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The Olympian Pantheon Part IV: Greek Gods in Mystaraby Jonathan Becker
Of the many mythologies available to us from ancient cultures, I find the gods of the Ancient Greeks to fit the best with the Immortals as presented in the D&D game. Like the PC and NPC Immortals, the gods of Greek myth were all too human in nature, displaying many of the same foibles as any ordinary human being. They had passions and lusts, stupidity and jealousy, anger, sadness, drunkenness, vengeance, joy, depression...all the many emotions and feelings of normal mortals.
They also plotted and schemed against each other, fought one another, and provided plenty of opportunity and adventure for the mortal heroes of mythology...assigning them tasks or testing them with various obstacles, and indeed granting gifts when pleased by a mortal's actions. Likewise, they were quick to curse those mortals that offended them...both individuals and whole nations!
The stories of Greek mythology can be a rich source of adventure ideas when using the Olympian gods, and they can be used at fairly any level of experience. The adventures of Theseus would certainly make a good story for Expert level characters, and the trials of Heracles can be a guide for a Master level series, while the Trojan War can be an inspiration for Companion level adventurers.
For campaigns that continue all the way to Immortal level, there are plenty of adventure seeds to be found in the stories of the Gods themselves. The Greek deities are well-defined as far as their personalities, likes and dislikes, allies and enemies are concerned. Perhaps the titans attempt to re-take Olympus from the Olympians. Perhaps there is an uprising of souls in Hades. Perhaps the characters decide to free Prometheus from Zeus's torments. Perhaps they are tasked with helping Hermes on some important mission. Perhaps they must choose sides in a dispute between Ares and Athena or Ares and Hephaestus...heck, between Ares and anyone!
Of course, DMs may need to make some adjustments to the Mystara game world in order to get a proper "Greek flavour" of campaign. Any of the following suggestions might be implemented:
1) Veneration of the Olympian Pantheon: while there may be specific shrines dedicated to individual members of the Pantheon, it must be remembered that the pantheon as a whole is worshipped. A cleric venerates Zeus and ignores Poseidon at his own peril...especially if living on a seas coast! And smart folks are extremely careful when making comparisons of beauty between jealous goddesses. Each god in the pantheon represents different aspects of the game world (see Part II and III for specifics) and followers of the Olympic Pantheon pray to all the gods as necessary, though of course a character may have a "favourite" god or goddess. Clerics may be specialists of a particular Immortal, or may follow the pantheon in an un-divided fashion. Generalists know the basic history/mythology of the pantheon, the proper feast days and sacrifices for all the Immortals. Specialists will have access to hidden knowledge of specific Immortals, as well as access to any "mystery cults;" in addition, specialists of a particular temple will know the politics of the inner workings of the temple, and are more likely to receive messages or divine inspiration from their particular Immortal. Clerics are not required to be of any particular alignment to follow the Olympic pantheon; alignment simply describes how the cleric worships and interacts with the temple, the gods, and other characters. Specialists of a particular Immortal may be required to adopt a specific alignment because a particular deity requires a particular type of behaviour; these restrictions are listed in the Immortals' descriptions (see Part II and Part III).
2) Olympians Like to Interfere with Mortals: this is a major deviation from the "non-interference" policy set-down in WotI. Greek mythology is filled with stories of the gods' direct interference in mortal affairs, whether punishment for a real or perceived slight, romantic relationship with mortals, or direct participation on the battlefield, the Olympians appeared on the mortal plane plenty often. Zeus, the reigning king of the Olympians, was one of the worst when it came to divine interference, seducing numerous mortals, playing favourites and helping heroes, and of course the ever-present threat of lightning strikes for divine vengeance. When using the Olympic pantheon in Mystara, the normal interdiction against mortal interference on the Prime Plane should be waived except with regard to the followers of other Immortals (see notes 4 and 5 below). For example, Ares will not appear on the battlefield between Thyatian troops and the desert-dwelling Ylari, because the Olympic pantheon has no influence in Ylaruam. Likewise, a non-follower Traldaran living in Karameikos is unlikely to be harassed by or involved in the schemes of an Olympian Immortal, but once conversion occurs, the mortal is fair game! Although the Olympic Immortals have the ability to scan with Immortal Eye as listed in WotI, they exercise a "hands-off" approach to other Immortals' divine interference. If a favourite mortal is being harassed by a rival, they expect to hear of it with their daily use of Hear Supplicants. If one of their followers is destroyed by a vengeful enemy, an Immortal certainly has the power to raise the mortal back to life. Because of the ability to counter each other and also because of the possibility of stirring up vendetta actions, the Olympians will generally exercise caution in mortal interference. However, there is no proscription against it, and Immortals will not be punished by "de-powering" as stated in WotI.
3) The Player Characters in a Campaign are Protagonists: and should be treated as the most important folks in the game "story" even from a low level. While Olympic Immortals may take a direct hand in the affairs of mortals, they don't concern themselves with every mortal...only special or superior NPCs and ALL PCs. To provide the campaign with the right "Greek myth flavour" the players should be made aware of the working of the Immortals in the game world. Whether this is providing help, "hints," or magical equipment/artifacts...as well as tasks and quests...the Immortals should be keeping a constant eye on the PCs. Mortal heroes of Greek mythology often had at least one "patron" deity that cared for him or her; often this was because the mortal was the bastard offspring of the patron Olympian. The players and DM can decide when creating the character which Immortal favours each character and why; divine offspring should only be allowed for characters possessing at least one or two "18" abilities. But don't think a character a character of divine origin requires the Immortal parent to be his or her patron...Zeus may be too busy with his other children to look in on a PC, but he may ask "Uncle" Hermes to do so instead! Page 76 of WotI gives some guidelines for the creation of "godlings," but DMs will have to decide if they want the characters to play with "superhero" characters. Odysseus, Perseus, and Theseus were plenty proficient without needing "wings" or magical powers. It is recommended that children of the Immortals still be limited to 18 in all attributes and that they NOT have special powers.
4) The Role of Demi-Humans in the Pantheon: Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings are products of Tolkien mythology, which in turn is derived in large part from Germanic or Norse mythology. The DM will have to decide how demi-humans (and other sentient monsters/NPCs) fit into the Olympian pantheon, if at all. It may simply be easier for demi-humans to have their own Immortal creators and patrons (see note 5 below) than to force them into a Greek paradigm. However, it is perfectly acceptable to assign certain Olympians as their creator: I would use Hephaestus for Dwarves, Apollo or Artemis for Elves (perhaps Apollo for Elves and Artemis for Shadow Elves), and Hestia for Halflings. Monstrous humanoids (gnolls, orcs, and goblinoids) should be considered descended from/created by the Titans or else by other non-Greek Immortals. If the DM decides that demi-humans were created by the Olympians, then all members of that demi-human race are considered to be followers of the Olympic pantheon, and clan masters/relic keepers are treated like specialist clerics of their Immortal creator. Also, any PCs will automatically have their race's creator as their Immortal "patron" (see note 3 above), though demi-humans should almost never be created as "godlings" (children of Immortals should have the potential to advance as a cleric, fighter, magic-user, or thief, i.e. up to 36th level, and should not be restricted as demi-humans are). A player may choose a different Immortal patron for a demi-human character, but must provide an excellent reason for doing so as this is considered a snub of his or her Immortal creator!
5) Replacing the Immortals of Mystara and the Known World: when adding the Olympic Pantheon to a Mystara campaign, a DM will need to consider which cultural Immortals to replace and which ones to keep. Historically, veneration of deities has followed the march of conquest and the conversion of conquered peoples by their conquerors. In game terms, the suppression of a religion counts as a stroke of various magnitude against the prior Immortal, causing a loss of Power, and a subsequent gain by the supplanting Immortal. In this way, a Mystaran campaign might include some or all of the canon Immortals from WotI, though reduced in power to emphasise the ascendant Olympians. Part of the role of the PCs may be the spreading of the Olympian faith to other parts of Known World, though campaigns of evangelism will generally be one of tragedy (evangelist missionaries tend to be slaughtered or else lead in the slaughter of innocents). It is suggested that the DM decide the areas of religious stability at the outset of a campaign, and then only change it as decided by consensus of the whole gaming group (for example, to further a certain plot development). The suggested changes to the Known World are as follows.
Aengmor/Alfheim: Creator specific veneration (Greek or other from WotI)
Atruaghin Clans: non-Olympian Immortals
Broken Lands: no formal Olympian worship, veneration of old Titans for shaman spells
Darokin: Olympian pantheon
Ethengar Khanates: Olympian worship under other names with emphasis on Ares (war) and Poseidon (horses).
Five Shires: Creator specific veneration (Greek or other from WotI)
Glantri: Veneration of Hermes, possibly old Titans (Hecate)
Heldannic Freeholds: As Northlands
Ierendi: Olympian pantheon
Karameikos: Olympian pantheon & suppressed Traldaran (Halav, etc.)
Minrothad Guilds: Olympian pantheon
Northlands: non-Olympian Immortals (specifically Odin, Thor, etc.) but greatly reduced in power (fewer worshippers in Known World than Olympians)
Rockhome: Creator specific veneration (Greek or other from WotI)
Sea of Dread: as Broken Lands, or as Ethengar (Poseidon)
Thyatis: Olympian pantheon
Ylaruam: NO Olympian worship; al-Kalim and suppressed older deities
Alphatia: Olympian pantheon
While ancient Greeks worshipped the whole pantheon of Olympians, individual city-states would place special emphasis on single patron god. With this in mind, the following emphasised gods are suggested as possible patrons (in each country's capital, a major temple to the patron should be available for worship, in addition to smaller temples and shrines). Note: patrons should only be actual Olympians. No one in their right mind would have an elder Titan as their patron (though Glantri and the Broken Lands might). In addition, few would dare speak aloud the names of Hades and Persephone (the king and queen of the dead) let alone risk misfortune by naming them as their city's patron! The patron chosen for each country will set the tone for the culture of the region.
Alfheim: Apollo (music, archer) or Artemis (moon, huntress)
Darokin: Athena (wisdom, crafts, wise combat)
Five Shires: Hestia (hearth), Pan (pastoral), or Dionysus (debauchery)
Glantri: Hermes (skill, magic) or Hecate (elder, forbidden magic)
Ierendi: Aphrodite (ocean), Zeus (adventurers), or Heracles (mortal made good)
Karameikos: Artemis (huntress of the forest) or Heracles (mortal strength, new blood)
Minrothad: Apollo (elves) or Poseidon (sailors)
Rockhome: Hephaestus (craftsmen, the forge)
Thyatis: Ares (war) or Poseidon (ocean)
Alphatia: Poseidon (sea, monster creation) or Zeus (sky god)
6) Mortal Death is More Final: In Greek mythology, when a mortal dies, he or she descends to the underworld realm called Hades (named for the Immortal that rules it). Gathering on the banks of the River Archeron, mortal shades were ferried across the river by the Immortal boatman Charon. To pay the Charon for passage, families would place a silver coin in the mouth of the deceased person and penniless shades unable to pay the passage would remain stranded on the far side of Archeron for eternity (though with the possibility or rising as a ghost). Once on the other side of the river (and past the watchful gaze of Cerberus the three-headed dog), the shades pass into the lands of the dead and proceed to their final afterlife...generally, the Elysian Fields for the blessed, or Tartarus (for the not-so-blessed). Judgment of final placement was done by Hades, himself, and he was VERY reluctant to let a mortal shade leave his realm. In game terms, DMs may decide that spells to bring the dead to life (raise dead, raise dead fully, and wish) are less effective. One way to handle death is to consider characters reduced to 0 (or less) hit points to be mortally wounded, and raise spells allow the cleric to cure a character of his mortal wound (instead of the time limit being days and months for raise dead and raise dead fully, the time limit is rounds or turns respectively). Another possibility is that the various raise spells only function on characters that have not yet crossed the River Archeron; that is, any character buried (or unburied) without a coin in his mouth for Charon the boatman. It should be noted that Greek myth opens up other possibilities for retrieving companions back from the lands of the dead, involving adventures into the underworld (i.e. the Outer Planes) and possible negotiations with Lord Hades himself; spells like travel will take on more importance in this kind of setting. If the DM decides to allow raise and wish to function normally, then players should note that use of these spells infringes on Hades' Immortal authority, and may cause future trouble for them with the Hierarch!