I have often admitted that I don’t understand how a pagan society would work. I make some best efforts at establishing differing religions in my world in hopes of helping to make it easier for me and anyone else running with some of my ideas, but I still am curious if I am “getting it”.
Here’s an example: I don’t fully understand the Egyptian gods. I have read nearly every story about the Norse gods, and probably the Greek gods, but I don’t fully understand the Egyptian ones. Probably because we’re all relying on archeologists who tend to make enormous inferences and then assume that their guesses (or more often the guesses of their professors) must be right. Anyway, the pharaohs were supposed to have been descended from the gods. In Europe, there was the “Divine Right of Kings”. The royals told everyone that God had put them in place to be royalty. So not that different, though OK, “I am divine” is different from “I am divinely sent”. The Japanese believed their emperor was of divine origin as well.
So shouldn’t there be something like this in our/my game worlds? But here’s what I’m thinking: The king is descended from a demi-god of the major god of the region. Generations ago, the god had a dalliance, and the king is the direct descendant of that demi-god.
But there’s more than one god in this world, right? What about the other families that are descended from demi-gods? What if all those political manipulations that we see when looking at the War of the Roses (or it’s less interesting counterpart Game of Thrones) were not just noble families challenging each other’s right to the throne, but each of these families had a demi-god in the past?
Here’s my poorly thought out example: The pharaoh is descended from Ra, and he rules. But there is another family descended from Set who is the rival of the Ra family. There are also families who are descended from Horus and Anubis. Now typically the Horus family is directly allied with the Ra family, and the Anubis family tries to stay out of it all. Now you have a set up for a real power struggle if the Ra family looks weak. Not only will the noble families challenge each other, but the religious communities will also rise up and take sides, and so will the gods themselves.
Come to think of it, this is a bit of what happened in England with Henry VIII. He broke from Rome, but didn’t want to change the teachings of the church. Meanwhile there were die hard Rome supporters and Protestants from the Netherlands. The families and the commoners chose sides based more on their religions than on who they thought should be king. This only ended after Cromwell died and the entire country collectively thought - What the hell were we doing putting the puritans in power?
Back a bit to my poor example - I see the high priests battling it out as the powers behind the thrones. They know that whoever is king is going to control which is the most powerful religion and in order to push their religion to the top, they must get their god’s family onto the throne. They do this for the good of their god, their religion, their country, and of course, themselves. That’s some powerful motivation!
(Ad -->) Having trouble developing your gods? We put out a supplement called Gods and Demons which lists 200 gods, spirits, and minions collected into several pantheons. Use a pantheon or just pluck a couple of the gods out of the book and plug them in where needed. We think they’re a pretty broad range of divinities that work pretty well for most fantasy worlds.