Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Hungry Gods

A universe with "objective" morality as suggested by alignment in D&D has always been hard to operationalize without silliness.This has led to subsequent additions downplaying it and many groups ignoring it all together.

R. Scott Bakker's novels set in the Prince of Nothing and Aspect-Emperor series suggest a different take on deities, clerics, and alignment that might be useful in gritty, maybe even slightly horrific games. I guess it could be used anywhere really, but some of the implications lend themselves to those sort of settings. Anyway, here's an idea riffing off Bakker's ideas:

So first off, the metaphysical geography: Beyond the physical universe is the Outer Dark. Visitors might perceive planes or realms here due to local control of some being, but really all the heavens and hells are just different regions or aspects of the Outer Dark. This is where human souls go when people die, into the waiting grasp of demons and gods. The difference between the two is only one of power, not substance. All the beings of the Outer Dark feed off the emotions of human souls where it be in life or death. The gentlest of gods has the same diet as the cruelest of demons. Humans are their bread or cattle.

The gods' strategies from cultivating food varies according to their nature. Some gods are Compensatory Deities who reward the faithful with various afterlife paradises, while others are Punitive and are worshiped to placate them against punishing humans. A third group might be termed "Bellicose" because they like humans to strive in opposition to them. These might even damn humans for prayer. These inclinations could be matched to alignments--or perhaps alignment is a reflection of what sort of actions a given god wants humans to take?

In any case, no god is truly "good" in humanocentric terms, because what they ultimately care about is suffering in life leading to humans to develop strong emotions toward them, nourishing them mildly in life, and delivering an eternal repast in the afterlife. Pro-civilization gods encourage humans to prosper, but if humans were too prosperous they wouldn't come to the god with their prayers and bring their devotion.

Alignment then is just the particular set of rules by which the gods use to judge a human soul. It's perhaps unfair and nonsensical if examined too closely, but that's because its only a means to mark and trap human souls for the metaphysical reaping.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bleak setting to me, even though some of the gods cn at least be kind to their "food", especially if the characters realize the truth of it all. I suspect I would want to play someone who aimed at deicide in such a setting.

Trey said...

In the books that have a setup something like this, it is certainly the aim of a number of people (particularly sorcerers who are damned for the practice of sorcery) to escape the gods' clutches. And the villains of the story which to close off the world from the Outside entirely. How successful either of these groups will be is an open question.

DeusNihl said...

That is the most cynically realistic and beautiful thing I've read about fantasy gods in a long time. Thank you :)