Friday, February 6, 2009


What if fantasy deities were basically very powerful alien species? How would this shape the kinds of religions they create and the nature of worship? This idea has been stuck in my head for some time.

Most fantasy pantheons resemble the Egyptian, Greek, or Norse deities: gods that are very humanlike. And most are credited with creating humanity, if not the world itself.

But what if the gods are neither humanlike nor creators? What if they are simply beings powerful enough to assume the role of deities? Note that such beings may have been around for a very long time, predating the arrival of lesser intelligent species.

In essence, I’m positing a hard fantasy scenario in which humanoids (or more precisely, hominids) evolved via natural selection but encountered much more powerful beings at some point late in the process.

I’ve come up with a number of candidates for the role of gods, each of which I’ll explore in more detail in later posts:
  • Dragons (only Elder Dragons qualify)
  • Spores from Outer Space (Cthonic fungi and infected human hosts)
  • The Gods Above (Beings composed of pure spirit)
  • The Awakened Cities (Living, self-aware metropolises created through sacred architecture and fueled by ley lines and the souls of their followers)
  • Enhanced Humans (Specifically, those humans capable of communing with and controlling the Lesser Faerie)
Note that these deities tend to be more numerous on the whole and less individually powerful than the typical pantheons of mythology, though some are more powerful than others. You might think in terms of the many different incarnations of deities in Hinduism or of the many angelic hosts in Christianity.

Polities, Not Pantheons
The gods aren’t personifications of concepts like War or Love, though they may tend toward being warlike or amorous. They don’t form bureaucratic hierarchies of gods tasked with overseeing specific pursuits or functions. Instead, they form factions with different philosophical and material goals.

What Do They Want?
Each type of god wants something from the lesser species, or else they would simply destroy them. Typical desires include:
  • labor (economic theory of specialization),
  • sacrifices/souls/hosts/energy (i.e., valuable resources and sustenance),
  • the influence to shape civilization/magic/environment to meet their wishes,
  • potential recruits for elevation to demigod status (reproduction)
  • inspiration and insight from differing perspectives
What Can They Offer?
This typically boils down to power, longevity, and knowledge.


Aaron DaMommio said...

Hey, sounds good. I like the formatting, it's easy on the eyes. I like my concepts broken up into easy to identify chunks. Also, Hard Fantasy? I like the term, hadn't seen it before.

Doug said...

I stole it from an essay written by Michael Swanwick (I blogged about the term in the linked post). Ironic, since I don't like his writing!