Goodliness, Godliness, and Dragons

Soapbox time.

An ongoing gripe of mine, is the seemingly constant confusion around what good, godliness, and gods mean in D&D.

See, many folks assume D&D works like Christianity, and the only difference is God is now the gods. The gods made the world, people who do good things get to go to a Good Place, and those who do bad go to a Bad Place. The end.

D&D isn’t Christianity though. Its gods are not automatically good. Hell, half the time Asmodaeus is both the King of Hell, and a god. Bane is the god of hatred and fear, not things I’d catalog as things I want preached and spread. Lolth is spiders and assassins. I mean spiders are a net neutral (Creepy, but also kind of cool), but its kind of hard to push for assassins as a good thing. Sure, gods like Tyr preach justice and good, but that doesn’t mean they all do. In fact, more often than not, a majority are evil.

So we know gods aren’t all good. Why do people follow them? Most editions of D&D lay this out very clearly actually. If you follow a god, you get to go to their afterlife. Followers of the god of Wine get to go to a sweet kegger with no hangovers. Followers of a god of peace live without war. Followers of a god of assassins? Well, it is probably something like a nonstop John Wick movie with them as the villains, and disgraced followers who couldn’t find a way out act as prey. Why follow a god of torture? Because you get off on torturing people and know you’re going to be rewarded in the afterlife with the ability to be the guy in hell performing the torture. Bad people who follow bad deities and do bad things get rewarded, not punished.

If you don’t follow a god? This varies setting by setting, but it’s usually an eternally bleak neutral landscape. Maybe you go to unlive in hades or with Hades, or maybe you join a spirit wall that surrounds the cosmos or maybe you go for a walk, or just dissipate. Either way, you don’t have to go to Hell in D&D if you don’t want to (or make a poorly worded deal with a devil).

With 5e, a cleric can be any alignment, and follow any deity. If you want to get really silly with it. You can be a CE priest of Tyr (LG) that loves justice, and fully expects to have to pay the tab he is running up with his vile acts, or an LG priestess of Lolth (CE) who tithes all her money to the poor and relishes in the chance to assassinate the guilty who legally get off the hook for their crimes. It’s possible for a LG priest of Tyr to miss the good ending because he didn’t solve the mysterious assassination case, and a LG priestess of Lolth gets the good ending because she got away with that same assassination. This is one of the sillier ones to me, but hey, I didn’t write 5e.

Did the gods at least create the world? Sometimes a few of them may have. But not all, Kelemvor, for instance, was an adventurer who ascended to godhood. It’s a pretty common villain trope too, so it would be kind of weird for folks to object here.

Well, what about Angels and Devils? In Christianity, they are a big-time religious thing, but not as much in D&D. In D&D Angels are usually the LG servants of the gods, and the biggest example of someone missing the memo that gods aren’t all good. Often times the settings say Bane can make some LG angels, but usually people don’t tell stories about that, because we all agree it’s confusing and it’s easier to have him command some devils he hired or promised something. We all skip over Bane’s angels, because its weird, but there’s some interesting questions that come about in terms of Kord’s (CG) angels. They are LG, and he is CG, which should be as much C as it is G (Except in 4e). The only clear answer is that apparently, sometimes, Kord needs some L aligned folks to help out. It’s certainly not intuitive, but not a huge gripe.

And Devils? Those guys aren’t religiously affiliated at all actually. Except for sometimes Asmodaeus, if he happens to be a deity in that setting/edition. They are evil, and they live in a place called hell, loosely modeled after the defining Christian text, The Inferno, but that doesn’t actually make them religious in D&D, which requires a deity. Devils like souls, steal souls, and torture people, but it’s not because those people were bad in life. It is because that’s what devils do. In Christianity, if you saw someone being whipped during your journey through Hell, it’s because that person did something that earned them that whipping. One could argue it’s your moral obligation to let them take their punishment and walk past. In D&D though? if you see devil’s whipping a bunch of people in hell, the morally just thing is pretty clearly to go battle the devils and free the unfortunate souls. Even if they were jerks, they weren’t jerks who did something demanding eternal whipping, they were jerks who are being whipped for unrelated reasons.

But Devil’s have churches? And? Devils are also liars and conmen. Plenty of them have churches in Christianity too. Some devils have churches, take worshipers, advocate for causes, give commandments, and give out power. That makes them bossy, not gods. In D&D, being a god comes with various things over the editions (some form of divine rank usually). Devils, even powerful archdevils, don’t get that automatically. Some of them get it because they are also gods, but that’s a separate thing.

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