View Full Version : Clerics in a World Without Gods [3.5]

2011-02-11, 01:14 PM
Hey there Playground.

I've been in the process of building a huge-scale world akin to some of the world-building projects on this site, and while for the most part it has gone smoothly, I have recently hit a roadblock: I don't know what to do with clerics.

In my world, there were originally three gods, however recent events (relative to when I plan on starting the campaign) have led to the gods leaving the world so that the people living in it can learn to take care of themselves, and a major theme I want to have in the world is the concept of the average person (or PC) rising to the level where ascension to godhood is possible. This idea came about when, at the end of my last campaign, one of my players became a martyr and as a result, became the first what I began referring to as "the New Gods." While this was, at the time, an idea which I was very fond of, it has presented a problem in that if players can only worship a single god, it leaves little room for character variation (since I have ruled that clerics cannot simply gain their spells by worshiping an ideal).

So, does anyone have ideas that I could implement to allow clerics to retain their spellcasting abilities while still staying away from the "god for every possible interest" issue that I feel plagues standard 3.5 ed? Is a total overhaul of the cleric class called for in this situation? Or should I abandon the idea of the world being temporarily godless and just run with the standard polytheistic set-up common to d&d?

No idea is too outlandish, I'm looking for any and all possible ideas here that I can use for inspiration.

2011-02-11, 01:37 PM
How about to concept of "Divine Spark", where the powers of godhood reside within all mortals, and those who learn to tap into it, and fuel it, gain power from it. Those who learn to wield it to shape the minds and bodies of themselves and others, as well as the world around them, are clerics.

Instead of pantheons and divine portfolios, you could implement a list of divine archetypes. Each of these would be akin to selecting domains, but could be much more generic or restrictive, depending on your decision. In essence, the archetype would determine what kind of "spark" the cleric had within them, be it good or evil, lawful or chaotic, earth-centric or astral, ect.

Basically, you would make each cleric a demi-demi-demi-god, or a godling in training, who starts out as a mere mortal with just a hint of greater power. As they tap into the ethereal source of the divine and shape it by the force of their personality, they grow in power, and possibly might one day become a godlike immortal.

Just an idea

2011-02-11, 01:39 PM
Here are several possible responses. I actually like the polytheistic approach, though here are some of the more servicable options i've seen or used elsewhere:
The gods are gone, but heaven and the congealed magic of their presence remains, meaning that there are effectively two gods in the world: heaven and hell, one good and one bad, though unintelligent in their distribution of power.
Clerics beseech the absent gods and through what amounts to an arcane ritual, gain a seed of power that remains within their soul, allowing them to cast spells [this works best with Favoured Souls].
Use ethical alignments as power sources, as detailed in the PHB. Messy, but it allows for a withdrawl of power if you choose.
Clerics are actually White Mages. I suggest keying their abilities more directly to positive energy in this case; mostly buffs and debuffs. Worth taking away their armour options [not a big debuff by any means at their power level]
Clerics draw power from the elemental plains, every one of them must have one of the elemental domains. Positive and Negative energy are represented by the Healing and Destruction domains; that's six "gods" with no sentience to deal with.
Clerics are actually drawing their powers from a gestalt magical technology built into the archetecture of their churches. It draws magic inherent to faith from the worship of those who spend their sundays there, effectively creating a "shadow" of a god to draw from for the members of the clergy.

2011-02-11, 02:50 PM
Here's a thought:

Clerics never channeled power from the gods; that was their great lie, the lie perpetuated upon all who lived upon the world below.

The three gods were ancient beings, beings who knew the secret of the Exultancy. Beyond the confines of the universe, in a realm that exists purely as potential, are structures that underly all things. These structures are available to any being, and philosopher that might even conceive of them. Their beauty is in their universality, the simplicity that can only be understood through complex study. Their power is in the emotional surge that results from sudden revelation.

For the components of the Exultancy are the concepts which, when fully understood and held in the mind, cause the universe to change. They are the hidden secrets of philosophy, mathematics, and the like. They are the things which give rise to a scientist's moment of eureka, a worshipper's fervor, the sudden and shocking awe when the clouds part and things become clear.

Since a revelation isn't as potent the second time, spells are limited to a set of prepared slots: these are basically things the cleric has carefully thought through up to the very edge of revelation, such that they can complete the thought and experience the Exultancy on command. Clerics train themselves to constantly explore new aspects of the beauty of these ideas, to always find them fresh (allowing them to refresh spells each day).

For eons the gods have granted their mortal followers glimpses of the Exultancy by hiding fragments of these truths in prayers, ceremonies, and visions sent to their worshippers. Even with the gods absent, these fragments - spells - still work.

2011-02-11, 03:34 PM
I think NichG has a good idea, the idea that divine magic never came from the gods and that the lie they told is what gave them power is really good (reminds of the "The Usual Suspects" watch it if you haven't yet-it's awesome) also the approach of "worship=power" is a good idea as it allows acension threw support of the masses and to a sort of "divine democracy" where all sentient creatures get a vote

Draconi Redfir
2011-02-11, 03:39 PM
Instead of getting their powers from gods, they get their powers from SCIENCE!

2011-02-11, 06:01 PM
All I can say is wow...some seriously awesome stuff right off the bat, thanks a lot guys!

NichG I'm seriously digging your idea (did you make up that word, "exultancy?") although the others are all good too. Mulletmanalive, you made a solid list, and the white mage thing was an approach I was considering, perhaps making the cloistered cleric variant from UA the standard cleric (with some changes to their spell list).

Keep 'em comin folks :smallbiggrin:

2011-02-12, 01:25 PM
All of the above? Perhaps something like this:

Divine spark is potential; nothing more, nothing less. All living creatures possess potential, though only sentient creatures are able to access it. The divine spark, in actuality, are trace fragments of an outer realm known as the Far Place. The entire cosmos; perhaps all cosmos, hover in the Far Place like bubbles in still water.

As all worlds are born from the Far Place, it is a realm of "hidden" secrets; math, philosophy, and science; ways with which creatures can shape the world. In this sense, the divine spark fuels innovation and creative thinking; mental functions that result in access to the hidden secrets.

The three gods of the world may have had their idealogical differences, but all three were very concerned with the promotion of science, philosophy, and new ideas. They were "of Exultance" if you would; beings that despite moral differences wished to see ideas born across the cosmos; new ideas fuel the spirit of the Far Place, which in turn gives them strength (instead of the traditional prayer = strength).

However, there exists an antithema of the Far Places known as the Farther Realm (incorrect grammar; go with it!). The Farther Realm is a place of mindless creatures, hopelessness, and ultimately dead life. The Farther Realm spawned deities of its own, who set about corrupting the cosmos' within the Far Place, destroying their worlds and their gods. The gods of this cosmos felt they had no choice but to leave and fight off the gods, expecting it to end quickly.

Regardless of whether the three died, were corrupted themselves, or simply vanished, without their investment of the divine spark into new life, all new mortals and outsiders being born or created had no innovation within their souls, making them little better than common animals in terms of their Intelligence. The churches of the world set out destroying these creatures, but without new young, in time the world grew old and feeble and the number of outsiders slowly began to dwindle.

A famous Cleric/Druid/Wizard/Sorcerer/Psion discovered the existence of the world outside of his own; the Far Place, and reported it to his church. After years of careful discovery, the Clerics created magitech machines that channeled the energy of this place, allowing them to invest the divine spark into new creatures after they had been born (the functional equivalent of a super awakening spell). Within time, the population grew and the world attempted to live without the aid of the gods, the Clerics instead choosing members among their order to "ascend" to the level of godhood (though this did not actually occur).

Some important notes about this story:

While a divine spark exists, it is not directly tied to godhood. The "Clerics" who are worshiped as gods are really just normal men, living out normal existences within whatever plane their soul was sent to at death.
More likely then not, the Clerics would end up going on a spark-igniting craze, instilling intelligence into many creatures as practice. I'd expect intelligent, permanently awakened versions of some animals to exist in small pacts throughout the world; maybe even some groves of plants or trees as well.
All living creatures would be inherently born without a divine spark; they'd be little better then animals even beyond infancy until their spark was ignited (probably a rite of passage-esque ceremony done around 2 or 3 years of age).
Undead, being undead, would not possess a divine spark. Intelligent Undead would instead possess the anti-spark, and would probably end up being the primary agents of the creatures of the Farther Realm.

2011-02-12, 02:00 PM
I would say to allow Clerics of ideals. Justification for this being that that is what the three gods were: very powerful Clerics of the ideals their religions valued. So powerful, in fact, that the source of their power could not support any others, and they only allowed power to those who shared their ideals. But now those gods are gone, this power is coming back into the world, and it is attracted to faith and belief, which is how it was drawn to the gods in the first place. Those with sufficient faith in their ideals (Clerics) can wield this power. Eventually, this power will be locked up in a few gods or godlike beings again, but only so long as they all survive in constant balance. Some people (say, those with high Wisdom) are going to realise this and start a race to accumulate power, either to become the one and only god using this power (because other power sources exist, and now the maximum power level has dropped they are more likely to become their own "gods", though unable to grant spells) or to stop anyone from achieving this, keeping a balance of sorts again.

Feel free to alter or mix with other ideas as you see fit (it should be easily compatible with at least some others here).

2011-02-18, 09:03 PM
Have the gods actually left existance or have they simply decided not to walk the earth in the flesh anymore?

Rolling with NichG's idea, maybe clerics are basically like the sorcerors of your world. This could use the spontaneous domain spell variant cleric and maybe you could even do away with the sorceror. Wizards would be those who learn magic by dedication and hard work, whereas clerics are those who are simply "in tune" with the universe and are so focused on their faith that they bend reality to their wills. If you do away with the sorceror, maybe bonus cleric and wizard spells per day could be charisma based?

2011-02-19, 06:16 AM
Divine energy can neither be created or destroyed. When the gods left they the energy they once held spilled out into the world where it is now floating around free for anyone to grab.

Unfortunately this is actually causing problems for the fabric of reality. All of this uncontrolled energy is beginning to spontaneously manifest itself in the form of divine spells randomly casting themselves without anyone's help, additionally this divine energy is now beginning to attach itself to people (favored souls), squirrels, very large rocks and so on and so forth whether they want the power or not.

There are two basic possible outcomes to this. If a small group of mortals/squid/trees amass enough energy to raise themselves to godhood (possibly the last group of gods did the same thing), then they can control the flow of divine energy and ration it out to their followers like the old gods did. If however nobody gains enough power, then the world will have many small demigods running around but no true gods who can determine which of their followers receive fragments of divine power. As of the present though, anyone can access divine energy given a strong enough will and concentration.

2011-02-19, 10:34 AM
I made a setting without gods, becuse I wanted to give the setting a more isolated and deserted feel. I did that clerics gain their magical power from making deals with creatures called sanity eaters. So the higher level the cleric is, the less sane he is.

It doesn`t have to be sanity eaters, it could be any kind of creatures - some kind of outsiders seems like the obvious choice, but fey and plant creatures could lead nature based clerics, powerfull undead could lead negative energy based clerics. The clerics don`t worship those beings, they trade with them.

2011-02-19, 11:06 AM
Hey, NichG's idea really jives with the Defiant PrC... I could definitely see them going "WE TOLD YOU SO"