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5E Are "evil gods" necessary?

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Some cosmologies are clean, some have overlap. A messy cosmology with overlap can leave a lot of room for interesting edge cases and variations. It is about what you want in a game. I am fine with clean cosmologies (I've made plenty of my own). But I think the broader appeal a game has, like say D&D) the more you are going to want some overlap, some messiness, so a lot of different flavors can be found.

The beauty of this of course, if you don't have to remove anything. Everyone is free to make their own cosmology in their own campaign, to make their own setting and publish it. I think that is a better approach that saying evil gods should go because their roles is maybe similar to other entities in the setting.
I don't disagree, really. I think it's probably easier to remove something than write up something to add. Removing the gawds from my setting was the easiest way for me to come up with something I was happy with.
 

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Hexmage-EN

Explorer
That was the name, cool name. I stole it for a completely different type of enemy.

And yeah, the Abyss likely doesn't care, but my players sure would.

"You face the minions of the Lord of Poison."
"You mean [A]?"
"No, the other one"
"You mean {B}?"
"No, the other other one"
"You mean... [C]?"
"No."
"Yeah, I don't think we've heard of this guy before. What is his name again?"
I made a 5E version of Azuvidexus once, although it was pretty much just a slight edit of Yeenoghu's statblock from Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes. He was pretty much just a glorified guard beast for a lich who had found out Azuvidexus' true name. I replaced the flail attack with a tail attack, added a swallow effect to the bite, and gave him entangle and wall of thorns. He ended up swallowing the ranger's animal companion, entangling one PC, casting wall of thorns, and swatting another PC through the wall of thorns with his tail attack before getting taken out by the party paladin, who had ridden a pegasus over the top of the wall of thorns to deliver a decapitating divine smite.

As for redundant demon lords, I imagine that there's a high mortality rate among demon lords in general (the big names excluded, of course). Several of those demon lords of poison could have already killed each other or died in other ways.

My personal favorite poison-related demon lord is Shaktari, Queen of the Mariliths. I even found an eight-armed marilith miniature to represent her with!
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
One issue that's always troubled me is why, if there are evil gods, is the divine energy siphoning "Ur-Priest" class necessarily evil? However I consider that to be more of an Ur-Priest issue than an evil gods issue.
 

pemerton

Legend
If you were to install e.g. one big bad overlord versus one good overlord instead, then you get a problem if players get enough power to confront the big baddie: If they win they destroy the balance as well as their biggest challenge, ending the campaign.
I don't see why that would be a problem. It souinds pretty awesome.

IIRC I think the silmarillion refers to the Valar as gods on at least one occasion
That may be clarified in further writings of Tolkien, but when I was a young teenager in the early 80's with no internet to look things up, and reading The Hobbit and LotR for the first time, I interpreted it to be there was the one top god, who created a group of lesser gods, the Valar, and another lower group similar to demigods/angels, the Maiar. Even if that is not the "official" definition of them, that is how I have always viewed them.
I think the only reference to religion in LotR is when Denethor and Gandalf refer to the "heathen kings" who had themselves and their family members burned. Farimir refers to "the Nameless One" being "named in honour" but it's not clear whether this is meant to refer to worship in a literal sense. And in any event it's clear it would be worship of a false god.

The Silmarillion begins with the Ainulindalë which is an account of the creation of the world by Eru The One.

The elves revere the Valar but don't worship them as gods. Elves don't seem to have any religious practices at all. The Gondorian face west before they eat, to remember Numenor and the lands (of Elves and the Valar) that lay beyond it. But they don't pray to or supplicate the Valar.

I think it would be possible to have a similar approach in D&D.
 

D&D places far more emphasis on the actual "god" part of religion, rather than the culture and traditions that grow around religion and form most of its practice. Again, this is very much viewing religious practices through a modern lens (vis a vie, "having a personal relationship with god") than actually modelling how religion was practiced prior to the 19th century.
 

Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
Good thread with some thoughtful comments.

I suppose I don't really consider gods, elementals, faeries, spirits, demons or angels as fundamentally different from one another in many ways, so I don't really understand the precision of nomenclature that some people seem to crave. What makes a god a god? is an interesting question, because when you start to analyze any single dimension...well, it's elusive, isn't it?

pemerton said:
I think the only reference to religion in LotR is when Denethor and Gandalf refer to the "heathen kings" who had themselves and their family members burned.
We don't see priests, or places of worship in the book. But Varda is called upon on multiple occasions. When Aragorn is crowned Elessar, Gandalf invokes Eru and the Valar. As part of the narrative description of Theoden's wrath, he is likened to Orome who is a "god" - maybe this alludes to the difference in understanding between the Northmen/Rohirrim and the Gondorians. Then there's the Black Numenorians, Easterlings etc. - they regard Sauron as a god. I imagine that Sauron probably likes temples and sacrifices and that sort of thing...

But I agree that in general religion is very understated.
 


Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
D&D places far more emphasis on the actual "god" part of religion, rather than the culture and traditions that grow around religion and form most of its practice.
I agree with this 100%. But...

Again, this is very much viewing religious practices through a modern lens (vis a vie, "having a personal relationship with god") than actually modelling how religion was practiced prior to the 19th century.
Here I have a problem. "How religion was practiced prior to the 19th century," is a very, very expansive category. There is a poem known as "The Sister's Message" - it is an ancient Mesopotamian tract - maybe 4000 years old? Anyway:

As I was strolling, as I was strolling
as I was strolling by the house
my dear Inanna saw me
O, my brother, what did she tell me? What did she tell me?
What more did she say to me?
O, my brother of love; allure
The sweetest of sweet things.

I think the poet had "a personal relationship with" Inanna. The poem goes on - it is sort-of written from a woman's perspective, although a man undoubtedly wrote it - and is confiding in the goddess; maybe asking her for romantic advice; there is also a heavy erotic subtext. There are other tracts, thousands of years old, which bespeak other - very diverse and very complex - understandings of the notion of "deity." I think we fundamentally underestimate and misrepresent people in ancient cultures when we portray their personal religious experience and understanding - and how they construe divinity - as somehow different, inferior, less evolved, less informed than our own.
 

pemerton

Legend
We don't see priests, or places of worship in the book. But Varda is called upon on multiple occasions. When Aragorn is crowned Elessar, Gandalf invokes Eru and the Valar. As part of the narrative description of Theoden's wrath, he is likened to Orome who is a "god" - maybe this alludes to the difference in understanding between the Northmen/Rohirrim and the Gondorians. Then there's the Black Numenorians, Easterlings etc. - they regard Sauron as a god. I imagine that Sauron probably likes temples and sacrifices and that sort of thing...
I think this all goes to your point about precision of nomencalture - with which I agree.

The passage about Theoden says that he was "borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young." I think this is like the reference to "heathen kings". As you say, it reflects a persepctive of those who are mistaken about the nature of divinity.

Gandalf, in crowning Aragorn, says "Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed as long as the thrones of the Valar endure!" Is this a prayer? And to whom? I would read this in conjunction with Gandalf's declaration, before the Balrog, that "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor." Also his statement to Denethor that "I also am a steward." In this sense Gandalf is on a par with the Valar, who are also servants (of the one) and stewards (of Middle Earth).

The idea of proper fulfillment of one's office is obviously a major recurring theme in LotR. And it informs its presentation of the relationship of creation to creator. I personally think D&D could handle this if someone wanted it to. But it would require a different backstory from the typical approach to clerics and their gods.
 

If the two pairs of shoes fit... ;)
Does it fit though? I can appreciate wanting a streamlined and well thought out cosmology, like I said, I've made plenty myself (I like to think my Sertorious setting is pretty well organized cosmologically). But I also think D&D isn't even attempting to make something like that. Sometimes you want something that just draws more freely off of real world myth and legend. If you look at a lot of real world cosmologies, they often evolve organically and there are gods and creatures doing double duty with roles leftover from earlier versions. I don't play D&D very much any more, but I used to. And I always felt with D&D you just kind of wanted as many flavors of supernatural as possible so if you saw something cool in a movie or book you wanted to incorporate you could easily find something to tie it to, and ideally you would have multiple options to pick from so it fits what you want in the campaign. Which I think is one of the benefits of redundancy. But it isn't redundancy itself that makes it interesting, it is that by having overlap you are allowed to have greater variety, and not just one lord of darkness or something.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Does it fit though? I can appreciate wanting a streamlined and well thought out cosmology, like I said, I've made plenty myself (I like to think my Sertorious setting is pretty well organized cosmologically). But I also think D&D isn't even attempting to make something like that. Sometimes you want something that just draws more freely off of real world myth and legend. If you look at a lot of real world cosmologies, they often evolve organically and there are gods and creatures doing double duty with roles leftover from earlier versions. I don't play D&D very much any more, but I used to. And I always felt with D&D you just kind of wanted as many flavors of supernatural as possible so if you saw something cool in a movie or book you wanted to incorporate you could easily find something to tie it to, and ideally you would have multiple options to pick from so it fits what you want in the campaign. Which I think is one of the benefits of redundancy. But it isn't redundancy itself that makes it interesting, it is that by having overlap you are allowed to have greater variety, and not just one lord of darkness or something.
Redundancy isn't inherently interesting, but it can be. The same goes for a streamlined cosmology. The default (for lack of a better descriptor) cosmology in D&D is astonishingly messy because they wanted to incorporate as many real-world mythologies--many of which have mutually exclusive cosmologies--as possible. It's certainly possible to pare that down quite a lot, to pick (or write) one constellation of deities and one narrative to connect them, and still leave the other planar hierarchies more or less intact.

I think it's the variety that causes the overlap, not the other way around. I agree that having multiple ways to incorporate things is potentially a benefit, but I think there's also a lot to be said for having the fictional world be more coherent than the default seems to encourage.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
D&D places far more emphasis on the actual "god" part of religion, rather than the culture and traditions that grow around religion and form most of its practice.
I think this is really a practical matter. If you try to write out the culture and traditions that grow around religion... you're going to have an entire book in and of itself, for every culture. It isn't supportable for a game. And, not being scholars of the matter, most of us would do a bad job of it on our own.

Again, this is very much viewing religious practices through a modern lens (vis a vie, "having a personal relationship with god") than actually modelling how religion was practiced prior to the 19th century.
Modern? Commenting on the strict history, and leaving the religious content out - this view of things came up in Western culture with the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, as the role of the strong central church began to weaken. It strengthened immensely with the rise of Deists (including many of the Founding Fathers in the US), in the 1700s.

So, not really modern.

But, honestly, if we are going to talk about D&D religious practices and relationships with the divine, by basic structure we should be thinking pre-Christian European models, which are rather different.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
D&D religion is a mix of Christianity overlayed on ancient pagan myths. The cleric is a Christian knight template who worships a pantheistic deity like Zeus or Athena. This carries over to a lot of the trappings like having christian based churches for most gods instead of temples, regular weekly worship days, church hierarchies, but the gods are Greekish in tone sometimes with a little bit of Zoroastrianism of two cosmic sides.
 

D&D religion is a mix of Christianity overlayed on ancient pagan myths. The cleric is a Christian knight template who worships a pantheistic deity like Zeus or Athena. This carries over to a lot of the trappings like having christian based churches for most gods instead of temples, regular weekly worship days, church hierarchies, but the gods are Greekish in tone sometimes with a little bit of Zoroastrianism of two cosmic sides.
I think this is largely just due to many people not understanding how ancient religions tended to work (at least Ancient Roman and Greek). It is also in part just an accident of the sources that inspired D&D. Not to toot my own horn again, but my Sertorius setting was based more on ancient religion with a focus on things like performing the appropriate rituals, but I still found that many of the people who ran it, would treat religious practices more like going to church on Sunday (simply because that is what they knew). Which was fine, think people bring their own experience to the game and that totally works. So I guess my point is, even if you have a game setting where the religion is specifically not modeling Christianity as much, in a society where that is the norm, people are going to fill any gaps with their own experience.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
I think it is also because clerics and D&D gods were not together. Gods started off with PCs in Gygax's games swearing by Crom and Odin as if they were Conan and then Gygax developed his pagan pantheons to have indigenous stuff. Clerics started with Arneson wanting a Van Helsing to fight the vampiric Sir Fang so they had turn undead and then they became Odo based Norman knights with curing and semi-biblical spell lists but the gods were not originally a big deal for them, it could be generic "The Gods". Once you have christianish church knights early on its going to be a starting point for more christianish church stuff to be developed.
 

I think the poet had "a personal relationship with" Inanna. The poem goes on - it is sort-of written from a woman's perspective, although a man undoubtedly wrote it - and is confiding in the goddess; maybe asking her for romantic advice; there is also a heavy erotic subtext. There are other tracts, thousands of years old, which bespeak other - very diverse and very complex - understandings of the notion of "deity." I think we fundamentally underestimate and misrepresent people in ancient cultures when we portray their personal religious experience and understanding - and how they construe divinity - as somehow different, inferior, less evolved, less informed than our own.
Minor point, because it has been years, but if this is the poet I think it is, then most historian's seem to agree that it was written by a woman.

I do remember from my college classes that the first fictional writing was a series of religious poems written in Mesopotamia by a Priestess. Though, names do escape my memory this many years later.
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
The two major problems that I see with how D&D handles things are these

1.) That priests in D&D seem to be expected to have a similar temperment to their deity.

2.) That, despite a few token statements to the contrary in the rulebooks, most people seem to follow one deity tonthe exclusion of others. Even though there's ample precedent for being a priest of a specific deity, there's no reason for laypeople to do this. And in any case, even a preist of one dekty would acknowledge the other deities.

Both of these issues are at odds with classical paganism and both of these issues compound the issue of evil deities
 


Lackofname

Explorer
(Warning: I have not read the last 13 pages)

"EVIL" gods always struck me as a little...mm, too overt. I guess it's more the inevitable nature of an alignment system. But I would think, if we were looking at pantheons from RL, that gods have different aspects which are evil or good or neutral. They may be about X or Y...but they are also vengeful, or petty, or rapey. And so you would end up with a branch of a church that focuses on that element of the god.

So you might have one community dedicated to the god of harvest and fertility that practice human sacrifices. Yet that god is answering their prayers just like the community over there that doesn't.

And unless you have a pantheon with 50 or so gods, just "a god of lies" or "god of murder" seems odd. Why would the other gods let that guy exist, since you know, a God of Murder might murder the other gods. Same with lies, etc. It would make more sense if those "evil" portfolios were held by a bigger god.

But if you still want your Evil God, the way I would go is not the Official Church of the God of Betraying Your Family, Who Has A Recognized Church with a Cathedral and Everything, but rather simply demi-gods, local deities, powerful spirits, demon princes, etc. Something that isn't a true Capital G god, but can still deliver under the right circumstances. The Night Mother from Skyrim is a great example.
 
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Voadam

Adventurer
You're going to have to be more specific please. Wikipedia lists seventeen different historical priests with the name Odo.
Odo of Bayeaux, half brother of William the Conqueror. Norman knight, bishop of Bayeaux, used a mace in battle so as not to violate church law on clergy spilling blood. Shown on the Bayesux tapestry. The mace thing was a common loophole for fighting clergy of the time. He was the most famous example.
 

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