View Full Version : Gods get power from worshippers?

2012-12-21, 12:45 PM
This has become an almost ubiquitous theme in fantasy literature and roleplaying settings, and even made its way into the Clash of the Titans remake, but who did it first? I liked the idea when I first heard it, and in fact I still would if it hadn't been overdone. Was it a D&D original from Greyhawk or Faerun? Or what? The magic system came from Jack Vance's writings. Was there a literary inspiration for this too?

2012-12-21, 01:15 PM
The first time I heard about it was in the early nineties with Forgotten Realms' Time of Troubles. that became the system after the gods regained godhood if I remember right.

2012-12-21, 06:22 PM
It's something that seems to make sense at first but in actuality has nothing to do with rationality, sense, or logic at all.

2012-12-21, 06:51 PM
I was thinking about this while toying around with a homebrew cosmology. It hit me; why does D&D have gods at all? If you can be a cleric of no deity and still have domains, then why are there gods? I mean in a strictly mechanical sense - I understand the fluff/flavor reasons.

Warrior Birdy
2012-12-21, 08:01 PM
TV Tropes' wonderfully named Gods Need Prayer Badly (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/GodsNeedPrayerBadly) trope claims that this idea even popped up in real-world religions. TV Tropes isn't really a 'citation needed' sort of place, so it might be wrong, but regardless that page would probably be the place to track down this idea's oldest literary use.

2012-12-22, 07:19 AM
As far as I'm aware, Plato philosophised a similar thought, shall see if I can find the particular info, sure I've stumbled across it before. The Old Testament kinda touches on it also, reading through the debacle of Babylon and also the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, where in both cases the 'old gods' no longer show power, because of the sheer number of them, and the lack of unified support for any one pantheon, let alone a single entity. It suggests strongly that the ability to perform miracles is something which comes from belief.

Xuc Xac
2012-12-22, 09:38 AM
There was a 1st Ed AD&D book that talked about this. There was a set of suggestions for how to handle PCs trying to become gods. One of the requirements was a sizable body of worshipers who already considered you to be a god. I think the 1st Ed Manual of the Planes also said something about the power of a god being limited on planes where they didn't have an active cult of worshipers.

2013-01-03, 10:34 PM
Strongly featured in the works of Terry Pratchett, though he started writing in the early eighties (D&D was still young, but not new.)

2013-01-11, 08:28 PM
In some interpretations of the Abduction of Persephone myth, the rest of the gods caved in to Demeter's demands (i.e. Return my daughter or I will never return to my post as the goddess of agriculture) because the lack of sacrifice was weakening them (that's the interpretation given in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, anyway). Relevant?

2013-01-12, 11:07 AM
It makes a lot of sense for it to have just originated as a real world idea. It gives mortals a footing in dealing with god. Basically giving you the power to starve out a god. Sure he can just smite you all into oblivion, but then he'll go out with you. Sort of an imagined check and balance.

Also earlier religions sort of accepted that there were other gods, so it also kind of implies a way to get rid of them. Clearly if we kill off everybody worshiping that 'evil' god over there he'll disappear with them.

2013-01-12, 11:10 AM
It's pretty logical in a world with active, physical deities like the ancient mythologies or D&D-style settings. After all, the gods demand mortal worship for some reason. If it didn't give them any tangible benefit, why would any deity that's not narcissistic and vain - not that any mythology has a shortage of such gods, mind you - even bother?

2013-01-14, 04:59 PM
This has become an almost ubiquitous theme in fantasy literature and roleplaying settings, and even made its way into the Clash of the Titans remake, but who did it first? I liked the idea when I first heard it, and in fact I still would if it hadn't been overdone.

What exactly do you define as being "overdone"? Have there been any really original improvements to the fantasy genre in the last 2 decades?
I think you're better off just deciding what you like and going with that, rather than trying to convince yourself that you're not having fun just because something isn't super-special-original.

Personally, I've always favored a mixed approach. Some dieties, like those that embody characteristis people favor, like virtue or beauty or some ideal can draw power from their worshippers. People either venerate or worship these gods in hopes of recieving their favor or spreading their message. Dieties can also feed on other emotions, so gods might draw power from both the mortals who idolize them and the those who fear them. In otherwords, the more people just think about a god, the more powerful they are, which explains who gods are so eager to spread their message and empower clerics.

In the same world you can have gods of different aspects of existence, like storms or fire or death. People might offer a sacrifice to these gods so that they diety does not feel insulted, or they might simply try to avoid being noticed. This second set might be powerful enough to not need worshippers, or simply might not care (dieties, after all, do not necessarily have the same goals and desires as mortals).

For gods that DO rely on worshippers, even if every single one of their followers was killed off, it might not cause the god to disappear. They might be greatly weakened, but they could still exist as a very powerful outsider, with plenty of abilities not reliant upon mortals.

With those options in place, you have quite a few potential story hooks that should keep things fresh, IMO.