Polytheism in D&D
Just what does it mean to live in a world with more than one God? In our very real world we struggle with the concept of one God versus many versus God having multiple manifestations. I’m not here to discuss real world religious doctrine or faiths (though that is a favorite topic).
For the purposes of many D&D and RPG game worlds there are many Gods present in the world. Think of the Greek or Roman pantheons we learned about in school. One God rules over one aspect of the world or perhaps many but not everything. “God of the Seas? You bet! But uh, I can’t do anything about your crops drying up…go ask her.” This means there is a great deal of diversity for players to choose from and almost endless role-playing and flavor potential.
In my experience however each character still acts as though only one God truly matters: their particular God. In fact many characters don’t acknowledge the gods at all. This I think, is a problem.
Let’s explore this from the perspective of the characters shall we?
There is an adventurer, lets say a fighter. A mercenary. She travels the world selling her sword-arm to the highest bidder. While in the north she meets a shaman able to speak with the dead! While in the south she faces a priest of the Sun God able to call down columns of fire on his enemies! During her time as a pirate (you know it) the ships cleric calls on the favor of the Sea Goddess to grant her the ability to breathe water and she swims to the hull of an enemy vessel and bores it full of holes!
All of these are actual events the character experienced and benefited from. Factual evidence of the existence and power of the Gods! She personally experienced the power of all of them. How can the character in question support the existence and power of only one of these Gods?
She cannot. Each deity is as real to her as the other. So my main question in this: How does a character worship in a world with multiple Gods? A la carte.
They worship all of them in the situations that require it. About to cross the sea? Pray to that Sea Goddess. Pray fervently. Entering a maze/dungeon? Pray to the finder of lost souls. Each God or Goddess has a place and a role and the characters in that world must honor that. Yes a warrior would serve the God of Battle first and foremost, but he would pray to The Mother to watch over his family while he is away, to the Lord of Storms for favorable battle conditions and so on.
Now even if they are not your favored deity they are a deity and they demand worship. To use a D&D example look at what happens when Tanis encounters just the slightest shadow of Takhisis in the DragonLance novels. He kneels. She is the epitome of evil, the very thing he is fighting against and even the slightest, the weakest version of her demands his respect. He bows before her.
So what’s the point? I think we as players are missing out on a huge role-play opportunity. Devoting oneself to one particular God does not negate the Godhood of the other deities, merely how you interact with them and their followers.
DM’s: encourage your players to utilize religion beyond the God the Cleric or Paladin follows. A rogue or fighter or barbarian will have just as much need for divine guidance as a cleric.
Players: Think about how your character views religion? Are they religious? Very much so or a bit of a Sunday morning Paladin? Do they devote themselves to one God or keep their options open?
Let me know how it goes. I love hearing and sharing stories of our games.