What are the defining traits of a god?

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susan_brindle
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What are the defining traits of a god?

For worldbuilding purposes, what is a god? What are the core traits without which you can't claim that title?

In game terms, we know that granting spells in involved; you have to be able to supply power to your followers. You also need some mechanism for harvesting worship from your followers. You need to be able to participate in the divine-point economy.

I would also say that gods need to have access to another plane, and be capable of influencing the world from there. 

Finally, I think spheres of influence are important- almost every old god has a list of domains like "Master of Wind, Lies, and Basket-Weaving"


What are the community's opinions? How do gods work in your world? Do you prefer your deities more abstract (Cloud, booming voice, lack of corporeal appearances) or personal (Promiscuous and toga-clad)

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koewn
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The only required definition is that if someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes.

I've done it all, I think, over the years. Right now I'm in the "monotheistic god as a barely-comprehensible Force Of Law that manifests as the Sun" that sure beats all these other chaotic divine-granting Others that aren't "gods" but'll swallow your soul nonetheless, and most of those come from other places with other suns where that chaos is actually their law and whatever.

Ill-defined at the moment, but the difference between "plane" and "planet" is the letter "t" and I've run with it.

I'm kinda not worried about it until Alex fleshes out that divine economy system a bit more and then, oh then we'll see some stuff.

 

susan_brindle
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Is he planning on releasing Cardinal, Apotheosis, Deity System (or CADS) anytime soon? I was sort of thinking I might flesh it out a bit myself if I had time.

koewn
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Dunno. I'd guess it'd get more fleshed out around the time the Auran Empire stuff comes out.

Remember that scene from Clash of the Titans where Zeus et. al. are standing around a "board" of the world, and Perseus is a clay piece being put in play?

That's the game I'm imagining. Diety-level players moving heroes and kings around events, playing for points.

susan_brindle
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Dunno. I'd guess it'd get more fleshed out around the time the Auran Empire stuff comes out.

Remember that scene from Clash of the Titans where Zeus et. al. are standing around a "board" of the world, and Perseus is a clay piece being put in play?

That's the game I'm imagining. Diety-level players moving heroes and kings around events, playing for points.


-koewn

I love it. Clearly, then, the next supplement written will be ACKSS: Adventurer Conquerer King System System, where each player DMs for several adventuring parties, and must use their suite of legendary heroes to overcome the opposition. It takes 97 people to play; one GM GM to run the game as a whole, six GMs to serve as the gods, and eighteen parties of five to be used as pawns by the GMs.

Ulfhrafn
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Remember that scene from Clash of the Titans where Zeus et. al. are standing around a "board" of the world, and Perseus is a clay piece being put in play?

That's the game I'm imagining. Diety-level players moving heroes and kings around events, playing for points.


-koewn

Or, the deities are clay figures themselves, standing 'on' the board of the godly realms, questing for treasure and power, expending divine power as rations, asking mortals to perform certain divine missions, rituals and sacrifices to aid them in their journey through spheres. As above, so below. If the various spheres of existence are simulacra of the primary sphere, maybe gods are hecrawling too?

jedavis
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I've always had a soft spot for "Gods are just sufficiently-powerful wizards with delusions of grandeur."

Dave
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I think that'a a question to answer by world or campaign, rather than trying to find a consensus.  (Which I'm aware isn't very helpful.). Default seems to be "pantheons are real!", whatever that means to you.

I've toyed with the idea for a setting conceit that the "gods" are just any very powerful creatures.  Titans, ancient dragons, mortals who crack immortality or undeath and keep accruing levels - just get enough hit dice, and people who venerate you start manifesting divine casting.  (Raises the question of whether the "gods" get their own spells - quite likely, but maybe not always, maybe it's an emergent property of the relation between a priest and a high hit dice creature, not a literal grant of spells.)

I also like the idea of gods as idols.  Carve a graven image, bow down before it, start getting spells.  Initially it's a focus to harness your flocks divine energy, but that doesn't preclude it taking on a life of its own.

Neither of those precludes a larger cosmology, but I sort of like the idea of a more distant creator deity, rather than that just being one of several options that all grant spells on an equal footing somehow.

golan2072
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I'd go as far as to make powerful monsters - though significantly less powerful than an ancient dragon - get worshipped locally and gain certain "divine" abilities on the regional or even local level; things like Aboleths, "Spheres of Eyes", "Brain Lashers" or even sentient undead. They might even grant low-level clerical spells to their followers! But these powers will diminish with distance from the "god".

susan_brindle
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Ooh, I hadn't thought about making it region-based. Almost like lines of supply!

 

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golan2072
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This is more or less the way many gods worked in ancient times - they were the gods of this or that country or this or that city-state, and if you moved into that place, you worshipped them as they held sway locally. Omniscient gods with global influence are much newer.

There is also animism as in Japanese Shinto in which there is a huge number of local small-scale gods and spirits (Kami), in addition to certain "greater" gods such as Amaterasu. A tree or mountain could have its own god(ess), with very local influence.

Also, read the 2 Kings and Josephus version of how the Samaritans got their faith; essentially the story goes that when the kings of Assyria deported tens of thousands of Israelites to Assyria, they resettled people from Mesopotamia in their place. Because The Land of Israel belongs to the Hebrew god, and they didn't worship him, he unleashed lions unto them, so the Assyrians sent Jewish priests to teach them the local faith; and, indeed, up to this very day their faith is very similar to Judaism.

Alex
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The necessity of working out the metaphysics and mechanics of gods is actually one of the reasons I've delayed on the Auran Empire campaign setting. It's something I've given a lot of thought to. Here's my current thoughts, susceptible to change. 

At present, my interpretation is that existence is defined by the interaction of the Pneuma* (the creative force or cosmic soul) and the Logos (the laws which govern the expression of the Pneuma). The Pneuma created the Logos but in the process bound itself into every expression of the Logos. As such all things possess a fragment of the Pneuma within themselves - said fragment being called its soul

The ability of physical matter to host a soul is dependent on its configuration and properties - its form in classical parlance. Death results when the physical form becomes so damaged or decrepit that it can no longer contain a complete soul. When this occurs, the soul transmigrates to a new form which can contain it. This process is called reincarnation or metempsychosis. Complete reincarnation does not occur immediately, however. When a living creature dies, a residue of its soul may remain coagulate within the body for a time, only gradually dissipating from its corpse. It is this residue of the soul that a spellcaster speaks with when using speak with dead. And it is this residue of the soul that makes the organs and blood of creatures valuable as special components. How much of a residual soul remains depends on many factors. How intact is the body? The more intact the body, the more residue of the soul will remain. How powerful was the deceased? More powerful souls tend to linger longer. What is the alignment of the spheres of existence? The more distant the outer spheres, the longer a soul will linger. How long has the creature been dead? The more time has elapsed, the less divine power will remain.

In game terms, the total amount of divine power possessed by a creature is equal to ten times its XP value. When a creature dies, about 90% of this value typically transmigrates very rapidly; the other 10% remains as a residue within the creature’s blood or organs, which can be harvested as special components for magical research. When a creature is sacrificed, 80% of its divine power passes to the entity worshipped, 10% is retained by the sacrificer for his own ends, and 10% remains residual within its blood and organs. This is why divine power why XP value = special component value = sacrifice value.

A living creature sustains its soul through the biological processes of its living form. It bleeds off excess divine power each day equal to 6% of its XP value. Casters use some of this to fuel their spells but the rest is dissipated or bequeathed to a god through worship. A cleric that leads a congregant in worship collects about 10% while the god collects the rest – which is why 50 0-level congregants (worth 5xp each) generate (5 x 50 x 6% x 10% x 7) 10gp worth of divine power for their cleric. 

The definition of a living creature, in fact, is one that sustains its soul through the biological processes of its body. The definition of an undead creature is one that sustains its soul through feeding on the souls of the living. This can be through feeding on spiritual residue found in corpses (as a ghoul) or from directly draining the life energy of living creatures (like a wraith or vampire).

Following from this, the definition of a god is a living being that sustains its soul through divine worship and sacrifice.

A note on the spheres: In the Auran Empire setting, the various spheres of existence (Chthonic Darkness, Empyrean Heaven, and the Elemental Planes) are all coterminous simulacra of the primary sphere (akin to the Shadowfell and Feywild in 4E/5E D&D, or to the Ethereal in 1E/2E). The geography of the world is mirrored in the geography of the other spheres, albeit in a distorted format representative of the nature of the other sphere. Thus the Empyrean gods could be said to live on the peak of Mt. Audarammas, but the Mt. Audarammas they live on is in the Empyrean Heaven.

The spheres are always in motion. When an other sphere is are juxtaposed with the primary sphere, it becomes possible to pass between at various gateways. Thus on certain high holy days, when the spheres are aligned, one might pass from Mt. Audarammas on the primary sphere to Mt. Audarammas on the Empyrean Heaven.

*Pneuma is very much the *correct* word in terms of the Stoic origins of this concept but it seems like it sounds wrong to modern English ears. I'm open to suggestions of an alternative. Numen? Numina? The Divine? Psychocosm? Cosmic Soul? Oversoul?

 

 

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You really are the mad genius of systematization, Alex.  (I do mean that in the nicest way).  I'll go off and ruminate on the concepts - I definitely love the direction.  Would this type of material get delivered through the Patreon process as new systems sometime in advance of the Auran Empire setting?

Edit:  

I did a little forum sifting to find the previous post discussing the theories of divine power.  It's a super-interesting "behind the scenes" approach to explaining how gods and clerics work.

What jumps out to me is how this mechanical approach can drive some really interesting stories for the referee:

  • How new gods get created through a critical mass of belief (the Neil Gaiman 'American Gods' approach)
  • Destroying a god by killing off all the believers
  • Hierarchies, tiers, and power levels of the gods based on believers and divine power
  • Competition between deities for divine portfolios and believers driving campaign arcs
  • A mechanical reason for all those awful sacrifices to the Cthonic monstrosities
  • An explanation (perhaps) for why transmigration of souls to the deity's plane matters to the deity

I can see how this probably isn't front-burner, but it's great stuff - looking forward to the further development!

Alex
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Thanks for the kind words! My favorite kinds of systems are those which can drive interesting opportunities in game, and I think you're right that this approach does so.

Antiquities
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Since Pneuma is Greek, maybe one of the other words from ancient languages with similar meanings? Hebrew Nephesh or Ruah would fit (although Nephesh is closer to Psyche, so Ruah might be better).

Capheind
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As per Pilgrim of Eternity (Star Trek Continues) can you hack out their faith reciever and de-god a god?

Capheind
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Additional question, in this model how do immortal beings (like intelligent magic items etc) feed their soul? Do magic weapons feed when they strike? and thus count as undead? 

Alex
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My current interpretation is that some forms are structured in such a way that the soul can reside in them without decay, but also without any bleed off. 

 

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But by that logic wouldn't any wizard who thinks about it for more than five minutes chose being an intelligent glave over being a lich? Since the lich would have to consume the living to satisfy itself, while the glave can exist eturnally without issue.

susan_brindle
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the glaive can't lick stuff though

 

and by lick stuff I mean persue intellectual pursuits befitting a wizard

Antiquities
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One of the first thoughts when I read Alex's comment was that a perfect soul would be unchanging - incorruptible and eternal, yes, but also unable to learn or grow. A lich wants more time to gather more power; it's basically gambling that it can take in energy faster than it loses energy, and maybe eventually become a god (I see liches as the end result of a psychology that tries to reshape and redefine the universe to meet its whims). By binding themselves to an eternal form, a wizard who becomes a weapon is limiting themself to never being more than a fraction of what they were. It's the opposite of ambition and hubris, and would probably require somebody psychologically broken to voluntarily become a limited eternal being.

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This actually fits nicely with some thoughts I've been having about immortality.

Basically, I've been thinking that the more immortal something is, the more difficult it should be for them to affect the time stream, or more generally, events in the mortal world. A being that is truly immortal (cannot be killed no matter what) would be utterly incapable of any direct effect itself, it would only be able to work through a mortal (or semi-mortal, like a god) will.

(Side note: This also fits beautifully into the whole Ao/Normal gods divide, where you have an Overpower who is a true immortal, but needs the normal gods to trickle down to affect the world at all.)

An intelligent weapon would be pretty close to unable to have any effect on the world (it can still weigh things down, it might have spell-likes it can use on its own, but it can't do a whole lot without a wielder), so in my thought-basis here, it should be pretty close to immortal. Indestructible by normal means, won't age, won't decay, but you can still cast it into the fires from which it was made (or have some other special condition to destroy it).

Alex
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Not in any rules or mechanics I've written, no.

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I was going to come in here and post the old post Alex had on basically this topic, which contained most of the same information as his new infodump.

But now it feels like a waste to go dig it up.

edit: For what it's worth, in the campaign setting I'm working on, there are no gods in the traditional D&D sense. That role is filled by anthropomorphic personifications of what are basically aspects of magic. (Trickster, Maker, Walker for Fire, Earth, and Air, and so on.)

The Butcher
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I take a "hard S&S" approach: gods are very old, very powerful aliens who thrive on psychic energy. For reasons unfathomable to mere mortals, some favor positive emotions and tend to be Lawful, others prefer the heady nectars of fear, hatred or despair and veer toward the Chaotic, with Neutral gods sampling from all sorts of emotion.

The fact that worlds inhabited by sentient life are few and far between across the Multiverse means any one such world can attract and host dozens of gods of varying age and power. One very powerful god starving and/or besting the opposition isn't unheard of, but because the massive destruction in the wake of a godly battle threatens the survival of their precious worshippers, the most common outcome is for the gods on a given world to draft and enforce some sort of compact forbidding direct intervention; most conflict between gods happens by proxy, via worshippers.

While it is generally accepted by most discerning sages that the idealized forms of Lawful and many Neutral gods are made to order to awe worshippers, there is considerable debate whether the monstruous appearance of many Chaotic gods represent the true forms of the god race, or merely a disguise crafted to inspire fear and revulsion.

In any case, Alex's metaphysics look very compatible with my ideas. Just say that the "psychic energy" I mention above is Pneuma and we're good.

 

Dr Pete
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Soooo... if a person, say a king, were to establish worship of himself as a God-King, they would accrue 8 times the divine power for sacrifice, and 9 times the divine power for worship? Cool :) Much more efficient than being a middleman (though beings that depend on the energy may disagree)
Alex
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Yes! Assuming the worship was genuine, and that other gods don't strike him down...

The morale penalty for changing religions, combined with the rules on relating morale to divine power from congregants, can be a useful guide here.

 

Antiquities
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Assuming there are other gods (I'm thinking of Dark Sun and the Dragon-Kings).

susan_brindle
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I feel like there needs to be a barrier to entry for godhood. Like, you need a "bank" of at least 10,000 divine power (or some other number) or you can't access any of it. (but then you can spend 10k on one big thing and be powerless for a bit.)

I'm also unsure about how I want to model the distinction between gods and demigods, and how saints and champions fit into the picture.

Antiquities
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You could require divine power to be spent for varying levels of Apotheosis - maybe X power to attain a certain level, and then X/100 or X/1,000 daily to maintain that level. It would also help explain the war for worshippers - if a god can't maintain a certain level of throughput in the divine economy, they slide from Greater Power to Lesser Power to Demi-Power.

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This could pretty easily be done using the transformation rules; simply figure out how much GP/special components it would cost to gain the HD/powers of each level of godhood, and make them spend it to gain them.

(With a maintenance cost or not, as you desire.)

Until you actually expend the cost to transform, you're just a dude with some divine power, not significantly different from a cleric who has a congregation. Once you work up enough power, you transform, and gain actual godhood.

Alex
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Brilliant!

susan_brindle
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Makes sense!
 

Twilight Jack
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Apotheoses really should have their own Magical Mishap tables. 
 

A mad wizard aspiring to godhood is the sort of thing that tends to go wrong spectacularly.

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Dark Sun canon has a good example of that, in fact.

(The fact that I wrote up some conversions for dragon-kings and avangion for our Dark Sun campaign is the reason why I went so quickly to the transformation rules in this thread; that's what I used as a base there.)

I can't remember right now if I wrote any new mishaps for it, I think I just said they're always catastrophic.

susan_brindle
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Minor Mishaps: Accidentally become the god of baggy pants and embarassing anecdotes

Twilight Jack
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The worst part?  That's what all your followers are into and their worship is your source of divine power, so now you just have to go with it.

Antiquities
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Did we just jump from B/X to I and skip right over C and M, because I feel like that's what we just did.

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ACKS Dwimmermount has a set of immortality rules. That's a decent start, at least. Gods aren't supposed to die.

koewn
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My sporadic bedtime reading has been the Discworld series; picked it up again from the first when Pratchett died. As it so happens, I've been in the middle of Small Gods, which very strongly relates to this thread.

"Right," said Om. "Now . . . listen. Do you know how gods get power?" "By people believing in them," said Brutha. "Millions of people believe in you." Om hesitated. All right, all right. We are here and it is now. Sooner or later he'll find out for himself . . . "They don't believe," said Om. "But- "It's happened before," said the tortoise. "Dozens of times. D'you know Abraxas found the lost city of Ee? Very strange carvings, he says. Belief, he says. Belief shifts. People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure." "I don't understand," said Brutha. "Let me put it another way," said the tortoise. "I am your God, right?" "Yes." "And you'll obey me." "Yes." "Good. Now take a rock and go and kill Vorbis." Brutha didn't move. "I'm sure you heard me," said Om. "But he'll . . . he's . . . the Quisition would- "Now you know what I mean," said the tortoise. "You're more afraid of him than you are of me, now. Abraxas says here: `Around the Godde there forms a Shelle of prayers and Ceremonies and Buildings and Priestes and Authority, until at Last the Godde Dies. Ande this maye notte be noticed.' "

-Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

susan_brindle
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Small Gods was, I think, my first Pratchett book! The only one my highschool library had. What a lovely book to remember!

SaruSama
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I would say that there are four major characteristics of a god. 1. Power on a level far outstripping mortals. 2. Being extremely difficult to kill and not dieing of old age. (plenty of gods can die look at the norse). 3. Being able to affect multiple places and interact with multiple people at the same time. 4. Having something to do with souls and an afterlife.
Korean Kodiak a...
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I recently wrote a short essay on my blog about my take on how deities interact with mortals. I did not go into mechanics because that is just not my thing, but Alex's work as well. I posted it in the ACK Google+ group which is were I normally post. 

http://stifflittlebrushes.blogspot.com

susan_brindle
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Interesting! I think a lot of what you've written is compatible with Alex's soul mechanics, and it overlaps heavily with the ideas I'd already come up with. Making power anathema to mortals solves a lot of the inherent issues with gods.

Korean Kodiak a...
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I think too often people over look the psychology of religon. Religon fills an important role in society and in the mortal realm. The rules (dogma and doctrine) of the different faiths create a psychological framework that allows mortal to feel connected to their deities. This dogma and doctrine is often how mortals interpet the will of the gods not the gods themselves.

The "Cult of Me,Me,Me" causes a lot of players and DM to create situations where Deities too often directly interact with the mortal realm.

In my eyes, this diminishes the whole purpose of deities and turns them into Deux Machina or the Mary Sue. DM's waaaayyyyy over use gods and goddess in an effort to make an campaign and adventure "Epic" as if having deities directly involved somehow raises the the quality of the adventure. I tend to find that it has the exact opposite effect. 

Alex
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So true! And welcome to the forums. You're at home here, clearly!

Korean Kodiak a...
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I figured I have lurked in the shadows long enough, I might as well contribute

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Quite right!  Even in a world in which the "gods" are real, I find that a narrative is much better served by the uncertainty and/or subtlety of higher powers which do not take too direct a hand in the course of human events.

At the moment, my game world is beset by a war which is, in no small part, fueled by theological disagreement over the details of two pantheons which share certain gods in common.  This conflict continues to escalate because the gods in question - despite continuing to grant supernatural power to their clergy on both sides of the schism - remain largely silent on the truth of the matters in dispute.  High priests on both sides of the divide claim divine revelation as to the truth, and since both groups continue to manifest power, there is no further authority to which the faithful might appeal.

Which means that, despite a world in which gods are "real" and grant power to their followers, I get to explore the vagaries of religious conflict in much the same context as it has existed in the real world throughout history.

Good times.

Maladax
Joined: 2011-07-25 14:09

That's a fine setup for religious war, but it does invite an obvious question: why do the gods act this way?

Of course, you probably never need to answer this question in your campaign, but if we consider gods as a special case of NPC, I wonder what their motivation is.

Do they not care that their followers are killing each other? If so, why do they even bother with worshippers.

Or are the gods actually just impersonal forces of nature, granting spells for anyone that worships them, but uninterested in whether a million worshippers live or die?

Or is there some complicated circumstance that the gods can't disclose to mortals?

Twilight Jack
Twilight Jack's picture
Lairs And Encounters Backer
Joined: 2013-05-14 02:57

The motives of the gods are inscrutable to mere mortals, Maladax.

Of course, one might posit that faith is more powerful (and therefore more nourishing to deities) when it is strengthened by difficulty and calamity.  A war between two factions which worship the same god provides that god with super-charged faith on both sides of the conflict.  You might rightly point out that the god is also losing worshippers on both sides of the conflict, but perhaps a single fanatic engaged in holy war produces more faith energy than ten complacent worshippers in a time of peace.

One might further conjecture that mortals worship gods for their own reasons.  If a given god doesn't satisfy their "needs" they may move on to others that better suit their worldview.  Since the gods may only influence the mortal realm through the actions of their faithful and the powers they grant those faithful, perhaps it behooves them to allow these theological disagreements to iron themselves out, rather than risk driving away an entire faction of worshippers by picking a side.

Along alternate lines, one might hypothesize that the gods are shaped by the dogmas and theologies of their worshippers, rather than being the shapers of them.  Perhaps the gods are ultimately powerless in the face of their own faithful, taking on the traits ascribed to them by the very worship that sustains them.  In that case, a god whose worshippers engage in a factional religious conflict literally CANNOT pick a side, as they must await the outcome of the argument to learn who they are to become.

Or maybe another reason, or maybe none of them.  The gods, after all, are inscrutable in their motives.

witness
Domains At War BackerSinister Stone of Sakkara BackerLairs And Encounters Backer
Joined: 2012-02-28 16:06

When their followers die, the god gets to claim a significant burst of short-term divine power. Plus, those who level up in the conflict begin generating more divine power over time. As long as they're still making more at or above replacement rate, we're doing fine.

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