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5E Are "evil gods" necessary?

dave2008

Legend
Furthermore-- whether it be an evil god or a demon, it needs to be able to grant its followers something of meaning and value. Yet, all too often, it feels within D&D that the followers gain nothing and instead simply get disfigured or infected or have their freedoms or abilities curtailed. If that's what's happening, then why on earth is anyone following such a god, or demons for that matter?
The 4e Dawn War pantheon handled this pretty well. Providing explanations for why mortals might pray to Bane or Tiamat and what they get from it. I'm not as familiar with other D&D myths, but you could take a similar bent.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
Hearing so many people talk about how 4E did this well is music to my ears, and it makes me wonder how well the Nentir Vale and all the 4E lore would have been received had it all been attached to the 5E system instead.
 

dave2008

Legend
How else would you define evil except for self-centrism?
Personally I don't define evil as I don't think it exist. However, in the context of D&D it covers a lot more than self-centrism. Heck, it can be argued even "good" acts/people are self-centered (in that even good acts are truly, subconsciously maybe, done for our own benefit).
 

dave2008

Legend
Hearing so many people talk about how 4E did this well is music to my ears, and it makes me wonder how well the Nentir Vale and all the 4E lore would have been received had it all been attached to the 5E system instead.
As an alternate world yes, but not at the core I think. It was too much change for some.
 

The shifting truths of the canon over nearly fifty years make these distinctions harder to make and/or keep clear. The fact I barely interacted with 2E and never did much more than skim the PHB for 4E means there are doubtless gaps in my knowledge of what the realities are and/or have been.

That said, a different way to think about it is that gawds have spheres of influence in the Material, planar rulers do not. The Demon Lords you mention (along with Lolth and Asmodeus, among others) are oddments and at least appear to straddle the boundaries; I believe errors were made in creating the canon so they do (which is part of the reason things operate differently in the world I'm running). Basically, in my view, if an entity is primarily focused on and concerned with and worshiped in the Material, that entity is a gawd; if an entity is primarily associated with and draws its powers from an Outer Plane (or a layer thereof) it isn't.

There is, I believe a qualitative difference between praying to a gawd and summoning a being from an Outer Plane to come do your bidding (or do you a favor in exchange for your soul). I'd say it has to do with the concrete expectations: If you do the ritual correctly the devil will appear; prayers are rarely guaranteed so precisely.

As to devils and souls, there's nothing in how the devils acquire the souls of mortals that requires the mortals to worship them. Most of those souls, they acquire by making deals with mortals (and as I understand it they mostly turn those souls into proto-devils to be used as fodder for the Blood War). Gawds are made more powerful by being worshiped; they don't need to store souls in some metaphorical vault.
I have a lot of gaps too, mostly in that I've never played an editions earlier than 3rd

The point of the material world vs the outer planes is a weird one. All of the Gods live in the Outer Planes, but they care about and interact with the material world. Same with devils and demons. Asmodeus lives in the Nine Hells, and most of his plots involve the mortal world.

So, both groups are associated with an outer plane, both groups are focused on and concerned with the Material, where they have worshippers and devotees.

And then we get to the sticky part. If the gods are seperate and don't require worhsip to be powerful, like the Nerull cults mentioned earlier, then they are like the Demon Lords and Arch Devils.

If the gods require worship to exist and grow more powerful from it, then why do Evil Gods exist and are equally powerful? Most of the evil gods are worshipped by small cults, just like the Demon Lords and Archdevils are. In fact, I'd put forth that Asmodeus has more cults and worshippers than Nerull or Umberlee. So why would they be gods and he is not?

And round and round we go, trying to justify a difference that I think is so murky by this point in the game, that it doesn't have a place anymore. Just make the Demon Lords and Archdevils "as unto Gods" mostly by weakening the good gods to not be all-smitingly-powerful, and continue with the Evil gods fading away.
 

Hearing so many people talk about how 4E did this well is music to my ears, and it makes me wonder how well the Nentir Vale and all the 4E lore would have been received had it all been attached to the 5E system instead.
The Dawn War was excellent mythological storytelling, and the Raven Queen was one of the best takes on a Death Deity in years.

In fact, a lot of it hung together very very well.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I have a lot of gaps too, mostly in that I've never played an editions earlier than 3rd

The point of the material world vs the outer planes is a weird one. All of the Gods live in the Outer Planes, but they care about and interact with the material world. Same with devils and demons. Asmodeus lives in the Nine Hells, and most of his plots involve the mortal world.

So, both groups are associated with an outer plane, both groups are focused on and concerned with the Material, where they have worshippers and devotees.

And then we get to the sticky part. If the gods are seperate and don't require worhsip to be powerful, like the Nerull cults mentioned earlier, then they are like the Demon Lords and Arch Devils.

If the gods require worship to exist and grow more powerful from it, then why do Evil Gods exist and are equally powerful? Most of the evil gods are worshipped by small cults, just like the Demon Lords and Archdevils are. In fact, I'd put forth that Asmodeus has more cults and worshippers than Nerull or Umberlee. So why would they be gods and he is not?

And round and round we go, trying to justify a difference that I think is so murky by this point in the game, that it doesn't have a place anymore. Just make the Demon Lords and Archdevils "as unto Gods" mostly by weakening the good gods to not be all-smitingly-powerful, and continue with the Evil gods fading away.
As I either implied or stated outright, my own solution was to have my setting be cut off from the gawds. There were gawds that interacted with the world, then Something Happened. I could live with something on the lines of what I gather Theros does, where the gawds aren't aligned; or something where the gawds have aspects with different alignments.

That said, I think that if you have good gawds, you need something to oppose them. Those things can be explicitly evil gawds, or they can be Mighty Fiends of whatever sort you care to use. It's just a matter of aesthetic balance to me. I also wouldn't allow tieflings without aasimar.

In my own setting, I had to differentiate between Asmodeus as Lord of the Nine and Asmodeus the Evil Gawd, because while he isn't able to do gawd-type things, he is still able to do Archdevil things. This is why I have such a distinction in my head, even if it may not be clear to anyone else.
 



pemerton

Legend
Because D&D defines "evil" differently. In D&D terms good is putting other before yourself, evil is putting yourself before others.

A lot of the issues people have here is confusing a real world Christianity based definition of evil with the completely fantasy Gygaxian definition of evil.

D&D calls a lot of folk evil who in the real world we would simply label selfish.
Got news for you. Selfishness is evil in Christianity too.
How else would you define evil except for self-centrism?
In terms of malice and harm.
I'm not sure this thread is the right place for a debate about moral theology.

That said, given that a generally-accepted moral teaching is "do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" I think it's fair to say that "putting yourself before others" is morally doubtful according to a lot of mainstream outlets. The degree of morally permissible self-regard is a contested matter. It's widely but universally thought that the answer is some, and that only a saint acts with literally no self-regard.

"Malice" seems, fairly clearly, to be a case of not doing unto others as one would have them do to oneself. The moral framing we should give to non-malicioius harm is a different matter, but that's where notions of fall and providence might come into play.

I don't see that any of this gets in the way of having a D&D campaign in which all divinity is good. It requires a little bit of reconceptualisatio of evil high priests and the like: rather than conjuring up necrotic forces (which sounds like evil as a distinct source of power) they might have to be framed as literal manifestations of corruption (so eg their curses and foul magic literally drain away the goodness and life in things, a metaphysical metaphor for falling away from truth). But that doesn't seem too hard.
 

pemerton

Legend
Hearing so many people talk about how 4E did this well is music to my ears, and it makes me wonder how well the Nentir Vale and all the 4E lore would have been received had it all been attached to the 5E system instead.
The core D&D fanbase seems very conservative in its attitude to published setting material, and seems very hostile to material that closely emulates the liiterary roots of fantasy. By this second clause I mean that there has never been a popular D&D setting I can think of that follows JRRT's bascially Christian (but pre-incarnation) theology, nor REH's absence of gods but presence of Cthulhu-esque beings and "fiends". Personally I feel this has been driven by a desire to "domesticate" the cleric class without going back to its obvious literary/historical roots.

So I think the answer to your question is "I think it would still have been controversial."
 
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Voadam

Adventurer
The core D&D fanbase seems very conservative in its attitude to published setting material, and seems very hostile to material that closely emulates the liiterary roots of fantasy. By this second clause I mean that there has never been a popular D&D setting I can think of that follows JRRT's bascially Christian (but pre-incarnation) theology, nor REH's absence of gods but presence of Cthulhu-esque beings and "fiends". Personally I feel this has been driven by a desire to "domesticate" the cleric class without going back to its obvious literary/historical roots.

So I think the answer to your question is "I think it would still have been controvesial."
Hyboria is full of Gods and is pretty much the template for D&D ones. Crom, Set, Mitra, Bel, Jebbal Sag.

I have more than one Conan book on pantheons of the Hyborian world, one of which is currently in print (Nameless Cults). If the action of the story focuses on the mortal magical priests and not the actuality of the gods themselves then Eberron is a lot like Hyboria.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I don't see that any of this gets in the way of having a D&D campaign in which all divinity is good. It requires a little bit of reconceptualisatio of evil high priests and the like: rather than conjuring up necrotic forces (which sounds like evil as a distinct source of power) they might have to be framed as literal manifestations of corruption (so eg their curses and foul magic literally drain away the goodness and life in things, a metaphysical metaphor for falling away from truth). But that doesn't seem too hard.
My feeling is that if you define all gawds as good, you need something that can reasonably oppose them. You can decide that your Great Evil Powers aren't gawds, but they need to exist and they need to have goals and they need to have at least something like a plausible path to those goals--that last might involve cabals or something (if they're not gawds I'm not even sure I'd call them cults, but I'm not going to quibble over terminology). I don't think having, e.g., mortal cabalists as a counterpoint to good gawds works. For me, this is about aesthetics of the setting more than anything else--too much unopposed good is just as boring (very) as too much unopposed evil.
 

Mirtek

Adventurer
Note that the archfiends actually counted as lesser deities in 1e and a lot of the more powerful ones were also deities during 2e.
 

I'm not sure this thread is the right place for a debate about moral theology.
I agree, but I didn't see any way to avoid it - you can't answer the OP without defining what you mean by "evil".

If you use the broad Gygaxian definition of evil it's easy to see the difference between a demon and an evil god - demons are always as evil as it is possible to be, whereas an evil god might just be slightly more selfish than they are altruistic.

If you use "evil" in the way it is more commonly used in society - as a very strong word only used for the worst of the worst - then the same god is neutral. The god hasn't changed, your definition of evil has.
 

Coroc

Hero
I agree, but I didn't see any way to avoid it - you can't answer the OP without defining what you mean by "evil".

If you use the broad Gygaxian definition of evil it's easy to see the difference between a demon and an evil god - demons are always as evil as it is possible to be, whereas an evil god might just be slightly more selfish than they are altruistic.

If you use "evil" in the way it is more commonly used in society - as a very strong word only used for the worst of the worst - then the same god is neutral. The god hasn't changed, your definition of evil has.
Demon is chaotic evil "elemental-like". See it like the difference between a fire elemental and a campfire. Both are burning quite hot, but one is pure fire,
and the other fire and incineration byproducts.
A CE mortal would be more like the campfire.
A CE god would mostly cover one or more of the aspects of CE behavior e.g. psychopathic murder, although his essence would be as pure as a demons but on a different powerlevel.

So one is the mortal with his alignment tendencies, the evil god might have in his portfolio one or more of the aspects of a CE life and the demon just is CE "personified", normally not specialized in one aspect of CE.

Ok with LE it gets more difficult, because nine hells have each a different theme. But also here, a devil is the lawful evil essence and a LE god might cover one or more of the topics of different layers of the nine hells, or even reside there (like e.g. Thiamat aka Takishis)
 

I have thought for a long time that in fantasy gaming, and the accompanying settings, there are too many "evil with a capital E" deities. Tolkien did his world with one major Evil god, along with the lesser evil non-mortal beings who followed/were corrupted by him.

But yes, for there to be conflict between good and evil in a fantasy setting, there have to be evil deities, but there needs to be a limit. Look at the various pagan religions from our world. Despite how they have been written up in all the editions of D&D, how many of them would even be truly Evil? A lot of them have grey areas to what they are patrons of and would only be evil, or even more Neutral with evil tendencies.

Absolute Evil should be very rare among deities because even the lesser evil ones would team up with the good deities to keep the Evil down, since it would threaten their own influence and control. Look at the MCU. When Loki was faced with a greater evil, he worked with the good guys for his own survival.
 

Tolkien did his world with one major Evil god, along with the lesser evil non-mortal beings who followed/were corrupted by him.
Morgoth was closer to a fallen angel than a god. He is Lucifer with the numbers filed off.
But yes, for there to be conflict between good and evil in a fantasy setting, there have to be evil deities
No, mortals are quite capable of being evil all by themselves.
 

pemerton

Legend
Hyboria is full of Gods and is pretty much the template for D&D ones. Crom, Set, Mitra, Bel, Jebbal Sag.

I have more than one Conan book on pantheons of the Hyborian world, one of which is currently in print (Nameless Cults). If the action of the story focuses on the mortal magical priests and not the actuality of the gods themselves then Eberron is a lot like Hyboria.
My point is that, in REH Conan, the gods play no role in the stories. There are demons (eg as in The Phoenix on the Sword) and there are magicians, but there is no evidence of divine action in the world (the closest we get to that that I can think of is The Hour of the Dragon, but to the extent that that story involves providential good fortune it is not mediated through priests/clerics).

This isn't an accidental feature of REH Conan either. It's about its modernist character.

In a Conan game there would be no need to have a cleric class distinct from other sorcerers, and no need to address the question raised in this thread.
 

pemerton

Legend
My feeling is that if you define all gawds as good, you need something that can reasonably oppose them. You can decide that your Great Evil Powers aren't gawds, but they need to exist and they need to have goals and they need to have at least something like a plausible path to those goals

<snip>

For me, this is about aesthetics of the setting more than anything else--too much unopposed good is just as boring (very) as too much unopposed evil.
for there to be conflict between good and evil in a fantasy setting, there have to be evil deities
On this I agree with @Paul Farquhar. A setting in which the divine is, per se, good, may still have opposition. LotR gives a fantasy example.

Tolkien did his world with one major Evil god, along with the lesser evil non-mortal beings who followed/were corrupted by him.
JRRT has no evil gods. It's a monotheistic setting.

Morgoth is a fallen angel. He has no power to create. He can corrupt, lure and dominate. It seems likely - in D&D terms - that he can cast spells, but not ones that create or conjure forth forces or beings. We know, for instance, that Melkor could not himself make the Silmarils. When Sauron makes the ring, he has to power it with his own essence (he can't create new power). The Black Captain can destroy things by speaking words of power and terror - but I don't think he can create.

I think this can all be done in D&D, if one wants to, without too much trouble.

Of course alternative approaches are possible that give evil gods a particular role - eg broadly Manichaean (eg Dragonlance); or law/from vs chaos/matter (eg 4e). But on those approaches it would still make sense to consider how evil gods relate to demons and devils. In a Manichaean setting, for instance, it doesn't make much sense to treat them as distinct metaphysical categories.
 

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