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D&D General Nay-Theists Vs. Flat-Earth Atheists in D&D Worlds

Every time I get a little overenthusiastic about world building I stop to asking myself the following questions:

  1. Will this actually come up in play?
  2. Will this make a difference?
  3. Will my players care?
Unfortunately, I can't remember the last time religion played a prominent role in any D&D game I participated in. Deities were largely selected based on the mechanical benefits they brought to the table and were otherwise window dressing to the setting.

If you have nay-theist, what impact does that have on adventuring?

For one, it's often a part of worldbuilding. Does X world have deities? What happens to the soul of a character if he/she/they die? Are they taken in by a deity? Which one? If they're a nay-theist or an outright atheist, does this impact their fate? These can actually be very important questions to consider in a campaign. Maybe it doesn't come up much, but developing it can help in the worldbuilding, and it's there when you need it.
 
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Hussar

Legend
For one, it's often a part of worldbuilding. Does X world have deities? What happens to the soul of a character if he/she/they die? Are they taken in by a deity? Which one? If they're a nay-theist or an outright atheist, does this impact their fate? These can actually be very important questions to consider in a campaign. Maybe it doesn't come up much, but developing it can help in the worldbuilding, and it's there when you need it.
To be fair though, the questions @MGibster asks are very good questions. Sure, it can be fun to do world building for the sake of world building, but, it's probably better to focus efforts on things that are actually going to impact the table.

In a game like, say, 5e D&D where character death generally isn't that common, the question of what happens when a specific PC dies is fairly unlikely to come up, or, if it does come up, come up more than once.

So, really, it's not a bad stance to take. I mean, I'd personally much rather focus on how we can make religion important in the campaign.

Fun to think about though. :D
 

Voadam

Legend
Unfortunately, I can't remember the last time religion played a prominent role in any D&D game I participated in. Deities were largely selected based on the mechanical benefits they brought to the table and were otherwise window dressing to the setting.
I find that a lot of D&D modules have elements of religion that provide narrative flavor and themes to work off of. The 1e D1-3 and Q modules had a lot of Lolth vs Elemental Evil religious faction elements as themes with crazy Blibdoolpoolp mixed in for variety. Red Hand of Doom had tons of Tiamat flavor and the whole thing was not just an invasion but a crusade.

Sort of like how the original Conan movie has a lot of the Hyperborean version of Crom and Set in the protagonist and major antagonists without the gods themselves showing up.

Whether these are prominent or window dressing is a matter of interpretation and emphasis.
If you have nay-theist, what impact does that have on adventuring?
I have played nay-theist characters long term and had it come up with interactions with other PCs, with NPCs, and when dealing directly with gods. I've also played in many games with those characters where it never came up.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I think that's our fault.

I don't know many people who enjoy IC evangelizing in general outside of evil groups, odd quirky character moments, or Warhammer-like games. It's considered downright pushy by some, and it's a little too easy to conflate evangelizing with an OOC agenda. Plus advocating for fictional gods was a big No-No during the panic, and still exists in some homes to this day.
Yeah, as someone who generally detests evangelizing religions, I'm not exactly keen to see it come up in a D&D game. Consider it one of those things we see in real life that I don't really want to deal with in my games.

But religion in general is only going to be as involved as PCs and the DM make it be involved. It takes a bit of work - it's not just going to "happen" on its own. You've got to make the gods and their church organizations something other than faceless entities that you go to for healing potions or an occasional raise dead like you'd go to the local Pick and Save to get a loaf of bread. And so you've got to plan it or if you come up with it via improv you've got to keep track of it from that point. And then you've got to work it - a lot because your players/fellow players have their own things going on and it'll take repetition for them to get it and for it to sink in unless they're exceptional players, soaking in everything their fellows do (if anything that Critical Role does is worth emulating - it's this - everyone has their own agenda, but they're fans of everyone else's agendas and engaged with them as well).
 

MGibster

Legend
To be fair though, the questions @MGibster asks are very good questions. Sure, it can be fun to do world building for the sake of world building, but, it's probably better to focus efforts on things that are actually going to impact the table.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell. I get that it's fun to world build for the sake of world building. But from my point of view, if it's not going to have any meaningful impact on game play then I'm not going to work too hard on fleshing out that part of the setting. So when I see these kinds of conversations I like to think to myself, "How does this affect game play?" Because for me, the entire purpose of world building for an RPG is to create a place to adventure in.
 

Every time I get a little overenthusiastic about world building I stop to asking myself the following questions:

  1. Will this actually come up in play?
  2. Will this make a difference?
  3. Will my players care?
Unfortunately, I can't remember the last time religion played a prominent role in any D&D game I participated in. Deities were largely selected based on the mechanical benefits they brought to the table and were otherwise window dressing to the setting.

If you have nay-theist, what impact does that have on adventuring?
I played one once. It was an interesting hook, as he often rallied people against local abusive churches. It helped that most local churches in that setting were abusive.
 


To be fair though, the questions @MGibster asks are very good questions. Sure, it can be fun to do world building for the sake of world building, but, it's probably better to focus efforts on things that are actually going to impact the table.

In a game like, say, 5e D&D where character death generally isn't that common, the question of what happens when a specific PC dies is fairly unlikely to come up, or, if it does come up, come up more than once.

So, really, it's not a bad stance to take. I mean, I'd personally much rather focus on how we can make religion important in the campaign.

Fun to think about though. :D
Late to replies but I've been following this fun thread. There's a fine balance between making religion (and various shades of atheism) inform the culture of my campaign and boring my players to death with the minutia of theology. I enjoy that world builders come here to 'bore' each other ;)

On the question of what happens after death and the progress of one's soul, I'd say it's a be fundamental aspect of most fantasy campaigns, regardless if it's a PCs death that's being discussed. It's perhaps THE question when it comes to a medieval-minded society. Interpreting it, answering it, fighting about it and using it to control or absolve others would shape society as much as trade, hunger, water and weather. I can't imagine a game where the religions didn't take a good stab at helping people plan for the afterlife. Even (especially?) the evil cults would make some big promises.

I'm currently overhauling some religious, cultural and political elements in FR (setting for a lot of my table's campaigns) so it's more reflective of functional systems, including tossing out the canon take on the afterlife.

If anyone is doing something similar, or know someone who has, please share or provide a link. I'm stockpiling different ideas.
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
The major D&D worlds that obviously have deities are the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Theros, Exandria, Dragonlance, Nentir Vale, and Ravenloft, while the ones that are less clear in whether or not they have actual deities are Ravnica and Eberron. Dark Sun used to have deities, but they're gone now, so characters that are Nay-Theists or Flat-Earth Atheists are things of the past. Mystara doesn't have deities, and instead has Immortals, so "Nay-Theists" would basically be those that refuse to serve the Immortals, and Flat-Earth Atheists wouldn't exist, instead having the possibility of Flat-Earth Theists, as people that believe that god(s) exist in the setting, even though they definitively do not.
Okay, if someone asserts that "Oerth doesn't have any gods, we just have Immortals like Mystara, though many falsely believe them to be gods", is he a Nay-Theist or a Flat-Earth Atheist?
 

Voadam

Legend
Okay, if someone asserts that "Oerth doesn't have any gods, we just have Immortals like Mystara, though many falsely believe them to be gods", is he a Nay-Theist or a Flat-Earth Atheist?
If you believe there are no gods you are an atheist.

If you believe there are gods you are a theist.

So even though the person believes Greyhawk and Mystara do not have gods, whether they are a theist or not depends on whether the person believes there are gods in other places like the Forgotten Realms. If there are gods somewhere, they are a theist.
 

If you believe there are no gods you are an atheist.

If you believe there are gods you are a theist.

So even though the person believes Greyhawk and Mystara do not have gods, whether they are a theist or not depends on whether the person believes there are gods in other places like the Forgotten Realms. If there are gods somewhere, they are a theist.

I you believe gods can exists, but the beings that call themselves gods are false...then what constitutes a god? Is it nothing less than complete omniscience and omnipotence? Seems like they want Abrahamic goal posts. It takes a lot of spice out of pantheism and dispersed portfolios. (This is why I've never like Ao. I consider him a bad development in FR lore. I mean A-lpha, O-mega? C'mon).

The strain of "atheism" that is usually expressed by PCs in my games is that, essentially, gods are just powerful beings with good PR and only deserve worship in a transactional sense. At my most cynical I think those players just balk at the idea of any spiritual system where they are accountable to a being that has dominion over them. It stirs all sorts of emotions about institutional power, so they'd rather invalidate it though some carefully plucked determinism.

In most games they're right, since gods seem only to express their will through those they give spells to (does prayer benefit the commoner NPC? Can blasphemy spiritually endanger an atheist PC? Are holy cities actually protected by their patron gods?) Almost every player I've met also assumes the Gods Need Prayer Badly (TV tropes link) framework in fantasy unless it's been specifically stated otherwise. It's pervasive, human-centric and pretty egotistical. But it's an idea that makes atheism seem like a safe choice.
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
I you believe gods can exists, but the beings that call themselves gods are false...then what constitutes a god? Is it nothing less than complete omniscience and omnipotence? Seems like they want Abrahamic goal posts. It takes a lot of spice out of pantheism and dispersed portfolios. (This is why I've never like Ao. I consider him a bad development in FR lore. I mean A-lpha, O-mega? C'mon).

The strain of "atheism" that is usually expressed by PCs in my games is that, essentially, gods are just powerful beings with good PR and only deserve worship in a transactional sense. At my most cynical I think those players just balk at the idea of any spiritual system where they are accountable to a being that has dominion over them. It stirs all sorts of emotions about institutional power, so they'd rather invalidate it though some carefully plucked determinism.

In most games they're right, since gods seem only to express their will through those they give spells to (does prayer benefit the commoner NPC? Can blasphemy spiritually endanger an atheist PC? Are holy cities actually protected by their patron gods?) Almost every player I've met also assumes the Gods Need Prayer Badly (TV tropes link) framework in fantasy unless it's been specifically stated otherwise. It's pervasive, human-centric and pretty egotistical. But it's an idea that makes atheism seem like a safe choice.

yeah. I make it clear in my games that the gods are not all powerful and all knowing. And I like different types of gods and priests with respect to pantheism and animism and different theological philosophies.
 

Voadam

Legend
I you believe gods can exists, but the beings that call themselves gods are false...then what constitutes a god? Is it nothing less than complete omniscience and omnipotence? Seems like they want Abrahamic goal posts. It takes a lot of spice out of pantheism and dispersed portfolios.

This can vary a lot depending on the definitions used for gods and false gods.

It can be omniscience/omnipotence.

It can be divine/sacred nature of the being.

It can be specific divine powers of the being or that it can grant to others.

It can be a specific relationship to aspects of the universe.

It can be a specific relationship to worshipers.
 

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