Hello all, and welcome to the time of the year when the Romans believed the birds chose their mates. The day that was named for 2 Saints, neither of whom had anything to do with lovers. Welcome, to Valentine’s Day.
There are a number of gods and goddesses of love in the D&D multiverse, Sune Firehair, a number of Elven gods and goddesses, Barunor Truesilver for the dwarves, the absent gnomish goddesses of the realms, and then a host of such beings from classical cultures such as Greek and Norse. Love is a fundamental part of the worlds of D&D, but how exactly do they fit in in a game where you’re slicing down monsters, looting treasures, and delving deep in forgotten corners of the world? Turns out they can fit in a number of places.
The books I have read in the D&D novel collections don’t offer much. There have been occasional priestesses and priests of Sune in some of the realms books, such as Audawn in the Avatar series or Jozelle in “The Sentinel” or the Chosen of Sune from Erin Evans’ “Fire in the Blood” but these characters are either not major foci of the story or they leave a lot to be desired in terms of being likeable protagonists.
Audawn after his facial scar becomes little more than a whiny loser, not even willing to speak up at all when his friends are put on trial for the supposed death of Elminster, and though I hate Cyric, his disdain of the cleric of Sune is very understandable at this point and I have to say if he was thinking that way about him, Cyric wasn’t all that crazy yet.
Jozelle offers a better character, but her scheming and manipulating kind of made her hard to read for me. There was very little “love” in what she did and all of that seems more of something I would expect a follower of Fierna or Glassya to do (two rather tempting archdevils.” And don’t really seem the acts of a hero. To me. Not so unhappy about her end though.
As for the chosen in “Fire in the Blood,” I’d say she’s a bit better there, though not quite adventurer material. She runs a pleasure house in Susail and she does a lot of good for Farideh, however, I’d have to label her more as a plot device to work up the romantic angle of the story than someone you could model a hero on.
But despite all that, there is still hope.
Love does not equal pacifism. Take for example Homer’s Iliad, in a portion of the book, Ares takes up one of the heroes and causes him to go into a berserk frenzy, cutting down soldiers and warriors left and right. Aphrodite’s sympathies being on the other side, is not to be outdone and replicates Ares’ trick, taking hold of a soldier herself and duplicating the bloodbath. She’s ultimately reprimanded by Zeus for this, but the fact still stands that the goddess of love and beauty was not above slaughter.
In the Realms, There’s Ao, who is to the gods, what the gods are to mortals if such a conflict should arise and he could provide a Zeus figure if such a conflict were to arise between Sune and some violent God such as Bane or Tempus.
It could just be a priest or priestess following orders if they should step into a role as an adventurer or soldier in some interfaith conflict. The enemies of the deity of love and beauty might need a strong hand to be defeated. No amount of talking and sweetness is going to keep IashtuZvim from doing his worst.
So it could of course, just be a straight conflict between the personalities of a couple of gods, but that isn’t all it could be. Depending on how you want to treat what exactly qualifies as beauty and love for the gods or goddesses of your campaign, adventuring for a follower of such a deity might be a major thing. One need only look at some of the threats to such things to see a whole range of options for your perspective characters.
First, there is physical beauty. Few creatures embody a threat to that more completely than do hags. Hags are even stated to embody the ugly sides of nature. And they have a corrupting influence over the game world that does tend to produce both moral and physical vileness wherever they take up their abodes. If the church of your god or goddess of beauty is particularly militant about protecting such things, they’ll send out their clerics and loyal paladins and followers in a heartbeat. Such blemishes on the world cannot be allowed to continue.
There are also more direct and more natural threats to physical beauty. A beautiful city of great wealth attracts raiding armies from all directions. To protect it might be a goal of the church, particularly if man-made beauty is important to them. The threats this sort of angle might call forth could be anything from bandits, to hobgoblins, to dragons, or powerful wizards.
And then there is of course the mere concept of ugliness as something that breaks some fundamental rule of the world. To someone who understands beauty deeply and has a strong sense of what should and should not be allowed, (possibly of lawful alignment.) aberrations and several creatures of the monstrosity creature type would qualify as things that are fundamentally ugly as would many or possibly all undead. For someone who looks at aesthetics and beauty as fundamental rules to the universe, they, even worshipping beauty, would have a number of viable enemies.
So far, I have talked primarily about beauty, but love has its place as well and probably can create far deeper heroic characters. The definition of love varies from person to person, and I, as a columnist talking about D&D, am not going to tell you which one is right. But we can probably agree there are corrupt second-cousins to it that can’t truly be said to be love.
Two of these are infatuation and using emotion as a tool. Two of the Lords of the Nine, the archdevils that rule Hell embody these twisted forms of love perfectly. Fierna and her father Belial are definitely the patrons of the seduction and infatuation corruptions of love, while the deceitful Glassya is the queen of dishonestly using such tools as false affection to get what she wants. On the demonic side, you’ve got Graz’zt and in regards to other fiends and fey, you’ve got the ever-present hags, corrupting both the physical and spiritual beauty and love of those around them and Rakshasas, as well as probably many of the Yugoloths and succubae/incubi.
The threats among mortal creatures are also many. I doubt anyone would have less sympathy with an evil enchanter or enchantress than a good-aligned priest of a love god or goddess. Perhaps something mitigates the circumstances like using it to prevent a cataclysm but in most cases, good love and beauty deities I imagine would frown on enchantment magic being used in such a way. Non-magical means of doing the same thing also probably would not be looked on with favor to get some evil end.
Among the divine you’ve got gods that stand against everything a perspective God or Goddess of beauty and love could stand for. You’ve got gods of physical ugliness and disease like Talona, Gods of violence such as Tempus and Bane and IashtuZvim, and gods that delight in suffering such as Cyric, Loviatar, and Shar: an that’s just the Forgotten Realms. If you play a multi-world campaign as I do, the threats from gods alone become legion.
Finally, a rarely known Greek myth to suggest a whole campaign revolving around a god or goddess of love and beauty. It is often said that the distance between love and hate is miniscule, and there’s a Greek myth that demonstrates it well.
Aphrodite was married to Hephaestus, the homely and rather piggish god of craftsmen. There is significance in that symbolism too but it is not needed here. Like most figures in Greek myth, Aphrodite was not exactly faithful and tended to fool around with virtually any attractive mortal or god she came across. Despite being the goddess of love, she didn’t find Ares, god of violence and war, at all repulsive. Her husband found out about it though and punished their affair by using his hammer to beat the philandering couple together into a single being for a time.
Perhaps something similar might happen in your own campaign. Suddenly avatars or high-ranking priests of both a war deity and the love deity in question begin acting strangely. Ideally, the war priests are getting gentler and the love priests are getting meaner. And even more so, even the warpriests’ sudden kindness ought to flare up in ways or at times that are not helpful. It turns out some third god has is responsible for such things. Cyric has enmity with all the other gods, so in a realms campaign, perhaps somehow Bane and Sune are being combined divinely in some abominable way that threatens to throw the world out of balance, probably initiated by Cyric.
And lastly, not all followers of a god of love or beauty are clerics or paladins. Some people are motivated by love though to do something heroic. Perhaps their adventuring career is to save someone or win someone’s favor, or perhaps a party member is their inspiration. These all must be approached with caution, as many of them can be seen as sexist and a couple might make the group uncomfortable, check with your DM on this one. And the other players. Especially if it is an intra-party romance you really need to double-check to see if it is okay.
Well, those are my Valentine’s Day thoughts on how you can have bad-ass heroes, even if they happen to be following Aphrodite, Sune, or any of the other many gods and goddesses in the D&D multiverse that might need champions.
About the author:
Zachary is one of the DMs for “Companions of the Perception Check” and has been an avid D&D fan for over 20 years. He lives with his 2 dogs and 2 rats. He would like to thank Ed Greenwood for making Sune a Redhead.