I’ve always loved studying different myths and folktales from around the world, and learning how these beliefs in the supernatural, magical, and divine help to shape our understanding of the world around us. Games like D&D offer a unique opportunity to explore these different perspectives within worlds where gods and powerful beings can reach out and touch the mortal realm.
When I first started writing this post, I quickly realized that there is a lot to unpack in the incorporation of religions and belief systems in a D&D setting, and that this could have very easily become a discussion of theology and philosophy. Instead, I’d like to focus in on gods and beings of power from a worldbuilding standpoint and what it means for your players!
Let’s begin with a question: Why have gods in your D&D setting? It’s certainly not required, and if you enjoy a low-magic setting, then you might have little need for the complex systems of gods and deities that exist within the conventional D&D realms. From a mechanics standpoint, this would mean that your players might not be able to play certain types of characters. While some classes develop their skills through study, inner meditation, otherworldly pacts, and inspiration from nature or story, Clerics, Paladins, and even some Monks depend on their connection to a deity of some sort. If you don’t have these beings in your world, then you may need to consider whether or not these classes make sense.
Once you decide whether or not you want to have gods in your D&D setting, you then need to determine how belief systems work in your world. Here are a few thoughts to help you get started!
First, you should decide how many different deities exist in the world:
- Monotheism: There is one single deity. Other divine and otherworldly beings may exist, but there is only one god pulling the strings.
- Polytheism: There are multiple deities in a specified pantheon and each one has their own domain/sphere of influence. This is the most common system used in D&D settings.
- Di-theism: There are two deities, existing in a contrasting balance with equal levels of power and influence.
Next, think about how much influence the deities have. This will be determined, in part, by the level of magic you’ve chosen for your world:
- Low-Magic: The gods are synonymous with the ideas and ideals they represent, and serve more as symbols of inspiration versus actual entities or avatars of themselves. Clerics and Paladins are devoted to the ideas and concepts of the god rather than the god as a being.
- Moderate or Mid-Level Magic: Gods operate through chosen champions and avatars, and rarely interact with followers directly. They are more than ideals and concepts, but still viewed as un-reachable beings. Clerics and Paladins might serve as the chosen champions of their gods, and are the only ones who can actually commune with them.
- High-Magic: Like Odin in Norse mythology, the gods have a more direct and tangible connection to their followers and may even walk among them and influence them directly– even if they may not always make their presence known. Clerics and Paladins are able to actually commune with their gods and call upon them in more tangible ways.
Once you’ve thought about these things, you can get to the really fun part: determining the different domains! If you have more than one god, how are their spheres of influence divided up? Will different cultures worship certain deities over another? Do they go by different names? Feel free to get as creative as you like…it’s your story! The hardest part, in my opinion, is determining the system and mechanic. Everything else just adds to the flavor and lore of your world.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a pretty big topic…so keep an eye out for follow-up posts! If you’d like to read more about mythology and worldbuilding, try these articles!