A Divine Way to Manage Your Meddling Gods – a 3 Part Framework
This is a guest post by Jonathan Hardin based on his original article at Sojourners Awake.
How can you have gods walk your realm without whacking campaign balance?
How can you turn deities into Plot Factories?
And how can you roleplay divine beings in interesting ways that do not spell immediate doom for belligerent characters?
Let’s discover Jonathan’s answers….
The sojourners arrive at the monolith after harrowing travel through the wilds.
Upon their arrival, a bright light shines from the stone and they hear a booming voice greet them. “You have sojourned far to find me. Now that you are here, what do you want?”
They have finally reached the lost shrine of Torm, the god of courage.
How do you imagine deities working within your campaign?
How do these immortal beings interact with your universe? How and why would they intervene in the affairs of mortals?
The gods are non-player characters in my story, and I need a motivation and a means for their actions.
To keep things simple, I use the pantheon list from the D&D 5th edition Player’s Handbook.
The way I imagine everything working out is that some gods are all powerful, some all knowing, and some all loving, but no god holds all three responsibilities.
Each deity has clear limitations else they would overpower the story.
Their motivation and means of action stems from one of those three responsibilities they possess: power, love, or knowledge.
Now I just have to divide them into appropriate groups.
Divide Deities Into Three Groups
To start, I set up a division between power, love, and knowledge. Then I determine that those with power oversee historical events, those with love rule over natural creation, and those with knowledge govern mortal experiences.
I align the domains within the PHB into each of those three categories.
The formula is simple:
- If the god rules an event, they possess power
- If they rule a part of creation, they possess love
- If they rule a mortal experience, they possess knowledge
For example, I think of war as an event. Therefore, the god ruling over war is all-powerful.
Storms are part of the natural order, therefore the god who rules this domain is all-loving.
Finally, mortal experiences (love, divination, loss) are assigned to gods who are all-knowing. In my mind, this is where technology breakthroughs occur. Whether it’s the hit song, the cure for a disease, or a 10th level spell, these gods show up and deliver knowledge.
The Loving Gods
Deities of the natural world such as Meiliki of the forests, Moradin of creation, and Selune of the moon are gods who demonstrate love and care for their creation.
Their motivation originates from their love for what they have made and how they care for it.
Goddesses like Auril, the evil one of winter, manages to fit in this “all loving” category. She loves winter, but severely crosses anyone who opposes her.
Meiliki would do the same if some powerful warlord burned down an entire forest to cause calamity. Then we might see the passionate love of Meiliki as she avenges.
Either way, these gods, though they love and care, do not possess much power or knowledge. Asking them for favors will only go so far in your request, but you can trust their motivations always stem from their beloved creation.
For example, Garindan is a young dwarf with much ambition. Although he lived in civilization all his life, he later committed himself to Moradin.
Every time my player indicates Garindan cares for natural creation for a dwarven community, I allow him to gain advantage on one spell attack that day. This affects the world around the players and allows for mechanical bonuses in game.
The Gods of Power
The deities who oversee events and time possess power.
This includes war and peace, birth, and death.
They rule their domain with abilities that frighten mortals, causing them to evoke respect rather than love.
Indeed, these gods do not particularly care for mortals so much as they take seriously the event they rule.
I imagine beings such as Bane and Eldath contesting as to who gets to determine the fate of the realms. Will this be a time of war or peace?
I can imagine Lathander overseeing each birth, taking the responsibility of beginnings seriously, not out of love, but from duty. He then bestows power based on adherence to that duty.
Do not come praying to these immortal masters believing they will favor you, for quite possibly all mortals are pawns on a chess board to fund the domain in which they rule.
For example, during this crisis of war, the sojourners encounter an obstacle while running low on supplies and ammunition.
Out of desperation, the monk Windrunner sets up a small shrine to Bane. Even though he does not “serve” this god normally, he is making a request for more ammo to destroy his enemies. Since this aligns with Bane’s domain, the god sends a messenger in the form of an arrow shooting a random sojourner. After dealing damage, the team notices a note from Bane divulging a stockpile of weapons within a nearby dungeon that will turn the tide of the war.
The Gods of Knowledge
Deities of knowledge, in my opinion, hold the most domains within the universe.
I categorize these by their domains of mortal experiences, such as wizardry, strategy, pain, beauty, courage, and justice.
Without much power and love for mortals, these gods roam the universe with mastery of their domain.
Asmodeus belongs here, for he knows all things of indulgence. From his palace in the Nine Hells, he gathers intel on the best way to provide enjoyment to its fullest extent.
Gond, who understands the matters of crafting and construction, boasts his insight, and his followers beg to learn secret ways of building their empires.
Milil, god of poetry and song, might share with a servant the most impressive love song and release it into the world for the sake of spreading knowledge.
Again, these deities are not motivated by their love for their creation, nor the will to rule the events of time, but rather, like springs of intelligence, they sprinkle information on those whom they deem fit.
For example, the sojourners gather with Bardock the bard as he insists they view a once-in-a-lifetime performance of Milil, god of song.
Anyone within 300 feet who can hear and see the god’s avatar perform receives the benefits of the Crusader’s Mantle spell for a one-time use. Or if Milil performed a stand-up routine, the sojourners can permanently learn the Vicious Mockery cantrip as they relay his brutal jokes to their enemies.
A Divine Way to Manage Your Gods
Adding interactions with deities provides rich storytelling opportunities.
Boons and banes from the gods can encourage players to seek such interactions, whether you gift players advantage, a bonus d4 to an ability check, or the benefits of a spell for a day.
However, every god needs limitations, because conflict makes a good story.
So to recap, some gods are powerful, some are loving, and some are knowledgeable, but none possess all three qualities.
If a god rules an event, they possess power.
If a god rules a creation, they possess love.
If a god rules an experience, they possess knowledge.
Go mortal. Do my work and I promise you favor. Cross my will and suffer the consequences.
And so, our story continues.