Thursday, March 25, 2021

Critique of an Expansion of a Generator (Pantheon Generator Review)

So Dan over at Throne of Salt made an expansion to my Pantheon Generator. Firstly, I'd love to say thank you for your kind words about my generator, it's actually my most popular post on my entire blog. It seemed incredibly popular and I'm glad people are thinking about it. Now let's talk about the expansion that Dan made.

Firstly, I'd like to start by saying that this is not supposed to necessarily be a value judgment of which one of us “did it better”, nor am I trying to claim stole my idea or anything. This is just seem feedback. It seems his post was pretty popular too, so clearly this concept interests people.

The Changes
Let's start with Dan's new “Where did they come from?” table is good. I like the subtle changes to my first table- his table feels more appropriate from “ground up” worldbuilding- what the people of the world actually believe happened, as opposed to my table which is more objective. I think making information more pertinent to the players is a better use of time then creating objective facts about a setting anyway, so I do think his table is better in that regard.

Now the change to the prime God / head of the pantheon is an interesting one. The concept of having the Prime God being a trio of beings instead of just one, or a opposite pair, or something even more complex (like absent entirely, which I think is a good one) is kind of cool. But here's where we get to the unpleasant part. The thing is I don't like the Moiety thing. I'm somewhat confused why it's even being included at all, but I think I have both a reason and a counter to it. Let me explain.

I think what Dan was going for here was the concept of creating a sort of scheme for the God(s) in the pantheon. Something like a Pantheon being ruled over by squabbling sisters of the Sun and Moon is an interesting concept- this exact setup is how two important Gods from Path of Exile are portrayed- Solaris and Lunaris. Here's the problem though- imagine if you wanted to expand out the pantheon more. Would you then create multiple Gods that fit with this theme of Day versus Night? Well, you wouldn't. I mean you kind of could, but it wouldn't feel the same. You see, the struggle of Day and Night between Solaris and Lunaris is its own thing. It's setting specific, and it works because they're locked in eternal conflict.

When I went to create the Pantheon Generator, I did so because I wanted it to be a way for people to create their own Pantheons similar to Greek, Norse, and Egyptian mythology. Other mythologies, such as Hindu, Japanese, or Chinese I'd also like to emulate somehow, but I'm less familiar with those. The issue here is these pantheons don't really have this idea of Moeity. I mean you have good and evil and yin and yang, but they aren't necessarily evenly split down the middle. What's the point of arbitrarily putting Gods into categories of “passive” and “active”?

Now here's my rebuttal to this- Humans are very good at finding patterns even where they don't exist. It's the basis of superstition and, by any metric, religion and religious practice itself. Goblin Punch had a good post about this just recently too. Here's my reasoning- I would never need to use Moiety for my generator because I would naturally find connections without needing to. The strange love or friendship between the God of Storms and the God of Wines is something you can extrapolate- Oh, those two Gods are paired up? Well, that's a good in-setting myth to explain why the ocean tumbles and makes waves during a storm- the ocean God must be getting drunk off the gifts of the wine God! It's an easy, cheap, basic explanation and easy myth to remember.

Next complaint (feels like this is just me complaining about Dan's generator at this point) I dislike the change to the appearance table. The reason why the God appearances are aged and specific are to encapsulate the ideas of mythology. I used the term “Mature” here to mean adult, probably bearded if a man, to fit stuff like Zeus and Odin as being the old and prime members of their pantheons, hence why Prime Gods are the aged ones. But I didn't feel right calling them “old”. In my mind, the inclusion of apparent age and sex to a God says a lot about their character and helps build the mythology. By breaking it down into a basic gender table I think you lose that. And while you could just determine the ages after you make the God, I think it's interesting to roll a God of the Underworld who is young and a God of War who is old. It instantly creates a dynamic that you wouldn't get if you just ran off a list- male, female, female, androgynous, etc. However, I did like the concept of having them portrayed as multiple genders, though I don't know how many examples of that there actually were in old mythologies, it does add to the mystique a bit. I kind of implied that with the androgynous appearance roll- the idea of things like Mercury/Hermes having both male and females traits or forms. (I mean Gods change their sex all the time so I guess you can argue it doesn't really matter, but a primary depiction is still more fitting with classic mythology anyway).

Now let's address the elephant in the room- this bit.

You can only have viable godly offspring between gods of different moieties (I mean, it's possible to get double hot and double cold, but that's where you get legendary monsters) - the god's typical physical representation has nothing to do with it.”

Here's the thing, if you're trying to emulate classic mythology like I am doing, a God's gender is supremely important to their pairing. Godly pantheons are incestuous families, at least in the sources from where I am pulling. While there are examples of exceptions of this, like Loki turning into a female horse, and he still had a wife who gave birth to several important Gods. I don't really want to turn this into some kind of discussion about sex and gender or whatever, but if you're creating a mythology that has godly parents and pairings, then the vast majority are going to be heterosexual. Doing otherwise just feels weird at best, and blatant pandering at worst.

I do like the changes to the relationship table, which gives it a bit more depth. Finally, picking domains off of tarot cards is interesting, though personally I think Gods are a bit more suited to embody physical phenomena then some of the abstract traits included there (for a more mythological pantheon anyway); but overall I think this is a very nice addition.

All in all, I feel a bit confused by what Dan's table is trying to accomplish, though I think you could easily use it to create a cool pantheon. Finally, the concept of the “Godhead” being something that isn't an original couple is a good idea that I didn't include in my own generator. I think I'd like to create a more complex, “fantasy religion generator” at some point that included things like Monotheism, Ancestor worship, and Lovecraftian outer-gods as potential symbols of worship along with a more traditional pantheon, maybe with each part as fully fleshed out as the Pantheon Generators we have made. Maybe one of YOU can work on this project- let me know! Thanks for reading, Dan. Bye.


  1. I like the added complexity and dimensions of his (the tarot draw is difficult to implement for those of us without Tarot cards), but agree the moiety concept is a question mark. My homebrew pantheon is perpetually getting tweaked, so I might take a stab at this.

    I think we disagree on the gender issue though - or maybe it just hasn't manifested itself to me yet. I definitely categorize the deities as M or F for the most part, but that's just a useful shorthand, both for me and in-game. The Elder Host precede such things; the younger generations find it easy to change (more "Loki" than "amorphous cloud"). I haven't identified all the parental mixtures that created the offspring, mostly because it's fairly irrelevant, but Samaan the Forestlord and Tamati the War Queen definitely created Enyo the Leveller - but the idea of Tamati actually bearing a child is weird. More likely they both spit in the dirt and hatched her. :)

    1. Just a thought: his moiety concept may align with/duplicate your gender concept.

  2. I have a response!

    I deliberately wanted to diverge from traditional pantheon-building with my table, to greater or lesser success. This is mostly because I fluctuate drastically between "oh yeah Greek style pantheons are cool" and "Greek style pantheons are dumb and I hate them" with no trigger whatsoever. A stiff breeze will flip me one way or the other.

    The moiety aspect was included for twofold reasons 1) it's a K6BD reference, as is my way and 2) it's a way to permit gods to reproduce in any combination of sexes.

    For point 1, my illustrative example is that Ares is War(Hot), Athena is War (Cold).

    For point 2, I wanted to do something new. It is certainly more than a bit clunky and could use a new iteration.

    Honestly I think my primary mistake was trying to make it a general generator when the setup is much more aligned with a more specific (and more alien) setting. Returning to it now I would likely make two.

    1. Ares & Athena nicely illustrate that concept. Makes your intent clearer.