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D&D General When did D&D gods first rely on their worshipers?


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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
TPratchett was a player of 80’s D&D and his first few novels are very much a parody not only of Fantasy fiction but also D&D tropes (Theives Guild, Wizard Academy, Bearded Dwarfs, he’s got an entire Dungeon Dimension).

I’d guess that the small gods stuff came from D&D rather than the other way round
 

The classical notion is that there is a single entity who created the original deities, who in turn created others, who then (often several generations later) created mortal life. In this notion, while the deities get power from being worshipped, this adds to what power they already have, and they do not require it to exist, but will nevertheless stop existing in the fullness of time.

A more modern notion is that the deities are created from mortal belief, having no power beyond what they are given by this, requiring worship to continue existing and dying without it. In this instance, as you say, they did not create mortal life, rather it created them. As to why you should worship them if this is the case -- it is typical for this school of thought to suggest that you probably shouldn't.
okay, the first I can understand but asks the question why do we not just go worship that guy given that they are the best and all-powerful?

the second flat does not work for an epic history as they would have never been born and are simply dreams that got too big for their boots.
plus why would the game even have them as they are limited in the variety of plots overall?

I have considered a way to do a subjective god presentation but it is super complex and I do not think any one wants to hear it.
 

Davies

Hero
okay, the first I can understand but asks the question why do we not just go worship that guy given that they are the best and all-powerful?
In the schools of thought that believe this, it's thought that this entity might not respond to mortal prayers, since they gain nothing from worship. The other deities do gain from it, so they will answer to whatever degree they can, and also might be able to act as intercessors with that creator -- assuming that they haven't simply moved on -- to persuade them to exert that power.
 

I do sometimes feel that D&D writers are a bit too wedded to the idea of gods gaining power from their worshippers.

It's fine if that's what you want, but it shouldn't be reflexive, it's hardly the only way things can work, and it tends to lead in practice to gods that are not particularly interesting. (Gods in D&D constantly feel like a wasted opportunity).

Why would Deities respond to mortal prayers? In order to pursue their agendas perhaps. I don't know. I'm not sure it's really an issue. In any case if gods only response to prayers is granting cleric spells, then it would seem to follow that there's no point anyone who is not a cleric doing any praying or worshipping, which feels weird. If the people of the village sacrifice a bull to the god of agriculture it really ought to be in order to ensure a good harvest.

There's also the possibility that the god gains power from mortals but not from actual worship (at least in the form of prayers and the like), but through the presence in the world of their area of influence. So the god of war gets more power the more war there is, but he doesn't really care all that much if people believe in him, he just cares that there should be lots of war.
 
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In the schools of thought that believe this, it's thought that this entity might not respond to mortal prayers, since they gain nothing from worship. The other deities do gain from it, so they will answer to whatever degree they can, and also might be able to act as intercessors with that creator -- assuming that they haven't simply moved on -- to persuade them to exert that power.
then why make it an entity and not a mindless process? or make it a being who dreams all the other stuff into existence?
 



Hussar

Legend
I have to admit, I LOVE the Scarred Lands take on this.

The Titans, which are... well... in post 4e terms would probably be called Primordials. They predate everything. The Titans create everything, including the gods. As each Titan comes into ascendency in a cyclical order, they destroy and remake the world multiple times, giving rise to prehistoric epochs and ancient civilizations. At some point, they create the Gods to handle day to day stuff that they can't be bothered with. The Gods, unlike the Titans, are actually fueled by belief, so, when an Epoch turns, and whatever ascendent Titan decides to eat/mutate/destroy that continent, gods outright die.

So, the Gods rebel, along with their followers. The Titans, being largely oblivious to mortals - they're so big they just don't register most beings, same way as you or I don't register individual ants - are destroyed by a combination of the gods and their followers.

It largely answers all these questions in a neat package and really did set the stage for an excellent setting that never, IMNSHO, got enough love. :D
 

I never got this line of logic because how did they come about to begin with? they could not have created any one thus aside from getting power why worship them?
Davies already hit this, but adding on: the situation is often either "forced" upon deities after a certain point (e.g. they used to have enough power to create things and exist independently, but that power has waned/disappeared or been expended/taken away, and now they need to replenish it) or is a natural step in the "evolution" of a deity over time. E.g. deities are "born" in some way that doesn't depend on worship, but after they "mature" they require it. Forgotten Realms took the former path, with Ao the over-deity (a different class of being from regular deities, regardless of power) punishing the gods by making them dependent on mortal faith--taking away their self-sustainability. (As others have shown, the whole thing in FR is pretty fraught, so what exactly this meant isn't clear, but something changed and deities became at least more dependent on faith than they used to be.)

The classical notion is that there is a single entity who created the original deities, who in turn created others, who then (often several generations later) created mortal life. In this notion, while the deities get power from being worshipped, this adds to what power they already have, and they do not require it to exist, but will nevertheless stop existing in the fullness of time.
You saw something kind of like this in Egyptian mythology, coupled with the "natural life cycle of deities" stuff I mentioned above. E.g. Ra eventually retiring to his solar barque full-time because he's become too old to be a "living" god anymore, and had lost the faith of most mortals, while his father Nun (one of the really obscure Ogdoad) remained a nigh-omipotent but not particularly person-like entity/force/being. This was also used in various places to explain pantheon syncretism or the addition of new gods, whether by adoption, division of an existing god, or divine reproduction: the old gods dying off to give way to the new.

A more modern notion is that the deities are created from mortal belief, having no power beyond what they are given by this, requiring worship to continue existing and dying without it. In this instance, as you say, they did not create mortal life, rather it created them. As to why you should worship them if this is the case -- it is typical for this school of thought to suggest that you probably shouldn't.
Yeah, it's...pretty much just the idea of constructivism applied to belief-shaped magic, and then deriving from that maltheism, that any so-called "gods" that do exist are inherently bad and wrong (because they deceive people into worshiping them) and deserving of nothing but scorn. It's a pretty old and tired trope at this point, since (as others have said) you can see examples of it way back in the 30s, and it was commonly used as early as the 60s with original series Star Trek, both played straight (the ep with Apollo) and tweaked slightly (the multiple episodes with powerful D&D-god-like computers that rule over societies forced to remain at primitive tech levels, e.g. Return of the Archons and The Apple).

OK, that right there is a great thing to add to a planar campaign: <snip>
While I'm not going to steal this idea proper, I'm totally going to riff off it for my DW game. Thanks!

That is a 100% improved way of handling their mythos: It's the Office.
I've long thought it would be entertaining to roll it back just a little further than that: Divine High School. Bahamut as the golden boy in seminary and Boy Scouts among other things, with his hyper-rebellious sister Tiamat barely avoiding expulsion. Kord and Moradin as the guys in shop class--Kord because he's not-quite-delinquent but really just doesn't mesh well with organized schooling, Moradin because he's a military brat who's big on the whole "self-sufficiency" thing. Everyone knows Ioun is valedictorian, though she's got big competition from both Corellon and Asmodeus (though everyone thinks the latter's got some secret advantage). Etc. All sorts of great sibling drama, relationship drama, politics, factions...it's pretty much perfect, you'd just have to find some way to integrate the whole "worship and devotees" angle.

okay, the first I can understand but asks the question why do we not just go worship that guy given that they are the best and all-powerful?
As said above, they often don't care, or aren't really capable of noticing something as small as mortals. If gods are to us as we are to ants, then these super-gods are to us as we are to molecules. Too small to see, too small to really care at all about, even if theoretically they're important to us in some way, we could lose trillions and never notice.

the second flat does not work for an epic history as they would have never been born and are simply dreams that got too big for their boots.
Dreams can be powerful things though, even IRL. They can motivate entire nations. If a dream could have sapience and willpower, and grant magic to others, how much more could it achieve? And if these dreams can exist for thousands of years, continuing to gain knowledge throughout that time, who's to say they couldn't be epic? Remember, our epic context doesn't go any further back than about 4100 years (the Epic of Gilgamesh, ca. 2100 BC). There's no reason a deity couldn't have existed for double that length of time--far longer than any history humanity can trace.

plus why would the game even have them as they are limited in the variety of plots overall?
Deities are often more problematic for being too powerful than for being too limited. Limits on divine power are generally desirable to a designer.

I have considered a way to do a subjective god presentation but it is super complex and I do not think any one wants to hear it.
I, personally, am always up for cosmological discussions, but I understand if you don't feel it appropriate for this context.

then why make it an entity and not a mindless process? or make it a being who dreams all the other stuff into existence?
A mindless process is usually inert once it's finished--or needs a reason it's not still doing the same things it did to start with. Mindless processes also have the "okay well...why did that mindless process happen?" infinite-regress problem.

"A being who dreams all the other stuff into existence" is, more or less, the same as the aforementioned "primordial chaos deities" (like the Ogdoad, or the Greek Khaos, or the primeval underground fresh-water ocean Abzu/Apsu in Babylonian myth). It's a little more complicated than that, because (as noted) Ra is able to talk to Nun in some way, and receive things from him. But there's still an idea that these beings in some sense undergird reality in a much more abstract, and indeed dreamer-like, fashion than any of their deity "children."
 
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Davies already hit this, but adding on: the situation is often either "forced" upon deities after a certain point (e.g. they used to have enough power to create things and exist independently, but that power has waned/disappeared or been expended/taken away, and now they need to replenish it) or is a natural step in the "evolution" of a deity over time. E.g. deities are "born" in some way that doesn't depend on worship, but after they "mature" they require it. Forgotten Realms took the former path, with Ao the over-deity (a different class of being from regular deities, regardless of power) punishing the gods by making them dependent on mortal faith--taking away their self-sustainability. (As others have shown, the whole thing in FR is pretty fraught, so what exactly this meant isn't clear, but something changed and deities became at least more dependent on faith than they used to be.)


You saw something kind of like this in Egyptian mythology, coupled with the "natural life cycle of deities" stuff I mentioned above. E.g. Ra eventually retiring to his solar barque full-time because he's become too old to be a "living" god anymore, and had lost the faith of most mortals, while his father Nun (one of the really obscure Ogdoad) remained a nigh-omipotent but not particularly person-like entity/force/being. This was also used in various places to explain pantheon syncretism or the addition of new gods, whether by adoption, division of an existing god, or divine reproduction: the old gods dying off to give way to the new.


Yeah, it's...pretty much just the idea of constructivism applied to belief-shaped magic, and then deriving from that maltheism, that any so-called "gods" that do exist are inherently bad and wrong (because they deceive people into worshiping them) and deserving of nothing but scorn. It's a pretty old and tired trope at this point, since (as others have said) you can see examples of it way back in the 30s, and it was commonly used as early as the 60s with original series Star Trek, both played straight (the ep with Apollo) and tweaked slightly (the multiple episodes with powerful D&D-god-like computers that rule over societies forced to remain at primitive tech levels, e.g. Return of the Archons and The Apple).


While I'm not going to steal this idea proper, I'm totally going to riff off it for my DW game. Thanks!


I've long thought it would be entertaining to roll it back just a little further than that: Divine High School. Bahamut as the golden boy in seminary and Boy Scouts among other things, with his hyper-rebellious sister Tiamat barely avoiding expulsion. Kord and Moradin as the guys in shop class--Kord because he's not-quite-delinquent but really just doesn't mesh well with organized schooling, Moradin because he's a military brat who's big on the whole "self-sufficiency" thing. Everyone knows Ioun is valedictorian, though she's got big competition from both Corellon and Asmodeus (though everyone thinks the latter's got some secret advantage). Etc. All sorts of great sibling drama, relationship drama, politics, factions...it's pretty much perfect, you'd just have to find some way to integrate the whole "worship and devotees" angle.


As said above, they often don't care, or aren't really capable of noticing something as small as mortals. If gods are to us as we are to ants, then these super-gods are to us as we are to molecules. Too small to see, too small to really care at all about, even if theoretically they're important to us in some way, we could lose trillions and never notice.


Dreams can be powerful things though, even IRL. They can motivate entire nations. If a dream could have sapience and willpower, and grant magic to others, how much more could it achieve? And if these dreams can exist for thousands of years, continuing to gain knowledge throughout that time, who's to say they couldn't be epic? Remember, our epic context doesn't go any further back than about 4100 years (the Epic of Gilgamesh, ca. 2100 BC). There's no reason a deity couldn't have existed for double that length of time--far longer than any history humanity can trace.


Deities are often more problematic for being too powerful than for being too limited. Limits on divine power are generally desirable to a designer.


I, personally, am always up for cosmological discussions, but I understand if you don't feel it appropriate for this context.


A mindless process is usually inert once it's finished--or needs a reason it's not still doing the same things it did to start with. Mindless processes also have the "okay well...why did that mindless process happen?" infinite-regress problem.

"A being who dreams all the other stuff into existence" is, more or less, the same as the aforementioned "primordial chaos deities" (like the Ogdoad, or the Greek Khaos, or the primeval underground fresh-water ocean Abzu/Apsu in Babylonian myth). It's a little more complicated than that, because (as noted) Ra is able to talk to Nun in some way, and receive things from him. But there's still an idea that these beings in some sense undergird reality in a much more abstract, and indeed dreamer-like, fashion than any of their deity "children."
dreams motivating people makes no sense all I have ever seen is them breaking down or being hurled aside because dreams do not work.

well, cellular biology is mindless and we do not ask why cancer want to exist it just does so big swirly energy things doing things could work the same.
 


I do sometimes feel that D&D writers are a bit too wedded to the idea of gods gaining power from their worshippers.

It's fine if that's what you want, but it shouldn't be reflexive, it's hardly the only way things can work, and it tends to lead in practice to gods that are not particularly interesting. (Gods in D&D constantly feel like a wasted opportunity).
I think if you're going to have a mechanistic D&D universe, which the WotC D&D era definitely is, it would help if we knew more about what the gods were doing and what their world looks like. WotC bringing back a D&D-compatible game focused on the affairs of mortals -- which they have experience in -- would be a good start.
Why would Deities respond to mortal prayers? In order to pursue their agendas perhaps. I don't know. I'm not sure it's really an issue. In any case if gods only response to prayers is granting cleric spells, then it would seem to follow that there's no point anyone who is not a cleric doing any praying or worshipping, which feels weird. If the people of the village sacrifice a bull to the god of agriculture it really ought to be in order to ensure a good harvest.
That's a different sort of universe than WotC's D&D official D&D universes are, but it's a good way to go. It makes the world more magical, more mysterious and liberates player characters from some of their roles they occupy now. There isn't a strict need for clerics at the community level, and many could quite reasonably be suspicious of these outsiders with their impressive powers who say they're the representative of a god who seems quite happy with the villagers' current religious practices. That opens up a number of additional avenues for games.
There's also the possibility that the god gains power from mortals but not from actual worship (at least in the form of prayers and the like), but through the presence in the world of their area of influence. So the god of war gets more power the more war there is, but he doesn't really care all that much if people believe in him, he just cares that there should be lots of war.
That's sort of what Pratchett outlines: The sea isn't a god in the traditional sense, but sailors fear and respect her, and follow various traditions intended to not cause her wrath. She doesn't need a temple when everyone who relies upon her looks at her with fear and respect and she looms large in all of their imaginations. (Seriously, Small Gods is a very good book for DMs.)
 


Faolyn

Hero
Why would Deities respond to mortal prayers? In order to pursue their agendas perhaps. I don't know. I'm not sure it's really an issue. In any case if gods only response to prayers is granting cleric spells, then it would seem to follow that there's no point anyone who is not a cleric doing any praying or worshipping, which feels weird.
That might depend on how closely prayer and a decent afterlife are tied together in the religion. And that not be about gods needing prayer--it could be pure ego on the part of the gods. Maybe prayer is the Likes of the gods' social media.

OTOH, why not have a world where the gods aren't worshiped except by clerics? It would be an interesting change from the unusual. It could take a sufficient amount of dedication to become a cleric in the first place (which is why people aren't becoming clerics willy-nilly).

There's also the possibility that the god gains power from mortals but not from actual worship (at least in the form of prayers and the like), but through the presence in the world of their area of influence. So the god of war gets more power the more war there is, but he doesn't really care all that much if people believe in him, he just cares that there should be lots of war.
I do like this. It would make the clerics a lot more active in any given world. The clerics of War would really push for battles. The clerics of the Sea might demand sacrifices on the part of all ocean-goers. The clerics of Love would... well, you get it.
 

That might depend on how closely prayer and a decent afterlife are tied together in the religion. And that not be about gods needing prayer--it could be pure ego on the part of the gods. Maybe prayer is the Likes of the gods' social media.

OTOH, why not have a world where the gods aren't worshiped except by clerics? It would be an interesting change from the unusual. It could take a sufficient amount of dedication to become a cleric in the first place (which is why people aren't becoming clerics willy-nilly).


I do like this. It would make the clerics a lot more active in any given world. The clerics of War would really push for battles. The clerics of the Sea might demand sacrifices on the part of all ocean-goers. The clerics of Love would... well, you get it.
what bout including everything of thematically linked concepts and interpretations? no inherent god morality other than the portfolio?
 





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