Pantheism in Practice: Local Gods in a Fantasy World

Copyright Bradley White © 2016

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"Worshippers of the local deity Viroshek are only fully functional within a mile of Viroshek's 'temple' - the basement of a burned-out farmhouse."

“All things are full of gods”,
Thales of Miletus

In a truly pantheistic or polytheistic world, spiritual forces are everywhere: Ghosts, minor spirits, fey, godlings, and nature spirits bound specifically to a place. It is these last that are the focus of this discussion. The presumption is that in a spiritual world, such phenomena as mountains, lakes, forests, cities, oceans — even smaller rivers and streams, or particularly venerable trees — become so invested with spiritual force across time that they develop a certain level of agency, even, in some cases, developing personalities that can interact with other beings. These personalities become, to all intents and purposes, local gods, exercising considerable power and commanding wary devotion from those who dwell within their small domains. Thus it is that natives of a region come to revere or fear (or both) particular landmarks. An example of this might be the mountain Caradhras in The Lord of the Rings, nicknamed “the Cruel” by the Dwarves, who certainly accorded it with both agency and personality.

Although most of these local gods would have very little potency beyond their immediate vicinity, some would possess far greater reach and impact. The ‘god’ of a great river that flows for hundreds of miles or the highest peak in a mighty mountain range could possibly have hundreds of thousands of worshippers (in the case of rivers like the Ganges, millions). In most cases, the Rolemaster rules simulate the powers of such gods well enough. However, there are small-scale local godlings whose powers the Rolemaster spell lists, despite their breadth, do not successfully represent. The river god discussed below, Amnur, is an example from the author’s campaign:

One of the major rivers of Rakhanay, the Amnur River has its source as one of many mountain torrents born on the slopes of Murokhagan. It becomes more substantial when it joins the River Khor, near Dirondhu, and begins to make its way west, carving out the rocky and barren Upper Amnurvaal as it goes. It eventually swings in a broad arc to the south then east, through the Lower Amnurvaal, a wide grassy valley between the High and Low Esvels. It then moves south once more through a set of narrows, before disgorging into another valley (the Durhedail), through which it flows southwest through increasingly flat lands until it joins the Rhasad River at Garathley. Despite being a considerable river, it is only safely navigable between Amnur Bridge and Garathley — although Esvelmen use small boats in the Lower Amnurvaal, portaging around the frequent rapids. The Amnur is sacred to Esvelmen, and is guarded by the god of the same name, a minor vassal of the great god Avraki. There are many sacred sites and shrines to Amnur along the river, particularly near Dirondhu and at the point where the Amnur finally leaves the mountains (northwest of Genneg Morth).

Many peoples — not just the Esvelmen — dwell along the river’s length, from the fisherfolk of the lower reaches to the Lizard-folk of the Sarrov Fens, from the apple- and tobacco- growers of the well-watered, sheltered Durhedail Valley to the hardy barbarians who live in the shadow of Murokhagan.

If using RM2/RMC: Priests of Amnur may be represented by the Cleric. The following lists must be selected as Base Lists: Ceremonies, Summons (summoned creatures are restricted to wildlife found in or near the Amnur River, but may also include Fosse-Grim, Nixies, and Undine), Weather Ways and River’s Servant (a new list detailed below). Life Mastery and Repulsions are inappropriate as Base Lists for the Cleric follower of Amnur, but may be learned as Closed Lists.

Clerics devoted to Amnur gain a +10 bonus to Swimming, Region Lore (Amnur Valley) and Foraging (Mild Temperate/Freshwater Coasts & Banks). They also have a reduced cost for Rowing (1/2) and Divination (1/3).

If using RMSS/RMFRP: Priests of Amnur may select any of the Priest templates from Channeling Companion, although most would fall into the Pure- or Semi-Channeling category. They select the following lists: Ceremonies, Channels, Communal Ways, River’s Servant (see below), Summons (subject to the limitations noted above), and Weather Ways.

Priests of Amnur receive the following profession bonuses: Artistic•Active (+5), Athletic Group (+5), Communications (+5), Influence (+5), Outdoor•Environmental (+5), Power Awareness (+5), Power Manipulation (+5), Power Point Development (+5), Self Control (+5), Spell Group (+5).

Religion and Region Lore (Amnur Valley) are developed as Occupational skills, and Swimming as an Everyman skill.

It must be noted that — as servants of a limited, local deity — Clerics/Priests of Amnur do labor under some disadvantages. They must subtract 20 from all Spell Casting and Channeling Maneuvers when they are over 50 miles from their home region (the valley of the Amnur between its source on Murokhagan and the port of Garathley). This penalty doubles for every increment of 50 miles distance between themselves and their god’s zone of control, to a maximum of -160 at 200 miles. Beyond this range, the Priest of Amnur does not regain power points.

Furthermore, one of the Priests of Amnur’s Base Lists, River’s Servant, can only be cast while beside (within 100’), under, or upon, the Amnur River itself (although this also includes the lower reaches of major tributaries and the full length of minor tributaries).

It can be seen that Priests, Rangers and others who pursue the worship of local gods such as Amnur are much reduced in effectiveness beyond their ‘borders’, and as such, unless a campaign or adventure is strictly limited to a relevant area, are not really suited for player characters, unless there are players who thrive on such challenges. They are, however, very useful as non-player characters, being powerful allies — or enemies — on their home ground. There are also more — and less — potent local gods. In the author’s campaign, Priestly devotees of the mountain deity Murokhagan are fully functional for over 400 miles in any direction from the mountain itself.

On the other hand, worshippers of the local deity Viroshek (a diabolical spirit with delusions of grandeur and a few dozen followers in the town of Kalanakree) are only fully functional within a mile of Viroshek’s ‘temple’ — the basement of a burned-out farmhouse — and lose all power once they have wandered beyond their home ground, a vague ellipse that extends no further than eight miles from the ‘temple’.

River’s Servant

Special Channeling List

Level Spell Area of Effect Duration Range Type
1) River's Mood self C 10' I
2) Swim* 1 target 1 rnd/lvl 10' U
3) Riverbreathing* 1 target 1 rnd/lvl 10' U
4) River's Gift self C 100' U
5) Restful Immersion 1 target 1 min/lvl 10' U
6) River's Visions I self C self I
7) River's Tale I self C self I
8) Safe Dive* 1 target - 100' E
9) Potent Immersion 1 target 1 min/lvl 100' U
10) Interdiction I 1 target/lvl 1 rnd/lvl 50'/lvl Fm
11) River's Visions II self C self I
12) River's Tale II self C self I
13) Walk On Water self 1 rnd/lvl self U
14) Healing Immersion 1 target 1 min/lvl 100' U
15) Summon Lesser River Spirit 1 spirit 1 rnd/lvl 10' E
16) River's Visions III self C self I
17) River's Tale III self C self I
18) Cleansing Immersion 1 target 1 min/lvl 100' U
19) Interdiction II 1 target/lvl 1 rnd/lvl 50'/lvl Fm
20) Waterspout 5'/lvl 1 rnd/lvl(C) 100' E
25) Mass Immersion 1 target/lvl 1 min/lvl 100' U
30) Summon Greater River Spirit 1 spirit 1 rnd/lvl 10' E
35) River's Child 1 target P 10' U
40) Whirlpool 30'R 1 rnd/lvl 100' E
50) River's Disciple self 1 min/lvl self U
1. River’s Mood
Enables caster to sense the ‘mood’ of the river (e.g. foreboding, fearful, calm, angered). This spell does not provide an explanation for the mood. The caster must concentrate for one minute to discern the river’s mood.
2. Swim
Grants the target +20 to all Swimming maneuvers. If the caster is the target, the bonus is +35.
3. Riverbreathing
The target may breathe underwater for the duration of this spell. The target may surface and breathe air normally at any time without affecting the duration of the spell (e.g. a 5th level Priestess of Amnur casts Riverbreathing on herself. The spell lasts for 5 rounds only. If the Priestess were to surface after 3 rounds, and remain above the surface for 3 further rounds, she would have to recast the spell to regain the ability).
4. River’s Gift
Within one minute of this spell being cast, enough small fish to feed one target/2 levels of caster will swim to the caster’s location and allow themselves to be caught by any conventional means. This gives a +75 bonus to any Foraging maneuvers to catch the fish. The caster must concentrate for the duration of the spell; otherwise the fish will swim away and resume their normal behavior.
5. Restful Immersion
One target (who must be submerged in the waters of the river up to the neck) regains 1d10 Exhaustion Points per minute of immersion. The target is immune to damage from cold due to water temperature for the duration of the spell.
6. River’s Visions I
The caster can see a mental picture of any creature on or in the river, or along the banks (to be seen, the creature must be no more than 5’ from the water’s edge) for a distance of 100’ per level in either direction. The ‘vision’ scans the river at about a fast walk/jog pace with a ‘Base Movement Rate’ equal to the caster’s Alertness bonus. (For example, Odalf the 7th level Priest has an Alertness bonus of 23. He can scan the river for 700’ upstream and downstream, but can only cover 35’ per round. To fully scan the river in both directions would require 40 rounds of concentration).
7. River’s Tale I
This spell functions exactly as does River’s Visions I, but the scan of the river can examine a chosen time up to 1 minute per level in the past, and the scan’s ‘Base Movement Rate’ is equivalent to the caster’s Time Sense bonus).
8. Safe Dive
The target may safely dive (or fall) up to 5’ per caster’s level, as long as the dive or fall would end in the river, and the depth of the river at the point of entry is more than 5’.
9. Potent Immersion
as Restful Immersion, except the target regains Power Points as if each minute of immersion is a full hour of rest.
10. Interdiction I
Creates a mental forbidding on a small group, preventing them from crossing or entering a specific river (that falls under the ambit of this list). The affected target(s) simply will not attempt to do so for the duration of the spell. Those who make a successful RR may proceed, but suffer a penalty of -10 to all activity for the spell’s duration due to a lingering sense that they are engaging in an act both dangerous and forbidden.
11. River’s Visions II
as River’s Visions I excepting that the range is 500’/level and the ‘Base Movement Rate’ of the scan is equivalent to a sprint/fast run (x3 pace).
12. River’s Tale II
as River’s Tale I excepting that the caster may scan a chosen time up to 10 minutes/level in the past, and the ‘Base Movement Rate’ of the scan is equivalent to a sprint/fast run (x3 pace).
13. Walk on Water
The caster may walk on water as if it were solid. The conditions of the water — in flood, rapids, etc. — will modify the difficulty of any moving maneuvers. The base difficulty is, in any case, Medium, due to the problematic nature of walking on a constantly moving surface. The caster may use this spell to ‘ride’ the river without getting wet.
14. Healing Immersion
as Restful Immersion, but the target regains Concussion Hits at the rate of 1d10/minute of immersion, and each complete 10-minute period of immersion counts as one day for the purposes of healing injuries (e.g. Rabon the Barbarian has a light rib injury which should heal in two days. After twenty minutes immersed in the Amnur under the influence of this spell, his injury is completely healed).
15. Summon Lesser River Spirit
the caster summons a Lesser River Spirit (see below).
16. River’s Visions III
as River’s Visions I excepting that the range is 1 mile/level and the ‘Base Movement Rate’ of the scan is equivalent to a dash (x4 pace).
17. River’s Tale III
as River’s Tale I excepting that the caster may scan a chosen time up to 1 hour/level in the past, and the ‘Base Movement Rate’ of the scan is equivalent to a dash (x5 pace).
18. Cleansing Immersion
as Restful Immersion but immersion grants an RR vs. curses or diseases, with a modifier equal to +2/minute spent immersed.
19. Interdiction II
as Interdiction I, except that those who make a successful save are at -50 to all activity for the spell’s duration and take an ‘A’ Holy critical if they proceed to enter the river.
20. Waterspout
creates a 20’ high waterspout with a radius of 5’/level that moves as the caster directs. It may not leave water (i.e. become a whirlwind). Anyone caught within the waterspout’s radius takes an ‘A’ Impact critical every round. The waterspout may capsize small vessels, destroy wooden jetties or flimsy bridges. Swimming maneuvers within the waterspout are at -150.
25. Mass Immersion
as Restful Immersion, but affects multiple targets and the caster may select two of the lower effects (Exhaustion Points, Power Points, Concussion Hits, Curses/Diseases) to apply.
30. Summon Greater River Spirit
the caster summons a Greater River Spirit (see below).
35. River’s Child
bestows Amnur’s blessings upon a particularly devout and deserving worshipper (GM discretion). The worshiper gains +30 to all Swimming and Foraging rolls when in or on the river and its tributaries. The worshipper also automatically gain the benefits of all the Immersion spells when he enters the river, and is permanently immune to cold damage due to water temperature. Finally, no river creatures will attack him, under any circumstances. If the River’s Child performs undeserving acts or takes up the worship of another deity, all benefits of this spell are lost, never to be regained.
40. Whirlpool
creates a 30’R whirlpool that will draw in any unpowered vessel within 300’ (takes 1 minute of concentration to start). Powered objects may make maneuver rolls to resist the pull of the whirlpool.
50. River’s Disciple
caster may use one lower level spell (except River’s Child) from this list each round.

Lesser River Spirit

Level: 6H
Base Movement: 100’
Max. Pace/MM Bonus: Spt/+30
Size/Crit: M/# (immune to non-magical damage excepting fire damage. Fire attacks do Slaying criticals and 2x damage)
Hits: 60E
AT(DB): 1(100)
Attacks: MBa60/WBolt40/spells
#Encountered: 1
Treasure: -
Bonus XP: C
Outlook: Protect

Greater River Spirit

Level: 15D
Base Movement: 100’
Max. Pace/MM Bonus: Spt/+30
Size/Crit: M/# (immune to non-magical damage excepting fire damage. Fire attacks do Slaying criticals and 1.5x damage)
Hits: 150E
AT(DB): 1(100)
Attacks: MBa120/WBolt80/IceBolt70/spells
#Encountered: 1
Treasure: -
Bonus XP: C
Outlook: Protect

River Spirits appear as large humanoids — often with the appearance of Nixies or Undines — with eyes that reflect the mood of the river. They are highly intelligent and voluble, but generally secretive, and cannot be used as sources of information. They cannot leave the river, and move via swimming. Lesser River Spirits gain 3 Power Points per level, and possess the spell lists Water Law and Water Mastery to their level. Greater River Spirits have 5 PPs/level and, in addition to Water Law and Water Mastery, know Ice Law and Spirit Mastery to their level.