Running Deities in the roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons

The sojourners arrive at the monolith after harrowing travel through the wilds. Upon their arrival, a bright light shines from the stone and they hear a booming voice greet them, “you have sojourned far to find me, now that you are here, what do you want?” They have finally reached the lost shrine of Torm, the god of courage.

How do you imagine deities working within Dungeons and Dragons? My style of running the game always involves telling a story. But even then, I want to benefit the players with boons and banes every time they choose to interact with these immortal beings.

I begin with an introduction to review the story so far. This involves about 3 minutes of me narrating what has happened in relevance to the sojourners. By the way, I call my player characters “sojourners” to remind us all that we are sojourning through life.

After the introduction is read, I inform them of the setting and ask them “how they are preparing for the adventure today?” You’ll see that right out of the gate, I’m having the sojourners describe themselves interacting with the world. And from there, I drop the incident, which is a simple action that kicks off the adventure and prompts them to act. We go around and around until a nice story has been told!

The world of Dungeons and Dragons has many deities who manage domains of the universe. I could get into all of the lore, but to be honest, I don’t know much of it. Instead, I think of how it makes sense to me for these immortal beings to interact with the universe. But the recurring question I have is how and why would they intervene in the affairs of mortals? In short, they are non player characters in my story and I need a motivation and a means for their actions.

To keep things simple, I use the pantheon list from the 5th ed. Player’s Handbook. The way I imagine everything working out is that some gods are all powerful, some all knowing, and some all loving, but not one god holds all three responsibilities!

They have clear limitations, otherwise, I feel they would overpower the story. Their motivation and means of action stems from one of those three responsibilities they possess, either power, love or knowledge.  Now I just have to divide them into appropriate groups. 

To start, I set up a division between power, love and knowledge. Then I determine that those with power oversee historical events, those with love rule over natural creation and those with knowledge govern mortal experiences. I align the domains within the PHB into each of those three categories. The formula is simple. If the god rules an event, they possess power. If they rule a part of creation, they possess love, and if they rule a mortal experience, they possess knowledge. For example, I think war is an event, therefore the god ruling over war is all powerful. Storms are part of the natural order, therefore the god who rules this domain is all loving. Finally, mortal experiences (love, divination, loss) are assigned to gods who are all knowing. In my mind, this is where technology breakthroughs occur, whether it’s the hit song, or the cure for a disease, or a 10th level spell, these gods show up and deliver knowledge.

First, let’s talk about the all loving gods. Deities of the natural world such as Meiliki of the forests, Moradin of creation, and Selune of the moon are gods who demonstrate love and care for their creation. Their motivation originates from their love for what they have made and how they care for it. Of course, goddesses like Auril, the evil one of winter, manages to fit in this “all loving” category and in truth, she loves winter, but severely crosses anyone who opposes her. In truth, Meiliki would do the same if some powerful warlord burned down an entire forest to cause calamity. Then we might see the passionate love of Meiliki as she avenges! Either way, these gods, though they love and care, do not possess much power or knowledge. Asking them for favors will only go so far in your request, but you can trust their motivations always stem from their beloved creation.

Example: Garindan is a young dwarf with much ambition. Although he lived in civilization all his life, he later committed himself to Moradin. Every time my player indicates Garindan cares for natural creation for a dwarven community, I allow him to gain advantage on one spell attack that day. This affects the world around the players and still, allows for mechanical bonuses in game. 

Secondly, the deities who oversee events and time possess power. This includes war and peace, birth and death. They rule their domain with abilities that frighten mortals, causing them to evoke respect rather than love. Indeed, these gods do not particularly care for mortals so much as they take seriously the event they rule. I can imagine beings such as Bane and Eldath contesting as to who gets to determine the fate of the realms. Will this be a time of war or peace? I can imagine Lathander overseeing each birth, taking the responsibility of beginnings seriously, not out of love, but duty. He then bestows power based on adherence to that duty. Do not come praying to these immortal masters believing they will favor you, for quite possibly all mortals are pawns on a chess board in order to fund the domain in which they rule.

Example: During this crisis of war, the sojourners encounter an obstacle with running low on supplies in ammunition. Out of desperation, the monk, Windrunner, sets up a small shrine to Bane. Even though he does not “serve” this god normally, he is making a request for more ammo to destroy his enemies. Since this aligns with Bane’s domain, the god sends a messenger in the form of an arrow shooting a random sojourner. After dealing damage, the team notices a note from Bane divulging a stockpile of weapons within a nearby dungeon that will turn the tide of the war.

Finally, deities of knowledge, in my opinion, hold the most domains within the universe. I categorize these by their domains of mortal experiences such as wizardry, strategy, and pain, other examples include beauty, courage, and justice. These gods, though without much power and love for mortals, roam the universe with mastery of their domain. Asmodeus belongs here, for he knows all things of indulgence and from his palace in the Nine Hells, he gathers intel on the best way to provide enjoyment to its fullest extent. Gond, who understands the matters of crafting and construction boasts his insight and his followers beg to learn of the secret ways to build their empires. Milil, the god of poetry and song, might share with a servant the most impressive love song and release it into the world for the sake of spreading knowledge. Again, these deities are not motivated by their love for their creation, nor the will to rule the events of time, but rather, like springs of intelligence, they sprinkle information on those whom they deem fit.

Example: The sojourners gather with Bardock, the bard as he insists they view a once in a lifetime performance of Milil, god of song. The god performs and anyone within 300 feet that can hear and see the god’s avatar perform receives the benefits of the Crusader’s Mantle spell for a one time use. Or if Milil performed a stand up routine, the sojourners can permanently learn the Vicious Mockery cantrip as they relay his brutal jokes to their enemies!

All in all, adding interactions with deities in game can provide rich storytelling, and adding boons and banes can encourage the players to encounter gods themselves. Whether you bonus the players by giving advantage, adding a d4 to an ability check, or the benefits of a spell for a day, you encourage the interaction with a deity besides simply telling a good story. However, every god needs limitations because conflict makes a good story. So to recap, some gods are powerful, some are loving, and some are knowledgeable, but none possess three qualities and they, for the most part, stay in their lane of their ruled domain. If a god rules an event, they possess power. If a god rules a creation, they possess love. If a god rules an experience, they possess knowledge. 

Go mortal, do my work, and I promise you favor: cross my will and suffer the consequences. And so, our story continues.

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