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

Fanaelialae

Legend
That's three very different answers: food, pets/workers, and offspring would result in very different relationships between mortals and gods.

But any one of those would be interesting, and definitely a lot better than what FR (or most other official settings) give us, so I highly encourage you to explore whichever seems interesting to you. Your game will almost inevitably be better for it.
Definitely. An idea I've had in one of my notebooks, which I've never had the time to explore, has been based on mortals as food.

Basically, there's a cyclical occurrence (5-10k years?) where the gods help and encourage mortal civilizations to flourish. Then they devour the mortals for power and pleasure, and repeat the cycle. The higher echelons of the priesthood are in on it and are spared, in return for aiding the process (hiding the evidence, restarting civilization, hindering access to the planes so that people cannot easily escape, etc).

The campaign would start very vanilla, but over time the PCs would find increasing evidence not only of this cycle, but that it is about to repeat itself. Then it would be up to them to either try to find a way to avert this cataclysm, or at least find a way to abandon ship and escape. It's a touch derivative of Mass Effect, I admit, but I think if I pushed it towards a cosmic horror angle (the gods who love and care for you are actually monstrosities to whom you are nothing more than well maintained cattle) there could be something of promise in it.
 

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That's three very different answers: food, pets/workers, and offspring would result in very different relationships between mortals and gods.

But any one of those would be interesting, and definitely a lot better than what FR (or most other official settings) give us, so I highly encourage you to explore whichever seems interesting to you. Your game will almost inevitably be better for it.
I have no idea which one interests me, I simply extrapolate those answers from how we are.
 

Definitely. An idea I've had in one of my notebooks, which I've never had the time to explore, has been based on mortals as food.

Basically, there's a cyclical occurrence (5-10k years?) where the gods help and encourage mortal civilizations to flourish. Then they devour the mortals for power and pleasure, and repeat the cycle. The higher echelons of the priesthood are in on it and are spared, in return for aiding the process (hiding the evidence, restarting civilization, hindering access to the planes so that people cannot easily escape, etc).

The campaign would start very vanilla, but over time the PCs would find increasing evidence not only of this cycle, but that it is about to repeat itself. Then it would be up to them to either try to find a way to avert this cataclysm, or at least find a way to abandon ship and escape. It's a touch derivative of Mass Effect, I admit, but I think if I pushed it towards a cosmic horror angle (the gods who love and care for you are actually monstrosities to whom you are nothing more than well maintained cattle) there could be something of promise in it.
so this?
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
Probably all gods should be Unaligned. They are pretty much never Good. But they arent exactly Evil either. It is more that they are Unaligned, with possible benefits and dangers.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Sumeria.

When the Akkadians took over they recontextualized the entire religion of Sumeria to better match their own. "Tiamat", a river-goddess was the cause of strife and pain, mother of monsters, and curses. The new "Head God" of the joint-pantheon is the Akkadian God who slew Tiamat in order to protect all Sumerians. "We killed your evil river god to save you. You're welcome. Now worship the new Ruler-God! Yaaaaay!"

Meanwhile Tiamat was just a river-spirit in the original Sumerian Religion. No evil or wickedness, just water flowing from one place to another.

But it was enough to cause big problems for the priesthood which were, like, the right hand of politics in the region.

Different cultures did it differently, of course.
This take is a little too reductionistic (as is your follow-up) and also wrong in a few key places, but I suspect that part of that rests in the subtle differences and blur between the various ancient Mesopotamian cultures. The push and pull of theistic beliefs is not always clear or so intentionally orchestrated as you make it out to be. Sometimes its gradual. Sometimes its voluntary. It's rarely so unilaterally clear-cut.

For starters, Tiamat wasn't a river goddess. Tiamat is a Babylonian goddess of the sea and salt waters, a representation of primordial chaos. Now I say Babylonian here because while Tiamat's name does appear in an earlier Akkadian insciption, we don't really see anything really resembling her character until the Babylonian Enuma Elish epic. In contrast, Abzu is the Sumero-Akkadian god of fresh water (e.g., rivers, lakes, springs, etc.) from underground sources and aquifers. There was no goddess named "Tiamat" in Sumerian mythology. There is a "Nammu" in Sumerian mythology who shares some superficial similarities to "Tiamat," but ancient Near Eastern scholars don't agree that she's necessarily the same character as "Tiamat" simply because they are both goddesses associated with the sea and creation myths, though this is not to say that Tiamat wasn't influenced by "Nammu."

Also, keep in mind that the epic of the Enuma Elish featuring Tiamat's death by Marduk does not necessarily represent an attempt by Akkadians to superimpose their beliefs on Sumerians. Bel Marduk was the patron deity of Babylon, a city-state founded by Amorites (a West Semitic people) rather than Akkadians (an East Semitic people), but the Amorites, or, rather, the Babylonians would speak and write in Akkadian. Also, there are a few texts where we find Ashur (patron deity of the Assyrian city of the same name) in the role of Marduk in these sort of mythic creation narratives. If anything, the Enuma Elish represents Babylonians imposing their beliefs on Akkadians (and possibly Assyrians) rather than Sumerians, who were already on the rapid cultural decline for centuries by the time of the Babylonian king Hammurabi (c. 1800), by some dating estimates of the Enuma Elish.

So this whole "We killed your evil river god to save you. You're welcome. Now worship the new Ruler-God! Yaaaaay!" seems far from factual and more like a personal narrative that you are projecting on ancient cultures.

Meanwhile when Rome conquered Anatolia in what is now Turkey, formerly held by those of the Altaic language group with their own religious beliefs, they wiped out the cultural traditions of the Altaic people except for Cybel. And the only reason she survived was a Prophecy that if the "Idaen Mother Goddess" was brought to Rome the invaders (Hannibal et al) would be expelled.
While there are some major problems with some of your other assertions, this snippet stood out to me as being particularly egregious and less "messy" to unravel.

When Rome conquered Anatolia (Asia Minor) in 130 BCE, there were no indigenous peoples in Anatolia who spoke an Altaic language. The Turkic migrations of Altaic-speakers into Anatolia is centuries off by the magnitude of likely 900-1000 years. Cybele was the mother goddess of the Phrygians, who were speakers of the Indo-European Phrygian language, which was likely fairly-closely related to Greek. I vaguely recall that Cybele likely has an older origin with the Lydian peoples, but they spoke one of the Indo-European Anatolian languages (e.g., Hittite, Luwic, Lydian, etc.). Also, by this point in time, Anatolia had been increasingly Hellenized (though not completely) by the various post-Alexander Hellenistic dynasties in the area. And the Phrygians were already worshipping a number of gods found in the Greek and Thracian pantheons, a number of whom the Romans had also obviously adopted to Hellenize their own pantheon. Worth noting is that 130 BCE is around 200 years after Alexander had cut the "Gordian knot" in the Phrygian temple dedicated to the Phrygian-Thracian sky god Sabazios, whom the Greeks had already associated with Zeus.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:

Folks, a lot of this is edging into the realm of commentary on real-world religions. Please turn it back to game religions, or we'll have to close the thread.
 

The whole point of the current subthread of this discussion is that the way D&D traditionally does religion is extremely unrealistic to the point of breaking verisimilitude and immersion. How do we discuss fixing that and making D&D polytheism more realistic without discussing real-world religion to use as a reference point?
 




doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The concept of gods is inherently an institution of slavery.

In ancient texts, the terms "slave", "servant", are the slaves of the divine "master", "lord", "owner".

The hierarchization of spirituality during the Bronze Age, is because of the emergence of human hierarchies, monarchies, indentured servants, and captured slaves.
These are just wild theories you have come up with.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
This take is a little too reductionistic (as is your follow-up) and also wrong in a few key places, but I suspect that part of that rests in the subtle differences and blur between the various ancient Mesopotamian cultures. The push and pull of theistic beliefs is not always clear or so intentionally orchestrated as you make it out to be. Sometimes its gradual. Sometimes its voluntary. It's rarely so unilaterally clear-cut.

For starters, Tiamat wasn't a river goddess. Tiamat is a Babylonian goddess of the sea and salt waters, a representation of primordial chaos. Now I say Babylonian here because while Tiamat's name does appear in an earlier Akkadian insciption, we don't really see anything really resembling her character until the Babylonian Enuma Elish epic. In contrast, Abzu is the Sumero-Akkadian god of fresh water (e.g., rivers, lakes, springs, etc.) from underground sources and aquifers. There was no goddess named "Tiamat" in Sumerian mythology. There is a "Nammu" in Sumerian mythology who shares some superficial similarities to "Tiamat," but ancient Near Eastern scholars don't agree that she's necessarily the same character as "Tiamat" simply because they are both goddesses associated with the sea and creation myths, though this is not to say that Tiamat wasn't influenced by "Nammu."

Also, keep in mind that the epic of the Enuma Elish featuring Tiamat's death by Marduk does not necessarily represent an attempt by Akkadians to superimpose their beliefs on Sumerians. Bel Marduk was the patron deity of Babylon, a city-state founded by Amorites (a West Semitic people) rather than Akkadians (an East Semitic people), but the Amorites, or, rather, the Babylonians would speak and write in Akkadian. Also, there are a few texts where we find Ashur (patron deity of the Assyrian city of the same name) in the role of Marduk in these sort of mythic creation narratives. If anything, the Enuma Elish represents Babylonians imposing their beliefs on Akkadians (and possibly Assyrians) rather than Sumerians, who were already on the rapid cultural decline for centuries by the time of the Babylonian king Hammurabi (c. 1800), by some dating estimates of the Enuma Elish.

So this whole "We killed your evil river god to save you. You're welcome. Now worship the new Ruler-God! Yaaaaay!" seems far from factual and more like a personal narrative that you are projecting on ancient cultures.


While there are some major problems with some of your other assertions, this snippet stood out to me as being particularly egregious and less "messy" to unravel.

When Rome conquered Anatolia (Asia Minor) in 130 BCE, there were no indigenous peoples in Anatolia who spoke an Altaic language. The Turkic migrations of Altaic-speakers into Anatolia is centuries off by the magnitude of likely 900-1000 years. Cybele was the mother goddess of the Phrygians, who were speakers of the Indo-European Phrygian language, which was likely fairly-closely related to Greek. I vaguely recall that Cybele likely has an older origin with the Lydian peoples, but they spoke one of the Indo-European Anatolian languages (e.g., Hittite, Luwic, Lydian, etc.). Also, by this point in time, Anatolia had been increasingly Hellenized (though not completely) by the various post-Alexander Hellenistic dynasties in the area. And the Phrygians were already worshipping a number of gods found in the Greek and Thracian pantheons, a number of whom the Romans had also obviously adopted to Hellenize their own pantheon. Worth noting is that 130 BCE is around 200 years after Alexander had cut the "Gordian knot" in the Phrygian temple dedicated to the Phrygian-Thracian sky god Sabazios, whom the Greeks had already associated with Zeus.
1) Nammu and Tiamat are the same character. It's why I put "Tiamat" in quotation marks. Nammu is the Apsu, and was overtaken by Tiamat with the Babylonian conquest of Sumeria because they sought to overwrite the local religion with their own, like you do. Nammu and Tiamat both take up the same role as "Creator Goddess of Water".

1A) I will happily acknowledge that I messed up on saying "Akkadians" rather than "Babylonians" but the actual content is the same. That Nammu, "Tiamat" when you superimpose Babylonian beliefs over Sumerian ones, is chaos and also dead because Marduk so worship Marduk or we'll kill you for being a heretic.


2) The Altaic peoples moved out of Mongolia 1,000BCE, and over the next several centuries they moved west across Central Asia into what is now Turkey creating a major minority population in Anatolia prior to the 130BCE invasion of Anatolia and also far to the East. Granted, we tend to refer to that ethnicity as "Turkic" in retrospect. But that's a modern designation put upon them since the word Turk (Or more accurately Goturk) wouldn't be put to paper until almost 500AD, 1,500 years after Altaics left Mongolia heading in all directions.

The actual Goturk conquest of Anatolia wouldn't happen unto 1100AD, sure. But I'm not talking about rulership, I'm talking about ethnic groups and various cultures spreading across the region. Again, as a horse culture. Which almost certainly had a huge impact on the Phrygians whose chief deity (Sabazios) was a Horse-Rider like the "Soon to be Turk" Altaic peoples as compared to the Chariot-Riding deities of Greek and Roman myth. Though you could also argue the Macedonian horse-culture may have had a similar effect on Phrygian beliefs as they migrated.

2A) But, again, I'll acknowledge that Cybele is a Phrygian deity, not an Altaic deity. The greater point, however, remains: The Phrygian deities were not all dragged back to Rome to become important figures of Roman Myth. They decided that Cybele was similar to the Titan Rhea and took her statue (And a tiny meteor) back to Rome, leaving Attis, Cybele's consort, behind with all the other gods and demigods.

That said, there was a cult in Greece around 400BCE centered around Attis well before the invasion of Anatolia. But that cult kinda got crapped on, hard, when Lydia took control over Phrygia and got a Lydian-influenced retelling which ended with Zeus being angry that Cybele and Attis had followers in the nation-state and sent a Boar after them to kill Attis and a lot of the Lydians. Which is why the Lydian Gauls don't eat Pork! Though that's probably just something Pausanias tacked on to explain why the Lydians didn't eat Pork.

"Oh, hey. There's a cult we don't really want around? Let's tell a story that our God killed their God to end that cult. Yaaaaay!" and "We like this god of yours. We're going to go take her from you and bring her back to Rome 300 years later" Seems... Familiar.

'Cause remember: The Gods weren't just deities you begged for aid, they were also essentially Comic Book Characters that anyone could just make up a story about and spread it around enough to make it "Canon".
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
So... the real "Rules" of a Polytheistic Pantheon in a Multi-Pantheon setting.

1) You worship your Pantheon. You may, personally, hold one deity over all others (Those devoted to the temple of Athena valued her over others on a personal level, but still worshipped them all) but you worship all of them and make appropriate offerings when the time comes. (Even someone devoted to Zeus gives offerings to Demeter for the Spring and Fall) And when you die you go to where the Pantheon's Worshippers go (Valhalla, The Underworld, Wherever)

2) Your pantheon may be at odds with another pantheon. If they are, then you are likely at war with that pantheon's people. If you're not, then it doesn't matter what gods they worship, you're still going to your idea of heaven and their choices mean nothing.

3) The gods provide Blessings, and Curses, to those who make worthy offerings and sacrifices, those who serve faithfully or unfaithfully, or to those who cause insult or spurn them. Deciding to change your religious affiliation to a different pantheon is liable to bring down curses, which your new gods may or may not help you out with.

4) Polytheistic religions rarely, if ever, Proselytize. They don't need to. Everyone who "matters" already worships the right gods. That said, they also generally do not allow the worship of other gods in their homes as it might be viewed as disloyalty by their gods. So slaves/servants are often savagely stopped from foreign worship, or forced to convert.

5) During times of Conquest, 2 and 3 go out the window and everyone converts or dies 'cause your church and your political authorities don't want "Heathens" to hold onto their own traditions instead of adopting the colonialist religion that you hold. Any tradition that cannot be broken will instead be recontextualized as part of the newly dominant religion.

How'm I doin'?

Meanwhile, most D&D Pantheons ignore pretty much every aspect of these 5 rules and just play Monotheism in a Polytheistic setting.
All the bolded parts are questionable as general rules. Things that some RL polytheists did or believed? Sure. Not general rules, though.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Do they? Your five rules seem to describe most D&D world perfectly, maybe except for rule 5
Bane is a member of the Faerunian Pantheon, right? Right.

So Worshippers of Bane revere and make offerings to the entire Faerunian Pantheon, right? Wrong.

So Worshippers of Bane go to the same afterlife as other members of the faith of the Faerunian Pantheon, right? Wrong.

Hang on a minute...
All the bolded parts are questionable as general rules. Things that some RL polytheists did or believed? Sure. Not general rules, though.
Maybe not "General Rules" as you would imagine them. But they're reflected in the polytheistic religions which survived long enough for us to know about them.
 


The whole point of the current subthread of this discussion is that the way D&D traditionally does religion is extremely unrealistic to the point of breaking verisimilitude and immersion. How do we discuss fixing that and making D&D polytheism more realistic without discussing real-world religion to use as a reference point?
we do have to factor in that in most dnd worlds gods are supposed to be an objective fact and that breaks a lot of things.
Bane is a member of the Faerunian Pantheon, right? Right.

So Worshippers of Bane revere and make offerings to the entire Faerunian Pantheon, right? Wrong.

So Worshippers of Bane go to the same afterlife as other members of the faith of the Faerunian Pantheon, right? Wrong.

Hang on a minute...

Maybe not "General Rules" as you would imagine them. But they're reflected in the polytheistic religions which survived long enough for us to know about them.
well, do people tend to have favourite gods?
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Eek...yeah.

My internet went out for almost two hours and I had the post up there just sitting in an open window, so when the net came back I hit "Post Reply" before refreshing, so I didn't see the mod text 'til you mentioned it, now. >_<
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I would push back a bit - real-world polytheists borrowed gods all the time. The Romans loved that, and in addition to a slew of Greek gods, added Isis form Egypt, Mystra from Persia, and Epona form the Celts off the top of my head.

In some cases, they saw the "new" god as a more interesting aspect of an existing god (ie Thoth is Hermes is Mercury), in other cases the new god covered an area they hadn't covered before and realized they should (Epona). It's a ever-changing, fluid, marketplace-driven faith.

But the big thing is: they don't have faith in the gods the way a monotheist does. The gods are, and therefore need to be dealt with. If you don't do the minimums, they will curse you. If you go above and beyond, they might bless you. That's it.
It's also important to remember that while some folks exaggerate and others downplay how animist Indo-European polytheists were, that was an aspect of how they saw the world, and in nearly every IE faith, ancestor and place spirits are revered and given offerings, in addition to the bigger gods. The river has a will and a spirit, and also there is a being with a name that lives in the river and is god of it, and that being and the will of the river and the physical river are all the same thing.

As well, Thor isn't just a being who fights giants and argues with his dad and threatens Loki until the scoundrel fixes whatever he broke this time, and he also isn't just the animist soul/will/spirit of storms, thunder, etc. He is both. When lightning strikes and thunder rolls, Thor is here. When you call upon him to bless your fields and give offering to him, Thor is here. But he is also in Asgard, or traveling to Jotunheim to beat up animist personifications of destructive nature and chaos.

The primary defining difference between gods and other types of beings in my own TTRPG is that gods can be several things, in several times and places, simultaneously. When Odin is explaining to a character how the worlds really work, that it's not just vampires or ogres or whatever they encountered that are real but all of it, etc, he is also traveling elsewhere, asking strangers for help as a vagrant to see how generous they are, sitting on his throne, and embodying heroic death, victory, the passion of poetic inspiration and battlerage, sex, secrets, and in my world because I love extrapolating, kink. He is physical present as a creature many places and times, and also exists pan-dimensionally as a concept and a cosmic Will.
 

How is that so unacceptable? It's hard to discuss without bringung up real world, but there's one major world religion that sees this as the most desireable state that can be reached.
you want people merging with hell? that sounds unethical and super depressing, also what faith is like that?
 

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