Gods (synonyms: deities, divinities; example mythonyms: Storm, the Great Mother, Zaphyr the Eternal Eye) are powerful beings that preside over the mortal realm. In fictional worlds gods are often used to examine questions of human existence and mortality as well as create conflict. Fictional gods may be nothing but mythological constructs or could be very real presences that actively participate in the day-to-day life and the operation of a fictional setting. They may be ambivalent towards ‘lesser’ mortals, may steer events behind the scenes or through intermediaries, or may roam the countryside as an active presence or threat. Gods may have churches, temples, shrines, or altars dedicated to them where prayer and/or sacrifices are made. Religions or cults may follow their teachings or seek to empower them. Prophecies may speak of their rise, fall, or death.
Fictional worlds may feature a single god or a pantheon.
Struggles between gods, the presence of an evil god, or battles between gods and other powerful beings can be used to create conflict in a world.
Designing Fictional Gods
Gods may appear as humans or human-like with extraordinary powers. They may be giant compared to mortals. They may be beasts or animals such as great wolves or stags. They may be incorporeal or able to take any shape. Or they may be utterly alien to the imagination and any person that views their true form will go mad.
- Belaesus, the god of games, had the body of an athlete and the head of a ram
- Atheryl was trapped within the body of a small newt, but she was still a god with a god-sized appetite.
- And thus it was spoken: no one shall look upon the true form of Ghul, mostly because he is very self-conscious about it.
Particularly with pantheons, gods may represent or inhabit a particular sphere of influence or domain. For example, there may be a god of the hearth, or of lightning, or one that protects travelers in unknown lands. Deities may be opposed to one another, such as a god representing good and another representing evil. Or love and war. Or earth and sky. A single deity may also represent both sides of this dichotomy, such as a goddess that oversees both poisons and cures. Not all gods will have a specific realm of influence, but consider if yours do.
Gods may exert their influence on the mortal realm in a myriad of ways. If your god or gods have a specific domain, their power and the manner in which they exert influence over the world may be aligned with that. For example, it may be believed that a sea god controls storms on the oceans while a fertility god controls healthy births. Whether this is true or not may depend on if the gods are ‘real’ in your fictional world (and whether or not those gods may be lying about their true abilities). Also consider if your gods or supernatural forces are meddling in the affairs of humans and to what end.
If your fictional faith has a single god/force, or a chief or central one, those figures often have nearly unlimited or absolute power.
- Omnipotent: All powerful
- Omniscient: All knowing
- Omnipresent: Ever present
It may be an easier exercise to consider what a god cannot do, what is not within their power, or what elements may be stopping them from performing certain actions.
Motivations & Desires
The motivations and desires of fictional gods can pose a worldbuilding dilemma. Many designers simply use human-esque motivations and desires for their deities. Others leave the motivations of their most powerful beings as something that cannot be comprehended by the mortals living in their fictional settings. However, one issue that should be considered by worldbuilders is what can stop of powerful or omniscient being from fulfilling their every whim?
Gods may possess homes or regions where they typically reside. These locations may be temples on mountaintops, oases surrounded by desert, holy islands, the underworld, the ocean depths, or in cloud kingdoms. Consider what regions or places a god may inhabit. For mortal beings, reaching these places may require death, travel by portal, or undergoing a great trial.
Gods may have been created, may have been born from older gods or some primordial force, or may have always existed. The creation of gods (or entities that claim to be gods) can play an important part of narratives or may be left unexplored.
In fictional worlds where gods are real and meddle in the affairs of humans, they may grant powers to their most devout followers. These powers often come as divine energies being channeled through a mortal vessel and are often in line with a god’s sphere or realm of influence – a god of good may grant powers to defeat evil, a god of fire may grant fire breathing, or a god of wisdom may impart some insight. In published fictional worlds these powers are often the ability to heal or cure disease, raise the dead, or call down thunderbolts.
Think about the reasons why a god may grant their follower immense power to perform a feat, rather than just performing that feat themselves.