Divine Trappings: Jumping Back

A little epiphany last night Dungeons & Dragons 4e magic items and artifacts look like a very good model for these things — caused me to want to reexamine some of my assumptions or memories of other editions.

In this post I do a little more rigorous examination of deity descriptions in previous editions. I feel like Anatomy of a God might be changing a bit, as might Aspects of a Domain.

Deity Descriptions

Deity descriptions range a fair bit, depending on edition and setting.

  • BECMI, deities are basically names and alignments, possibly with some prose but really nothing much more than that.
  • AD&D 1e and 2e depend on the setting. In the core books, no deities mentioned.
    • In 1e, there was really only one spell list, with some spells ‘limited’ (supposedly) by alignment of the cleric, as was the effect of channeling divine power (turn or rebuke undead).
    • In 2e, they laid a framework for clerics having access to different spells via ‘spheres’, where each deity (none defined in core) could provide access to different spheres. Complete Priest’s Handbook provided generic priesthoods by area of interest (priest of healing, priest of war, etc.), including the spheres chosen and special abilities. They also provided guidelines for creating new priesthoods like this. I still look back on this approach fondly… I found the 3.x-based model more rigorous in application, but I liked the differences I saw in my PC clerics.
    • Dragonlance Adventures straddled the 1e/2e boundary and had the deities provide different spheres and a few ‘additional’ spells. These additional spells were from what would now be the general ‘cleric list’ (if I’m not mistaken) but were in addition to the spells granted by the spheres.
    • Greyhawk Adventures also straddled the 1e/2e boundary. They were structurally similar to Dragonlance deities (with the addition of home plane), but the presentation was ‘more 1e than 2e’.
    • Forgotten Realms Adventures was totally 2e, and the specialty priests aligned fairly well with the structures in Complete Priest’s Handbook.
    • Forgotten Realms Campaign Set (the box set) was 1e: name, epithet, alignment, home plane (which I didn’t see portfolios, text… no ‘spheres’ or ‘domains’ or extra spells that I can see.
    • Deities & Demigods provided monster-like stat blocks and a few paragraphs describing each deity. These don’t seem to have done much from a player-facing roleplaying perspective, except that it gave PCs more powerful monsters to kill. Except for the artifacts, though, they didn’t seem to have much treasure, so apart from the two or three times we stormed Mount Olympus and killed them all and took all their stuff, we mostly didn’t bother with this.
  • D&D 3.x, deities had multiple domains, each domain granting knowledge of one spell per spell level (from 1-9, no orisons, and the spells were usually on the cleric list anyway) and a domain power (sometimes as weak as “spells on this list are cast at +1 caster level”). A cleric chose two domains of their deity and gained the ‘power’ and spell knowledge of the two domains, plus one daily spell slot per spell level that had to be used for a domain spell. It was not necessary to worship a specific deity, a cleric could instead follow a ‘philosophy’ and pick whatever two domains they wanted… at least according to the rules, I don’t remember ever seeing someone do it. Each deity also had a favored weapon their clerics gained proficiency in and that determined the shape of their spiritual weapon.spell.
    • Almost forgot! Deities & Demigods in this edition provided a breakdown of divine powers and rules for defining deities like any other monster (with, admittedly, usually 20 outsider Hit Dice and 40-60 class levels, and the insane numbers that go with all that). Not an easy monster to take down, but if it has hit points, we can kill it.
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 1e enriched this a bit by improving the first domain power and by adding a second domain power (usually at levels 4, 6, or 8 depending on the domain).
    • They also added mysteries (oracle spell knowledge is much more constrained than cleric spell knowledge, so the bonus mystery spells actually did increase spell knowledge, and granting revelations the player can pick rather than hardcoded powers means that while a particular oracle’s powers will fit a theme, the exact powers a particular oracle has isn’t totally predictable). I actually quite like this model and would like to see domains and bloodlines made into something similar.
    • They also added blessings, which are superficially like domains without spells (each having a minor and a major power).
    • The campaign setting materials — Inner See Gods, the Player Companion splats, and so on — expand on the deity definitions quite a lot, including adding boons in exchange for obedience… I can see obedience providing grist for devising the daily requirements of deities’ followers.
    • Not exactly related, but the corruptions from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures have always interested me. That they each have nine manifestations (where clerics have nine levels of spells), combined with the covenant rules and wellspring from Mongoose Publishing’s Classic Play: Book of Immortals leads me to the idea that reaching higher levels of power with regard to a deity could have additional effects. I likely would want them to be more benign than corruptions are (ideally they’d be basically neutral — a bit of good stuff, a bit of bad stuff — so they don’t affect character power much… but that’s hard to do well).
  • D&D 4e… name and alignments, a list of portfolio interests. I see nothing mechanical of interest to me, nor even story-related. This might have been covered outside the core books, but I haven’t investigated that far.
  • D&D 5e, deities have domains again! In the core books it looks like they shoehorn all the deities into the same eight domains (surely there are more in other books, right? right?), but I do like that domains give even more powers. I’m a little sad that you get only one, though.
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game 2e, changes quite a few things from 1e. Relevant to my interests, I see:
    • Deities still have domains, but I see also: Edicts (similar to dogma/tenet/duty), Anathema (the do-not version of edicts), and some other little bits… but something I really like to see are boons (minor, moderate, and major) and curses (minor, moderate, and major). I’ll have to make a note of these.
    • Clerics no longer gain automatic access to domains. Instead, they can take a feat to gain access to the initiate spell of a domain, and a second feat to gain access to the advanced spell of a domain. These are ‘focus spells’, meaning the cleric has to spend a point of focus (which you never have a lot of at once, but can regain through the day) to cast. A cleric may gain access to more than one domain (at a cost of one feat per domain, but it does increase your focus pool).
    • Oracles still have mysteries, but mysteries work differently. When you take your mystery you gain the initiate spell (a focus spell that triggers and enhanced your oracle curse when used) of your mystery, and access to a related domain. You can increase both via oracle feats, and gain access to additional domains or an additional mystery, via oracle feats.
    • Totally unrelated, I just realized that 2e proficiencies actually appear to work quite a bit like nethack classes and skills. Not exactly so, nethack skills are advanced by exercising them rather than by class level (mostly; nethack classes have powers that come online at certain levels). I think that’s kind of cool, actually.
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics… let’s get weirder. There is quite a bit to unpack here of use.
    • I don’t see deity descriptions in here (but haven’t looked hard). Regardless, a deity can disapprove of its clerics, which can cause some hindrances (nothing too arduous; wizard corruptions are way nastier).
    • Patrons, though… you can invoke them and hope they come through for you, and there can be taints that show they you interact with them. I really dig this
    • I found the spell rules a bit tedious in practice (the variable results mean a spell might take a page… or two, or more in some cases! to describe), but the results definitely are flavorful, and I can see them being the basis for reskinning existing spells to make them more specific to various deities.
  • Petty Gods from Old-School Revival Community (ORC) presents these small gods in a manner similar to the AD&D 1e Deities & Demigods, but better! PCs are supposed to interact with them, and some of the reaction tables look like fun.
  • 13th Age deities are really not defined. There is a much greater emphasis on icons, and mechanically deities are basically a handwave for clerics. Clerics each choose three domains, each domain provides an ability that can be improved by feats. In the core book, though, deities are more or less entirely “make it up yourself”.

So many takes, and these are just in ‘D&D-like games’… and I haven’t even covered all of them!

Closing Comments

In digging through older or lesser-known D&D variants, I found several ideas I’d like to explore further. The big three are below.

  • Pathfinder 2e ‘edicts’ and ‘anathema’, and ‘boons’ and ‘curses’.
  • DCC patron ‘invocation’ and ‘taint’.
  • Pathfinder 1e ‘corruptions’ (made less destructive… ideally more or less neutral, some bad and some good).
  • Pathfinder 1e ‘mysteries’.

I’ll probably extend the list a bit as I continue working, but I see there is more for me to considering incorporating. Each of these elements have options that can be associated with various domains, and even if I never define any mechanics around them can still give me ideas and guidance for other elements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to Top