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

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
I have never seen evidence of the Celts doing those things, nor the Norse or other Germanic peoples, nor the indigenous Basque people, nor the ancient Persians (who explicitly let people keep their gods and kings, so long as they paid taxes, levied troops, and followed the rules), etc.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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?

Mod Note:
Next time, if you have a question about moderation, take it out of the thread, please.

The basic answer is that the rules of the place may mean some discussions are difficult to have.
 

King Babar

God Learner
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.
I find the use of pluripresence as you described it to be really compelling in fantasy, as it really sells to me that you're interacting with a power beyond yourself. That dryad you're speaking to is not just the humanoid form before, but the also the grove itself. It makes even simple interactions inherently otherworldly, in a way that DnD doesn't often convey very well (I feel it too often mundanifies the fantastic, compared to other works).

Expanding from this idea, I like playing with the idea of also presenting the fundamental elements of the world as different from our own reality. So matter is made of the four primary elements, but in addition to that everything else is fundamentally a spirit of some sort. A disease is not caused by a bacteria or virus, but a disease spirit, and a spell like Lesser or Greater Restoration works through momentarily harnessing a healing spirit. It's all fluff and flavor, but I think there's something important in demonstrating that "this world is not our own, and many preconceptions don't apply".

You fall not because of gravity, but because the Earth goddess loves you.
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I find the use of pluripresence as you described it to be really compelling in fantasy, as it really sells to me that you're interacting with a power beyond yourself. That dryad you're speaking to is not just the humanoid form before, but the also the grove itself. It makes even simple interactions inherently otherworldly, in a way that DnD doesn't often convey very well (I feel it too often mundanifies the fantastic, compared to other works).
I 1000% agree.
Expanding from this idea, I like playing with the idea of also presenting the fundamental elements of the world as different from our own reality. So matter is made of the four primary elements, but in addition to that everything else is fundamentally a spirit of some sort. A disease is not caused by a bacteria or virus, but a disease spirit, and a spell like Lesser or Greater Restoration works through momentarily harnessing a healing spirit. It's all fluff and flavor, but I think there's something important in demonstrating that "this world is not our own, and many preconceptions don't apply".

You fall not because of gravity, but because the Earth goddess loves you.
Can I make a persuasion check to reduce falling damage?

But seriously, I love that.

It reminds me of something I've been building toward in my Eberron game. When people summon things, especially if it's a critter like Summon Beast or Conjure Woodland Beings, I have started describing those things forming from the landscape itself, rather than appearing from nothing, forming wolves of vine and stone and root, rather than tooth and fur. Likewise, places of magical power have distinct spirit beings who take the form of animals, and embody things like the change from winter to spring and fall to winter, and the bard/cleric is discovering the Will of what seems to be the world itself, which she will eventually learn is Eberron the primordial dragon, and so is the world itself, but also a cosmic draconic being beyond time, and a composite of all the lesser spirits that makes up the world, and the drive of a world to find equilibrium without stagnation, to heal wounds like the Mournland, to keep out foreign infections like the Delkyr, and to contain what lies within (Khyber).

Meanwhile, her husbard the Bard/Paladin is becoming a champion of the land, tied to a tree-being known as The Nemeton, he is becoming more than mortal, eventually he will have the choice to either become one of these Primal Spirits, in order to hallow a new land for his people, or find/foster such a spirit instead.
 

Voadam

Legend
I like thinking of demons as possibly all being one fractured CE evil being, the Abyss. It fractured into multiple different layers and into various different demon lords and from demon lords into lesser demons. So all Nalfeshnee fat boar demons are actually fat Orcus and all bird demon Vrocks are Pazuzu (or Tzeentch) so you can get involved fighting a demon lord directly as an adversary at much lower levels.

Planar elemental Chaos is divided and diverse and crazy so it fights everyone including itself and is both aware and unaware of its nature at multiple levels so there is not a hive mind but also a vast deep alienness to even the smallest demon and uncertainty as to whether all is one, or all based on the demon lord level, or if they are actually all individuals who are mostly insane in weird ways.

It works too for Baator/Asmodeus and all devils with their convoluted hierarchy and structure and complex internal machinations, and lies. It appears diverse, but it is all one.
 

ART!

Hero
As a culture - or the more powerful chunks of it - becomes less overtly religious (less infused with religious thought), then fewer people will grow up with religion as a part of their lives. With less exposure to those notions, it would be harder (or less pleasant) for those people to imagine worlds in which religion and gods are a major - and at least a partially positive - factor.

I've noticed this trend in the games I play in, and that's what I attribute it to: our culture simply understands religion less than it did, is less exposed to those ideas, has too narrow an exposure to the diversity fo religious thought, or some combination thereof.
 


hopeless

Adventurer
How do the various faiths react to a new religion popping up?
Are they immediately hostile or curious enough to check before deciding whether they need to do something about it?
 

Voadam

Legend
I find the useful term for this is Faith.
I find it obscures a lot. Faith as in belief and as being faithful to the teachings of the religion is a big deal if you want a fantasy-medieval church religion based off of a medieval Christian church model where belief is a big deal theologically while what we know of say Roman religious practices is that it is much more about performing the right rituals and honoring the gods and providing the appropriate sacrifices.

So as a term faith in the sense of being faithful to the gods can sort of apply for fantasy polytheism based on ancient Greece or Conan, but faith as in put your faith in this belief is more appropriate for a fantasy medieval church tone, and the conflation of the two can obscure the more polytheistic elements of a fantasy religion that can be there in D&D.

Of course classic D&D is generally a syncretism of Conan type polytheism and medieval churches with polytheistic medieval knight clerics and it is natural for D&D writers to lean more on the more familiar church end of things in fleshing things out and using them. Forgotten Realms leans hard into this very medieval churchy end of the spectrum for their polytheistic cosmology and religion, as did a bunch of Greyhawk and Golarion with defined churches and such in the 2e and 3e/Pathfinder eras.
 



cbwjm

Hero
Pretty much this. D&D (and most RPG) religion is a weird mix of polytheistic pantheons with monotheistic trappings that make no sense at all. Alone the requirement to have one patron god despite there being multiple deities which everyone knows and acknowledges is silly. As you said, polytheistic faiths operate on a bargain system. You turn to the god you currently need and not worship one god because he is your patron even though you do not need his help or protection.
A good read on polytheistic faiths based on ancient Romans (with a special mention of D&D and how it gets it wrong): Collections: Practical Polytheism, Part I: Knowledge
That's how it works in the FR, you pray to the gods as needed. Just because you have a patron god doesn't mean you ignore the others. Maybe it doesn't say this in the 5e books, but it did in earlier editions when a book talked about faith in the realms.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
That's how it works in the FR, you pray to the gods as needed. Just because you have a patron god doesn't mean you ignore the others. Maybe it doesn't say this in the 5e books, but it did in earlier editions when a book talked about faith in the realms.

Except not really.

Pg. 10 Cyclopedia of the realms - AD&D forgotten realms campaign guide (From the boxed set)
Religion of the Realms, 3rd paragraph:
"Individuals, particularly clerics, may not be tolerant of the beliefs of others. It is considered impolite to inquire too deeply into the details of worship of a god one does not worship or is not likely to worship."

There are also system issues with how clerics work that give PC's no real reason to venerate gods other than their own. And the way D&D cosmology is set up there is no reason at all for PC's to do anything but the bare minimum their god requires to get their cool powers or to keep from going into the celestial shredder...
 

cbwjm

Hero
Except not really.

Pg. 10 Cyclopedia of the realms - AD&D forgotten realms campaign guide (From the boxed set)
Religion of the Realms, 3rd paragraph:
"Individuals, particularly clerics, may not be tolerant of the beliefs of others. It is considered impolite to inquire too deeply into the details of worship of a god one does not worship or is not likely to worship."

There are also system issues with how clerics work that give PC's no real reason to venerate gods other than their own. And the way D&D cosmology is set up there is no reason at all for PC's to do anything but the bare minimum their god requires to get their cool powers or to keep from going into the celestial shredder...
Except really. Faiths and avatars pg 2-3. I'd copy/paste it, but I don't want to mess around with the formatting. Essentially it goes into how multiple gods are worshipped/appeased by the people of Faerun. Problem is, most people seem to ignore this and then assume that everyone in FR follows a single god.

Your quote doesn't even preclude this from being the case.

Just looked at the sword coast adventurer's guide for 5e which also points this out that this is the case so it is a concrete part of the current setting. I quoted this one since it's straight from DnDBeyond and so the formatting isn't horrendous.

The average person worships different gods in different contexts. Most vocations have a patron deity: farmers make offerings to Chauntea for the prosperity of their crops, clerks sharpen their quills with a prayer to Deneir, while pious merchants remember to set coins aside for Waukeen at the end of the day. Most people worship a deity associated with their livelihood, family, or home, while others feel called to a particular god for a variety of reasons. Individuals often carry or wear a small token of their favored deity: a pendant or a pin in the image of the god’s holy symbol, or some other personal keepsake.

In addition, people regularly venerate gods based on their needs and circumstances: a farmer whose favored deity is Chauntea would pray to Amaunator for a few clear, sunny days, and a Waterdhavian noble who habitually worships Deneir would give thanks to Sune after a successful coming-out party for her son. Even priests of particular gods acknowledge the roles that other deities play in the world and in their lives.

In general, worshipers view their relationships with the gods as practical and reciprocal: they pray and make offerings because that is how one invites the blessings of the gods and turns away their wrath. These prayers and other acts of devotion are generally performed quietly at the shrine in one’s household or community, or occasionally in a temple dedicated to one’s deity, when a worshiper feels the need to “come knocking upon a god’s door” to ask for attention.

Forms of worship are often acts of veneration: giving thanks for favor shown, making requests for future blessings, and offering praise for the deity’s intercessions, large and small. Because most folk in Faerûn don’t want to attract the ire of the cruel or savage gods, beseeching them to keep the peace is also an act of worship. A hunter or a farmer might make offerings to Malar in hopes of keeping predators at bay, and a sailor might pray to Umberlee that she withhold her wrath for the duration of a voyage.
 

Even though, as others pointed out earlier in this thread, there have long been settings that are godless (or at the very least, their existence is in question), but it does seem like there is more of a leaning these days to, if not entirely remove the gods, then push them further back. Gods have always been a tricky discussion in D&D forms, because it can be difficult sometimes to separate real world beliefs--or non-beliefs--from those in a fictional setting. For me personally, I'm not very religious, but, as I've mentioned before, I love deities in fantasy--animism also works, or worlds where there are both lesser entities (or spirits, such as of the elements), and and greater gods. I find they enrich the setting, especially in fantasy, where you are already suspending your disbelief and accepting that in this setting (be it TTRPG, a book or television series, or any other media), beings like dragons, elves, undead, magic, etc, exist. Why not have gods as well?

I can't say I'm a fan of the non-theist cleric option, as to me, being a cleric means getting your powers from a deity, unless you are specifically playing in a setting that doesn't have them (Dark Sun). I don't know if the move is an attempt to make it feel more inclusive to atheists, but it's a fictional setting, and we're fine with every other fantastical being.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
In ancient times, people's feelings towards the gods were much more ambivalent, like the mother goddess would come in the dead of night and slit you open, scoop out your guts and stuff you with straw if you were dishonorable. Other stories, practices, were called superstition, personification of forces of nature, or just a good tale to tell.
 

Jaeger

That someone better.
Essentially it goes into how multiple gods are worshipped/appeased by the people of Faerun. ...

Your quote doesn't even preclude this from being the case.

You can say that it doesn't preclude it.

But : "It is considered impolite to inquire too deeply into the details of worship of a god one does not worship or is not likely to worship."

Certainly throws a big contradictory monkey-wrench into the notion.

A bit of a red flag that the author had no clue how religious people actually act.


Problem is, most people seem to ignore this and then assume that everyone in FR follows a single god.

Because both the system and so-called "cosmology" give the PC's no reason to not just follow a single god.

Which is why D&D/FR pantheons/religions are so badly done.

People have overwhelmingly "ignored it" because they are bouncing off badly written nonsense that doesn't align with how things occur in play at the table, or how a real person would act if they actually lived under such a belief system.

How D&D says they want to portray religion in their setting fluff does not synch with how D&D handles the divine mechanically in the system.

So yeah, players and GM's are gonna ignore (subconsciously, instinctively, or otherwise), the stuff that doesn't make sense.

Garbage in, garbage out.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
A big part of D&D Pantheons is that they have different deities for every job or role in society. Every type of element, season, weather, geography. And typically have redundant versions that are specifically tied to individual races.

Yes. Thor is a god of storms. But the actual stuff he got up to in his various tales rarely had -anything- to do with a storm. Whether it was crossdressing to get married so he could get his hammer back, having a race against Thought, or wrestling Old Age.

Same thing with pretty much every pantheon.

But a lot of settings just go on down the Domain list (Formerly the Sphere list) and check off each box with it's own deity that presides over that aspect of life. Or a handful of related aspects.

Religions are stories and parables, myths and legends, humorous anecdotes and horror stories. They're not "And this was the God of Grain who helps farmers have a nice harvest" with nothing deeper than that. And the more gods you have (The more boxes you tick off) the more work you have to do to fill all those stories, so they become smaller, and smaller, 'til only a handful of gods actually do -anything- in the narrative and each of them only a teensy bit, here and there.

Very frustrating. Much better to make a smaller, tighter, pantheon which cover a wide range of things for Priestly spellcasting purposes and create a bigger narrative about them.
 

cbwjm

Hero
You can say that it doesn't preclude it.

But : "It is considered impolite to inquire too deeply into the details of worship of a god one does not worship or is not likely to worship."

Certainly throws a big contradictory monkey-wrench into the notion.

A bit of a red flag that the author had no clue how religious people actually act.




Because both the system and so-called "cosmology" give the PC's no reason to not just follow a single god.

Which is why D&D/FR pantheons/religions are so badly done.

People have overwhelmingly "ignored it" because they are bouncing off badly written nonsense that doesn't align with how things occur in play at the table, or how a real person would act if they actually lived under such a belief system.

How D&D says they want to portray religion in their setting fluff does not synch with how D&D handles the divine mechanically in the system.

So yeah, players and GM's are gonna ignore (subconsciously, instinctively, or otherwise), the stuff that doesn't make sense.

Garbage in, garbage out.
Sounds more like a player problem than a setting problem.
 

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