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

roguerouge

First Post
"Ours is the one true pantheon! You heathen druids with your nature worship must worship our pantheon or face the consequences!"

Not much difference, really.
 

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This is why I like RPGs, so much room for different worlds to be built.

One thing did occur to me: someone mentioned above that an atheist character could point to Mount Olympus and say: 'Sure Zeus is up there, but that doesn't mean the tyrannical, patricidal, spiteful, serial-rapist is worthy of worship.' And I agree; this could be a perfectly valid thing to say in a fantasy world. But the corrollary to it is 'Oh crap, here come the Furies.'

By which I mean: in this scenario, whether he is a God or not, Zeus is real enough, powerful enough and spiteful enough to smite those who disrespect him. So most folks keep in line and go to the temple regularly and pay their tithes and make their sacrifices out of fear of retribution as much as hope for benefit and love for the god. Others do it out of actual piety or a desire to be part of the ruling elite. But some folks rail against Zeus and his tyranny. Which could be the basis for a good War Against the Gods game. Funnily enough I have a part completed campaign based on just this idea, 'Theomakos.'

cheers all.
 


roguerouge

First Post
Not much difference from what?

Please see OP's initial question. My joking answer was that there would be not much difference between the behavior of pantheon-based societies from a monotheism-based societies. That's the real question, to my mind, because most people in polytheism-based societies were pretty sure that their gods existed because they worked miracles every day.*

IMO, a goodly portion of this thread has actually been about how DnD religions would be different from a CONTEMPORARY secular society, not an historical religious society.

*(Because life without advanced science is pretty miraculous; it's pretty magical with advanced science too.)
 

El Mahdi

Muad'Dib of the Anauroch
Something I haven't seen mentioned on here yet is the way religions are used in the A Song of Ice and Fire books and the A Game of Thrones RPG. There are a few different polytheistic religions, each with different pantheons, with a few deities with comonality to some pantheons, but not a lot of real examples of magic or miracles. There are stories and witnesses to what some see as miracles, but no absolute proof that these are miracles, or magic, or even proof that the gods exist. In fact, most miracles and magic can be just as easily explained as alchemical effects, or just plain tricks.

Although never mentioned in the books, I don't see why there couldn't be people with atheistic philosophies, or even groups that adhere to atheistic concepts. Note: Historical Reference Only - Atheistic philosophies have existed in the real world since the 6th Century BC, and possibly even earlier. - End Historical Reference. But, if people in the Game of Thrones universe, or any fantasy setting, were atheistic, I think they would probably be very rare. They'd most likely be looked upon as either heretics, or if lucky, just crazy.

Even in the Forgotten Realms, where giant Avatars of the Gods actually battled eachother on the surface of the world, not everyone would have seen such displays. For the majority of Faerun, they would only have heard stories of what happened, not unlike stories of the Greek and Roman gods. There could still be people who don't believe that it was real, and don't believe in the existence of the Faerunian gods.

Using FR as an example, there could be arguments for all of the ideas presented in this thread. The argument could be made that arcane magic comes from the Gods, ala Mystra (of course, not in 4E though;)). Someone who doesn't believe the Gods exist could make the argument that clerical magic is actually no different than arcane magic. I guess one could even make the argument that magic itself doesn't exist at all, it's actually all psionics of one form or another (this one could be a really fun idea to play around with for a PC, especially a psionicist character).

I think for me, D&D religions realy don't differ at all from real world religions. Every religion in D&D, or any RPG setting, at least has a basic correlation to a real world religion or concept. As creative as RPG designers, GM's, fantasy authors, and RPG players are, I've never seen a unique religious concept in an RPG that hasn't already been done in the real world. I'd like to see a truly unique religious concept, but I just don't think it's possible (was that the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down;)). There are real world religions and cults that are much wierder than anything conceptualized in an RPG. When it comes right down to it, I really do think there's nothing new under heaven.:p
 
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Cryptos

First Post
I don't think faith would nearly apply in the typical DnD world. Since the evidence for Gods in nearly all DnD worlds is directly available, it would not be a matter of whether you believed, but who you choose to follow. This should have a rather large impact in nearly all aspects of life, but that is up to your world.

Fourth Edition solves this nicely, as maintaining your divine powers is not dependent on the tacit approval of your god. Your powers are granted by a ritual, sort of like an ordination ceremony. Do something the god likes, you don't gain any more power than you should have at your level. Do something the god didn't like, you keep your powers. It's up to the earthly church or organization to take matters up with you. The church or an officer of that church or religion gave you your powers, not the god.

You could, in theory, have an evil character hoodwink the church elders and make them think the character is devout, and wind up with a evil, power-hungry cleric of a good god. He might want to be part of that church because it is popular and he thinks the followers will be easy to manipulate, or because it's the only religion practiced in the region. Which I tend to think is more interesting than knowing who is wearing the white hats and who's wearing the black hats all the time.

So the degree to which there is "proof" of gods' existence is entirely up to the DM and the campaign setting. Yes, the cleric is zapping people with "divine powers" but the ability to do so was granted by a ritual, and there are many forms of magic and other powers in the world... each of them, interestingly enough, associated either closely or loosely with one of the planes. One could easily make the argument in a 4e world that there is no proof as long as this distinction between 4e and earlier editions is kept in mind.

This distinction also makes this discussion somewhat 'forked', in that I think there would be a difference between the similarities between religions in older D&D and how they can be portrayed mechanically in 4e, and how each of those relates to what we know of real-world religion.
 
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Raven Crowking

First Post
Fourth Edition solves this nicely, as maintaining your divine powers is not dependent on the tacit approval of your god.

I, personally, dislike this "solution". I didn't care for it in 3e, and I do not care for it in 4e. In order to have "an evil character hoodwink the church elders and make them think the character is devout" I simply had the character hoodwink them in terms of which god was granting that character power. Moreover, a cleric who claims to worship Thor might never discover that Loki has been fuelling his spells after he fell off the "true path" long ago. Heck, one 2nd Ed game I ran was based on the idea that the "gods" were not who they claimed to be at all.


RC
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
After all, why would you pray to Saint X for help finding your car keys?

Very simple - the guy who can do the full-on spell is off killing trolls and dragons, and isn't around to wrangle my car keys for me.

Maybe the gods have some special folks who work more direct miracles, and maybe they don't. Either way, that doesn't usually help me in my day to day life, because those people are not accessible.

And, honestly, how often do people actually go for the right, optimal solution? There's a "right way" to keep my lawn green and well groomed, too - call in the Scotts fertilizer guys, install a sprinkler system, and hire a landscaper. But guess what? I don't do that, even though I know the results would be better if I did.
 

Staffan

Legend
Please see OP's initial question. My joking answer was that there would be not much difference between the behavior of pantheon-based societies from a monotheism-based societies. That's the real question, to my mind, because most people in polytheism-based societies were pretty sure that their gods existed because they worked miracles every day.*
I think a polytheist would be more likely to accept the existence of gods outside his own pantheon. They're just not the ones he worships, and of course his own gods are stronger than those of his enemies.

Some real-world pantheons even explicitly refer to other gods. For example, the Norse worshipped the Aesir, mainly. But the mythology included a war between the Aesir and the Vanir, which ended with the Aesir winning, and in order to maintain the peace they did a mutual hostage-exchange of sorts - which is where Frey, Freya, and Njord came from.
 

Lord Zardoz

First Post
What features of real life religions couldn't apply to D&D religions?

What features probably wouldn't apply?

In what ways would (or could) D&D religions mirror real life religions?

There are no wrong answers, or at least I don't think there are.

Your thoughts?

The first difference is that most D&D religions cannot deny the existence of the other gods, though that just sets them apart from typical monotheistic religions, not greek / norse style religions. There would be a much lower chance of having someone in the church hierarchy working directly contrary to their gods wishes. If a god disapproves of torture outright, than it simply won't happen in any setting where the god is directly granting power to their followers.

I would view most D&D religions and how they interact with one another to modern political parties from multi-party systems (ie, Canada, Britain, etc). Competing 'good' religions may work together to block a directly opposed religion, but they wont hesitate to accuse one another of all sorts of things.

END COMMUNICATION
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The first difference is that most D&D religions cannot deny the existence of the other gods

See previous discussion, about having multiple sources of miracles in the world: "Whacknoodle is no god! You are but a petty sorcerer! Banjo is the only true god!"

There would be a much lower chance of having someone in the church hierarchy working directly contrary to their gods wishes. If a god disapproves of torture outright, than it simply won't happen in any setting where the god is directly granting power to their followers.

Unless, of course, the transgressor can find another patron deity, and hide that new association from his fellows. Much easier to pull off in 4e, as there's no detecting alignments.
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
Very simple - the guy who can do the full-on spell is off killing trolls and dragons, and isn't around to wrangle my car keys for me.

Maybe the gods have some special folks who work more direct miracles, and maybe they don't. Either way, that doesn't usually help me in my day to day life, because those people are not accessible.

And, honestly, how often do people actually go for the right, optimal solution? There's a "right way" to keep my lawn green and well groomed, too - call in the Scotts fertilizer guys, install a sprinkler system, and hire a landscaper. But guess what? I don't do that, even though I know the results would be better if I did.

Moreover, simply knowing that spellguy can succeed doesn't mean that a quick prayer will not. If a quick prayer may succeed, and costs me nothing, why wouldn't I attempt it?


RC
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To answer the title question: the main difference is that in the game you can take religions and beliefs completely over the top (OTT) if you want. The goodly deities are GOOD. The evil ones are EVIL. The chaotic ones are complete ****-disturbers. And so on, and their ardent followers (read: Clerics) follow suit as best they can.

This is one aspect of the game that works best, I think, when taken OTT. If I'm playing a Thor Cleric, for example, and you bring a Loki devotee into the party, it's a safe bet my Cleric's gonna pound you good at the first opportunity...provided I survive all the tricks you play, of course.

An average commoner or character is going to (realistically) pray to several deities during life, depending what the prayer is for. It's only Clerics who tie themselves to one deity, and even they acknowledge the existence of many others.

And it's fun trying to play an athiest in such a system. I know, because I've tried; he ended up, years later, marrying a Cleric! :)

Lanefan
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Unless, of course, the transgressor can find another patron deity, and hide that new association from his fellows. Much easier to pull off in 4e, as there's no detecting alignments.
He might be able to hide it from his fellows, but not from the deity he just spurned; and that's where the falling hammer (or bolt of lightning) would come from.

Lanefan
 

Voadam

Legend
He might be able to hide it from his fellows, but not from the deity he just spurned; and that's where the falling hammer (or bolt of lightning) would come from.

Lanefan

That's a question of how omniscient and active in the mortal world the gods are.

If the god's actions on the material plane are mostly limited to providing power for clerical spells then this is not a concern.

If the gods are active and personally interventionist then it is a question of the old god smiting outside his faith and the new god protecting someone he has agreed to power with clerical magic.

How often do typical clerics get direct messages or miraculous events (good or bad) from their gods in D&D? Usually not at all, it is a significant event if there is godly intervention.

The clerical power could be granted or stripped fully automatically without the god even being aware of the cleric.

On the other hand the gods could be fully omniscient and able to do anything, but all D&D gods of every variety and ethos happen to choose to restrict themselves to only providing cleric power to those who swear to them and stripping it from ones who grossly violate their codes of conduct.

Room in D&D for a lot of different cosmological setups.
 

Snoweel

First Post
If a god disapproves of torture outright, than it simply won't happen in any setting where the god is directly granting power to their followers.

Sure but in D&D the gods don't directly 'grant' (ie. consciously) power to their followers. Not anymore (ymmv).

I've toyed with the idea of entirely unaware, nonsentient gods being sources of power for parasitic clerics to draw from. Maybe a certain mindset (ie. a few tenets or attitudes) is required for said cleric to be able to 'tap in' to the god's power but beyond that the cleric can do what she wants with her power.

So the cleric of the god of travel has to maintain an attitude of wanderlust - not because the god demands it, but because this mindset is necessary to maintain the connection with her god's alien consciousness - in order to utilise that god as a source of power.

This idea works best with gods whose 'portfolio' supports a duality of good and evil - law, chaos, civilisation, nature, etc.
 

MarauderX

First Post
In my homebrew, followers are tolerant of other religions. There is no 'absolute' single deity to answer all your prayers. Clerics may be devout followers of a single god, but that is only to provide for those who call upon him, not to subject everyone to a sermon.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
He might be able to hide it from his fellows, but not from the deity he just spurned; and that's where the falling hammer (or bolt of lightning) would come from.

In games where clerics are effectively overpowered, that can be a useful game-balance thing. I know many designers don't like to balance rules with non-rules, but it sometimes works.

If the classes are basically balanced, though, that level of punishment becomes terribly unfair. My cleric is forced to follow a code of honor on pain of death, and the wizard doesn't, though they are equivalent in power? I mean, if hte player wants it enforced on him for roleplaying, fine, but otherwise, I'm not happy wiht that kind of solution.

Which is why I generally run games in which the clerics are the hands of the gods - there's no lightning hitting anyone unless it is random chance, or it comes from a mortal spellcaster.
 

Azzemmell

First Post
Great thread. I love conversations like this; as a DM who likes creating his own worlds this thread is a great starting point for designing the foundations
of a cosmology (which should be, in my opinion, the first place to start in the nitty gritty of setting design).

What this thread has clarified and solidified in my mind is the thing that has always bugged me about religion in D&D: it has never seemed to be what it could (or maybe should) be. It seems as if it has always been a tacked-on way of having a class that can quickly and easily heal the heroes (and I am referring to the TSR/Wizards treatment of the subject - plenty of examples of third party depth in this respect).

Hmmm, let me refocus by quoting the original post:


What features of real life religions couldn't apply to D&D religions?

What features probably wouldn't apply?

In what ways would (or could) D&D religions mirror real life religions?

There are no wrong answers, or at least I don't think there are.

Your thoughts?



Let me first say that any answer to these three questions will depend on how one perceives two things about D&D religious canon (and these two things have, of course, been brought up already - I'm collecting my thoughts :) );

1. How powerful is the deity?

2. How likely is the deity to intervene or exert control in the setting? This will of course be dependent on the first point.


These two points have, to a great degree, been left up to the DM by TSR/Wizards, though point 2 has been given more attention and clarification than point 1. Having said that, and in regards to the core settings - FR, GH, etc., these settings have fallen woefully short in giving their religions the attention they deserve.

So to answer, in a general way, the original post:

To question 1 - NO feature of real life religion would not be able to be applied to D&D religions; even atheism, or non-belief, is a religious standpoint. In real life it is simply a refutation of everyone else's view - and as such is based ON everyone else's view, and is therefore a part of the religious spectrum. In a fantasy setting non-belief could be viewed as either insanity, ignorance, or principled stubbornness.

To question 2 - This seems to me an extension of question 2 (since I think ALL aspects of real-world religion are applicable to D&D - D&D is, after all, a product of the real world), yet I'll take it as a question that focuses in on the concept of faith. I could just say "see above", but I'll tackle it like this: yes, faith could be an integral part to a D&D setting. Even though faith is belief in something that isn't provable (except to oneself through personal experience), and in D&D the gods are provable, and therefore faith would seem to be killed, it could still play a huge part in the setting's religions. It depends on how the DM wants to run it and even more on how the player wants his character to view religion - ala Col. O'Neil - "Just because you wield incredible power and call yourself a god, that doesn't mean you ARE a god". The ultimate definition of godhood springs from the worshiper, not the dude claiming to be a god. So all the "gods" listed in the FR campaign guide are just posers; the real God(s) is(are) above and beyond them... but I can't prove that. :)

To question 3. Oh god, um... I think D&D religions could and should mirror all aspects of real-life religions; I mean, can you think of any aspect of life that at least one of our religions hasn't tackled? Nothing comes to mind for me... except maybe... nope, nothing. :)


But to return to the idea that D&D has neglected the incredible power and influence provable gods would have on a world...

I mean, come on, these are GODS here. Even if the good gods prefer a hands off approach to the world, the evil dieties will force them to exert control or stand by and watch while they take it all over.

I suppose the point I'm rambling towards is that in a fantasy RPG setting where incredibly powerful gods (or as Jack O'Neil would say; Snake Heads) are REAL, ... ALL cultures would be ruled, in one way or another - depending on the level of Lawfull-ness or Chaotic-ness of the god (and NOT by said god's level of evil-ness or good-ness) - by the churches and religions of that setting. Rulership is about politics, politics is about power, and the greatest power, in a fantasy setting, is god(s).

It seems to me that the only way a setting would have religion NOT be in the supreme rulership position is when the evil deities are of sufficiently lesser power than the good deities that the good guys can take a hands off approach (which seems to me to be one of the core priniples of goodness: allowing a person to make their own choices and at the same time protecting them from those who would take that right away from them).

Hmmm, this leads me to think I might house rule my setting's alignment system to:

Lawful Neutral
Lawful Evil

Nuetral Good

Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Evil



Hmmm...
 
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Andor

First Post
It depends on the campaign setup. If the only way to cast cleric spells is to be a true and faithful believer in the god and to have received an epiphany wherein your were granted your powers, then it is hard to argue against the miraculous existance of the gods because divine magic requires belief and arcane does not.

Or not.

If the gods regularly showup at weddings and potlucks then there won't be a lot of doubt about them. If they fail to answer simple questions whose doubt leads to fratricidal schisms amoungst their followers, then there may be.

Doubt about the existance of gods vs the divinity of gods is two seperate questions. It's worth noting by the way that in many polytheistic cosmologies the gods and men spring from common origins so the difference between them is one of degree, not kind.

It kinda hinges on rule 0 as most things do.
 

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