On Fantastical Religions and Distant Gods

14 posts / 0 new
Last post
Talanall
Talanall's picture
On Fantastical Religions and Distant Gods

I don't like the "active gods" approach to fantastic religions that is characteristic of the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk settings. In fact, I loathe everything about it. The Eberron campaign setting was a major wake-up call for me because it was the first time I was exposed to a D&D setting that handled religion in a way that I recognized as having some recognizable relationship to what I observe in the real world. Eberron uses a "distant gods" approach, where people don't remember the afterlife, and they don't get to sit down and have a beer with Jesus. Instead, they believe various things about what happens to us after they die, and argue about it.

This is basically consistent with how people act in the real world. I'm not particularly religious, but my lack of personal spirituality does not prevent me from recognizing that religious faith is an important motivator for many people all over the world. Many people believe in a god or gods. Many individuals who don't believe pretend to believe in order to make people of faith like them, or to avoid persecution. It's frankly unlikely that anyone could currently be elected president of the United States if he or she were openly atheist. I'm not convinced that a Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim president is electable in the USA, even. Despite laws to the effect that religious creed should never be part of the prerequisites for elective office in the US, the highest echelons in American politics are pretty nearly reserved for people who purport to be some kind of Christian. Faith genuinely matters to a lot of people. It informs all sorts of major decisions.

The prevailing approach to religion in fantasy gaming appears to be about as far from the real world as it's possible to get. If you're playing in the Forgotten Realms, your character can obtain access to magic that allows him to travel to whatever part of the afterlife pertains to his patron deity, see what happens to the souls of the faithful, and even consult his god on matters of significance. There is no actual place for faith in this scheme. If you claim to have met a god, you may be accused of being a bullshitter, but people aren't going to think you're a madman. You also aren't going to have a Protestant Reformation. Or a new religion. Or a schism in an existing one.

Things get even weirder and less tenable once you start assigning power levels to your various gods, often based on the number of people who worship them. This makes the deity dependent on the worshiper, rather than the worshiper dependent upon the deity. It pretty much turns the world upside down, in terms of how religious sentiment can be expected to operate.

All this said, if you use a distant gods approach in a D&D setting, it still presents a few issues. For one, your religions now have to have doctrines. They have to have articles of faith. They have to have, in short, actual stuff the faithful believe. It's no longer sufficient for a religion to consist of doing whatever it is that your deity told the high priest is in order during their weekly tea, biscuits, and game of cribbage.

For another, you have to have some idea of what will happen when believers in the same religion have some kind of major disagreement about matters of faith. Is that a heresy? A schism that results in two different branches of the religion that are hostile to one another? Realistically, the difference is usually that it's a heresy if you're part of a minority that is small enough for the "orthodox" part of your church to kill you for believing the wrong thing, and it's a schism if you belong to a group that is big enough or powerful enough (or protected by someone who is powerful enough) to make it a problem to kill you for believing the wrong thing.

And for a last, you have to figure out to what degree all of this is going to have an impact on the mechanics of your game. The idea that it will impact your game is pretty solid though. There's a section at the very end of the cleric class material that reads as follows:

SRD wrote:

Ex-Clerics

A cleric who grossly violates the code of conduct required by his god loses all spells and class features, except for armor and shield proficiencies and proficiency with simple weapons. He cannot thereafter gain levels as a cleric of that god until he atones (see the atonement spell description).

Based on the quoted material, I think it's clear that clerics are supposed to lose their powers if they are not basically obedient to whatever their gods require of them. That's really straightforward if you can go to Heaven, talk to God, and come home to put into practice whatever advice you glean during the visit. It's much less straightforward when you can't have that sort of Q&A session.

One approach you can take with this is, I guess, that the code of conduct for clerics of a particular religion is derived from whatever is the mainstream doctrine of that religion. So (for example) bearing false witness is probably against the code of conduct for a priest of a goddess of law. That's probably not a controversial idea; there are clear, practical reasons why you don't like falsehoods if you're concerned with anything to do with the administration of a legal code. But more controversial might be the stance of a religion, devoted to a goddess of fertility, toward homosexuality—or contraception. I think that there are grounds for dispute as to how such a deity ought to feel about sexual activity that cannot be expected to produce new life. So the two sides of that dispute would, we can suppose, argue about it, maybe even coming to blows, until one side wins or it becomes clear that neither side is going to, and the church splits.

That's all fine from a roleplay and world building point of view. In fact, it's great! Now we have an example of an in-game religion that actually behaves somewhat like a real one. But there's another question, which is whether or not the clergy of this religion would have differing powers as a result of their stance on this dispute. That is, if a cleric of the fertility goddess thinks it's okay to be homosexual, then would this person get access to a different set of cleric domains than would be the case for someone who sides with the branch of the church that doesn't think it's okay?

The answer may not be a resounding yes or no. I think that there's room for it to be the case that these clerics' theological differences won't have mechanical consequences. But let's consider, at least for a moment, the possibility that the deity we're talking about is an "earth goddess" with a concern for fertility. She's basically an agricultural deity, in this case, but people also consult her priesthood around issues related to family planning and procreation. We'll say that she's a figure kind of like Merthia from the Tolrea setting, except we'll skip the Good domain and give her the Water domain instead, and make her alignment TN. So clerics of any alignment can serve her without violating the "one step" alignment rule for clerics in the Core rules, and she grants access to the Animal, Earth, Plant, and Water domains. We'll also say that without exception, clerics of this fertility goddess turn/destroy undead and spontaneously cast cure spells, regardless of their alignment, because it seems a little odd that any cleric of a deity so concerned with fertility and life would consider the undead anything other than abominations to be destroyed.

Let's recall that by convention, D&D settings do not rely on science the way we understand it. So people aren't necessarily going to know that plant life has a sexual component to its reproductive cycle. It may be that the substance of this fictitious schism might be that the homosexuality-negative branch of the church pointed to animal life specifically as evidence that the goddess favors male/female pairings, because those are what lead to procreation, and the homosexuality-positive branch of the church countered by saying that this is baloney, because look! Plants are fertile without having sex at all!

In any event, we end up with a scenario where both groups of clerics worship the same goddess, and they even still have a lot of doctrine in common. They are recognizably members of the same religion, but now there are two denominations in the religion instead of just one. In such a case, might not the homosexuality-negative adherents of this fertility goddess begin to express different powers? Perhaps they retain access to Animal, Earth, and Water, but lose Plant. Since they are good at dealing with animals, we'll call them Husbandmen. And perhaps the homosexuality-positive branch of the church loses Animal and retains Earth, Plant, and Water. We'll call them Farmers. It's a plausible scenario, at least. We could even go so far as to grant a new domain to one or both of these new denominations. Maybe the Farmers get access to the Sun domain, reflecting their concern with plants and crops. I don't know what the Husbandmen would receive, or even if there is any addition that makes sense for them. It's not really important, at least for the sake of this discussion. I guess I also should point out that we don't have any reason to think that the Farmers are all gays or lesbians. They just don't think homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of their goddess.

But we're more interested in exploring the idea that these people are still members of the same religion. If that's the case, then what does the code of conduct for these clerics look like? Since we've established that their goddess is a fertility deity, there's potentially some ground for us to say that regardless of whether they are Husbandmen or Farmers, homosexual or straight, they're not going to be fans of contraception. It may be that Farmers are very concerned that if you do engaged in homosexual behavior, you're specifically not doing it to avoid having children. So if a cleric of this faith employs contraception, maybe that's a "gross violation" of the code of conduct that would actually cause him to lose his powers until he receives an atonement spell. Or maybe the line is drawn further out, and it's a problem to administer contraception to other people. Maybe Husbandmen and Farmers also agree that abortions are wicked. Of course this is just an example, but it's at least an example that's pretty easy to reason through.

Another thing to consider, I guess, is how all of this stuff might play with laypeople in the same religion, as well as with outsiders to the faith. If we assume that this religion's clergy are involved in outreach to the community, it could be the case that the Farmers might get quite a little political and economic boost once they're the go-to faction if you want help getting your crops to produce well. The Husbandmen and their Animal domain power are fairly useful (they can talk to animals for a few minutes every day), but that's not really going to feed and clothe a bunch of people—they aren't going to make your herds multiply faster or anything like that. But being able to cast plant growth, even from a scroll or wand, turns the clergy of the Farmer denomination into an economic powerhouse.

And what happens if all of this religious turmoil is set against the backdrop of a kingdom ruled by someone who has a same-sex lover? If the Husbandmen denomination concludes that homosexual behavior is a sin, they're going to be treading on very thin ice with such a monarch. Or on the other hand, what if they're active in a warlike kingdom that is neighbor to such a place . . . maybe they've just handed that ruler a divine excuse for a war of conquest against the Pervert Queen of Elbonia!

There's also the matter of heretics. This would be a case where a small number of adherents to a faith believe something that goes against the doctrine of the mainstream faith. Let's take the hypothetical that our original TN fertility goddess, granting access to Animal, Earth, Plant and Water, is also venerated by a heretic who sees her concern with fertility in terms of a cycle of life and death. If you want fruitful herds and plentiful crops . . . you sacrifice to her. Maybe he secretly begins to promulgate this mystery to a few carefully chosen disciples, and forms a cult-like secret society that loses access to Earth in favor of the Death domain. Maybe some of them, if they're evil or neutral aligned, can opt to rebuke/command undead and spontaneously cast inflict spells. We end up with something very similar to one of those mystery cults to Cybele or Diana in the real-life Near East, in this case. And because these heretical priests are able to select either Animal or Plant, they could go undetected for a long time within either the Husbandmen or the Farmers.

I kind of needed to think through this because someone asked me to clarify some things about what his character did and didn't know in the Tolrea setting, and I realized that it was going to be a complicated discussion.

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

I am definitely a proponent of distant gods - to the point that whether they exist can be controversial. If there are two gods of 'sun', it is possible that the gnolls don't believe in the same one as the orcs and vice versa - whether there are gods or not shouldn't matter for whether the sun exists; whether one religion is right or both are wrong shouldn't matter.

If that is the case, and a cleric 'loses powers', one has to ask what made that determination. I'd posit that losing powers is probably inconsistent with distant gods unless there is some type of 'consciousness of guilt' that drives it.

That, and atonement are probably related to a Christian background that was incorporated into the game from the very beginning.

Ultimately, D&D exists as a game, and cleric exists as a class, but it is really weird that you'd represent the class that sacrifices still living people to their goddess (KALI MA) and the one that worships nature. Like, wouldn't priests of nature just be druids? Perhaps a priest of erotic love should be a beguiler or an expert rather than a cleric. Any changes along those lines make a huge difference to world building, and they may be well outside the expectations of someone playing 3.x, but if access to healing is spread out or made available to other classes, that could work.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I don't think that loss of powers from a breach of one's code of conduct (or atonement to get them back) necessarily represents the action of a divinity, any more than a cleric's ability to cast spells in the first place does.

Let's imagine that we're talking about a cleric from the Husbandmen denomination from my earlier example. He's heterosexual, married to a wife who is getting past her prime. No kids. He is a true believer in his goddess, and has never run into any kind of problem where he finds himself having homosexual urges. If he and the missus had a child or two, he'd be a perfectly happy man.

But he's not perfectly happy, and he ends up embroiled in an affair with a buxom young acolyte. He finds out that he's not shooting blanks. About a month later, he finds out a SECOND time that he is not shooting blanks, when his aging wife gets pregnant.

Let's say that his culture is such that his older child will be his sole heir. He's a senior priest, and is well-off, so when his wife finds out that the acolyte is pregnant with her husband's child, she somehow arranges to slip a poison/abortifacient into the girl's morning tea.

The acolyte lives, but the baby doesn't. Hubby finds out.

What course of action should he take? He's got a code of conduct that says he must never condone the use of abortions. Does he need to divorce his wife, the mother of his unborn child? She technically drugged or poisoned the girl, so does he need to report her to the authorities as a criminal? If he does, she might be executed, or imprisoned or flogged. What if that causes her to lose the pregnancy?

Depending on the specifics of his code of conduct (we haven't fleshed out what that might look like, so we don't know), maybe one or more of these options is unacceptable. Maybe he doesn't really HAVE an option that won't violate his code. So he loses his powers.

We've established that his deity is distant. His atheist neighbor down the block might even insist that our cleric's goddess doesn't exist, and that the cleric's powers derived from his own faith. The cleric doesn't believe that hogwash; he believes that he lost his mojo because he violated his vows as a priest of fertility.

The outcome is going to be the same, though, regardless of who is right. He's going to go and speak to another senior priest, who will counsel him about how to proceed, cleanse himself of his sin against the goddess, and eventually provide atonement. His atheist neighbor will say that no deities were involved in the whole thing. He and his spiritual counselor are going to maintain that the counselor merely acted as a channel for the power of the goddess. The actual facts of the matter are not known to any of them, because the gods are distant.

It doesn't follow from the clerics' ability to perform magic that they are having their prayers answered by a god or goddess. That's what these particular clerics believe is going on. We don't know if they're right; we know their spells work.

Under this cosmological explanation for divine magic, we can have atheistic clerics and atheistic paladins. Imagine it as if they are philosophers who happen to be EXTREMELY COMMITTED to their intellectual positions. It works okay, I think. I've certainly encountered atheists who are so adamant and evangelical about their atheism that talking to them is remarkably similar to talking with an evangelical Protestant who is trying to get you to come inside a revival tent.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture

I think the subject of sin itself is a little controversial in a setting where, whether the gods are real or not, commonly accepted cultural traditions and social mores hold that there is more than one of them. What would be a betrayal in the eyes of a goddess of agriculture might not be a big deal to the god of strength and drunken revelry; they may even have conflicting ideas about what is sinful. Of course, to clergy or particularly devoted laymen of either faith, their preference for which answer is the correct one is obvious. But ordinary folks who only go to church on whatever day is typical for people in that setting may not care enough to find out what the difference is. And if they subscribe to a worldview that holds every god or goddess in a particular pantheon is real and each one's opinions matter, maybe in mainstream society the subject of sin is really abstract. Abstract enough to be irrelevant to the typical commoner, even.

My point is that sin in such a campaign setting wouldn't carry the same weight as someone in the Taliban being perceived as a heretic. I just wanted to clarify that we are both using the word the same way.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Talanall
Talanall's picture

I think we are using it in the same way. The stakes of being denounced as a sinner by the members of a particular religion are mostly dependent on how numerous and powerful these people happen to be, and the degree to which they have a monopoly on power in their culture.

It seems to me that the consequences of being prone to behavior that one or more religions considers "sinful" would be less severe in a place that is very cosmopolitan. If you're in a port city that is primarily inhabited by a pretty secular culture that not only has a pantheon of gods whose religions are sometimes at cross-purposes, and if there are substantial immigrant populations with their own gods, and if the local rulers are additionally very liberal in their approach to matters of faith, then maybe you can get away with behavior that wouldn't fly in an extremely rural farming community where everybody worships the same one or two gods and has the same fundamental economic and political interests.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Taking the example of the Husbandmen cleric you offered before, if the situation were just as described but part of his flock (not his wife) I would imagine that the argument could be made that spreading his seed far and wide earned him the pregnancy of his wife (who is advancing in years). The ideas about primogeniture appear to be unrelated to any central teachings of having lots of offspring - possibly even in conflict. But if he wouldn't lose his powers if people he knew did these things, I don't see why it would follow that he would if he got two women pregnant (only one of which was his wife). If there was to be a loss of powers, you would think it would be the moment he laid with the other woman and whether she got pregnant or not should be irrelevant.

Even if we assume that the tenants of his faith somehow prohibit some or all of his actions in that case, we still have to determine whether it is a 'gross violation'. It's hard to make the claim that any of the acts the cleric himself makes are 'evil'. And even if you assume that it was a gross violation, what is the cleric 'truly repentant' for? Getting caught? Getting both women pregnant? Sleeping with the buxom blonde?

And if you add in the complexity of a schism with the faith, does it matter that the sect he nominally represents abhors his actions while the heretical sect applauds them (perhaps they advocate for spilling your seed with any and all partners and disapprove of monogamy).

While in the abstract it may not matter how the powers are lost if we can agree that they were lost, the fact that you can have atheists committed to a cause really does create a problem. If you are a cleric of 'free love', but you nominally worship Freya, how should a perceived difference in catechism be evaluated? Considering that there are so many similar goddesses, each with varying established teachings, it seems like you could be in line with someone. If you betray everything you stand for in a single moment, why wouldn't Hexor accept you as a cleric even as you fall from Heironeous's grace?

Fixxxer
Fixxxer's picture

deadDMwalking wrote:

If there was to be a loss of powers, you would think it would be the moment he laid with the other woman and whether she got pregnant or not should be irrelevant.

I disagree. In the example above, it wasn't sex outside of the bounds of marriage that was the problem. It was that his wife caused the termination of pregnancy and our example assumed that because of his political standing, he didn't handle it in an acceptable way. Or that he was prevented from handling it in an acceptable way.

Quote:
If you betray everything you stand for in a single moment, why wouldn't Hexor accept you as a cleric even as you fall from Heironeous's grace?

He will, actually. But the cleric has to prove his devotion. Player's Handbook 2 has this to say:

"A cleric who changes his patron deity must complete a quest to prove his devotion to his new patron. The nature of the quest depends on the deity, and it always clearly reflects the deity's alignment as well as his or her goals and beliefs. To start the process, the cleric must voluntarily accept a geas/quest spell cast by a higher-level cleric of his new deity. During the quest, the cleric has no access to spells or cleric class features -- except his weapon and armor proficiencies, which he does not forfeit.

Upon completing the quest, the cleric receives the benefit of an atonement spell from a cleric of the new deity. The character then becomes a cleric of the new deity and is inducted into the clergy during an appropriate ceremony of the DM's choosing. After selecting two of the new deity's domains in lieu of his old ones, the character has all the powers and abilities of his previous cleric level, plus the granted powers of his new domains.

This method is the only one by which a cleric can change his deity."

Talanall
Talanall's picture

deadDMwalking wrote:
Taking the example of the Husbandmen cleric you offered before, if the situation were just as described but part of his flock (not his wife) I would imagine that the argument could be made that spreading his seed far and wide earned him the pregnancy of his wife (who is advancing in years). The ideas about primogeniture appear to be unrelated to any central teachings of having lots of offspring - possibly even in conflict. But if he wouldn't lose his powers if people he knew did these things, I don't see why it would follow that he would if he got two women pregnant (only one of which was his wife). If there was to be a loss of powers, you would think it would be the moment he laid with the other woman and whether she got pregnant or not should be irrelevant.

As Fixxxer points out, it's not that he boned someone other than his wife, or even that he got her pregnant. It's that he ended up in a no-win situation because of how his wife reacts, and how he has to deal with the fallout of her reaction.

Primogeniture needn't have anything to do with his religious beliefs—as you say, it seems pretty unlikely that his faith would dictate such a method of inheritance. More likely, he just happens to live someplace where the law of the land dictates that this is how inheritance works. There are all sorts of real-world examples of instances where legal necessities are at odds with people's religious beliefs.

Quote:

Even if we assume that the tenants of his faith somehow prohibit some or all of his actions in that case, we still have to determine whether it is a 'gross violation'. It's hard to make the claim that any of the acts the cleric himself makes are 'evil'. And even if you assume that it was a gross violation, what is the cleric 'truly repentant' for? Getting caught? Getting both women pregnant? Sleeping with the buxom blonde?

We aren't talking about good and evil. I went out of my way to establish at the very beginning of this thread that we're dealing with a hypothetical situation in which the deity is amoral. The rule by which we are measuring this cleric's conduct is whether his actions fall within the code of conduct required of him by his religious beliefs. Priests of his sect can be of any alignment, so it doesn't matter whether he is acting in an evil fashion. It's completely beside the point.

Quote:

And if you add in the complexity of a schism with the faith, does it matter that the sect he nominally represents abhors his actions while the heretical sect applauds them (perhaps they advocate for spilling your seed with any and all partners and disapprove of monogamy).

Again, that's irrelevant.

Quote:

While in the abstract it may not matter how the powers are lost if we can agree that they were lost, the fact that you can have atheists committed to a cause really does create a problem. If you are a cleric of 'free love', but you nominally worship Freya, how should a perceived difference in catechism be evaluated? Considering that there are so many similar goddesses, each with varying established teachings, it seems like you could be in line with someone. If you betray everything you stand for in a single moment, why wouldn't Hexor accept you as a cleric even as you fall from Heironeous's grace?

I think you should take a step back and consider defining what you mean when you use words like 'catechism,' at least within the scope of this discussion. We have been talking about codes of conduct. That is something that a person can have without regard to religious feeling. It's a set of rules about what behaviors you consider acceptable and unacceptable, derived from the overarching belief system that rules your life (whether that's a theistic or atheistic).

As far as instances where a cleric becomes an apostate, I think that's probably a separate discussion that's worth having, but maybe we could put it on hold and come back to it after we deal with each of these other issues first?

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

MinusInnocence
MinusInnocence's picture

deadDMwalking wrote:
If you betray everything you stand for in a single moment, why wouldn't Hexor accept you as a cleric even as you fall from Heironeous's grace?

Someone who is willing to forsake every oath sworn in service to my arch-nemesis is definitely ripe for the picking, but maybe I should be cautious about who I accept into the fold if the only thing I know about him is that he is untrustworthy.

"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Contrariwise, if you are using a "distant gods" cosmology, then it's highly debatable whether Hextor cares about all of that, or even exists. And if he doesn't, then really it's just a matter of whether some adequately senior cleric of Hextor can be convinced that it's worth the trouble of dealing with you and maybe getting stabbed in the back for his efforts.

Of course, any church that would worship a being like Hextor, real or not, strikes me as the kind of organization that accepts treachery as an inherent part of life for its membership.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

deadDMwalking
deadDMwalking's picture

Talanall wrote:

Contrariwise, if you are using a "distant gods" cosmology, then it's highly debatable whether Hextor cares about all of that, or even exists.

I think that's the issue - if the gods don't exist, how is it determined when a flagrant disregard for the deities teachings occurs - if the deity doesn't exist they're NOT the deity's teachings, but rather some other person that claims to understand what they should be.

Christian priests don't have magical spells, but a group like Westboro claims to be Christian but they seem to practice a very different version than what most Christian sects practice. In D&D terms, how can two sects claiming to worship the same god with completely opposite understandings both have their powers unless they're provided by something else. Whatever that something else is, there has to be some clarity around it. If sometimes having relations with another person can cause you to fall (because your religion requires chastity) and not having relations frequently enough can cause you to fall (because you worship a god of procreation/erotic sex), it has to be related to the nature of belief (which would indicate a player has the power to say 'I don't think I did anything wrong so I am going to still cast spells') or something had to make a judgement call.

Personally, I like the idea of divorcing actions from spell casting. There is a shaman class that has taboos - violating the taboo causes you to lose some access to spells for a certain amount of time. The nice thing about taboos is that you pretty much decide what they are in consultation with the GM. If 'ritual purity' is a requirement to cast 7th level spells then doing anything that makes you impure is going to cost you those spell slots until you deal with that issue.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

Fundamentally, what's going on with the cleric's code of conduct, in a "distant gods" cosmology is that it is like this taboo. You break the taboo, and you lose the power to do cleric stuff. A cleric's religion sets his taboos.

Something that bugs me about clerics in general, irrespective of whether the cosmology indicates distant or personal gods, is that their code of conduct is even more poorly enumerated than a paladin's or monk's.

Fundamentally, how do we know if a cleric of Hextor or Cyric is doing as his god wishes? There's no suggestion in the rules to indicate that these figures are omniscient, even in terms of the things that their clerics do via spells or turn/rebuke attempts. If your code of conduct is "do whatever Hextor says," then fine. But what happens if you spend all your time someplace where he can't reach you to give instructions?

Ideally, every religious sect in a D&D game, regardless of divine cosmology, probably ought to have a short list of stuff that its clerics simply never do, on pain of losing their powers and having to atone.

This is not an idle statement; DDMW's character in Ancestral Burdens, Garren, is a N priest of a remote LG deity. I really haven't seen him do anything that strikes me as being particularly abhorrent to the teachings of his church, but I'm not blind to the fact that we have not hashed out a firm list of things that a Derenar priest would never, ever do.

Most of the things that would be on the list are things that I don't imagine Garren would do; he probably would defend people in need, especially women and children. He doesn't go looking to kill every monster in reach, but that's understandable because he's engaged in a hunt for a particular monster. But the actual doctrine of his church is largely a blank space.

That's something that we have gotten by with for over a decade, now. And I'm not complaining about it. But Board Rider isn't having nearly so easy a time with Avar, because he ran face-first into a situation where his character's religion, politics, and personality are suddenly a big deal. DDMW and Garren have been lucky enough not to stumble into something similar, but it could change.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold

Darker

And thus why Alannah doesn't like religion or the gods or paladins or most priests that act like "priests" -- unless she needs them for something and then they are tolerable. She forgets Garren is a priest sometimes.

Talanall
Talanall's picture

That brings to mind something that I suppose I should have made clearer from the start.

I have deliberately used the word "cleric" during this discussion, because I was writing about matters that pertain specifically to how that class and its code of conduct should function in a distant gods setting. Clerics are not the only divine spellcasters in the core rules, though.

Paladins, I think, we can give pretty short shrift; they have a code of conduct that is vaguely fleshed out as universal to all paladins, and they don't seem to need to be dedicated to a particular deity or religion. In fact they work pretty well even if they are atheists because the only yardstick by which to measure a paladin's behavior is his adherence to the code.

That still leaves druids and rangers, though. Druids in particular seem to muddy the waters a bit; they can't cast spells opposed to their own alignments, which seems to be a common thing for many divine spellcasters. They can't suffer certain kinds of alignment drift and still remain functioning druids (again, that's something that applies to clerics and paladins). But also, if they worship a deity they can't cast spells opposed to the deity's alignment. To my mind, this is pretty suggestive because it establishes that 1) divine spellcasting doesn't necessarily draw on the power of a deity, even in settings that have active deities, and 2) divine spellcasting ability almost always reflects some kind of adherence to a code of behavior.

To support point #2, I direct your attention to the ranger. Rangers don't have a code of conduct. But there is something they cannot do. They cannot cast aligned spells. None of the spells on the ranger's class list have an alignment descriptor, at least in the Core rules.

Furthermore, spellcasting is the only thing about the ranger that smacks of the supernatural. All the class's other abilities are (Ex), even the animal companion and its ability to share spells with its master. We don't have a code of conduct for this class, even to the extent of the druid's requirement to maintain a particular set of alignment and "revere nature." Rangers don't seem to need to revere a deity, either. Their spells don't come from a god.

This said, it'd be kind of funny to encounter a ranger who didn't revere something about nature. Classically, evil rangers are supposed to be "The Most Dangerous Game" sorts of people, focused on the pitiless, unpredictable, destructive and predatory aspects of nature. The Player's Handbook explicitly suggests that evil rangers emulate the harshest parts of nature, and that good-aligned rangers are more concerned with guiding people away from the dangerous aspects of the natural world, as part of a more generalized effort to live in harmony with it.

But as I said, rangers are the least "magical" of the core classes that can use divine magic. They also appear to be the only one that doesn't have some kind of requirement for its members to take a defined ethical stand that is based on spiritual or philosophical principles of some nature.

But none of the divine classes actually requires its members to believe in a god at all.

Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,
mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold