This is the story of a time long ago – a time of myth and legend. When the ancient gods were petty and cruel, and they plagued mankind with suffering…
I am no fool. I know better than to meddle in the affairs of gods. Unfortunately, despite my ardent dislike for capricious deities, who interfere in the affairs of men, I find myself currently running a game inspired by Wizards of the Coast’s Deities and Demigods. In this game supplement, the prospective Dungeon Master is given actual stats for not only Greyhawk’s gods, but also the Greek, Egyptian, and Norse pantheons. I never intended to run a game based on this material, since I consider the notion of applying Dungeons & Dragons character design rules for omnipotent beings to be antithetical to the term “omnipotent.” When I looked over the book, I stated as much to my roommates, which led to a debate about the implications of PC Parties actually fighting gods. I argued to them that even if a Player did kill a god, there was probably some awesome, unquantifiable god behind him, which the Player could not possibly conceive of, let alone fight! Thus, the homebrew setting Saecularum was born out of my need to prove this point.
I could’ve merely ran an Eberron game in which the Players meet Vol or commune with the entities in the Silver Flame, but, as I’ve mentioned in an early blog entry, these so-called deities are merely exceptionally long-lived beings with god-like powers. They are not walking, talking reality-altering gods. They cannot make and unmake mortals with a snap of their fingers. They cannot create burritos that are too hot for even them to consume. I needed to create or find setting material for a world where gods do exist. Naturally, the book provides stats for Greyhawk deities, but I’m not familiar with them, so I decided to run a game using Earth’s gods. Once I had decided upon that detail, I realized that simply placing Greek or Egyptian gods in a standard fantasy setting just wouldn’t do. There had to be some reason for their existence, so instead, I opted not to remove their original contexts.
Since I intended to run the game using a mix of the Pathfinder & D&D 3.5e rules sets, I was naturally faced with the question of how to explain magic on Earth. By allowing gods to exist in our world, I was able to quickly answer this question. In Saecularum, magic and the gods stem from a unifying Source, a One True God, whose energy permeates the infinitely expanding universe. The notion of a One True God (the Source of all Magic) stems from my interest in Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, each of which argue that the world is an illusion created by some all powerful entity. In both cases, that entity is known as the demiurge. While not always considered malevolent, on my alternate Earth, the demiurge is the respective creator god(s) in each culture’s mythology.
The child deities of the One True God, inspired by the acts of Sophia, create the Earth as a machine to collect and store its magical energy. They hope by collecting this energy they will eventually find a way back to the Source. Each pantheon invariably credits itself with the creation of the world, but in reality, all of them are responsible. Humans are created next to serve the gods by creating and storing magical energy. Originally, humans are unable to reach their magical potential, living peacefully amongst the gods in Paradise, until Pandora/Eve manifests magical abilities which threaten the gods’ existence. Her use of magic will cause humanity’s exile from Utopia and begin the War of the Gods.
The concept of a War of the Gods allowed me to define the relationship between the many, many gods and humanity in a familiar way. My primary inspiration for this relationship is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which presents gods as manifestations of people’s beliefs, allowing for two versions of Odin (an American and a Scandinavian Norse god). Since humans provide gods with magical power (and vice versa), each entity is dependent on the other. This does not mean gods and humans live in harmony like in, my secondary inspiration, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: The Warrior Princess “the gods are petty and cruel.” Amongst the original child deities of the One True God, known as the Old or Elder Gods, there are two factions who meddle in the affairs of mortals- The Demiurge and The Sophia. The Demiurge, seek to usurp the One True God’s position, treating humans as nothing but cattle. They are against humanity achieving its magical potential. The Sophia, on the other hand, want to join with the One True God. By extension, this would require joining with all life on Earth, so they are explicitly for humans reaching the limits of their magical abilities. I have not determined exactly where each pantheon or individual deity amongst the traditional pantheons rests on this issue; however, it is safe to say that the gods rely on mortals for their power.
Human belief is the most powerful magic in Saecularum. In American Gods that belief is so strong, it causes the creation of New Gods, representing people’s beliefs in the Internet, used cars, and government conspiracies. The eponymous Saecularum or New Gods threaten the power and influence of the Old Gods. These New Gods are born out of humanity’s failed attempts to combine magic and technology, ultimately leading to the destruction of Atlantis, which I’ll cover later in this series. The creation of magical items is strictly regulated by the gods, so humanity creates is forced to rely instead on the rational sciences. This leads to another divergence from our familiar Earth- the 19th century steam engine is invented by Heron of Alexandria in 50 CE. With its invention, Steam, the first New God, is born. Steam and his brethren challenge the power of the Old Gods, since they do not understand or care about the regulation of magic. This, in turn, leads to rebirth in the arcane arts and the creation of magical items, despite the schemes of the Elder Gods to prevent it. It also creates a world where zeppelins hover over Alexandria during the Crusades, broadcasting Muslim propaganda.
By positing New Gods born out of scientific and social advancement and Old Gods, who are emanations from the One True God, I reinforce many of the same themes brought up in my Eberron games. The New Gods are paragons of science, deities created by inventors, artists, and philosophers. The Old Gods are the defenders of superstition, attempting to regulate human potential. Despite having quantifiable stats, gods are nonetheless not nearly as powerful as they may seem. They are, in the end, beholden to the One True God. By positing a Source, I have the ultimate MacGuffin, which allows for various conspiracies by both Elder and Saecular gods acquire, join, or otherwise control it. The gods remain locked in a never-ending war to reach the One True God.
In the gods’ eternal war for human souls, where will your character stand?
See, I told you they were related. This post has been edited, including new links and slightly less clunky diction. I’ll post more about Saecularum later, after I look through my old notes. This game is also on long-term hiatus, though I plan on running another session sometime.