Shadow World & The Dark Gods of Charon.

What are dark gods? - Quora

Davon’s comment on my last post made me think a bit more about the “Charonic” pantheon in Shadow World. In that blog post, there were really 2 items that felt like they needed a more in depth explanation that Terry never really provided: The Dark Gods and the Dragonlords. In this post, I wanted to delve a bit more into the Dark Gods and perhaps narrow down to some plausible choices that fit the SW narrative and history. But first I would encourage readers to check out a file I put up last year, the Shadow World Channeling Supplement. This expanded upon the various religions and “Priesthoods” of the various Orhan and Charon gods and included new Base lists for each of the Gods.

Let’s first list a few theories about the origins of the Dark Gods:

  1. They are former Lords of Orhan who turned from the benign ways of their brethren.
  2. They are escapees from some inter-dimensional prison.
  3. They are the result of experiments by the Althans to create non-corporeal life.
  4. Davon in his comment, cited some references to the Dark Gods relationship to “Demons of the Pale”, which could be related to #2 above.
  5. The Dark Gods are Avatars created by the Lords of Orhan.

The first theory is probably the easiest to matriculate into SW canon. While the Dark Gods don’t appear until early in the Second Era, the Lords of Orhan are not discussed individually in any material way in the First Era or the Interregnum. There is no issues with the specific Dark Gods not being mentioned as part of the “Orhan contingent”; none of the Gods in general are touched upon. One could also argue that “Gods” didn’t really gain power until they had enough active worshippers–a common idea in fantasy literature and gaming. Therefore the Gods really didn’t coalesce their power until they had sentient beings repopulating Kulthea in the early Interregnum. The Gods of Charon, by virtue of their smaller worshipper base and perhaps the mitigating effects of their exile to Charon just have less power overall compared to their brethren.

The second theory feels a bit to vague and hand wavy for me. Aren’t the Lord of Orhan refugees from another dimension already? Were they escapees from some inter-dimensional prison themselves? Do the Charon Gods need the implication of escapees or convicts to justify their morality (or lack thereof)? This solution just raises more questions that need to be solved. Plus, Kulthea is already filled with powerful beings: Lords of Orhan, Demons from Beyond the Pale, Agothu, Thalan, spirits, local Gods, minor Gods and Avatars, surviving Lords of Essence, Andraax…. For me, adding yet another god-powerful batch of refugees seems unneeded at this point.

The third theory just doesn’t work for me. As powerful as the Lords of Essence seemed to be, and certainly Kaedena as Empress of the Galaxy was), the idea that they could create god-like beings is too much.

The fourth theory, that Davon mentions is the Dark Gods relationship to Demons, the Pales or even “Beyond”. That’s certainly workable, but I would make a few points. Demons are “alien” and those from “Beyond the Pale” are beyond mortal understanding. The Dark Gods are fairly simple in their motivations and many of them couldn’t even really be called “Evil”. In fact they tend towards “anthropomorphic” appearance and behaviors. Many of the Dark Gods have Temples in the major cities throughout Kulthea. A few, like Scalu, are certainly strange or terrifying, but certainly not alien beyond mortal understanding. Most of the Dark Gods are similar to the Lords of Orhan, but perhaps less Greco-Roman inspired.

The final theory is touched upon in the Master Atlas. The full relevant section as follows (bold emphasis mine):

This close pass by the comet disrupts the function of the
Eyes of Utha, causing an unbalance in the Flows. Also, the moon
Charón passes through Sa’kain’s tail. Soon after this event the
Dark Gods—cruel counterparts of the Lords of Orhan—begin
to appear. Unlike the Lords, these entities revel in manipulating the peoples of Kulthea for their amusement… and their amusement includes human sacrifice, perverse rituals, and bloody warfare.
To counter these new deities, the Lords of Orhan create
manifestations—Avatars—of themselves and appear in these
forms on the Shadow World. They present themselves as gods,
and they allow their powers to be channeled for generally benevolent purposes. They also allow their demigod spirits to travel to Kulthea and intervene directly in world affairs.
The origin of the Dark Gods remains unclear, shrouded in
the superstition and myth of a time long ago. Some Loremasters suspect they are actually former Lords of Orhan who turned from the benign ways of their brethr
en. Others hold that they are escapees from some inter-dimensional prison, or even the
result of experiments by the Althans to create non-corporeal

So clearly, the Lords of Orhan created Avatars of themselves in RESPONSE to the Dark Gods. This also touches upon the beginnings of the Lords of Orhan’s manifestations on Kulthea through their Avatars; perhaps this was the beginning for organized religions? This passage still leaves the origins of the Dark Gods unclear. They are an opposing force of the Lords of Orhan, they too have “Demi-gods” that manifest on Kulthea and they have a broad base of followers. And they are NOT of the Unlife.

In the end, what is the answer? Whatever is best for you and your campaign of course! However, given the opportunity, should the origins of the Dark Gods be changed or clarified?

6 Replies to “Shadow World & The Dark Gods of Charon.”

  1. Brainstorming from what you are saying… the origin of the dark gods always seem to put them as lesser than the gods of orhan, but that is never the case when the current pantheon is mentioned.
    So the (obvious?) conclusion is that the dark gods have gained enough power since they first appear to now rival the gods of orhan, or at least be on the same scale, where originally they were not.
    So if the gods of orhan could quickly create avatars and send an organized response to kulthea, maybe they knew how to do it because they were already preparing for it.

    What I’m proposing is this: after the interregnum the gods of orhan decide to have a constant foothold on kulthea, and start “creating” lesser manifestations of themselves to be their representatives. The comet happens, and that influences the creations to rebel against their masters, and approach the peoples of kulthea with a twisted version of their original task.

    So now the gods need to act fast and do what they were intending, but instead decide to use an alternative, send just avatars while they perfect the technique and create the demi-gods. After a time, the dark gods decide to mock their former masters, and themselves recreate the idea of creating (dark) demi-gods.

    I haven’t given much though to this until this posts, so it might no be a solid proposal, but there you have it.

    1. That’s as good as any idea already proposed! Does part of your solution imply some metaphysical parameters of the world. Namely that gods gain and lose power based on the # of their followers? Or have the Dark Gods grown in power from some other mechanism?

      1. Let’s see… the idea of followers giving power is always there in my worldview.
        There is even explicit mention of a demon gaining demi-godhood in Xa-Ar.
        Now in this case, if there were no gods to absorb the energy from the “dark” concepts of the people in Kulthea, they might have quickly gained power but still not sure if that can “elevate” a demi-god to full-godhood status.
        We could guess it also has something to be with the comet, or the fact that the gods of orhan put enough of their essences into the effort, and the dark gods could somehow … piggyback? … from that cord and raise themselves to more closely match their donors. Since there is not an exact match in all orhan vs charon pantheon, I don’t think they each spawned one, more like they pooled their energy together to birth a handful of spirits. And with the lesson of the failure, surely the current demi-gods were created with an improved technique that makes them less powerful, but also easier to keep in check.

  2. 1) I find this the most “believable” of the set. It’s certainly the most conventional, and falls in line with ( as you say) common fantasy trope thinking.
    2/3/5 Absolutely agree.
    4) I too have a hard time swallowing the relationship to Demons beyond the Pale (regardless of what is ‘written’). Your spotlight on how the Dark Gods of Charon behave is more convincing to me than anything that is said in a one-off example.
    5) Agreed.
    In keeping with the idea about power and followers, I wonder if this line of reasoning holds together.
    So the Lord’s of Orhan got to Kuthea first. Once there, they started securing the major sources of Essaence, and learned to exist in this new reality/area/neighborhood. Only after the FE imploded did they feel it was time to expend what power they had. They used that power to repopulate Kulthea, plus secure their future with additional sources of power (followers).
    Canon states that at this time the Dark Gods of Charon show up. However perhaps the Dark Gods of Charon arrived sometime during the FE, but just simply weren’t powerful enough to “appear”. They bide their time, and once the Eyes of Utha event happened they were then able to make it to the buffet table also. Of course by that time all the prime rib, lobster and steak was gone, so they they had to make do with the salad bar, appetizers and after dinner mints. Regardless, it does allow them to ‘compete’ against the Lords of Orhan. That competition with the “Lords of Orhan” being derived from envy, scorn or anger at being pushed aside, or perhaps something else less understandable.
    Of course, this still leaves open the whole question of where the heck all these immortal beings came from in the first place. Maybe they were beings from some other dead/depleted universe and were the only ones able to transverse to Kulthea once singular opportunity presented itself.
    Another question is why the Beings of “Light” got there first, and the “Dark” gods got there second? It’s easiest to just say the Lords of Orhan were simply the more powerful beings. But why did they take the roles/existance they currently embody? Something innate to the entity? Or perhaps it was some ‘role’ dictated by a greater Balance (such as we see in Morcocks’s Elric saga, or Feists Riftwar).
    Great work everyone, and thank you for your thoughts.

  3. The Atlas Addendum actually gives us their origin. It tells us (p7) that “the dark gods entered the kulthean worlds from the Chaos planes though they are not the pure antithesis of life that the Unlife is”. This is also where essence demons hail from, we’re told.

    Although the culmination of chaos is the Unlife, it seems there is a long spectrum of chaos influenced by the Unlife but nonetheless quite sympathetic to Life, so long as chaos reigns.

    What the addendum tells us is that order and chaos is another cosmological axis (and that the higher planes, though currently inaccessible, is probably where the Lords of Orhan come from). An axis that sits inside essence (essence vs void seems a higher order axis).

    So although Chaos culminates in Unlife, I would consider Unlife vs Life a third axis, since chaos, by its nature, includes a wide variety of things besides Unlife, even if Chaos in general probably finds it easier to mingle with the Unlife than most.

    Unlife is unusual for an aspect of Chaos in that it is a coherent homogeneous force with a singular aim. Almost as if the heart of chaos isn’t chaotic at all, even if it operates through chaos.

    I don’t think the dark gods are refugees as much as immigrants. They came here because they could and life is better/more entertaining here than the chaos worlds.

  4. I whipped up a small visual representation of the cosmology given in the Atlas Addendum to try and make sense of it myself, as it also helps me to make sense of these as Forces and exerting themselves on Kulthea and how they relate to each other in this way.

    I think it took me some time to suss that the Void and Unlife are actually distinct, have distinct origins and distinct “aims” (if one can say the Void has such – I think the closest we can come is Schrek’s ambition to have Kulthea be swallowed into the Void), although the respective activities of the Void and Unlife strike me as always mutually beneficial.

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