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How Might D&D Religions Differ From Real Life Religions?

Switchblade

First Post
"Yeah, now prove that those are form a god, and not from some other source."

I think the "evidence of the existence that the gods exist" is way, way overstated. There's all sorts of sources of various magical events in the D&D rules - any edition. Everyone gets to produce fantastic effects. Miracles abound. What proof is there for the root origin of any of them?

Especially when the 3e rules explicitly state you can have clerics and paladins who don't follow gods. Sorry, that blows the whole, "gods clearly exist" right out of the water.

Consider: you can change the metaphysic out from under all divine powers - so they come from belief, rather than an actual god - and nothing else changes. The players don't even have to know! How strong is the case the gods must exist then?


I wasn't actually thinking divine magic being the only proof. (I've read to many fantasty novels where the priests were all secretly wizards).
I was more thinking people going to the afterlife and coming back, planar travel and that only those who seem to follow a faith can manifest certain spells while faithless wizards utilize a different sort of magic, only the faithful clerics can turn undead etc. That and clerics who stop following their god lose all their powers.

It's certainly not watertight and there is room for a skeptic to not believe but it is compelling.
 

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Interesting topic.

The proof thing: Since mages and clerics both exist and both wield power who is to say that both abilities do not come from the gods?

One thing that could have a big influence would be direct appearance and intervention by a deity. On the other hand if powerful illusions exist who is to say that these manifestations are not created by mages and that the clerics and mages are not the "real" gods?

All in all the existence of magic and miracles in and of itself may have little impact on the nature of faith. Faith by its very nature does not require proof. And if miracles and spells are considered "proof" the question then becomes, proof of what?
 

Janx

Hero
I suspect part of the problem is that D&D has modeled clerics and religion "wrongly" compared to the real world polytheistic religions.

Some of this might have been intentional (ex. vancian magic is not like real world magic practices). Making it "unrealistic" might deflect some risk of heresy or offensiveness (nevermind that D&D was the satan's scapegoat in the 80's, where other darker RPGs were worse). Some of it might have been applying monotheistic thinking to a polytheistic culture.

Let's ignore monotheistic religions for a moment. Consider the old norse/greek/roman pantheons, or hinduism, which clearly had a bunch of gods that all seemed to know each other and to an extent, get along.

D&D's model of make a cleric PC and pick a deity is a "1 god only" mentality (which would potentially collide with the "get along" trait).

As others have pointed out, polytheistic cultures worship all the gods. They prey to different gods depending on their domain and need. Holy days are dedicated to different gods.

I see a couple of ways to handle polytheistic religion's in D&D.

Eberron sounds like it's on the right track. The church building would have worship and praise for all the gods in its pantheon. It might have an altar for each god (like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion). It would have 1 or more holy days per god, spread across the year. I'd probably steal holiday ideas from christianity and judaism, and paganism (topics I know). Things like equinoxes, seasons, atonement, birthdays (or god-days).

In 2e, the church was run by clerics (least the way I ran it). 3e tries to incorporate class-less folks in there, with cleric being more rare. Being more rare would probably help reduce the amount of free-miracles that would make the game get ridiculous (threads have been written on how clerics could change the world).

By making clerics rarish, I'd say you have an interesting design point. Either make the cleric still represent the pantheon (with domains coming from the pantheon approved list), OR make the cleric a champion of a god, thus justifying why they pick a specific god. Thus at the norse church, it would be run by priests with no powers. Thor's champion Clyde the Cleric might hang out there, when he's not adventuring on Thor's behalf. Clyde really digs Thor. He's not going to be working at cross-purposes because he CHOSE Thor as much as Thor chose him.

I suspect that each city or country would lock in to a single pantheon. History's rich with cultures that didn't put up with competing religions. (Rome might have been an exception). This would mainly be due to the fact that the rulers have picked a religion. Existance of another pantheon operating in their realm would imply that their choice may be wrong, and that they are therefore also potentially wrong.

So overall, I see it as a fluff issue. I can make clerics work the way they work per the rules, but adjust the fluff for my campaign world to better simulate how a polytheistic culture might operate.
 

Cadfan

First Post
Because the actions of the gods are manifest, there would be less motivation to create rituals or ceremonies of unclear value. Does that make sense?

In real life you might ask a priest for a blessing, he might say some things, and you might go on your way. Did a divine being intervene when that happened? Who knows. No way to tell.

But in D&D land, you know. You might actually pray less often, because you know darn well which prayers are efficacious and which are not.
 

Janx

Hero
Because the actions of the gods are manifest, there would be less motivation to create rituals or ceremonies of unclear value. Does that make sense?

In real life you might ask a priest for a blessing, he might say some things, and you might go on your way. Did a divine being intervene when that happened? Who knows. No way to tell.

But in D&D land, you know. You might actually pray less often, because you know darn well which prayers are efficacious and which are not.

This actually gives me an idea. Consider in the real world, if you pray before you eat (Thor, thanks for the gruel, please make sure I don't bite another rock in it), or if you pray you're next shot hits, there's not real way to know if it did any good. If you miss or chip a tooth, I suppose you can assume it didn't, or you might be out of favor with thor.

Now in D&D, imagine if there were a bunch of "cantrip" like prayers people could do that gave a real GAME effect. Bless my next attack, get a +1 to-hit on next attack within 1 round. Bless my food, get some sort of bonus towards health or purification against disease.

These kind of effects would re-inforce loyalty to a god/pantheon. People would be praying all the time for stuff, knowing they'd probably get it (if they behaved). The trick would be, non-clerics could use the weak stuff. Clerics get the big stuff.

Having some effects non-clerics can get would encourage them to do incorporate religion into their PC. Imagine Fred the fighter, stopping off at the temple to pray for strength, before the assault on the town begins. Right now, most PCs wouldn't bother, there's no effect. Grant an effect and reward for working in the gods favor (aka being a good guy), and now things get interesting.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I suspect part of the problem is that D&D has modeled clerics and religion "wrongly" compared to the real world polytheistic religions.

Some of this might have been intentional (ex. vancian magic is not like real world magic practices). Making it "unrealistic" might deflect some risk of heresy or offensiveness (nevermind that D&D was the satan's scapegoat in the 80's, where other darker RPGs were worse). Some of it might have been applying monotheistic thinking to a polytheistic culture.

Let's ignore monotheistic religions for a moment. Consider the old norse/greek/roman pantheons, or hinduism, which clearly had a bunch of gods that all seemed to know each other and to an extent, get along.

D&D's model of make a cleric PC and pick a deity is a "1 god only" mentality (which would potentially collide with the "get along" trait).

As others have pointed out, polytheistic cultures worship all the gods. They prey to different gods depending on their domain and need. Holy days are dedicated to different gods.

I see a couple of ways to handle polytheistic religion's in D&D.

Eberron sounds like it's on the right track. The church building would have worship and praise for all the gods in its pantheon. It might have an altar for each god (like Elder Scrolls: Oblivion). It would have 1 or more holy days per god, spread across the year. I'd probably steal holiday ideas from christianity and judaism, and paganism (topics I know). Things like equinoxes, seasons, atonement, birthdays (or god-days).

I don't really think D&D has necessarily gotten it very wrong. Even in polytheistic historical cultures, a lot of dedicated temples had their own specialist clergy, devoted to the mastering the mysteries and rituals of their own dedicated priesthoods. They'd be the ones responsible for the day to day operations of the temple as well as organizing and officiating over any observances related to their god's portfolio including holidays and other more personal events. But I think it does bear repeating that, with respect to the observances of other deities, they're pretty much the same as any other uninitiated congregant.

The mistake, I think, comes more at the table when players and DMs bring their own experiences with religion, overwhelmingly through the ubiquitous monotheistic religions of today.

But I agree there are points that I think traditional D&D has missed opportunities to develop what polytheism means. I don't think that's necessarily a case of being wrong as much as not exploiting an opening. I could certainly see a level of clergy that performs rituals for (and draws power from) multiple deities, something like a generic priest of a pantheon, performing the rituals appropriate to several civic gods. Similarly, there could be ways to blend the powers and responsibilities of multiple deities without requiring a cleric character to shift religions completely, and without going through the efforts of multiclassing.

I just don't think D&D has necessarily been wrong for focusing on one aspect of polytheism (the specialists) without developing the generalists.
 

Plane Sailing

Astral Admin - Mwahahaha!
The proof thing: Since mages and clerics both exist and both wield power who is to say that both abilities do not come from the gods?

In my Eberron campaign I replaced all clerics, wizards and sorcerers with a single class called "Scholar", which basically was like a wizard but with d6 HD and the spell list was drawn from the full cleric list as well as the full wizard list.

Some scholars worked for the temples and claimed their powers were drawn from the gods. Other scholars worked for themselves and claimed their powers were the result of science or occult studies or whatever.

It made for a neat twist on my setting.
 

Janx

Hero
Here's another wierd thought:

let's say the Cleric is a champion given powers by his deity. If clerics are too rare, then cleric magic effects may cause societal problems.

Consider if you had the only Cleric in D&D in the campaign region or world. If he starts using his cleric powers to help people, folks are going to flock to him, because NOBODY can do what he can do. The guy could start his own religion. Basically, being too rare, could cause cults of personality and other unanticipated effects.

If there's enough clerics around to be seen as heroes, not so uncommon as to be REALLY special, but special enough. You'd have the sweet spot. The cleric-normals ratio would probably be equivalent to what other leveled PC classes occur as in society.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Because the actions of the gods are manifest...

The actions of characters casting spells may be manifest - but that's not the same as the clear actions of the gods themselves. The Core Rules don't have rules for deity avatars walking around, last I checked.

But in D&D land, you know.

But do you, really? You know somebody cast a spell. You don't know the source of the power. You know what the caster says (or thinks) the source is, but that's not the same as knowing for sure.

Remember - Bards (arcane casters) had Cure Light Wounds.

The proof thing: Since mages and clerics both exist and both wield power who is to say that both abilities do not come from the gods?

Yep. Good question.

My point in pursuing the idea that there's no actual proof is to dispel the idea that the populace would necessarily view things in a particular way due to "evidence". There are multiple possible explanations that are consistent with the observations, so the populace could believe just about anything.

Monotheist, polytheist, agnostic, atheist, are all possible and reasonable. There are few thigns that must happen, and few that cannot happen. I view this as a strength of the system - being easily able to work with many different cosmologies, and supporting clashes of world views between either individual people or whole cultures.
 

Yair

Community Supporter
Eberron had a very interesting take on D&D deities.
I didn't like Eberron, but was very impressed with its take on religion. Still planning on getting its Faiths of Eberron book, sometime.



I think the core 4e take on religion is pretty solid. It emphasizes that the worship is polytheistic, with only the clerics being servants of specific gods. That's a reasonable-enough possibility.

The apparant power of the deities and the ability to summon and commune with them or high-ranking servants of them means that there would not be schisms or heresies. There won't be atheists, either. (Yes, technically you could maintain gods aren't "proven" to exist; in practice, people will generally believe their representatives, angels, and avatars.)

It's possible, however, that people will be less pious in their religous practice. This depends on two things - afterlife, and the god's power. If the god's power is limited to priestly-brone miracles, as it largely is in the RAW, and if a good afterlife is not dependant on high piety - then people will actually be less pious. Worship would be a much more buisness-like, trasnactional thing (generally). If your afterlife is dependant on your adherence to the god's demands, or the god's magic extends to beyond what the priest can wield, your continous and devout worship is far more advantageous and hence will be far more common.

In the one time I developed a cosmology, for D&D 3.5, the afterlife was based on your character in life, but the god's dogmas were designed to help you lead the proper life. So you could not believe in any god yet reach eternal bliss in the afterlife - but that would be rare in practice, and practically you've better stick to some dogma if you want a good afterlife.
 
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Staffan

Legend
I could certainly see a level of clergy that performs rituals for (and draws power from) multiple deities, something like a generic priest of a pantheon, performing the rituals appropriate to several civic gods.
I had an idea along those lines back in 2e, inspired by (of all things) the computer game Bard's Tale III, and pretty similar to 3e's prestige classes. The idea was that low-level clerics were generalists (and would have minor access to all spheres), but once you hit level 5 or so you would choose a specific deity to worship. This would give you a limited spell list at higher spell levels, but you would also gain special abilities based on your chosen god. I never actually developed the idea much beyond what I wrote here, but I thought it was pretty nifty.
 

Cadfan

First Post
The actions of characters casting spells may be manifest - but that's not the same as the clear actions of the gods themselves. The Core Rules don't have rules for deity avatars walking around, last I checked.



But do you, really? You know somebody cast a spell. You don't know the source of the power. You know what the caster says (or thinks) the source is, but that's not the same as knowing for sure.

Remember - Bards (arcane casters) had Cure Light Wounds.
Yeah, yeah. Look, all I'm saying is this:

Take a hypothetical religious ritual, lets say, " Say a prayer to Saint X and he'll help you find your lost car keys."

I'm just saying that a religious belief like that is much, much less likely in a world where there is a religion-keyed ritual called "Find Lost Car Keys" that always works and invokes explicitly magical effects.

After all, why would you pray to Saint X for help finding your car keys? You know the proper way to do that. With the ritual, not the quiet prayer. A person who insisted upon calling upon the aid of Saint X in what is obviously a blatantly incorrect manner would be treated much like people in the real world treat someone who truly believes that he can make international phone calls with two cups and a really long string. There's a right way to make international phone calls (with a telephone), we all know it, and anyone who insists on doing it wrong is a fool.
 

Simon Atavax

First Post
I'm feeling generous, so I'm not banning you for essentially attempting to stir up trouble. However, if you bothered to read on in the thread you would see that this is still all proceeding upon reasonable discussion lines at the moment.

If you want to participate, feel free to do so, but participate meaningfully please.
 
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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Yeah, yeah. Look, all I'm saying is this:

Take a hypothetical religious ritual, lets say, " Say a prayer to Saint X and he'll help you find your lost car keys."

I'm just saying that a religious belief like that is much, much less likely in a world where there is a religion-keyed ritual called "Find Lost Car Keys" that always works and invokes explicitly magical effects.

But there is also a world of difference between a ritual helping you and doing it for you. I the net effect of performing the car key finding ritual was that you'd be more likely to find your keys, the perceivable difference between the ritual and the placebo prayer may be negligible. And that leaves the door wide open for prayer.
 

Miyaa

First Post
FIFY. :)

I hear that, brother! This approach to fantasy-religion allows for somewhat more nuanced religious conflicts than the ol' Time of Troubles, "I-sit-next-to-my-deity-every-Tuesday-morning-on-the-commuter-bus", Forgotten Realms approach.

I don't know. I kind of like the idea of having a "I slept with the Goddess Sune and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" plot. I mean it's a staple of Greek and Roman mythology for gods to interact with mortals indirectly, and even more so in most modern religions.

What I really don't get is the overlord so-far away god motif like the Over God AO in Forgotten Realms. In most religions either there's no such thing, or he will let his will be known threw his threw others (Prophets, Angels, other Gods, etc.). Even if you're the Granddaddy of the Gods, if you don't let yourself be known, you don't exist. So having a God so powerful he doesn't have to let himself be known to any potential followers does not make sense. All religions require some sort of dialogue between the worshiper and the deity, whether it would be through prayer or actual interactions.
 

Voadam

Legend
In my Eberron campaign I replaced all clerics, wizards and sorcerers with a single class called "Scholar", which basically was like a wizard but with d6 HD and the spell list was drawn from the full cleric list as well as the full wizard list.

Some scholars worked for the temples and claimed their powers were drawn from the gods. Other scholars worked for themselves and claimed their powers were the result of science or occult studies or whatever.

It made for a neat twist on my setting.

Neat set up. How did you handle spells like commune where you actually contact your god or its agents, ask a question, and get an answer? Contact any god you want, contact random powerful outsider, get an answer from the universe/fate/whatever?
 

Voadam

Legend

I wasn't actually thinking divine magic being the only proof. (I've read to many fantasty novels where the priests were all secretly wizards).
I was more thinking people going to the afterlife and coming back, planar travel and that only those who seem to follow a faith can manifest certain spells while faithless wizards utilize a different sort of magic, only the faithful clerics can turn undead etc. That and clerics who stop following their god lose all their powers.

It's certainly not watertight and there is room for a skeptic to not believe but it is compelling.

Eh.

Isn't it that you can't remember anything of the afterlife when you are raised so that even though it happens according to the rules you don't really know that directly even when you go through it?

Planar travel would depend on where you go on the infinite planes. Meeting a god seems pretty rare there as well.

Godless clerics significantly take away from the theory that cleric only magic shows gods.

And clerics who stop following their god don't necessarily lose their powers under 3e, only "A cleric who grossly violates the code of conduct required by his god". I can see plenty of gods who don't require a code of conduct being consistent with D&D.

How a DM conceives of his gods interactions with the mortal world, whether they are distant or appearing, whether they directly interact with mortals or not, will be a big factor in how they are viewed compared to real world religions.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
I don't know. I kind of like the idea of having a "I slept with the Goddess Sune and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" plot. I mean it's a staple of Greek and Roman mythology for gods to interact with mortals indirectly, and even more so in most modern religions.
You make a good point, and to be fair, Greek and Roman mythology is probably substantially responsible for the popularity of that approach to religion in D&D. It's also worth considering how different this approach is to the religious background of the culture in which D&D originated. (IE: American Christian).

Miyaa said:
What I really don't get is the overlord so-far away god motif like the Over God AO in Forgotten Realms. In most religions either there's no such thing, or he will let his will be known threw his threw others (Prophets, Angels, other Gods, etc.). Even if you're the Granddaddy of the Gods, if you don't let yourself be known, you don't exist. So having a God so powerful he doesn't have to let himself be known to any potential followers does not make sense. All religions require some sort of dialogue between the worshiper and the deity, whether it would be through prayer or actual interactions.
(Highlighting added) Well, I'm not sure that anything necessarily needs to do anything in order to exist, but you're right about dialogue: Certainly, if a deity doesn't make them self known, no one will know they exist in order to worship them.

(Note that some of the areas you and I have mentioned do not necessarily apply to most real-life religions.)
 

Plane Sailing

Astral Admin - Mwahahaha!
Neat set up. How did you handle spells like commune where you actually contact your god or its agents, ask a question, and get an answer? Contact any god you want, contact random powerful outsider, get an answer from the universe/fate/whatever?

In most cases it was down to contacting powerful extraplanar creatures who also revere the same pantheon and who have far greater insight about situations than you do. Non-religious scholars contacted renowned powerful extraplanar creatures of no particular religious affiliation but who are known for their knowledge of a particular subject, perhaps.

(although for the silver flame you could be literally communing directly with the spirit of the silver flame)

Cheers
 

I too like the Eberron way of handling conflicting religions, which is basically summed up by, "Which one is right? You gotta take it on faith. No one will tell you the answer."

What I really like about that setting is that you can summon up an angel and ask them, "Are the Sovereign Hosts truly gods?" and the angel could answer you, "Yes they are. And I worship them."

But it is possible for someone else to summon up a different angel and ask them the same question and have that angel say, "No. There is no proof the Host actually exists, or that they are divine."

The movers-and-shakers of the Eberron planes can have differences of opinions on deities. If celestials have questions over the status of gods, then by gosh those pesky mortals mostly certainly do.
 

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