read 2242 times)

Xeviat

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Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« on: August 13, 2017, 12:28:20 AM »
Hi everyone. I'm back after being away again. I'll likely summon Xanthan, since one of us is the other's sock puppet. I still haven't figured out which.

While working on some D&D stuff today (and seeing the word "Awakened" too much), I ended up listening to just a little too much Metalocolypse. With cartoonish violence and darkness in my head, I thought of a little forum game: Setting Seeds. Rather than posting info on my setting (which has stalled, honestly), the "Setting Seeds" game involves a poster suggesting a single idea to build a setting around. For instance, it could be said Eberron was designed with "what if 3E D&D's magic system were taken to it's obvious conclusion". Each seed should end up being its own thread, so we can flesh out the seed, nurture it, see what grows. If you get an idea from someone's seed, start a new thread. I'll try to collect them here in this first post. So, I'd like to start off the game with this seed:

What if all the gods in a setting were evil?

How would this change the world? I can imagine the good people of the world tiptoeing around as to not anger the gods. A lot of "worship" would be supplications meant to stay the god's wrath. I imagine religions existing following mortal prophets/philosophers who taught people how to act. These people would likely be worshiped, but the constraint of the setting is that these individuals are icons, not gods. Maybe there's no holy magic? Maybe holy magic comes from the goodness within.

What would you do with a setting like this? What would you expect to see, and what would you rather see?
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Steerpike

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2017, 12:59:08 AM »
Quote from: Xeviat
How would this change the world?

Honestly, to me the bigger question for more standard fantasy worlds is how any of the gods could possibly claim to be good. These are worlds full of wars, monsters, conquest, poverty, exploitation, fear. I don't know how the likes of Pelor and St. Cuthbert sleep at night.

I think an underutilized theological bent in fantasy is maltheism - active hatred for and resistance to the gods. If the gods are evil, they're basically just powerful bullies, tormenting humanoids for their amusement. Screw em. Hang the clerics, invade the celestial planes, kill the gods, democratize the heavens.

LoA

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2017, 04:15:45 AM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Quote from: Xeviat
How would this change the world?

Honestly, to me the bigger question for more standard fantasy worlds is how any of the gods could possibly claim to be good. These are worlds full of wars, monsters, conquest, poverty, exploitation, fear. I don't know how the likes of Pelor and St. Cuthbert sleep at night.

I think an underutilized theological bent in fantasy is maltheism - active hatred for and resistance to the gods. If the gods are evil, they're basically just powerful bullies, tormenting humanoids for their amusement. Screw em. Hang the clerics, invade the celestial planes, kill the gods, democratize the heavens.

How I handle this in my settings is that the gods themselves can't intervene in the choices of mortals. They can certainly tempt or inspire them one way or the other, but they can't force them to do anything against there will.

Going back to the original question, I think that one thing I can't stand is when evil motivations are just "4 duh EVULS". The gods should have clear motivations about why there being evil pricks. I have an idea for an evil goddess who compels her followers to do barbaric things to mothers and children because she is envious of the fact that she can't be a mother, so why should any other woman get to be one?

Ghostman

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2017, 06:50:50 AM »
Everything depends on what the word 'evil' is supposed to mean to begin with. Is it just a label for objectionable morals, or some kind of cosmic force? Universal or variegated? Eternally constant or mutable across time? Is it judged from the POV of players, or that of the characters within the setting? You can go wildly different directions based on the details.

For example, gods might be considered evil by the world's population because they steal from each other all the time, while mortals have extreme taboos about theft. In such a world, religions might present deities as examplars of villainy and vice, and prescribe rituals to avoid or shut off contact with them - rather than praying to gods, people are encouraged to set up and maintain wards that prevent hearing their voices or receiving visions.
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Hibou

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2017, 08:55:24 AM »
This is the way it is in my Haveneast setting - the gods are evil and people essentially worship them to avoid their wrath or gain their favor for advantages over their peers. I've interpreted the resulting "good" side of the world being tied less to a belief and more to what is essentially a form of "medieval humanism" tied with Native American-inspired nature and ancestor worship.

If the gods are evil in this way, I think that is a logical consequence for how people will develop their belief systems - some will worship the evil gods readily, and others will do so sparingly and/or in secret, but there will ultimately be a very human-focused movement that rejects the concept of worship altogether.

Steerpike

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2017, 11:59:10 AM »
Quote from: LoA
How I handle this in my settings is that the gods themselves can't intervene in the choices of mortals. They can certainly tempt or inspire them one way or the other, but they can't force them to do anything against there will.

I think that's a fine solution, although I would then get persnickety if Clerics are a thing (divine magic = intervention, no?).

For me it's less like "why don't the gods force everyone to be good"? And more like "why did the gods create such a badly flawed world full of badly flawed creatures"?

Ghostman

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2017, 12:09:02 PM »
To what degree (if any) are gods creators though? That's another vital point to consider. A world that was entirely created by evil deities is likely to look very different from one where they merely make up it's divine residents.
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Weave

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2017, 08:08:56 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Screw em. Hang the clerics, invade the celestial planes, kill the gods, democratize the heavens.

This sounds like a Supergiant games premise waiting to be developed.

Or a setting.

Wait, I'll be right back.

Hibou

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2017, 09:08:38 PM »
Quote from: Ghostman
To what degree (if any) are gods creators though? That's another vital point to consider. A world that was entirely created by evil deities is likely to look very different from one where they merely make up it's divine residents.

I'm tooting my own horn here, but that was the biggest dilemma when I did it in Haveneast. It's not strictly implied that the evil gods that people appease had anything to do with creating the world, but they have had a role in shaping it. I can't see a real justification for why evil gods would want to create one unless there was some other, eternal part of the multiverse that they stood to gain power and influence in by having a mortal world around.

In Haveneast though, the gods don't even have that kind of power. Game-wise it's always been run as E6 Pathfinder, and where the most legendary characters were 6th-level with a bunch of extra fears and maybe a few magic items, a "god" was always interpreted to be comparable to a glabrezu in power. I think this is a good way to limit the power of the gods, but it does very little to explain how things came to be - which might be okay, depending on the group.

Xeviat

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2017, 09:39:22 PM »
Quote from: Ghostman
To what degree (if any) are gods creators though? That's another vital point to consider. A world that was entirely created by evil deities is likely to look very different from one where they merely make up it's divine residents.

This is a really good point. This question does change a lot. If the evil gods are the only gods left after some big divine war, things are going to be different than if evil gods actually created the world.

As for what I meant by evil, I was purposefully being vague to let people interpret it as they intend.

For me, the question inspires a setting where the forces of good were overwhelmed and defeated. The devils rose from hell and conquered the world. Heaven retreated. The people of the world worship the devils because they give power, because why worship the old gods who abandoned you? The devils don't tell you what not to do, they tell you what you can do. It is ultimate freedom. If you're lucky, they'll even treat you okay as long as you continue to follow them.
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Magnus Pym

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2017, 09:42:14 AM »
Quote from: Xeviat
Quote from: Ghostman
To what degree (if any) are gods creators though? That's another vital point to consider. A world that was entirely created by evil deities is likely to look very different from one where they merely make up it's divine residents.

This is a really good point. This question does change a lot. If the evil gods are the only gods left after some big divine war, things are going to be different than if evil gods actually created the world.

As for what I meant by evil, I was purposefully being vague to let people interpret it as they intend.

For me, the question inspires a setting where the forces of good were overwhelmed and defeated. The devils rose from hell and conquered the world. Heaven retreated. The people of the world worship the devils because they give power, because why worship the old gods who abandoned you? The devils don't tell you what not to do, they tell you what you can do. It is ultimate freedom. If you're lucky, they'll even treat you okay as long as you continue to follow them.

And how powerful are these devils to have been able to do away with the Old Gods? Because if they're like universe-reach-ultra-powerful creatures, I don't see why you should even bother, as the competition between themselves will become so ferocious as to break the universe and return it to a point of infinite nothingness?

Steerpike

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2017, 01:32:43 PM »
Quote from: Xeviat
For me, the question inspires a setting where the forces of good were overwhelmed and defeated. The devils rose from hell and conquered the world. Heaven retreated. The people of the world worship the devils because they give power, because why worship the old gods who abandoned you? The devils don't tell you what not to do, they tell you what you can do. It is ultimate freedom. If you're lucky, they'll even treat you okay as long as you continue to follow them.

Hmm, so how are the devils actually evil? If the devils aren't interested in curtailing human freedom or providing restrictive dogmas, but will reward followers with power... are they especially capital E Evil here? In D&D Alignment terms this sounds a lot like Chaos as opposed to Evil.

I do like the idea of a Manichean universe where evil wins, though.

I think a lot is going to depend on how interventionist the deities are, how the afterlife gets run (and whether there is an afterlife), how the evil deities view human beings, and in general what the metaphysics and cosmology of the setting are like.

The evil gods might see mortals as beings with great potential - maybe especially evil souls get elevated to demonhood on death. In that case, individuals might really strive to new heights of cruelty and worship the evil gods in hopes of divine reward. Or the evil gods might act like Milton's Satan, and be jealous of humanity and want it destroyed and mutilated, so everyone loathes the evil gods and is just constantly fleeing their wrath. Or they might act more like Lovecraft's Great Old Ones and not care at all about humanity, or view human souls as nothing more than tasty snacks, and the material plane as a handy soul-larder.

Are gods in this setting "powered" by faith, as in Planescape or American Gods? If so, they're going to want lots of worshipers performing sacrifices and rituals, so they'll be more inclined to reward or spare the faithful, and also more inclined to persecute non-believers. But if they don't care about faith or followers, mortals are more likely to be ignored, or treated as playthings.

Where does the material/mortal plane fall in the cosmology? Is it at the centre of everything, or is it one of myriad important planes? If it's the former, I can see the evil gods caring a lot more about what goes on there - taking an active hand in conquering it or installing their religions. But if it's just some podunk backwater reality that thinks it's important, the evil gods might not really care much about it.

LoA

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2017, 03:00:33 PM »
My main question is "how does civilization work in this universe" because I can only see this world turning into Athas at that point. Law of the Jungle (and not the Rudyard Kipling one) doesn't get you out of the friggin' jungle. There has to be rules in order for a civilization to function. Under the law of Demons I can only see it turning the world backwards.

sparkletwist

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2017, 05:56:23 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
If the gods are evil, they're basically just powerful bullies, tormenting humanoids for their amusement. Screw em. Hang the clerics, invade the celestial planes, kill the gods, democratize the heavens.
Quote from: Xeviat
If the evil gods are the only gods left after some big divine war, things are going to be different than if evil gods actually created the world.
For what it's worth, these two ideas are basically how it works in Asura.

The creator gods (known in the setting as the Ancient Gods) were inscrutable Lovecraftian horrors that created a pretty messed up universe. Humans were there mostly as pawns or food, though, since the gods were kind of incomprehensible, so were their motives, so I can keep it pretty vague. The only real important idea is that life sucked.

Eventually, some humans managed to acquire a bit of cosmic power of their own, giving rise to the Asuras, who punched the Ancient Gods so hard the universe broke in half. This part was inspired by Greek mythology, with the Olympians overthrowing the Titans. But anyway, since the creators were evil (or, perhaps more properly, recklessly indifferent) the world is still full of monsters, wars, poverty, diseases, and so on; the Asuras couldn't completely fix the awful crapsack universe that the Ancient Gods had created, though they at least tried to make things much more livable than they were.

Xeviat

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Re: Setting Seeds; Evil Gods
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2017, 10:52:07 PM »
Quote from: Steerpike
Hmm, so how are the devils actually evil? If the devils aren't interested in curtailing human freedom or providing restrictive dogmas, but will reward followers with power... are they especially capital E Evil here? In D&D Alignment terms this sounds a lot like Chaos as opposed to Evil.

Mostly the "it's okay to murder, lie, cheat, steal ..." that they preach makes them evil. These devils are more like the "I'm not going to do what you say" style Satan, not the D&D Lawful Evil type devils.
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