The Eye of Ra
“I am bakenra, a servant of Ichem Irit-Ra, the Temple of the Eye of Ra. Many goddesses may serve as the Eye, and so many women may also serve. These goddesses are our patrons, they give us blessings and also purpose. I was blessed three times, and so for me: For Wadjet, I see. For Bastet, I protect. And for Hathor, I deliver judgement. Hers is the hand of the grave, the line between life and death. The line that maintains cosmic order and holds Isfet (chaos) at bay.”
Character portrait by Joe Bush on Etsy.
I just started in a new D&D campaign with old friends! I’m not DMing for once, so I’m really enjoying the rare chance to play a character again. I’ve been really into Egyptian mythology this year from my research for the Bennu tapestry, and thought it would be fun to make a character that follows the Egyptian pantheon. Her name is Inhapi, a grave domain cleric of the Temple of the Eye of Ra. I made some crafts for Inhapi, so this post has a few sections: Character description, custom dice, monocular vision disability & eyepatch, and (eventually) divination tokens.
I really can’t express how satisfying it is to play a character based on a historical mythology. The deities in the D&D books are great, but there’s very little information about them all things told. By following a real, historical pantheon I have a vast wealth of stories, art, and historical literature to draw on to imagine her culture, aesthetic, and beliefs. It makes the game incredibly rich, and gives the character so much depth. She doesn’t just know the name of her deity, but she knows stories about them and understands their relationship with humans. She has a developed culture with rituals and traditions, and a complex understanding of death. It feels full and alive, and gives her background texture and complexity. Anyways- try it sometime, there’s many ancient mythologies to choose from and you’ll learn something about human history too!
Playing a character this way also gives her language. In this world, the city where Inhapi lives has been isolated from the rest of the world for centuries and as a result Common is not her first language. I have painstakingly and only somewhat accurately attempted to transliterate and learn to pronounce a bunch of ancient Egyptian words from their hieroglyphs so that I can sprinkle them into my language as we play. This is extremely difficult for many reasons, not the least of which is that ancient Egyptians did not write vowels so we have to guess what they are based on how language evolved over time. But regardless of how accurate, this is very fun and flavorful, and really helps me to get into roleplay. You’ll notice some are used in her character narrative below.
So, on to Inhapi’s beliefs. I haven’t kept everything 100% historically accurate regarding the Egyptian deities my character follows, but it’s pretty close. To boil parts of a complex, polytheistic religion down to a few sentences, Ra was a self created god and ruler over all other gods (even those more primordial in nature). For the purpose of being brief, let’s call him the creator of the world – he didn’t actually create the world, but for complex historical reasons he later ruled it. He was a sun god, associated with the cycle of life, along with others who represented different parts of that cycle (including Anubis/Osiris as gods of death). So Ra basically creates the cosmic order and is ruler of all things. His daughter is Ma’at, she represents the ethical and moral principles that people expected to follow throughout their daily lives. The basis of Egyptian law was the need to avert chaos in order to maintain society, so Ma’at is associated with order and justice and performs the weighing of the heart. When a person dies, their heart is weighed against her feather to determine if they go to (their version of) heaven.
The Eye of Ra is thought of as the feminine counterpart of Ra. She serves him in upholding his cosmic order, Ma’at’s order. Only because Egyptian history was so long, there are several other goddesses that also became associated with the Eye, and so in a sense it became sort of a title rather than an individual. When Ra needs to protect himself from another god, strike down a foe, or seek vengeance against an unworthy human he calls upon Bast or Sehkmet who are warrior cat/lioness goddesses that fight for him. And when he does so, Bast/Sehkmet are called the Eye of Ra. But other goddesses are called the Eye in other contexts. I love the idea that the Eye is sort of this ultimate goddess, but personified by multiple other deities. (I will note that the image we tend to associate with the Eye of Ra is actually called the Eye of Horus/Wadjet, but they have similar meanings so I’ve combined in this version.)
So the concept of Inhapi’s character is that she’s an acolyte in the Temple of the Eye of Ra, and would have studied various disciplines associated with the different goddess that serve in that role. I think of these as analogous to the different schools of magic in the regular D&D rules. They don’t match one to one, but in general she gains powers and abilities from these different goddesses as part of her training and devotion, all in service to maintaining cosmic order. And maintaining that order, in her case, involves enforcing who lives and who dies per the Eye/Ra’s divine guidance and accepting the duality of life and death. The grave domain is perfectly suited for this theme, dark but not evil. There are other options, but these deities embody Inhapi’s core function and motivation in the game:
- Bast/Sehkmet (cat/lioness): Both are feline warrior goddesses, so they give Inhapi her fighting abilities and combat related magic.
- Hathor (cow): She’s kind of an Egyptian Aphrodite (related to beauty, sex), and a goddess of procreation. But she also helps to transition souls to the afterlife, crossing between the realm of the living and the dead, and helped preside over the underworld with Osiris. So she is kind of the line between life and death, the hand of the grave from which grave domain clerics are touched. This is where the character’s necromancy and healing spells come from, and her overall flavor.
- Wadjet (cobra): She was associated with kingship and ruling, and was a protector goddess called the Lady of the Flames. She is where the typical cobra imagery on Pharaoh headdresses comes from, and she also had a temple famous for its oracles. So famous, in fact, it’s thought they spawned the oracle tradition of the Greeks after Egypt was conquered. So in the game, Wadjet is where the character gets her divination magic, allowing her to see things with her blind eye that others cannot.
I have made Inhapi a set of custom dice to play with and I absolutely love how they came out. Her character is very focused on the duality of life and death, so I tried to incorporate duality into the dice by selecting opposing symbols for the highest numbers and the ones on some of the dice. All the dice include various symbols related to ancient Egyptian beliefs, which were very fun to research. Here they are! Descriptions of the symbols follow below. These were made using blank dice and gold vinyl, similar to The Data Arcana.
Each symbol has a meaning that corresponds to one of the ability stats.
- Charisma: The 1 is the Bennu bird. Bennu is a deity, who is also one aspect of the soul of another deity. Confusing, I know. But Bennu is what is called the ba-soul, the part of the soul which enables creative action and gives a person their personality. Egyptians believed the ba-soul was freed from the body and lived on after death, so it is always represented as some type of bird because birds have flight and can freely roam the Earth and sky.
- Dexterity: The 2 is a scorpion, which the Egyptians feared due to their incredible speed and deadly poison. A perfect mascot for a rogue or monk.
- Wisdom: The 3 is the Uraeus, a cobra and the symbol of Wadjet. Wadjet is associated with kingship and the art of the oracle, both of which require great wisdom.
- Intelligence: The 4 is Ma’at’s feather, used to perform the weighing of the heart ceremony which determined where a person would go in the afterlife. The goddess Ma’at represents truth and cosmic order, which along with looking like a quill makes a good symbol for intelligence.
- Strength: The 5 is the djed, a pillar made from Osiris’s spine representing strength and stability.
- Constitution: The 6 is an ankh, a symbol representing life or sometimes the substances (air, water) associated with it. The sounds that make up this hieroglyph are found in the words meaning life, to live, to nourish, and it was also commonly used in phrases and greetings meant to convey wishes for good health.
Since Inhapi is a cleric of the Temple of the Eye of Ra*, it was only fitting to use the Eye as the 20 on the d20. The 1 is the serpent Apep, Ra’s greatest enemy (you may know him by his Greek name, Apophis). The two deities represent cosmic order and chaos, the duality of which lays the groundwork for the character’s belief system. She is Lawful Good, but not within the same moral structure as a western knight- rather, it is her job to maintain cosmic order and keep chaos at bay.
*Technically, this is the Eye of Wadjet or the Eye of Horus, and not the Eye of Ra. But, they have a similar meaning and this symbol is most recognizable to people.
To ancient Egyptians, the number 4 represented the idea of completeness and stability, depicted in art as, e.g., 4 columns or the 4 tiers of the djed (no. 5 on the d6). On this di, I replaced the 4 with a symbol that has similar meaning, the shen. The shen represented symmetry, infinity, and eternal protection in the afterlife.
The d12 is another duality di. The crown on the 12 is one of several heiroglyphs representing the pharaoh’s power and rulership. The lotus on the 1 is the hieroglyph for a gift or offering, such as you might give to a god or pharaoh. I was originally trying to stick with divine-related imagery, but this was the best way to portray power and weakness.
The d10’s took the most amount of time to put the stickers on, as the tiny pieces of the lotus flower where difficult to transfer. But the pair came out really nicely. The lotus flower is a symbol of life and rebirth, and often used in art, religious ceremonies, as a decoration, and as offerings to the gods.
Finally is the d8, another duality di. The 8 is a scarab, associated with Khepri, the god of sunrise (one of the three sun gods) and a symbol of rebirth and regeneration. In place of the 1 is what I like to call the emo cloud, a symbol sometimes worn by Hathor and associated with sunset and the underworld (called duat). The ancient Egyptians believed that Ra travel with the sun across the sky, setting in the west to travel through the underworld, and re-emerging reborn during sunrise in the east. And so sunrise and sunset symbolize life and death, the duality of which makes up the essence of my character.
Monocular Vision Disability & Eyepatch
The group I’m playing with is online since we’ve all moved apart now, but we didn’t want to let that get in the way of good roleplay and character interaction. So I made this eyepatch as a prop to wear while we played.
To explain, as a person with a physical disability, I’d love to see better representation of this in the game. Obviously D&D is a great way to escape reality, but even a fantasy world should have disabled folks. It should have all the parts of the real world that a given player may or may not embody or encounter in their daily lives- disabled, people of color, LGBTQ+, everyone. So I really wanted to play a character with a disability. I have Hypermobility Spectrum Disorder, a connective tissue disorder that overlaps with hypermobile-type Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It impacts every part of my life and would make it very difficult to do the kinds of things my character can do- not impossible, but since I live with this every day so I decided to explore something new instead. I chose monocular vision and did research online to figure out how that might affect gameplay. I want to make it very clear that I am not an expert on monocular vision, but used this as an opportunity to learn about a disability other than my own. I agreed with my DM on a set of penalties that she would incur on vision-related investigation checks, athletics checks that rely on depth perception (especially in environments that lack clear objects for size-reference), and to her AC against ranged attacks. She gets bonuses on hearing-related investigation checks (people noted their other senses became heightened after losing vision in one eye) and passive perception to notice the existence and placement of objects around her (she’d be accustomed to using objects in her environment to make up for depth perception while walking across a room, for example). Again, I’m certainly not an expert on monocular vision, but I know very well what it’s like to have to adjust the way you live, what you do, and how you rely on people as a result of living with one. These penalties aren’t major but they do come up- and it doesn’t make playing her less fun at all. In fact, it makes her more rich and complex to play in both RP and combat and physically oriented scenarios. I’m not going to post all my research here as I don’t want to misrepresent myself as an expert- are you vision impaired? I’d love to hear from you!
Not ready to post on these yet, but they’re in the works.