Thought experiment: What should a generic pantheon look like?

For a hexcrawl module I’m writing, I didn’t want to go with specific gods, but I’ve struggled to come up with something generic that the DM could easily adapt to their setting.

I want to make less work for GMs. This is prompted by me encountering things in modules like “A steep hill rises from the forest and at its top there is a shrine where stands an old statue of Yemathic, about 20 feet tall” and not finding enough about Yemathic to know what is intended. (OK, pages and pages on, including passing a few more references, I found out that it was a god or goddess – not sure which – of justice.)

The Greeks and Romans had almost the same gods, just with different names: Ares vs. Mars. Then the Romans tried to translate every local deity into their pantheon: “Oh, your god Taranis is just another name for Jupiter.” So that is the hybrid I’m looking for: “You encounter a wall painting and a shrine to what the runes name as Ausdia, a goddess of the sun, with a solar halo behind her head.” Easy to reskin to Apollo or Belenus or Dol Arrah or Frey or Odur or Pelor or Phlotus or Re-Horakht or the homebrewed solar deity.

One approach would be just to go with the 5e domains: Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, and War.

For another approach, I re-read “Appendix B: Gods of the Multiverse” from the 5e PHB and did a word count on the Deity column:

Word Count Word
12 war
11 magic
9 nature
9 sea
7 death
6 knowledge
6 fertility
6 storms
6 good
5 healing
5 giants
5 craft
5 light
5 fire
5 sun
4 music
4 love
4 evil
4 elf
Coffin panel with paintings of funerary rituals and gods

I’m going to go with 8 (so I can use a d8 to look up a god), with a d6 for gender (1-2=male, 3-4=female, 5=dual, 6=nonbinary):

  1. god/goddess of death [War domain]
  2. god/goddess of fertility [Life]
  3. god/goddess of knowledge [Knowledge]
  4. god/goddess of magic [Trickery]
  5. god/goddess of nature [Nature]
  6. god/goddess of the sea [Tempest]
  7. god/goddess of the sun [Light]
  8. god/goddess of war [War]

I’m going to leave out alignment references, as I think those are easy for a GM to swap in as needed.

For when I want to use a d12 (ancient ruins):

  1. god/goddess of craft [Knowledge domain]
  2. god/goddess of death [War]
  3. god/goddess of fertility [Life]
  4. god/goddess of fire [Trickery]
  5. god/goddess of healing [Life]
  6. god/goddess of knowledge [Knowledge]
  7. god/goddess of magic [Trickery]
  8. god/goddess of nature [Nature]
  9. god/goddess of the sea [Tempest]
  10. god/goddess of storms [Tempest]
  11. god/goddess of the sun [Light]
  12. god/goddess of war [War]

A common pattern, which I omitted from these, is to have gods of a race: god of giants (5 references in the PHB), god of elves (4), etc. Those can easily be added depending on the history of a location.

For a take based on the 12 archetypes, see my one-page pantheon.

Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art