Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gods from the Comics Page

Fantasy rpg settings usually make-do with Bullfinch’s Mythology derived/inspired pantheons, monstrous deities of the Lovecraftian or Howardian variety, or the occasional monotheism. Nothing wrong with those, but looking to the pages of comic books suggests some interesting variations:

Space Gods
Kirby’s Eternals posits that those classical pantheons were just misidentifications of a subspecies of humanity uplifted enigmatic aliens. In the fantasy context, maybe the aliens are some sort of elder gods (recall that Lovecraft’s Elder Gods felt unaccountably protective to the gods of the Dreamlands) and the Eternal stand-ins could be something like the Menzter’s Immortals. The other option would be to play up the science fantasy aspects for the full von Daniken. “A sufficiently advanced technology, etc., etc,”--maybe the world only appears to be a fantasy world and alien super-science is the order of the day?

The Endless
Neil Gaiman’s Sandman strips down the pantheon idea with the Endless. Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium are (as their names would imply) personifications of concepts. Marvel Comics has a similar (though less developed) class of beings like this: Eternity, Oblivion, Lord Chaos and Master Order, and again Death. The Endless fit into the mythologies of various cultures in various ways, but they don’t have mythology of their own really, just personal history. A group of beings like the Endless could be the sole deities of a world, just worshipped under different names by different cultures, or (like in Sandman) these sorts of personifications could be an order of cosmic beings separate and “above” the usual pantheons with whom PCs could interact.

New Gods
“There came a time when the old gods died!” as Kirby told us in New Gods #1. As the title suggests, Kirby started in with the exploits of the New Gods--and Grant Morrison gave us even newer new gods in Final Crisis. A world could be post-god shift, adding some interesting background, or the setting could be in the midst of the “godless” period, post-Götterdämmerung but pre-reemergence of the new gods. Players might actually have a roll in finding/shaping the new gods that would appear.

18 comments:

Brutorz Bill said...

I've used the "Space gods" concept in previous AD&D Campaigns, it worked really well.

Johnathan Bingham said...

I've always been a fan of Kirby's work. I'd like to see some more of his cosmic ideas in rpg terms.

Beedo said...

Yeah, I like the Space Gods approach too. Either the "gods" are planar aliens, or space aliens, or dream entities (like Lovecraft's Other Gods), and there are even stranger things out there that frighten the gods - like the Celestials. Or Lovecraft's Outer Gods.

The Thor movie did a nice job of catching that old school Kirby sci-fantasy vision and keeping it ambiguous if the Asgardians were gods, scientist-magicians, or something else.

I liked the premise of Neil Gaiman's Eternals mini series a few years ago, too.

The Happy Whisk said...

Wish I could comment intelligently but I don't know much about these things. But ... I did want to say howdy.

Howdy.

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

The people from The Endless look like weird Street Fighter characters.

Needles said...

You've been reading my mind... again haven't you? This was my next post but you make some excellent points. Anyhow great post! Fantastic subject matter!

Trey said...

Howdy, @Whisk. :)

@Beedo - I wasn't as enamored of the Thor film as most, but I agree that's something it did well.

@Mike - Yeah, Quitley's art does it it that sort of feel.

Trey said...

@Needles - I knew you were going to say that. ;)

Thanks. I'd be interested in seeing your take on the subject, though.

Limpey said...

Kirby's "Eternals" is some of his best work, in my opinion.

Trey said...

I agree, though it doesn't get the love of the New Gods. Maybe because of the lack of sort of the "epic-ness" of that work.

Cygnus said...

Nice! Back in September I posted what I thought was a pretty comprehensive list of different "takes" one could have on the true natures of RPG gods, but these options weren't among them. Shoulda broke open those longboxes! :-)

ancientvaults said...

Awesome as always.
I also like the concept of deities in the Warhammer universe as the thoughts, desires and aspirations of the minds of the living, coalesced into iconic forces.

Trey said...

@Cygnus - Great list. I think "pretty comprehensive" is a good description!

@Vaults - Thanks. I was unaware that Warhammer had "explained" it. Nices a good approach, and actually one that could be played with in some interesting ways.

Justin S. Davis said...

While they lean more towards the "devils" end of the spectrum, I'm rather partial to the 1960s-70s "Ditko Weirdness" from the Dr. Strange and Son Of Satan franchises.

I think all those baddies would make awesome gods proper.

Trey said...

You make a good point, Justin. It reminds me too that the visual media of comics, beyond the ideas or the stories, often gives a lot of inspiration.

Matthew Slepin said...

I have never used Kirby Gods in a game, but I think it would rock. It does strike me that the set-up in Birthright is kinda a New Gods thing, except that the new gods are essentially the same as the old ones, which never seemed that interesting to me.

Also, good call on Mystaran Immortals as the Eternals.

Matthew Slepin said...

Thinking more about that last point: weren't all the Immortals aligned to one of five Spheres (Energy, Matter, Chaos, and...the other two)? What if those philosophic spheres were literally spheres: gigantic, orbiting satellites of alien tech?

Trey said...

Interesting! Or maybe these alien spheres are farther out-- Jupiter brains perhaps? Either way, good idea. Alien AI with ethos..and agendas.