Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DnD: A Monotheistic Approach to the DnD Pantheon

Back in the 80's, conservative Christian kids all over the US (myself included) were being taught why DnD was evil and should be avoided at all costs. The reason mainly centered around players using magic and interaction with demons, devils and (possibly worst of all) a bunch of pagan gods.

Fast forward to today and, thankfully, most of us have a mature understanding of the game and can distinguish between fantasy and reality. However, an undercurrent of unease towards DnD still exists, especially among those who have never really had any interest in or exposure to fantasy works. The popular Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies - prominent fantasy works by Christian authors - certainly helped to bridge that gap, but the doubt and stigma remain to varying degrees.

When I decided I wanted to run a game of DnD, I wanted to include those people close to me - people who knew I was a fantasy/sci-fi geek (albeit a somewhat closeted one), but hung out with me anyway - people I also happen to share a faith with. As I tried to guide them through the character creation process, there was a definite interest in playing Divine characters - protecting the weak and healing the sick being noble callings - but also an understated anxiety at having to choose only one deity out of many to follow.

To make things easier, I created the following bit of fluff around which the theology of our campaign world would be built (It should be noted that this was written well before PHB2 and the release of the newer divine classes):

God, the D&D Pantheon and the Divine Classes

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. When He had finished creating, God decided to rest – but before he rested, He created 20 powerful servants to oversee His new creation and the proliferation of Man, his most cherished creation.

Before long, as mankind spread across the face of the Earth, his memories of God faded and he began to venerate the mighty servants of the Most High as gods. The 20, recognizing their God-given power and might over creation, allowed the worship to take place. Eventually, they come to think of themselves as the gods that the simple mortals who now swarmed across the surface of the Earth believed they were.

Of the 20, nearly half of them became harsh and unforgiving tyrants. Over time, those who followed them became as twisted physically as their master’s now-dark and scheming desires. Others remained distant and aloof, occasionally taking an interest in mortal affairs, but finding them, for the most part, pointless and irrelevant. But a few tried to remain true to the purpose and intent for which they were created, despite not quite remembering why it was they held those convictions in the first place.

Then, without warning, God spoke.

The 20 were called together. They were reminded of their creator and the purpose of their existence. They were given a chance to repent of their arrogance and for accepting worship they themselves were not worthy of. Four of the 20 repented immediately and swore fealty to their creator. Nine of the 20 stormed from the Golden Throne in anger, unwilling to humble themselves to a God who had, in their opinion, abandoned the world He had given to them. The remaining seven went their separate ways, undecided on how they should respond or what their course of action would be.

War erupted in heaven. The self-proclaimed gods, seeking to depose the creator they thought weak and distant found themselves cast out of heaven’s radiance and into the darkness. But even in this forsaken place, the fallen gods refused to admit defeat. They used what power and influence still left to them to take their war to the mortal plane – drawing all creation into their futile rebellion. Darkness spread through all the races that now populated the world, and monstrosities of every imaginable description were loosed upon the Earth.

It was at this point that God did something unheard of in the history of creation – to those among His followers who were faithful and pure of heart, He gifted a portion of His own Spirit.

These frail mortals now had within them the ability to stand against the darkness and bring hope to their fellow man - The newly empowered children of God taking up arms and placing themselves squarely between the darkness and a world that, in many instances, was still unsure of itself in the ongoing war of powers it could barely comprehend.

Early on, two distinct groups of light warriors emerged in the wake of God’s gifting of His Spirit: The clerics, who focused on healing and undoing the harm wrought by the fell powers upon the world; and the Paladins, who fought to prevent any further destruction or corruption by the forces of darkness and evil from occurring.


In terms of gameplay, this meant that all good-aligned gods now fell under the banner of 'God' - players with Channel Divinity can choose any divine feat as long as it was from a good-aligned god. Since Channel Divinity can only ever be used once per encounter, I didn't think this would cause problems. (In practice, it would seem that the non-class related Channel Divinity feats aren't that great anyway - IMHO).

Also, it streamlines things now that all good divine characters can go to a single temple when they visit a city, rather than having to travel between multiple locations.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, back in 1977 about the time I switched my campaign from DnD to Chivalry and Sorcery, I also came to the conclusion that the polytheism I found in most fantasy settings was, to be honest, silly. TSRs "Gods and Demigods" supplement had pretty much reinforced that opinion. Being an atheist at the time, I actually turned to the Bible trying to come up with an idea for a monotheistic setting that would work (basically set around the good vs evil motiff).
    I also came up with a idea similar yours, the the leader of the rebellion wasn't a god or a divine being, but one of the created races. I even included an "incarnation" of my primary god into the world.

    Game ran for about 10 years with two different groups of players. Funny thing is I had more problems with non-religious gamers than the religious ones, and I'd thought they'd be the offended ones being I borrowed so much from their religious belief system.

    In my campaign there is a church modeled on the Middle Ages Catholic Church, another republic with one more along the lines of the Protestant one, and of course the "evil" religion which technically isn't, but is devoted to freeing their "god" from imprisonment to lead the next rebellion.

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