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%

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Personally my view even in a setting where "Gods are canonically real and make their presence known in unambiguous ways." there is nothing to prove gods are anything other than just slightly more powerful entities.
Magic. Specifically divination magic.

Consider a zone of truth spell. The caster automatically knows whether the being in question passes or fails the save. Keep casting until they fail. Tiamat, for example, has a Charisma score of 29, for a total modifier of +9; she is not proficient with Wisdom saves. Presuming other deities are of a similar nature, that's d20+9 vs a DC of at least 8+5+6 = 19, meaning about half the time, Tiamat fails. We can thus assume that, for most deities, even if they cannot willingly fail the save, they will be very unlikely to pass it four times consecutively (and this could be improved further by using a powerful focus that adds to your DCs, having someone debuff the deity's saving throws, etc.)

At that point, they cannot willingly lie. Ask them if they are, in fact, a transcendental being, not simply a powerful supernatural entity, but whatever standard you prefer for something to be "actually a god" and not merely a "slightly more powerful entity." If the deity answers "yes" while affected by zone of truth, you then know that at least the being itself has no reason to doubt its own divinity.

From there, other divination magic to suss out the deity's origin. If they're not lying when they claim divinity, either they are crazy, honestly mistaken, or actually divine (Lewis's trilemma). Since insanity is usually not that difficult to identify from behavior, I think we can safely set that aside (some deities will of course also be crazy, but for the sake of argument, presume we keep looking until we find a being-claiming-to-be-a-deity that does not evince insanity.) That leaves an honest mistake, or a genuine truth. Divination magic can conclusively distinguish the two.

----

This is why, in my own homebrew setting, I cut this path off at the pass. The One--the Great Architect--claims to be beyond all magic. Hence, by Their own claims and as They (or, rather, Their servants/proxies) admit, it is impossible for magic to answer the question; it cannot look back far enough, with enough certainty, and Their servants flatly reject the idea that any magic like zone of truth could ever bind the One. But magic is the only tool that ever could have answered the question in the first place, so the question is inherently unanswerable. Each sapient being must choose for themselves what to believe, and the One's explicit and inviolable policy is that They, and all of Their servants, will respect such mortal choices, even if that means eventual separation (possibly forever) from Themself (a fate which, Their servants claim, They would not wish on any of Their alleged children.)

The War in Heaven was specifically fought over whether to uphold all of the One's commands, including the command to never coerce mortals against their will (loyalist celestials); or just the overall Divine Plan but not the rule against coercion (the Rebels, aka present-day devils); or to throw out the Divine Plan entirely and just wreck shop because you can (the Destroyers, a mix of combatants from both of the other two sides who started enjoying the war for its own sake, for the rush of emotion and destruction, aka present-day demons.) Notably, all three sides claim to have won!

The party also knows there are at least two other distinct religious traditions, one of which (Kahina--druids and shaman) barely pays lip service to the One if they even care at all, and instead focuses on completely different stuff. The implication is that other societies also have their own ways.

I was very careful about setting things up this way. I want the question to be intentionally, overtly open. The power exists. Divine beings are distant but the party has seen some of the few direct interventions in the world. And yet the question is still, and always will be, a question of faith. It cannot, even in principle, be answered with scientific observation. No amount of data-gathering can prove or disprove the Great Architect's claims to being the monotheistic creator and sustainer of all of reality. According to the One's servants, that is exactly how They wish it to be. Because existence is beautiful specifically because it creates a tapestry out of all the different people and creatures and beliefs and actions present in it. To shackle this, even through anything as soft-touch as "reveal Myself in all My glory" type stuff, would be to devalue Creation. The One claims (or, rather, Their servants claim) that Their nature is incompatible with devaluing Creation in this way, so They never will, even though (in theory) They have the capacity to do so.
 

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Bagpuss

Legend
Magic. Specifically divination magic.

Consider a zone of truth spell. The caster automatically knows whether the being in question passes or fails the save. Keep casting until they fail. Tiamat, for example, has a Charisma score of 29, for a total modifier of +9; she is not proficient with Wisdom saves. Presuming other deities are of a similar nature, that's d20+9 vs a DC of at least 8+5+6 = 19, meaning about half the time, Tiamat fails. We can thus assume that, for most deities, even if they cannot willingly fail the save, they will be very unlikely to pass it four times consecutively (and this could be improved further by using a powerful focus that adds to your DCs, having someone debuff the deity's saving throws, etc.)

At that point, they cannot willingly lie. Ask them if they are, in fact, a transcendental being, not simply a powerful supernatural entity, but whatever standard you prefer for something to be "actually a god" and not merely a "slightly more powerful entity." If the deity answers "yes" while affected by zone of truth, you then know that at least the being itself has no reason to doubt its own divinity.

From there, other divination magic to suss out the deity's origin. If they're not lying when they claim divinity, either they are crazy, honestly mistaken, or actually divine (Lewis's trilemma). Since insanity is usually not that difficult to identify from behavior, I think we can safely set that aside (some deities will of course also be crazy, but for the sake of argument, presume we keep looking until we find a being-claiming-to-be-a-deity that does not evince insanity.) That leaves an honest mistake, or a genuine truth. Divination magic can conclusively distinguish the two.

There seems a number of issues with that...

a) It's a awful lot of work to test your theory, and even if you could get all your ducks in a row, persuade or force one of these gods into a Zone of Truth, they answer the question, then carry out further divination tests, it would only tell you for that one deity.
b) Until someone goes to that effort you can't show any that any of these gods are really gods.
c) The fact they are effected by magic, kind of shows they are just like other creatures in the setting, they certainly aren't all powerful, or outside the laws of nature for the setting so aren't really transcendental beings.

Better proof would be to kill the god and then if all their priests magic stops working then you could at least show they were the source of the divine magic. Seems a little drastic way to prove your god is real though by killing them.
 

Voadam

Legend
c) The fact they are effected by magic, kind of shows they are just like other creatures in the setting, they certainly aren't all powerful, or outside the laws of nature for the setting so aren't really transcendental beings.
The manifestation you interact with could still be avatars of a transcendent being. Affecting the divine dragon thing called Tiamat manifesting on the world does not establish there is no transcendent being Tiamat, just that what you interacted with can be interacted with.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
There seems a number of issues with that...

a) It's a awful lot of work to test your theory, and even if you could get all your ducks in a row, persuade or force one of these gods into a Zone of Truth, they answer the question, then carry out further divination tests, it would only tell you for that one deity.
b) Until someone goes to that effort you can't show any that any of these gods are really gods.
c) The fact they are effected by magic, kind of shows they are just like other creatures in the setting, they certainly aren't all powerful, or outside the laws of nature for the setting so aren't really transcendental beings.

Better proof would be to kill the god and then if all their priests magic stops working then you could at least show they were the source of the divine magic. Seems a little drastic way to prove your god is real though by killing them.
"That sounds like a lot of work. Just kill them instead" does not sound like a particularly effective method either. Godlike beings, whether "real" gods or not, are notoriously difficult to kill. Unless they have an Overgod sugar daddy who can cut them off. Then they're quite killable, it's just challenging.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The manifestation you interact with could still be avatars of a transcendent being. Affecting the divine dragon thing called Tiamat manifesting on the world does not establish there is no transcendent being Tiamat, just that what you interacted with can be interacted with.
IIRC in Scales of War, this gets touched on. You do kill an avatar of Tiamat, which causes her to retreat to her divine domain. Then, you go track her down in that lair, and as the final fight of the (IIRC 1-30) adventure path, you take on Tiamat proper, in all her terrible glory.

If you succeed, she is gone, presumably for good (since it's made clear she didn't prepare for the possibility of her own destruction the way Bahamut did). This doesn't eliminate greed and vengeance from existence, but it hugely weakens these concepts across the universe. Avaricious politicians become humbler and generous; ancient hatreds cool and forgiveness prevails more often than not; kindness and respect become pretty consistently winning strategies. The world will find a new equilibrium in the future, but for the time being, justice and mercy and hope truly have prevailed.

Which, for me, that's much closer to what I want when it comes to divinity. "Gives out parts of itself to empower others" is...weak at best, IMO, when it comes to defining whether a being is "divine" or not. Actually being linked at an intimate level with fundamental pillars of reality, being in some sense their portfolios given life and sapience, is dramatically more interesting to me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Magic. Specifically divination magic.

Consider a zone of truth spell. The caster automatically knows whether the being in question passes or fails the save. Keep casting until they fail. Tiamat, for example, has a Charisma score of 29, for a total modifier of +9; she is not proficient with Wisdom saves. Presuming other deities are of a similar nature, that's d20+9 vs a DC of at least 8+5+6 = 19, meaning about half the time, Tiamat fails. We can thus assume that, for most deities, even if they cannot willingly fail the save, they will be very unlikely to pass it four times consecutively (and this could be improved further by using a powerful focus that adds to your DCs, having someone debuff the deity's saving throws, etc.)
I'd have it that deities automatically succeed on any save* unless they choose to voluntarily fail it. Good ones would likely voluntarily fail it in this case, however, depending on who was casting the spell and-or asking the questions, in order to build trust and show they've nothing to hide.

* - unless the spell or effect is coming directly from another deity (as in, a deity-vs-deity situation with no mortals involved). This vulnerability largely explains why deities rarely if ever fight each other directly, and instead leave their disputes to their servants (mortal and otherwise) to resolve...or to continue, whichever.
 

Clint_L

Hero
Also, in my campaign just because something is worshipped doesn't make it a god. So a can of tuna could be a god to a group of super devout ants or something, but it's still just a can of tuna. So in our world, we use the term "god" for those powerful entities that at some point have been worshipped, and that mostly live on other planes of existence. But it's a pretty loose definition and works better as such.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I'd have it that deities automatically succeed on any save* unless they choose to voluntarily fail it. Good ones would likely voluntarily fail it in this case, however, depending on who was casting the spell and-or asking the questions, in order to build trust and show they've nothing to hide.

* - unless the spell or effect is coming directly from another deity (as in, a deity-vs-deity situation with no mortals involved). This vulnerability largely explains why deities rarely if ever fight each other directly, and instead leave their disputes to their servants (mortal and otherwise) to resolve...or to continue, whichever.
I think it's more salient that the gods aren't simply going to sit around and allow every yahoo having a crisis of faith to use them in teleological experiments. Getting a personal audience with a (a being commonly accepted to be a) deity should be like getting an audience with the leader of a major nation, except a few orders of magnitude harder. Though even then, as you noted, they're probably going to have powers that make those kinds of spells pointless (and that's leaving aside the issue of how truth-telling spells only measure if the person believes what they're saying; so they believe that they're a god, but does that mean they actually are?).
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I think it's more salient that the gods aren't simply going to sit around and allow every yahoo having a crisis of faith to use them in teleological experiments. Getting a personal audience with a (a being commonly accepted to be a) deity should be like getting an audience with the leader of a major nation, except a few orders of magnitude harder. Though even then, as you noted, they're probably going to have powers that make those kinds of spells pointless (and that's leaving aside the issue of how truth-telling spells only measure if the person believes what they're saying; so they believe that they're a god, but does that mean they actually are?).
I mean, there's a reason I went for "God explicitly says it's impossible to prove or disprove His divinity" in my game, rather than this rigmarole. Cut the gordian knot and just tell people it's a question that must, inherently, be answered with choice and belief; one must walk by faith and not by sight. Or lack of faith! That's up to you.

But then again, I find it really really really tedious the logical hoops people jump through in order to harp upon the "well it COOOOULD just be a really, REALLY powerful being lying to us about being a god! Or to herself! Or..."

Of course, it doesn't help, at all, that almost nobody actually defines what they think "a god" is. They're quite ready with the "just a powerful being is NOT a god" thing, but that is not even slightly enough for apophatic theology. (I don't find the "spells stop when the being dies" thing compelling either, because it seems perfectly reasonable to me that a powerful being that dies can't continue to give power to others!) Hence why I specify for myself: when I have active, directly-involved deities, I like them in the 4e D&D style, "living concepts," entities that are transcendental thought and manifested idea given breath and sapience. It neatly covers why some mortals can become gods (the consciousness and sapience of the mortal merges with some pillar of existence, some transcendental thought/concept/idea), and how the death (or birth) of a god can affect the world in profound but mysterious ways.
 

In my world Artra gods are real, but rather mysterious. They are more like cosmic forces rather than powerful people. Whilst they may commune with mortals via dreams or visions, they're never fully knowable to them. They certainly are above petty squabbles of mortals. The gods also have various aspects and they may appear to mortals in different guises, so the same gods might be worshipped in different places in different forms.

There are also lesser gods and nature spirits. These may be much weaker than the great gods, but still alien to the mortals.

The religious practice is both polytheistic and animistic. Whilst clerics will dedicate themselves to specific gods (or god groups in case of the twin sun gods and the triple moon gods) the normal people just make sacrifices to whichever god or spirit might be relevant to the their current concerns.

The Great Gods known all over Artra are:
Tiammut, the Primordial Serpent
Khanda Aruna, the Sun Gods, the Divine Lovers, Creation and Destruction (both are both) Ator, the Yellow Sun, Rana, the Red Sun
Ennunagi, the three Moon Gods, the Fates, Ennu, Ulai, Shar
Belet Ummur, the Shepherd of the Dead, the God of Liminal Gates
Vajuru, the God of Journeys, the Protector of Travellers, the Divine Guide, the Lodestar
Nhebel, the God of Love, Wine, Art and Dreams
Khalit Kamada, the God of War, the Red Maiden, the Lady of Strife
Atar Penjat, the Scalekeeper, the God of Commerce and Law
Pthar, the Smith God, the God of Artisans
Okanna, the Storm Maiden, the Sky Dancer, the Rain Bringer
 

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