Following on from previous alignment posts, I’d like to present a D&D 5e cosmology based partly on the Frankenverse and partly on elements of Original D&D, Basic / BECMI D&D, and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia:
- Original D&D had only three alignments – Law, Neutrality, and Chaos – just as in the works of Michael Moorcock.
- Clerics didn’t need gods in Original D&D and some editions of Basic. They followed either Law (clerics) or Chaos (anti-clerics).
- In BECMI and RC players could elevate their characters to Immortals (gods) implying that the gods of one age were the heroes of a prior age.
The Four Alignments
The four alignments in this multiverse are Balance, Chaos, Law, and Unaligned.
All mortals start off as Unaligned unless they are Clerics of Law, Balance, Chaos, or one of their aligned gods. To maintain and grow an alignment one must work at it, just as in “D&D Hard Mode Alignment”.
Various D&D editions have differed on whether a Cleric must choose a god or just an alignment. In these house rules, a Cleric may choose to serve a god, an entire pantheon or religion, or one of the three alignments.
Priests of a God
Priests of a god typically tend a temple or shrine of a god, accept offerings on behalf of the god, say prayers, perform rites for supplicants (faithful or just superstitious), and generally serve the needs of that god alone. This is the default assumption of Clerics in D&D.
Unlike typical clerics, not all gods are in competition with each other. Lay people may say a prayer to the sea god for safe travel on a ship, the commerce god for a successful trip when they get to their destination, and the goddess of negotiable affection for companionship when their business is done all on the same day. Unless they belong to different pantheons or have some other rivalry, the gods and their Clerics shouldn’t mind, because different gods have different and usually complementary portfulios.
Priests of a Religion
A Cleric may also serve a polytheistic religion, and serve some or all of the gods of that religion. All or nearly all of the gods of the religion form a single pantheon and share fundamental religious principles and assumptions with others in the pantheon. Clerics therefore must learn the prayers and rites of all the gods – which are usually broadly similar – and perform them on high holy days and other days of worship.
A monotheistic religion, in contrast, only acknowledges the existence of one god; a henotheistic religions admits the existence of other gods but serves only one incomparable god. In both cases the religion reduces to the worship of one god, becoming indistinguishable from priests of a single god except most such gods forbid worship of other gods under any circumstance.
Priests of Law
Once a Cleric dedicates themselves to Law, they may worship no gods save those who themselves dedicate their immortal lives to Law. Serving the interests of Law becomes the focus of their lives, just as if they had picked a very jealous god.
Priests of Chaos
Once a Cleric dedicates themselves to Chaos, they may pretend to worship any god they like as long as they always keep the interests of Chaos in mind. They may worship the gods of Chaos freely, or at least as freely as the civil authorities will allow, since most have dark and bloody rituals.
Priests of Balance
Once a Cleric dedicates themselves to Balance, they have the following duties:
- Remain vigilant for the influence of Law or Chaos around them.
- Oppose all actions that increase the influence of Law or Chaos.
- Protect the natural world and the people in it.
- Aid any allies, either Agents of Balance or simply forces of stability like Druids or like-minded laymen.
- Carefully recruit more agents of the Balance.
That said, the Masters of Balance – and the Judges of the Balance who weigh all things – exhort Disciples of Balance to appreciate the wonder and beauty of the natural world, the fellowship of the human world, and even the mystery of the Feywild and Astral Plane as much as they can. Seeing what Balance strives to protect – worlds and planes where neither Law nor Chaos hold sway – energizes Agents of Balance for their battle to keep the multiverse Balanced.
The Lifecycle of Gods
Gods often claim they existed since the beginning of the world, but the records millennia old – or the memories of beings that live for millennia – easily debunk those claims. The current gods began as hunbler beings, either mortal heroes or fortunate spirits.
Mortals have four paths to godhood:
They can die nobly and memorably, become Spirits, and take that path to godhood.
They can be born of an ageless species and pursue the path to godhood.
They can discover the secret of immortality, become Immortals1, and then pursue the path to godhood.
They can become peerless heroes (or villains) in their chosen class, discover the secret of immortality, become Immortals1, and then use their own legend to continue their ascent to godhood.
Nature spirits and heroic souls have both an easier and a harder path to godhood. First, they must exert what little power they have to encourage mortals to venerate them: little prayers, offerings of food or other things, small images in their honor.
Sometimes, often through no planning or fault of their own, they gain more worshippers, who make bigger images and shrines to put them in. They receive more offerings and prayers, and a self-appointed priesthood to lead them.
The small folk religion becomes larger and self-sustaining, and the tiny spirit, perhaps little more than a name and a few stories, approaches godhood.
An Immortal or spirit gains a following, a priesthood, and a mythology. The sudden rush of belief in that being propels them from simply a folk belief into a full god. They ascend to the Astral Plane, use their growing Divinity to create their own Realm, populate it with Servitors2 if they wish, and live like a literal god.
Rise and Fall
A god depends vitally upon the worship, prayers, and attention of mortals. This is a two-edged sword: gods unwittingly become what their worshippers expect them to be. A gentle god of healing fed by hateful, intolerant people eventually becomes the god of vengeance and racial purity. Even the god’s mortal enemies unwittingly feed it their hatred, and a god that receives only hatred eventually becomes little more than a Daemon.
Gods often enter pantheons for mutual benefit: the popularity of some gods lets the others share their runoff belief. Like all things divine, it’s also double-edged: one god may feel they’re carrying the others and strike out on their own. Worse, by existing in the same milieu the gods participate in each others’ myths, and humans tend to make gods in their own image.
Gods must therefore expend their divine power judiciously, always to gain more worshippers or preserve the ones they have. Older gods with established religions often cease performing miracles entirely save when one of their Clerics requests it. They often coast on the proselytizing of their mortal priests and lay believers. Clerics, their representatives in the mortal world, interact with their god less and with the god’s Servitors more.
And as the god acts less and thinks less, it slowly begins to die …
The Final Act
In an endless multiverse even Immortals can die. A god ends one of two ways.
Good End: Retirement
The god simply abandons their realm and all their divine power. To their remaining Clerics this seems like a disaster: spells don’t renew, prayers go unanswered.
The god, on the other hand, gets to live the way they choose: as a powerful spirit in the Astral Plane or as an Immortal in the Material. Each has its drawbacks. An Astral Entity lives an eternal existence where time is a true illusion but loses the vibrancy of the Material World and the power of godhood. An Immortal lives in a Material World with all the thrills and excitement but loses everything they care about to time with no divinity to save them.
Almost no god does this.
Bad End: Oblivion
Most gods struggle in vain to rekindle their old cults, try to reinvent themselves by adding to their portfolio, or grow ever more bloodthirsty and fanatical trying to force an uncaring world to worship them. It pours all its divinity and all its psyche into remaining a god.
Sadly, these attempts eventually fail. The prayers and belief dries up. The last of their divinity runs dry, their Servitors evaporate, and the Realm created by that divinity collapses in on itself. What’s left of the god falls screaming and flailing into the Astral Plane, and then moves no more. It becomes a titanic, nameless corpse floating amidst all the other abandoned ideas and forgotten fantasies. Eventually an Astral Builder will grind up its corpse or hollow it out to make something useful.
The purpose of this upheval is to restore the simplicity of Old School D&D. The original alignments, borrowed from Michael Moorcock, simply separated the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, and elaborations since then have only added confusion. Making player characters earn their Alignments gives them meaning.
Likewise, restoring the old euhemeristic assumption that today’s gods were a previous age’s heroes, and that the material world is far older than the mortals of the current age believe, adds a pinch of modern materialism to a game of fantasy magic and ancient monsters. It also reverses the assumption of one of my favorite games, RuneQuest. In Glorantha, myths are reality.3 In the Uncounted Worlds myths are simplified stories and the whole truth is much bigger. Both Robert E. Howard’s Hyborean Age and Tolkien’s Middle Earth rested on deep histories that their main characters gradually discovered, so I think I’m onto something. Sorry, Glorantha.
The changes to the planes I outline next likewise restore some of the mystery and wonder of Old School D&D. Plane-walking might land our heroes in any sort of world, not just in alignment, elemental, or funhouse-mirror planes defined decades ago.
Immortals become independent of their bodies. They can recreate one and inhabit it if they wish, or they can remain a being of pure will. Unlike the false immortality of ageless species, vampires, and liches, Immortals can only truly die from very powerful magic that destroys their soul. ↩︎ ↩︎
Most gods, particularly young ones, do not need Servitors. The powers of Immortals fueled by godhood allows them to make personal appearances when needed, and most spirits can deliver their own revelations. Servitors split the god’s mental energies and drain their Divinity … which is why many gods use them as a status symbol. ↩︎
Including all mutually contradictory myths and a list of kings implying Glorantha is 10,000 years old even though accepted history says it’s less than 1500 years old. ↩︎