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Role of the Divine

Source Planar Adventures pg. 70
The concept of free will hangs at the fundamental core of all living beings, even the choice to have faith in the gods or not. Whenever deities meddle directly in mortal affairs, they damage this agency and erode the concept of free will—what is the point of being able to make your own choices, after all, if an entity infinitely more powerful than you can simply ignore those choices and alter reality at its whim?

The gods understand the nature of this conundrum far better than any of us mortals can, and their greater understanding of these paradoxes is a large part of what causes them to move in their proverbial “mysterious ways.” Still, mortals are often driven to ask the question, “Why do the gods allow bad things to happen?”

The simplest explanation for this paradox is to equate divine intervention to an arms race. Were there one divinity, there would be none to question its actions or oppose its needs, but this is not the nature of the Great Beyond. Countless gods, demigods, and quasi deities exist, each of which has interests spread throughout the multiverse and across all Material Plane worlds. This means that every god, even the most secluded or nonconfrontational, has competitors at best and enemies at worst. When a god takes direct action in a world, that god’s opposing forces take note and react. The resulting arms race, with opposing deities taking increasingly overwhelming actions to counter each other, can swiftly spiral out of control and destroy entire worlds, at which point all the hard work of creation is, in effect, undone.

And so the gods follow a largely self-imposed ban on direct interaction with the Material Plane. They leave their concerns and agendas in the capable hands of their faithful and allow their churches to represent the deity’s interests and decide their own fates. It should be noted that this element of self-imposed non-intervention does not extend equally to the ranks of demigods. These entities, while powerful, can be defeated by the mortals whose lives they manipulate, and they do well to keep that possible fate, however unlikely, in mind.

Divine Power

Source Planar Adventures pg. 70
There are three levels of power among the divine, although divinities of all levels wield vast power, especially when compared to a lowly mortal.

Divine Intervention

Source Planar Adventures pg. 70
In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, elements of divine intervention occur when the GM steps in to change the flow of play, be it by arbitrarily assigning die roll results, reversing entire events, or even changing the nature of in-game reality, if only for a split second. The effects of a divine intervention are not bound by rules, and you can justify any sudden reversal of fortune or adjustment to reality you wish by categorizing it as divine intervention.

This is a tool you should use only rarely—if ever—in your game. The best reason to allow divine intervention in your game is when there is no other option for party survival and you and your players wish to continue the campaign. In such cases, divine intervention can not only allow the game to continue but can instill in the characters and players alike a feeling of gratitude for the sudden unexpected salvation.

Take care to not remove the threat of failure from your game, of course—if the players come to expect you to save their characters each and every time they fail, the suspense of the game will fade. As a general rule, divine intervention should only occur once per player per campaign, but of course you can alter this frequency as you wish to suit the preference of your table.

Divine Gifts

Source Planar Adventures pg. 71
The gods do not need to wait for mortals to call upon them for aid to grant boons. At times, when a character performs a particularly devout act or completes a legendary crusade, that character’s deity may choose to reward her with a divine gift.

The timing and frequency in which divine gifts are granted is left strictly to the discretion of the GM. They can be given to a particularly devout worshiper in a time of need. They might be granted upon the completion of a significant quest that furthers the faith. Or they might be rewards given in return for a significant sacrifice made in a deity’s name or dedication shown to the deity. A divine gift can be granted to any creature, even to a follower of a different deity or to a creature who does not worship the divine at all. The only restriction is that a creature must be sapient in order to receive a divine gift, for a creature always has the option to refuse the gift if it so wishes—the freedom to accept or reject such a gift is part of the nature of this boon. However, at the GM’s discretion, rejecting a divine gift from a deity you worship (or accepting a divine gift from a rival deity) may have repercussions.

Divine gifts can be of any power level, but the example gifts presented in the following section focusing upon the core pantheon are all on par with effects that could be granted by a miracle spell—feel free to adjust this power level as you prefer for your home campaign. At your discretion, you can allow divine spellcasters to duplicate the effects of a divine gift (as appropriate for their deity) by casting miracle themselves.

Faith and the Divine

Source Planar Adventures pg. 71
Divinities have immense power and can intervene in the lives of mortal worshipers to grant miraculous boons. They can raise up realms and create life on a whim. What use, therefore, do divinities have for mortal life at all?

One use lies in the nature of the fundamental building block of the Outer Planes—quintessence. As detailed in The River of Souls, when a mortal dies, the soul eventually merges with the material of another plane (usually after spending time as a petitioner or outsider), expanding the plane’s size and counterbalancing its erosion by the Maelstrom. Thus, the very existence of the Outer Planes depends on the constant influx of souls. When a deity’s religion is widespread on the Material Plane, her realm reaps direct benefits in the form of more petitioners, which can, in time, increase the overall size of the planar realm.

But there’s an even more important role that mortals play: they provide faith. When a mortal has faith in a divinity, that power increasingly ties that mortal’s fate and soul to that divinity. The divinity does not directly gain power from this interaction—a deity with only one or even no worshipers can be as powerful as a deity with trillions of worshipers. A religion that is powerful and widespread, however, can expand a divinity’s influence in ways that the divinity cannot, due to the fact that the divine do not directly interfere in the affairs of mortals. A deity who has legions of worshipers will see her religion spread, and that spread of faith will directly translate into an increase of souls into her realm. Deities with few or no worshipers will, over time, see their realms eaten away by the Maelstrom, their armies dwindle, and their standing among the divine fade. Faith can meet a divinity’s emotional needs as well, be it the need for a self-centered deity to feel his ego bolstered, an extroverted deity to feel accepted and popular, a power-hungry deity to feel feared, or a benevolent deity to bask in the love of her children and family.

Some deities have no interest in faith. These divinities may seek widespread destruction (such as Rovagug, whose realm is also his prison, and who would be released into the Multiverse upon its destruction) or exist as a manifestation of the fact that all things must end (such as Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, and Yog-Sothoth are incalculably ancient, and they exist outside of the boundaries and restrictions of faith, souls, and the concept of quintessence entirely. Mortals still worship them, yet the Outer Gods have little interest in such worship, and in many cases these alien divinities may not even comprehend the concept of faith at all. Among the Outer Gods, only Nyarlathotep’s pursuit of faith provides a singular, ominous, and unnerving exception to this rule.

Deific Realms

Source Planar Adventures pg. 72
A divinity gains authority over a portion of a plane in one of two ways. The first is via simple conquest. Such conflicts may involve vast armies, clever traps, devious espionage, political subterfuge, or any combination thereof. Whatever form it takes, the resulting battles and confrontations are always the stuff of legend.

Conflict-based conquests are only rarely carried out by lawful or good divinities. The planes are vast, and for every realm currently ruled by a divinity, there are thousands, if not millions, more locations spread throughout the plane ripe for the picking. Thus, the most common method by which a divinity claims a realm on the planes is by challenging the plane itself. The divinity selects the realm it wishes to be its own, then exerts its will upon that realm and reshapes it to suit its needs. The more closely aligned a divinity is with the plane and the type of region it has chosen, the more quickly that territory transforms into a realm suited for rule.

While a demigod’s power within its realm is immense, a deity’s is nigh absolute. Yet even in deities’ realms, the concepts of free will and noninterference remain. Just as a divinity leaves its worshipers free to express their faith and set their own fates as they wish, it also does not oversee and police every facet of life in its realm. This means that non-worshipers, or even enemies of a faith, can travel through a deity’s planar realm without fear of immediate reprisal. A paladin among a group of adventurers on a mission into Lamashtu’s realm in the Abyss will likely feel unwelcome and meet strong resistance from that region’s denizens, but would not need to fear direct punishment from Lamashtu herself. Likewise, a devil-worshiping priest who infiltrates an enclave of azatas in Cayden Cailean’s realm in Elysium to chase down an escaped petitioner from the pits of Hell would not be immediately crushed by the offended god. Only in the most significant of incursions or when a divinity is directly called out or confronted will a deity or demigod take note—and even then, the most common response would be to send a powerful minion to handle the situation.

The Core Pantheon

Source Planar Adventures pg. 73
The most significant deities of the Inner Sea region are the 20 presented in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. In a setting of your own design, the most powerful and prominent deities are entirely up to you. Regardless of which deities hold sway in your setting, you should take the time to design and detail your chosen pantheon of gods and goddesses, both as individuals and as a group. The following section summarizes this information for each deity in the core pantheon, to provide players of characters (and GMs of NPCs) who worship one of these deities more information for roleplaying.