By Joe the Revelator. Originally posted to Statbonus.com
I know this will sound like a departure from my usual preamble. And it is. But I want to tell you about a player named Dale. Dale, by the way, isn’t a made-up name to protect the innocent. If he ever reads this, Dale can straight-up kiss my ass.
Dale is an atheist. Which is fine. I’m something of an agnostic, which means we only differ in opinion by one word: Maybe. But our ability to game together has reached a head, because my willingness to accept the mythos written for the game is a deal-breaker for Dale, who insists his characters (all of them) would be atheists (as he is) in a world full of magic.
So as a warning to anyone who came here looking for our usual light-hearted romp around the Dungeons and Dragons table; now would be a good time to pull the eject lever, or buckle up, because we’re about to veer off-road.
I know I’m going to sound like an irate asshole for most of this post. So here. Here’s a goddamn puppy.
Why Your Character Might Start Out Atheist
One might argue that the character you’re playing is either too dumb or too skeptical to accept that the gods are real. Sure, there’s an overwhelming body of evidence to the contrary in the form of resurrection, divine magic, and lore. But what happens when the gods literally manifest themselves to aid mortals during their struggle? Divine magic is rampant in D&D, as well as other tabletop games that feature a pantheon of gods with powers to imbue their followers with. And those gods are known to just sort of…show up, once in a while.
Maybe it’s all a flim-flam? Maybe the white light emanating from the Cleric’s hand is really a high-tech healing device? Ah, but remember, technology exists in D&D, in the form of steam power, alchemy, and astronomy. The characters aren’t automatically caveman bumpkins from ancient pre-history, ready to pray to a fireworks show.
Look at this sweet little guy. He’ll be crapping battleships in no time.
Maybe every temple, from Boccob to Nerull, is using elaborate illusions to trick people into believing. Maybe there’s a strobe-light in the sun temple to fool people into thinking Pelor is really shooting sunbeams from the heavens. I can understand a deep mistrust if your character pulls back the curtain to reveal the Wizard of Oz behind the pulpit. But consider the following: religions on earth have sprang up around far less. Cults arise whenever translation discrepancies appear in the bible. Hell, a glittering rock flew too close to the earth and spawned one of the most malignant cults in America. And that was less than 20 goddamn years ago! Are you telling me a god speaking directly into your character’s mind wouldn’t shake his atheism a little?
Lastly, there’s a chance your character knows the gods are real, but has chosen to turn his/her back on them out of spite. Compelling and dramatic, yes. But this is not true atheism. It’s tantamount to me denying that sharks exist because I’ve never seen one, but I hold a grudge against their kind nonetheless.
Here. Check out this cute little shitter.
Why Your Character Would Believe in the Gods
Ever read modern articles about Christopher Columbus and think to yourself; Wow, that guy was kind of a jerk? Ever laugh at moon landing skeptics or 9/11 truthers, because despite their wacky theories, there are still hundreds of thousands of stories from real people who were actually involved? Multiply the first-hand accounts of just one of these events so it’s repeated the exact same way every few hundred years, and you have the rock-solid proof that gods exist in D&D.
In the world of Dungeons and Dragons, acts by the gods are not a one-time-only show. There are histories written by a multitude of races, from far away continents, that all agree that the gods are real. All because some level 20+ asshole called on them once for backup. And then his grandson did it. Then his grandson’s grandson became a Cleric as well.
“But we have that in real life– there’s a diversity of religions from every corner of the planet.”
This is true. There are written texts from all periods of history that point to the existence of God(s). You know who wrote those texts? Prophets, or cultists who wanted sex. You know who would be writing about the army of undead that was turned into a smoldering crater by the fist of Kord? Freaking historians. And right behind them would be everyone else who witnessed it. Journals would crop up from witnesses in the same way we read letters from WWII soldiers.
In D&D there are prophets, cults, religions, and holy texts, just as there are in real life. The difference is that miracles written in real-life accounts are performed by god’s followers. Whereas the gods in D&D aren’t always content to let their reps on the corporeal plane get the credit. They send magical creatures, spells, and sometimes a piece of themselves to the world of Orcs and Goblins, to lay the unholy smackdown on anyone pissing on their temple. These occurrences wouldn’t be referred to as miracles. They would be called acts of nature, and they would be on history shelves.
Look at this adorable little jerk. Bet he never ruined a D&D game with his inane bullshit.
Conclusion: Why Dale is a Fedora-Wearing Jackass Who Will Be Surprised When I Tag Him On Facebook With This Post.
Lastly– and here’s the most important part– if you suddenly got your way and every player agreed with your atheism bend, what do you have left? Really think about it. Say you convert everyone around the table, and we all agree the idea of gods is stupid, and everyone should play an atheist, then what game are you playing? Oregon Trail? Little House on the Prairie?
No gods = No Magic = an elaborate game of Don’t Get Cholera or Staph Infection.
I know I can be an immature asshole. But I also know that atheism wouldn’t exist in the D&D universe. And if there were atheists living alongside magical planes that eerily resemble the afterlife, the gods controlling those planes would find a place to stick your atheist ass when you die. No beings, be they gods or afterlife jailers, would put up with someone who refused to acknowledge their existence despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe they’d throw you in a giant jail cell in the astral plane. Or seal you away under the heavenly floorboards. Or brick you up in a wall, if you will…
Wait, afterlife atheist-prison already exists in the lore? I guess none of this was necessary.
Ok, I think the puppies are working. I’m calm now.
Featured image from Dungeons and Dragons Wikia, uploaded by WonderWaffles.
All puppy images from Wikipedia and Wiki Commons.
You can also read why Christianity doesn’t mix well with D&D either here.