OK, so we’re about to release A Baker’s Dozen Villains. These Baker’s Dozen supplements will be generic ideas, fully developed to be dropped into your game world. So we’ve been brainstorming what would and would not work here. Religious sects comes to mind. Most fantasy games assume that the worship of each of the pagan gods is basically universal. (At least all the game worlds I’ve seen - besides Fletnern of course.) This is actually a very foolish idea. Few if any would even have a central point of authority. How do you keep everyone believing the same things and worshipping in the same way without some sort of hierarchy? Now, you could say that the gods themselves instruct their clerics and priests as to how to worship them, but that’s pretty heavy handed - at least more heavy handed than I’m willing to go along with.
What does it matter? Well, think back to Earth history. Factions amongst the Christians caused wars throughout the Middle Ages. Hey, what about the Crusades? But most Christian groups at least tolerate each other now (praying there are no bombings in Ireland this month), right? You don’t need to go back into history to see what the Sunni and Shi’a are doing to each other. This may be a broad generalization, but the more people are alike, the more likely they are to disagree.
So the point is that different sects of the same religion not only argue with each other, they are likely to go to war against each other. What happens in a fantasy environment with the gods directly involved then? Does the god choose a side and then abandon the other side? Wow, what an opportunity for a different god to step in and continue the conflict.
Want some ideas? Those who play my games likely know that Shade is the goddess of death. There are sects that believe that by killing people, they are making Shade happy. There are sects that see death as simply one of the agents of change, and insist that Shade is not the goddess of death, but instead the goddess of change and even invention. There are sects that fall back on the stories of how Shade and Manoto led the troops of Brakin in wars against the elder gods and how this brother and sister were the heroes of those wars. These people see her as one half of a team of war gods. Sure, war gods cause death, that’s why those others are confused and see her as a goddess of death. What does she think? Well, she’s not real thrilled with the killers, because they cause more work for her. But every group that worships her brings her more power, so why should she dissuade any of them?
OK - You don’t like my examples? Yeah - he created things just to prove his point. OK - Take Hades. In the Disney movie Hercules, he was the main villain. A flat out bad guy bent on universal domination. In Xena, he was a plotter, but basically wanted to be left alone. He was typically seen as one of the good guys (or at least neutral) while Ares was the bad guy. In Percy Jackson, he is one of the “Big Three” and is a rival of Zeus and Poseidon. His offspring have done some evil in the world, but again he is more on the side lines, but still not the bad guy. Three different takes on the same god, all within the same generation. Now of course we aren’t worshipping him, but how easy for a person to spin the characters to suit their own needs. Even a well meaning person would do that. Can you imagine what would happen if a local priest felt he could change things a bit to make his lot in life better? But of course, priests in small communities are community leaders, more like politicians. We all know that politicians can be trusted!