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D&D General Is there an increase in "godless" campaign settings?

Libertad

Adventurer
By this, I do not mean worlds where everyone is some degree of atheist. Rather, I mean one with settings where the existence of gods are either in question or where clerics likely derive their powers from another source.

On the official side of things, Eberron and Ravenloft technically qualify. While prayer and faith grant spells, nobody is really sure if deities such as Ezra and the Sovereign Host exist in the way they're portrayed by religious institutions. In Eberron's case, the fact that people can get spells from non-divine power sources helps reinforce the idea of divine magic being more subjective.

I haven't read much of Ravnica, but from a brief Google search it seems to be a setting where the worship of deities isn't common.

Over on the third party front, I've seen a number of such settings both popular and obscure. In the dark fantasy RPG Grim Hollow the gods used to exist, but were destroyed in a war with eldritch abominations so their angelic and devilish servants are shouldering the burden of attending to mortal affairs. My recently-reviewed Koryo Hall of Adventures has pseudo-Buddhist personal self-improvement and animism in place of deity worship, where in the latter case people broker deals with less powerful localized spirits. The old gods are believed dead and gone, thus causing these two religions to become the dominant forms of faith. Legacy of Mana (currently vaporware) never had gods or god worship to begin with, with paying reverence to the planet itself serving such a purpose. The World of Alessia has an all-encompassing faith known as the Light, although it seems to lack deities and instead focuses more on mortal-focused self-improvement and good works. I'm still in the process of reading this book, so my knowledge may be incomplete.

I don't know how appropriate it would be to include conversions of "D&D but not exactly" products such as Beowulf: Age of Heroes. Such RPGs use 5th Edition D&D as the mechanical chassis, but have worlds that majorly depart from the standard.

Is this merely confirmation bias on my part, or is there a growing number of settings both official and third party where divine influence is less prominent and not taken for granted?
 

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Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Dark Sun and Ravenloft. Both of them have 0 deities and were created back in the 80s and 90s. They've never had gods.

Planescape attempted to demystify deities by making them "Smaller" than they are in most settings. Just particularly powerful entities in the 90s.

Dragonlance, back in the 80s, had "No" Gods, and everyone knew it, except Goldmoon who held faith.

Eberron was early 2000. And while it has gods no one's sure if they're real and even if they are they're more concepts than manifest single entities.

It's been a recurring theme for a long time. But I think it hit it's peak for D&D settings back in the early 90s.
 

jgsugden

Legend
In my Homebrew, there is a greater god from which everything spark: Ao. He had two children - the Light (The Positive Energy Plane) and the Dark (The Negative Energy Plane). Generally speaking Ao does not interact with anything, and the Light and the Dark do so in a very alien way. They had three children (Bahamut, Tiamat and Vorel, and from them came all other beings over time. After all was said and done, it was discovered that faith could grant power to anything, and if that faith was in something that did not truly exist, that power could manifest in many different ways that conformed to the faith. However, many beings do not believe there to be anything sacred about the Gods - they're just powerful, not special, to them.

The result?

You can be:
  1. an Atheist (The Gods are nothing but powerful creatures and do not deserve our faith),
  2. Agnostic (Not sure if they're just powerful creatures or if they deserve our worship - I don't have all the answers),
  3. Monotheistic or Deistic (Ao is the one true God from which all came, even though he does not interact with the world as his descendents do),
  4. Duotheistic, (Ao isn't really a being -just the universe itself. The Light and the Dark are the true Gods),
  5. Pantheistic Henotheistic or Polytheistic (They're all Gods - but I may align with one),
  6. Impersonal Idealistic (Love is my God), or
  7. Loosely Animistic (I believe that Meepo the Kobold, a block of cheese, or my ancestors corpses are my Gods).
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
In my Homebrew, there is a greater god from which everything spark: Ao. He had two children - the Light (The Positive Energy Plane) and the Dark (The Negative Energy Plane). Generally speaking Ao does not interact with anything, and the Light and the Dark do so in a very alien way. They had three children (Bahamut, Tiamat and Vorel, and from them came all other beings over time. After all was said and done, it was discovered that faith could grant power to anything, and if that faith was in something that did not truly exist, that power could manifest in many different ways that conformed to the faith. However, many beings do not believe there to be anything sacred about the Gods - they're just powerful, not special, to them.

The result?

You can be:
  1. an Atheist (The Gods are nothing but powerful creatures and do not deserve our faith),
  2. Agnostic (Not sure if they're just powerful creatures or if they deserve our worship - I don't have all the answers),
  3. Monotheistic or Deistic (Ao is the one true God from which all came, even though he does not interact with the world as his descendents do),
  4. Duotheistic, (Ao isn't really a being -just the universe itself. The Light and the Dark are the true Gods),
  5. Pantheistic Henotheistic or Polytheistic (They're all Gods - but I may align with one),
  6. Impersonal Idealistic (Love is my God), or
  7. Loosely Animistic (I believe that Meepo the Kobold, a block of cheese, or my ancestors corpses are my Gods).
You forgot pantheistic multiple-ego solipsism
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Dark Sun and Ravenloft. Both of them have 0 deities and were created back in the 80s and 90s. They've never had gods.
Well, Ravenloft had Ezra, who was actually presented as a deity of demigod rank in Dragon #359 (the final print issue).

Likewise, while it was never published before the 2E line ended, Dregoth's Coruscation would have had him successfully becoming Athas's first true god if the PCs didn't stop him.
Planescape attempted to demystify deities by making them "Smaller" than they are in most settings. Just particularly powerful entities in the 90s.
That sounds like chant from the Athar to me, cutter.
Dragonlance, back in the 80s, had "No" Gods, and everyone knew it, except Goldmoon who held faith.
And Verminaard, don't forget. I was always struck by how he was a cleric of Takhisis before Goldmoon found the Disks of Mishakal.
Eberron was early 2000. And while it has gods no one's sure if they're real and even if they are they're more concepts than manifest single entities.
While it reiterated that Eberron has no gods, Keith Baker's article "Eternal Evil: The Lords of Dust" noted how the actual rakshasa rajahs' stats were built with the rules from the 3E Deities and Demigods (affiliate link).
 

Daraniya

Explorer
In my Homebrew, there is a greater god from which everything spark: Ao. He had two children - the Light (The Positive Energy Plane) and the Dark (The Negative Energy Plane). Generally speaking Ao does not interact with anything, and the Light and the Dark do so in a very alien way. They had three children (Bahamut, Tiamat and Vorel, and from them came all other beings over time. After all was said and done, it was discovered that faith could grant power to anything, and if that faith was in something that did not truly exist, that power could manifest in many different ways that conformed to the faith. However, many beings do not believe there to be anything sacred about the Gods - they're just powerful, not special, to them.

The result?

You can be:
  1. an Atheist (The Gods are nothing but powerful creatures and do not deserve our faith),
  2. Agnostic (Not sure if they're just powerful creatures or if they deserve our worship - I don't have all the answers),
  3. Monotheistic or Deistic (Ao is the one true God from which all came, even though he does not interact with the world as his descendents do),
  4. Duotheistic, (Ao isn't really a being -just the universe itself. The Light and the Dark are the true Gods),
  5. Pantheistic Henotheistic or Polytheistic (They're all Gods - but I may align with one),
  6. Impersonal Idealistic (Love is my God), or
  7. Loosely Animistic (I believe that Meepo the Kobold, a block of cheese, or my ancestors corpses are my Gods).
I assume that all clerics are just warlocks with powerful patrons... Warlocks don't advertise their patrons, but who says you can't start a religion around a world tree or djinn?
 

Faolyn

Hero
Dark Sun and Ravenloft. Both of them have 0 deities and were created back in the 80s and 90s. They've never had gods.
Ravenloft has gods: Ezra, Hala, the Lawgiver, the Morninglord, Yutow, the Wolf God, Belenus, the Akiri pantheon. Those gods might even be real, in the sense that they are the ones providing the divine magic. And even if those spells are actually provided by the Dark Powers, many people believe the gods exist.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yes, I do think agnostic settings are growing more common and more popular. I say “agnostic” rather than “godless” because, as many have observed, many of of these settings aren’t truly without gods, but it is often unknown if the gods are real, or if they’re really gods. I would guess that this is a related phenomenon to the push for more nuanced, playable monster races. A lot of folks these days prefer their fantasy to have lots of moral and philosophical nuance, rather than the simpler, more archetypal good vs. evil stories.
 

Dessert Nomad

Adventurer
I think a big contributor is that the standard D&D religions weren't well thought out, and are just sort of a mix of Christian ideas with polytheistic pantheons, then aren't integrated into the game world much. I think if the baseline for the game was either "Christianity with the serial numbers filled off" or something more like traditional polytheistic religions (where people worship gods on an ad hoc basis and in a more "bargaining" style) and that was integrated more tightly into formal game worlds and the semi established standard background, you'd have something more enduring. As it is, the baseline religion for D&D is complicated without being interesting and doesn't add much mechanical or flavor benefit to the game, so it's not surprising that people ditch it.
 


Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
That's a gross misunderstanding of DL. In DL the gods were forgotten or even reviled for abandoning/punishing mortals, but that was a failure of those mortals, not the gods. DL is the exact opposite of an "atheistic" setting.
Everyone in the setting was either Atheist or Agnostic (Except Dragons, of course, and Goldmoon). And held no faith in the Gods that "Abandoned" them.

Which is why I put "No" in quotation marks.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Yes, I do think agnostic settings are growing more common and more popular. I say “agnostic” rather than “godless” because, as many have observed, many of of these settings aren’t truly without gods, but it is often unknown if the gods are real, or if they’re really gods. I would guess that this is a related phenomenon to the push for more nuanced, playable monster races. A lot of folks these days prefer their fantasy to have lots of moral and philosophical nuance, rather than the simpler, more archetypal good vs. evil stories.
I think the driving force is simpler than that: Active interventionist gods tend to hog the spotlight. The entire world shapes itself around their power plays and conflicts, and mere mortals get reduced to pawns in a divine chess game. There are ways to prevent this from happening, of course, but you have to go out of your way to do it, wasting page count and creative energy to tie these giant beings up so mortal deeds have room to make a difference. It's much easier to just not have the giant beings in the first place.

However, the traditions of D&D require the existence of a cleric class powered by religion. Solution: Make the gods distant and unknowable, to the point that it's unclear if they actually exist or if the cleric's power is just a different form of wizardry.

I've seen this same evolution in my own worldbuilding. I used to have worlds with big flashy gods, but it always made the PCs seem smaller, and over the years I've drifted more toward the "agnostic setting" side.
 

I don't know how appropriate it would be to include conversions of "D&D but not exactly" products such as Beowulf: Age of Heroes. Such RPGs use 5th Edition D&D as the mechanical chassis, but have worlds that majorly depart from the standard.
I commented on the RPG.net version of your thread, but 1) Beowulf is D&D, under the OGL -- it just has a new class with six subclasses -- and 2) more importantly, it's replaced alignment with religious affiliation, with the primary choices being Christian or the Old Faith, neither of whom would qualify as "godless."
 


Libertad

Adventurer
I commented on the RPG.net version of your thread, but 1) Beowulf is D&D, under the OGL -- it just has a new class with six subclasses -- and 2) more importantly, it's replaced alignment with religious affiliation, with the primary choices being Christian or the Old Faith, neither of whom would qualify as "godless."

I mean, I suppose I could've referenced the Spy Game which is set in the modern-day, but that'd be less fair than Beowulf. :p

Beowulf may not be the best example given the importance of religious beliefs as a game mechanic, although the exact nature of divinities is left rather murky.
 



Yaarel

Mind Mage
OTOH, Theros.
But Theros is remarkably nuanced. There the "iconoclasts" are legitimate too.

In reallife, Socrates and Buddha were openly skeptical about gods. Both denied the ... sanctity ... of the gods. Socrates argued that being pious toward one god, inevitably angered a rival god, making polytheism itself useless. Buddha argued that if gods exist, it meant they havent reached Enlightenment yet, thus were as ignorant as humans.

Especially D&D "gods" deserve this kind of deep skepticism.

Theros is aware of these points of view, and nods.
 

King Babar

Adventurer
Id still be atheist if I found myself on Greyhawk, Mystara or Faerun.

The 'Gods' there arent really Gods, just powerful outsiders. Heck a few of them have been killed by Mortals (or were once mortal).

They dont know anymore behind whats going on than we do.
At the risk of hijacking the thread and going off topic... What is a god if not a powerful being/outsider? And how is being formerly mortal or killable disqualifying? By that metric most gods from a multitude of different mythologies wouldn't qualify as gods.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
At the risk of hijacking the thread and going of topic... What is a god if not a powerful being/outsider? And how is being formerly mortal or killable disqualifying? By that metric most gods from a multitude of different mythologies wouldn't qualify as gods.
A "god" is a personification of some important feature of the cosmos, who demands hierarchical servitude.

Two things are going on. Both the symbol of what is important. And the social enslavement.
 

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