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%


I prefer the gods to be forced to use mortal agents to fulfill their divine will. It give clerics and other divine characters a niche in the world, explaining why they are given these powers.

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Probably because I'm of an age where Dragonlance was powerfully formative, the "true gods as forgotten/lost" is my general go to. So they are real but also uncertain.

I tend to focus on gods as aspects of civilizations more complicated than just your family and any close hunter/gathers. So formal agriculture on up (for better or worse, and my home pantheon has as many evil gods as good, and lawful as chaotic [no time or energy for chaos if you have to spend all your waking hours trying to get enough to eat]). They overthrew a group of God Monsters, some of whom were recruited to the pantheon (with varying degrees of success).

The gods can interact as they will, but the multiverse is a big place, and while their subconscious is near infinite (good for clerics), their ability to focus on multiple things isn't much better than a lich or ancient dragon (impressive to mortals, but small to the size of reality). That is why most of them set up organized religions to take care of things while they are looking at other stuff.

I also distinguish them from alignment outsiders, in that gods don't directly get souls or soul parts (when you die, the LN part of your soul goes to Mechanus, the LG part goes Mt. Celestia, etc. unless you are something like a Mother Theresa level saint or Joker level monster). They do recruit servants from the alignment outsiders (most groups of outsiders are hoping to push each god more strongly towards an alignment, so they don't object to recruitment), but gods aren't limited in picking servants by alignment.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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?
I’m not sure how to place mine in the poll.

I do have a setting where the gods are physically real and can come around and smack you, but that’s more a setting for my own game than for D&D .

My D&D homebrew setting preference is for gods to be real, present, and usually subtle. Like you might meet Sehanine in the woods in a moonlit glade (better hope she isn’t acting as The Huntress that night), but the overwhelming majority of the time she is there in the wind when you steal away from your obligations for a secret tryst, or walk the wilds alone in a heightened Hunter’s state, or challenge systems and individuals who subvert and deny the free will of others, as a patron of revolution and of breaking away from oppressive tradition and obligation.

If you perform Her works, she may choose to be present in you as you do so. Like you almost become the deity you are emulating as you do some epic deed or thing that is especially their thing.

The gods existed before the world, though, so they aren’t dependent on mortals, they just have a symbiotic relationship.

Also Pelor literally is the sun as it reflects off the water, calling you to seek new horizons, but it is also true that the sun just physically exists and would do without the gods.

Whatever I’m running, the gods are always fully capable of, and indeed their basic nature is, enduring paradox.

Unless you forbid* planeshift, many summons and divinations (augery, commune, contact other planes, etc), it seems almost impossible to consider gods (defined as "incredibly powerful extra-planar entities capable of granting mortals great power") as anything other than factual.

*I believe Darksun does most of these, but ime that is an extreme outlier.

The line between Djinn, Fey Noble, Celestial/Demon and God is quite plausible arbitrary, but it just amounts to "how many people can they squish with a single gesture?" That is right up there with "is there a material difference between warlocks & clerics?"


In my game, gods are unusually powerful entities that are worshipped. Those are the only qualities that make them different from other creatures. No alignments - I don't do alignments.


The gods in my world can manifest on the Prime, but it's usually subtle, because they choose to work through clerics and other worshippers. The good ones invite their worshippers to aid in their plans like a parent who says to their kid, "Yeah, you can help (because I know it's important to you, not because I can't do it better myself)," whereas the evil ones use that involvement for deception and corruption. So in both cases, it's more about shaping the people themselves.

To me, this is more applicable to a TTRPG storyline since I tend to prefer character-focused stories.

The line between Djinn, Fey Noble, Celestial/Demon and God is quite plausible arbitrary, but it just amounts to "how many people can they squish with a single gesture?" That is right up there with "is there a material difference between warlocks & clerics?"
One of the distinctions I make is the ease and clarity of communication. Speaking with a djinn or fae might be confusing or tricky or even dangerous. "Can I have five minutes of your time?" coming from a fae requires a careful answer. Even so, a direct communication is possible. Speaking with a deity may not be comprehensible and could even be mentally or physically dangerous. A deity may also not be able to directly act unilaterally. Whereas a djinn could lose their temper and take out a platoon or village that was in the wrong place, a deity may only be able to inflict damage on the same target under specific circumstances.


In my games, the PCs never get to the level where the gods would even notice them. I have gods and they could even interfere in the mortal world through avatars and omens, but I always look at it as a balance and if the good gods push on the scale too much then the bad gods push back and that push is a lot more than just back to flat.


Victoria Rules
Canonically real and make their presence known in sometimes unambiguous ways. Other times their presence is very subtle, or can be easily overlooked.

One agricultural deity in my campaign manifests occasionally as a peasant working the fields. She might bless the harvest, or subtly make life miserable for a harsh boss, but odds are extremely high nobody will ever realize she was there.

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