Posts Tagged ‘Gods’

We DMs face many challenges. We have to keep track of our campaigns, make maps, improvise, brainstorm, and write adventures for sessions. When the session begins a whole new kind of work starts. Our brains switch from writers to performers. Much like a standup comic, we usually spend more time preparing for the performance than we do actually playing with friends. Yet it is those moments of performance and play the hours of preparation and worldbuilding pays off.

During that performance time DMs inhabit and play NPCs. Goblin bandits, snot-nosed trolls, elf nobles, human peasants, monarchs, and more are part of our one-person shows. We give them ticks, accents, mannerisms, and catchphrases to bring them to life and distinguish them in the minds of players.

Yet there are characters who are more daunting to inhabit than Hamlet’s Cladius. In the arc of many campaigns a DM might have to inhabit archfey, demon princes, primordials, ancient dragons, and gods. Putting on the skin of one of these powerful NPCs can be intimidating. Play it too small and your players will be unimpressed with the mighty being before them. Play it too big and your players will laugh at the over-the-top caricature you’ve created. Unless you play these mighty beings just right, you risk some major NPCs in your game not being taken seriously.

Tiamat – official fifth edition D&D’s most powerful NPC (for now).

Challenges of Playing Powerful NPCs

The daunting task of playing a powerful NPC can be broken down the following ways:

  • They are smarter and less fallible than us. This isn’t a crack about your intellect. The simple fact is these powerful NPCs have the wisdom and knowledge that comes with living a millennia or longer. Their force of personality and confidence are proportionate with their amazing abilities. They can create and destroy with a wave of a hand or single breath. How can a mortal person like DM to the stars Chris Perkins, let alone a plebeian like myself, be expected to inhabit nigh flawless beings and make them believable? My face is nowhere near the level of Selune’s beauty, nor does it match the terror of an ancient red dragon’s visage so it’s all to be about the acting… Right?
  • It’s hard to be scary, impressive, or intimidating. It’s especially difficult to be those things to friends you know well. When the PCs meet Bahamut or the Queen of Winter’s Court, you want the players to know they are before a mighty power, greater than any they ever faced. Of course when I give myself a fake Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady voice and pretend to be The Raven Queen, my players don’t react the way I want them to. They might feel the urge to cry but not from sheer overwhelming power. Rather that urge comes from the endless gales of laughter which have seized their bodies.
  • We put off playing powerful beings. PCs don’t usually meet powerful NPCs until they are higher level at a time when the PCs themselves are approaching godhood. Of course the players are less impressed with these beings. (“You can stop time? So can I, bub.”) Some players might even feel challenged by the fact that a someone, even if that person is a god, is speaking down to them, since most other NPCs rarely do at this point in the game. These players often answer such remarks with their own condescension or jokes, which can really take the wind out of the sails of many a great DM. Waiting a long time to introduce a powerful NPC in the flesh presents another problem. Since they only pop up at higher levels and continue to appear infrequently, DMs don’t have as much experience playing these beings as we do run-of-the-mill villains, henchmen, and patrons. That lack of practice can be harmful to our attempts to play these mighty individuals. To make matters worse, these powerful beings are often talked up over the course of fifteen levels of campaign story before they appear. That means Orcus has hours of expectations, legends, schemes, and battles with henchmen to live up to when he finally meets the PCs for the first time.
  • It’s easy to be cliche. My default for powerful beings used to be a deep voice, turns of phrase about shattering and/or saving the world, and using my DM authority to have the NPC “outsmart” the players at every turn. That meant there wasn’t much difference between Tiamat, Bel Shalor, Acerak, Kord, The Raven Queen, and every other powerful being the PCs met. Boring!

With all these pitfalls, you can see why some DMs (like me) are nervous when they wear the skin of a godly NPC. Well nineteen years of tabletop gaming has given me some tips about playing a powerful being I want to pass on.

Actions Speak Louder

I make television. One of the guiding principles of any producer working in the industry is, “Show. Don’t tell.” Rather than have the dragon boast about how she can fry adventurers to a crisp in a single breath, the PCs should witness her fire in action – melting stone in an instant or reducing a herd of cattle to ash. Gods can stop time and create or destroy matter with a snap of their fingers. Archfey can make a large oak grove spring forth from the ground with a wave of their hands. Before the PCs ever speak to a powerful NPC, set the stage with an awe-inspiring act beyond the capabilities of even level 20 character. Throughout the interaction, remember that these beings are more likely to demonstrate their power than boast about it.

Describe How Others React

Along the lines of showing and not telling, when a powerful NPC first shows up on the scene describe how other NPCs react to the being. Throngs of citizens and soldiers alike flee from the Tarrasque. The land’s mightiest warlord becomes a drooling puppy in the presence of the god of beauty. The way to the demon lord’s throne room is marked by groveling balors. Reactions like this demonstrate the might of these NPC to the players. If you can have a NPC the PCs trust and respect have a big reaction to a powerful being that is great way to impress the players. Imagine the players’ reactions to the strong, just king they have grown to love groveling for mercy at the feet of at the god of death. It’s a lot more moving than the god demanding the PCs kneel before him.

PCs Should Feel the Power

One mistake DMs can make is telling players they feel an emotion. Players can feel like their agency has been stripped away when you tell them, “You see Tiamat rise out of the Nine Hells and you now know true terror.” Unless a PC fails a saving throw against an effect like a calm emotions spell, DMs shouldn’t be providing an emotion for PCs to feel. That being said, I do think it’s fine for a DM to describe a PC’s physical reaction to a situation. The line is thin here, so let me give some examples.

The sheer power of one of these beings could make a person’s stomach churn or the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand. PCs could see an ancient red dragon breath fire a mile away, but feel an overwhelming burst of heat as if it were mere yards from them. Don’t go too far here. The description should be for flavor. PCs might feel their stomachs churn, but don’t make the characters vomit every time they see a demon prince (at least not without a saving throw). Again you want the players to feel the raw power of the presence before their characters, but maintain their own agency.

Introduce Them Early

If it works in your story, introduce a powerful NPC early. Think of all the video games like Skyrim and God of War where the hero meets the big bad and other major powers early in the story. Often the hero is too inexperienced and ill-equipped to take on the baddy or stand up to the gods, so their presence is far more intimidating than an initial meeting later in the game.

Meeting a powerful NPC can make an impression that lasts an entire campaign. If PCs meet the goddess of winter when they’re only level 1 and she freezes and shatters another NPC for insolence, your players will carry that image into every meeting with her thereafter.

Introducing a powerful NPC early in your game is good for you as the DM. It gives you more opportunities to role-play as the being which means you gain practice and confidence with every encounter you wear its skin.

Make Them Memorable

Like any NPC, you want to make the powerful ones memorable. Don’t rely on cliches like speaking with a deep voice and acting threatening or intimidating. Give them unique personalities. Use the NPC personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaw tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide to inspire original, creative characters. Maybe the god of the sun in your world is a young boy who is positive and playful, until the subject of the his sister and nemesis, the goddess of death, comes up. Then he turns dark and stormy. His hair changes color, his voice deepens, and his hands become angry, radiant fire. An ancient dragon might actually have a high, flutey voice and constantly talk about his impressive library, which he’s read all of twice. The Queen of Winter’s Court only communicates telepathically and her face always shows the opposite of her emotions. She scowls when she is happy and smiles when she is furious.

Don’t lean too hard on a powerful NPC’s flaws. Most gods, demon princes, archfey, dragons, and others are able to resist any temptation and outsmart any trap a mortal has to offer. These beings have lived a long time and are supremely confident, so save the moments they falter for later in the campaign when the PCs are higher level. If the PCs insight the event which lead the more villainous of these NPCs to fall, so much the better.

Let The Players Drive the Scene

When playing a powerful NPC, my first instinct is for that being to drive the scene. They see the PCs as bugs or pieces in a chess game, so they should take charge, right? Why should they care what the PCs have to say? That attitude can actually be quite boring for the PCs and again, it takes away their agency. Take some pressure off yourself, make the NPC’s introduction, and then allow the PCs to respond to the demands, pleas, or threats of the being. The NPC may be looking to answer any questions, start a fight, grant a quest, or take some other action, but always allow the players a chance to respond and ultimately decide where the scene goes. They’ll often take it to a place that surprises you and in the end they’ll respect that NPC even more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Advertisements

You may have already read about the dwarven gods of Exploration Age and their religion, Hierotheism. Well each of the seven dwarf gods wields a unique weapon. Today I’d like to show you an excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide about those weapons… well not the weapons of the dwarven gods, but rather their copies which exist on Canus.

That’s right, the Exploration Age magic item preview continues today with a look at these artifacts. After covering wondrous items, weapons, armor, rings, rods, staffs, wands, and bioarcane items, this was clearly the next thing to show off. Once all of these magic items have been shown revealed and reviewed by the public (that’s you!), I’ll add them to the Free Game Resources section of the site.

Say hello to the weapons of the dwarven gods and enjoy the excerpt below!

Tools of Order

Weapons (varies), artifacts (requires attunement)

Hierotheist priestesses preach that the goddesses of the caste created copies of their weapons for seven mighty warriors to rise up against the chromatic dragons. These weapons, the Tools of Order, had the laws of the caste system eventually used in Bragonay engraved into them. The seven dwarf warriors were the leaders of their stations and enforced the divine will of their goddesses. While the weapons were lost in the war with the dragons, their laws remain in place today. Many dwarfs spend centuries hunting for any clue of the Tools of Order.

Some outside the Heirotheist religion claim these weapons are not divine at all but rather made by powerful shardmind mages. In fact these naysayers claim that the dwarves refused to rise up with the shardminds against the chromatic dragons so the crystalline beings created the Tools of Order to appeal to the dwarves’ piety. They say it is the shardminds themselves who hid these weapons so the dwarves would never know of their deception. These sacrilegious claims have only made seekers of the Tools of Order all the more desperate to find the weapons of their gods.

Each of the Tools of Order is a magic weapon which grants a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with it. When you score a critical hit with one of these weapons roll the attack’s damage dice three times and add it together with any relevant modifiers. Each of the Tools of Order also functions as a ring of evasion, defender, and dragonslayer.

If a non-lawful or non-dwarf creature attempts to attune one of the weapons, it must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw. On a failed save this creature takes 8d6 psychic damage taking only have damage on a successful one. The creature must repeat this saving throw anytime it attacks with the weapon.

Random Properties. Each of the Tools of Order has the following random properties:

  • 2 minor beneficial properties
  • 1 major beneficial property
  • 1 minor detrimental property

Dominate Person. While holding one of these weapons you can cast dominate person (save DC 18). Once you have cast the spell you cannot cast it again until next dawn.

Strength of the Caste. If 2 or more of the Tools of Order are within 100 feet of one another, each wielder gains an additional +1 bonus to damage and initiative rolls for every other weapon within range.

Destroying the Tools. The only way to destroy the Tools of Order is by freezing them in the coldest part of the Nine Hells and then breaking them against the hardest stone in the Plane of Earth.

Order-Keeper

This greatsword is forged of adamantine and has diamonds shaped into Dwarish runes along the center of the blade. Its engraved hilt of gold depicts a mighty army of dwarves working together to slay an ancient red dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Caramey, the Heirotheist goddess of the empress caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.

Head-Remover

This sickle’s blade is made of pure emerald. Its ebony wood shaft is marked with silver Dwarish runes on one side and plated with gold depiction of an army of dwarves removing the head of an ancient blue dragon on the other. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Meralla, the Heirotheist goddess of the warlord caste.

Increased Constitution. While wielding this weapon your Constitution score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Lightning. While wielding this weapon you resist lightning damage.

Secrets Released

This dagger is made entirely of obsidian and embedded with small sapphire Dwarish runes on the blade. Its gold-plated hilt depicts a noble family of dwarves executing a bound ancient green dragon. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Zelti, the Heirotheist goddess of the noble caste.

Increased Charisma. While wielding this weapon your Charisma score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.

Judgement

This adamantine battleaxe is adorned with ruby Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a lone dwarf hero standing victorious over the bodies of several dead green dragons. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Swarvune, the Heirotheist goddess of the warrior caste.

Increased Strength. While wielding this weapon your Strength score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Poison. While wielding this weapon you resist poison damage. If you are a dwarf, you are immune to poison damage while wielding this weapon.

Dragonsbane

This oversized maul is adorned with Dwarish runes of pearl along its marble head. Its gold haft depicts a hail of arrows taking down an ancient black dragon in flight. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Shalleal, the Heirotheist goddess of the artisan caste.

Increased Intelligence. While wielding this weapon your Intelligence score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Acid. While wielding this weapon you resist acid damage.

Servitor

This war pick’s head is made of pure ruby carved with Dwarish runes. Its gold haft depicts a group of villagers defeating an ancient white dragon in combat. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Berga, the Heirotheist goddess of the peasant caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Cold. While wielding this weapon you resist cold damage.

Worthy Example

This simple club is carved of oak and inlaid with diamond Dwarish runes around its head. An image of a dwarf slave bowing to another is carved into its wood. It is made in the likeness of the weapon wielded by Almahad, the Heirotheist god of the slave caste.

Increased Wisdom. While wielding this weapon your Wisdom score increases by 2, to a maximum of 24.

Resist Fire. While wielding this weapon you resist fire damage.

Feedback Please!

Your feedback has been so helpful in designing these magic items. Please continue to leave comments and let me know what you think!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

If you can’t see something how do you know it is real? I think this is a question often asked of scientists and clergy alike. This question is also a central point of today’s post. In Exploration Age no creatures interact directly with the gods. They do not walk amongst the mortals and there is more than one religion. Each religion conflicts with the others, for each has its own myths about the creation of the world, life, and the afterlife. They cannot all be correct. The world has atheists and agnostics who question the existence of gods all together.

Now I know some of you are already saying, “How could there be atheists in a world where clerics and paladins are granted divine magic from gods?” Well first I might say you can read the Dungeon Master’s Guide to get some pretty good answers to that question. If those answers don’t please you, take a look at the excerpt from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide below to get an overview of divine magic and religions in the world.

These gods are a little different than what you know… but also not!

Absent Gods

On Canus the gods do not walk the earth. They have not been found in any of the accessible planes of existence. They do not communicate directly with their clerics or worshippers. Different religions have myths about their gods and the world contrary to the stories of others. This leads some to question if there are actually any gods at all.

Many religious folk in the land point to the magic of clerics and paladins as proof of their gods’ existence. Naysayers point to non-religious magic users like rangers, druids, and bards. These doubters claim the magic of the clergy comes from the same place as the magic of other classes and that no gods are involved at all. There is no concrete proof this magic comes from the gods, but those with faith cast out the word of atheists.

Religions of Canus

Below is an overview of the most common religions in Canus. Other religions exist. Many evil cults worship mighty fiends, monsters may revere an original creator God or mighty bloodline, and others may dedicate themselves to the spirits of family ancestors or the essence of an ideal like good or law. GMs should feel free to create their own religions or borrow from other settings as they choose and bring them into the world by adding them to the cannon of religions or replacing one or more of the ones below.

Destianity

Destianity is the monotheistic religion practiced by many of Marrial’s dragonborn, though the democratic nation has no official religion. Destianity preaches one God, The Sky Dragon, has preordained the path of every living thing in the multiverse after He created the worlds. Destians are taugh not to fear loss or death for none can escape preordained fate. They are more likely to take risks because they believe the outcome is already determined and meant to be. You can read more about Destianity in the Findalay chapter of this book in the Marrial section.

Elementalism

The tribes of Verda revere the four gods of Elementalism. Each god has a corresponding element and is more a spirit and force of nature than a divine being with wills and decrees. The Elementalist gods always have been and always will be. They favor neither good nor evil, law nor chaos. The tribes believe these gods simply live in the moment and must remain pleased or the tribes will suffer their wrath. You can read more about Elementalism in the Verda chapter of this book in the Tribes section.

Hierotheism

The Bragonay dwarves and loyal warforged slaves observe their official polytheistic religion, Hierotheism. Goddesses in this religion are organized in a matriarchal caste which reflects Bragonian society. Each caste is assigned a goddess and must worship this goddess as patron. Bragonian citizens may not pray to a goddess above their station and those who do risk death. You can read more about Hierotheism in the Findalay chapter of this book in the Bragonay section.

Immortalism

Immortalism is the polytheistic religion practiced mostly by Aeranore’s humans and elves. It is the country’s official religion, but other practices are allowed. Immortalists believe humans and gnomes descended from an original race of undying Immortals who were created by gods who represent the Sun, the Moon, the sea, land masses, and death. You can read more about Immortalism in the Findalay chapter of this book in the Aeranore section.

Imperatism

The citizens of Parian must believe that their emperor, Quan Denang, is the only one true God in the multiverse or they are put to death. Quan’s divinity is part of the millennia-old Denang bloodline passed on from parent to child. It is believed that only reason the Quan and His ancestors age is because it takes all their godly might to keep the multiverse alive. As the burden becomes too much for God, the multiverse claims His life and the emperor passes his station and his divinity to another of his bloodline. You can read more about Imperatism in the Parian chapter of this book.

Solarism

Elves and halflings of Taliana and drow, duergar, and svirfneblin of Quatus observe the rites and rituals of the dualistic religion of Solarism. While this is the official religion of both countries, citizens may take up other religious practices. The religion centers around sister goddesses. Meliko represents the sun and the light while Fana represents the moon and the dark. While the surface dwellers observe the same goddesses they interpret their holy texts differently than their Underdark dwelling kin. The differences in these religious interpretations is responsible for thousands of years of bloodshed between the two camps of Solarism. You can read more about Solarism in the Findalay chapter of this book in the Taliana section.

Veratism

The Arcane College is currently running an experiment to see if they can make a god spring into being by first giving Him worshippers. Thus they have created Berrator, God of All Magic and Creation and have encouraged some students and staff to preach that Berrator will grant magic gifts to all once he springs into being. As a result the monotheistic religion has caught on in a few places. You can read more about Veratism in the International Organizations and Power Players chapter of this book in The Arcane College section.

Zaxism

Deva follow the monotheistic religion of Zaxism. They believe that when one benevolent God, Zaxa, created the multiverse the effort tore his soul into pieces. Those pieces became the deva and the rakshasa. It is believed that Zaxa can only be made whole once all rakshasa have been converted through rebirth into deva or vice versa from the rakshasa point of view. You can read more about Zaxism in the Races chapter of this book in the Deva section.

Chart of the Religions of Exploration Age

Religion Gods Alignment Suggested Domains Symbol
Destianity
The Sky Dragon N All Side profile of a faceless rainbow-colored dragon
Elementalism Gem made of four colors
Aval (Fire) N Light, War Stern face in a inferno or a ruby
Halcut (Air) N Tempest, Trickery Laughing face in a wind storm or a diamond
Nerot (Earth) N Death, Nature Contemplative face in a rock or an emerald
Weva (Water) N Knowledge, Life Smiling face in a lake or a sapphire
Hierotheism A seven-runged multicolor ladder
Caramey (Empress) LN All A greatsword
Meralla (Warlords) LN Death, War A scythe
Zelti (Nobles) LN Knowledge, Trickery A dirk and a bag of coins
Swarvune (Soldiers) LN War, Tempest A battleaxe and a shield
Shalleal (Artisans) LN Knowledge, Life A maul
Berga (Peasants) LN Life, Nature A war pick
Almahad (Slave) LN Light, Nature A club
Immortalism Three progressively smaller orbs in a line
Alphon NG Knowledge, Life Globe of water
Baydon CN Tempest, War Erupting volcano
Cardon CN Nature, Trickery Sheaf of wheat
Delistar N Death Black skull in a blue bubble
The Moon CG Light Purple full moon
The Sun LG Light Red sun
Imperatism
Quan Denang LE All One man holding many others above his head
Solarism A crescent moon hugging the sun (Quatus) or crescent moon contained with a sun (Taliana)
Fana LN Death, Knowledge, Tempest, War Underdark city skyline (Quatus) or longsword with a black blade (Taliana)
Meliko CG Life, Light, Nature, Trickery Torch enrobed in moss (Quatus) or arrow with a flaming head (Taliana)
Veratism
Berrator LG All Open hand shooting a beam of blue energy
Zaxism
Zaxa NG (deva) or NE (rakshasa) All A humanoid head with no eyes or nose and a frowning mouth

So what do you think? Do you want to read more about these religions? Do you think having some atheists and doubters in the world is interesting? Sound off in the comments below!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


I sit down with Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, and Vegas Lancaster to discuss the latest Dungeon Master’s Guide previews and the release of the Bahamut and Tiamat miniatures from Wiz Kids. This podcast was recorded on November 23, 2014.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcast Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!