Welcome once again to the weekly Nerdarchy Newsletter. You can get the Nerdarchy Newsletter delivered to your inbox each week, along with updates and info on how to game with Nerdarchy, by signing up here. This week we delve into D&D gods.
One of the disappointing things about D&D gods or deities is how formulaic they tend to be. But they don’t have to be. We’ve been guilty of using those formulas ourselves. Instead of pantheons why not monotheistic religions? Perhaps in your world, there are several religions all worshipping the one true god. They could all be separate gods or the same god. That could be a whole campaign.
The One True God Campaign
Multiple religions all worshiping a different One True God. From region to region and kingdom to kingdom, all different religions. Kingdoms rise and fall by this. Wars are fought. In different lands the religion has more sway than others. Perhaps in some places many different religions exist side by side, locked in a quiet war. Almost like gang or crime wars. The big reveal for the campaign is there isn’t many D&D gods, but one. That god amuses themselves by pitting mortals against each other for their own amusement.
From Ted’s Head
When it comes to the D&D gods in any given world, you have to understand you are dealing with powers beyond mortal capability. At least in the games I play anyway. The most powerful creatures in the mortal world worship and draw power from deities and other powerful beings with the capability to bestow warlock pacts.
The level of power one has to have to do this has to be astronomical. Because of this I would take any concept of “let’s go kill the gods” out of any campaign unless it is the main focus of taking down one deity or powerful being. In my last game, the Curse of Gnar-Kee-Tis, the characters did a lot of work to take out a demon lord. A demon lord with enough power to grant warlock pacts, but I think even a lesser god is a magnitude in power above even demon lords. So because of the rule if you stat it, people will think it can be killed, I will not stat D&D gods. Not even going to entertain the thought.
What I will do is give you things you can do to help flesh out your D&D gods as we did many years ago when the campaign world of Ulthe’Ganya was where we always played our home games.
The deity portfolio is a helpful thing to have and while I do not have all 30 sheets we used to, I do have some. First up is the Name and Title. Giving something a name or names is a no-brainer but is there one deity worshiped by more than one culture under a different name. That adds some fun and complexity into your god structure. We did this in our world with our primary good deity. Titles give your players other names to call them during prayer and conversation. Balease our fey deity is known as Elf Mother, Fey Maiden, Great Forest Mother and even Green Lady. A deity can have as many titles as you see fit to give them. You can even come up with, or encourage the cleric characters worshiping them, to come up with stories as to why these names exist.
What things does the deity favor? Do they have a sacred animal or a favored weapon? In earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons these things meant more but even so they can mean something to the character who worships this god. What is their holy symbol and of what material is it usually made?
The biggest thing that can be done with your D&D gods is to know of their relationships with the other gods. Do they have parents or siblings? Do they have any offspring? The can be mortals, gods, demigods or monsters. Do the gods of your world consider any other gods as allies and stalwart companions? Are there any considered rivals or enemies? Again some can be easy to determine, such as why the god of life hates the god of undeath, but when it is not obvious is there lore or stories to go along with that add more to your world?
Next come the things that are most important for those who choose to follow this god or goddess. What are their Domains or areas of concern? Some Domains have not been made for fifth edition D&D but if you fill out the areas of concern you can then see which Domains most fit this deity. What are the duties of the worshiper? What other tasks must a priest or cleric do in addition to a common worshiper? Those who are direct conduits of the gods’ power must or should be willing to do more.
I know this is a lot to digest. It is also a lot of work for each deity in your world, but if you are playing in a homebrew setting and you want your world enriched I highly recommend at least considering these ideas to make your deities more real to your players and truly a part of your world.
From the Nerditor’s Desk
Choosing or creating a pantheon of gods for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting is a fun part of worldbuilding. Because both the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide have sections devoted to deities, there is built-in ground for collaboration between players and DMs to determine the entities shaping the multiverse.
Mechanically, deities really only relate to the Divine Domains of clerics, so even if you create an intricate cosmology and the divine supernatural beings at the center of it, cleric characters offer a great pathway for players to add to your pantheon. More than any other class, a cleric’s persona is intricately tied to a supernatural power. Yes, that includes warlocks. An Otherworldly Patron gives power to the warlock, sure, but for a cleric there’s an added responsibility to represent the deity (or value system) in the world.
Critical Role’s Mighty Nein campaign illustrates this wonderfully. Jester and Caduceus do more than cast cure wounds and hit stuff with a mace. Each character does their best to display the values of their deity, and even spread worship. Contrast this with the warlock in the party. Fjord doesn’t want anything to do with the source of his power, and in fact actively seeks counsel with Caduceus for solace and guidance.
If you are a playing a cleric, or running a campaign with cleric characters, it’s a great idea to think about how they practice their faith. Do they worship in a particular way, or at specific times? What are their morals? Do they seek to spread their faith through actions and words, like missionaries?
I tend not to get very hung up on the gods in my D&D games, same as my perspective in real life. Even when I devote time and energy to create a pantheon, it’s not much more than some names, what they’re gods of, an alignment and maybe some symbology. The gods themselves pretty much never interact with the game world or characters directly. It’s the people who revere them who embody (or distort) the values of the gods.
All that being said, there’s a handful of deities and divine concepts that always exist in my games. Maybe you’ll find a place for them in your worlds too.
My favorite of them all is the Dark Six. Straight out of Eberron, this collection of deities appeals to me. They’re sort of like a supervillain team-up or squad of antagonists from a Metal Gear game. Each member represents an aspect of the dark side of existence and none of them have names beyond cool sounding monikers like The Fury, The Mockery and my favorite, The Devourer. The symbol for the god of nature’s wrath is a bundle of five sharpened bones, something really easy to overlook. It’s fun for me to imagine agents of The Devourer leaving these talismans in their wake and going unnoticed by adventurers.
Deep Sashelas gets a place in the pantheon for having a cool sounding name, too. Listen up, D&D gods — if you want to shape my multiverse, a great name goes a long way! The world beneath the waves fascinates me, and a lot of my campaigns take place in coastal areas or islands, so this classic elven deity gets a lot of mileage.
In my current campaign, I looked to my own cultural heritage for inspiration. Slavic mythology is something I never knew anything about, and I discovered a tremendous wealth of myth, legends and supernatural entities there. D&D has always included lots of our own mythologies like Greek, Norse and Egyptian gods. Consider this a great opportunity to explore your own heritage and incorporate those elements into your pantheon.
Lastly, chapter 1 of the DMG discusses my No. 1 favorite kind of spiritual belief — animism. This is the idea that everything has a spirit. One of the best examples of this is the Hayao Miyazaki film Spirited Away. Give it a watch, and tell me an encounter with a “stink spirit” wouldn’t be super fun to play. The river running through the village, the leaves of the forest and the tasty pies cooling on the windowsill are all inhabited by spirits. In the Ingest Quest campaign on the Nerdarchy channel, one of the party’s major accomplishments was rescuing Umami, the goddess of good taste.
Try not to get too hung up on D&D gods and the pantheons in your world. Imagining the sorts of supernatural beings shaping your multiverse is a fun part of worldbuilding and a great way to collaborate between players and DMs. There are countless powerful beings out there, and just as many perspectives on how to interact with them.
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