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%

MarkB

Legend
Also, an actual deity (or something close to it) speaking the absolute truth should be like that truth-drug-overdose bit from Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "The being speaks to you the fundamental truth of the cosmos. Take 3d10 Intelligence damage (DC 25 Charisma save for half) and roll on the long-term madness table. If you failed your save, also roll on the short-term madness table."
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
I am happy to play under any of the described scenarios.

When running a game, my most common approach is that the existence of gods is not canonically established.

Half the time, the existence of the gods is not even established in GM's notes - play will not be able to establish if they exist, so I don't bother specifying.

Another half the time, their existence is intended in my notes, but their existence is not canonically established because their role in mortal affairs is limited.
 

Voadam

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.
First yes, if the deity answers, which it need not do.

However if it does it also might consider itself to be a transcendental being under a different definition of transcendental being from yours. An answer of "yes" could be because of course, everyone is a transcendental being. If you asked a dragon if it was simply a powerful supernatural entity its answer might be no.

"An affected creature is aware of the spell and can thus avoid answering questions to which it would normally respond with a lie. Such a creature can be evasive in its answers as long as it remains within the boundaries of the truth."

Defining divinity can be notoriously difficult.
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.
The other divination specifics seem key here. Not sure why you would bother with zone of truth if you have another divination that can determine the genuine truth straight.

Maybe Commune would be the best bet. Directly ask your god if they are a transcendental being. You will receive a correct yes/no answer, or unclear if it is beyond the deity's knowledge, or a short phrase if a one word answer would either be misleading or contrary to the god's interests (Tiamat might answer "Poor choice of questions, cleric").

So if it is within the god's knowledge and a yes/no would not be misleading or contrary to the god's interests you will get your yes/no answer. There is quite a lot of wiggle room in there to get to a phrase or unclear though.

COMMUNE
5th-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (incense and a vial of holy or unholy water)
Duration: 1 minute
You contact your deity or a divine proxy and ask up to three questions that can be answered with a yes or no. You must ask your questions before the spell ends. You receive a correct answer for each question.
Divine beings aren't necessarily omniscient, so you might receive "unclear" as an answer if a question pertains to information that lies beyond the deity's knowledge. In a case where a one-word answer could be misleading or contrary to the deity's interests, the DM might offer a short phrase as an answer instead.
If you cast the spell two or more times before finishing your next long rest, there is a cumulative 25 percent chance for each casting after the first that you get no answer. The DM makes this roll in secret.
 

Voadam

Legend
People would have lived with those spirits for a long time. During that time, they would have learned to deal with them, either positively or negatively, including lots of spells. An the people who would cast those spells would be the same social role as clerics.

So, basically you need a completely different spell list.
Clerics have been dealing with a lot of little gods throughout D&D, they have just not been labelled such directly in the game. Dryads, Nymphs, Hamadryads, Naiads, and such have been in the game since early times and throughout editions.

Clerics and their spells are a weird D&Dism with touches of polytheism, Judeo-Christian aspects, Van Helsing, crusading knights, and mono and polytheistic priests.

I don't think you have to change the cleric spell list for dealing with Greek little gods any more than you would need to make changes to the cleric spell list if you are using the Greek pantheon and limiting clerics to the big god Olympians in your D&D game.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
First yes, if the deity answers, which it need not do.

However if it does it also might consider itself to be a transcendental being under a different definition of transcendental being from yours. An answer of "yes" could be because of course, everyone is a transcendental being. If you asked a dragon if it was simply a powerful supernatural entity its answer might be no.

"An affected creature is aware of the spell and can thus avoid answering questions to which it would normally respond with a lie. Such a creature can be evasive in its answers as long as it remains within the boundaries of the truth."

Defining divinity can be notoriously difficult.

The other divination specifics seem key here. Not sure why you would bother with zone of truth if you have another divination that can determine the genuine truth straight.

Maybe Commune would be the best bet. Directly ask your god if they are a transcendental being. You will receive a correct yes/no answer, or unclear if it is beyond the deity's knowledge, or a short phrase if a one word answer would either be misleading or contrary to the god's interests (Tiamat might answer "Poor choice of questions, cleric").

So if it is within the god's knowledge and a yes/no would not be misleading or contrary to the god's interests you will get your yes/no answer. There is quite a lot of wiggle room in there to get to a phrase or unclear though.

COMMUNE
5th-level divination (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 minute
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (incense and a vial of holy or unholy water)
Duration: 1 minute
You contact your deity or a divine proxy and ask up to three questions that can be answered with a yes or no. You must ask your questions before the spell ends. You receive a correct answer for each question.
Divine beings aren't necessarily omniscient, so you might receive "unclear" as an answer if a question pertains to information that lies beyond the deity's knowledge. In a case where a one-word answer could be misleading or contrary to the deity's interests, the DM might offer a short phrase as an answer instead.
If you cast the spell two or more times before finishing your next long rest, there is a cumulative 25 percent chance for each casting after the first that you get no answer. The DM makes this roll in secret.
I kinda already covered a lot of this.

Particularly the problem that people refuse to define what a "real god" etc. is.

But honestly I'd really rather not debate it further. I was trying to show that there are ways to go about it. If you invoke the infinite regress of rules-lawyering plus radical skepticism, well, that way madness lies.

I personally find such faffing about incredibly tedious. Either make it clear that there will never be an unequivocal answer, or make it clear what the unequivocal answer is, and be done with it. All the hand-wringing about whether they are "really" gods is genuinely pretty boring in most cases.

Now, a fun way you can use that is to have a newcomer god that other gods don't think is real for some reason. As long as that doesn't open up solipsistic nonsense questioning, that can be a fun plot to explore, possibly with a positive portrayal of evil gods, who may still be evil, but they won't allow charlatans to masquerade as deities and thus tarnish the concept of worship/reverence.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
I dunno - that can of tuna granting spells to its Clerics among the ants could be hella fun in a situation where your PCs had somehow all become shrunk to an inch tall. :)
 

For my world, there are people that use magic, and many think (including the users of said magic) it comes from a god. After all, there are religions to the old gods, the newer, one true god, and the old dead kings. But no one can actually prove that the abilities come from these gods. So it is debated, although not always outright. And even for those that debate, it is not warring factions, but more like how people that believe in spirits and ghosts look at people that don't.

For most common folk, they try to understand these supernatural elements through religion. For a smaller portion, they try to understand these elements through science. And for an even smaller portion, they try to understand these elements through the sense of self.
 

Azzy

ᚳᚣᚾᛖᚹᚢᛚᚠ
I find it more interesting from a world-building perspective to have varied religions and religious types (from monotheism to animism to philosophies to mystery cults and back around to polytheism again) be present in a setting. I think this gets easier if you have gods that aren't provable (or at least extremely remote from existence).
 

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