The Dead Gods are not the only gods worshiped in Dungeon World. The residents of the World worship a wide pantheon of deities, demi-gods, and legendary heroes (and villains) – a pantheon that ebbs and flows constantly. It seems that figures aspiring to godhood are in as good supply as people searching for someone (or something) new to believe in.
Mind you, none of these Living Gods are truly divine as you or I would consider it. They have no power in and of themselves; their power comes from the faith placed in them by their followers. (Every inch of Dungeon World is infused with magical energy, and even non-mystics can manipulate this energy – although they don’t realize it – with deep enough belief.) As a result, old gods fall and new gods rise as the old ones lose followers to the new ones – the only constant being that any Living God’s powers are limited to those his followers believe he or she possesses.
Usually, it’s a heroic or noble person that finds him-/herself deified – most often after said person’s passing from the realm of the living. Occasionally, however, less noble sorts find themselves ascending, although the power invested by the masses may be driven more out of fear and loathing than out of respect and love.
Another effect of the nature of “godhood” is that even figures that have never existed can ascend to the status of deity. All it takes is enough belief amongst the masses and even legendary figures can rise to wield divine powers. Many times such figures have more power than those who are or were real, as the people who feed the ascendance often have varied ideas about their usually super-human abilities.
Here are a couple of the currently powerful Living Gods to be found in Dungeon World. I present these as examples of how a pair of mundane people can – with enough time – find themselves elevated to the status of deity in Dungeon World. I suggest you use this as inspiration to populate the World with your own ever-changing list of deities.
Gwenvarr the Guardian, Gwenvarr the Simple Lady
Two centuries ago, nomadic raiders from the Frostwolds began a decades-long series of incursions into the lands to the south and southwest. Within the span of one generation, the Ice Reavers (as they eventually came to be known) established themselves as the “Bogeyman” of the residents of Hilltown and the surrounding lands.
After about three decades, the Reavers’ depredations became more and more infrequent as they began to integrate with the society they had been terrorizing. It was during this period that their aged leader, Blethre, spurred his men to one of their bloodiest, most violent raids. They swept through three communities before losing steam and returning to their home, killing any living thing and razing every structure they encountered along the way. The men and children of these villages were tortured and slaughtered for sport, the women degraded, used, and disposed of.
However, one person survived. A young farm maid who lived in the last village attacked, Gwenvarr was an unremarkable, homely girl. She had been considered slow by the townsfolk, and lived a humble life with her large family. When the raiders came, Gwenvarr’s parents and siblings met the same fate as their neighbors at the hands of Blethre and his personal warriors. However, when Blethre beheld the simple, unattractive girl, he gave orders to his men that she be spared. It was at this point that the Reavers ceased their bloody raid and turned north once again.
The locals – especially those whose villages lay in the path of the bloody raid – rejoiced when news came that the Reavers had returned to their icy homes. When word spread that Gwenvarr had been spared and that she was – apparently – the reason for the Reavers’ retreat, she became a local celebrity. She was taken in by strangers the next town over, and for many years thereafter would receive frequent visits from the locals who offered their gratitude.
Gwenvarr was too simple to understand much of this, and lived out her days quietly on the farm of her adoptive parents. As the years passed, and no new Reaver raids came, locals began to believe that the simple, unattractive farm girl had somehow turned the Reavers for good.
It wasn’t long before life south of the ‘Wolds returned to normal. But Gwenvarr was not forgotten. Although her actual part in the cessation of the Reavers’ attacks was never really known, it became a deep-rooted belief among the local populace that they had been saved by a simple farm girl. Her name became a ward against evil:
“Gwenvarr preserve us!”
“May Gwenvarr protect you on your journey.”
As sayings such as these spread farther southward, even those who had never heard of the girl began to use her name. Even after she had quietly passed away of old age on her farm, use of her name as a ward of protection continued to spread. Those who knew of her local reputation spread the word, but more often than not her reputation grew based on tall tales of her saving people from violence or leading them home safely during dangerous travels.
More than one hundred years after the Ice Reavers had ceased their raids, the first church of Gwenvarr was erected – west of Hagshead, at the other end of the World. The Sisters of Gwenvarr are now a respected and much sought-after order, providing aid to those in need from the one end of the World to the other. Shrines to the Guardian can be found at intervals on every road; these are invariably steeped in offerings to the Simple Lady.
And to this day, new tales of lost travelers or those beset by danger being rescued by a simple farm girl can still be heard at coaching inns and taverns the whole World over.
Blethre the Bastard
Blethre’s tale is inextricably linked to Gwenvarr’s, although he was further along his path to godhood when he encountered the girl. His establishment as the local Bogeyman had seen to this:
“Behave or Blethre the Bastard will get you!” had been a stern warning to children for years before he set eyes on the simple farm girl. But if it hadn’t been for that fateful encounter, it’s unlikely that Blethre would have ascended to be anything more than a weak demi-god. It was the spreading of the tale of the girl’s encounter that cemented the raider chieftain’s position as a powerful deity.
However, it was also this tale that changed Blethre’s status from that of Boogeyman to repentant warrior. As the tale was told and retold, people began to see the Reaver leader as a violent, despicable man who had at last discovered salvation in the form of a simple farm girl. The fact that the Reavers had since ceased their raids only made this conclusion all the more real in the minds of the locals, so it was invariably included in the retelling of the tale, which was generally paraphrased as:
Blethre, tired of his life of violent terror, looked into the eyes of that simple girl and there saw his salvation. He resolved immediately to mend his ways, and turned his bloody band back home, never to harm an innocent again.
In truth, Blethre turned his band because he had been injured early in the last raid. A lucky hunter had loosed an arrow before falling to a Reaver’s axe – an arrow that lodged itself in the chieftain’s side. Although he removed it, by the time they had reached the last farm, Blethre had lost too much blood to continue. He ordered his men out, not because of any girl, but because he knew he was in serious trouble.
By the time the band of Reavers had reached the southernmost tip of the ‘Wolds, Blethre had fallen ill – his wound had become infected, and fever had set in. He died en route to the Reavers’ fort, and was buried in a hill mound many leagues from his home.
In truth, the Reavers had been growing weaker for many years, and this final raid was their last gasp. The remaining warriors, without their psychopathic leader, had no heart to continue their depredations, and most gave up their blades for farm implements, the rest for careers as soldiers, mercenaries, or outlaws. It wasn’t the farm girl who stopped them – just age and fatigue.
Despite the occasional retort from someone who claims to know Blethre’s “true fate,” his status as redeemed criminal has taken hold in the collective mind of the World’s peoples. The compelling tale of his transformation from merciless raider to just warrior at the hands of an everyday farm girl has long since won out over the truth of their lives, and both have ascended to godhood as a result. As ironic as it may be, the truly unrepentant raider is now a just-if-violent deity, one whose clergy of warrior-monks are renowned for their martial abilities as much as they’re feared for their often loose interpretation and violent dispensing of “justice.”
This bit of Dungeon World lore can be downloaded in .PDF form here.
Chris Brackett is a web monkey by trade, but in real life he’s a veteran gamer and author of several tabletop miniatures games. He spends far too much of his time working on his RPG-focused game blog, A Rust Monster Ate My Sword.