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5E Are "evil gods" necessary?

Doug McCrae

Legend
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.
The use of blunt weapons to avoid the prohibition on shedding blood is a 19th century myth that made its way into D&D.
 

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Voadam

Adventurer
The use of blunt weapons to avoid the prohibition on shedding blood is a 19th century myth that made its way into D&D.
Possibly, it wouldn't be the first time later myths lore the established understanding. My understanding is that is how Gorgons in medieval bestiaries became bulls instead of their greek earlier forms.

If you check out the wikipedia entry for Odo it mentions the disputed theories, particularly in footnote 2 and 3.
 

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.
Yes, the Catholic Church has been dealing with heretics and their movements and splinter religions for something like a thousand years, and probably longer, but I do not have the time at the moment to research the first documented one. So this was going on throughout the entire real world time period that D&D borrows from. The historical corrupt and borderline evil times of the Catholic Church make them a great basis for a fantasy Theocracy that needs to be overthrown. Though I am not sure how much more this topic can be gone into, even from a fantasy viewpoint, before it crosses the "no religion discussion" line and turns into a Catholic bashing thread.
 


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.



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.
Modern Christianity in my opinion, is post Reformation. It overturned 1000+ years of tradition for a new modern - see the commonality between Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic that you don't get in the Protestant denominations.
 

I agree with this 100%. But...



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.
I don't take issue with anything you've written here, but note that the idea of "personal relationship" in BCE polytheism is very different to "personal relationship" in post-Reformation and particularly evangelical Christianity.

The former (as with your example) is very much with an emphasis on the physical, terrestrial manifestation of the deity. Think of Moses going up on Sinai and seeing Yahweh in his physical form, think Jacob wrestling with god, or the same deity wandering in the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve.

The modern "personal relationship" is more of a "god loves me personally, and I hear his voice encouraging and guiding me". It is the transition from "god the autocratic king-father", to "god the dad as sports coach".
 

@Voadam I'm not talking about whether or not Bishop Odo used a blunt weapon at the Battle of Hastings, but the idea of a legal exception for blunt weapons being made under church law. It's the latter that's a myth.

See this post on the subject on r/askhistorians. u/sunagainstgold, who answers the question, is Cait Stevenson, a medieval historian. She writes "The BWE [Blunt Weapon Exception] is a romanticized 19th century myth."
Yes when Catholic priests went to war (and it didn't happen often, but it did) they used the same weapons as everyone else. The priests in Constantinople claim that latin priests were fighting in the actual battles of the crusades. Now it is a matter of historical fact that they definitely were present at the battles, but I don't know of any evidence from western sources that they actually were swinging weapons around.
 

Yes, the Catholic Church has been dealing with heretics and their movements and splinter religions for something like a thousand years, and probably longer, but I do not have the time at the moment to research the first documented one. So this was going on throughout the entire real world time period that D&D borrows from. The historical corrupt and borderline evil times of the Catholic Church make them a great basis for a fantasy Theocracy that needs to be overthrown. Though I am not sure how much more this topic can be gone into, even from a fantasy viewpoint, before it crosses the "no religion discussion" line and turns into a Catholic bashing thread.
Thinking that it was the "Catholic Church" who was dealing with heresies is a very western-centric view of history. The eastern wing of the church (ie the bit that became "Orthodox") arguably dealt with even more heresies (Iconoclasm, Bogmolism, Monotheletism, Monophysitism etc), and it was the policies of Constantinople, not Rome, that led to the Copts throwing in behind the Arabs. If you said "the Melkite Church" or something else you'd be on less shaky ground. The only reason Protestanism is not "dealing with heresies" is because that is the very definition of it - the divergent theologies have now escaped the control of the theologians and are running wild in the world.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.

<snip>

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.
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.
To add to what Voadam has said: both the cleric and the paladin are mechanical realisations of a Christian knight templar or warring bishop archetype or saintly king archetype. They are heavily armed and armoured. They heal with a touch; they abjure evil spirits; they conjure light in darkness, hurl their staves to the ground and turn them into serpents, and call down pillars of fire. Originaly they defaulted to good or lawful good - evil high priests were labelled "anti-clerics".

Having these archetypes worship pre-/non-Christian gods creates a strange state of affairs.

Another oddity is that the druid, who in archetypical terms is closer to a pagan priest, is often depicted as having no relation to the gods at all, but rather as drawing power from some nebulous "nature".

My own view is that it's not too much work in AD&D and 3E versions of the game to keep the mechanics but bring their religions and metaphysics into more sensible alignment with the archetypes. Maybe 5e makes it a bit trickier. 4e has it's own integration of classes to cosmology that makes sense on its own terms.
 

To add to what Voadam has said: both the cleric and the paladin are mechanical realisations of a Christian knight templar or warring bishop archetype or saintly king archetype. They are heavily armed and armoured. They heal with a touch; they abjure evil spirits; they conjure light in darkness, hurl their staves to the ground and turn them into serpents, and call down pillars of fire. Originaly they defaulted to good or lawful good - evil high priests were labelled "anti-clerics".

Having these archetypes worship pre-/non-Christian gods creates a strange state of affairs.

Another oddity is that the druid, who in archetypical terms is closer to a pagan priest, is often depicted as having no relation to the gods at all, but rather as drawing power from some nebulous "nature".

My own view is that it's not too much work in AD&D and 3E versions of the game to keep the mechanics but bring their religions and metaphysics into more sensible alignment with the archetypes. Maybe 5e makes it a bit trickier. 4e has it's own integration of classes to cosmology that makes sense on its own terms.
I don't have any issues in my 5E game with replacing religious mechanics with a focus on religions rather than gods.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
To add to what Voadam has said: both the cleric and the paladin are mechanical realisations of a Christian knight templar or warring bishop archetype or saintly king archetype. They are heavily armed and armoured. They heal with a touch; they abjure evil spirits; they conjure light in darkness, hurl their staves to the ground and turn them into serpents, and call down pillars of fire. Originaly they defaulted to good or lawful good - evil high priests were labelled "anti-clerics".
1974 OD&D is the most Christian edition of D&D imo. There are, as yet, no pagan gods. The cleric's spells and level titles are strongly influenced by, respectively, Bible stories and church hierarchy. "Lama" doesn't fit, but I think it was just Gary resorting to his well-thumbed thesaurus.

"One likely factor in the choice of the term 'cleric' over 'priest' is the latter* word's close association, in the minds of the authors, with Christianity. Both Gygax and Arneson were practicing Christians at the time." - Jon Peterson, Playing at the World (2014)

EDIT: *Peterson surely means "former" here, otherwise the sentence doesn't make much sense!

cleric spells.png


cleric level titles.png
 
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Coroc

Hero
The use of blunt weapons to avoid the prohibition on shedding blood is a 19th century myth that made its way into D&D.
or the bishop was expecting heavy armored opposition. While maybe not the favorite weapon of choice at that time, it would give you the edge versus mail also, where it clearly outperforms any sword.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
1974 OD&D is the most Christian edition of D&D imo.
Mod Note

And that's the point at which we need to walk this back off religion. A comment or two about historical points and what is or isn't a myth is fine. Judging what counts as "most Christian" is over the line.

So, folks, please turn away from this line of discussion. Thanks.
 

Mirtek

Adventurer
The restriction in early D&D had the mechanical reason to curtail their fighting abilities. They were too close to the fighter as it was and thus limiting them to weapons with smaller damage dice helped to keep them behind.

Dragon Magazine Issue 52 (August 1981) said:
The cleric-adventurer is not a meek priest; he is a warrior who has spells and magical powers to aid him as he destroys the enemies of his god. Like Archbishop Turpin, he can use his powers to bless and support his comrades, and he is an able fighter in his own right, second only to a professional warrior in skill.
[...]
Clericadventurers are trained warriors; they fight better than trained men-at-arms, are comfortable with armor, and are bold enough to enter places no cynical mercenary would dare come near. They are warrior-priests, and it should show in their outlook. This warlike outlook is evident in a properly motivated cleric player character. Why does a cleric-adventurer go on adventures? Certainly not just to play medic; he could do that where it’s safe — people get hurt everywhere.
[...]
His motives are basically aggressive: he wants to destroy his god’s enemies, wrest away their wealth, and accumulate personal experience in a rapid but risky manner; and all for his god’s benefit. This is a cleric worthy of Turpin’s approval. After all, how meek can you expect a person who fights terrible monsters to be? Just descending into a dungeon is an act of uncommon boldness. The cleric-adventurer isn’t, and really can’t be, a meek healer. His purpose demands that he be a bold killer, a champion of his god.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
The restriction in early D&D had the mechanical reason to curtail their fighting abilities. They were too close to the fighter as it was and thus limiting them to weapons with smaller damage dice helped to keep them behind.
Partially. In OD&D all weapons at base did 1d6 damage. Clerics had fewer d6s for their HD than fighters across levels and could not use swords which meant they could not use magic swords which was the most common type of magic weapon, the most powerful magic weapons, and the big domain of fighters. Restricting their weapon selection meant restricting their magic weapon selection and designing the treasure charts to favor non cleric magic weapons.
 

pemerton

Legend
Partially. In OD&D all weapons at base did 1d6 damage. Clerics had fewer d6s for their HD than fighters across levels and could not use swords which meant they could not use magic swords which was the most common type of magic weapon, the most powerful magic weapons, and the big domain of fighters. Restricting their weapon selection meant restricting their magic weapon selection and designing the treasure charts to favor non cleric magic weapons.
I think this is an area where legacy design elements of D&D have lost touch with their original rationale.
 

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
So are evil gods necessary. I don't know if I've actually responded to the OP, but I would say that no, evil gods aren't necessary. The tone of the game might change depending on the gods that you have in the game and how they are portrayed, but removing evil gods and using the demon and devil lords as the stand in I think would create a very sword and sorcery style of game where the players follow the gods and strike out against the cults of the lower planes. You could even go full Eberron and remove all the gods and just keep religions (at least I think that's the gist for Eberron, I've read bits about it but never played in the setting). Some of these religions may even think they follow a god but without any actual avatars or divine visitations they can't be sure, it would be a matter of faith for some, for others their god is a demon masquerading as a god.

I think having a setting similar to the Conan mythos where there are a number of supernatural beings who are inimical to humanity would make for a cool, grim and gritty setting. What good gods exist are rarely, if ever, felt or seen by the populous but the religions exist because they have a promise of something better for the people who live in such a world.
 

pemerton

Legend
removing evil gods and using the demon and devil lords as the stand in I think would create a very sword and sorcery style of game where the players follow the gods and strike out against the cults of the lower planes.

<snip>

I think having a setting similar to the Conan mythos where there are a number of supernatural beings who are inimical to humanity would make for a cool, grim and gritty setting. What good gods exist are rarely, if ever, felt or seen by the populous but the religions exist because they have a promise of something better for the people who live in such a world.
I think this is all doable in D&D. It requires some thought about what to do with clerics and paladins.
 

So are evil gods necessary. I don't know if I've actually responded to the OP, but I would say that no, evil gods aren't necessary.
Nothing is necessary, but the OP seems to be trying to argue that evil gods are redundant, because they can't see a difference between slightly evil and very evil.

And this is where real world religion comes in, by not really allowing for different degrees of evil.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
Was gonna make this point if no one else did. Particularly the idea that it was undoubtedly written by a man is absurd given what we know about ancient Mesopotamian female literacy, at least amongst royalty/priestesses.
 

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