Making Religion Matter in Fantasy RPGs

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Religion is a powerful force in any culture and difficult to ignore when creating a gaming setting. Here's some things to consider when incorporating religions into your campaign.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

The Question of Gods​

When we look at religion from a gaming perspective, the most interesting thing about it is that in many settings, the existence of deities is not in question. One of the most common arguments over religion is whether there even is a god of any form. But in many fantasy games especially, deities offer proof of their existence on a daily basis. Their power is channelled through clerics and priests and a fair few have actually been seen manifesting in the material realm. This makes it pretty hard to be an atheist in a D&D game.

While the adherents of any faith believe the existence of their deity is a given fact, having actual proof changes the way that religion is seen by outsiders. In many ancient cultures, people believed in not only their gods, but the gods of other cultures. So to win a war or conquer another culture was proof your gods were more powerful than theirs. While winning a war against another culture can make you pretty confident, winning one against another culture’s gods can make you arrogant. Add to that the fact you had warrior priests manifesting divine power on the battlefield, you are pretty soon going to start thinking that not only is winning inevitable, but that it is also a divine destiny. Again, these are all attitudes plenty of believers have had in ancient days, but in many fantasy worlds they might actually be right.

Magic vs. Prayer​

If a world has magic, it might be argued that this power is just another form of magic. Wizards might scoff at clerics, telling them they are just dabblers who haven’t learned true magic. But this gets trickier if there are things the clerics can do with their magic that the wizards can’t do with theirs. Some wizards might spend their lives trying to duplicate the effects of clerics, and what happens if one of them does?

The reverse is also interesting. Clerics might potentially manifest any form of magical power if it suits their deity. So if the priest of fire can not only heal but throw fireballs around, is it the wizards that need to get themselves some religion to become true practitioners of the art? Maybe the addition of faith is the only way to really gain the true power of magic?

Are the Gods Real?​

While divine power might be unarguably real, the source of it might still be in contention. A priest might be connecting to some more primal force than magicians, or tapping into some force of humanity. What priests think is a connection to the divine might actually just be another form of magic. As such, it could have some unexpected side effects.

Let’s say this divine power draws from the life force of sentient beings. As it does so in a very broad way, this effect is barely noticed in most populations. A tiny amount of life from the population as a whole powers each spell. But once the cleric goes somewhere remote they might find their magic starts draining the life from those nearby. In remote areas, clerics might be feared rather than revered, and the moment they try to prove they are right by manifesting the true power of their deity, they (and the townsfolk) are in for a very nasty surprise.

Can You Not Believe in Them?​

There are ways to still play an atheist character in a fantasy game. However, it does require more thought beyond "well I don’t believe in it." That's a sure way to make your character look foolish, especially after they have just been healed by a cleric.

What will also make things much tougher is having a character that refuses to benefit from the power of religion due to their beliefs. They might insist that if they don’t know what in this healing magic, they don’t want any part of it, especially if the priest can’t really explain it outside the terms of their faith. That this healing works will not be in doubt. So are they being principled or a fool? If the explanation for magical healing isn’t "this is just healing energy" but "it’s the power of my deity, entering your body and changing it for the better" the character might be more reticent about a few more hit points.

When it comes to deities manifesting on the material plane, it’s a little harder to ignore them. But this isn’t always evidence of the divine. A manifesting deity is undoubtedly a powerful being, one able to crush armies and level cities, but does that make them divine? While the power of a deity is not in dispute, the definition of what is actually divine in nature is a lot muddier. This is ironically harder in a fantasy world where lich-kings, dragons and powerful wizards can do all the same things many deities are supposed to do.

What Are Gods?​

So we come back to the question: Whether you are a cleric, adherent or atheist, of what actually is god? What quality of them demands or inspires worship beyond the fact they are powerful? Plenty of philosophers are still trying to figure that one out. While in a fantasy game their existence and power may not be in question, whether they are holy or even worthy of trust and faith might be much harder to divine.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Voadam

Legend
Part of this is that the term "god"--particularly with the way you've capitalized it there--has become rather hijacked by Christianity in English (and most European languages). To the Greeks and Romans, there were gods everywhere. Some of the early Christians, such as St. Augustine, wrote scathing commentary on the Roman tendency to proliferate deities, e.g. they had three different deities solely for doors (Cardea, goddess of the hinge; Forculus, god of the doors, plural, because Roman houses usually used double doors; and Limentinus, god of the threshold.) To the modern English speaker, "God" has come to narrowly mean "the sole monotheistic deity that created the universe and is responsible for all that exists," with some extra stuff like "the source of all good-ness" etc. We set our expectations of "god(s)" very high today because of this, whereas it very much seems that, to the ancients, just about anything could be sacred enough to warrant being watched over by a deity.

If we take a more ancient Greek idea of what a "god" is, then yes, Neo could absolutely meet a god. But a lot of people today find that in some way unsatisfying, expecting some nebulous more-ness out of meeting a deity. Is that right? I dunno. It's just what a lot of people seem to want.
I think that is partially correct but also partially incorrect.

Modern West has both a strong Judeo Christian, but also a strong Classical pillar of our culture and understanding.

A lot of people are familiar with and recognize the 12 Olympians as Greek Gods at least on a surface level.

When talking about "Gods" in the plural I think there is conscious recognition that each one is not the creator responsible for all that exists and the source of goodness.

I think a strong disconnect though is that most think of the 12 Olympians and stop for their concepts of Gods, not going past that to the hundreds and hundreds of lesser gods dealing with smaller discrete concepts down to the level of dryad nymphs being connected to a single tree. Or the fact that there was blurrings such as hero-worship.

So many would think of Demeter stopping all crops in grief for abducted Persephone and think big fundamental concept power, or Apollo granting prophecy to the Delphi Oracle, and think those are Gods, but a nymph is a Greek monster/supernatural creature, not a divinity.

A house spirit would normally be thought of as a Tomte or a Domovoi, a household fairy of one kind or another, not a Roman House God because most are not even aware of that end of the divinity scale, just the big story Gods.
For myself, well, I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of a deity being a living concept (given how expressly my religion specifies that God is Love, giving rather a lot of attention to exactly what that specific thing means). I can't say whether that would make Neo from the Matrix feel like he'd actually met a deity or not.
I think the NEO example was he knows he is in the Matrix so amazing God encounter could just be a computer program.

But if you met a being whose literal existence was truly connected to the very concept of Hope and Justice, to the point that fostering hope and justice in the world directly gives that being power, and giving that being power causes more hope and justice to occur in the universe, and likewise if you killed that deity it would seriously damage (not destroy, but SERIOUSLY hurt) the causes of hope and justice in the universe at large...would you be willing to call that thing a "deity"?
I don't generally characterize gods as being that deeply and universally connected to their concepts. You can do that, but I don't generally assign that level of connection in my conception of them.

Partially that's because I generally think of them as more multidimensional supernatural beings out of mythological stories and less personified cornerstones of a cosmological reality. So when Zeus is messing around in his traditional story unwise and unjust manner it does not screw up the fundamental concepts of Justice and Wisdom that he has taken on as Deific aspects that he gets invoked for.

This also fits in with having multiple pantheons and a not certain and clear underlying cosmology but multiple conflicting in world theories.

So killing powerful supernatural mythological story character Zeus might unleash a terrible massive storm as he is a sky and storm god, but that would be because that much controlled divine storm power is released, not because the concept of storms has been significantly defeated.

It would be perfectly valid to choose differently and go that way though and say the sky itself is damaged with his death so massive storms until/unless that gets fixed.
 

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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Forces, principles, philosophies, and elements. D&D has had plenty of things that are explicitly not gods grant cleric spells.

If going by the definition of "things that grant people clerical spells", then (a) casting a clerical spell would prove the existence of god(s), potentially displacing the debate on what is a clerical spell (b) one could make a strong argument that forces, principles, philosophies and elements are gods in such a setting. Having sentience isn't required to be a god ; the Star Wars Force might qualify, so why not a principle?
I disagree. I think there would be as much common understanding on what is a god in a D&D setting as there is in the real world. There can be folklore understandings, theological understandings, historical understandings, theoretical understandings, dogmatic traditions, etc.

Except many theological questions can be answered by casting a spell. Sure, it's eroded with the current edition, but some past spells could provide definite answers.

In Eberron are the sovereign host and the dark six gods or mortal narrative constructs? The three dragons? Are the Lords of Dust gods or not? The Undying Court and elven ancestral heroes are gods or not? Do all mortals have the spark of divinity in them?

The specificity of Eberron is that no god is known to directly interact with worshippers ; and the physical flame isn't the silver flame but a thing. It's a stark constrast with FR, and in Eberron I could see an atheist thrive -- just around another definition that "gods is a cleric-spell granting entity". In which case they'd be most probably natural philosophers (who have been called atheists).
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
FR has had a mix of Henotheism and Polytheism.

[...]
Clerics and other divine classes are big time one god henotheists in FR.

To be honest, in games, I feel players are often culturally less exposed to polytheism to understand how, say, a Greek or a Roman approached religion and it feels easier to roleplay henotheism and religio. It was made even more difficult because of the presence of alignments, and classes that were clearly of monotheistical inspiration like the Paladin. Why on earth would your LG character associate with Umberlee and make offering to her? It seems very close to devil worship from a monotheistical, all-good god approach, but it's totally fitting in a polytheistic context were gods behave in a more human-like way.

I think that is partially correct but also partially incorrect.

Modern West has both a strong Judeo Christian, but also a strong Classical pillar of our culture and understanding.

A lot of people are familiar with and recognize the 12 Olympians as Greek Gods at least on a surface level.

I agree with the rest of your post here about mostly ignoring the "little gods" -- and without going to the gods of the subparts of a door, the importance of Janus is often ignored despite him giving his name to one of our months (but enough real life religions here) ; I think knowledge of the classical greek/roman olympian gods is just that, "on the surface level" and imagine a relation to the divine very akin to a more commonly understood in the west one, applied to 12 different beings, with genuine questions like "didn't they realize god X behavaed like a jerk in story Y?" -- a question that would be totally irrelevant to provide a sacrifice to X, because you weren't worshiping him like many understand worship in a monotheistic approach.
 
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Hussar

Legend
I've never understood the argument that basically says, "Well, gods aren't really gods - they're just really powerful extra planar beings.

What do you think a god is? Isn't "extra planar powerful being" pretty much the definition of a god? What more do you need?

The very modern notion of atheism is very anachronistic in a D&D setting, and really out of place in my opinion. But, beyond that, it's actively acting against the setting. "Oh, you have gods in your setting, well, screw you Mr. DM, my character is an atheist. You can tell me what to do!" seems to be the basic message.

Ok, sure, you can play an atheist in the setting, but, why? It's missing such a huge part of the setting and basically making the DM's job so much harder. And, frankly, no one playing D&D EVER play's an atheist because no player ever refuses clerical healing. It's only "I'm an atheist" when it's convenient. "Oh, you want to Bless me before combat, heal me when I get knocked down and bring me back to life? Sure, thanks. But, hey, I'm STILL an atheist and you can't tell me any different."

It's such a bad faith play by the player. It's just yet another way players refuse to engage in the setting and want their character to be "special and unique" at the cost of anything the DM might have in mind.

Playing an atheist character in a standard D&D world is no different than the folks that insist on playing a Jedi or a ninja or any other genre breaking, setting breaking character.
 

Voadam

Legend
In D&D, would it change anything if there were elves that kept written records (or any trustworthy folks that lived 700+ years) and casters that might be on the lookout for major events with the help of scrying?

Having textual differences creep in at 1/7th the rate, and having better eye witnesses, IRL would sure be informative. Of course it would also change science and history and....
In Dragonlance there were both elves and dwarves so there were still living beings (not to mention undead Soth) who were alive when the Cataclysm happened. Of course the gods took every faithful priest and divine caster up in a rapture type of thing so the only ones left behind were hollowed out on goodwill for the old gods and cut off from normal magical healing and divinations as a Mountain-sized meteor hit the world and rearranged the continent.

Mostly the surviving elves and dwarves though did the classic D&D/Tolkein trope of retreating from the modern world as they tried to rebuild their homes and societies after the Cataclysm with no divine magic. Hill and Mountain dwarves split when the mountain dwarves shut their doors on everybody including hill dwarves leaving them to scrape by in the post-apocalypse.

In the pregen heroes of the Lance there is Tanis Half-Elven who was raised by the elves and the group backstory is the party rejoining after five years of actually separately looking unsuccessfully to find clues about the true old gods at his instigation, if I recall correctly.

I don't see how scrying would really help any though, you generally don't scry for the gods or omens or such but to spy out an area or person on your own plane that you are familiar with. So in preparation for teleporting, for possible communication, or the big one of spying.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
I've never understood the argument that basically says, "Well, gods aren't really gods - they're just really powerful extra planar beings.

What do you think a god is? Isn't "extra planar powerful being" pretty much the definition of a god? What more do you need?

The very modern notion of atheism is very anachronistic in a D&D setting, and really out of place in my opinion. But, beyond that, it's actively acting against the setting. "Oh, you have gods in your setting, well, screw you Mr. DM, my character is an atheist. You can tell me what to do!" seems to be the basic message.

Ok, sure, you can play an atheist in the setting, but, why? It's missing such a huge part of the setting and basically making the DM's job so much harder. And, frankly, no one playing D&D EVER play's an atheist because no player ever refuses clerical healing. It's only "I'm an atheist" when it's convenient. "Oh, you want to Bless me before combat, heal me when I get knocked down and bring me back to life? Sure, thanks. But, hey, I'm STILL an atheist and you can't tell me any different."

It's such a bad faith play by the player. It's just yet another way players refuse to engage in the setting and want their character to be "special and unique" at the cost of anything the DM might have in mind.

Playing an atheist character in a standard D&D world is no different than the folks that insist on playing a Jedi or a ninja or any other genre breaking, setting breaking character.

It feels like there is a difference between an omnipotent/omniscient creator of the universe and marvel comics Thor (and so does he, see comics panel posted earlier).

Were there no atheists pre 1500 IRL?

Do they need to believe in the power of music to be healed by bards too?
 

Bluebell

Explorer
I would also recommend to everyone this four-part series of articles on Polytheism in the Ancient World: Practical Polytheism. It criticizes D&D Religion and looks in a generalized overview at how polytheism, particularly around Mediterranean cultures, operated as well as how its practitioners thought about gods, theology, and cultic institutions in their societies.
This is a fantastic resource and I think it actually does offer a solid argument for what the point of clerics is.

If religious rituals are a necessary, tangible practice to appease a god (who may otherwise revoke their favor or bring down wrath) or to ask a favor of a god, then clerics are simply a specialized role, just like guards or sanitation workers, carrying out those necessary practices for the overall good of society.

In other words, nobody would choose to serve the god of death simply because they think death is so great, but because somebody needs to deal with matters of death in order for society to function. And we have real-world versions of that in the form of undertakers, coroners, morticians, etc.
 

Hussar

Legend
It feels like there is a difference between an omnipotent/omniscient creator of the universe and marvel comics Thor (and so does he, see comics panel posted earlier).

Were there no atheists pre 1500 IRL?

Do they need to believe in the power of music to be healed by bards too?
And if your game has no clerics in it, then fair enough. But, when you are accepting the magic FROM A PRIEST, and then loudly declaiming atheism, that's a bit problematic. Oh, yeah, you don't really worship a god. It's not real. It's just in your mind, but, please, get with the healing before I bleed to death.

-----

On the part about small gods - I actually ran a setting like this recently. In that campaign, there were basically small gods everywhere - springs, crossroads, whatever. Essentially, anything extra-planar that was tied to some sort of location or concept was a god. So, when one of the players wanted to play this extra-planar tiny flying elephant (sorry, I forgot the name of the race), I immediately made her a god.

The priest of the local shrine, upon meeting her, immediately added her likeness to the shrine. Locals would ask for her blessing. She was treated as a god by the people around her. A small, local god sure. So, respect and a bit of awe, not overwhelming reverence or anything like that since seeing a god is more like seeing a popular rock star than a burning bush moment when the gods are everywhere.

Worked fantastic. It was so much fun and the player really got into it. Became a really focal point of the character and resulted in a really memorable concept.

I can't imagine what adding an atheist to the group, other than to piddle in someone's corn flakes, would have added to that group.

Which is largely why I have an issue with players who want to play atheists in the group. You're basically telling one of the other players that their character concept is wrong. Everything they are saying about their character is 100% a lie. And that's never a good thing. Just yucking in someone's yum.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
This is a fantastic resource and I think it actually does offer a solid argument for what the point of clerics is.

His series about oathes is also especially useful for GMs who want to understand how it worked in history. Especially when confronted to real historical event (like the 780s war between Charlemagne and Tassilon of Bavaria, before the latter's final eviction, which is downright incomprehensible if you don't accept that people believed in oathes).

I prefer to liken polytheistic clerics to lawyers. If you're about to enter in a contractual obligation your life could depend on, you'd consult a lawyer to make sure everything is correctly written down and taken into account, if you lack the knowledge to do these checks yourself, and in this case, religion is more like making a binding contract with a supernatural being, hence the need of someone able to speak god-legalese.

Edit: actually, when I think of it, his part about rituals is also interested to players who would like to roleplay a cleric. You're not casting rain of fire, you're effecting a foe-destroying ritual; it contrasts with what I've seen roleplayed where the cleric prayed for a miracle, a divine intervention of unknown nature who happened to be a rain of fire... which is very much not how a ritual work.
 
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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
And if your game has no clerics in it, then fair enough. But, when you are accepting the magic FROM A PRIEST, and then loudly declaiming atheism, that's a bit problematic. Oh, yeah, you don't really worship a god. It's not real. It's just in your mind, but, please, get with the healing before I bleed to death.

It's someone with magical powers granted by an extra planar being with airs of grandeur. I assume the party buys equipment from lots of folks with odd beliefs, why would this be different? Do real world people turn down disaster aid if it's provided by a religious charity that doesn't match their own faith.

And why would the atheist have to go around loudly proclaiming they don't believe?

-----

On the part about small gods - I actually ran a setting like this recently. In that campaign, there were basically small gods everywhere - springs, crossroads, whatever. Essentially, anything extra-planar that was tied to some sort of location or concept was a god. So, when one of the players wanted to play this extra-planar tiny flying elephant (sorry, I forgot the name of the race), I immediately made her a god.

The priest of the local shrine, upon meeting her, immediately added her likeness to the shrine. Locals would ask for her blessing. She was treated as a god by the people around her. A small, local god sure. So, respect and a bit of awe, not overwhelming reverence or anything like that since seeing a god is more like seeing a popular rock star than a burning bush moment when the gods are everywhere.

Worked fantastic. It was so much fun and the player really got into it. Became a really focal point of the character and resulted in a really memorable concept.

I can't imagine what adding an atheist to the group, other than to piddle in someone's corn flakes, would have added to that group.

In that setting, if God means any old minor spirit, then sure I don't know what "atheist even means". Presumably no one in them disbelieves dryads or naiads.

Which is largely why I have an issue with players who want to play atheists in the group. You're basically telling one of the other players that their character concept is wrong. Everything they are saying about their character is 100% a lie. And that's never a good thing. Just yucking in someone's yum.
I would have thought folks playing things they can relate to is a plus for the game.

And how is that different from any game with gods of different pantheons claiming something like the sun?
 

I think the part I'm struggling with when it comes to creating my own pantheon is the existence of "celestial" as a measurable power. If a god's divinity is instantly detectable by a first-level spell, that does seem to suggest that gods are easily defined, fixed beings, inherently distinct from fiends or fey.

There was talk earlier about a "small gods" system, with gods of small localized areas or objects. So what makes something become enough of a god to be measurably celestial? Can belief turn something into a celestial being?

But then I have further questions, like in a broad pantheon, there is no reason to assume gods are inherently "good." But then if there can be neutral or evil gods, why are fiends so rigidly defined as evil? The celestial/fiend dichotomy seems like a somewhat Christian binary baked into the system despite the assumption of polytheism.
These are excellent questions. Read through the divinities at Tekumel.com for what I think is a good presentation of a shades of grey pantheon. They run from Good --> Benevolent --> Indifferent --> Malign --> Evil, along with reasons why people might favor the darker gods.
 

Bluebell

Explorer
These are excellent questions. Read through the divinities at Tekumel.com for what I think is a good presentation of a shades of grey pantheon. They run from Good --> Benevolent --> Indifferent --> Malign --> Evil, along with reasons why people might favor the darker gods.
I think maybe what I'm asking is less about how evil gods can exist and more what makes an evil god any different from a fiend? Why must we have fiends at all rather than extraplanar beings of a variety of alignments?
 

Hussar

Legend
It's someone with magical powers granted by an extra planar being with airs of grandeur. I assume the party buys equipment from lots of folks with odd beliefs, why would this be different? Do real world people turn down disaster aid if it's provided by a religious charity that doesn't match their own faith.

And why would the atheist have to go around loudly proclaiming they don't believe?
/snip
And how is that different from any game with gods of different pantheons claiming something like the sun?
The irony here is that I know for a fact that there are posters here who strongly disagree with the notion of the player telling the DM facts about the DM's setting. Races must be curated by the DM for example. A player cannot tell the DM (he can ask, but not tell) that the player is going to play Race X and the DM is then obligated to add that race to the setting.

But, apparently, I can make a character that denies a major setting element - something that has an impact on the entire setting - and that's perfectly fine? How does that conversation even go?

Player: My character is an atheist.
DM: Ummm. Ok? So, he's insane.
Player: No. He's not insane. He's an atheist.
DM: But, he is insane. The gods exist in this setting.
Player: Nope, they're just really powerful extra planar beings.
DM: No. They're not. They're gods.
Player: Nope. You are wrong.

:erm:

So, you'd be perfectly fine with the DM saying that as an atheist, you are an enemy of faith, meaning that your character will receive no blessings from divine magic as the gods do not exist, therefore they will not help you? You can still be hurt, of course, because you are an enemy, but, no divine magic will function for you. And every NPC, if they learn that you are an atheist, will treat you as a dangerously insane lightning bolt magnet and refuse to have anything to do with you? After all, your character is denying the basic truth of the universe here. You are flat out the enemy of all gods, good or evil. Additionally, any actual clergy is duty bound to either apprehend you as a dangerous person, or outright kill you on sight because, as a direct enemy of faith, you are basically in league with the worst of all evils in the universe.

In a setting with actual gods, how is an atheist any different from a demon?

That's perfectly fine?

Like I said, it's yucking in everyone else's yum. You're telling other players that their character's are wrong. Everything they believe about their characters is wrong. You are then doubling down and telling the DM that the DM is wrong about the setting. That, despite the DM directly telling you that your character is wrong, you insist that no, everyone else is wrong and you are right.

And you think that this is a character that adds productive play to the game?
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
The irony here is that I know for a fact that there are posters here who strongly disagree with the notion of the player telling the DM facts about the DM's setting. Races must be curated by the DM for example. A player cannot tell the DM (he can ask, but not tell) that the player is going to play Race X and the DM is then obligated to add that race to the setting.

But, apparently, I can make a character that denies a major setting element - something that has an impact on the entire setting - and that's perfectly fine? How does that conversation even go?

Player: My character is an atheist.
DM: Ummm. Ok? So, he's insane.
Player: No. He's not insane. He's an atheist.
DM: But, he is insane. The gods exist in this setting.
Player: Nope, they're just really powerful extra planar beings.
DM: No. They're not. They're gods.
Player: Nope. You are wrong.

Why do the DM and player need to have the conversation like that? Why not:

Player: ... Oh, and my character is an atheist.
DM: Ummm. Ok? That's not going to be a common view in the world, and might get the character some strange looks or trouble depending on who it's shared with.
Player: That's cool. He's just never seen anything to indicate they're anything more than really powerful extra planar beings, or that there's anything beyond them, and doesn't feel right lying to himself by worshipping them.
DM: Ok, that should be fine. I'll run it like I think it would happen. Like your idea for using a javelin instead of a bow by the way.

So, you'd be perfectly fine with the DM saying that as an atheist, you are an enemy of faith, meaning that your character will receive no blessings from divine magic as the gods do not exist, therefore they will not help you? You can still be hurt, of course, because you are an enemy, but, no divine magic will function for you. And every NPC, if they learn that you are an atheist, will treat you as a dangerously insane lightning bolt magnet and refuse to have anything to do with you? After all, your character is denying the basic truth of the universe here. You are flat out the enemy of all gods, good or evil. Additionally, any actual clergy is duty bound to either apprehend you as a dangerous person, or outright kill you on sight because, as a direct enemy of faith, you are basically in league with the worst of all evils in the universe.

Why does it need to be that extreme? Is the atheist going out trying to recruit? Or are they just going around living their life?

In a setting with actual gods, how is an atheist any different from a demon?

How does that follow? You lost me somewhere.

That's perfectly fine?

Like I said, it's yucking in everyone else's yum. You're telling other players that their character's are wrong. Everything they believe about their characters is wrong. You are then doubling down and telling the DM that the DM is wrong about the setting. That, despite the DM directly telling you that your character is wrong, you insist that no, everyone else is wrong and you are right.

And you think that this is a character that adds productive play to the game?

It sounds more productive to me than having my fictional countries set up where they treat people like demons for being an atheist. (I'm trying to mesh this with how we treat gender and nationality and respecting real world religions in the game).
 

I think maybe what I'm asking is less about how evil gods can exist and more what makes an evil god any different from a fiend? Why must we have fiends at all rather than extraplanar beings of a variety of alignments?
To me, the fiend is the one you can have a face to face with to make bargains, or summon directly to send against a foe. The evil god is the fiend's boss, creator, or ultimate tempter. A fiend is also a lot more comprehendable. Directly experiencing a god's presence, encountering the ineffable, makes for a good prophet but hard to strike a deal.

In one sense it's power level, but also depth of mind and incomprehensibility of experience.
 

Staffan

Legend
I've never understood the argument that basically says, "Well, gods aren't really gods - they're just really powerful extra planar beings.

What do you think a god is? Isn't "extra planar powerful being" pretty much the definition of a god? What more do you need?
You're missing the second half of the argument, which is that there's nothing about the so-called gods that makes them worthy of worship or authorities on moral matters. I mean, sure, Zeus exists. He throws lightning bolts at titans. Why should I care? And why should I care what he or his priests say on things? Is it just because he might otherwise throw a lightning bolt at me? Well, that's just bullying, isn't it?
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
You're missing the second half of the argument, which is that there's nothing about the so-called gods that makes them worthy of worship or authorities on moral matters. I mean, sure, Zeus exists. He throws lightning bolts at titans. Why should I care? And why should I care what he or his priests say on things? Is it just because he might otherwise throw a lightning bolt at me? Well, that's just bullying, isn't it?

No, that's pretty much greek religion. You don't worship X or Y because they are nice but because you want something from them (such as "not being smitten by lightning" to "smite enemies with lightning") and you propose, via a ritual, a sacrifice in exchange of what you want. If you want safe passage for your fleet from a sea god, you don't care if they are a nice sea god or a jackass sea god, you just do the worship ritual until the omens says "all clear for embarking today". Basically, "being an authority on moral matters" isn't a core concept of religions, except a few, generally monotheistic, outliers, given their necessarily "all-encompassing" nature.
 
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You're missing the second half of the argument, which is that there's nothing about the so-called gods that makes them worthy of worship or authorities on moral matters. I mean, sure, Zeus exists. He throws lightning bolts at titans. Why should I care? And why should I care what he or his priests say on things? Is it just because he might otherwise throw a lightning bolt at me? Well, that's just bullying, isn't it?
As I have heard it phrased, the ancient Greeks did not see the gods as reflecting what was good or right, but what was true. The gods didn't really "deserve" worship in the sense we think of today. (This, incidentally, is related to the Euthyphro dialogue, where Socrates asks Euthyphro, allegedly a priest or prophet of some kind, what the definition of "piety" is.) Instead, most times, the gods were given propitiatory sacrifices ("please give us calm seas, Poseidon" type), yearly ritual sacrifices due to the importance of their area of purview (e.g. "sacrifice a ram to get a good harvest from Demeter" type), or invoked in a sort of spiritual transaction to get a specific benefit or inflict a particular curse (curse-tablets and jewels engraved with charms or protections are some of the most common religious artifacts of the ancient world).

So, Zeus doesn't "deserve" worship because he's got some kind of special relationship to the cosmos or to goodness; instead, because he simply is the BMOC and you're his underling, you should revere him or there will be punishment. Aphrodite doesn't really "deserve" worship, but if you want to have physical beauty, successful romantic prospects, or children that survive, you'd better propitiate her (and probably Demeter and Hera as well, for the third).

This whole "deity deserves worship because they have a special cosmic connection, or are inherently representative of goodness, etc." is a rather more modern take, and one that...pretty much directly derives from monotheistic critiques of polytheism (which only became a big deal because Christianity became a big deal). For example, the gods in Greek mythology could do all sorts of things humans weren't permitted to, like marrying close blood-relatives (siblings and uncles/nieces, mostly), slaying one's parents (as both Cronus and Zeus did), and engaging in rather wanton behavior (...basically every myth that features Zeus or Aphrodite...) In a very real sense, if these deities had been mortals, they'd have been punished by whatever gods existed. But since they're gods, the rules are different for them; being a god isn't something a being has to qualify for, it's a natural state, much as (to the ancients) being the Rightful King or the High Priest was an innate state of being, one that might pass to someone else on the death of the current holder. (Hence why it was possible for the Titans, and later the Olympians, to overthrow their forebears and take up the mantle of rulership.) Why does the King "deserve" obeisance? Because he has authority...and the force to back it up; he doesn't inherently deserve it, it's just the way things worked out.

I don't want to delve into real-world religions too much because that's already been given clear Mod Advisory, but it's worth noting that monotheistic traditions (like Judaism and Christianity) respond to the aforementioned Euthyphro dilemma specifically by invoking the idea of this special, innate connection to Good-ness itself, with various similar approaches under that common umbrella. That's part of the monotheistic critique of polytheism, as mentioned. Monotheist theology emphasizes this idea that there is (or should be) something truly special about the state of being a deity--something that justifies reverence of that deity, beyond the mere fact of "is a powerful, supernatural being." But to the ancient Greeks, "is a powerful, supernatural entity" was all you needed for something to be a god and worthy of worship--indeed, mortal heroes blurred the line between gods and men on the regular. Many hero-cults would literally perform regular apotheosis to ensure their (literal) object of hero-worship would remain powerful and influential in the world.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
If you want religion to matter you need to make the churches/temple matter. In history they had huge power politically, often even being above kings and emperors. Yet in D&D they were often close to powerless and divorced from politics and instead being relegated to your helpful healer/quest giver from the neighbourhood.
 

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