Ah! There is still time for me to get my post in for this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, themed, much like this month’s issue of Roolipelaaja (In which I incidentally had an article about Pathfinder RPG and reviewed Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting. There was also a hilarious article about Jesus and one about a campaign playing Hezbollah guerillas in the 1980’s.), and hosted by The Dice Bag.
This is actually one of my standard rants topics on IRC, expressed now for the first time as a blog post. I think the starting point was when I looked at the D&D 3.0 sourcebook Deities & Demigods that I’d just bought and wondered: “What the hell am I supposed to do with this? Who the hell needs this crap?”
While the book does have some stunning art (in both good and bad), what it amounts to is a presentation of overly complicated rules for making gods. I’ve played one or another incarnation of D&D since 1997, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I’ve even heard of anyone needing the combat stats for a deity (Of course, I am only talking in context of D&D – in Exalted, for example, you are quite expected to go an lay the smack down upon gods when they get uppity. However, it also operates with a quite different definition of ‘god’.).
Religion and faith are one of the big things that can make a fantasy setting alive, and pretty much every campaign can find some use for them in bringing some depth to the world and the characters. The cleric is one of the core four PC classes, and of the other seven, the paladin, the ranger, the druid and the monk all have varying degrees of spirituality attached, whether religious or purely philosophical. This stuff is in play starting at first level.
So, one is led to wonder why all these sourcebooks where the main emphasis is on the gods’ stats. You can’t really bring a full-fledged god into play before epic levels in a way that would require stats, and even the avatars are a bit iffy. I do fully support the concept of aspects, though, first introduced in Miniatures Handbook. For a nifty interpretation of aspects, by the way, read Paul S. Kemp’s Resurrection, the last book of the War of the Spider Queen series.
In addition to being utterly useless in the vast majority of games, statting out the deity and telling that he’s worth this much XP somehow does cheapen the whole concept. Omnipotence just ain’t what it used to be (and, of course, isn’t even an option in a polytheism). This is an atheist talking, by the way.
What I would prefer to see in supplements is exploration of the role of churches, religions, and faith in the setting as opposed to what the big guys themselves are up to. Dogma, centres of worship, duties of clergy, orders associated with the church, holy days. That can be relevant to any campaign, starting at character generation. It’s a great source of hooks for both adventures and characters.
I am not saying that there should be no stats for gods at all, or that there is no place in the game for epic confrontations with the gods themselves. It’s a genre staple, after all. However, I think that the primary deity sourcebooks should leave those out. Of those times that I’ve heard of characters fighting a full god in D&D, only a single one used stats from a sourcebook, and that was a friend’s campaign in 7th grade, where they killed off the entire Greek pantheon. I understand someone also had sex with a dead dragon, and his thingy fell off, which is kinda telling about the tone of the game.
The rest are cases like Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits, Age of Worms and at least one standalone adventure Dungeon where the point was to go kill a god. This, I think, is how it should be done. Give the stats with a ready purpose. An adventure, or even better, an entire campaign, culminating in an act of deicide. That’s epic, that’s how it’s supposed to go. A sourcebook with stuff like the combat stats for gods of agriculture and small forest creatures is just a waste of paper.
Following, a list of examples on how to do it or not:
Faiths & Avatars, Powers & Pantheons and Demihuman Deities for AD&D 2E, published by TSR for the Forgotten Realms line. I hold these to be exemplar, despite containing stats for every god and their avatars. When compared with the useful material, they are dwarfed. Here, we get church organisation, centres of worship, holy days, cleric duties, adventuring garb, and even full-colour illustrations of priests of every faith. The font is delightfully small, too. Each book is crammed as full of information as possible. This is how it’s done, guys.
Faiths & Pantheons, for D&D 3.5, by Wizards of the Coast, for Forgotten Realms. Guys, you did it before, not once, but three times. Why drop the ball now? F&P is but a shadow of the former three books, and if one owns them, apart from some crunchy bits like the prestigeclasses (I love the Techsmith), this offers not only nothing new but also a lot less. Also, the art is staggeringly poor at some points. This is done in the same vein as the 3.0 Deities & Demigods. Explanations above as to why it sucked.
Faiths of Eberron, for 3.5, by Wizards of the Coast, for the Eberron setting. Eberron is an interesting setting in that the existence of the gods is uncertain and it’s the cleric’s faith that brings him spells, regardless of whether he actually believes in a deity or just an alignment philosophy, and whether his alignment fits his church. This brings us the interesting Catholic church analogy of the Church of the Silver Flame, where the teachings are lawful good but many of the big shots are lawful evil. FoE is a pretty good book, at least in this one respect.
Gods & Magic, for D&D 3.5, by Paizo Publishing, for their Pathfinder Chronicles line. The main complaint I have about this book is that it’s too short. Otherwise, it fits very well what I want in a deity sourcebook. Minimal rules content, no deity stats, emphasis on the church in the world. Also, Cayden Cailean. Incidentally, the writer is Sean K. Reynolds, who also brought us the…
“Core Beliefs” article series in Paizo’s paper Dragon, during the last year or two. The articles went over the gods in Player’s Handbook in great detail, with many pages devoted to each deity. They didn’t have time to cover all of the gods, but they got most of them. High points I think include the articles on Wee Jas, which made her portfolio of law, death, magic and vanity make sense, and Pelor, which made a vanilla neutral good sun god actually cool. It saddens me that there is no comprehensive sourcebook on Greyhawk deities.
Also, there’s a very good blog post on the Sinister Adventures site, Designing Gods, where Nicolas Logue talks about, well, designing gods. Contains art that’s probably Not Safe For Work. Very pretty art, though.