The place of the gods...

Author: Andrew /

Alright, this is a topic I've been wanting to hit for a while so I'm a little excited. The topic is the place of the gods in a D&D game.

In a D&D game, the story tends to have a certain scale. When you're fighting small kobolds and trouncing them left and right, you tend to feel pretty strong. Even a dragon, save possibly an ancient one, tends to still rest on a mortal scale. A game tends to step up a certain amount when the gods get involved. When the lords of the heavens step in, it changes things.

The thing I find really cool is trying to figure out the character of the deities that exist in the D&D mythology. There's Torm, the paladin God of the Forgotten Realms who is the defender of weak and helpless, the upholder of righteousness, and iron hammer of justice. How would a player converse with this being? How would a god who weilds power like he does, treat a mortal being?
What about Vecna, the god of the undead with a twisted view of the afterlife? His character is said to believe that beings should serve him in life and the afterlife. He is cool, calculating, pragmatic and self absorbed. If this is the case, how would he act if a player came face to face with him and wanted to talk? What would Vecna's reaction be to the suppositions of a mortal conversing with him at all?

I always enjoy, as a player, running into characters like this when a DM can bring them to life really well. I mean, they could just say "A man in shiny armor walks up to you and says 'Hi, I'm Torm.'" but that doesn't have the punch, does it? It's when the DM really gets into the skin of these higher beings, that the game takes on a whole new life.

What I wonder most is, what are the best ways to bring about these situations? How do you transition from being a tiny level one character who actually did have a kind of rough time with those little kobolds, to a character who is speaking face to face with a god? It really does make the game a whole new kind of epic.

The heroic teir (character levels 1-10) are very (usually) earthbound / believable. They seem to be filled with great deeds and the laying of a hero's foundation, to be sure, but usually things of the massively supernatural don't enter into the equation yet.

The paragon teir (character levels 11-20) seem to be the beginnings of greatness, where characters begin to see things and do things that average people wouldn't think is possible. The may perhaps venture to other planes, they may encounter supernatural monsters or beings of great power that aren't of the natural world.

The epic teir (character levels 21-30) are really when things crank into high gear. Characters are now approaching levels of power that normal, average people in the game world would not even think attainable. At level 30, a group of player characters usually have the combined power to actually pose a threat to a god. Most of them, thus far, are between levels 31-35, depending on the individual deity.

In 3.5 edition D&D, there was a book called Deities and Demigods and I thought that it was one of the coolest books there was. They not only had the pantheon they created for the D&D realms but they also adapted other pantheons from historical societies, namely Greek and Roman mythology. So, you could look in the book and find out how powerful Zeus actually was supposed to be. You can look up Ares or Athena and see what their characters are supposed to play like or what it would take to bring them down (if you wanted a fight that big).

There was one small problem. Most of the gods were SO huge that they were untouchable. They seemed to have powers that were just overpowered to the point that they were untouchable. This meant that, if a DM was going totally by-the-book, a player group could almost never beat a god. Ever. They had powers that allowed them to always go first in a fight. They had powers that were massive damage and some that were instant kills. They could incapacitate players for the entire fight and all sorts of stuff. Now, this was all well and good for the gods but not the players. Good luck having fun when the odds are stacked against you like that.

Now, with 4th edition, in a few of the books, such as the Monster Manual, Monster Manual 2 and Open Grave, they've put a few beings of higher power in these. Unfortunately, they're all of the evil persuasion because usually you're not fighting good gods, unless you're an evil party of characters, which tends to be rather uncommon overall.

That said, these gods have revised stat blocks and are deisgned to be encountered, fought and, with the right strategies, taken down. This makes for some cool ideas for introducing these powerful figures into a story and, at some point down the line, perhaps even having a confrontation with them!

Right now, I'm really hoping for a 4th edition Dieties and Demigods but we'll see what happens. There are two books coming out called (if I remember right) "The Plane Below" and "The Plane Above" which focus on the Elemental Chaos and The Astral Sea. Most of the evil gods reside somewhere in the Elemental Chaos and most of the good ones are in The Astral Sea. So, that being said, I really hope that if they're not doing a 4th ed Dieties and Demigods, they really detail those figures when the planes books arive. We shall see!

Thanks for reading everyone and be sure to check out the new D&D Take pages on Facebook and Twitter! Let the comments begin!



silent stone said...

Deities are a really good way to flesh out a campaign setting—a setting where there are dozens of gods, each with a single domain, will be dramatically different from one with only two gods, who divide all the domains up between them. But in this role, the deities never need be directly encountered: the effects of their existence will be felt throughout the campaign.

Actually meeting and interacting with a god isn't something that should be done lightly, and such an event should be rare, even in the epic tier, or otherwise the effect would become diluted.

These are the most powerful beings in the entire universe, powerful enough to be a challenge not for a single PC, but for a party of PCs. They aren't only at the top of the food chain, but the gods define what the food chain actually is. If they're merely treated like yet another powerful NPC (by DM or PC), then something's wrong.

Actually fighting a god, sharing space on a battlemat with a god and going base-to-base with him—that should be a world-shaking event with world-shaking effects. Killing a god shouldn't only mean you get a hefty block of XP and the rights to loot his apartment; there should be cataclysms wreaking havoc on a pan-planar scale, as appropriate to the god's domain, until a replacement deity steps in, and figures out how to control that domain.

Then again, maybe they don't, but still there should be effects on the largest of scales.

And then there's the question of that god's followers. What do they do? I doubt they would all just shrug and say, "Oh, well, that was fun while it lasted."

Basically, what I'm saying is that if you're going to use gods in your campaign world, don't use them for stuff that a run-of-the-mill epic NPC could handle. That's just missing the point, really.

Andrew said...

Oh, absolutely. I'm simply saying that the times when a god IS encountered tends to make a massive impact. I really like the ideas of huge, cataclysmic events that shake the foundations of the universe (or the world at least) when something in the cosmology changes and it does make absolute sense.

I think the thing I like most is that 4th ed at least makes combating a deity feasible. In 3rd ed they were so powerful that you didn't ever even really think about taking them on because the power they wielded was usually ridiculously higher than even their levels indicated. They would have custom abilities and whatnot. You'd have .... Ares, I believe, who was a lvl 15 rogue, lvl 15 fighter. On top of that his abilities were all pimped out and crazy (befitting of Ares, of course) and just looking at his stats, you'd just go "Yeah, that ain't happenin'"

I think this is a great topic and one that's is worth a whole lot of conversation, even if only because it could make for interesting story discussions! =]

Magus Stragus said...

Well, taking into account that the lesser gods have like a character level of 40 or so (in 3.5, of course), it's only natural that even epic characters wouldn't have a chance against them.

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