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D&D General The Role and Purpose of Evil Gods

Faolyn

Hero
In D&D, it might be worth considering where the gods come from. If the gods were here first, then perhaps there was a grab bag of portfolios of every possible facet of existence, and so some gods just drew the "evil" aspects. Perhaps that's what turned them evil in the first place. It's hard being made the god of murder while remaining a good being. OTOH, if mortals made the gods out of their belief, then sure, fear and hatred and other evils would create evil gods.

Of course, people aren't going to be the only ones making gods, in such a setting. I'm reminded of The Flesh from The Magnus Archives--an entity that represents the fear of physical mutilation and being butchered as nothing more than meat, born out of the fears of livestock and other animals bred as food. And because it was an animal-created Fear Entity, it interacts with humanity weirdly.

And there's a third option (the Discword option), where you have godlings that latch on to any belief or strong emotion and gain power from them. Imagine a murder of passion. Some godling is nearby and is empowered by the fear and anger behind the murder, and that causes it to seek out similar events. Eventually, it becomes a grown-up god of murder.

As for archfiends (and archfey, and... archangels), personally, I don't see a problem in also having them, even if they have portfolios similar to those of various gods. They're trying to become gods, after all, and while there may be (by the cosmology's RAW) a wide gulf between such creatures and actual gods, worshipers aren't going to be able to see that gulf, assuming they even know it exists.
 

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Scribe

Hero
Of course, people aren't going to be the only ones making gods, in such a setting. I'm reminded of The Flesh from The Magnus Archives--an entity that represents the fear of physical mutilation and being butchered as nothing more than meat, born out of the fears of livestock and other animals bred as food. And because it was an animal-created Fear Entity, it interacts with humanity weirdly.
Yikes, that's quite horrific.
 


Larnievc

Explorer
The way I look at it is that gods are personifications of concepts in the world. So as murder is a thing that happens there is a god of murder.

Rather than the god of murder being a god who happens to really like murder, it IS the concept of murder personified because of how sentient brain infer agency in pretty much anything.

In the magical world of D&D that inference is enough to generate a god that then can feed on prayers and offerings and have it’s own independent existence.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
In my previous homebrew, I had reams of details about various pantheons, the cultures that developed and/or adopted them, the gods and figures that emerge from those pantheons, and so on.

In my current homebrew, I decided any god can be introduced with lots of overlap or many differences, just by assuming that over time such customs and beliefs are shared, stolen, adopted, forgotten, reconstructed, etc. . . The gods are unaligned and followers/priests of any god can be of any alignment. Yes, there could be a chaotic evil cleric of the goddess of healing and mercy. The gods may grant spells, but they are also distant and unknowable and the details of what is proper worship is for mortals to debate and war about. Thus followers of the "God of Tyranny" probably see him as a god of order and stability and the cruelty of his draconian edicts is a sacrifice to have those crucial things and ultimately "good."
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
I tend to make it so that gods aren't particularly interested in souls (that is more of an alignment things for devils, demon lords, archangels, etc.), but are interested in humanoids/fey/dragons/monstrosities (and possibly elementals) behaving in certain ways. They tend to work with outsiders who have complementary goals. So Asmodeus (God of Tyranny) wants for more people to buy into tyranny (or at least tolerate it). Tyrannies are great for LE (you like hurting things, but you want to be respectable), so he offers some devils power (making them pit fiends) in exchange for doing work for him promoting tyrannies, and a lot of devils are eager to make this deal. NE and CE can also help the cause of tyranny (CE is a great excuse to impose tyranny), so Asy might make a deal with yugoloths and demons (although he usually does this under the table to keep the devils, his main source of minions, happy).

I generally keep the gods in the transition zone outer planes (Ysgard, Pandemonium, Carceni, Beast Lands, etc.) leaving the "pure" alignment planes to the demon lords, devils, archangels, prime modrons, and greater empyreans.

I have noticed that this makes some gods better fits for paladins than clerics, but I am fine with that.

My 4e/Pathfinder derived pantheon is:

Raven Queen: goddess of fatalism (cycles of nature, karma, prophesy, anything that says the world is to big for people to affect)
Saint Cuthbert: god of proceduralism (doing this by the book or else)
Bane: god of harsh discipline
Gruumsh: god of toughness (and machismo--so he is more fun, albeit occasionally annoying, god than in most D&D)
Sekolah: god of hunting
Asmodeus: god of tyranny
Tiamat: goddess of greed and vanity (also claims vengeance, but this is disputed)
Deep Duerra: goddess of hegemony
Vecna: god of secrets (powered by both those who do terrible things to keep a secret and those who do terrible things to unearth a secret)
Zehir: god of assassins and "professional" murders
Lolth (& associates): goddess of strife (more Cold War than open war).
Lagozed: god of violently defending your territory
Kord: god of athletic improvement
Correllon (& associates): god of art
Cayden Cailen: god of folk heroes (formerly god of drinking, but he is aspiring to be better)
Desna: goddess of travel and personal transformation
Sarenae: goddess of rehabilitation and redemption
Garl Glittergold: god of subtle goodness
Yondalla: goddess of agriculture
Erastil: god of families and tight-nit communities (not quite as rural focused as his PF counterpart)
Bahamut: god of nobility
Moradin (& associates): god of quality manufacturing and construction
Iomedea: goddess of communal discipline (popular with orders of monks, orders of paladins, and orders of knights).

They have organized religions (although some cases, how organized they are is debatable) to do the day to day work to push their portfolios, and most people will call on them for blessings when engaging in action related to the portfolios. A wood carver might call on Moradin to make her work good quality and Correllon to make it beautiful (and in private on Tiamat to make a lot of money off of it).


 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Evil gods don’t really make sense as a naturalistic thing. But then, none of how D&D deities work does, because they aren’t naturalistic. They’re part of the highly constructed system of the D&D cosmos.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Skipping straight from the OP to here; to answer the OP:

Why do evil deities exist?

--- to give evil PC and NPC Clerics something to pray to
--- to cancel out the good deities and thus keep the universe in balance
--- to give DMs a source of opposition for heroic-type PCs and-or a source of rivalry or annoyance to the not-so-heroic types
--- because any society has its evil or undesirable aspects (death and disease being two common examples) and a society's religion is naturally going to reflect this somehow

I've no problem with some major demon/devil types being promoted to divinity, if only because doing so saves me the work of having to make those deities up from scratch.
 

pukunui

Legend
Skipping straight from the OP to here; to answer the OP:

Why do evil deities exist?

--- to give evil PC and NPC Clerics something to pray to
In terms of D&D specifically, I think this is really the source of it right here. That being said, as I mentioned upthread, 5e hasn't made it easy for evil clerics.

You've got the overtly evil Death domain in the DMG for your clerics of gods of murder, death, the underworld, undead, etc.

Clerics of evil storm gods can choose the Tempest domain, and clerics of gods of slaughter and warfare and such can choose the War domain. Clerics of tricksy gods can take the Trickery domain.

And that's about it.

Yeah, sure, an evil cleric of a god of magic could choose the Arcana domain.

The Nature domain as written doesn't really fit the more negative, evil nature gods like Auril and Umberlee, though. They really need cold/winter and sea domains respectively. (To get around this problem, the designers made Auril's priests in Rime of the Frostmaiden be frost-themed druids rather than clerics.)

I've no problem with some major demon/devil types being promoted to divinity, if only because doing so saves me the work of having to make those deities up from scratch.
Again, I'm not proposing turning demons and devils into gods. I'm going for more of a Judeo-Christian "God vs the Devil" feel, rather than D&D's usual polytheistic approach.

It's funny that D&D used to strive for a medieval Europe aesthetic except for its religions, which take a more pre-medieval/pre-Judeo-Christian approach.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
In terms of D&D specifically, I think this is really the source of it right here. That being said, as I mentioned upthread, 5e hasn't made it easy for evil clerics.

You've got the overtly evil Death domain in the DMG for your clerics of gods of murder, death, the underworld, undead, etc.

Clerics of evil storm gods can choose the Tempest domain, and clerics of gods of slaughter and warfare and such can choose the War domain. Clerics of tricksy gods can take the Trickery domain.

And that's about it.

Yeah, sure, an evil cleric of a god of magic could choose the Arcana domain.

The Nature domain as written doesn't really fit the more negative, evil nature gods like Auril and Umberlee, though. They really need cold/winter and sea domains respectively. (To get around this problem, the designers made Auril's priests in Rime of the Frostmaiden be frost-themed druids rather than clerics.)
Or a fire domain; and nothing says you can't port over Druid domains to normal Clerics. (then again, I've never really used domains as a mechanical thing and thus haven't had to worry about it)
Again, I'm not proposing turning demons and devils into gods. I'm going for more of a Judeo-Christian "God vs the Devil" feel, rather than D&D's usual polytheistic approach.

It's funny that D&D used to strive for a medieval Europe aesthetic except for its religions, which take a more pre-medieval/pre-Judeo-Christian approach.
It was also wise, in that had they gone with a Judeo-Christian approach a) they'd doubtless have run even further afoul of various real-life practitioners of those religions than they did, and b) they'd have lost some audience among those not interested in a Judeo-Christian framework.

What you're doing sounds like homebrew all the way. Have fun! :)
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Skipping straight from the OP to here; to answer the OP:

Why do evil deities exist?

--- to give evil PC and NPC Clerics something to pray to
--- to cancel out the good deities and thus keep the universe in balance
--- to give DMs a source of opposition for heroic-type PCs and-or a source of rivalry or annoyance to the not-so-heroic types
--- because any society has its evil or undesirable aspects (death and disease being two common examples) and a society's religion is naturally going to reflect this somehow

I've no problem with some major demon/devil types being promoted to divinity, if only because doing so saves me the work of having to make those deities up from scratch.
I know the purpose of this thread isn't really to debate these kinds of thing, but I did want to respond these points (not to convince you they're wrong or aren't the reason evil gods exist in D&D, because I'm sure the reasons you gave are fairly accurate for the designers'-motivations for making evil gods, but more because I want to show that there aren't really necessary).

1. "to give evil PC and NPC Clerics to pray to". I'm sure this is accurate, but I don't think it's a good reason, and I don't think it's necessary. First off, Fiend and Great Old One Warlocks are already a pretty big contrast to Good Clerics. Second, even if you do need specifically evil Clerics instead of Warlocks, you can just let some Demon Lord/Archdevil/other-Archfiend just be capable of having Cleric followers, like how Eberron and Exandria Clerics work (they get the power from the worship, not from the gods, so you can worship anything and get clerical power from that, without it being a god).

2. "to cancel out the good deities and thus keep the universe in balance". Again, I'm sure this is part of the reasoning behind the designers' creating the Evil Gods. However, wasn't that the purpose of the Devils in the first place (i.e. creating a plane of existence to punish the wicked)? That's a bit redundant, IMO.

3. "to give DMs a source of opposition for heroic-type PCs and-or a source of rivalry to the not-so-heroic types". Accurate, but also redundant. That's kind of the purpose of having stats for the Archfiends, even though most people don't get high enough level to actually take them on.

4. "because any society has its evil or undesirable aspects (death/disease) and a society's religion is going to reflect this". But (most) gods in D&D existed before cultures did. That's how the Primordials were overthrown and the Aboleth Empire was crushed. The Evil Deities are even explicitly stated to have existed back then, too (Bane being the first god to kill a Primordial). The evil gods existed before the religions worshipping them did. Gruumsh existed before the Orcs were created, after all.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
My campaign uses a mythology loosely based on Norse Mythology + Greyhawk demihuman deities. So Moradin is the forger of Mjolner and so on, the elven gods are the Vaenir. But even amongst the Aesir (human deities) there's gods that are good, evil and in between. Odin has good qualities and bad, being the god of magic and wisdom but also the god of battle and strife. People of all alignments pray for his favor in times of war and curse him equally. Aegir is the god of the sea and storms, so once again people pray for his favor and sacrifice before going out to sea. Of course there's Loki, who is a Jotun.

Jotun includes deities (including some that have joined the Aesir such as Skadi), giants and fiends. So we have Jotun gods Thrym and Surtr with their own domains. Avernus and The Abyss are just other domains in Jotunheim. While only the most powerful Jotun attract worshippers the only real difference is that if they have worshippers they have more influence in Midgard (the prime material plane).

There are forgotten gods who who only have a limited amount of "reserve" power available that occasionally pop up.

So the gods, evil gods and fiends are really more just a classification and what realm they reside in than anything else. Which is useful if I ever want to throw in a new protagonist such as a cult that wants to wake a Jotun deity that Thor had fought long and put into a coma. While a being needs to be powerful, it's really having worshippers that makes it a god.
 

pukunui

Legend
Or a fire domain; and nothing says you can't port over Druid domains to normal Clerics. (then again, I've never really used domains as a mechanical thing and thus haven't had to worry about it)
What we got as the Elemental Evil Player's Companion is a pale shadow of what was playtested. There were a whole slew of new subclasses, including earth, air/sky, fire, water/sea cleric domains. I wish WotC would revisit those in a new product. Or just release the playtest stuff in a UA document so people can play around with them. There was some cool stuff in there, like a fighter-y druid circle and some additional options for the elemental monk.

It was also wise, in that had they gone with a Judeo-Christian approach a) they'd doubtless have run even further afoul of various real-life practitioners of those religions than they did, and b) they'd have lost some audience among those not interested in a Judeo-Christian framework.
Fair enough!

What you're doing sounds like homebrew all the way. Have fun! :)
Absolutely. Never said it wasn't. I only really started this thread to follow a random train of thought.
 

Voadam

Legend
Again, I'm not proposing turning demons and devils into gods. I'm going for more of a Judeo-Christian "God vs the Devil" feel, rather than D&D's usual polytheistic approach.
For a D&Dized polytheistic the gods vs demons approach I highly suggest checking out 4e's cosmology such as in the 4e Demonomicon. First there is the gods vs primordials as the base with the elemental and non-divine primordials being contrasted with and eventually defeated by the divine gods in the Dawn War. The Primordials were on the level of the gods and in some of the lore could not be killed but only contained. Then you have the creation of the Abyss and demons and demon lords as evil corruptions of the Elemental Chaos, elementals, and Primordials, by the Shard of Evil at the heart of the Abyss, so the demon lords are evil-warped and powered up primordial immortal non-divine beings on the level of the gods.

The goddess of prophecy had to sacrifice herself, her soul, her sanity, her reputation, and her divine being to become Lolth and create the demonwebs to contain the Abyss.

All the gods feel that the demons are an existential threat to the cosmos and so the gods are united against them despite internal differences.

The devils whole job is to fight and contain the demons, and the gods tolerate them despite their corruption to evil and Asmodeus's deicide because of that mission and contracts Asmodeus has with the gods to engage in the Blood War against the demons.

Lots of cool D&D stuff with a difference between the gods and demons and an ongoing war of the heavens versus the Abyss.

It's funny that D&D used to strive for a medieval Europe aesthetic except for its religions, which take a more pre-medieval/pre-Judeo-Christian approach.
This is the Conan and Gray Mouser influence. Conan was more ancient world polytheism based with a mix of historical and made up gods and that was the default template that was being riffed off of.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
For a D&Dized polytheistic the gods vs demons approach I highly suggest checking out 4e's cosmology such as in the 4e Demonomicon. First there is the gods vs primordials as the base with the elemental and non-divine primordials being contrasted with and eventually defeated by the divine gods in the Dawn War. The Primordials were on the level of the gods and in some of the lore could not be killed but only contained. Then you have the creation of the Abyss and demons and demon lords as evil corruptions of the Elemental Chaos, elementals, and Primordials, by the Shard of Evil at the heart of the Abyss, so the demon lords are evil-warped and powered up primordial immortal non-divine beings on the level of the gods.

The goddess of prophecy had to sacrifice herself, her soul, her sanity, her reputation, and her divine being to become Lolth and create the demonwebs to contain the Abyss.

All the gods feel that the demons are an existential threat to the cosmos and so the gods are united against them despite internal differences.

The devils whole job is to fight and contain the demons, and the gods tolerate them despite their corruption to evil and Asmodeus's deicide because of that mission and contracts Asmodeus has with the gods to do so.

Lots of cool D&D stuff with a difference between the gods and demons and an ongoing war of the heavens versus the Abyss.
Weren't the Demons in 4e created by something Tharizdun did?
 

pukunui

Legend
For a D&Dized polytheistic the gods vs demons approach I highly suggest checking out 4e's cosmology such as in the 4e Demonomicon.
Yep! I am a big fan of 4e's cosmology. I much prefer it to the Great Wheel.

This is the Conan and Gray Mouser influence. Conan was more ancient world polytheism based with a mix of historical and made up gods and that was the default template that was being riffed off of.
OK

Weren't the Demons in 4e created by something Tharizdun did?
Yes. He chucked a shard of ultimate evil or something into the Elemental Chaos, and as it sank deeper, it created the Abyss.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Easy answer

Evil Gods provide a Heaven for Evil Villains and Evil People. They offer real rewards and sensible motivation of opposition to be antagonists.

Look at Warhammer. People follow Chaos for the slim chance to turned into a demon and experience their chosen vice forever.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I know the purpose of this thread isn't really to debate these kinds of thing, but I did want to respond these points (not to convince you they're wrong or aren't the reason evil gods exist in D&D, because I'm sure the reasons you gave are fairly accurate for the designers'-motivations for making evil gods, but more because I want to show that there aren't really necessary).

1. "to give evil PC and NPC Clerics to pray to". I'm sure this is accurate, but I don't think it's a good reason, and I don't think it's necessary. First off, Fiend and Great Old One Warlocks are already a pretty big contrast to Good Clerics. Second, even if you do need specifically evil Clerics instead of Warlocks,
Which I do; the Cleric class doesn't have any alignment gates on it thus there needs to be at least one deity of each alignment such that players who want to play a Cleric of any given alignment have a deity to follow (and yes I allow evil PCs).
you can just let some Demon Lord/Archdevil/other-Archfiend just be capable of having Cleric followers, like how Eberron and Exandria Clerics work (they get the power from the worship, not from the gods, so you can worship anything and get clerical power from that, without it being a god).

2. "to cancel out the good deities and thus keep the universe in balance". Again, I'm sure this is part of the reasoning behind the designers' creating the Evil Gods. However, wasn't that the purpose of the Devils in the first place (i.e. creating a plane of existence to punish the wicked)? That's a bit redundant, IMO.
If a major demon or devil (e.g. Asmodeus) fills the role of a deity (and thus, gets promoted to deity status) then the lessers beneath him are his minions, much like valkyries are the minions of some Norse deities and angels are the minions of a Judeo-Christian-style god. No problem there.
4. "because any society has its evil or undesirable aspects (death/disease) and a society's religion is going to reflect this". But (most) gods in D&D existed before cultures did. That's how the Primordials were overthrown and the Aboleth Empire was crushed. The Evil Deities are even explicitly stated to have existed back then, too (Bane being the first god to kill a Primordial). The evil gods existed before the religions worshipping them did. Gruumsh existed before the Orcs were created, after all.
With a very few deities (of which, ironically, Gruumsh is one) I have it that they existed before any life and in fact created it. Then, once life got going these few deities took on those proto-cultures that suited them - Gruumsh took Orcs, Moradin took Dwarves, etc. - and drew/increased their power through the worship granted by their followers. There's a very specific number of these founding deities: five major ones plus 16 others covering every possible combination of the 9 alignments and male-female; nearly all other deities are "aspects" of these 21 (and boy did it ever come as a shock to a few players with long-time Corellon Clerics when they learned Corellon isn't really Corellon at all but is in fact just an aspect of a Gnome deity!) :)

Other than those few "founding" deities, I have it that a deity with no worshippers can't really do anything other than exist as a powerless but immortal being.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Another thing is Endgame.

The evil gods, great old one, devils, and demons often are playing for victory conditions.

Many Evil gods like Gruumsh, Bane, Lolth etc are usually out to take over a pantheon, steal domains/portfolios, and kill specific entities. They aren't go world destruction per se. The worldjust suffers as an effect of their growing rule and/or the progress to it.

Devils are often out to find and exploit a loophole and break some legally. It often depends on why they are devils. Devils might want to get out of a contract or revive a fallen god or terraform Hell or something,

Demonic endgame usually come down to converting the world to one where they can do whatever they want and to their liking. This is usually were the world destruction comes in.

GOOs typically want something unknown, few understand, or are illogical in the present time. These results in strange actions of minions and fewer allies.

For example in most of mysettings,the evil gods are out to be kings of their pantheons and the kings of a Heaven. This conflicts with the devils who wish to turn Hell into a Heaven and force a god to move there.

"Well Acksually, We devils were not banished to the Hells. We were exiled from specific Heavens. So if we chained up convinced a diety and made crowned him or her king of here, we would be in his or her Heaven right?"
 
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