Bruce and the DMG, Part 4: Chapter 1, second part

Today I'm going to write about gasp four pages, instead of one or three! Today's section is Gods of Your World, and here again is some very nifty stuff.

The Player's Handbook establishes clerical domains. Each one gives the cleric committed to it some spells to know that don't count against their regular spell limits, a distinctive use for the Channel Divinity ability all clerics get at 2nd level, and a variety of other special abilities. The Trickery domain, for instance, gives the cleric:

  • Bonus spells including Charm Person and Disguise Self at 1st level, through Blink, Dimension, and Polymorph (among others), up to Dominate Person and Modify Memory at 9th.
  • At 1st level, the ability to touch a willing target and give it advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks for the next hour.
  • At 2nd level, the ability to use Channel Divinity to create an illusory duplicate, and among other things to cast spells as if the cleric were standing where the illusion is right now. At 17th level, this grows to four duplicates, not just one.
  • At 6th level, the ability to use it to become invisible for a turn.
  • At 8th level, the ability to infuse their weapon with a poison given as a gift by the deity and do extra damage.

The other domains – Knowledge, Life, Nature, War, and so on – are all comparably nifty for their areas of interest.

The DMG discussion of gods leads off with the Dawn War deities, the default from 4th edition. And I want to take a moment here to say something about that.

I was really put off by some of the promotion for 5th edition, which I felt did altogether unearned slagging on 4th, pandering to the noisy part of the fan base that really hated 4e (and often had no idea what it was talking about). That dislike is the largest element in my not having really looked at 5e until just recently – I felt annoyed and offended at seeing the work of, among others, good friends abused so vigorously. And yet in the actual books, there are all kinds of entirely friendly, respectful nods to the preceding edition, right alongside ones to all the others. I am at least as happy with the books in this regard as I was unhappy with their promotion.

Now, to discussion. As with the overall nature of the world, the book establishes a default assumption, Loose Pantheons:

Most D&D worlds have a loose pantheon of gods. A multitude of deities rule the various aspects of existence, variously cooperating with and competing against one another to administer the affairs of the universe. People gather in public shrines to worship gods of life and wisdom, or meet in hidden places to venerate gods of deception or destruction.

And this:

People in most D&D worlds are polytheistic, honoring deites of their own and acknowledging pantheons of other cultures. Individuals pay homage to various gods, regardless of alignment. In the Forgotten Realms, a person might propitiate Umberlee before setting out to sea, join a communal feast to celebrate Chauntea at harvest time, and pray to Malar before going hunting.

Some individuals feel a calling to a particular deity's service and claim that god as a patron. Particularly devoted individuals become priests by setting up a shrine or helping to staff a holy site. Much more rarely, those who feel such a calling become clerics or paladins, invested with the responsibility of true divine power.

One of the classic complaints about early D&D was that it was a very Midwestern Protestant sort of polytheism. 🙂 Here, in simple, useful language, 5e explains what routine polytheistic life is like, and adds coolness to clerics and paladins by explain how distinctive their way of life is. This is great stuff! So's this:

This pantheon draws in several nonhuman deities and establishes them as universal gods. […] Humans worship Moradin and Corellon as gods of their respective portfolios, rather than as racial deities.

I'm not up on all the evolution of D&D, but that's certainly a take I haven't seen before in D&D. Another concise statement that opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities. Coolness!

Next comes a subsection on other religious sytems: tight pantheons, mystery cults, monotheism, dualism, animism, and forces and philosophies. Each gets well defined, in terms that lead right to gaming explanations. I could keep quoting and quoting, but there has to be a line somewhere, and this is it.

Finally, there's a subsection on Humanoids and the Gods. It lays out the reasonable default that humans tend toward more religious variety than the other races, and that in particular a bunch of races have (or at least think they have) a unique, distinct creator god, who anchors the rest of their religious activity. But having explained that, it goes on to ask the DM interesting questions:

With that in mind, consider the role of the gods in your world and their ties to different humanoid races. Does each race have a creator god? How does that god shape that race's culture? Are other folk free of such divine ties and free to worship as they wish? Has a race turned against the god that created it? Has a new race appeared, created by a god within the past few years?

A deity might also have ties to a kingdom, noble line, or other cultural institution. With the death of the emperor, a new ruler might be selected by divine portents sent by the deity who protected the empire in its earliest days. In such a land, the worship of other gods might be outlawed or tightly controlled.

Finally, consider the difference between gods who are tied to specific humanoid races and gods with more diverse followers. Do the races with their own pantheons enjoy a place of privilege in your world, with the gods taking an active role in their affairs? Are the other races ignored by the gods, or are those races the deciding factor that can tilt the balance of power in favor of one god or another?

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to go out and create a zillion more settings.

Bruce and the DMG, Part 4: Chapter 1, second part

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