... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Not Your Father

Religion, some say, is a way to answer the question: "Why are we here?" Those referred to as "ethical religions" often begin their answer by comparing God or the divine force to a parent. These religions are so common today that we think of this as the natural way of understanding God.

But it wasn't always so. Greek religion, for example, does not include the idea that Zeus or the other Olympians are the parents of humanity, except in unique, literal instances like Hercules or Theseus. There are a couple origin stories for human beings in Greek mythology, but all of them portray humans as sort of the rebel brothers or cousins of the gods. Some versions have humans born of Gaea, practically making them co-equals with the Olympians; others have the Titans Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus make human beings and ultimately side with them in opposition to Olympus. The Greek gods are powerful and cause many things in the universe, but they are not like God as conceived in post-Greek religion; Greek religion is about finding some compromise, some state of truce, between mankind and the Olympians.

In swords & sorcery stories, almost any god that makes an appearance follows the Greek model, only moreso. These "gods" are usually monsters, sometimes not even intelligent monsters, sometimes not even pleasant or useful. I've probably said it before, but I think this Greek/swords & sorcery model works best for adventures, including RPG adventures. It creates more of a sense of imbalance and iffiness, giving adventurers more of a reason to take charge of their own destiny.

What about that ethical version of the divine? I think that's what Law as a force represents. Some kind of force, named as "God" in modern religions, but left mostly unnamed and unrealized in D&D and other RPGs with alignment. When a player decides to play a Lawful character, they are basically saying "My character is going to act on the basis of some Universal Good, even if the gods of this world do not fully embrace this themselves."


  1. Thanks for this. It nicely sums up something I was trying to sort out as I write up a (fairly jumbled) pantheon for a DCC game I'm starting... though I was mostly looking at Norse mythology.

    1. Norse mythology has a lot of cool features, but (as you probably discovered) it doesn't go quite as far as Greek myth does in portraying the gods as mildly antagonistic. One version of the Norse creation myth does have humans as emerging from Ymir, independent of the Aesir, but another has Odin and his brothers turning two trees into the first human couple.