Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Religion in D&D

So I opened the can of worms a few weeks ago, when I said that I am annoyed by how most parties treat religion in their games.

My friend, Wade, in a comment on my post of a few weeks ago included this nugget:
I think that most players and DMs are uncomfortable with religion to begin with; and they don't know how individuals and societies to whom the gods are real and present "do religion"on a daily basis. But ultimately unless the DM makes it a strong element in the game, there's very little reason to bother with it.
And it's true from top to bottom. Players are uneasy with religion, and if your DM ignores religion, then there's no reason for the PC's to mess with it. Since DM's are uneasy, they ignore it.

This post will just barely scratch the tip of the iceberg, too. I have a hunch that a more dedicated blogger could maintain a weekly blog for several years discussing nothing more than religion and gaming.

The first annoyance for me about how people handle religion in their game is this: Worship your god, but don't forget about the rest of the pantheon.

Roughly fifteen years ago, I purchased the Age of Heroes Campaign Sourcebook. I can date my acquisition pretty accurately, as the green cover has the old square TSR logo, but the title page has the newer round TSR logo. The green historical sourcebooks were all over the map in terms of quality and usability, but there was a paragraph in here that caught my interest.  At the bottom of the second column of Page 33, it reads:
Regardless of their specialty school or kit, all wizards owe their magic to the evil goddess Hecate. She is the source of all mortal magic in the Greek setting. All wizards must acknowledge this and make the proper sacrifices to her or lose their powers. Wizards need not be of evil alignment to do this. It shows respect to revere the gods, regardless of alignment differences.
There are a few other references throughout the book regarding proper reverence for the gods.

A PC who just writes down "Demeter" as his patron deity and then forgets to sacrifice to Poseidon before a sea voyage is a fool. A PC who fails to sacrifice to Hermes before a land voyage (and Zeus and Hera after the voyage) is likewise being foolish.  PC's don't worship specific gods - they worship the pantheon. A priest of Zeus will still sacrifice to other gods at the appropriate times.

And The Odyssey reminds us not to anger any of the gods - Athena was Odysseus' patron, and he angered Poseidon which led to his extremely long voyage home. Poseidon wasn't the only god he angered in his voyages, either - he ate Helios' cattle, for example.

All of this brings up an advantage to using "historical" gods over the made-up ones that Wizards has provided to us - we don't know the mythology of the setting. I can mention Persephone to our gaming group, and people will remember Hades and Demeter and pomegranates. I can do this for a number of other cultures, too, and get a lot of gamer reactions.

How many myths of the Raven Queen do you know? Have you heard any legends of Pelor? Do you sacrifice to Bahamut, or does he just accept your adulation? What happens if a worshiper of Ioun marries a worshiper of Kord?

There are hints dropped here and there - this article references the Raven Queen's predecessor (Nerull), so someone at Wizards has some myths and legends sitting around. I'd love to see some of these - even if it's just as a series of articles in Dragon.

I'd love to read the tale of how Sehanine stole the moon from Pelor. Or how Avandra set the seasons in motion by tricking Corellon and Nerull into setting aside their differences. Or any number of possible myths.

This is one of the reasons I really liked Book of the Righteous more than just about anyone else (it's also available in PDF). It provided a complete pantheon and the myths to go with them. The only difficulty was in convincing your players to read them - but if you make religion a living part of your game, your players (even the non-Divine class ones) will be interested. Of course, it'll need some tweaking to fit into a 4E game ...

Does this view of religion still apply to 3E and 4E games? Absolutely. Just because the rules have changed doesn't make the gods any less real in the games. So even though my Paladin of the Raven Queen has to share a party with a Cleric of Pelor, we aren't likely to argue about religion. We may disagree about the best way to handle a given situation, but I won't insult Pelor and he won't insult the Raven Queen - after all, both of our gods hang out together in the setting equivalent of Olympus.

It makes me want to see how far I can get in creating rituals - the non-magical ones - for the various deities. Can you imagine what a cleric of Sehanine would be like at a funeral? Or how a cleric of the Raven Queen would handle a wedding?

Maybe I should write some myths up and see if I can get them into Dragon.


  1. Jason J.6:29 AM

    Well you could always run your own game where religion does matter and give the players a packet so they have a heads up.

  2. It's true - I could. I have also considered putting together some myths and/or non-magical ceremonies (Weddings, funerals, etc) and seeing if I could get Dragon interested in publishing them.

  3. Jason J.6:38 AM

    Another way to view DM's uneasiness is their lack of knowledge of the D&D gods (this would be me for example).

  4. I think that giving us some of the mythology would help immensely. The occasional articles in Dragon have been helpful, but they're still incomplete without stories - does Pelor have a sense of humor? Who created Man? Who crafted the Goblins and why? And why doesn't my phone have the ability to add html code?

    I think I will try to put some of this together in my vast spare time. Look for it to be complete in late 2037. :)

  5. Who created Man? Who crafted the Goblins and why?

    Easy, the Arch-Mage (he also made Mekanorks). Now can we get back to Dungeon Twister. :)

    Just teasing -- nice article on religion.

  6. Just today I discovered two really good posts by ChicagoWiz that describe how he makes sure his religious characters (clerics and paladins) pay more than lip service to their religions:

    Followup on "Revisiting Alignment"

    Making clerics relevant