D&D General Worldbuilding Assumptions: The Nature of Gods

Which best describes the nature of gods in your preferred D&D setting?

  • Gods are canonically real and make their presence known in unambiguous ways.

    Votes: 21 23.3%
  • Gods are canonically real, but their role in the mortal world is limited.

    Votes: 39 43.3%
  • The existence of gods is not canonically established.

    Votes: 19 21.1%
  • Gods canonically do not exist.

    Votes: 1 1.1%
  • Other (describe below)

    Votes: 10 11.1%

Amrûnril

Adventurer
In discussions of D&D, I often see arguments based on the assumption of unambiguously real, universally acknowledged gods. While this framework certainly describes many settings, I don't think it's fair to take as given in a game played in as many different settings as D&D. I also think the degree to which the official books emphasize this assumption is overstated. The DMG presents "Gods oversee the world" as a core assumption, but it does so in a section specifically about how DMs might choose to modify those core assumptions. And while the PHB and MM make plenty of references to gods, few of them have mechanical weight, and most are presented in a form that could be regarded as in-universe belief just as easily as established canon.

Personally, I have a strong preference for worlds where the existence and nature of gods is left deliberately ambiguous. A setting where the players and characters definitively know the answer to religious questions, in my view, takes away many of the dynamics that are key to making religion feel like religion. Rather than contemplating faith in the face of uncertainty, characters are simply choosing how to interact with powerful characters.

I recognize, though, that this view isn't universal, and I'm curious as to others' preferences. How do you prefer that D&D settings handle these elements of in-world religions?
 

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Stormonu

Legend
I think that overall, there is room for that to be handled in different ways for different campaigns worlds - for example, their existence is -in-your-face in the Forgotten Realms, while for Eberron it is a “could be’, and in Dark Sun there are no gods at all.

However, for my primary homebrew, it is a case that they are no longer allowed to directly interfere with mortals, complicated by the fact that the old gods have been supplanted with mortals-turned-gods. There is a three-way battle that can arise from this - there are those who don’t believe because they’ve never experienced divine intervention and may consider divine magic to be quackery or cleverly disguised arcane magic. There are those who do believe and may have experienced divine magic directly. Lastly, there is controversy around who should be worshipped, whether it be old gods or new. (And,I suppose, an even further argument over who among the gods should be venerated - good, evil, lawful or chaotic).

I think much of D&D actually stands on the last - not whether the gods exist, but battles over whom among the gods should be venerated, and who should be avoided.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
For me, the gods are best described as anthropomorphized abstract concepts. Sentient beings make war on each other, therefore that abstract concept has power, therefore that abstract concept eventually personifies into a deity. I also do things like smaller, local gods. Think Japanese kami. This river has a kami. That tree has a kami. And I absolutely love the way Planegea deals with gods. The local spirits grow in power and become gods. The gods barter with mortals for power. And the gods will consume each other for power.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
To me D&D is best when the gods are real but blocked from leaving their planes most of the time but actively and openly grant power to beings of the world and are known by mortal world to have control over their domain.

The Sea goddess is real and she sinks ships of people who don't offer her gifts or carry her priests.
 

dave2008

Legend
In discussions of D&D, I often see arguments based on the assumption of unambiguously real, universally acknowledged gods. While this framework certainly describes many settings, I don't think it's fair to take as given in a game played in as many different settings as D&D. I also think the degree to which the official books emphasize this assumption is overstated. The DMG presents "Gods oversee the world" as a core assumption, but it does so in a section specifically about how DMs might choose to modify those core assumptions. And while the PHB and MM make plenty of references to gods, few of them have mechanical weight, and most are presented in a form that could be regarded as in-universe belief just as easily as established canon.

Personally, I have a strong preference for worlds where the existence and nature of gods is left deliberately ambiguous. A setting where the players and characters definitively know the answer to religious questions, in my view, takes away many of the dynamics that are key to making religion feel like religion. Rather than contemplating faith in the face of uncertainty, characters are simply choosing how to interact with powerful characters.

I recognize, though, that this view isn't universal, and I'm curious as to others' preferences. How do you prefer that D&D settings handle these elements of in-world religions?
OK, after reading your explanatory post I think maybe I should have chosen "other."

In my favorite setting, the gods are canonically real; however, their reality is ambiguous to the players and characters. Only I, the DM, no anything close to the truth.

I picked "Gods are canonically real, but their role in the mortal world is limited," but their reality is not canonical to the players/PCs. Would that qualify as "other?"
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
In the beginning, there were three classes, Fighting Man, Magic-User, and Cleric. Since the Cleric in D&D, in stark contrast to clerical workers IRL, had magical powers, there were obviously Gods. Pretty straightforward, really.

I've always liked the Michael Moorcock/Tanith Lee take that gods are created (Lee) or empowered (Moorcock) by the collective human belief in them. They're absolutely real, but not in the way they seem.
 

ichabod

Legned
I don't really have a preference. In my current world the gods are real. Some of them act in the Prime (material) Sphere, others act in the Outer Spheres and only mess with the Prime Sphere through intermediaries, and other rule the Spheres of the Dead and generally stick to them.
 


Faith is not Faith, if its observable fact.
I quibble with this.

It's not faith in that "I believe this to be real due to non-objectively provable reasons" but rather "I believe I am protected / receive benefits / have spells because I am following the Power's will accurately and making sacrifices that please them."

That is admittedly a different definition of faith- do they exist vs. can I get them to benefit me. I think that's more applicable in a fantasy milieu from Forgotten Realms to Eberron.

I chose the second option, they're real, but their interaction with mortals is limited. The gods are busy, that's why they have clerics.
 

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