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D&D General The Role and Purpose of Evil Gods

pukunui

Legend
Why would overlapping ever be a problem? It has never been a problem, unless you make it so.
Sure, I'm making it a problem for me. D&D can feel a bit bloated sometimes with the sheer amount of everything (all the different planes of existence, all the different monsters, and so on and so forth).

I think one of the reasons I like the Dragon Age setting so much is because of its simplicity.

You've got the natural world and the spiritual world, which is referred to as the Fade. It probably corresponds most closely to D&D's Ethereal Plane, but it is home to both good and evil spirits. The good spirits are all embodiments of virtues and concepts like justice, while the evil spirits are all representations of the standard sins like pride, rage, lust, etc. The Fade is interesting because it's where the minds of all living beings (except dwarves, strangely) go when they dream. It also appears to be the gateway to heaven. There's not really a hell, as such, but there is the equivalent of the Underdark, where goblinoid type creatures live. There are also creatures referred to as "archdemons" that manifest as massive dragons. There's more to it than that obviously, but I feel it really distills things down and makes it all a lot easier to remember. There aren't a million different types of fiend all from slightly different underworlds. All of the supernatural elements of the setting come from one place. (It makes me think of the Aang/Korra Avatar setting, which also has a natural world and a spirit world.)

And before anyone says it, yes, I own the three Dragon Age TTRPG box sets that Green Ronin put out some years ago. I just haven't ever had the chance to play/run it, as it's hard to find players willing to try something that isn't specifically D&D in this part of the world, so I've been making do by trying to incorporate ideas from Dragon Age into my D&D worlds.
 

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Lyxen

Great Old One
We don't have stats for her as an angel, so we don't really know what she was before becoming an archdevil. That said, she's not identified as "Zariel, Angel Prince of Mt Celestia" or anything like that. She's just "Zariel, an angel". Sometimes a "mighty angel", sometimes just "an angel". I would not put her angelic form on even footing with Orcus or Levistus.

And again, "Generations later, the gnolls returned to Idyllglen, this time with demons in their ranks and Yeenoghu himself leading the war band. Zariel and the Hellriders came to the Idyllglen’s aid, but not before the town was mostly destroyed."

So she is clearly the counterpart to Yeenoghu, a Demon Prince, both in personal might but also in leadership.

So maybe not Orcus, who was also a god at some point in time, but certainly a cut above deva/planetar/solar, and on par with named powers of the lower planes who rule their own plane.

He stole his divinity during the 4e upheavals (at least in FR). He's certainly a bit of an exception to the rule, as it were.

4e mythology and history are as far as possible from the usual D&D elements, and the FR is only one of the settings, but it's still the standard setting for 5e, in which he is a god.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
If we look at Theros, almost all their gods have their good and bad points, and the people who pray to them can have good and bad motivations for doing so. Heliod is the self-proclaimed "leader" of the pantheon, and his portfolio is the sun, light, bravery, and self-sacrifice-- and the book has listed him as "lawful good". However, the book also says he is a prideful and arrogant dick who thinks he should lead, if only the other gods would get on board... and he has gotten into fights with some of the other gods who won't submit to his rule. Lawful Good? Not really to me. Likewise... Pharika is the God of Affliction, and her physical manifestation is that of a medusa. The book lists her as Neutral Evil, because her portfolio includes poison, murder, disease and the like. But at the same time, she is also the patron of all healers in Theros, and for every plant that can be used to create a poison, there is another one that can create a salve or antidote and she is good with all of them. She is also the most scientifically connected god, which allows for innovation and discovery. So why does the book say she is Neutral Evil? Because assassins pray to her to help them kill people, and so boom... D&D tropes say she has to be evil-- despite half of her portfolio being all about "good" stuff?

And this is true of almost every single god in Theros-- they all have their good points and their bad points. The only god that is written as out-and-out evil is Mogis, the god of slaughter, violence, and war... who just happens to be the one whose physical form is a minotaur, the main "evil" humanoid race in the setting. So once again... the "monsters" get pegged as default evil because reasons, and this god is given no redeeming qualities. And for those minotaurs in Theros who aren't default "evil"? They either do not worship Mogis, or have to twist their logic into a pretzel in order to have Mogis as their patron despite them being "good people" even though their god is the most evil S-O-B of the setting. I find it all terribly stupid, and making little to no sense.

So for my upcoming Theros game, I basically re-organized the portfolios of all the Theros gods... giving each and every one of them traits that would be considered good, and traits that would be considered bad. For Mogis... I basically changed him from intense emotion to commit violence to intense emotion in general. He is now the God of Zeal-- passion, love, comradeship, as well as bloodlust, violence and fury. Intense love can lead to intense hate... the violence of war can produce a strength and bond between fellow soldiers... lust can be for both blood and physical passion. People will pray and submit themselves to all of it, and Mogis is now the embodiment for all of it. And it makes Mogis more likely to have actually devoted servants and people praising his name.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That got me thinking: what is the purpose / role of evil gods in D&D? Why do we have gods of (un)death, murder, strife, disease, tyranny, slaughter, etc? Especially when you consider that D&D also has demons, devils and other foul entities that embody and promote all of those things. Why the overlap?

Why do we have goblins, orcs, hobgoblins? Why 5+ varieties of giants? Why ten and more types of dragons?

So the GM can pick among several kinds of antagonists that are fundamentally similar, but have differences that lead to different positoning and flavor.
 

Voadam

Legend
The celestial counterparts of arch-devils and demon princes are most developed in the 3.5 Book of Exalted Deeds.

Celestial Hebdomad (Ruling council of the Seven Heavens - Archangel Equivalents):
Barachiel the Messenger
Domiel the Mercybringer
Erathaol the Seer
Pistis Sophia the Ascetic
Raziel the Crusader
Sealtiel the Defender
Zaphkiel the Watcher

Talisid and the Five Companions (Guardinals of Elysium):
Talisid the Celstial Lion
Sathia the Sky Duchess
Manath the Horned Duke
Vhara Duchess of the Fields
Kharash the Stalker
Bharrai the Great Bear

The Court of Stars (Eladrins of Arborea):
Morwel Queen of Stars
Faerinaal The Queen's Consort
Gwyharf The Whirling Fury

Other Non-Evil counterparts exist as well for Law and Chaos.

Monster Manual II
Modrons:
Primus The One and the Prime

Fiend Folio
Slaad:
Ssendam - Lord of the Insane
Ygorl - Lord of Entropy

The Demons and Devils are just the most prominent.
 

Voadam

Legend
4e had its own cosmologies and angels were much different from how they are portrayed in other editions of D&D. They were manifestations of the Astral Sea and served the gods who lived there regardless of alignment. They even looked different with their lower halves trailing off into divine mist. Even the gods did not truly understand them. They were generally contrasted with the elemental archons from the Elemental Chaos. Demons were corrupted elementals, and devils were corrupted angels.
 


Voadam

Legend
Also having gods be only about salvation and goodness is one way to go, but it contrasts a lot with real world polytheistic pantheons.

Check out the Greek Goddess Eris and her progeny.

And hateful Eris bore painful Ponos ("Hardship"), Lethe ("Forgetfulness") and Limos ("Starvation") and the tearful Algea ("Pains"), Hysminai ("Battles"), Makhai ("Wars"), Phonoi ("Murders"), and Androktasiai ("Manslaughters"); Neikea ("Quarrels"), Pseudea ("Lies"), Logoi ("Stories"), Amphillogiai ("Disputes") Dysnomia ("Anarchy") and Ate ("Ruin"), near one another, and Horkos ("Oath"), who most afflicts men on earth, Then willing swears a false oath.
 

MarkB

Legend
Exactly. If you look at various editions, there are tons of hierarchies of Archons, for example, not mentioning Devas and the Planetars and Solars. And if you look at Planescape (best setting ever IMHO), you have descriptions that start with "Mount Celestia is largely the domains of the Archons", which is the exact counterpart of the Devils in Hell.

After that, in addition to the creatures who are the embodiment of the qualities of a plane, you have which deity have their domains where, and whether these deities need worship or not, so many potential combinations

As I love Planescape, the variety of the races, deities, planes, interactions, I like to keep everything, but you are of course absolutely to have a more streamlined cosmology if you wish it.
The difference, though, is that the archons, devas, etc. are within the hierarchy of their respective deities.

Demons and devils are not in the heirarchies of evil deities, and those deities don't reside with the fiends in the Hells or the Abyss.

Instead, they're completely separate franchises.
 

Voadam

Legend
The difference, though, is that the archons, devas, etc. are within the hierarchy of their respective deities.

Demons and devils are not in the heirarchies of evil deities, and those deities don't reside with the fiends in the Hells or the Abyss.

Instead, they're completely separate franchises.
Demons and Devils have been in the hierarchies of deities and celestials and such have been independent of deities at various points and in different sources throughout D&D.
 

Why demons, devils and evil gods?
Let me ask you another question. Why have Apple, Android, PCs and so and so?

Simple, it is a matter of personnal choice and preferences. Khali was never seen as a good godess but she was worshipped nonetheless.

People worship evil deities so that these evil entities DO NOT put their portfolio to bear on them. Nerull is the god of death is not worshipped by the populace because he well liked. Incabulos, God of plague, is not popular, but the average commoner will worship him to placate him.

But evil priest will say...
Evil priests are misguided individuals that worship evil deities for the power these deities can offer. Be it for revenge or some darker motivations, these priests need the powers that evil deities can offer. And they make great villains.

And beside personnal preferences, in some setting and in the old Legend and Lore, nothing prevents deities and lower plane creatures to coexist. Lloth is also a demoness and commands demons. Bane has devil serving him (1ed FR box set). So nothing is truly redundant but we do have overlaps and is good. After all, evil must have some reasons to turn upon itself. And one set of creature stepping on the claimed territories of an other is quite a good reasons to start a war.

edit: Saw quite a few typos. Thanks a lot Auto corrector...
 
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Laurefindel

Legend
Part of the issue is that D&D mixes all kinds of polytheistic religious concepts (multiple gods of different specific things) with a good dose of judo-christianism (hell and heavens with devils and angels, God as saviour and salvation of humankind) and a side order of outsider entities called gods for lack of better words (incomprehensible chtulhu-esque far realms things), all of which overlap on the same principles.

Evil gods existed in polytheistic religions because they represented (and were sometimes the source of) the multiple facets of human life, including all the evil s**t humans are capable of. Strife exist, therefore some god(s) must exist to represent it and cause humans to fight. Thing is, few people would dedicated their whole life to the sole worship of an "evil god"; people prayed to avoid their wrath, to favour them in a specific endeavour, or to curse their enemies; not so much in religious adoration of what they represent (which tends to be the D&D way).

Single places or domains like hell where ALL evils are is pretty much unique to judo-christianity, which excludes multitudes of gods and discourages worship of idols of specific things (kind of, old habits die hard). God(s) that actually wish you well no matter what is a pretty unique concept too.

Then you have Chtulhu mythos that suggest that good and evil, heavens and hell, none of that exist; only alien being and their primordial representation of reproduction and entropy and whatnot.

All of those are hard to reconcile without overlapping
 


jgsugden

Legend
D&D is an RPG - a role playing game. Characters, and NPCs, including Gods and Archfiends, play a role in a story. Figure out the story and most of this takes care of itself.

How and why did a being end up as a God? How and why did they end up being evil? How and why do people worship the sinister thing with which they are associated?

Archfiends have different stories, goals and motivations. How did they end up in their position of power? How do they hold it? What sets a God of Tyranny apart from an Archfiend - and what sets the Archfiends apart from each other?

Figuring out questions like these gives you a deeper campaign setting.

Generally speaking: In my homebrew, the Gods do not plan and strategize in terms of Good and Evil. They are individual beings with their own goals and desires - and having people worship them grants them the power to pursue those goals. The faith of free willed beings is a source of vast power for Divine beings.

As a means to an end, the Gods need ways to encourage people to give them power through faith, and the concepts of Good and Evil are an easy way to sell the stories that generate faith. It is a simplification that is accessible to the masses.

Some of these Divine beings honestly seek the betterment of all, but they have to make sure they are worshipped in order to have the power to make those good things happen - lest only Dark Powers have the power to shape the realms. As PCs advance, they discover more and more that the Gods are less mysterious than they thought - and they start to see them more like politicians than magic.

In comparison, Archdevils and other non-divine powers get power through deals with mortals. It isn't faith they seek, it is the power drawn from your soul, especially if you're one of the special folk out there that can change the world with your abilities. The Archfiends interact with people quite differently. They don't need you to like them or support them - they need you to concede to them and submit to them. They want to treat you like a battery, but you have to give them the option to do so. Your soul is a commodity to them, and your free will is just a problem they have to solve to get that commodity. Of course, your soul isn't the only thing you have to offer Archdevils, fiends, etc...

In D&D skill terms, the Gods tend to use persuasion (though not exclusively) while Archfiends use intimidation and deception more often (although persuasion is also a tool they can use).
 

SkidAce

Legend
Part of the issue is that D&D mixes all kinds of polytheistic religious concepts (multiple gods of different specific things) with a good dose of judo-christianism (hell and heavens with devils and angels, God as saviour and salvation of humankind) and a side order of outsider entities called gods for lack of better words (incomprehensible chtulhu-esque far realms things), all of which overlap on the same principles.
You say issue, I say feature!

(y)
 

Scribe

Hero
For the record, I wasn't suggesting promoting the demon princes or archdevils to gods. I am suggesting removing the evil gods whose portfolios overlap with those of the demon princes and archdevils and such.
I think as noted a few times in the thread this is perfectly valid, but it just depends on the role gods have, the religious beliefs of your world's people's, how the cosmology works, that kind of thing.

I think it's a pretty critical piece of world building though.
 

That got me thinking: what is the purpose / role of evil gods in D&D? Why do we have gods of (un)death, murder, strife, disease, tyranny, slaughter, etc? Especially when you consider that D&D also has demons, devils and other foul entities that embody and promote all of those things. Why the overlap?
Because D&D is a silly game, and an evil god provides a convenient foil for the heroes to strive against. The best gods are Neutral, which allows flexibility for their worship. St. Cuthbert, for instance, is one of my favorites because he can have Lawful Good servants who uphold justice and virtue, and he can have Lawful Evil servants who are tyrannical and cruel.

Even Sauron has his redeeming qualities:
He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
For the record, I wasn't suggesting promoting the demon princes or archdevils to gods. I am suggesting removing the evil gods whose portfolios overlap with those of the demon princes and archdevils and such.

That's perfectly reasonable. In fact, setting up a gods vs demons dichotomy can make a fine cosmology - precedent exists in the Norse gods vs giants and Ancient Greek gods vs titans.

The game, as published, has all these things specifically so you can pick and choose like that.
 

Voadam

Legend
In the 1e Manual of the Planes there is mixes in the planes.

In the Abyss demons serve some gods as servants. Page 102-3:

"The Chinese Powers Tou Mu and Lu Yueh make their home in a realm called Feng-Tu. Feng-Tu appears as a mighty citadel that rises up a forked branch of the Styx called How Nai-ho. This branch can be reached by Charon and the charonadaemons. The citadel of Feng-Tu is entered via Kuei-Men-Kuan, the gate of the demons, which is large enough to permit elephantine behemoths to pass through easily. The god of epidemics and the goddess of the northstar hold sway over a household of manes and demons.
The lesser god Kali controls her entire layer, a realm of jagged peaks and blood-red tropical vegetation. The black earth mother maintains a number of abodes in this realm, decaying temples overgrown with scarlet vines and crimson flowers. Her servants are demons and chaotic evil rakshasas."

In the Nine Hells page 111:
"The true relationship between lawful evil Powers and the devils is unknown, for neither side is volunteering any information."

"Hecate of the Greeks and Inanna of the Sumerians have adjacent realms in Phlegethos, the fourth layer, with suitable conduits to reach those worlds where they are venerated. Hecate tends to be more lawful than evil, sending her quota of devils out in an organized fashion to punish particular misdeeds. Inanna is the reverse, more evil than lawful. She delights in the fickle nature that sending too many (or not enough) evil servants into battle may bring. The two goddesses' relationships with Belial are unknown, though the arch-devil has been known to call on both their courts."

Even Modrons are noted as working for others, page 85: "While all modrons are apparently vassals of Primus, the base modrons (lesser castes) can be found throughout the realms of Nirvana acting as servants for other realms."

Archons are noted as working for their superiors and Greater Powers, page 88.

"This is the domain of the Jovarian archons—more are found here than on any other plane. A rumored council of ruling archons, whose existence has not been proven, sits in an unending ziggurat in this layer."

and

"Archons are the common creatures of the Seven Heavens. They joyously perform the duties called upon them by their superiors and the Greater Powers. Little is known of archons, as their activities usually are more beneficial and subtle than the blunderings of the lower plane races."

Similar to the demons and devils some gods in 1e have archon servants.

"The Chinese gods Chung Kuel and Kuan Yin make their homes on the fourth layer, occupying adjacent realms that span the length of the mountaintops. Followers of Chung Kuel seek out the god of truth and testing for knowledge, while those of Kuan Yin for ask for peaceful mitigation of troubles and blessing in childbirth. These gods are served by archons and spirit-folk."

and on page 89

"Of the lesser powers, Ebisu of the Japanese mythos, the deity of good luck, is a native of Lunia (the first heaven). He often greets travelers in the guise of a poor fisherman with a good catch from the pier. (Ebisu also often rescues those who are foolish enough to drown in the ocean.) Girru of the Babylonian mythos makes his abode in the second layer. He leads a troop of followers into battle with evil. Both of these lesser gods are served by archons."
 
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That's perfectly reasonable. In fact, setting up a gods vs demons dichotomy can make a fine cosmology - precedent exists in the Norse gods vs giants and Ancient Greek gods vs titans.

The game, as published, has all these things specifically so you can pick and choose like that.
Fully agree with you on that one. And might I add

This is why D&D is such a great game. It is not limited by one setting but it includes everyone of them. All you have to do is to decide what will be in YOUR D&D. It is not the world of Conan, yet it can be. It is not world of Robin Hobbs yet it can be. It can be anything you want and like and as such you have to take a pick on what you incorporate. Not every world has goblins, orcs, dragons or whatever. You get to decide what to put in YOUR D&D.
 

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