View Full Version : Gods and Demons?

2012-01-23, 12:42 PM
My question is motivated mostly by Dungeons and Dragons, but I'm sure other platforms have similar systems in place. What exactly is the difference between a demon and a god? I mean, we have good gods, we have evil gods, and then we have evil demons. In my mind the evil demons have a stake apart from the evil gods (I don't see a demon kneeling down to supplicate Gruumsh or Vecna or whomever) and would consider them to be more at war with the gods, including the evil ones. What's the playground's view of demons vs. gods?

2012-01-23, 01:23 PM
In D&D, gods are essentially more powerful versions of demons/angels/other outsiders (most explicit in 3.X, where gods usually have 20 Outsider hit dice in addition to their class levels and Divine Ranks). Divinity is a set of powers beyond the usual even for the Outer Planes (or setting equivalent) which sets Gods apart from the other beings - things like being able to effect massive changes on the Material Plane from outside of it, for example.

Also, gods often (but not in all settings) gain some tangible benefit of power from the worship of mortals, whereas demons and the like generally do not - in some settings, the definition of a "god" is simply a being that's worshiped, whether that worship gives it Divine Ranks or not. It does, indeed, vary between different D&D settings, though, so there's no fully authoritative answer. As two contrasting examples:

Forgotten Realms: Gods are beings that gain specific powers as a result of being worshiped (and/or killing another god and taking his stuff) and who embody specific ideas or aspects of existence.

Eberron: Gods are not physical beings, but simply the venerated symbols of a religion. Some symbols are physical (the Silver Flame), others are strictly ideals, as far as anyone knows (the Sovereign Host and the Dark Six). Anything that gets worshipped, though, gets called a god.

2012-01-23, 04:26 PM
My question is motivated mostly by Dungeons and Dragons, but I'm sure other platforms have similar systems in place. What exactly is the difference between a demon and a god? What's the playground's view of demons vs. gods?

At the most simplest, a God is a divine being made of pure energy and is (nearly) the most powerful type of being in all of existence. A God is one of the main movers and shakers of the multiverse.

A demon is simply a powerful immortal creature, relative to a human. Even a demon lord is simply a more powerful demon. And while much more powerful then a average human, they are still a drop in the bucket on a cosmic scale.

And demons often grown in power until they become gods, but that is no different then any other creature that does so.

2012-01-23, 04:41 PM
In some settings (Greyhawk, Faerun, etc) mortals are capable of ascending to godhood.

And many gods are less "movers and shakers of the multiverse" and much closer to the mortal level.

2012-01-23, 04:49 PM
Outsiders come in two types, petitioners and exemplars. Exemplars are born out of the essence of the planes, faith and alignments. Petitioners are ascended mortal souls that lose their memories after death, but keep some of the core of their personality. Most well-known outsiders are, in fact, petitioners.

Gods, however, are for the most part ascended mortals. They have gathered faith around themselves. However, unlike outsiders, they have not died, lost their memories and then ascended, they ascended directly with their memories intact and are all the more powerful for it.

At least, that's how I handle it. Note that both are made up mostly of mortal faith, the most powerful force in the multiverse.

2012-01-23, 05:00 PM
In 3.5, demons essentially spawn directly from the Abyss, being the leftover trash after the gods, devils, and other outsiders left.

I think it's also worthwhile pointing out that in 3.5, gods can grant spells while demons (and devils) cannot, regardless of actual power ranking. Gods gain nourishment by being worshiped, but demons and devils actually have to gain possession of a dead soul (a "soul shell") in order to get any direct benefit from it. Gods directly benefit from organized religion and worship -- demons and devils also maintain cults but only because those who worship them and become lawful or chaotic evil are automatically condemned upon death.

2012-01-23, 05:01 PM
In 3.5, demons essentially spawn directly from the Abyss, being the leftover trash after the gods, devils, and other outsiders left.

Some do. Dragon Magazine's Demonomicon articles have more detail on how it works.


Dragon 353: March 2007: Demonomicon: Malcanthet
Unlike the obyriths, who crawled wet and ruinous from the heaving birthflesh of the Abyss itself, the tanar'ri seeded from a much more fertile soil- the mortal spirit. As countless mortals lived and sinned and died, their wicked souls created an endless influx of raw material the Abyss could shape. The process continues to this day, with often transitory tanar'ri breeds emerging from new depravities and mortal failings, only to go extinct without ever coming to the attention of Material Plane scholars who mistakenly consider themselves experts in all things demonic. Yet certain sins are ageless and do not vary across the gulfs of time. Tanar'ri born of these sins form the bulk of demonic life on the Abyss- wrath begets the hateful vrocks, envy the power-hungrey glabrezus, gluttony the ravenous nabassus, and so on.

2012-01-23, 05:37 PM
It depends on the religious and metaphysical framework of the setting. There's no general, definitive answer, because what constitutes a "demon" and what constitutes a "god" varies too greatly from work to work.

For example, in my setting, "divine" means flawlessly embodying one or more of the seven virtues: patience, chastity, so on and so forth. "Monstrous" or "demonic" means something completely lacking of virtue - less a person now and more a natural disaster.

In my other setting, being a "god" means being bound to benevolent aspects of the creator-soul of the world, and committed to keeping said creator sleeping so life can exist. Being a "demon" means being bound to the negative aspect of the creator-soul and characterized by a deeply nihilistic attitude towards life and existence, leading into desire to wake said creator-soul up and a deeply destructive and hostile behaviour towards living things.

You can't apply either of these paradigms to, say, J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, or any D&D setting I'm aware of.

If you want a proper answer in regards to any one RPG or fictive setting, you have to be specific instead of general and look deep into the work itself.

2012-01-24, 04:30 PM
Example: in Exalted, roughly speaking, Demons are the constituent souls of the Yozis, the imprisoned remnants of the former architects of the universe. Gods were created by these architects as separate entities to carry out their will, and are not part of their soul hierarchy.

2012-01-24, 04:40 PM
The only general thing I have seen is that in most settings gods are gods of something, which they either embody or hold dominion of in a supernatural way, while a demon is some kind of evil spirits who don't really do that.

But really the difference depends entirely on setting.

2012-01-24, 06:17 PM
1. Gods and Demons are essentially the same kind of being. When you draw the battle lines, the God of the bastards on the other side become your Demons.

2. Gods are beings that derive strength from faith or worship whereas Demons are immortal beings with inner strength. There can be some Gods weaker than some Demons and some Demons weaker, even, than normal humans.

3. Gods and Demons are essentially the same kind of being, except your setting has an objective morality and all beings of the kind who fall on one side are Gods and all that fall on the other side are Demons.

4. Gods and Demons are essentially the same kind of being, but are organized into two factions. Perhaps the one with a less hospitable attitude toward mortals is considered "Demons," or the distinction may be arbitrary.

5. Whether a being is a Demon/Angel or a God is differentiated only by how powerful they are.

2012-01-24, 06:34 PM
A friend's version, for a homebrew setting:

Gods are abstract entities, which embody cosmic principles or roles within the human community. They do not take on a physical form- cannot be in one place because that would entail not being everywhere else. They have an intelligence, they are capable of communicating with and perceiving the world, they can have avatars and projections, but they don't and can't concentrate their entire nature into single personal bodies and walk around as if they were just big shiny people.

Demons (daemons, whatever, if they're on your good side and/or you want to be on their good side, you call them angels) are the servants of the gods. They can walk around like big shiny people (or flaming horses or tentacle monsters or whatever). Every god has their own set, or multiple sets if they have different aspects served by different kinds of beings.

There are hierarchies and matters of degree- the first-order demons of a god might be relatively weak in terms of supernatural power, and have only animalistic intelligence, while higher-order demons might have superhuman intelligence and powers far beyond those of any normal mortal, even a wizard.

This is sort of like the 4E attitude toward paladins, in that any god has their own set of 'angels' who will act as intermediaries and servants of their interests.