The Gods and Their Worshipers

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How do you portray the gods and their worshipers in your campaign? While some gods have gotten coverage, we have comparatively little information about them on the whole and so we have to make things up. What have you made up? Here are some of mine.

Followers of Tiamat do not deny that their goddess quit the field in her first (and thus far only) battle with Bahamut. In fact, they celebrate it. They say that Tiamat awoke to the greater war before Bahamut did, and left their duel in order to fight a worthier battle. Servants of Bahamut call that story utter nonsense, but Bahamut has never commented on it at all. A majority of his worshipers feel that the story is so absurd that it doesn't even deserve a denial, which is why none has been given, but a small minority is troubled by it-- and they tend to be among those who are closest to their god.

Corellon was once numbered among the gods of good, but the Sundering changed him. He responded to Lolth's betrayal by hardening his heart. Sehanine is of two minds about this. While she approves of Corellon walking the Shadow Path, she feels that the new Corellon is inferior to the old one. His compassion has been lessened, and the pure joy he used to exude has been tainted with bitterness. To mortals, he seems like a formerly good man whom life has burnt out.

Torog is arguably the weakest of the gods, but for a reason. He put a small fraction of his own divine essence into every act of binding that the gods ever made. Each piece was only the barest sliver of his power, but they added up. He did not do so to save the world, but instead to have the chance to torture prisoners via the essence in their prisons. In return for his "sacrifice," he and his followers are allowed a surprising amount of leeway in their actions. Furthermore, the strain of keeping the prisons intact wears on him, requiring that the gods periodically grant him small portions of their power to bolster wards. While this fact is undeniable, it is widely rumoured that Torog has managed to wheedle far more power than he needs to patch himself up. Nobody has yet been able to prove this, but everyone who believes the rumour wonders just how Torog plans to use the excess power-- and when he plans to use it.

The followers of Lolth are in a constant state of civil war. Lolth's mortal followers are split between the drow and everyone else, who vie with each other for her favour. Both mortal factions vie with angels (who are the most loyal), demons (who fear her more than any other denizen of the Abyss), and yochlols (which are closest to Lolth's heart), each of which vie with each other. All factions vie with Lolth's Inner Court, which is comprised of Lolth's exarchs and her half-mortal offspring. Each factions attempt to use the others for their own ends; alliances shift frequently. This is in addition to the constant jockeying for position within a given faction. The chaos is infinitely pleasing to the Spider Queen.

Melora treats the entire world as her domain, and continuously walks it. She has many guises, and she is never alone. A select group of mortals accompanies her. Some of her companions last longer than others, but all are a cut above the average mortal. She selects them for reasons known only to her. They are of varying races, backgrounds, and alignments, but all have proven loyal thus far. The church keeps track of former companions, and surreptitiously provides aid when it is needed.
I generally portray the gods as distant and largely uninvolved, except for Lolth who is doing her best to get back on strong deific footing (we had a shake-up before 3e ended). She had her strongest priestesses rounded up before her fall from power and is moving in on the vampire realm. She owes the drow some payback, and one drow in particular whom she believed for all these generations was a devoted Lolth-fearing drow but pulled the ultimate betrayal that sent her tumbling. Gromph is aware the he is number one on her hit list.

Many followers only pay lip service to their god, acting more like what my husband and I call "hypochristians" (the guys with the Jesus fish plastered all over the backs of their minivans who try to cut you off when coming out of the church parking lot and then ride your rear bumper laying into the horn and flipping you off because you're daring to drive the speed limit, and when they finally zip around you, they try to clip your bumper). They may follow some basic tenets, just enough to not run afoul of their chosen god, and they go to temple, where many of them sleep. As soon as they need a deific favor, however, they're right in there lighting candles and offering devotions. Most Good and Unaligned gods tolerate this sort of thing, accepting the faults and foilbles of their mortal followers as part of their character.

The adventuring clerics are more like the truly faithful in the RW. They guide their lives and actions by the teachings of their gods, and the more fanataic of them at the very least invoke their gods or scriptures as often as they can. The extreme cases actively try to convert the party and others, which sometimes leads to clashes and minor encounters.
I usually assume that most of the population follows their specific god more closely than the others, but not exclusively. A soldier might worship a war god, but sacrifice to a sea god before a voyage or a fertility god at a christening. That sort of thing. Clerics, Avengers and such would be different of course.
Well if my campaign even has Gods they are usually portrayed:
  • Extremely distant beings, it is extremely analogous to distant stars. The Gods may be dead, they may never have existed and it is something else, etc. The prayers and miracles being sent back and forth are hardly ever received. Divine classes themselves must rely on "background faith" to gain power. They don't even know who they are getting their powers from.
  • Much weaker and closer. They walk the markets in secret, watch over the crops of a specific village, etc. They are also very paranoid, their power only exists because of their age and their knowledge of how to manipulate the verse. When not aware a simple knife in the back or poisoned drink could kill them. They usually hide their existence, their worshippers not knowing who these gods are.
  • Not Gods at all. They are instead aberrations, a God-Machine, etc.

Actual worshippers to the degree of Clerics, Paladins, etc. are extremely rare. Only a few if any actually know the truth about the Gods. Most simply are following their own beliefs and thinking that it is matching of their Gods, they may be getting their powers from a being that is extremely opposite of their beliefs.

Churches are small personal affairs, many are viewed as cults and do not have significant power except in extreme circumstances. Fanatics however are common, a glimpse of power of gods they latch onto.

A fair amount of people give some passing reference too them, though not actual belief. Such as giving a brief thought when gambling for instance.
Gods in my campaign are relatively distant, but by choice rather than through lack of power. Melora, for example might wish to eliminate a wretched hive of undead that is corrupting the wildlands but doing so directly would take up a lot of her power (leaving her temporarily weakened), and might provoke gods related to undeath and their allies. Thus, gods work mainly through intermediaries who they rarely directly contact-trusting in the traditions of their respective religions to keep the priests on the straight and narrow (or the wide and crooked as the case may be).

Additionally, Clerics, Avengers, Invokers, and Paladins in my campaign do not need to be of the same alignment of their deity (or unaligned). So you can very well have a Paladin of Bahamut who's evil, or a cleric of Asmodeus who's good. After all, one can certainly apply Machiavellian principles to better oneself and the world and the pursuit of justice can easily lead to cruelty and evil. What's more, the Gods themselves don't seem to begrudge the occasional cleric or paladin of a completely different alignment than they are.

Why? Firstly, the Gods feed on belief-it's what keeps them alive and what gives them the ability the invest the varied rituals of their clergy with power and few are so picky that they will turn down devotion from someone who believes wholeheartedly in them and acts to advance their purviews (even if they do it in an unorthodox way). Secondly, good gods see evil clerics of themselves as a project (Surely I can turn this wayward soul into a force for good) and evil gods see good clerics of themselves as patsies and good PR. It's comforting for a blackmailing, lying, back-stabbing cultist of Vecna to know that he doesn't have to fear being rooted out by the guard or by adventurers because Whisperer Orthos uses the miracles of the Maimed one to keep state secrets, and turn enemies against one another.

Furthermore, Gods in my campaign are far from beings of pure good or pure evil-and that's a product of how they survive. If a god decided only to accept the worship of truly GOOD individuals, then they'd have a pretty small pool of worshipers, and thus less power to achieve their goals (and it's pretty pointless to become a god of Good if you don't have enough power to promote it). Thus, Pelor has committed sins and even Torog has done things that might be deemed kind. This also makes for ready roleplaying fuel, because such events cause theological debate and schisms. And who doesn't enjoy a good religious schism?
In the current major campaign I run the Gods have a very active running in the world. Or, at least one did.

For the past thirty years Tiamat and her empire has had control of the entire Eastern Hemisphere. For the most part, religious freedom is granted, as long as its discreet, although Bahamut worship is considered sedition and punishable by execution. Most people worship what is called the "Imperial Pantheon," namely the diets that assisted Tiamat during the war. Tiamat heads it, flanked by Asmodeus, Vecna, Zehir, and Bane. Tiamat's Chief Exarch also acts as the head of state while.

The Gods act more like ascended mortals. They plot, scheme, maneuver, think, feel. They are essentially super-powerful people. Their vision and plans tend to be much farther reaching than that of mortal men, but they have a time to wait decades, or even centuries, for plots to come to fruition. They also avoid direct combat with one another, preferring conservative manipulation, warfare, and proxy battles. The only exception was during the War of Three decades, when both Tiamat and Bahamut manifested on the world and dueled to the "death."
I am a: Lawful Good Dragonborn Paladin
I think that Divine Power will have more fluff for all of the gods, but until then...

As you may remember, Wizards of the Coast released two 4th Edition preview books in 2007, each one only about one hundred pages long. Races and Classes had a section about halflings, and the fluff therein was pretty much identical to the final product. However, there was one small difference: the role of "god of the wilderness" was filled by the male Obad-Hai, and the halflings were created in a passionate but short-lived love affair between him and Sehanine.

Then, when the official 4E fluff started to surface and Obad-Hai was replaced by the goddess Melora... Well, you really can't blame me for thinking what I thought.

So yeah. In my D&D campaigns, Melora and Sehanine totally did it. It makes sense, when you think about it. Melora doesn't seem like she would be too choosy about her lovers, and Sehanine is... Well, Sehanine. Obviously, it could never have lasted. Melora's very nature is wild and unpredictable, and Sehanine hates being pinned down.

An entry in the MM2 provided this interesting bit of fluff: apparently, lycanthropes were created by Melora, and their weakness to silver (Sehanine's metal of choice) is due to a feud between the two gods. Perhaps their breakup left them feeling more than a little bitter towards each other?
Here's an idea I've thought of as a quirk for a future character.

Moradin, and his chosen people, the dwarves, are generally associated with the hammer, and sometimes the axe. While it is true, considering Moradin's position as the god of creation and especially of smithing, Moradin actually finds using the hammer as a weapon distasteful. The primary use of the hammer is and has always been that of a tool of peace, to shape stone, metal and wood. To use the hammer as a weapon perverts its purpose, and Moradite superstition holds that if a hammer is used as a weapon, anything it is used to make thereafter will be warped or twisted in some way. Because of this superstition, Moradites only use hammers as tools, using maces and other such things as weapons, because they are explicitly made to be weapons. The same prohibition extends to axes as well, which are just as useful tools. Those dwarves who use axes and hammers as weapons are considered misguided by the church, and whenever a true believer in Moradin sees a dwarf using such a weapon, they try to counsel them into using a weapon that is a weapon.
Here's an idea I've thought of as a quirk for a future character.

Moradin, and his chosen people, the dwarves, are generally associated with the hammer, and sometimes the axe. While it is true, considering Moradin's position as the god of creation and especially of smithing, Moradin actually finds using the hammer as a weapon distasteful. The primary use of the hammer is and has always been that of a tool of peace, to shape stone, metal and wood. To use the hammer as a weapon perverts its purpose, and Moradite superstition holds that if a hammer is used as a weapon, anything it is used to make thereafter will be warped or twisted in some way. Because of this superstition, Moradites only use hammers as tools, using maces and other such things as weapons, because they are explicitly made to be weapons. The same prohibition extends to axes as well, which are just as useful tools. Those dwarves who use axes and hammers as weapons are considered misguided by the church, and whenever a true believer in Moradin sees a dwarf using such a weapon, they try to counsel them into using a weapon that is a weapon.

I do not believe that I have ever seen a better example of turning a concept on its head. I applaud you, good sir.
Why thank you! Who says dwarves HAVE to use axes and hammers exclusively?
I do!

You overstep your boundaries, Zousha. And for that, we must gather. Slowly, at first, but soon, a numberless legion. Each will carry an axe, a hammer, or the more obscure HamAxe. We will unite, and come down upon you as a great torrent, an unstoppable wave of waist-high retribution. No kidney will be left un-punched, no stomach shall leave without an axe lodged in it, and no wicked walnut shall go uncracked by the ever-vigilant dwarven hammer.

Our beer-guts... will block out the sun.

And where the shade will form, you will find only axes. And hammers.
Then I shall ride to Zousha's defense with an army of drow who worship the Lady of Mysteries, the Weaver of the Web of Fate! They do not fear the sunlight as the Lolthites do! They fight with honor and courage, knowing that through death they will unite with the Lady and serve as ancestral guardians for their kinfolk who yet live! Use the right tool for the job, bounder! And my sword is specifically designed to skewer your people! Have at you!
Oh dear, what have I started? :P

Back on track, I'm pondering the relationship between the churches of Pelor and Erathis, given the recent revelations in Manual of the Planes and in Dragon's article on Hestavar about Pelor and Erathis sharing a citadel and sitting next to each other like husband and wife.
Then I shall ride to Zousha's defense with an army of drow who worship the Lady of Mysteries, the Weaver of the Web of Fate! They do not fear the sunlight as the Lolthites do! They fight with honor and courage, knowing that through death they will unite with the Lady and serve as ancestral guardians for their kinfolk who yet live! Use the right tool for the job, bounder! And my sword is specifically designed to skewer your people! Have at you!

Incidentally, in the 4th Edition pantheon Sehanine is pretty much the ideal god for non-evil drow. I like the idea of small surface-dwelling communities that fled the Underdark to escape persecution.
Here's an idea I've thought of as a quirk for a future character.

Moradin, and his chosen people, the dwarves, are generally associated with the hammer, and sometimes the axe. While it is true, considering Moradin's position as the god of creation and especially of smithing, Moradin actually finds using the hammer as a weapon distasteful. The primary use of the hammer is and has always been that of a tool of peace, to shape stone, metal and wood. To use the hammer as a weapon perverts its purpose, and Moradite superstition holds that if a hammer is used as a weapon, anything it is used to make thereafter will be warped or twisted in some way. Because of this superstition, Moradites only use hammers as tools, using maces and other such things as weapons, because they are explicitly made to be weapons. The same prohibition extends to axes as well, which are just as useful tools. Those dwarves who use axes and hammers as weapons are considered misguided by the church, and whenever a true believer in Moradin sees a dwarf using such a weapon, they try to counsel them into using a weapon that is a weapon.

In your campaigns, do the duergar purposefully use their tools for evil deeds in order to make sure all their creations are standing testaments to their past deeds?
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
4enclave, a place where 4e fans can talk 4e in peace.
Incidentally, in the 4th Edition pantheon Sehanine is pretty much the ideal god for non-evil drow. I like the idea of small surface-dwelling communities that fled the Underdark to escape persecution.

I had thought about that, but I borrowed the Lady of Mysteries from a third party publication. She was described as "The Spider Queen's mother" (probably because of copyrights they couldn't say "Lolth"), and I've run with that bit of lore. Saddened at what her daughter did to the dark elves, she hopes to redeem them and restore them to their rightful place on the surface. In my game, it's a very small group, so my army would probably be less than 700 strong!
In your campaigns, do the duergar purposefully use their tools for evil deeds in order to make sure all their creations are standing testaments to their past deeds?

Hmm! That's a good idea! I think I'll use that in the campaign. Thank you!
I was thinking about the necessity of evil deities, such as Torog, Ive decided that that in any society where bahamut, the god of justice, would be worshiped mainly, the god of jails would at least be respected, because the two would interact a lot in their given domains, and any prison establishment that failed to appease the king that crawls would suffer rusty bars, sleepy guards, faulty walls and anything else that would help prison escapes.
That's a very interesting idea Crytix, and I think I'll use it in my campaign-seeing a small shrine to Torog in the jail of an outwardly civilized and "good" city will likely shake my players (and their characters) up a bit.

Likewise, I think that shrines to Tiamat might very well be located near banks, as she is the Goddess of greed and treasure.
The Gods act more like ascended mortals. They plot, scheme, maneuver, think, feel. They are essentially super-powerful people. Their vision and plans tend to be much farther reaching than that of mortal men, but they have a time to wait decades, or even centuries, for plots to come to fruition.

Honestly, this is how I played my last(home brew) campaign. Like the ancient Greeks, people were worshiping out of paranoia of the wrath of their gods; high impiety. It just so happened that, like the distant stars...there were far more powerful and distant gods (represented by the constellations) who were planning a "comeback". Thus my players were strewn into the middle of what was essentially the second titanomachy (every culture had something like it, Greeks had titans, Norse had giants, Saxon/Celts had the formorians...etc.) It turned out to be a campaign they all enjoyed, and I did borrow some lore from the WoTC gods for my home brew deities.
Likewise, I think that shrines to Tiamat might very well be located near banks, as she is the Goddess of greed and treasure.

She also heavily encourages beating the crap out of anyone who steals your treasure. Man, imagine a bank guarded by dragons.

Oh wait, Rowling already did that.

Imagine a bank managed by dragons!
She also heavily encourages beating the crap out of anyone who steals your treasure. Man, imagine a bank guarded by dragons.

Oh wait, Rowling already did that.

Imagine a bank managed by dragons!

"sir, due to excess spending your balance is now at FIRE!"

or a bank run by sphinxes
"what is green, covered in boils, and roars a lot?"
"...a troll?"
"no, yo mama!, no transaction for you!"
"well kids, it looks like I won't be able to buy ice cream"
Here's an idea I've thought of as a quirk for a future character.

Moradin, and his chosen people, the dwarves, are generally associated with the hammer, and sometimes the axe. While it is true, considering Moradin's position as the god of creation and especially of smithing, Moradin actually finds using the hammer as a weapon distasteful. The primary use of the hammer is and has always been that of a tool of peace, to shape stone, metal and wood. To use the hammer as a weapon perverts its purpose, and Moradite superstition holds that if a hammer is used as a weapon, anything it is used to make thereafter will be warped or twisted in some way. Because of this superstition, Moradites only use hammers as tools, using maces and other such things as weapons, because they are explicitly made to be weapons. The same prohibition extends to axes as well, which are just as useful tools. Those dwarves who use axes and hammers as weapons are considered misguided by the church, and whenever a true believer in Moradin sees a dwarf using such a weapon, they try to counsel them into using a weapon that is a weapon.

It's a cool idea in concept, but you'll have to change some crunch to make it work. Dwarves are just built to use axes and hammers, and if you take that away, you make their already awkward position (designed to be defenders, but lacking a bonus to any of the defenders' primary stats) even worse. A dwarf fighter, paladin, or cleric who can't use axes or hammers is going to be at a significant disadvantage.
Really? But they do have bonuses to the backup stats for said classes. Their CON gives them a lot of health, which is important for any defender, and their high WIS means they can do well as paladins, right?
or a bank run by sphinxes
"what is green, covered in boils, and roars a lot?"
"...a troll?"
"no, yo mama!, no transaction for you!"
"well kids, it looks like I won't be able to buy ice cream"

Cue the crying, and we've got ourselves a show.
I'm a bit curious about something. I've always pondered the Justiciar and Champion of Order paragon paths for the paladin. Those paths seem to embody particular concepts, namely order and justice, which seem to be Bahamut's purview, and yet they are available to paladins of all faiths.

What I'm wondering is how these types of characters function in their respective faiths. How does the definition of justice differ between Pelor and Avandra for example? What does a Champion of Order who worships Corellon believe that is different from a Champion of Order for Erathis? It seems the concepts these paths are built on are universal, so how does each god interpret them for their paladins?
Well the easiest most broad answer would be justice and order enforced using the God's views. It may not seem just to slaughter the family of a robber but if the faith states it as such then in the eyes of the Paladin that is a just mean of enforcing order.

Which is what makes it so broad, justice and order can be viewed in such different ways by different people and thus also gods. One may view working in the mines to pay off a minor debt as just and creates order through heavy enforcement. Some may view it as a proper means to maintain order that money can be used to pay off any crime, etc.

Punishment I think is one means of really showing distinction. Some may forced to become gladiators for a god of war, another serve the Raven Queen in the Shadowfell, another become a living statue for artist to use as a muse, etc.
It's a cool idea in concept, but you'll have to change some crunch to make it work. Dwarves are just built to use axes and hammers, and if you take that away, you make their already awkward position (designed to be defenders, but lacking a bonus to any of the defenders' primary stats) even worse. A dwarf fighter, paladin, or cleric who can't use axes or hammers is going to be at a significant disadvantage.

I think the character would only be at a disadvantage if the rest of his group were serious power gamers. In 4e, there are no completely unusable ideas for a character, and taking away the axes and hammers of a dwarf hurts them mechanically, but doesn't make them completely useless. Also, I think you underestimate the ability of dwarves to make top notch defenders, by overestimating the power of strength. Second wind as a minor action is simply amazing for a defender, and easily makes up for the lack of strength.

Besides, Zousha sounds like he comes from a playgroup that is interested enough by fluff to change a little crunch for it now and again.
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
Knights of W.T.F.- Silver Spur Winner
4enclave, a place where 4e fans can talk 4e in peace.
I could very easily see a Champion of Order that worships Corelleon as seeing the natural order of the world as beauty and harmony; in essence that life imitates art (or at least is intended to) and not the other way around.

Whereas the "order" of someone like a champion of Gruumush would be far more brutal, where his champion seeks to exalt the strong (with himself or herself as the strongest, obviously) and throw down the weak.
Here's an idea I've thought of as a quirk for a future character.

Moradin, and his chosen people, the dwarves, are generally associated with the hammer, and sometimes the axe. While it is true, considering Moradin's position as the god of creation and especially of smithing, Moradin actually finds using the hammer as a weapon distasteful. The primary use of the hammer is and has always been that of a tool of peace, to shape stone, metal and wood. To use the hammer as a weapon perverts its purpose, and Moradite superstition holds that if a hammer is used as a weapon, anything it is used to make thereafter will be warped or twisted in some way. Because of this superstition, Moradites only use hammers as tools, using maces and other such things as weapons, because they are explicitly made to be weapons. The same prohibition extends to axes as well, which are just as useful tools. Those dwarves who use axes and hammers as weapons are considered misguided by the church, and whenever a true believer in Moradin sees a dwarf using such a weapon, they try to counsel them into using a weapon that is a weapon.

My dwarves actually have a somewhat similar if tangenital logic to their weapon use. They too recognise the hammer and the axe as tools primarily, and also consider war an unfortunate necessity. Thus, they wield axes and hammers (and on occassion picks) because it is believed that doing so will ensure they have a constant reminder in front of them as to what they are fighting for and ultimately what they have to return to. It's a tradition to carve the names of your family and loved ones on the weapon for the same reason, and the act of doing so for a friend is considered one of the greatest honours in dwarven soceity.

On the flipside, dwarves who wield swords and others weapons of war are practically pariahs. They're seen as psychopaths who live for killing. Some clanholds have "death cults" where dwarves are trained in certain weapons, but initiation involves them saying farewell to their family and going through a ceremony likened to a funeral.

This series of beliefs is also why dwarves distrust elves and eladrin. After all, their favourite weapons are swords and bows; devices of death. The dwarves don't distrust elves for their superiority complexes or aloofness. The dwarves think they're a race of raving madmen.
Besides, Zousha sounds like he comes from a playgroup that is interested enough by fluff to change a little crunch for it now and again.

Actually, I run the playgroup. I'm their DM.