In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of Deities and Demigods discuss creating the rules for creating gods, worshipping gods, and becoming gods.
Wizards of the Coast: In the beginning... were you worried about tackling the inevitably controversial subject of the appropriateness of gods in roleplaying games?
Rich Redman: We made a decision early on that we were presenting game-focused pantheons, religious systems that worked for characters in D&D, not trying to replicate real-world religions. That decision eliminated any worry I had about the topic. Unless you're Tolkien, it's very difficult to write medieval fantasy material without making religion, and deities, active parts of the story. If you study history, you find that religion was a vital part of everyday life. So to me it's entirely appropriate. The only issue is respecting the cultures and religions we use for inspiration.
James Wyatt: For some reason, I've never had a problem completely disentangling my own faith from the necessity for realistic religions in fantasy games, and I didn't give it a second thought as I started in working on Deities and Demigods (except to wonder if I was being typecast again...). In fact, maybe it's because of my own faith that I put so much emphasis on developing religions for my own games: I want the characters in my games to have something to put their trust in. Though I've experimented with both approaches, I think in many ways using a fictional or legendary pantheon is a "safer" tactic than trying to represent my own religion in game terms.
Wizards: How did you decide what to retain for this book from previous editions and what to leave out?
Rich: As I recall, we never thought about it. We chose certain pantheons based on our perception of what mythologies were most commonly adapted for game use by our players. So the decision of what to include was independent of previous editions.
James: This book owes a lot to the 1st Edition Deities and Demigods/Legends and Lore book, more so than the 2nd Edition version. However, the new material we introduced meant that we had a lot less room to include the variety of pantheons included in the earlier version. So we chose the pantheons that we felt were (a) most popular and (b) most ensconced in the popular culture of fantasy: the Greek, Norse, and Egyptian. It stung a bit to leave out the Celtic deities, but we just didn't have the space.
Wizards: For DMs familiar with previous versions of this book, what will they find that's new in Deities and Demigods?
Rich: Wow, tons. We decided not to hide anything from the DM. We provide all the information a DM needs to create his or her own pantheons and individual deities. We provide complete information on the deities as characters. We discuss roleplaying deities, divine ascension so player characters can become deities, and we provide advice on how often deities should get involved in mortal affairs. It's not just a reference book for clerics -- it's a way to make deities active participants in your game.
Skip Williams: Right. The first thing I think you'll notice is those statistics for the deities -- not just for the avatars, but for the deities themselves. (The current game is perfectly capable of supporting a deity's stats, so we put them in. If that doesn't sit well with you, you can always treat the listed stats as the stats for as super-avatar.)
James: Again, [you'll find] much more information on creating your own pantheons, creating religions that don't rely on the D&D-standard pantheon of deities (such as monotheistic or dualistic religions), adapting the game cosmology to the religious system, and making religion come to life in the game. I'd like to claim credit for a lot of that sort of material, but Skip and Rich contributed a lot as well. Still, my background in the academic study of religion really helped me flesh out my parts of that material.
Wizards: The D&D pantheon is given its own chapter, which was a very pleasant surprise. What was the process for establishing the specific deities of the D&D cosmology?
Skip: That goes back to the design for the current game. The design team adapted existing deities from the Greyhawk pantheon for the core pantheon. We tried to make sure that all the class, race, and alignment combinations were covered. Once these deities were part of the core pantheon, it was a no-brainer to examine them in detail.
Wizards: I would guess that the rules for divine ascension were particularly challenging to establish. But it's certainly a vital part of high-level campaigns. What were the challenges in designing the rules that govern ascension?
Rich: Because I had access to various incarnations of the epic-level rules, I tried very hard to make divine ascension work with them. Beyond that, I found divine ascension was a natural extension of the way some religions function. The challenge really lies in what happens after a character ascends. What if one character ascends and the rest of the party doesn't? What kind of adventures do you run for deities? I took my best shot at addressing those concerns.
Skip: Since D&D is a game of heroes, not gods, we settled for a brief discussion of the process for DMs and players who might be interested. A true set of divine ascension rules would require a book all by itself.
Wizards: How did the new edition of the game change your approach to assembling the gods and demigods?
Rich: We had to do a lot more math.
Skip: The biggest change was being able to give gods real game statistics. Beyond that, we had to make sure that the pantheons we presented were complete and playable, so that they could indeed support a campaign.
James: The 3rd Edition toolbox is a great set of rules for doing what we did. We worked closely with Andy Collins as he was developing the essential rules for the Epic Level Handbook to make sure that the deities work as game-legal 60th-level characters. That's just never happened before: The deity stats in the 1st Edition book made no sense as consistent characters in the 1st Edition rules. The divine salient abilities work in a manner similar to feats (and in fact, when the Epic Level Handbook comes out, players will be pleased to see feats that let them do many of the things that deities can do). I think those rules have a very "3E feel" to them.
Wizards: What was left on the "cutting room floor"? In other words, what did you really want to include but had to discard?
James: Well, I already mentioned the Celtic pantheon, which we knew at the outset we wouldn't have room for. I trimmed some deities from the traditional D&D representation of the Egyptian pantheon with no regrets in order to produce what I think is a more coherent pantheon. I would have liked to include an all-new fantasy pantheon as well, to show another example of building a pantheon from scratch starting from some different assumptions than the D&D pantheon.
Skip: In terms of the nuts of bolts of gods, we cut almost nothing. As noted earlier, we did not attempt to make gods playable as PCs. And there were, of course, many individual gods that didn't get space in the book.
Wizards: Why did you determine that these bits needed to be cut?
James: Mostly, though, the cuts happened in advance, as it were: we knew in advance we just wouldn't have room for some things we would have liked to put in.
Wizards:How do multiple designers work together on such a vast project?
Skip: In this case, the effort involved creating a detailed outline, then dividing up the work. Because I was first to spend time on the project, many of nitty-gritty game details fell to me. There was indeed much trading of ideas and rough drafts, not just with the design team, but with everyone on the R&D staff who had an interest in the project.
Rich: Yes, Skip and I started first. We had a number of fairly long meetings to discuss what features separated a deity from a mortal. We shared that information with James and established a format for deity stat blocks, and then we divided the pantheons amongst ourselves and went to work on them.
James: Once the groundwork was laid, we each went our own ways in writing the sections we were assigned: Skip did the D&D pantheon and half of the Olympians (Greeks), I did the Pharaonics (Egyptian), the other half of the Olympians, and the "miscellaneous deities" in Chapter 7, and Rich did the Asgardians and the divine ascension material.
Rich: Late in the design process we shared our work, made some revisions based on each others' comments, and then dumped the whole load on James to pull together into a book.
James: I spent a month stitching the pieces together and making some overarching changes that came up as various people reviewed the manuscript. It's a frequently chaotic, sometimes frustrating, but generally quite rewarding process.
Wizards: Of all the creativity you've brought to the new Deities and Demigods, what are you most proud of?
Skip: In terms of the work I did, I'd have to say the basic system for presenting gods, which takes some familiar concepts from the past and blends them into the current game. In terms of what's in the book overall, I'm happiest about the supporting material that explores making gods your own.
James: I'd have to say Chapter 7, which contains various small pantheons and mystery cults, is my favorite part of my work on the book, and I wish it could have been bigger. There's a monotheistic religion that doesn't look much like any real-world monotheism, a dualistic religion that focuses on positive and negative energy, and a dwarven earth-mother cult in there, much of which is material drawn from my own campaigns but heavily reworked.
Rich: It's harder for me to answer this, for a couple of reasons. One is that I worked on it so long ago, and have worked on so many projects since then, that it's hard to recall a specific thing I'm more proud of than the rest of the book. Another reason is that, with multiple designers all sharing ideas and commenting on each other's work, the lines between what any one person worked on are blurry. I think it's a terrific book, but it wouldn't be if you subtracted any one of us.
Wizards: And finally, for the sake of conversation... if you were to liken yourself to one of the divine beings in this particular book, which one would you say you are most like... and why?
James: My own theology is probably closest to Dennari, the dwarven earth-mother goddess. She's all about justice and freedom, liberation from oppression, and perseverance in hardship and suffering.
Rich: I don't know how much I'm like him, but I found myself strongly identifying with Thor as I wrote the Asgardian pantheon. Something about his fierce joy in life and battle appealed to me, I guess.
Skip: After taking an informal poll among my colleagues, I suggest Boccob (The Uncaring).