The false god and its exposure by the hero is a very pulpy theme, often used by Burroughs, and serves as my inspiration for the idea of living gods.
The Shapers, in their studies of mankind, discovered the destructive potential of religion throughout human history and resolved to see if they could aggravate the effect. To this end they manufactured ‘gods’ for each civilization they created and gave each directives that would conflict with those of the other ‘gods.’
The Living Gods
Each of these living gods is a marvel of Shaper science. The god may be a mutated creature, an automaton, a device that can be worn to give its user powers and memories as though he were the god reborn, and so on.
Each god is jealous, programmed to want all humans to worship itself, to be hungry for human sacrifices, and to be malevolently capricious, ordering this and that of its followers in the cause of creating misery and chaos. All sorts of strange and sinister customs, or events that become plot hooks, can be manufactured for the various locales on Gondwane based on these ideas.
For example, a god might order the building of a great temple, then several years into its construction suddenly decree that the current site has been defiled and that the whole thing must be restarted on another site. The need for slave labor becomes so high that the kingdom must go to war to acquire more slaves.
Another god may impose a custom of being provided slaves that it cruelly toys with for a year, then discards for a fresh batch of slaves. A reincarnating type of god may institute strange and repellent customs regarding its host’s sacred weddings to the most beautiful women that can be captured within its kingdom.
Rebelling Against the Gods
Some peoples have actually turned away from their living gods, and as some societies have formed without Shaper interference, these often have religions that are not under the Shaper thumb.
Where the Shapers and their agents were able to act directly against these rebellions, great death and destruction have followed. Theriandor turned against its god Thallos, who awakened and destroyed the city.
However Thallos was also slain, a key historical event that has encouraged more societies to throw off their gods’ yokes. Across Gondwane stand the crumbling ruins of cities abandoned by their inhabitants, and now guarded only by the lonely presence of whatever it was they used to worship.
Quests to destroy or otherwise oppose a living god can be a major ingredient in your Gondwane adventures. It may be to steal the god’s treasure, to heroically free a people from tyranny, or even because another living god ordered it.
Keeping tabs on humankind are the Watchers, powerful organic androids created by the Shapers. These move through human societies in human guise, observing and quietly sending back data, and when necessary engineering events to steer a target society or individual along a course of the Shapers’ devising.
For example, if the king of Samurrad suddenly decides to stop worshipping Samurrad’s god, the Watcher residing in Samurrad might arrange for the king’s assassination. Or a Watcher may expose Zyra’s invasion plans to the kings of Dilmun, thus assuring that Zyra will take a weakening blow from the coming war.
This constant meddling has been going on for millennia, and as yet none have truly seen the pattern. However the destruction of some Watchers at the hands of past heroes has come down through history as proof of the presence of demons among man, and people are always alert for any signs of strangeness that might betray a nonhuman nature.
The Watchers are thus being forced to greater secrecy and use of proxies in their work, for their numbers are being discovered and falling more rapidly than expected.