5E D&D Worldbuilding Insights from Mythic Odysseys of Theros Piety and the Gods
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted establish a link to the gods and discuss Piety in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Introduced in the 5E D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide right in chapter 1, Piety is a variation of the Renown system. When 5E D&D first launched, a prominent part of the marketing focused on Factions — important forces in a campaign world — and characters’ interactions with these organizations. Adventurers League players grew quite familiar with Harpers, Order of the Gauntlet, Emerald Enclave, Lords Alliance and Zhentarim through Renown and for me this was a particularly exciting part of the game. Later books like Acquisitions Incorporated and Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica expand on Renown through their franchise and guild ranks and advancement. Since curating playable races and subclasses for characters as a campaign creation and worldbuilding tool generated good ideas and conversations let’s see how Piety and Renown can be used. Lots of creators already laid strong foundations for using Renown in your 5E D&D games, so we’ll start with what we’ve already got and come up with some new ideas to add.
Piety shapes Theros in 5E D&D
Considering Renown in your 5E D&D campaign development and worldbuilding helps define a very important part of the setting. Whether its the Factions of the Forgotten Realms, guilds of Ravnica, adventuring company franchises or the gods themselves Renown illustrates components of the game of with incredible influence. Much how background connects a character to a world through their past, Renown ties characters to the world in their future. Identifying, engaging and building trust with powerful individuals and groups allows characters to become movers and shakers in new and more profound ways. In other words background contextualizes where a character came from and Renown does the same for where they’re going.
“When you choose a god to worship as a beginning character, your piety score related to that god is 1. Your piety score increases by 1 when you do something to advance the god’s interests or behave in accordance with the god’s ideals.”
Adventurers in Theros recognize the gods and the vast influence they exert on the world, much the same as guilds in Ravnica and both Factions and corporate entities in Forgotten Realms. When characters accomplish significant goals that advance these entities’ interests they gain Renown, which grants increasingly powerful benefits as these scores rise. In MOoT there’s even special kinds of character with a Supernatural Gift called Iconoclast who refute the idea that the gods are worthy of reverence. These deniers of the gods gain their own features at different character levels, which is useful to recognize structurally.
Iconoclasts gain these benefits at 1st, 5th, 11th and 17th levels so if we contrast this with Piety scores granting features when characters reach 3, 10, 25 and 50 scores in this trait we get an idea of the intended advancement rate. Keen readers might notice those level breaks coincide with the tiers of play. This really helps Dungeon Masters get a sense of the interplay between adventurers and the sources of Renown in a campaign setting.
Armed with an understanding of what Renown is and how it helps define important organizations in your worldbuilding let’s take inspiration from the gods of Theros and generate ideas for other sorts of Renown you can develop and drop right into your 5E D&D games. Adding Renown to your campaign illustrates the important themes and provides a tangible way for players to interact with these aspects of the world. Developing a robust Renown structure of your own can get quite intricate, but fortunately at this point we’ve got several great examples in various books to give a starting point. What each Renown source awards points for and what benefits they bestow is up to you but at least you’ve got a good idea how and when characters earn these points.
5E D&D Renown and worldbuilding
- Arcana. Magic has powerful and profound influence on the world, even moreso than a standard 5E D&D campaign. Wizards wield tremendous power through their spells but also politically. All civilization might be a magocracy of sorts and characters can earn Renown with each of the Schools of Magic.
- Exploration. The vast majority of the world is unexplored and unknown. Adventurers who traverse the wilds do so at the behest of organizations with specific interests. Cartographers, archaeologists and naturalists come to mind along with expansionists, anthropologists and others with eyes towards discovery.
- Horror. Are you sure you want to gain Renown with any of the terrible forces with dark designs on your world? This could easily be a double edged sword style of Renown, granting benefits of a sort as characters learn more about the horrors lurking in the shadows. Uncovering deeper and deeper secrets about slaadi, illithids, beholders and star spawn represents a Lovecraftian approach to horror — the more you know, the weaker your grip on sanity and reality. But you get some nifty eldritch powers along the way too. Do you even want to earn 50 Renown with any of these forces?
- Mercantile. Consumers, producers, manufacturers, traders, transportation — all the organizations, people, activities, information and resources involved in supplying products or services creates a strong economic driver in your world. Lots of adventurers find work as caravan guards and the like. By gaining Renown in these circles characters grow into their own as economic leaders and vital parts of the supply chain.
- Mystery. Investigating the unknown and solving problems goes smoother when you’ve got Renown with law enforcement, governmental bodies, researchers and experts in their fields. But these things tend to escalate and sooner or later these factions need your help too!
- Slayers. I already hashed out a simple Renown system for characters whose primary motivation is slaying specific creature types. Check it out here.
- War. What is it good for? Providing lots of organizations to gain Renown with like nations, military groups, weapons manufacturers and suppliers, intelligence gatherers and so much more.
Naturally you can enjoy endless fun with 5E D&D campaigns featuring any of these themes prominently. Developing Renown systems provides a concrete way for players to interact with the world, curated for the kind of games and adventures you want to run. It’s sort of a DM trick if you think about it, because you’re showing players the mechanically beneficial treats they can earn by engaging the important worldbuilding components you’ve presented.
Even if you don’t create detailed progression for organizations and Renown for your 5E D&D campaigns, setting your imagination to work to come up with these kinds of themes and concepts can be a tremendous aid. Worldbuilding my Spelljammer campaign setting includes a few tent pole concepts like Mercs, Sects and Explorers, which our group discussed while preparing to start playing. Of course their adventures went far afield from our initial ideas over the years but I can look back at my 2016 notes today and see those are still very prominent parts of our campaign.