Hello friends! Welcome to another installment of “Simply Divine.” In this segment we discuss aspects of gods, divine spellcasting, and beings of the outer planes. One of our first articles was a Simply Divine article concerning Auril, also known as Lady Frostmantle.
I think I made a mistake in doing that when I failed to cover one of the most basic, but most important parts of gods in D&D worlds. To remedy that, the next few Simply divine articles will be not about individual beings or groups of them, but instead we’re going to talk about gods in general and the place of the divine.
Today we’re talking about how present the gods are in the world and what that means for your campaign. I normally talk about published settings but in this one I think the homebrewer will get a good bit of info here. Gods in the world could exist in varying degrees of conspicuousness and that means a great deal for how societies work in your game and how religion fits in. Here are some ideas for how that could work….
- The Gods are immediately present (The Greco-Roman model.)
In many worlds, meeting your god or goddess face-to-face is a very real possibility. Although it is no longer the case in the Forgotten Realms, it used to be the case that you might meet Mystra, Tymora, or Bane on your travels in the flesh. In this world, very personal relationships can develop between mortals and gods, including the possibility of demigods being born between unions of the two groups. In these worlds, the existence of the gods is unquestionable, though instances could arise of humans impersonating gods or demigods. Also, because of the actual appearances of gods, everyone knows not only that the gods exist, but which gods are real and which ones are not.
- Everything has a God “the Pantheist model.)
Although the Greco-Roman model is a popular one, there is one in which the gods are even more present. This is the Pantheist model. In this case the world is full of spirits both great and small that inhabit almost every place and almost every object. This is similar to Japanese religion, and also despite the name of the first model, the Greeks and Romans had heavy aspects of this as well. In this world, theoretically druidic religion is much more prevalent and in these worlds, religion is a fundamental part of almost everyone’s lives because of the omnipresent divine forces. This build can easily mix with some of the others.
- The Godly Manifestation build.
In this type of divine build, the gods do not appear in person, but they do interact on the world. Oddly this view also fits how the educated classes in Rome and Greece viewed their gods as most of the educated did not believe the gods actually had shapes in the same sense a human or animal did. The powers of the divine are shown everywhere, such as in the spells of clerics, paladins, and druids, but the gods rarely speak directly and never actually visit the world in person. In this world, the existence of the gods is unquestionable, but individual manifestations are up for interpretation, thus making exactly where a person stands in the case of divine favor or displeasure unclear, even in the case of individual gods. Also, some lines might be blurry between various gods that are similar in portfolio, signs, or personality and this model is the first place where uncertainty creeps in in any significant degree.
- The Theist world
In these worlds, the gods interact with the world only rarely, and never directly. They manifest enough that it is certain that gods exist, but not enough to know much about them. In these worlds, what gods exist and exactly what they do, think, and command are all questions that people have to figure out for themselves. That there are gods is about the only thing that is confirmable about religion here.
- The Agnostic world.
In this world, Divine magic exists theoretically, but the gods are extremely distant to the point where the existence of any or all gods is up for debate. Eberron seems, as I see it, to fall somewhere between the agnostic world and the theistic world. Divine magic exists here, but it may in fact be like Eberron where it is in fact more like a cross between the mental state of the caster and the formulaic casting of a wizard. Here, even the nature of the divine spellcaster’s power is up for debate as to what it is in addition to questions of the gods themselves.
- The world without gods.
In this world, there are no gods. This can be the result of something having driven the gods away or destroying them, such as in the Dark Sun setting. It may also be the case that gods have never existed in the world. If you use this world style, you need to decide if you will allow clerics, paladins, and druids into the world. If you do, you will have to decide how their magic works. I personally, though I am not a huge fan of clerics or paladins, I would be infuriated if I were in a world where I was not allowed to play one. However, if your players are fine with it, go for forbidding those classes.
- The world is wrong.
This is not so much a world type as a modification of one of the others. The others largely assume that the population has the issues right. With this modification, you can say that the world is wrong about it. For example, you could have a world where the gods appear to mortals actually be a world where these individual gods are simply believed to be powerful mortals. Or you could do the reverse and have the populace think incredibly powerful mortals are gods. You could also be less drastic. The gods may appear in person but it is so rare and is always kept secret so the world at large doesn’t believe that happens. You could also have a pantheist world but the lesser spirits who are not full-power gods don’t actually show themselves much.
I hope this look into the gods and how the gods can fit into the world is a help to you out there in how you want to use gods in your campaign.
About the author:
Zachary Ruffing is one of the DMs for “Companions of the Perception Check” and is running the “Children of Gith” storyline. He enjoys classic lit and bad sci-fi and horror flicks with the company of his rat and 2 dogs. His favorite divine beings are the archdevils in D&D because devils are his favorite monster type.