First, we'll go over the godly information in the 5e core books, then I'll yammer on about things I learned about running gods in D&D over the years.
|Bahamut in his "old man" form|
On page 10 of the 5e Dungeon Master's Guide, we go over the idea of a what a pantheon is (a collection of deities). There are two types:
- Loose Pantheon: A collection of deities that aren't overly intertwined. There are temples devoted to single deities, and often there is conflict between the followers of different gods.
- Tight Pantheon: This pantheon has a cohesive vision. All of them are worshiped, though individuals might "specialize" in one deity more than the others. One temple honors the entire pantheon.
Greater Deities: They can't be summoned and are always removed from the direct affairs of mortals.
Lesser Deities: These gods are embodied somewhere in the planes. Lolth is in the Abyss, Bahamut is in Mount Celestia, etc.
Quasi-deities: They don't answer prayers or grant spells. There are three types:
- Demigods: Children of a god and a mortal.
- Titans: These might be constructs made by a god, the child of two gods, or born from the spilled blood of a god.
- Vestiges: Deities who have lost nearly all of their followers and are considered dead. Rituals can contact them and draw on what power they have remaining.
On page 130 of the Monster Manual, we get stats for empyreans, who are "the celestial children of the gods of the Upper Planes." The empyrean is listed as a "Huge celestial (titan)."
The stat block of the empyrean make for a good starting point when trying to figure out stats for avatars and aspects. If these are the children of the gods, it stands to reason that a god's avatar is at least as powerful as empyreans. Their stats: AC 22 HP 313 +17 to hit, 31 damage and the target must make a saving throw or be stunned.
Their moods affect the land around them. When they die, their spirit returns to their home plane. There, one of their parents resurrects them.
Clerics of the Gods
|Cleric of Lathander|
On page 59 of the Player's Handbook, it says that once per long rest, clerics of 10th level or higher can call on their deity to intervene on their behalf. You roll percentile dice, and if you roll a number equal to or lower than your cleric level, your deity intervenes. Once an attempt is successful, the cleric can't try again for 7 days.
When you are level 20, your call for intervention automatically succeeds!
If you are making your own gods, you should make sure that you take into account the possibility that a player will make a cleric. Make sure you have your bases covered. These are the different divine domains that a cleric might utilize:
- Knowledge: Learning, craft and invention. This includes spells like identify, speak with dead and scrying.
- Life: Healing the sick an wounded. Spells include cure wounds, revivify and raise dead.
- Light: Rebirth, renewal, vigilance. Spells: Faerie fire, fireball, guardian of faith.
- Nature: Forest stuff. Spells: Speak with animals, plant growth, dominate beast.
- Tempest: Storms, sea and sky. Spells: Thunderwave, call lightning, destructive wave.
- Trickery: Thievery, rebels and liberators. Spells: Charm person, dimension door, modify memory
- War: Courage and might. Spells: Shield of faith, crusader's mantle, flame strike.
Page 294 of the PH lists the gods of the different D&D settings.
How to Run an Omniscient Being
|Follower of Tharizdun|
Once you have the basics down, you'll need to figure out how you want to handle the gods in your game. I've always struggled with this. Are they omniscient? What do they know? How do you keep a secret from them? Can you keep a secret from them?!
It's very hand-wave-y and it can come off as a little too convenient if you're not careful.
Why Don't They Do It? Another thing I've always had a hard time with is why the gods don't just handle things themselves. For example, some mortal bad guy is going to pull off a scheme that will let evil dominate the world. Why wouldn't a good god just pop down there and take the bad guy out? Why all the omens and dreams and prophecies?
What I say in my game is that the gods have a pact of non-interference, at least as far as directly intervening. That's because it won't take long for two gods to show up in the world and fight each other. That kind of battle could destroy the entire world! Then the gods would have nothing to reign over. It is in their best interest to make a binding agreement not to set foot on the world in their true, most powerful form.
Avatars and Aspects
|Takhisis from the Dragonlance Setting|
From what I understand, it goes like this:
- Avatars are a piece of the essence of a god. It is sent on a mission, and when it is done, it comes back and is reabsorbed.
- Aspects are independent entities, clones with their own thoughts and feelings.
In Dungeon Magazine #111, an aspect of Asmodeus is detailed. This aspect is named Nyxthseht, "an aspect of Asmodeus that personifies the arch-devil's persuasive voice and fearful countenance." He commanded a host of bearded devils in the Blood War. In this adventure, Nyxthseht is trapped in an iron flask.
So the aspect has its own name, it is actively involved in affairs of mortals, and has limited power.
How Do Gods Gain Power?
|Blibdoolpoolp, goddess of the kuo toa|
That's a little weird for evil gods. There's not that many people openly worshiping them, right? I suppose that the world has plenty of orcs, goblins, drow, gnolls, trolls and those kind of monsters to worship evil gods, though many of those races already have their own god.
|Tu'narath, city on a dead god|
There's a whole adventure book on the topic of Dead Gods. When a god dies, a mile-long stone statue of the god appears in the astral plane, floating among many other dead gods.
These dead gods can be visited and there's all sorts of weird stuff on them - godsblood, atmospheric phenomena, etc. The githyanki travel to them often.
Tu'narath: The githyanki actually built the city of Tu'narath on a dead god. Vlaakith, the lich queen of the githyanki, calls this god "The One in the Void." The god corpse holds a spark of divine life in it. Vlaaskith tries to harness it and become a goddess in "The Lich Queen's Beloved" in Dungeon #100. Capturing this spark involves casting thousands of wish spells.
Having the Characters Meet a God
|Iomedae, deity from Pathfinder|
The heroes are about to go to Baphomet's maze, a mission that will affect the lives of Iomedae's followers. Iomedae meets with them to evaluate them and give them aid. The meeting with Iomedae goes like this:
- The area fills with light and the heroes are filled with a sense of pride and hope.
- The group find themselves in a cathedral. Soft light fills the vast space and choirs of angels and archons can be heard singing.
- If Iomedae wills it, anyone looking at her is forced to make a saving throw or they have to avert their gaze.
- If a hero mocks her, a deafening trumpet blast echoes through the cathedral. The mocker is permanently deafened and must make a saving throw or forever be mute. This condition can't be removed by anything except a deity's will.
- If someone mocks her twice or attacks her: She fires off a shaft of light from her shield. The character must make a saving throw or drop to 0 hit points and appear back in the world they came from. If they succeed at this saving throw, they are permanently blinded and appear back in the world they came from.
Pantsing a Deity
|Church of the Silver Flame from Eberron|
When I ran Scales of War, the group met Moradin, god of the dwarves. The party wizard was an elf with a smart mouth. His character didn't like dwarves, and began mercilessly mocking Moradin and would not let up. I sat there and thought over my options. Would a god kill him? I mean... you're mocking a god, a supremely powerful being! How do you decide what is appropriate?
The first thing I did was to make it clear to the player that this is a god who has incredible power and that his character was likely to provoke some sort of retaliation. He said he knew that, and kept on roasting the god of the dwarves.
So Moradin decided to teach him a lesson. He turned the wizard into a dwarf! For pretty much the rest of the campaign, the dwarf-hating character was a dwarf. Moradin was hoping that if the wizard walked in the shoes of a dwarf, he'd understand them and stop with the blind hatred.
The wizard just kept hating dwarves. In fact, he hated them even more. Eventually he regained his elf form and became the god of magic in my campaign. To this day, all of his followers hate dwarves, and dwarves hate them.
Change is Unlikely: That's something that I learned in D&D many times over. Most players cannot be "taught a lesson," in-game or out of the game. I have never had a group change their tactics, even when their strategy gets them killed time and time again.
What I eventually concluded was that everyone has their own sense of how things should work, and they are not going to change those beliefs based on what happens in this game. If they were running the game, what they did would work. To them, I'm the one making the mistake.
They know that this is my game, my vision of how things work, so they are happy to ride along but they will never buy into something that they fundamentally disagree with.
Battling a God
|Kyuss, god of worms|
This one is really hard to handle. If the big bad guy of your campaign is an evil god, how do you do a final battle that "makes sense"? It's a god! How can mortals kill a god?
Usually the story involves some artifact that can kill the god in one shot, or some kind of ritual that weakens the god for a short time, effectively making them a CR 22 monster or whatever. Some campaigns go with banishment - the heroes get some device or spell that traps the evil god in some nether-realm.
That's the really hard part about using gods. How do you fight them?
Make Consistent Rules
You should decide at the outset of the campaign exactly what the god's capabilities are. What does it know? What can it do? What can't it do? Maybe it can see through the eyes of a certain type of creature, such as a bat or a raven. Whenever the god wants, it can scan their minds and see where they're at and what they're seeing. Maybe the god can speak through them or use some kind of power through them.
Maybe the god has an aspect down in the world handling everything, practically cut off from the true form of the god. The aspect won't have that nebulous god-power to worry about, it would be more on the level of the demon lord stats in Out of the Abyss.
How does the god communicate with its followers? Does it hear every prayer? Does it know what all of its followers go through and think about?
How does the god reward followers? How does it punish them?
Can the god just make an artifact - conjure it out of thin air? What about magic items?
These questions are important because players can tell when you're pulling ideas out of your butt during the game. They'll realize that this god can do whatever the DM wants it to do, so it's pointless to try anything outside the box because the god will know what it needs to know.
If you have these "rules" in place, that frees your players up to come up with schemes and scenarios to work around those rules. If they know the god sees through the eyes of every raven, maybe they'll have every raven in the kingdom captured and locked up somewhere. Maybe they'll befriend another type of bird and get them to scare off the ravens.
Spending a little extra time to clarify how the god does things can make your game much more fun and the players will come alive when they sense it.
Roleplaying a God
|Vecna, God of Secrets|
The important thing is to try to convey the specialness of a the god. You should come up with a few things that make the god special. Three things, probably. The god shows up, and what happens? Holy light has some effect, when the god speaks some effect goes off, and gazing upon them has some effect. Maybe just being near them temporarily enchants weapons and armor as the metal absorbs divine radiation. Maybe flowers spring up in each of their footprints.
The most important thing, as weird as it sounds, is to be ready for goofing off. If you want your god to be taken seriously, be prepared for inappropriate behavior. Definitely warn the players that this god isn't likely to put up with fart jokes. They've been fairly warned... then do what you have to do, just make sure it's not overly harsh. It should fit the tone of the god.
You should also think about how gods become gods. Is it possible for mortals in your world to become gods? How does that happen?
In my games, the characters can become gods. All of the gods in my world are former characters. Sometimes, when the character hits the highest level, I'll run a special event where the heroes can become a god if they kill a god. I first did this as a little kid. The characters were ridiculously powerful. The players flipped through deities and demigods. They picked out the weakest gods in there and asked to fight them. Sure! Why not? They killed them and became the gods of my realm.
That's a great way to immortalize your friends. One day when I was running a game in the game store, my old friend came in to say hi. I told the group, "He ran Thennrynia." Everyone gasped and started asking him questions. He went, "You mean my cheesy Drizz't rip-off character?"
This campaign had partly revolved around his character. People who had never even met him got to interact with him in a small way without ever meeting him. In a very tiny way, my friend was "famous".
To me, that's a fitting reward for someone who put so much of their time and energy into my goofy campaign.