World Building #2: The Moon
Updated: Mar 4
I've been itching to write a blog post but struggling to think of something to write it on! That was, of course, until I peered out the window last night and looked at the Moon. Shining bright, it's a source of inspiration and serenity to many people and cultures throughout the world and its ages, and could be a vital part of world-building when creating your campaigns and adventures!
No matter where in the world you are, you will have (hopefully) heard of and seen the moon. It is a natural satellite, that orbits our planet as we orbit the sun, creating Earth's night and day cycle. In fact, it reflects the light that the sun shines causing it to go through 'lunar phases', and its gravitational pull effects the tides of the sea too - so scientifically it has a huge impact on our daily lives! When thinking more symbolically, the moon has a lot of meaning, even in modern day spiritual practices or astrology. It is often held in comparison to the Sun and seen as bringing about a kind of balance. While we may associate the Sun with passion, creativity, spontaneity, life, and joy for example, the Moon may come to represent steadiness, calm, reflection, connection, and peace within life. This coming together of opposite forces has great potential for world-building! It is often seen as a very feminine symbol too, and there is a lot of interesting folklore surrounding its phases throughout the month known as the 'Triple Moon' - the Waxing Moon representing 'The Maiden' (new beginnings, optimism), the Full Moon being 'The Mother' (fertility, fulfilment), and the Waning Moon invoking 'The Crone' (wisdom, maturity, completion).
So most likely your world will contain a moon, or it might contain multiple as many other planets in our galaxy do! If so, then I think it is super fun to imagine some of the stories, legends, and folklore surrounding the moon. To do so, I will start by looking at some real-world examples to get the creative juices flowing!
Most pantheons in cultures all over the world have some kind of deity that is associated with the moon specifically, and this has been true for centuries. Famously, Greek Mythology posits Selene as the embodiment of the moon while her brother Helios represented the sun. They were both said to drive their chariots across the sky, and this explained their cycle (which is reminiscent of Chandra, the Hindu lunar god who also rode in a chariot). Selene later became associated with Artemis, goddess of the hunt and wilderness (while Helios merged with Apollo, god of music and dancing), and Hecate, goddess of magic. This in itself reminds me of the 'Triple Moon' ideology surrounding the moon! The Romans replaced Selene with Luna (a word that we come to associate with the moon even now) and Artemis with Diana. Meanwhile, in Norse myth, Máni is the personification of the moon and is said to be where the phrase and figure The Man In The Moon comes from, while his sister Sól represents the sun.
Stepping away from Europe, there are many other worldwide examples of moon deities and mythological figures. Sîn or Nanna was the Moon god of many ancient Mesopotamian religions and is one of the oldest recorded Lunar deities. The ancient Egyptian god of the Moon, Khonsu (whose name meant 'traveller', most likely because of his nightly travels across the sky) was said to watch over those that journeyed at night. The Mayan mythology of the Americas recognised a lunar deity as being female, and associated the moon itself with the stages of a woman's life, fertility, procreation, and growth. Meanwhile, places such as the Philippines have a great many moon deities, such as Kabigat (who originated headhunting), Bulan (in charge of the nighttime), and Delan (who would often quarrel with Elag, the Sun god. During their fights, Elag would cover Delan's face and this brought about the lunar cycle). Aboriginal myth also contains a less harmonious relationship between the sun and moon, naming Bahloo as the moon deity who is courted by Yhi, the sun. He refuses her advances but she persistently chases him across the sky, hoping to one day catch him.
One phenomena I have come across is the association between the moon and rabbits. This is particularly prevalent in Chinese mythology and there is a famous story of Chang'e, an immortal moon goddess who was said to have fallen in love with and married an archer named Houyi. During their time together, Houyi was rewarded with two elixirs of life and gave them to Chang'e to look after - however an apprentice of his attempted to force Chang'e to give them to him instead. She took them both rather than give into his demands, then flew to the moon with her companion Tu'er Ye the rabbit god, who is often depicted with a mortar and pestle pounding away and attempting to create another elixir so that Chang'e maybe reunited once more with her love. Tu'er Ye is particularly prevalent in Beijing, and is said to have a female companion by the name of Tu'er Nainai, as well as have inspired a cult! He is not the only example of a moon rabbit - there is a variant on the same tale in Vietnamese folklore, and entirely unrelated folklore in Native American stories also! The inspiration behind this is said to be due to pareidolia interpretations that some of the darker markings on the moon resemble a rabbit or hare!
Tales of the moon appear interweaved in many modern stories and pop culture! Over The Moon is an enjoyable film that reinterprets the above story of Chang'e, or The Man In The Moon appears as an important character in Rise Of The Guardians. Many of these examples also create their own folklore surrounding the moon! Avatar: The Last Airbender speaks of Tui, the moon spirit and an entire episode focuses on this story. Meanwhile, the Elder Scrolls series has a lot of lore around the moon - one story is of two mortals, Mara and Shandarr, that were star-crossed lovers and eventually ascended to godhood, becoming Masser & Secunder (the two moons floating above the world). The Pokémon universe refers a lot to this duality in its game titles and the existence of the two Pokémon Lunala and Solgaleo too. These are just a few of the plethora of examples out there!
So you've had a think and have decided that the moon plays an important part in your world's culture? Great! Perhaps there is one moon just like in the real-world, and you want to play on it's relationship with the sun, the sky, or the sea. Perhaps there are many moons, as is often the case in many sci-fi books and films. Or perhaps, there is no moon. Why? What is the impact of that?
Regarding DnD specifically, there are a lot of ways we can play with the moon and its place in campaign settings and world-building, and I'll make some suggestions below!
CHARACTER CREATION: So how might the moon affect a character? Well there are a variety of races, classes, and backgrounds that might provide some inspiration...
RACE: The obvious choice here is the Moon Elf (The Player's Handbook) as it is directly in the name! Said to have silvery-white skin and platinum, silver, or blue hair, these are a great choice for those that might want to tie their ancestry into the moon specifically. Wizards Of The Coast provides a lot of lore around this, and their counterpart the Sun Elf. If you want to be a little more creative though perhaps take a look at the Shifter (Eberron: Rising From The Last War) as much of their lore surrounds lycanthropes, creatures that shift between beasts and humanoids based on the phases of the moon; the Dragonborn (The Player's Handbook) now that Fizban's Treasury Of Dragons has brought about the existence of a Moonstone Dragon; or even an Owlin (Strixhaven: Curriculum Of Chaos) because who doesn't think of the moonlight when they think of an owl?
CLASS/SUBCLASS: Picking a subclass will be very interesting because there are a lot of different routes you could go down here. An obvious choice is the Druid - Circle Of The Moon though their core abilities are much less about the moon itself and more about their ability to wild-shape. For something themed a little more around night-time, perhaps Druid - Circle Of The Stars or Druid - Circle Of Dreams are better choices! I think the Cleric - Twilight Domain is a great pick for a moon-themed character too, as well as Blood Hunter - Order Of The Lycan thanks to its ties with lycanthropy (you could also do something similar with Barbarian - Path Of The Beast here). Honestly, when picking a class, you could choose anything with a little bit of darkness flavouring such as Ranger - Gloomstalker or Monk - Way Of The Shadow, though you could go the opposite way and look at the light of the moon as your source of inspiration, examples including Cleric - Light Domain or Monk - Way Of The Sun Soul. I'm also a big fan of tying a moon deity to the tides and going for something water related such as Paladin - Oath Of The Open Sea.
BACKGROUNDS: When it comes to picking a background, it is not as simple as it was for my Trickster post. After all, there probably aren't any backgrounds that relate to the moon directly. My thinking is that, for the most part, a connection to the moon will most likely come from worship of a lunar deity. If you have not chosen a religiously affiliated character, perhaps Acolyte will work well for a background! I would also consider a background that suggests a connection with nature to be a good pick - Outlander or Hermit work well here, and could be flavoured nicely to fit the theme. I was drawn to Haunted One as a choice, and this was mostly because of the word 'lunacy' deriving from 'lunar'. I liked the idea of people whispering that a character with this background was suffering from 'moon madness'. My last choices are a little more aquatically themed - again due to the moon's connection with the tides. You could go with Sailor or Pirate to allude to this link.
GODS: As I said, one of the most exciting things for me when considering the role of the moon within a homebrew world is creating mythological figures or deities that might be associated with it. I'll start with some of the existing examples in pre-built settings for DnD:
Eilistraee (Forgotten Realms, also known as Lady Silverhair)
Selûne (Forgotten Realms, also known as The Moonmaiden)
Sehanine Moonbow (Forgotten Realms, also known as The Lunar Lady)
Celestian (Greyhawk, also known as The Star Wanderer)
The campaign setting of Mythic Odysseys Of Theros also offers some great deities inspired by Ancient Greek and Roman deities! I've had a look and here are my suggestions:
Athreos, god of passage
Kruphix, god of horizons
Thassa, god of the sea
So what about home-brewing? Well a lot of the suggestions I mentioned from real-world folklore make really great suggestions! When coming up with a lunar deity, it's probably a good idea to keep in mind the kind of stories that might be told about that god or goddess. Often the sun and moon provide a sort of balance to each other, be it that they are rivals who each seek to dominate the sky, brother and sister born to a sky god, or lovers chasing each other with the desperate desire to be reunited once more. Whichever it is, this duality brings a balance to the world of mortals and helps them to live their lives. I think the third option is probably my personal favourite, and I love the idea of a romantic story in which one can simply not exist without the other.
The moon doesn't have to represent a deity of course - perhaps just a powerful being, creature, or hero. Maybe it could be the beginning of a high-tier plot hook, in which a dangerous threat is borne from or threatens the moon and the balance it brings to people's lives. Those stories introduced to the players at lower levels can always come to fruition later on...
CREATURES: There are plenty of creatures available in DnD that can create some very cool moon-based encounters! I suggested Doppelgängers (CR 3) or Changelings (CR 1/2) as excellent choices for trickster-based encounters but one of the most interesting bits of lore for them is that the light of the moon (usually from the spell moonbeam) reveals their true forms, so this could be an interesting way of incorporating the moon into your encounter with them! I also mentioned in the 'Races' section of this post the newly introduced Moonstone Dragons in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons and so any of the related stat blocks - Moonstone Dragon Wyrmling (CR 2), Young Moonstone Dragon (CR 8), Adult Moonstone Dragon (CR 15), or Ancient Moonstone Dragon (CR 21) - would work for an epic moon-based encounter, especially as one of their abilities is their Moonlight Breath. I've talked about lycanthropy a lot too and there are plenty of stat block options here - Jackalwere (CR 1/2), Werebat (CR 2), Wereraven (CR 2), Werebat (CR 2), Werewolf (CR 3), Weretiger (CR 4), Wereboar (CR 4) or Werebear (CR 5) or even a more challenging version of the Werewolf, the Loup Garou (CR 13). Lastly, I really like the stat block provided in The Wild Beyond The Witchlight for the Selenelion Twin (CR 2) that alludes to the duality between sun and moon and has a cool Moon Ray ability.
There are a lot of interesting things that can be done with the moon, as you can see! You can make some really interesting combats and treasures too using the power of the moon. Items such as the Moon Sickle or the Moon-Touched Sword make fantastic rewards for those players coming up with character concepts that focus around the moon, or spells like moonbeam really lend themselves to this character type. The stories and lore that you choose to place around the moon may also inspire some cool plot hooks - perhaps the moon is a prison of sorts and contains a powerful monster inside that threatens to devour the world. All you need then is a cult and a ritual to stop! Or maybe the Sun and Moon gods are engaged in some sort of war or battle and the PCs are forced to choose between them. Or maybe the moon has begun orbiting in a strange manner and the is affecting the tides - causing flooding or droughts!
I'd love to hear any moon lore that you have come up with in your campaigns and adventures- let me know! I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas day.