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View Full Version : Death gods, psychopomps and afterlives: Examples and discussion



Grim Portent
2017-10-02, 06:29 PM
Because they've been getting mentioned a bit in some other threads I figured I'd ask people what they did for afterlives in their own settings, what their favorite afterlife from a game system/setting is and how they handle gods of the dead, psychopomps and the inhabitants of the underworld/heaven as they relate to the dead.

In my homebrew setting I'm going with a creator god loosely inspired by Azathoth. It has no concept of what it is or does, it semi-randomly created the world and later died and reincarnated before dying again. In neither incarnation did it bother to do anything about an afterlife, so the lifeforce of anything that died just sort of lay around until magical forces figured out how to deal with it. Currently I've stopped at two afterlives, but due to the nature of the setting I could and probably will create an arbitrary number of them.

Left on it's own the energy of the dead allows stronger souls to possess inanimate objects and corpses and become undead of various kinds, as well as corrupting the land and making it generally unpleasant. Necromancers learned how to control this to create undead in their service more or less as they pleased.

In the primary continent on which I have focused this came to a head when a powerful mage convinced the four winds to carry souls to him, saturating his realm in dark energy and empowering his necromancy immensely. Eventually other mages banded together to stop his dark reign by using powerful magic to seal his kingdom deep in the earth and out of normal time and space. The winds are still bound to the arrangement and carry all the souls within their reach to this realm and leave them there. Trapped in a great cavern of rock and stone and bound by magic the realm has steeped so long in the energy of death that it has permanently changed it, weakening the barrier between life and death there and turning it into a stygian realm of shadow like demons.

Elsewhere in the world, on a continent I haven't given much thought to yet there is another afterlife, created by a powerful mage to stop the magics of death from building up on their own by sealing them away in an enchanted pearl, a hollow sphere of shining white within which each soul exists alone, but able to create anything they can imagine within the sphere. Souls can be drawn forth by those with the magic to do so, mostly necromancers. It is a haven for those who seek a quiet rest and a weapon of great power to those who raise the dead.

I always feel kind of iffy on most afterlives I see in games. D&D doesn't sit well with me, there's too many afterlives of infinite size and no real consequence, plus the whole slowly fading away into the cosmic energies of the plane thing that happens even in the good afterlives just seems strange for what's supposed to be a nice place to be, but then I prefer there to be more of a stygian theme to even the nice afterlives anyway. The 40k Warp is a fairly generic hellstorm for souls, but I actually really like the Eldar Infinity Circuit, the idea that every dead Eldar gets sucked into a gem they wear and plugged into a shared afterlife made of their hazy memories just seems appropriate as a way to escape oblivion without really cheating death.

As for gods, well I lean towards a more benevolent/indifferent death god than the actively malicious ones you often see. I like gods like Hades, Hel and Anubis, gods whose duty is to shelter and care for the dead even if they don't necessarily want to. I don't like their realms to be pleasant by any means, but the gods themselves being evil just seems kind of weird for the representative of mortality. I feel evil death material should come from the mortal side of things, trying to cheat it using black magic or ritual sacrifice and the like.

On psychopomps, the shepherds of souls to the underworld, I actually like to go more unusual than mundane. Valkyries are fine and good, but there's something kind of dull about them really, same with Charon and Death. You can do interesting things with them, but there's something I like about the idea of primal elements or parts of the world having the job of ferrying the dead, like the sea carrying souls to an underworld either far away or deep underwater. It feels kind of weighty and solemn in a way a lot of more human psychopomps don't.

I like my underworlds to slant towards the dark but not evil side of things for the natives, creatures that feed on grief or make themselves minor nuisances to the bereaved, with a strong side element of either 'all must pay the price to enter this place,' or 'no one leaves the land of the dead.' I like the idea that getting in costs you something or getting out is hard even if you're still alive. Demons I feel tend to work best as powerful beings that exist in the wider world and basically wander around unless someone does something like trap them in a magic box rather than as fiery tormentors of the dead, and because of how I prefer gods of the dead to be angels and other benevolent beings don't have any place among the dead, so the actual spirits of the underworld when they exist are going to be creepy but peaceful tenders of the deceased or guardians like Cerberus and Garmr.

The mental image I get when I think of how I'd portray them is long stork like legs atop which a hunched figure in rags struts about the gloom and murk, gently pushing and pulling the deceased about into some semblence of order as they drift through the land of the dead with a long shepherd's crook, while predatory umbral figures sit atop and beside the gates of death to ward off trespassers. Shadowy, distant and disinterested, but not cruel as such.

So tell me, how do you deal with your dead?

Nifft
2017-10-02, 07:19 PM
Because they've been getting mentioned a bit in some other threads I figured I'd ask people what they did for afterlives in their own settings, what their favorite afterlife from a game system/setting is and how they handle gods of the dead, psychopomps and the inhabitants of the underworld/heaven as they relate to the dead.

(...)

So tell me, how do you deal with your dead?

What happens to the dead? It is not known.

Because it is not known, a lot of effort goes into avoiding death.


Some barbarian tribes believe that souls of the dead drift into the material of the Ethereal plane, and remain watching over their descendants so long as the names of the dead are remembered. Thus it's important to sing the songs of your famous ancestors, so their blessings will continue to guard and guide you and the rest of the tribe.

Ghosts certainly seem to have a connection to the Ethereal, so maybe the barbarians are at least partially right.


Some infernalists claim that the souls of the dead are consumed for divine fuel by the gods, and therefore selling your soul to a devil for power will buy you temporal power in trade for no worse a fate than you'd get for free. Devils are known to be truthful on occasion, particularly when the truth would serve them, so these claims are questionable but not dismissible.

Devils certainly do make deals for souls, and the green coins minted in Dis are the hardest currency in the planes, since each coin is backed by a specific soul. These coins are worth roughly 100 gp each, but their value fluctuates depending on supply & demand. Some transactions with powerful fiends can only be completed by either using these coins, or by paying in souls directly.


Two of the more popular druidic circles argue whether souls of the dead are reincarnated onto the Prime Material plane (as humanoids and beasts), or whether souls transmigrate to the Inner Planes and become elementals. There's no known mechanism by which Elementals arise, and some Elemental creatures seem to take humanoid form (also for no known reason), and some Elementals seem to echo humanoid behaviors or emulate humanoid societies from the Prime. On the other hand, some people do claim to have memories from past lives, so perhaps it's possible to have a soul reborn onto the Prime.


One well-regarded dragon scholar claims a dragon told her that souls aren't eternal. They're just a skin for the mind, which protects from astral and ethereal injuries about as well as physical skin protects from the slings and arrows of temporal fortune. The scholar reports that the dragon scoffed at the idea of eternity and reincarnation: the former being just a fantasy of the short-lived races who envy the long lives of their betters, and the latter as insufferably dull, like a bard who only sings the same few songs over and over. The dragon reportedly went on to say that new souls, each one a fresh canvas upon which fresh tales might be writ with blood and will, were really the only thing that kept humanoid civilizations interesting enough to not burn down.

rs2excelsior
2017-10-02, 10:16 PM
I like having a split between gods of the dead and gods of death. The former are often detached if not benevolent; they guide the dead to the afterlife and watch over them while they're there. Gods of death are the ones who glorify untimely death through violence, disease, misfortune, or the like. They are the ones who would likely be evil, as they seek to cause death only for its own sake. I also see the former as much more necessary than the latter.

I've also never really thought D&D's standard afterlife was particularly well done. I feel like it's trying to draw from too many sources and cram them all together, and damned if they actually fit with each other or not. My homebrew setting uses an afterlife that's similar to the one in ancient Greek mythology. The souls of the good or heroic are brought to the halls of the gods to spend eternity in peace, comfort, and plenty. Souls which were evil, or which simply did not justify a reward in the afterlife (those who didn't really go out of their way to be good people--not necessarily monster fighting heroics, just who consistently chose not to inconvenience themselves to be helpful to others) are left adrift in the Astral Plane, not unlike the Fields of Asphodel: not really a "punishment" afterlife, just largely nothingness, gradually losing individuality. The particularly evil or particularly strong souls in the Astral Plane might be hunted down and taken by various fiends, who can use mortal souls for different purposes. The process varies, but is usually rather unpleasant for the soul being "used" in that fashion. Devils, Demons, and the like are generally separate from mortal souls, though a particularly powerful evil soul could possibly become an evil outsider of a sort.

Filling in the role of psychopomps, my homebrew setting has a spectral wolf (basically a deity in its own right) which guides the souls of the dead to their resting place. Those who do not have the wolf to guide them are the ones who wind up adrift in the Astral Plane.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 07:39 AM
Warning--I'm prolix and tend to be long-winded.

When the Dreaming Flame dreamed this universe into being, he put a fragment of his Self into his creations--into the 8 + 1 Primordials and into their servants. After the Dawn War, when the Nameless rebelled against the Eight, and after the ordering of the planes out of the substance of the Primordials, the fragments of the Dreaming Flame contained in those Primordials shattered and pervaded the respective planes. These sparks of Flame form the core of the souls of all beings. Every living being in all the planes bears one of these sparks within themselves.

On the Material plane, living creatures have three intertwining parts: a body, a nimbus of anima, and a spark of Flame. The spark of Flame is the creativity, the intelligence, the personality. Kindled when mortal sparks join (temporarily), it is the truest "self" of a person. Not all sparks are the same--some are brighter, some are dimmer. Some form connections with embodied anima; others are more connected to aetherial anima. All sparks have an individual limit beyond which they cannot accrete and maintain anima--once this limit is reached the creature stagnates and usually dies soon thereafter.

The body is composed of condensed, hardened anima, accreted due to biological processes under the twin aspects of Life and Death. It serves as the interface with the rest of the physical world. Training the body through exercise, diet, and practice strengthens the anima and its connection to the spark. Supernatural things are possible with a sufficiently strong connection between the spark and the body--the heros who wield no magic but stand against mighty foes do so because their spark is tightly bound to their body, denying the intrusion of weapons, claws, or fiery breath.

The nimbus is an aura of aetherial anima that is attracted to and controlled by the spark. It is aspected to Good and Evil (as well as to the elemental planes). This is what the monastic orders call "ki" and most call "anima" or "spirit" (neglecting the fact that everything is composed of anima). A creature's nimbus connects them with other sparks--it is the way that druids make contact with the spirits (sparks) of the beasts and plants and elements, it is the way that clerics make contact with the Great Mechanism that empowers the gods, it is how the arcane spell-casters resonate with the ambient anima to create their effects. On a smaller scale, it is how individuals sense and understand the feelings of other people, how we intuit the answers to questions unknown, the force of will to resist imposition from the nimbusi of others.

If only two of the three components are present in a creature, it has a partial soul. Partial souls differ depending on which of the three are present.

*Nimbus + Spark = Spirit*
Spirits are formed either from the dead (when the body ceases function and the spark departs with the nimbus) or through natural processes--spirits are connected to natural formations like mountains, rivers, lakes, and even particularly large storms. In addition, creatures of pure element in their natural planes as well as beings of the astral plane (devils and angels, as well as the more basic forms of life there) are beings of spirit. These more complex beings must don bodies to interact with the physical realm.

*Body + Nimbus = Mindless Undead*
A strong concentration of death-aspected anima (or the interference of a necromancer) can create mindless undead--the remains of a body, held together by a nimbus of anima. Without creativity, without personality, these abominations cannot generate their own anima to maintain their existence. Instead, they must consume anima--either from their creator or from the environment. Uncontrolled mindless undead are a blight on the landscape, killing everything around them. "Natural" undead dissipate once the concentration of anima that created them is consumed. Created undead often persist, draining the life out of the plants and animals (and out of whatever living things they can catch and kill).

*Body + Spark = Golem*
Completely artificial, golems are created by mages who compel elemental sparks into construct bodies. These are almost always minor sparks, incapable of doing much more than following orders. They tend to be more capable of obeying complex commands than undead are and don't consume external anima to persist, but are much more complicated to create (and thus much rarer).

The Joining of the Nameless (coincident with the Cataclysm) imposes a condition on all life--that which has a body must die. Sooner or later, the body reaches its limit and decays, releasing the spark (which trails the nimbus behind it). Complex souls (those of animals and thinking beings) fall into Shadow where they persist for a while (until the nimbus fades). There they construct buildings of shadow-stuff and live lives akin to those of mortals. The strongest souls can either absorb other souls to stave off the final dispersal (becoming the intelligent undead) or can be given an outside source of power--either the faith and belief of mortals or the intervention of a god (in either case making them a demigod or ascended hero). Those who pledged themselves to demonic forces for power are commonly consumed by those forces; their sparks extinguished to feed the abyssal powers. Some particularly strong souls find foothold in the Abyss and in turn feed on the denizens there or on mortal souls to sustain themselves.

Unless they find another source of power, the nimbus fades, battered by the winds of shadow and consumed to maintain existence. Once that happens, the spark itself vanishes. Where does it go? Is it reborn again? No one knows.

There are two gods who share responsibility for death. Note: Gods don't get their power from belief or worship--they are merely caretakers of their portfolios and receive payment from the Great Mechanism that empowers reality for maintaining their part.

*The Hollow King. His portfolio contains untimely death, murder, assassination, and betrayal. Grim and humorless, he is devoted to maintaining the current political and social order; his assassin-priests hunt those who threaten the standing order.

*Melara, Lady of Mercy. Her portfolio contains winter, endings, self-sacrifice and timely death. Her clerics are healers (in the main). She hates undeath bitterly.

Neither of these are gods of the dead (watchers over the souls of the dead). That role is not part of my cosmology.


The closest analogue would be the minor deities and spirits devoted to Melara.
Mostly, the souls of the relatives (or others associated with the deceased) guide them into their shadow life.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 08:12 AM
I don't mind the slowly fading away thing so long as it is voluntary. Let me have my Tavern of Infinite One-Night Stands and All Steaks Go To Heaven for as long as I want, I'll climb higher up the mountain eventually (when I feel like it.)

The thing I dislike about the Great Wheel and OotS afterlife is that there is no variety - all the people surrounding you share your alignment. That's not how life works - even assuming a world with the kind of weirdly rigid alignment system D&D has, we make lasting friendships with people that have different alignments from ours all the time. I can think of very few adventuring parties that all have identical alignments, yet those are the groups that get stuff done and save the world, even challenging/defying the gods in some cases.

To me, the D&D afterlife model would be ideal if you could hang out with your friends from the other alignments and (b) there was hope for some of the condemned ones down below.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 08:41 AM
I don't mind the slowly fading away thing so long as it is voluntary. Let me have my Tavern of Infinite One-Night Stands and All Steaks Go To Heaven for as long as I want, I'll climb higher up the mountain eventually (when I feel like it.)

The thing I dislike about the Great Wheel and OotS afterlife is that there is no variety - all the people surrounding you share your alignment. That's not how life works - even assuming a world with the kind of weirdly rigid alignment system D&D has, we make lasting friendships with people that have different alignments from ours all the time. I can think of very few adventuring parties that all have identical alignments, yet those are the groups that get stuff done and save the world, even challenging/defying the gods in some cases.

To me, the D&D afterlife model would be ideal if you could hang out with your friends from the other alignments and (b) there was hope for some of the condemned ones down below.

I agree with the concerns about the D&D afterlife. Now, I can imagine that people who are strongly connected to one alignment or another, when reduced to their primal states (without the interference of mortal life) will be less happy in states of other alignments (so segregation is somewhat natural). Fixed and rigid segregation is much less so. Also, at least in the FR, petitioners (the souls of the dead) don't really remember their mortal lives much.

I'm not so fond of the FR afterlife cosmologies.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 08:52 AM
FR would be fine if it weren't for the utter abomination that is The Wall.

But it's got nothing on Eberron, which is All Wall, no matter what kind of life you led.

...I'll just stick with Greyhawk / Golarion.

D20ragon
2017-10-03, 08:57 AM
In my go to homebrewed fantasy setting, the gods stole the one original soul from its owner in order to create proper life. Because they were afraid of the bits of soulstuff returning to the original owner, they only granted souls to beings who entered a covenant with them. The covenant states that as long as they perform a ritual (bit like baptism) upon the birth of a child, the child's soul is bound to the gods and returns to them upon death. The first of each type of beast agreed to a similar covenant, and the patterns or distinctive features of the various animals are the mark of that covenant (a peacocks tail, etc).

The afterlife is essentially an ocean funneling downwards into the mouth of a huge, starving creature. Children who receive the ritual merely rest on the surface of the water for a short while before returning to the gods, where they are essentially reincarnated, their souls reused. Children who, for whatever reason, do not receive the ritual are unbound to the gods and their souls return to the owner of the original soul upon death, who floats in a realm beyond the ocean of the afterlife.

Obviously the gods don't like the owner of the original soul potentially returning, so they set gates up between the ocean and the owners realm. Those souls who can make it past all of the gates are returned to the original soul and no longer reincarnate, while those who cannot make it past the gates are drag themselves back into their old bodies and return to unfortunate life. Should their body prove entirely incapable of supporting life (if they are ash, or finely minced, for example) then they immediately die again, and get tossed back to the afterlife, where they can try to pass the gates again, or return to their body again, until they are too exhausted to try anymore and drift down through the ocean of death into the mouth of the beast at the bottom.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 09:02 AM
FR would be fine if it weren't for the utter abomination that is The Wall.

But it's got nothing on Eberron, which is All Wall, no matter what kind of life you led.

...I'll just stick with Greyhawk / Golarion.

I'm not an expert on Greyhawk or Golarion, but I'm not fond of cosmologies where the Gods depend on mortal worship. Makes them too prone to micromanage their clerics and meddle directly in mortal lives.

Don't get me wrong, I like active gods, but they should be active through natural forces directly or through their clerics at a distance. In my cosmology, if a god (or an angel, or a fiend) takes on an avatar and comes to the mortal plane, it's no more than a strong mortal and is definitely killable. Also, to directly intervene requires permission from the impersonal gods that maintain the Mechanism that sustains reality, otherwise the intervening god will be cut off from his power. Provides a reason beyond "celestial cold war" for the non-intervention of gods.

Demon princes are much more hands-on, but also much weaker since they depend on consuming souls for fuel instead of drawing from the limitless river of the Great Mechanism.

Grim Portent
2017-10-03, 09:29 AM
My main problem with the Great Wheel afterlives is that there's so many of them. Most real world faiths I'm familiar with had less than ten, and usually they were all parts of one big one ruled by a single god like the different chunks of Hades. In D&D there's one for every alignment plus spares for people who slant towards specific sides of some alignments plus the ones for the followers of gods. Having everyone go to one hall of the dead with exceptions made for warriors or particularly good people just feels so much neater.

Nifft
2017-10-03, 12:01 PM
FR would be fine if it weren't for the utter abomination that is The Wall.

But it's got nothing on Eberron, which is All Wall, no matter what kind of life you led.

FR is bad on several levels.

Dolurrh (http://eberron.wikia.com/wiki/Dolurrh) is no worse than death without any afterlife.

It's just a time-buffer to allow raise dead (et al.) to work for a while.

Think if it as a transition period wherein you go from only-mostly-dead to check-her-pockets-for-change.

There are plenty of people IRL who have come to terms with death as an ending, without any hope for eternal headpats, so it can't be all that bad.

https://i.imgur.com/olS2k7B.jpg

That's Dolurrh. Death is not a reward. Murder is always bad, because being dead is worse than being alive. There are no perverse metaphysical incentives in Eberron: morality is sane for reasons which include the fact that death is unequivocally not a fun thing.


My main problem with the Great Wheel afterlives is that there's so many of them. Most real world faiths I'm familiar with had less than ten, and usually they were all parts of one big one ruled by a single god like the different chunks of Hades. In D&D there's one for every alignment plus spares for people who slant towards specific sides of some alignments plus the ones for the followers of gods. Having everyone go to one hall of the dead with exceptions made for warriors or particularly good people just feels so much neater.

Giving a special exemption to warriors is just a perverse incentive.

Is war really that much better than peace? It is if you're a military dictator and you need a state of war to reduce dissent.

I like having a mix of different types of society, so that could be one legend told by a particularly militant society, but it would not be the truth of the world. (If it were true, there would soon only be one kind of society.)

If there are to be exceptions, let them be truly exceptional: there is no one specific thing you can do to avoid the Hall of the Dead. You can't control the will of the gods that easily. Maybe making a Warlock Pact (or similar) will tend to get you an exception -- perhaps a very bad exception -- but in general, you can't guarantee exceptional treatment.

IMHO that's what you'd need to preserve a sense of wonder & mystery.

Grim Portent
2017-10-03, 12:29 PM
Warriors and champions or kings getting a separate afterlife from those who died peacefully is quite common in the real world, so I tend to feel it's a sensible distinction for fictional afterlives to make as well. The gods want soldiers more than farmers for various reasons.

I also don't feel the land of the dead should be mysterious really, but then I'm a big fan of the story Orpheus. It's the sort of place the average person has no desire to enter, but it always feels to me that if you know the way then walking into the land of the dead should be as easy as climbing a high mountain. Which is to say difficult and dangerous, but well within human ability.

Nifft
2017-10-03, 12:45 PM
Warriors and champions or kings getting a separate afterlife from those who died peacefully is quite common in the real world, so I tend to feel it's a sensible distinction for fictional afterlives to make as well. The gods want soldiers more than farmers for various reasons.

"Hey, poor people. It's me, your ruler. If you die serving my interests, the gods will be super-nice to you."

The reason for this is pretty transparent. It's not the gods who profit from war, nor is it the gods who would be usurped if soldiers didn't stay loyal unto death.

Again, maybe I'm a bit cynical, but when there's a very explicit temporal beneficiary to a myth, and it's exactly the ruling class which benefits, then that particular myth seems a bit ... profane, you know?

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 01:17 PM
I also don't feel the land of the dead should be mysterious really, but then I'm a big fan of the story Orpheus. It's the sort of place the average person has no desire to enter, but it always feels to me that if you know the way then walking into the land of the dead should be as easy as climbing a high mountain. Which is to say difficult and dangerous, but well within human ability.

I'm not so sure on this one--I prefer the dead to exist in the liminal spaces. Nominally in the same location as the real world, but somehow shifted slightly. The dead can watch over the living (ancestor veneration and such) but the living require a change in nature (or magic) to visit the dead. That's pure personal preference on my part, nothing more.


"Hey, poor people. It's me, your ruler. If you die serving my interests, the gods will be super-nice to you."

The reason for this is pretty transparent. It's not the gods who profit from war, nor is it the gods who would be usurped if soldiers didn't stay loyal unto death.

Again, maybe I'm a bit cynical, but when there's a very explicit temporal beneficiary to a myth, and it's exactly the ruling class which benefits, then that particular myth seems a bit ... profane, you know?

Agreed. For me it's strength of soul (which is independent of your status in life) that sets your after-life possibilities--your soul has to be strong enough to survive in the high-energy environment that the gods live in. Otherwise, you continue to exist in the liminal spaces, in shadow.

Gods shouldn't need people (otherwise they're not very divine IMO). Different gods might have different preferences as to types of people--for the Goddess of Beauty and Lust will favor courtesans and artists, the God of Battle and Victory might favor warriors, while the Goddess of the Hearth and Home might favor house-wives (or husbands).

Max_Killjoy
2017-10-03, 01:56 PM
I'm not so sure on this one--I prefer the dead to exist in the liminal spaces. Nominally in the same location as the real world, but somehow shifted slightly. The dead can watch over the living (ancestor veneration and such) but the living require a change in nature (or magic) to visit the dead. That's pure personal preference on my part, nothing more.



Agreed. For me it's strength of soul (which is independent of your status in life) that sets your after-life possibilities--your soul has to be strong enough to survive in the high-energy environment that the gods live in. Otherwise, you continue to exist in the liminal spaces, in shadow.

Gods shouldn't need people (otherwise they're not very divine IMO). Different gods might have different preferences as to types of people--for the Goddess of Beauty and Lust will favor courtesans and artists, the God of Battle and Victory might favor warriors, while the Goddess of the Hearth and Home might favor house-wives (or husbands).

In one of my settings, the "gods" "need" mortals because they're not really the gods, they're a group of mortals who underwent apotheosis, and became a sort of extreme version of ancestor/hero spirits, and then overthrew and imprisoned the primal entities who had been the defacto deities of that world.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 02:08 PM
In one of my settings, the "gods" "need" mortals because they're not really the gods, they're a group of mortals who underwent apotheosis, and became a sort of extreme version of ancestor/hero spirits, and then overthrew and imprisoned the primal entities who had been the defacto deities of that world.

Meaning that the current gods need mortals to exist (because without mortals they couldn't have ascended) or that gods need mortal belief and worship (for power, etc)? It's the second one I am not fond of.

Many (or most) of my gods are ascended mortals--all but 4 gods died about 200 years ago (setting went boom) and were replaced from either outsiders or mortals who were raised up to fill necessary roles in the planar machinery. Those 4 survivors only survived by essentially stripping themselves of any personality and devoting themselves to the maintenance and upkeep of reality itself.

Grim Portent
2017-10-03, 02:40 PM
I tend to see gods as fundamentally the same as mortal kings anyway, more Olympian than anything else. They desire mortal's worship not because mortals are useful but because they find them fun for various reasons. The god of getting drunk and laid wants more people to get drunk and laid with, the god of warriors wants to build armies, the god of ruling stuff wants whatever equivalent of fealty and taxes he can get and so on. Most of them have no use for mortals after they're dead, because dead people don't exist in the living world where the gods normally live. They basically either ignore people or demand things from them in a protection racket type situation, so I feel an unjust afterlife system is more sensible than having the god of the harvest or something making a nice place to live for dead people who hugged their children a lot and didn't swear.

Generally my gods or god equivalents just walk around the mortal world or live in awkward places to get to and just live as befits their personality from day to day. The lord of the ocean actually lives in the ocean, the king of the gods lives in a palace on a mountain, and so on, usually with several gods in compromising situations akin to Loki being bound until Ragnarok or Atlas holding up the sky. There's no separate dimension style plane that they live on, at most they live in a weird metaphysical direction like behind the green of a freshly unfurled leaf or inside the heart of the changing seasons.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 02:59 PM
Dolurrh (http://eberron.wikia.com/wiki/Dolurrh) is no worse than death without any afterlife.


That's exactly what I'm comparing it to though - the other D&D settings do have afterlives.

And without getting into religious discussion, the idea that you can be as big a jerk as you want in Eberron with no repercussions never really sat well with me. And conversely, you can be as saintly and self-sacrificial as you want and end up in the exact same place as someone completely selfish. That notion is... not why I play the fantasy genre.

So, in my opinion, Eberron is worse in that regard.


I'm not an expert on Greyhawk or Golarion, but I'm not fond of cosmologies where the Gods depend on mortal worship. Makes them too prone to micromanage their clerics and meddle directly in mortal lives.

Don't get me wrong, I like active gods, but they should be active through natural forces directly or through their clerics at a distance. In my cosmology, if a god (or an angel, or a fiend) takes on an avatar and comes to the mortal plane, it's no more than a strong mortal and is definitely killable. Also, to directly intervene requires permission from the impersonal gods that maintain the Mechanism that sustains reality, otherwise the intervening god will be cut off from his power. Provides a reason beyond "celestial cold war" for the non-intervention of gods.

Demon princes are much more hands-on, but also much weaker since they depend on consuming souls for fuel instead of drawing from the limitless river of the Great Mechanism.

The counterpoint to that though is if the gods don't need worship, they have no incentive to care about mortal affairs at all. I think there is a golden mean one can hit there (where the gods are involved but give mortals breathing room) and I think that the "celestial cold war" makes perfect sense as that reason.

Avatars should definitely be killable, but it shouldn't be easy. (I view them as more than "strong mortals" - they should be singularly powerful, say, moreso than even Solars. If you want lesser monsters that convey the gods' will, that's what Heralds are for.)

Use of Avatars should be exceedingly rare, the culmination of an entire campaign. Deploying them on the Material should be difficult, costly, and even risky to the god in question.

kieza
2017-10-03, 03:49 PM
My setting's mortals have what is called a "tripartite soul," consisting of the animus (life-force, will to live, and basic instincts), intellectus (memory, ability to learn, and abstract reasoning), and spiritus (emotions, empathy, and values). Upon death, all three parts transmigrate to the Underworld, but leave behind a copy or echo of varying composition and strength. This echo is generally weak, but the circumstances of death can cause it to be stronger: a creature which dies of exposure or in a brutal, life-and-death struggle is likely to leave behind a stronger animus echo, a creature which dies carrying an important secret may leave behind a stronger intellectus echo, and a creature which dies without finishing a task that was close to their heart may leave behind a stronger spiritus echo. These echoes can cause the corpse to rise as a spontaneous undead creature (generally a zombie or revenant), or take on independent existence as a spontaneous incorporeal undead (either a wraith, specter, or haunt). They also make raising a corpse intentionally as an undead much easier. However, no undead have intact tripartite souls (except for vampires), which is why they're dangerous even when ostensibly benevolent: due to their damaged souls, even intelligent undead have alien, unpredictable mindsets.

Vampires are an exception to many rules about undead, which leads a lot of scholars to theorize that vampirism is not true undeath, but a sort of complex curse which mimics the effects of undeath. This distinction is largely academic, but it does explain why vampires have weaknesses (sun, garlic, wooden stakes) that are not seen in any other undead creature. Vampires do have an intact tripartite soul, but oddly, it is not the same one that they had when alive. This leads them to be impressionable, impulsive, and easily confused when freshly risen, as they have a child-like soul.

The original soul, once it passes into the Underworld, is drawn to a particular path through the non-Euclidean space of the Underworld, where it joins an unending flow of souls on a journey to points unknown. Due to the sheer number of souls jammed into this path, and the visual resemblance to a flowing river, the path is colloquially known as the River Styx. It is unknown where the River leads to, or if it simply continues on to infinity: mortals who bodily enter the Underworld and approach the River Styx are subject to its allure, just like the dead souls, and the further down the Styx one travels, the harder it is to turn back. Many explorers of the Underworld have been lost after pressing just a little too far down the River.

Souls can be extracted from the River Styx by various means, or prevented from passing there in the first place. Mortals do this in order to resurrect or revivify other mortals: the soul of the departed must be recovered in order for such an attempt to work, and this becomes more difficult the further the soul progresses down the River Styx. The Gravelords who rule the Underworld (powerful shades and undead creatures who managed to avoid being drawn into the River Styx) also extract souls from the River: this is how they recruit followers and fill their deathly courts. Mortals who sell their souls to demons never enter the Underworld; upon death, their soul is immediately claimed and dragged to the Abyss. On the other side of the coin, there are rare instances--mostly just rumors--where the soul of a dead mortal has been claimed by an angel, and lifted directly to the Heavenly Realm.

Creatures with damaged or incomplete souls exhibit various flaws, depending on which parts are missing: a damaged or missing animus can result in apathy, malaise, or catatonia, as well as a general tendency to react passively to events. A damaged or missing intellectus results in amnesia, an inability to form new memories, and an inability to retain newly learned skills. A damaged or missing spiritus is perhaps the most dangerous, as it leads to a state in which a creature has suppressed or absent emotions, cannot understand or empathize with the emotions of others, and feels no connection to even family or lifelong friends. Creatures with a damaged spiritus are known to act rationally but take morally abhorrent actions, and are afterwards unable to comprehend why others object to those actions.

There are three gods in the pantheon associated with death: the closest thing to an actual death god is either the Bright Lady or the Dark Maid, who are always worshipped as a pair, and are together associated with the cycle of birth and death. Unfortunately, it is not entirely clear which of the two is the actual death goddess--the many orders devoted to the twin divinities have a variety of theological positions on the matter. The third god is Deo Terminal, a god more broadly associated with endings, but which is worshipped specifically as a death god by a variety of cults. Notably, there is no god of undeath, and mainstream religions are unanimous in condemning the creation or use of undead for any purpose.

Max_Killjoy
2017-10-03, 04:11 PM
Meaning that the current gods need mortals to exist (because without mortals they couldn't have ascended) or that gods need mortal belief and worship (for power, etc)? It's the second one I am not fond of.

Many (or most) of my gods are ascended mortals--all but 4 gods died about 200 years ago (setting went boom) and were replaced from either outsiders or mortals who were raised up to fill necessary roles in the planar machinery. Those 4 survivors only survived by essentially stripping themselves of any personality and devoting themselves to the maintenance and upkeep of reality itself.


Warning, detail follows.

The original entities who were seen as "gods" were effectively the multiple "souls" of the universe, going back to before the current incarnation of reality (the physical world is in blunt terms the shattered infinite corpse of their lost sibling). They had as much need for mortals as the strong nuclear force or electromagnetism or gravity have for living things. They interacted with mortals out of raw boredom, monomaniacal curiosity, etc. Their minds were as alien as can be conceived of by our own minds. If you had asked one of the more communicative ones "What are you?", it might have wryly replied "I am". They cannot die any more than gravity can die, and they were never alive in the sense we'd understand.

Those who overthrew and imprisoned/banished them were once human, ascended in a very elaborate and carefully arranged apotheosis taking many many years to set up, and as such are still bound by the "metaphysics" of the living world of mortals and spirits. A nature or ancestor or "concept" spirit gains scope and reach from the sacrifices and placations and observances of the living, and the once-mortal "high gods" can't overcome this completely. They feel the weight of all that collective mortal belief, the push and pull, the influence it can have on them.

In that setting, there never were and never will be gods as most people looking at a fantasy setting would think of gods. The former are something between the bizarre "gods" of Lovecraft and spacerock, and sentient cosmic forces. The latter are transcendent never-died ancestor/hero spirits who've taken on conceptual aspects as well.

rs2excelsior
2017-10-03, 04:13 PM
-snip-

I really like this take on the soul/afterlife/undead. Lots of opportunity for good storytelling worked in there.

Nifft
2017-10-03, 05:05 PM
That's exactly what I'm comparing it to though - the other D&D settings do have afterlives.

And without getting into religious discussion, the idea that you can be as big a jerk as you want in Eberron with no repercussions never really sat well with me. And conversely, you can be as saintly and self-sacrificial as you want and end up in the exact same place as someone completely selfish. That notion is... not why I play the fantasy genre.

If you want "self-sacrifice" to mean "not self-sacrifice", because you're actually seeking a reward, then sure.

But that's not self-sacrifice, it's just selfish utilitarian behavior.


This is what I've been calling a perverse incentive. If you're a selfish jerk, and there's a provable afterlife, then selfish behavior is identical to Good behavior.

IMHO that's stupid.

Good people ought to be Good even when being Good is not optimal. To me, that's what defines a Good person: what you do when you have the opportunity to be selfish, and when being Good is a sub-optimal choice.


Your world has only Good & Stupid, because anyone who wants to spend finite time being a jerk in trade for infinite time in Hell is really, really stupid.


I prefer worlds where self-sacrifice is actually a sacrifice, and not a cheat-code for infinite cake.

Yeah, you die, and you don't get a reward. That's why doing Good is not easy: it actually costs something.

You pay for it, and the only benefit is that you made the world a little bit better. That's why doing Good matters.

The benefit of doing Good is that the other people living in the world are better off. That's all. You sacrificed yourself for others.

To me, that's what Good means. If you give others your cake, you have less cake. You shouldn't get credit for giving up your cake and get a pass to the plane of infinite cake.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 05:17 PM
Good people ought to be Good even when being Good is not optimal.

Oh I understand your point, but a world where Good means no reward and Evil means no punishment (ever) is not one I particularly want to waste my free time fantasizing about. So I think we can leave it at that.

Nifft
2017-10-03, 05:30 PM
Oh I understand your point, but a world where Good means no reward and Evil means no punishment (ever) is not one I particularly want to waste my free time fantasizing about. So I think we can leave it at that.

There's no accounting for taste, I guess. :)

I will say that my main complaint is that you're using words like "self-sacrifice" in a context where it doesn't seem (to me) to actually be a sacrifice.

... but whatever. You're right that it's just fantasy, and I will admit that the fantasy of good deeds being rewarded by some over-arching super-authority has some appeal, even if it does cheapen the actions and reduce the agency of all PCs.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-03, 06:45 PM
Warning, detail follows.

The original entities who were seen as "gods" were effectively the multiple "souls" of the universe, going back to before the current incarnation of reality (the physical world is in blunt terms the shattered infinite corpse of their lost sibling). They had as much need for mortals as the strong nuclear force or electromagnetism or gravity have for living things. They interacted with mortals out of raw boredom, monomaniacal curiosity, etc. Their minds were as alien as can be conceived of by our own minds. If you had asked one of the more communicative ones "What are you?", it might have wryly replied "I am". They cannot die any more than gravity can die, and they were never alive in the sense we'd understand.

Those who overthrew and imprisoned/banished them were once human, ascended in a very elaborate and carefully arranged apotheosis taking many many years to set up, and as such are still bound by the "metaphysics" of the living world of mortals and spirits. A nature or ancestor or "concept" spirit gains scope and reach from the sacrifices and placations and observances of the living, and the once-mortal "high gods" can't overcome this completely. They feel the weight of all that collective mortal belief, the push and pull, the influence it can have on them.

In that setting, there never were and never will be gods as most people looking at a fantasy setting would think of gods. The former are something between the bizarre "gods" of Lovecraft and spacerock, and sentient cosmic forces. The latter are transcendent never-died ancestor/hero spirits who've taken on conceptual aspects as well.

I understand...I think. I'm still curious about the range of activity of the new gods--how much influence do they have? That of a powerful wizard++ or more? Qualitative difference or quantitative?

I think I'm on about the 4th (that I know of) set of gods in my setting.

1st was the Dreaming Flame, the creator. He created the Primordials (set #2) and shattered himself/went dormant/?? to establish the planes as they are. The Primordials were the literal embodiment of certain polarities--Good (other-focus), Evil (self-focus), Life (Growth), Death (Recession), Fire, Earth, Air, and Water, and Change. There was a war, and Change was locked away and mythologized as the essence of evil. The Primordials were converted (as the last act of the Dreaming Flame) into the planes as they exist today--4 elemental, Astral (good), abyssal (evil), material (life), and shadow (death).

A new generation of gods (set #3, the Old Gods) ascended to fill the places from the powerful followers of the Primordials. These were all semi-mortals (mortals, angels, devils, dragons, etc). Then the (severely weakened, mostly mindless) Nameless (Change) was freed from the Abyss by a hubristic wizard and rampaged across the land. This ended when a group of mortals (PCs, actually) invoked a root command on the universal mechanism and broke everything. The gods (except for 4 chosen to keep the universe running) sacrificed themselves to incorporate Change into the universe as a whole and avert total destruction. Instead, only about 80% of everybody died and magic (both arcane and divine) changed forever.

The 4th set (the Congregation) are a set of 16 raised up by the Four surviving gods to play the role of (very big) cogs in the machine. They maintain their domains and keep things running in exchange for all the power they can drink. But the Four (whose only concern is preservation) hold their leash. They care for mortals mostly because they were mortals once. Three are the adventurers who set off the Cataclysm--they're basically paying for breaking the world by being bureaucrats. Be careful what you wish for, and all that. Some of the more wilderness-oriented gods only care that mortals don't break things and keep producing anima (by their existence)--that fuels the whole system. They're also all under a direct charge to keep mortals from breaking things again (if possible).

So I guess that in a way, the Gods do depend on the existence and basic prosperity of mortals, since the power that runs the universe comes in greatest quantity from the growth, learning, and death of mortal creatures (including plants and animals).


There's no accounting for taste, I guess. :)

I will say that my main complaint is that you're using words like "self-sacrifice" in a context where it doesn't seem (to me) to actually be a sacrifice.

... but whatever. You're right that it's just fantasy, and I will admit that the fantasy of good deeds being rewarded by some over-arching super-authority has some appeal, even if it does cheapen the actions and reduce the agency of all PCs.

Can we not do the alignment (morality) dance in this thread? Please? I'm kinda sick of that never-ending debate.

S@tanicoaldo
2017-10-03, 07:24 PM
Lankhmar universe has a very cool idea of a good of death, the powers that be dictates who and how many people have to die, but they don't name names they just describe.

So death may have a list consisting on:

-Fool.
-Two beggars.
-A king.
-Ten scholars.
-A whore.
-One hundred soldiers.
-Twenty doctors.
-2.000 lawyers.
-60 clerics.

So he goes, he is basically omnipresent but he can only act at one place at one time and those deaths can't be random they must make sense, so keeps lists and tabs on how everyoneís is doing and what and where they are, so if he knows a cleric in a certain city has a fragile hearth for eating too much, he may go to him and take him, or if he see that a whore is in a dangerous situation he may make her slip and fall to her death, that's why he love adventures like the heroes since they provide plenty of dangerous situations for him to take lives, making his job easier.

I like the fact that although there is a god of death there is no destiny on it, he just goes to the person who put themselves in a bad situation not the other way around, so technically is that fate that dictates your death but your own actions. You just happened to be a thing on the list and holding a huge neon sight with "Take me" on it, and also explains why some people who are near death experiences didn't die, BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T ON THE LIST!
My person favorite afterlife is from Grimm fandango, itís another long journey that you have to go, depending on how you behaved in life you may get a bonus, but itís a journey full of perils that everyone has to make, no matter how rich, important, poor, beautiful or ugly you were in life, and some people just quit the quest since it's too much work and hang out at the place they were respawned, something very human if you think about, so there is a definitive afterlife but people just get too attached to their own afterlife versions fo themselves(Who are effectively immortal) that they are just not ready to move on, living in a kind of like corpse bride version of the land of the dead.

Max_Killjoy
2017-10-03, 08:30 PM
I understand...I think. I'm still curious about the range of activity of the new gods--how much influence do they have? That of a powerful wizard++ or more? Qualitative difference or quantitative?


They have a lot of influence, though most of it subtle unless they direct conscious attention at something. They became deities by getting vast numbers of people to believe they were deities, and becoming renowned for their heroism anf great deeds, and so on... which would have made them powerful heroic ancestor spirits after death, only they figured out how bypass death and ascend directly (and then pulled the ladder up behind them).

That's part of what happens after death in that setting -- how many people remember you, love you, fear you, revere you, whatever, affects what happens with your spirit. A powerful ancestor retains more ability to bless or curse the living, which in turn keeps that ancestor remembered and honored or placated, which in turn... you get the idea.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 08:38 PM
... but whatever. You're right that it's just fantasy, and I will admit that the fantasy of good deeds being rewarded by some over-arching super-authority has some appeal, even if it does cheapen the actions and reduce the agency of all PCs.

And this is straight nonsense. Roy Greenhilt getting to rest on a mountain did not make his actions cheap or lack agency.

Max_Killjoy
2017-10-03, 09:35 PM
And this is straight nonsense. Roy Greenhilt getting to rest on a mountain did not make his actions cheap or lack agency.

Roy also doesn't do the right thing because he gets to rest on a mountain -- he does the right thing because he's a good dude who tries to do the right thing.

Psyren
2017-10-03, 09:47 PM
Roy also doesn't do the right thing because he gets to rest on a mountain -- he does the right thing because he's a good dude who tries to do the right thing.

And I'm totally fine with that. But getting the mountain did not cheapen his achievements in any way, and I would argue that sending him packing to Dolurrh would feel less rewarding too.

Nifft
2017-10-03, 09:54 PM
Roy also doesn't do the right thing because he gets to rest on a mountain -- he does the right thing because he's a good dude who tries to do the right thing.

Exactly right.

It is the unknown-ness of the afterlife (in spite of Roy's attendance thereof) which makes Roy's actions Good, rather than selfish.

Roy remains ignorant of the mechanics of the universe because Heaven erases your memory after you leave, and that's specifically to avoid the problem that I am talking about.

Since memory erasure is a clunky trope with its own issues, the comic is potentially lamp-shading the problems brought on by the exact same perverse incentives which I've been talking about. Rich is a smart guy, so I'd assume he's given this matter at least a bit of consideration.

Max_Killjoy
2017-10-03, 10:32 PM
Exactly right.

It is the unknown-ness of the afterlife (in spite of Roy's attendance thereof) which makes Roy's actions Good, rather than selfish.

Roy remains ignorant of the mechanics of the universe because Heaven erases your memory after you leave, and that's specifically to avoid the problem that I am talking about.

Since memory erasure is a clunky trope with its own issues, the comic is potentially lamp-shading the problems brought on by the exact same perverse incentives which I've been talking about. Rich is a smart guy, so I'd assume he's given this matter at least a bit of consideration.


Eh, I bet Roy would still do the right thing because it's the right thing even if he remembered. It's not like knowledge is unavoidably tainting. Not everyone is base-motivated.

PhoenixPhyre
2017-10-04, 06:46 AM
They have a lot of influence, though most of it subtle unless they direct conscious attention at something. They became deities by getting vast numbers of people to believe they were deities, and becoming renowned for their heroism anf great deeds, and so on... which would have made them powerful heroic ancestor spirits after death, only they figured out how bypass death and ascend directly (and then pulled the ladder up behind them).

That's part of what happens after death in that setting -- how many people remember you, love you, fear you, revere you, whatever, affects what happens with your spirit. A powerful ancestor retains more ability to bless or curse the living, which in turn keeps that ancestor remembered and honored or placated, which in turn... you get the idea.

Interesting. That's very similar to how I run devils, demons, and demi-gods. Only the 16 main gods get direct power, and they work for it. The others require power from somewhere--some are paid by the gods in exchange for helping out, others (devils mostly) get power from services rendered to mortals or by taking sacrifices (demons, mostly). Devils aren't all evil--there are many tribes who have contracts with devils for protection and being a fiend warlock isn't necessarily frowned upon (although it's dangerous). The devils don't take unwilling sacrifices or consume souls, they merely leech off the excess created as a normal part of living. Demons do take sacrifices and consume souls. Worship of demons is proscribed (and a summary execution offense) in all civilized lands.

At least one nation is godless--they recognize that the gods exist, but they don't feel like worshiping them. That means that they don't have clerics--instead, they're druidic (feeding/venerating/contracting with nature spirits) or ancestor worshippers.

The whole FR thing of "must worship a god, no atheists allowed" is obnoxious.


Eh, I bet Roy would still do the right thing because it's the right thing even if he remembered. It's not like knowledge is unavoidably tainting. Not everyone is base-motivated.

Agreed. Good people do the right thing because it's the right thing. The consequences for themselves are irrelevant. In fact, it's an act of an evil person to do good because of the reward. Accepting a reward isn't an evil thing, but being primarily motivated by the reward (thinking of self first) is an evil attitude. Consider the but-for causation--if you wouldn't do [good deed] unless you were promised a reward, you're probably not a very good person.

Although, giving up a sure thing (mortal-world pleasure/avoidance of pain) in exchange for an uncertain future reward is not as bad a reason as requiring present-day rewards in exchange for acting. Deferred gratification is usually considered a positive character trait. After all, most of the people in these realms (that have defined good/evil afterlives) have never seen a god, never seen for themselves the heaven (or hell) that awaits them after death. They've been told, but people say all sorts of things. So for the common folk, they're giving up a good thing (pleasure) in exchange for a possible better thing (heaven). Does that change things? Maybe. YMMV.

Psyren
2017-10-04, 07:00 AM
Roy remains ignorant of the mechanics of the universe because Heaven erases your memory after you leave, and that's specifically to avoid the problem that I am talking about.

1) He knows it's happy and fulfilling (and apparently teaches sword moves), so you can't seriously say there is no motivation there.

2) Roy's personal perspective is only part of the issue. The bigger part is we the audience getting to see the protagonist rewarded. THAT is the reason D&D settings have rewarding and punishing afterlives, not for the petitioners themselves. Because every D&D game has an audience, the GM and players, and us knowing that the universe has some measure of justice is the narrative payoff. So when I say that Eberron is narratively unsatisfying in my opinion, that is what I mean.


And more to the point, OotS including this kind of afterlife does not make its version worse than Eberron's. In fact, I would argue it makes it far superior.

Again, I have no problem with Roy doing the right thing with no expectation of a heavenly reward. But him getting that anyway does not cheapen his actions, and it's ultimately more satisfying for us, the audience, than not having one.

Bohandas
2017-10-07, 08:42 PM
My main problem with the Great Wheel afterlives is that there's so many of them. Most real world faiths I'm familiar with had less than ten

Not canonically at any rate.

Non-canonically however, the Divine Comedy had seventeen, not counting the angelic and empyrean heavens, purgatory, or the different pockets of malebolge

Milo v3
2017-10-08, 05:18 PM
My campaign is a planar one so the afterlife system is rather important to it. The basics of it though is that souls get reincarnated over and over and over and over, their prana matrixes getting cleaned of karma each new iteration until their souls meet certain parameters for one of the various afterlives. None of them are moral judgements. Demons are a result of souls which psychopomps discover have glitchy prana-matrixes which prevent them from being properly cleaned, resulting in massive amounts of karma until eventually the soul warps into a monstrous entity, so they dump out in the edge of the universe so it has less chance of harming the rest of existence.