Saturday, May 31, 2008

Religion in D&D 4

I've read through the classes in the new Player's Handbook. There's a curious change to how religious characters obtain their power. In previous editions of D&D, religious characters prayed to their deity or pantheon and received powers based on their faith. The deity or deities might be listening or might be distant, but the power gained came from the gods.

In 4th edition characters are divorced from their deities. They gain power from their investiture into the faith, not even from their faith itself. A deity becomes the religious characters fashion accessory. The character can defy the will of the deity, defy the will of the faith, or do whatever they want, but that invested power is irrevocable. I find it an odd design decision and I don't like it.

Meanwhile, wizards "tap the true power that permeates the cosmos." The warlock also taps into power from beings they "commune" with, either fey, infernal or alien. Don't get me wrong, I like the new designs of these classes, but why downplay the religious character? I can't imagine it's out of some concern over religion in the game, because honestly, this approach strikes me as rather hostile towards the whole concept of religion.

Paladins are no longer paladins. They're more like holy warriors from Player's Handbook II or Book of the Righteous from Green Ronin. There is no more paladins' code, no restrictions on association, and a definite step away from the pompous knight that nobody wanted to play (which is good). They must be the same alignment as their deity, even if it's unaligned. Paladins are also invested into their faiths, their power coming from ritual, rather than their god that they must follow in alignment so closely. But what if they don't want to tow the line? Their paladinhood is irrevocable, as neither the god nor the religious order seems to have any control over the paladins power once he's invested.

The investiture approach to divine power is one step too far for my liking. I appreciate the concept that a god might not be paying attention and that a follower might deviate from the straight and narrow (or crooked and wide, if they worship an evil god). I like that the high priest of the good god can be corrupt without some simple spell revealing his schemes. What I don't like is the divestiture of religious power from the game. It makes the gods and the heavens irrelevant and elevates the arcane and alien. It's a simple enough fluff decision to change, but I find it odd that the designers felt the need to do this and I wonder why.


  1. This was actually one of the changes they discussed in the preview books when they talked about the fact that Clerics wouldn't get their powers directly from the gods.

    The reason behind it is simple: behavior can't be easily codified.

    For better or worse, the rules for 4.0 are meant to be easily understood with little to no room for ambiguity, but how do you accomplish that when it comes to following religious codes?

    Even in the real world people can't agree on what is proper behavior according to their religion. The debate is, if anything, even more fractured in a fantasy setting.

    WotC doesn't want any rules that would require that kind of debate. So, they default to the investiture model.

    That doesn't prevent the individual DM from ruling otherwise, although if they do so it does potentially introduce an imbalance for religious classes not shared by others.

  2. I read the preview book, but it must have been one of those "Huh, interesting" reactions, waiting to see how they pull it off.

    Eberron does a fine job of towing the line. It allows for corrupt priests who worship the gods in their own way or at least pay lip service. The power still comes from the gods, however.

    This investiture thing is counter-intuitive. It's not faith. Faith would have made sense. It's from a ritual. They couldn't have said faith? I suppose it could be ruled a cleric could lose faith or be worshipping in bad faith.

    I'm glad about the changes to the paladin, which caused no end of grief for me as player and DM. It was a Judeo-Christian behavioral code that caused endless debate and some hard feelings. I never played a paladin who didn't get in trouble, and I really tried hard to tow that line.

    The power source issue is mostly fluff rather than crunch. I thought it might be based on their changing cosmology, but plenty of prayers, usually those with "astral" in their name, create direct channels to the astral plane where the gods now reside.

    How would house ruling this one create an imbalance?

  3. The only imbalance is that they could possibly lose their powers based on behavior whereas other classes couldn't.

    I kind of see this as simply an expansion of the ideas that were in Eberron, but it's been a while since I read the Eberron core book, so I may be mis-remembering some details.