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%


There are a lot of interesting ideas here about reasons for the influence of gods to be limited or indirect. I think where I see things differently from a lot of posters is that I'm not sure it's desirable for such ideas to be established as setting canon rather than in-universe beliefs.

I think it makes for a much a richer setting if these ideas coexist as the perspectives of different religious or philosophical traditions, and I think this dynamic becomes less compelling if it's definitively established, even out of game, whether these perspectives are right or wrong. I also find that that a setting built on deliberate uncertainty about these ideas allows players a lot of freedom in character creation, in that they can choose their characters' belief systems without having to be constrained by setting canon.

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A suffusion of yellow
I do gods as personifications - local spirits that manifest in the world as genius loci. The planar gods are personification of the various aspects of the Plane itself. The faith and petitions of mortals empowers the planes (which the gods personify) thus it is possible for Clerics to get power from the Planar 'Divine' rather than the manifest personal god
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I had to go with "Other" for my vote, as I don't do anything in one way only. I am consistent within a given campaign, perhaps even within a given world - depending on how that setting is structurally built. I would say, I vary between campaigns/settings on whether choosing the first option "Gods are real and they participate in the world, though often ambiguously", and I've ran campaigns/settings where the "Gods are real, but have limited participation in the world". Since I run either of those equally among the many campaign/settings I run, neither is preferred. I never go with "no gods" nor "contact with gods not established".


I generally go with a 3e godless clerics model of gods in my D&D games where divine power is a type of magic with a lot of similarities to arcane magic with many divine casters believing their divine magic comes from gods, but actually it is just a tradition of spellcasting that taps divine magic as a power source.

I also like to have lots of pantheons so as you travel from fantasy ancient Greece to fantasy ancient Asia minor to fantasy ancient Egypt you come across different pantheons being recognized and prominent.

This means that there can be clerics of false gods or that gods could be a dragon or giant who you can meet and there will be clerics of them. They could also be transcendent beings or primal forces or hugely powerful outsiders.

So Zeus might be a personification deity of the sky, an immortal god kid of titans, or the mythologized cult of a former king that has evolved him into an Olympian in myth, or he could be a living bog standard storm giant.

Given this backdrop I have used gods directly in my game with beings called Garl Glittergold and Erastil/Stag showing up, but their exact nature was not really hard core defined.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Gods grant spells to clerics. The rules define them as unambiguous and making their presence known in a default setting.

Not all settings are like this, for example, Dark Sun where there is no proof of divinity at all. But even in a setting like Eberron that is closed off due to the Ring of Siberys, it is known the gods grant spells.

Back in AD&D 2nd there were Detect Evil, Detect Good and Know Alignment spells. My cleric ended up working out that there was universal absolutes because regardless whom a cleric worshiped those always came out the same, even for evil clerics.

The rules act as the laws of reality the setting works under.


Follower of the Way
Other. It's something each setting should make a firm decision about and stick with it.

In my Jewel of the Desert game, divine power is unambiguous, but I have taken great pains to insist that the One, aka the Great Architect, not only does not but (by Their servant's own admission) cannot unambiguously prove Their claims of monotheistic divinity. Given the existence of magic, and of powerful beings who can grant powers to others, there is no proof--no matter how robust--that could not be called into question. No act that couldn't be dismissed as a very clever deception by "merely" a powerful being, not THE one and only transcendental creator of all things.

So the One (or, rather, Their servants, as They almost never directly intercede) simply doesn't bother. They choose to let Their works stand for themselves, and instruct Their servants and proxies (that is, celestials vs mortal priests) to judge others accordingly. This is why the Safiqi priesthood, who are generally sticklers about certain kinds of doctrinal stuff, have zero problem with the overall dominant religion of Yuxia, the Jade Home, because they revere the "August Jade Emperor," who rules over a "celestial hierarchy," and that's barely more than re-naming the One's "primary" aspect (creator-sustainer-protector, the Great Architect) and recognizing that celestials exist, so they're pretty much chill about it.

Plenty of people can practice divine magic, and those who do may continue to do so despite breaking covenant with the faith. Does that mean the One rewards even traitors? Does that mean the One does not actually grant the power? Different groups have different answers to that question, and in some ways, it seems to be a matter of selecting the answer that makes most sense to you.

In other settings, having multiple, actively interventionist gods would be far, far better.


I've been playing around with a mystery cult take on divinity in my latest campaign setting. Gods rule various domains in the realm of the dead, and it is a known, true observable thing that some part of each sentient being goes there when they die to live out some kind of eternal existence. It is less established or consistent where precisely you go, and you might have feelings about being a bird in the court of the Peacock Empress instead of a getting chewed forever by the Infinite Maw. Cults will teach you the rites to die properly, and how to handle the assorted psychopomps that will deliver you to various places. More gnostic "know the correct spells so the crossroads warden will show you the true path to the golden fields" less, "believe the right things and be a good person to get into heaven."

Clerics in the setting are people who have died, communed with a god, and arranged to go back with a fraction of their power and whatever task they want done or dogma they want spread in the mortal world. Kind of like warlocks who have made one big deal with a big risky upfront cost (you can't be sure any given god will send you back, and you might not even be certain you've died the correct way to meet whoever you're trying to talk to in the first place), and religions are all insular, secretive organizations that know a lot about some specific part of the underworld.

It's a bit more limiting, in that there is no god of the sea or harvests who watches over or intercedes on such things, but also avoids the weird pantheon problems you get a lot in D&D.

My personal preference is that they are BELIEVED to be real, and behind the curtain they are real, but that there is a reason they are not playing a direct, undeniable role in the world.

Faith is not Faith, if its observable fact.
I do not like full-on Gods walking the world. It makes no sense for them to be there, or they'd just do everything themselves, or at least be expected to be able to. I prefer hard metaphysical limitations preventing them from meddling directly, so Evil Gods cannot conquer the world , and Good Gods are not held to the standard and expectation that they are directly responsible for protecting their faithful, and inaction on their part is forsaking their followers.

I like when a god only has power in the world as long as there is a follower willing to act on their behalf, exerting the will of said God. If they have no followers, they have no influence.

I do like the Gods being indelibly imbedded into their Divine Domains. This would be a sacrifice of freedom on their part to create an afterlife within which they embrace their fallen followers. They become more of an Incarnation of their Idea/Essence (that can manifest physically within their Domain if they wish). If they try to separate from/leave their Domain, that is bad for the Domain.

But I also like Demigod-level creatures that are immortal, but not directly world-altering, who walk the world. Untouched by age, yet killable. "Malazan Book of the Fallen"-tier of Epic storytelling being possible.

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