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Divine Intervention in D&D games

Bullgrit

First Post
The other discussion about "Gods, planes, afterlife, and the common man" got me thinking about this. It seems that most people 'round here have experienced far more direct divine interventions in their D&D games than I have.

In my years of playing D&D -- since 1980 -- as DM, I've had a god directly affect the PCs only twice:

1- About 20 years ago, a god actually struck down a PC (~7th level) in my campaign. It was a convoluted reason, and I regretted it shortly after it happened.

2- Just a couple of years ago, the PCs (~8th level) had a really good guide lead them through a very dangerous jungle to their quest destination. They were a bit suspicious at how fast they travelled the distance, and at how few wilderness encounters they had (only a couple very easy ones) along the way, and at how the guide simply wished them well and went on his way (still in a very dangerous jungle) all by himself afterward.

It wasn't until after the party TPKed in a dumb and unrelated (to their quest) encounter that I let them in on the secret that Fharlanghn, himself, had been their guide. Such was the importance of their quest.

Otherwise, the gods in my games have really never been active in the world. All that I've ever read about the gods of a "generic" D&D world has suggested that they don't get involved unless there is some extraordinary reason. But apparently I'm in the minority with that assumption. It seems that in many games, the gods do take part in temporal matters.

What has been your experience?

As a DM, do you have the gods directly active in your setting(s)? Do they get involved with PCs?

As a Player/PC, have you had direct contact with gods in a game?

Are gods as involved with low-level PCs/NPCs, or does involvement only happen with high-level PCs/NPCs?

In my experience as a Player, the only times gods have taken any kind of direct intervention has been once that I recall where the DM allowed "god calls" (some low random chance of a god "fixing" a bad thing for you -- a DM gimme, really). And once when my cleric met his god after death (and before ressurection).

Bullgrit
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As a DM, do you have the gods directly active in your setting(s)? Do they get involved with PCs?

Directly? Typically no. The gods (if they exist) have hands in the world - they're called "clerics". I have often enough had clerics doing things that people (including PCs) would interpret as intervention of the god in question, sometimes at the bidding of the god in question.


As a Player/PC, have you had direct contact with gods in a game?

You mean, after the glory days where we used Deities and Demigods as an ultra-high-powered Monster Manual?

Once - it was the culmination of a campaign in which there was a whole lot of question about who the gods were going to be. And we weren't so much fighting the gods as fighting off things that wanted to be the gods.

Are gods as involved with low-level PCs/NPCs, or does involvement only happen with high-level PCs/NPCs?

The way I run usually gods, the power of the mortals is not an issue - all mortals are as children before the gods. But, by that same token, they don't tend to meddle directly with anyone, of any power level.
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
I played in a long running campaign years ago where the party's patron turned out to be a god. He was usually a bumbling drunk when we met up with him, so we really didn't suspect anything of the sort until he pulled our butts out of a really bad situation we had foolishly walked into. Obviously the DM used him to save us, but his very direct intervention drew the attention of elder gods who forbade him from any more direct interaction with us. After that we only had visions from him, except for a couple of times where he managed to slip away from the elder gods, get sloshed and pay us a visit.

As a DM, with the exception of the god-slaying days Umbran mentioned above, I have never used direct interaction with the gods, but the PCs have occasionally dealt directly with a divine agent, usually in receiving dire warnings.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
To elaborate a bit...

For D&D, and any other game where characters can be expected to climb to great power levels, I personally find direct deific intervention to be problematic, in terms of plausibility. Direct intervention by deities that are in conflict with one another should lead to disaster.

If the gods are not too powerful (say, they can be threatened or killed by sufficiently powerful mortals), then you'd expect the deific turnover rate to be on par with mortal generation times, as mortals grow up, become powerful, and get involved in these conflicts. And who is going to follow gods if the gods keep dying off in living memory?

If the gods are so powerful that they are largely untouchable by the highest-power mortals, then the gods represent... well, nigh unimaginable power. High-level D&D mortals are nearly world-shapers themselves. Interventions by the gods they cannot touch should tend to rip apart worlds with their conflicts.

End result - it seems that to have something semi-stable as your background, the gods cannot meddle to frequently or too directly.

There are ways around this, of course, but every version I've seen tends to feel more contrived than the alternative, which is to not have them personally get their hands dirty with any frequency.
 
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Storminator

First Post
I've seen gods directly in almost all of my campaigns. My brother had a rule that a cleric could call for direct divine intervention once, with chance of success equal to the cleric's level.

I was in an epic 3e game where we used to go hang with the gods all the time. Once we killed an avatar of Lolth things got pretty hectic, but it was still gods here, gods there, can't swing a dead cat without hitting a god.

In the game I run for my son (age 10), they've met a pair of gods so far - probably more on the way.

Why have gods if there's no interaction?

PS
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Why have gods if there's no interaction?

There's no need for statistics for gods if there's no interaction, I'd agree.

But religions are formed around gods (existent or imaginary), and religions drive people. Characters are people. And the game is about characters.
 

Treebore

First Post
I was never able to buy into the "gods are "hands off" in fantasy games" idea. They interfere every time they grant spells to their clerics.

So this idea is, IMO, just a reinforcement of real world expectations on a fantasy reality.

Then, if you use Avatars, then this idea of "hands off" is truly out the window.

So I have always allowed "God Calls". Which are to only be tried when a TPK is imminent. I even had guidelines made up as to how truly devout players could increase their chance of rolling a successful god call (it was a percentile roll, base 5%), which turned into a great way to eat up extra gold as well as a role play incentive.

Also, once a Cleric achieves 9th level in my games they become a direct conduit of their god, so will receive divine inspirations in their dreams however and whenever I see fit for the story.

Like in my last game session I had Thor send his high priestess to commune with two recently deceased PC's, whose players wanted back alive so they could keep playing them. So she communed with them, asking them if they were willing to commit to serving Thor if resurrected. Resurrection was also important to the players because the thieves guild that had killed them also removed certain key body parts and then crucified the bodies to walls of two different buildings. So they also wanted "intact" characters brought back to life, and having a whole body is also important to Thor, so it kind of worked.

Naturally the players had their PC's accept the conditions, and they were resurrected, intact. Something the gods they were serving would not do, because they were against such things, or only believed in Reincarnation.

Since the PC's were low level, and neither were clerics or devout to their previous gods in any real and meaningful way, plus their old gods are nominally "friendly" to Thor, their ex deities took no umbrage, and now they are devout, to Thor. Which will likely have real implications down the road.

So yes, I use the gods, in a pretty active way, but no god wars.

No, I do not use Gods as "Epic" level monsters. I could, but gods are gods, they are immune to mortal magics and mortal weapons. So unless the mortals come across god level magics and weapons in some manner, they cannot even hurt the gods.

Combine that with mortals always being fully effected by the magic of gods (no saves or SR/MR), and always taking full damage from god weapons and magic spells, only suicidal mortals attack the gods.
 

Stormonu

Legend
In one of the 2E games I ran, the characters faced off against Lolth in the Demonweb Pits.

They followed her through the mirror in her chamber to a demiplane trap she had prepared to destroy the heros. However, it turned out that the gods of my campaign world had been hiding Avatars within the PCs - it was one of the reasons they were so exceptional. It was worth seeing the player's reactions as avatars of the various gods "stepped out" of the PCs to confront the demon queen.

A huge gods vs. Lolth fight breaks out, with the PCs tasked to defeat the minions of Lolth (several powerful demons) that are holding the demiplane shut against escape, and on Lolth's orders are attempting to permanently seal it magically as well, forever cutting the gods avatars off from their power (of course, without their power, the gods avatars will be easy pickings for Lolth, and after mopping up, she could simply reopen the demiplane and easily escape). It was an epic battle - I had the players running their own PCs as well as the avatars of the gods against Lolth's full godly form. How the PC were doing in their own fight caused the power of the avatars to fluctuate as well. I don't think I've had a more dramatic battle at my table.

Other than this incident, I've always had the gods in the background, though there are all kinds of tales of them interacting in mortal affairs throughout past history. However, because of consequences of their meddling (including the fallout from the fight above), barriers had eventually been set up so they could not take direct action on the mortal world any more. Mostly because I didn't want the sort of adventure I did above to be "par for the course" in my game.
 

Rekka360

First Post
As a DM, do you have the gods directly active in your setting(s)? Do they get involved with PCs?

Hmm, more likely the god would act through a divine agent. I can see how it would be possible for a god to act directly, but most likely only if one of the PC's had managed to become that god's champion or something like that.

As a Player/PC, have you had direct contact with gods in a game?

No, again I've come to expect if a certain gods wants me to do something, he'll have a messanger boy or something tell me what he wants.

Are gods as involved with low-level PCs/NPCs, or does involvement only happen with high-level PCs/NPCs?

I would expect it more for high level PC's, a god might care for his low level followers, but I think even for really benevolent gods he's only really going to interfere for a mortal that can achieve something for his divine plan, otherwise he's be interfering all the time.
 

Evilhalfling

Adventurer
Since 4ed yes.

I set up a world where each god takes turns as the "Ascended One" The turn of each god is called an age, and they currently last 200 years. Only the "Ascended One" or their lesser gods, have the direct power to use Avatars, give prophecies, and in other ways directly manipulate the physical world. Everybody else acts only through clerics, or immortal servants.
The Ascended God still prefers indirect meddling, but it gives me the opportunity to play with more unexplainable effects. Mostly these are just signs that the god is interested in the outcome of a situation, rather than bothering to fix things directly.

  • After messing up a seasonal ceremony to the fire god, PCs found themselves in a forest fire.
  • In a particularly important fight with a (teamster-like) dwarven roofing guild, the air got hotter and hotter, reaching 98.6
    After traveling back into time -
  • In a battle that would decide the fate of Coffee as a trade good, the god of trade and winds, would slide a random combatant 1d6 squares in a random direction. The wind was also defending a random PC each round (+1 to defenses, +2 to speed)
  • In the age of the god Water and Healing - several fights were showered in a brief but healing rain. Monsters and PCs alike would run to take advantage of it.

The only god that been actually encountered dispatched an Avatar because he had only ascended recently, and wondered why there was a mid-level paladin calling on him. He posed as a (confused) magic item peddler, and was tickled pink to be asked for his own holy symbol. It would have developed as an artifact, if the campaign had run longer than 1 more session. The God did not otherwise reveal himself.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To some extent I've always had the gods (or at least a few of them) paying attention to the mortal world and what the party is up to.

In my first big campaign the party unknowingly and unintentionally became agents for one goddess acting against another two; the players (and characters) only found this out after 10+ years of play in the very last session when the god they'd been working for showed up and told them what they were doing - and why. But even before then, divine intervention happened albeit on a very rare basis.

In my second campaign, one of the more significant embedded adventure paths involved the rescue of a captured goddess (the 2e module "For Duty and Deity" was the climax) and thus right there the PCs ended up with a friend in high places. Long before that, I ran the "I-3 Pharoah's Tomb" adventure; the person who dropped by to give them their rewards afterwards as per the module was not Amon Ra but instead a minor god travelling in form of an old man. And not all the "rewards" were beneficial! :)

My current campaign has thus far been mostly based on a version of ancient Greece, whose deities constantly meddled with mortals; so having deities and immortals get involved even with low-level types hasn't been out of place at all. The immortal Discord has already taken significant interest in the PCs, they've managed to catch the Fates doing things they shouldn't, and have bent Ares' nose out of joint more than once. The only other culture they've had any real dealings with has been vaguely Celtic, another culture where the deities tend to manifest all over the place.

In any event, in an extreme situation a Cleric can try for divine intervention (I roll for this, sometimes already knowing there's no chance) and see what happens. I'll also occasionally do this in reverse: if the PCs are defeating an enemy Cleric, that person might also get divine help...in other words, it works both ways.

As a player, one example of divine intervention stands out. My namesake character Lanefan was lying half-dead in a pool of blood after losing a fight in "Tomb of the Lizard King". Barely conscious, he prayed to his god Loki for help. Loki showed up, stole a magic item - a ring, I think - from him, then took off and left him lying there! (someone independently found him before he bled to death and patched him up)

Lan-"I never did find out what that ring did"-efan
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Back in the 1e days when gamers in the area tended to form and break up groups pretty frequently there was a time when divine intervention was fairly common. The first time I saw it in action the houserule was a call for it at death, with a 1% per level chance of it working. (This quickly morphed into a slightly higher chance for Clerics, then it could be used in dire straights, but got reset to 1% if it worked.) In a large group with characters dropping like flies it was almost guaranteed that a diety would be contacted, and possibly show up.

If I recall correctly, the first character I had who was played under this rule converted to whatever god showed up and saved the rest of the party when his Cleric went down and made his intervention roll. The average level of the party was high single digits, or low double digits, and he was like 2nd or 3rd. So we are obviously all about to die and God X shows up in person to save our bacon! You bet he converted, on the spot!

I used the idea once or twice myself, but the idea petered out fairly quickly and there haven't been a lot of gods around since.
 

Hussar

Legend
And, even if it hasn't shown up in your games Bullgrit, it's certainly seen in loads of published products.

Dragonlance has Fizban.
Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
Temple of Elemental Evil.
Isle of the Ape.
Greyhawk has Zagyg, Iuz, and a bunch of others show up in canon.
Forgotten Realms - too many to list, but, Time of Troubles is the poster boy.
Planescape setting.
Lost Temple of Tharizdun.
Immortals rule set for Basic/Expert D&D.

Even if it hasn't featured in your (or honestly mine either) campaign, it's not hard to see that gods having a pretty direct hand in the setting is hardly a rare idea.
 

Gilladian

Adventurer
IMC the gods are all mortal beings who have found ways to move to "higher" planes of existence (very difficult as far as I'm concerned) and have taken on godly personas. They know they're not really gods, and they're using magic that they "found" or "won" in battle with other beings, and don't really quite understand.

These beings mostly dislike and fear other mortals, so even "good" gods are as interested in keeping their followers in line and away from their home territories as anything else. They tend to view being hands-off as fairly advisable. However, since their power is pulled from their worshippers, they do need to grant spells and remain just "visible" enough to keep their worship at a peak. Woe betide a god who falls from his or her worshippers graces when another god challenges him/her.

If there ARE "real" gods somewhere, there's no evidence of it! My underlying assumption is that it's really just all "magic". Where does magic come from? The big bang, I guess!
 

Sammael

Adventurer
Religion is a huge factor in my games, particularly FR ones.

The trigger for my long-term Rebirth campaign was the decision of Lathander (god of morning, youth, and renewal) to initiate a "purge" that would cleanse the world of all evil. Needless to say, things did not go according to his plans. Over the course of the campaign PCs interacted with a number of divine manifestations and avatars, and when they eventually reached the Outer Planes, they met with several deities "in person" and even participated in a divine meeting in Cynosure, where (in my version of the place) the deities shed their "shells" and appear as the concepts they represent.

An important point is never to let the divine intervention overshadow the actions of PCs. For instance, when the party got TPK'd, an avatar of Shaundakul, patron god of wind and travelers, removed their bodies (so that they wouldn't be defiled) and stashed their equipment away (so that it would wait for their return). Valkur, demipower of sailors, transported them along rivers Oceanus and Styx when they were roaming the Outer Planes on their quest to restore Faerun to normality. Helm was there to conveniently bite the bullet when they needed to dispose of an artifact (the only way to destroy it was to use it to strike down a god; of course, since Helm acted in accordance with his portfolio, he was then restored to his position by Ao).
 

Lord Xtheth

First Post
Gods are an iffy subject. I have used gods alot in my games, but then again, I usually run game in the Forgotten Realms setting where it seems like the gods stroll the streets and interact with people all the time, just because they have nothing better to do.
I try to use gods sparingly, to advance plot, introduce artifacts, or as BBEGs at the end of the game. When players hit the higher (epic) levels, having them travel WITH gods on their big epic quests of universe saving proportions isn't out of the question either.
However, in games I've played, gods have been uses slightly less sparingly.
In a 3.5 game I played last week, one of the characters prayed for help against a group of guys who seemed to be +2 levels to us, and he thought we were out matched. So then the god SHOWS UP... and WINS for us. I sit there feeling like someone who got his kill stolen by a god, and the game goes on. Bad DMing? maybe. Bad storytelling, yes.

One of my earlier characters had a god fall in love with him. It was kept on the down low for years, and not even refferenced to for the longest time. The character would come up against impossible odds (Set up by jealous gods) and still manage to succeed on his own. Every time there was a "cheap kill" for instance a vorpal sword cutting my head off, or being suffocated in a vaccume between time and space, my character would find himself alive and well some days later.
Then the reveal happened and the god chose my character as her champion, and the game pretty much ended (the DM moved to New Zealand, and we have opposing schedules) but the game was fun, and I believe the god was used properly (well... except for falling in love with my guy).
 

karlindel

First Post
It depends on the setting and the campaign. Here are the most direct examples of divine intervention I recall:

In a previous homebrew campaign, a mid-level paladin called on his deity and begged for a miracle to save his friends, as he and they were badly losing a fight. I gave him a small percentile chance, and rolled 01. His deity sent an emissary to aid in the fight and tasked him with a quest to take on as soon as the party finished their current mission (which was almost over at the time).

In my current campaign, the party has interacted with exarchs of the Raven Queen, who used the party as part of a ritual to break the elemental gates/shields that protected a false raven queen who was using an artifact to wall off a portion of the Shadowfell and using the souls there for her own purposes.
 

the Jester

Legend
As a DM, do you have the gods directly active in your setting(s)? Do they get involved with PCs?

Absolutely- but by manipulating things from behind the scenes. If you're talking about actual direct intervention- like, the god itself shows up- that is pretty darn rare imc. Most of the traditional gods are abstract creations of faith; it would take tremendous energy to physically manifest on the material plane.

On the other hand, there is a group of more physical deities that has "crossed over" into my world, and in doing so have shaken things up- they are considerably more likely to take a direct active hand in things.

That said, since my new campaign world started in about, oh, '93 or thereabouts, I've had the following incidents that might be termed "direct deity involvement" (not counting archfiends, dragons, elemental princes or other entities that style themselves as gods but aren't the traditional deity):

1. A pc became the Jesus-figure of his religion (2e; psionicist later dual-classed to cleric). He didn't have any super god powers or anything, just a normal pc. (This whole thing started when he was 2nd-3rd level.)

2. A group of pcs "crossed over" into the world that the more physical deities I mentioned above were in and met a couple of them before being tricked into bringing them back. (High level 2e pcs.)

3. Those pcs met some imprisoned gods and persuaded their captor to release them. (Same pcs as 2; same plot line; convoluted tale!)

4. A later group of epic pcs met with the interloper gods to get their help in tearing down the forces of Law. (A dozen sessions or so before the finale of my 3e epic game.)

5. At the finale, the biggest god on the block went ahead and spent all that energy to physically manifest and try a last desperate attempt to triumph over the forces of Chaos (and our heroes), and one of the interloper gods appeared to fight him. The pcs (level 35-38) fled a couple of rounds later; there was just too much energy being thrown around.

This is over the course of just under 900 sessions.

5.
 

DragonLancer

First Post
In my games gods do take a role but very rarely ever take a physical form and interact with the characters. Gods have to take a hand in world events in my mind for a variety of reasons, whether it be they (probably an evil god) want to dominate the world or part of their portfolio is agriculture and farming.

In the past I have had players who have sought to get the gods in on their quests, usually while praying and asking for guidence. I find this odd as if you want their guidence you get the cleric to learn some divinations.
 

ProfessorCirno

First Post
Nope.

I'm really tired and bored of the greek/hellanistic style pantheon, where all the gods are reguarly coming down to high-five their followers, and there's no questions ever about anything. Yawn.

While my setting has divine magic, wether that comes from a greater power is up for grabs. Certainly the various religions feel so, though each thinks of the other religions as being false. Some utilize divine magic just fine without being a part of any of the major religions. Religion then is a matter of faith - which incidentally leads to much more exciting intrigue and drama. While most religions have a vague real world application, the two that stand out are gnomish agnosticism and dragon worship - the first is somewhat self-explanatory, with the transhumanist (transgnomist?) gnomes not even caring about the existence of other "gods" while some laboratories run experiments on how to make their own, and the second leads to some excellent fun with divine characters. If a staunch religious cleric ends up meeting a figure who claims to be a god, and certainly has plenty of power to back it up, how do they react?
 

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