Great Odin's Ravens!
by Josh Dockall
by Josh Dockall
From the divine ecstasy of a vision to the last minute Hail Mary to the ever-popular GMing trick known as "Deus ex Machina," the use of divinity in a game has always added some amount of chaos and uncertainty. While arcane magic tends to focus on the wizard or sorcerer as a character (what actions they take and how their own use of willpower and intelligence binds the magical forces to a certain outcome, such as a spell or effect), divine magic, in a more than metaphoric and spiritual sense, takes the power out of the hands of the wielder and places it in the hopes and prayers sent to (pun intended) a higher role.
In a RPGer’s gaming sense, the divine magic of a priest follows similar mechanics to those of a wizard, though the role of divine "magic" tends to be for healing and bolstering allies, etc. In a GM’s gaming sense, the divine magic of a priest thrusts a number of other irons into the fire. With the introduction of godly magic comes the need for those gods from which those powers flow. To make the story revolving around priests and their abilities more believable, a GM can cause those gods to have a much more direct influence on the game at hand.
Even wizards begrudge the existence of those powers that are beyond even their ability to summon and control. For a priest, their god or gods, however ephemeral, are the background to the pattern of their lives. For a priest, their deity is behind every move they make: there are no coincidences or serendipities, there is only their god’s divine power.
For players, the same should be true: every roll they make, every event or effect in their proximity, should be viewed as the power of their deity at work. For a GM, it is an imperative responsibility to make sure that those priestly players feel that their gods are leading them inextricably, inexplicably, towards their goal.
With the addition of gods, there also comes the need for variety:
- What gods are needed?
- What domains and responsibilities does each god hold?
- What are the relationships between the other gods?
- Are there other gods?
And, just like with the addition of so many examples from modern cinema, what is the back story of each god? Were they created from the beginning of things (such as being spoken into existence by a proto-deity, i.e. Eru Iluvatar, or birthed into the universe, i.e. Gaea) or did they achieve immortality and divinity through some material means (such as a ritual or simply getting enough people to believe in them – Terry Prachett, eat your heart out). Are the gods anthropo-morphized? Do they require sacrifices and Orders of Monks and priests to constantly pray for their obeisance?
Take, for example, the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean flotsam to come shooting out of the silver-screen-editing-room: the addition of the voodoo priestess who blossoms into an ancient sea goddess. The making of Tia Dalma into a goddess not only added to the story a “touch of destiny” but also allowed for the complete closure of several characters’ backstories, something that every GM needs to master in order to add sufficient cohesion to their world order: with her character’s thrust into divinity, each of the characters who left the franchise were afforded the correct and genuine opportunity to retire those characters.
And, that is a GM’s (and player’s) most important long-term goal: How to retire characters in memorable and apropos means.
But, that is a topic for another day.