When I started teaching D&D to my kids, I decided to use actual mythology rather than any fictional fantasy pantheon out of a desire for sheer simplicity. At the time, the Avengers movie had just come out in theaters, my kids had simultaneously begun reading any number of Young Adult novels exploring the ancient Greek and Egyptian theologies, and as a result, I knew that my girls were familiar with gods that had existed in actual, historical myth. I personally have a love for the Forgotten Realms, and in the past, I’ve run games set in the Realms, but as I considered the idea of trying to introduce the Realms’ cosmology to my daughters, all I could see was an artificial barrier to entry. There was no question of running a game without divine magic, but asking my kids to learn a wholly invented pantheon for the purpose of playing Daddy’s Game, about which they had to that point expressed at most some interest, didn’t strike me as any part of the critical path to success.
On the other hand, my kids inherently grasped the idea of competing pantheons. They understood that ancient Greeks and Egyptians worshipped different gods, that these separate historical belief systems represented differing worldviews, and that this difference in belief provided an opportunity for in-game turmoil and strife. The Realms, too, have room for religious strife, but it’s rarely strife of belief. In the Realms, folks know that the gods are real because the gods sometimes show up in the world and interact. The exist physically in the world. What denizens of Toril cannot agree on is which god’s worldview is right. However, this is a substantial difference from actual history. In the real world, folks disagree not only on which god or gods are right, they often disagree over whether or not God exists at all!
In reality, the divine is mysterious. I didn’t want to lose that at the outset of my family’s gaming life.
|Hades saw Persephone and|
instantly fell in love with her. Sources
disagree on whether or not she went
with him willingly.
My solution was to adopt a laissez faire system of religion for our home campaign. Characters can believe whatever they want, and when they pray, the gods answer. But the gods never interact directly, and no one knows which gods are actually real. Why do multiple, seemingly contradictory interpretations of the divine all yield tangible, physical results? This question I called “The Divine Mystery”.
The Divine Mystery does not remove the need for pantheons or belief systems. Instead, it opens the door to the infinite varieties of faith that exist in the Real World, which seemed like a simplification when I decided to use it but which has since grown to be far more complex than any fictional fantasy system ever could be. That’s not a bad thing, but folks have started asking me for details. This week’s post therefore comes at the request of one of my adult players, who wanted to know more about the theological beliefs of those who worship Pluto.
Pluto or Hades?
Pluto is the Roman name for the patron of the Underworld. This same god was known as Hades to the ancient Greeks, but that’s moderately confusing because the Greeks also called his realm by the same name. The Romans apparently did as well, but it’s less well-known to the modern lexicon, with the result being that if I tell you to “Go to Hades!” it means something totally different than if I say, “Go to Pluto!” To the modern ear, the former is a wish for death while the latter is an invitation to take a spaceflight to the outer reaches of the solar system.
As of this writing, Wanderhaven has three main religions: the Kingdom of the Western Isles, where they use the Greek names and traditions, Holy Imperial Sentralia, where they use the Roman names and traditions, and Norgland, where they use the Norse names and traditions.
God of the Dead
Realm of the Dead
I’ve not yet set any stories, campaigns, or adventures in Norgland, so at least for now, the Norglanders serve as a little-used counterpoint to the more common, more orthodox Kingdom/Imperial views on religion and theology. Granted, there is a certain dichotomy of belief between the Greek and Roman conceptions of the divine, but these are so minimal that it takes an Intelligence check (DC 15) for characters even to be aware of them, particularly as they relate to the patron of the Underworld. For the rest of this article, then, we’ll be discussing the more orthodox beliefs surrounding the Underworld, using Pluto to indicate the god and Hades to indicate the place.
Pluto, Lord of the Underworld
When they slew their father Saturn, the three younger gods drew lots to determine which would gain control of what aspect of the universe. Jupiter drew first and took possession of the sky. Neptune drew second and took possession of the oceans. This left Pluto to take possession of the Underworld, leaving their sister Gaia to command the Realm of the Living as she always had.
As lord of the Underworld, Pluto has two primary domains: Death and Wealth. These he divides under his vassals, who serve him as follows:
-- Orcus – Lord of Tartarus and punisher of broken oaths
-- Cerberus – Three-headed dog; guardian of Hades
-- Charon – Ferryman of souls across the River Styx
|Hades and Cerberus|
Some versions of this belief system also list the Furies and/or Hecate, tripartite goddess of magic, necromancy, and the crossroads, as servants of Pluto as well, but these arenot common.
In history, men worshiped Pluto but were often afraid to speak his name. They made sacrifice to him but regarded him with fear and loathing. This aspect is reflected in the religious beliefs of the world of Wanderhaven as well, where worship of the lord of the Underworld is considered off-putting but sometimes necessary.
Patron of Mining and Wealth
Dwarves, drow, deep gnomes and other subterranean races worship Pluto as a matter of course. To these, he is the god of home and hearth, the key to their survival and continued prosperity. Men of the Kingdom—and of the Empire, to a lesser extent—see the necessity for such worship, particularly among dwarves, who are common in surface kingdoms, but they still consider it vulgar and unseemly. Some humans may also worship Pluto out of a desire to gain more material wealth, but this is frowned upon and will typically lead to persecution when it is publicly revealed.
Dis Pater is the aspect of Pluto commonly associated with wealth. Some may consider him a wholly separate divine being while others believe him to be merely the part of the greater god with charge over the wealth of the earth.
Pluto is most famous as the patron of death and of the Underworld, the Realm of the Dead. In this aspect, he is respected but greatly feared.
Belief systems differ on the nature of the Realm of the Dead. To the early Greeks, dead souls were mere echoes of the living, apart from the world and sad. They existed solely as spirits of intellect, in a state similar to that which Dante described in the vestibule of Hell in The Inferno. Later theologians ascribed a judging process to Pluto, with goodly souls going to paradise and wicked souls descending into fire in the Pit of Tartarus. It was in the Pit that Orcus held sway as the punisher of the wicked. However, not all ancient theology ascribed a fiery nature to the Pit. The depths of the Pit were sometimes construed as the fortress of Nyx, the dread goddess of night, whom even Zeus feared. Nyx was mother to the evils opened in Pandora’s box, though in other ways she was mysterious and little understood.
Entry into Hades cost either two or three bits (depending on the source of the myth), with those who could not afford to pay forced to linger as ghosts in between the Realms of the Living and the Dead for all eternity. This was a fate worse than True Death. For those with the fare, Charon operated a ferry across the River of Forgetfulness.
|"Orpheus in the Underworld" shows the Court of Pluto.|
Though Pluto was greatly feared, the ancients regarded him as fair-minded in his dealings with mortals. He was greedy and stern but also mindful of his duty and of the dictates of justice. With only very rare exceptions, Pluto rarely sought that which was not his, but once something entered his realm, he claimed it and would not willingly let it go. To this end, Pluto employed Cerberus, the fierce three-headed dog, to guard his realm. The three heads made Cerberus not only fiercer than a regular dog but also far more acute of hearing and smell.
Pluto was often pictured in a chariot drawn by four mighty black stallions. He possessed the Helm of Darkness (also called the Cap of Invisibility), which allowed him to move unseen in the world. He fought with a bident, a massive two-pronged trident.
|Hades abduction of Persphone. Some myths also name her Proserpina, the goddess |
of female pleasure. Most sources agree that she returned to Hades willingly.
It's worth noting that Hades is one of very few gods to remain maritally faithful.