Lurkers must sign up now to visit our additional forums. Please register today and enjoy our endless banter. Instant access as of March 2019!

Monotheism vs Polytheism

Discuss any non D&D roleplaying topics here.

Moderators: Stik, Brightmantle

User avatar
JadedDM
Guildmaster
Guildmaster
Posts: 704

Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#1 » Fri May 01, 2020 3:04 pm

Have you ever noticed that every D&D world, both published and homebrewed, is always polytheistic and never monotheistic? I think Dragonlance has the fewest number of gods at 21 for a published setting, and there's still a lot of overlap (several different nature gods, for instance, three different magic gods, etc.). Then on the flip side, you have Forgotten Realms which has so many gods I don't think I could come close to naming them all.

Why is this? My theory is that a lot of it boils down to player choice. The more gods you have, the more priesthoods you have. The more priesthoods you have, the more choices players have when they decide to play a cleric or paladin or any other divine caster.

But what do you think? Have you ever been in or run a game that was monotheistic? How did that turn out?

User avatar
Cole
Webmaster
Webmaster
Baronet
Baronet
Posts: 1759
Contact:

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#2 » Fri May 01, 2020 8:53 pm

Wow, that's the best question I've seen in a long time.

For me, it's always been polytheistic. As you noted, it was about choice for the players. It also lends to a much more diverse world.

My new realm is polytheistic for the most part, but a few kingdoms are monotheistic, pushing their religion into other kingdoms by force if needed. Very Templar like.

It is interesting that most do choose that route though. I would suspect that most do because of the very nature of the game. Perhaps nostalgia has some bearing on it.
The Borg of Dungeons & Dragons

User avatar
New Hegdeh
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 473

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#3 » Fri May 01, 2020 9:19 pm

Specialty priests tend to henotheism and kathenotheism, clerics and paladins are truly pantheistic, or so it seems, an omnist priest would be interesting, paladins could be omnists, druids may be transtheistic but other forms of transtheistic priests would be interesting, as panentheist, pantheist, pandeist and panendeist priests... An apatheist or ignostic priest seems impossible, if they were priests of forces or philosophies their apatheism and ignosticism would be irrelevant. But monotheism? I would only run it if the deity is a survivor in his one-god-war against every other deity in the pantheon, and while he now holds the portfolios of everything and evil and has followers convinced he is good, he is having a hard time maintaining reality ordered due to the lack of expertise the dead deities had. It would be a post-apocaliptic scenario. I would allow one other survivor, holding the portfolio of good, a weak demigod who is trying to either resurrect the gods or bring in new ones. Real world monotheism is part of desert culture and for all its claim of goodness it tends to greater evil than polytheism so I would discourage good-aligned monotheism.
Every minute is a year of struggle

User avatar
Stik
Master Scribe
Master Scribe
Guildmaster
Guildmaster
Posts: 735

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#4 » Fri May 01, 2020 10:07 pm

I think the polytheism seen in most D&D worlds stems mostly from the source material the game was originally drawn from. I don't have easy access at the moment to the suggested reading list included in the First Edition AD&D DMG, but if memory serves, the Robert E Howard Conan stories, Michael Moorcock's Elric stories, and the Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories, all of which feature polytheistic cultures, figure prominently.
Another reason to favor polytheistic cultures is that they add to the flavor of the world, making it more exotic and interesting than the real world.
Yet another reason is that it is hard to translate an all-powerful Judeo-Christian God into game terms. It's been tried, but it somehow just doesn't work. And it's a good thing, too. The Satanic Panic that attacked D&D in the late 70s and early 80s would have been far worse had Jesus and Lucifer appeared in the rulebooks.
"No matter where you go, there you are."

User avatar
New Hegdeh
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 473

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#5 » Fri May 01, 2020 11:16 pm

Stik wrote:The Satanic Panic that attacked D&D in the late 70s and early 80s would have been far worse had Jesus and Lucifer appeared in the rulebooks.


But I had wish they had existed, I would love stating Lucifer as a good aligned god.
Every minute is a year of struggle

User avatar
Cole
Webmaster
Webmaster
Baronet
Baronet
Posts: 1759
Contact:

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#6 » Fri May 01, 2020 11:27 pm

New Hegdeh wrote:
Stik wrote:The Satanic Panic that attacked D&D in the late 70s and early 80s would have been far worse had Jesus and Lucifer appeared in the rulebooks.


But I had wish they had existed, I would love stating Lucifer as a good aligned god.


I will admit, seeing Satan in a dnd book would have been very interesting...at least for me, but I'm an Atheist. However, my many Christian friends would probably be at least a little offended.

Remember though, there are many incantations of him in ADnD.

But yeah, it just doesn't make much sense from a game mechanic standpoint to make a dnd world monotheistic.
The Borg of Dungeons & Dragons

User avatar
New Hegdeh
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 473

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#7 » Sat May 02, 2020 12:44 am

Cole wrote:I will admit, seeing Satan in a dnd book would have been very interesting...at least for me, but I'm an Atheist.


My sentiments exactly.

Cole wrote:However, my many Christian friends would probably be at least a little offended.


I understand that, it makes it bad for business to stat Lucifer/Satan, and it makes it even worse for business to stat them as good. That is why there are several christian undertones in who is good and who is evil in AD&D.

Cole wrote:Remember though, there are many incantations of him in ADnD.


Methinks my knowledge of the game isn't deep enough to know any.

Cole wrote:But yeah, it just doesn't make much sense from a game mechanic standpoint to make a dnd world monotheistic.


I guess this follows from what Stik said, that
Stik wrote: it is hard to translate an all-powerful Judeo-Christian God into game terms
), but my view is independent of mechanics, I work AD&D and the like for fables, and I will never be in the mood to make a fable whose morale involves christianity unless the morale of the story is that abrahamism and desert cultures suck. (I dont want to stir controversy, I refer to desert culture as brought by the desert culture versus forest culture hypothesis in anthropology https://www.discovermagazine.com/enviro ... le-winning https://stevedutch.net/Pseudosc/ForestDesert.htm ). I am not just an atheist, I am an antitheist. To avoid the controversy, I am not inviting discussion on whether I am wrong or right, at the moment I am just saying what I stand for. I dont want to turn this into a flame war which I have in the long gone past.
Every minute is a year of struggle

User avatar
Crimson-Kobold
Peddler
Peddler
Posts: 268

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#8 » Sat May 02, 2020 2:05 am

JadedDM wrote:Have you ever noticed that every D&D world, both published and homebrewed, is always polytheistic and never monotheistic?


Really has to do with how active the gods are. Settings like Forgotten Realms or Golarion (Pathfinders default setting), where the gods are not only active, but are killable, and mortals can become gods themselves, there's no way for it to be a monotheistic setting, as you have hard proof of the existence of multiple gods.

If you have a world with a monotheistic religion, if the god is active, then it has to be the only one there. Maybe they have underlings, or scions, but they do not have godhood themselves. The point is, active god in a monotheistic setting kinda limits you (which is probably why most shy away from the idea in RPGs)

Having said that, a world with multiple monotheistic religions, because the gods are NOT active, and less individuals and more concepts and understanding of the contextualization of the world for the characters, give you a great hook for conflict, as religions butt heads over whose one true god is the real one (plot twist, it's all the same guy, and he just likes dicking people around)

That sounds like it could be an interesting world to have a game set in.
The Kobold gonna kobold.

User avatar
Stik
Master Scribe
Master Scribe
Guildmaster
Guildmaster
Posts: 735

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#9 » Sat May 02, 2020 6:09 am

By the way, with regard to statting, someone did actually go there. In his 1981 book Fantasy Wargaming - The Highest Level of All by Bruce Galloway did exactly that.
And badly, in fact. You have to be wary of book with a tagline like that.
"No matter where you go, there you are."

User avatar
Cole
Webmaster
Webmaster
Baronet
Baronet
Posts: 1759
Contact:

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#10 » Sat May 02, 2020 10:47 am

Looks for free PDF... Lol.

Yes NH, Satan has many names, but two that pop up in D&D are Mephistopheles and Beelzebub. However, many other names of the devil or devilish names are all in the original AD&D books. Off topic sorry Jaded...
The Borg of Dungeons & Dragons

User avatar
New Hegdeh
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 473

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#11 » Sat May 02, 2020 12:35 pm

yeah, it gotta be AD&D stats, a different game wouldn't cut it.

Back on track: Maybe Atenism could work as a monotheist AD&D religion, an evil sun god that has become god of everything
Every minute is a year of struggle

User avatar
Lyrwik
Peddler
Peddler
Posts: 254

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#12 » Sat May 02, 2020 7:11 pm

Overall, as others have said, I think it's mostly because a polytheistic world is more interesting. Also, I think it helps to detach it from real world religions and related matters. For example, despite the satanic panic, and back when I was in school (private protestant school), where D&D was banned, I have played the game with many who are religious, and take zero issue with the religion in the game. However, I think this may not be the case if it were attempting to emulate real world religions, as it would likely just come across as a parody or caricature of it.

However, something else I've noticed is that I don't think I've ever been in a game in which every god hasn't belonged to the same pantheon. That is, there's never been competing pantheons where the gods and/or followers of one pantheon, deny the existence of the other. However, I suppose that could be due to the fact that there's much more direct evidence of their existence in D&D in terms of granting spells, sometimes showing up as avatars, etc.

User avatar
Cole
Webmaster
Webmaster
Baronet
Baronet
Posts: 1759
Contact:

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#13 » Sun May 03, 2020 8:17 pm

Lyrwik wrote:
However, something else I've noticed is that I don't think I've ever been in a game in which every god hasn't belonged to the same pantheon. That is, there's never been competing pantheons where the gods and/or followers of one pantheon, deny the existence of the other. However, I suppose that could be due to the fact that there's much more direct evidence of their existence in D&D in terms of granting spells, sometimes showing up as avatars, etc.


That's kinda what I did for my new realm. ALL of the gods are part of one Pantheon except one. He/She/It is worshiped as the one and ONLY god and those who pray to anyone else are considered heathens and the mere mention of them are blasphemous in nature. But the best part is ... that God is the ONLY one that doesn't actually exist.. :lol: Makes for some great RPing for clerics of that faith :D
The Borg of Dungeons & Dragons

User avatar
New Hegdeh
Merchant
Merchant
Posts: 473

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#14 » Mon May 04, 2020 10:56 am

The order of the stick has more than one pantheon, veneration depends on region.
Every minute is a year of struggle

User avatar
JadedDM
Guildmaster
Guildmaster
Posts: 704

Re: Monotheism vs Polytheism

Post#15 » Mon May 04, 2020 2:49 pm

I did once run a monotheistic world. It was a homebrew setting I came up with. There was only one god, who lived in a flying tower that circled the main continent. He mostly kept to himself, just watching things play out. But every now and again he would send an agent or herald to shake things up a bit. It never caused any problems. Of course, despite the fact that there was only one god, that doesn't mean there was only one religion. Worship of the one god had numerous sects. There were also some people who worshiped nature itself. And there were small cults of devil/demon worshipers, too. I'd also toyed with the idea of introducing philosophy and force religions, too.

Stik wrote:Yet another reason is that it is hard to translate an all-powerful Judeo-Christian God into game terms. It's been tried, but it somehow just doesn't work.

I don't think it'd have to be the Christian god or even similar to him. The one god does not need to be all powerful, either. Maybe it's a she. Maybe the one god is a petty bully, like Zeus, who abuses his power, and everyone hates him but he's a god, so what can you do? Maybe the one god is pure evil, and so everyone prays to him to keep him appeased, in fear of him ever getting mad. There are lots of different ways you could do that would not in any way resemble Christianity or any other real world monotheistic faith.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests