I don't know that the answer I eventually came to would be satisfactory to other philosophers--if I can even call myself that, being a dropout. To me, philosophy is the application logic as a means of attempting to learn the rules of, and to define, that which is considered undefinable, and beyond logical governance. (Kinda recursive if you think about it). Such illogical, undefinable things might include ethics, the fundamental answer to 'why,' or even conceptualizations of divinity. And thus do we come to tonight's subject matter.
Truth be told, I don't think I'll ever go back to the study of philosophy as a primary pursuit in my life. But that desire to define is still strong for me. So what if I've given up the quest to define the concept of divinity? I'm an atheist anyway! And it's way more fun to codify divinity within Pathfinder. I actually started this project many years ago. Shortly after I got the D&D 3.0 supplement "Deities and Demigods," I became fascinated with the concept of "divine ranks." I can't imagine myself letting my players be gods, even demigods. I doubt I would ever encourage them to fight a god, either. But I still like the idea of codifying what gods are and how much power they have. If, for no other reason, than because it places limits on what gods can do for their followers. So after a friend on Twitter reminded me that I had started this project years ago, it occurred to me that finishing it would make an excellent post!
The only truly almighty being, Logos is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. The power of the Logos is so far beyond understanding that even the mightiest of gods are powerless before it. However, Logos is also non-sentient. It is a vague force which controls the universe according to a logic which no one can possibly comprehend. Perhaps the simplest way to explain Logos is that if the laws of thermodynamics, motion, and conservation of mass are the laws of physics, then Logos is the laws of metaphysics. It is said that the multiverse itself is the mind of logos, and that every event, every insect, every human, dwarf, elf, or god, are all simply the machinations of the Logos' mind. But this is widely viewed as conjecture.
Knowledge of Logos is reserved largely for those powerful enough to see its subtle workings, which leaves very few besides the gods themselves. Only once has a mortal creature learned anything of Logos. A wizard, whose name and race have long been lost, once learned a single word in the ineffable language of the Logos. The wizard spoke the word, and was so completely obliterated that his soul ceased to exist, and even those who had known him forgot him completely. And through his erasure, the Illumian people were created.
Deific power is gauged by "Divine Ranks." These ranks define a deities power in a manner similar to a character's levels, but are functionally quite different. It is a closely guarded secret of the gods that their power is drawn from their mortal worshipers. The greater the number of worshipers, and the greater the power of those worshipers, the greater the god's own power will be. And while the numbers of mortals are ever-growing, adding more and more potential power for the deities to absorb, the pool of available power between all of the gods is functionally finite. Often, in order for one god to increase their divine rank, another god must lose their own. One might think that a god could simply create more and more worlds, and fill them with worshipers. And, indeed, a god called Hewavaj'Hove did precisely that once. For one brief moment He reigned supreme amongst the gods. Then he was completely obliterated in a fashion which the other gods describe as "painful in a way only a god could experience." The gods have determined that it is Logos who destroyed their momentary overlord, but have not yet determined which crime was deemed worthy of such a horrible execution.
All gods of divine rank 1 or higher have the following abilities and attributes, both in their primary form, and when represented through avatars:
- Has access to all clerical spells which would normally be available to that deities' alignment/domains as at-will powers.
- Can control weather, landscape, and other physical phenomena within 100 miles of current location for each divine rank. (10 miles/divine rank when represented through an avatar.)
- Ability to appear in whatever form the deity desires, or to create avatars in whatever form desired.
- Unable to be harmed, save by items which are extremely powerful. Save for a god's own weapons, anything which could harm a god is likely unique to the god, and a carefully guarded secret.
- A deity is completely immune to any form of Transmutation, Energy Drain, Ability Drain, Ability Damage, or Mind-Affecting Effect.
- A deity may, at any time, be aware of everything (including thoughts) which exists within 1 mile of any of its worshipers, holy sites, or other objects or locations sacred to that deity. A deity may also attempt to block the senses of another deity within this range. More information on deity conflict below.
- Any deity may create a demi-plane. These planes are typically rather small, and can serve as private retreats for the deity.
- A deity may travel the multiverse as easily as a mortal might walk to the shop down the street.
Any additional power is determined by the divine rank of the god in question.
The divine ranks, as presented here, are infinitely scalable. Each element progresses in a predictable pattern (A deity gains a minor portfolio every rank, gains a domain every two ranks, and so forth.) For my purposes, a maximum divine rank of 10 is plenty.
On the chart above I list five types of powers which progressively grow more powerful as a deity gains divine rank. Domains, Major & Minor Portfolios, Absolute Portfolios, and Avatars.
Domains Any D&D or Pathfinder player should already be aware of what a Domain is, and how it works. When a cleric selects their deity, they choose two of that deity's domains. These domains represent core values, and sources of power for the deity and their followers. Depending on which domains are chosen, clerics gain access to different spells, and may focus on different aspects of their deity's teachings. Note that deities below rank two have no domains. This is because they do not yet have sufficient divine rank to grant spells to their followers. They may still have clerics devoted to them, but these clerics draw their power from other sources.
Major & Minor Portfolios A deity's portfolio is what they are the god "of." For example, my favorite god, Vecna, might have in his portfolio; Knowledge, Secrets, Magic, and Undeath. Any special powers Vecna has would be derived from these portfolios, and he would certainly have a certain amount of control over items in his portfolio. The difference between Major & Minor portfolios is one of scope, rather than power. (In fact, perhaps "Narrow & Broad" would be better, but we'll stick with what I have in the image above for now).
A major portfolio is something broad. For example, "Magic," "Insects," or "Knowledge." Whilst a minor portfolio is something more specific, like "Transmutation," "Beetles," or "Secrets." The line which separates major and minor portfolio items can be vague. However, without listing ever possible portfolio item, it must be left to good judgement to determine whether a portfolio item is major, or minor.
Major and minor portfolios may conflict with each other, if the minor portfolio fits within the major portfolio. For example, if a god of magic attempts to exercise their power over transmutation spells, a god of transmutation spells may resist the god of magic with a +2 bonus to their deity check. Likewise, if the god of magic is attempting to affect a conjuration spell, the god of transmutation may still attempt to resist the will of the god of magic, but takes a -4 penalty on their deity check. More information on deity checks is below.
Absolute Portfolio Drawn from the same lists as minor portfolios, an absolute portfolio is a realm over which a deity is considered to have absolute dominion. A deity with secrets in its Absolute Portfolio may have greater control over that realm than a deity who has secrets as a minor portfolio. For example, while a "Secrets: Minor" god may be able to learn any secret which they desire, a "Secrets: Absolute" god might already know every secret, even to the point of learning of new secrets as they are created.
Minor and Major portfolios may still conflict with Absolute portfolios. However, an Absolute portfolio is treated as having a +20 to its deity check, along with any bonuses or penalties a minor portfolio would receive in a given situation, as described above. If, perchance, two Absolute portfolios ever come into conflict, then the loser of the check has their Absolute portfolio permanently transformed into a minor portfolio. A "Supreme" portfolio may exist, which would be similar to an Absolute portfolio, but would apply to Major portfolios rather than minor ones. However, this is a level of power which I don't want within my games.
Avatars Being within the presence of a god, even a minor one, would be enough to drive lesser mortals mad. Besides--gods do not leave their realms lightly. To remedy these problems, gods may create an avatar. Avatars are small fragments of a god, which operate completely independently. Given the tremendous willpower of a god, they may give their full attention to all of their avatars simultaneously, without suffering from any distraction or deterioration of abilities. In this way, gods may be in two or more places at once.
Special Aside from the powers listed on the chart above, which grow more powerful as a god gains more and more divine ranks, there are a number of powers which gods attain as they rise through the ranks. Once a power is attained, the god retains the ability to use this power for as long as they remain at or above the divine rank at which the power is acquired. These powers do not become greater as deity gains more divine ranks.
- Any deity of Divine Rank 2 or greater can create any type of creature they desire, but these creatures cannot breed, or be replicated in any quantity sufficient to begin a new species. Such creatures are sustained by the deity, and will be destroyed if the deity loses their divine ranking.
- Any deity of Divine Rank 4 or greater can create new species of animals, or other unintelligent creatures. These creatures will continue to exist even if the deity is destroyed.
- Any deity of Divine Rank 6 or greater can create any type of new creature species they desire. These creatures will continue to exist even if the deity is destroyed.
- Any deity of Divine Rank 8 or greater can create new worlds, or layers to an existing plane.
- Any deity of Divine Rank 10 or greater may create new major planes.
Divine Conflict When deities engage in a battle for divine control, a deity check is used to determine the outcome. This is a very simple check: 1D20 + Divine Rank. Note that a deity check is not used any time deities combat one another, but only when two deities attempt to use their same divine powers affect the same thing in different ways. If, for example, one deity wanted it to rain on the city of Niston, and one wanted the city of Niston to enjoy a bright sunny day, the two deities would make a deity check to determine what kind of weather Niston will see that day.
Divine Rank 0
Divine Rank 0 is special. A new deity typically starts at Divine Rank 1, as a demi-god. Rank 0 is reserved for those gods who have failed to retain enough followers to maintain their divinity. A god at 0 has been forgotten. Perhaps their followers were slaughtered, perhaps the god was simply lazy and did not bother to answer any prayers. A few faithful may remain, but even mortals are sometimes worshiped by a paltry few thousand. That does not make them gods.
An entity at divine rank 0 is in danger of losing their place among the gods forever. They are reduced To but a handful of divine abilities. They cannot be harmed, maintain their immunities, can travel the multiverse, and are able to cast divine spells matching their alignment as a 20th level cleric would. The entity is given one thousand years to regain enough followers to become a Demi-God. If they fail to complete this task, the entity fades away forever.
What precisely happens to these forgotten gods is not known. Given that they are forgotten, documentation on their activities is understandably lacking. A few gods claim that their most powerful angels were once forgotten gods. Some adventurers have discovered intelligent items which have claimed to be the remnants of a forgotten god. And then, of course, there is the rare individual who shouts at his fellow tavern patrons "I was a god once, you know!"
Of course, this might simply be cases of bragging gods, self-important intelligent items, and crazy drunks. There is no way to be certain.