"Don't you see? Don't you UNDERSTAND? The gods are dead! DEAD! The HARVESTER came for them! And soon he will come for ALL of us!"
- Ephram Manguil, former priest of Jorunnos and now an inmate of the Dartmouth Asylum for the Insane

The precise nature of gods is a controversial topic among the scholars of the Known Lands. The most common definition of a "god" is "a powerful extraplanar entity or force which is able to grant spellcasting abilities to its worshipers", though even this definition is often contended. What is known, however, is that gods can change over time, and perhaps turn into something different entirely.

The Creation of a God

Most of the more secular scholars believe that the majority of the known gods haven't been around since the beginning of time. While several religions claims that their deity had a hand in the creation of the world, or even the universe, these tales are often mutually contradictory and thus dismissed out of hand by anyone who is not a follower of these religions. Besides, ever since the exploration and settlement of other planets started in earnest, belief that Rothea is somehow an unique creation by sapient beings has waned considerably.

It is apparently possible for mortals to turn into deities, though the precise process on how a deity springs into existence is unknown, which is perhaps fortunate - or else everyone would try to do it. Several religions that acknowledge that their deity was one a mortal have apocryphal stories of an entity called the "Guardian of the Threshold". Allegedly, it is possible to summon this entity and then engage it in some sort of battle (sometimes physical, sometimes a struggle of will, and sometimes a battle of wits, depending on the story). If the challenger wins, he is elevated to godhood. If he loses, he is utterly annihilated. Other religions tell of massive magical rituals, legendary deeds, or sponsorship by an existing deity that allowed their patron to become a god, but for obvious reasons it is hard to separate truth from fiction here.

Entities that already have a strong connection to the astral or other planes, such as ghosts and Fair Folk, seem to have an "easier" time of it - some stories seem to imply that all they have to do is gather a large number of worshipers. But like the other tales, these are hard to verify for obvious reasons, and most scholars speculate that there must be something more to the process.

Lesser Gods

In general, scholars classify those gods as "lesser gods" who haven't been a god for a long time yet (generally, not much more than a millennium, though this time span can vary considerably), or those who don't have a large number of worshipers, or both. These gods also share a number of other characteristics. They usually have a realm in Astral Space, a small, independent plane that can be visited by travelers with the plane shift spell and similar powers (though whether or not such travelers are welcome in these realms depends on both the deity and the visitor…), and where the souls of the worshipers reside after their deaths. They also have a discernible personality and agenda for the material plane; they send visions, portents, and even avatars to the material plane when necessary (though the last one is rarely done, as it seems to cost them a lot of power), and rites, rituals, and the names they choose to identify with are usually (though not always) consistent from region to region.

Lesser Gods are usually also fairly picky about the ethical stance of their clerics (in game terms, this means that such clerics must usually adhere to the standard alignment restrictions). Curiously, faith in the religion does not always seem to be a requirement for becoming a cleric of a Lesser God - there are several well-documented cases where the clerics cynically see their supernatural powers as nothing more than a way to gain more power, and their patron deity nevertheless chose grant them spells in exchange for certain regular services in the world of mortals.

Many Lesser Gods seem to be obsessed with gaining more power, which usually seems to involve getting more worshipers. It is also noteworthy that the designs of many temples have subtle similarities to the mystical architecture of nexus towers… However, not all Lesser Gods are inclined this way - for example, Ouneiros, the God-King of the city-state of Ouneirotur, seems to have been content with the status of "Lesser God" for the last several millenniums, and apparently has no desire to expand worship of him to other cities.

The following entities are generally regarded as Lesser Gods, though their precise status is still often debated (especially in the case of the Horned Man, Shadow Prince, Shaprat, and the Silver Lady).

Greater Gods

At some point, Lesser Gods change into something else, and grow more distant from the mortal world - this seems to happen when they reach a certain level of power and gain a very large number of worshipers, though the exact mechanics for this are, again, unclear. This has several implications:

First, the god's realm vanishes from the Astral Plane and becomes inaccessible to the living. The spirits of the dead still presumably go somewhere - and resurrection rituals can still bring them back under the usual conditions - but no one knows how to actually reach these places without dying (and those who are brought back do not remember their stay there).

Second, the god does not seem to pursue an active agenda in the material world anymore. No visions or avatars appear, unless actively summoned by ritual magic. And the visions summoned tend to reflect the ritualist's own prejudices and beliefs - there are documented cases when several commune spells cast by priests of the same faith produce different results, with each cleric proclaiming that the spell confirms his beliefs about religious doctrines (this of course assumes that the clerics' statements regarding the results of the spells can be trusted…)

Over time, the faiths of Greater Gods display divergent tendencies, as disputes over doctrine and regional variations create different interpretations of the faith without the active management of the deity. In fact, even the common name of the god seems to undergo linguistic drift over time, and in different regions, the same deity may in fact be worshiped under completely different names (though it is often hard to tell whether these are just different names, or entirely different deities, the common use of certain spells provides some hints for scholars of theological matters…)!

Third, just about anyone can become a cleric of any Greater God, regardless of personal ethics. All that is required is a true and deep faith into the god and its commandments - or at least, the cleric's personal interpretation of these commandments, which can vary a lot from person to person.

There are many different theories about just what happens when a Lesser God turns into a Greater God. Some of the most popular are:

  • Divine Apotheosis: The god ceases to be an entity with a personality understandable by mortals, and becomes a true cosmic force. The god now has less attention to spare on mortal matters, and stops paying attention to the day-to-day affairs of its worshipers (while it is presumably busy fighting a cosmic war somewhere…), and thus spells like commune only receive the minimum required attention from the deity, with most of the information coming from the cleric's subconscious.
  • Divine bureaucracy: The deity is busy with ordering the cosmos, so instead of answering the questions of its followers personally, it has appointed numerous celestial servants to deal with these matters. This theory is popular within the faith of Thenos, as that faiths has numerous saints who allegedly serve as intermediaries between the faithful and the deity.
  • Undead Gods: This theory, which is very unpopular with the followers of most religions, hold that deities only have a limited lifespan - after they absorb too much power, they die! What answers the clerics' prayers is not actually the living deity, but its unliving mockery. Just as skeletons, zombies, and other non-sapient undead can go through some of the motions of living people without actually being living and thinking creatures, so these "undead gods" can go through the motions of granting spells and powers without any conscious thought behind them. In effect, they have become nothing more than mindless conduits for divine power.
  • Divine Imposter: The most disturbing theory of all is that the gods have died - but not of anything resembling "natural causes". Instead, they have been slain by some powerful and alien entity which now steals the faith from that religion's worshipers, just as a nexus tower leeches life force from all who live nearby. It keeps granting spells to the clerics merely to keep the illusion going that the god is still alive, but it lacks the sophistication (or maybe the patience) to act as if the god was still fully active. Among proponents of this theory, there is considerable discussion about the true nature of this entity. The most likely suspect for this "Slayer of Gods" is the Guardian of the Threshold, though some only consider him to be a servant of a greater evil still… A variant of this theory claims that these gods aren't dead - but "merely" have been taken prisoner (which is still a very frightening concept) - supposedly, the "godnapper" keeps them locked up so that he can leach away their powers, just as some vampires keep a "larder" of humans to ensue a steady supply of blood. Perhaps it would be possible to free the gods and return them to their former state, though again this merely remains an unproven hypothesis.

The following entities are generally regarded as Greater Gods:

See Also

Adventure Ideas

Designer's Notes & Resources

The Age of Industrialism was a time where everything was questioned - including religion. Yet in most D&D settings, the deities are unquestionably real. I created the mystery of the Greater Gods to create some ambiguity.


Add a New Comment
Urbis - A World of Cities © Jürgen Hubert. All material on this site excepting forum posts is owned by him.