What are the defining traits of a god?

For worldbuilding purposes, what is a god? What are the core traits without which you can't claim that title?

In game terms, we know that granting spells in involved; you have to be able to supply power to your followers. You also need some mechanism for harvesting worship from your followers. You need to be able to participate in the divine-point economy.

I would also say that gods need to have access to another plane, and be capable of influencing the world from there. 

Finally, I think spheres of influence are important- almost every old god has a list of domains like "Master of Wind, Lies, and Basket-Weaving"

What are the community's opinions? How do gods work in your world? Do you prefer your deities more abstract (Cloud, booming voice, lack of corporeal appearances) or personal (Promiscuous and toga-clad)

The only required definition is that if someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes.

I've done it all, I think, over the years. Right now I'm in the "monotheistic god as a barely-comprehensible Force Of Law that manifests as the Sun" that sure beats all these other chaotic divine-granting Others that aren't "gods" but'll swallow your soul nonetheless, and most of those come from other places with other suns where that chaos is actually their law and whatever.

Ill-defined at the moment, but the difference between "plane" and "planet" is the letter "t" and I've run with it.

I'm kinda not worried about it until Alex fleshes out that divine economy system a bit more and then, oh then we'll see some stuff.


Is he planning on releasing Cardinal, Apotheosis, Deity System (or CADS) anytime soon? I was sort of thinking I might flesh it out a bit myself if I had time.

Dunno. I'd guess it'd get more fleshed out around the time the Auran Empire stuff comes out.

Remember that scene from Clash of the Titans where Zeus et. al. are standing around a "board" of the world, and Perseus is a clay piece being put in play?

That's the game I'm imagining. Diety-level players moving heroes and kings around events, playing for points.

I’ve always had a soft spot for “Gods are just sufficiently-powerful wizards with delusions of grandeur.”


Dunno. I'd guess it'd get more fleshed out around the time the Auran Empire stuff comes out.

Remember that scene from Clash of the Titans where Zeus et. al. are standing around a "board" of the world, and Perseus is a clay piece being put in play?

That's the game I'm imagining. Diety-level players moving heroes and kings around events, playing for points.


I love it. Clearly, then, the next supplement written will be ACKSS: Adventurer Conquerer King System System, where each player DMs for several adventuring parties, and must use their suite of legendary heroes to overcome the opposition. It takes 97 people to play; one GM GM to run the game as a whole, six GMs to serve as the gods, and eighteen parties of five to be used as pawns by the GMs.

I think that'a a question to answer by world or campaign, rather than trying to find a consensus.  (Which I'm aware isn't very helpful.). Default seems to be "pantheons are real!", whatever that means to you.

I've toyed with the idea for a setting conceit that the "gods" are just any very powerful creatures.  Titans, ancient dragons, mortals who crack immortality or undeath and keep accruing levels - just get enough hit dice, and people who venerate you start manifesting divine casting.  (Raises the question of whether the "gods" get their own spells - quite likely, but maybe not always, maybe it's an emergent property of the relation between a priest and a high hit dice creature, not a literal grant of spells.)

I also like the idea of gods as idols.  Carve a graven image, bow down before it, start getting spells.  Initially it's a focus to harness your flocks divine energy, but that doesn't preclude it taking on a life of its own.

Neither of those precludes a larger cosmology, but I sort of like the idea of a more distant creator deity, rather than that just being one of several options that all grant spells on an equal footing somehow.

The necessity of working out the metaphysics and mechanics of gods is actually one of the reasons I've delayed on the Auran Empire campaign setting. It's something I've given a lot of thought to. Here's my current thoughts, susceptible to change. 

At present, my interpretation is that existence is defined by the interaction of the Pneuma* (the creative force or cosmic soul) and the Logos (the laws which govern the expression of the Pneuma). The Pneuma created the Logos but in the process bound itself into every expression of the Logos. As such all things possess a fragment of the Pneuma within themselves - said fragment being called its soul

The ability of physical matter to host a soul is dependent on its configuration and properties - its form in classical parlance. Death results when the physical form becomes so damaged or decrepit that it can no longer contain a complete soul. When this occurs, the soul transmigrates to a new form which can contain it. This process is called reincarnation or metempsychosis. Complete reincarnation does not occur immediately, however. When a living creature dies, a residue of its soul may remain coagulate within the body for a time, only gradually dissipating from its corpse. It is this residue of the soul that a spellcaster speaks with when using speak with dead. And it is this residue of the soul that makes the organs and blood of creatures valuable as special components. How much of a residual soul remains depends on many factors. How intact is the body? The more intact the body, the more residue of the soul will remain. How powerful was the deceased? More powerful souls tend to linger longer. What is the alignment of the spheres of existence? The more distant the outer spheres, the longer a soul will linger. How long has the creature been dead? The more time has elapsed, the less divine power will remain.

In game terms, the total amount of divine power possessed by a creature is equal to ten times its XP value. When a creature dies, about 90% of this value typically transmigrates very rapidly; the other 10% remains as a residue within the creature’s blood or organs, which can be harvested as special components for magical research. When a creature is sacrificed, 80% of its divine power passes to the entity worshipped, 10% is retained by the sacrificer for his own ends, and 10% remains residual within its blood and organs. This is why divine power why XP value = special component value = sacrifice value.

A living creature sustains its soul through the biological processes of its living form. It bleeds off excess divine power each day equal to 6% of its XP value. Casters use some of this to fuel their spells but the rest is dissipated or bequeathed to a god through worship. A cleric that leads a congregant in worship collects about 10% while the god collects the rest – which is why 50 0-level congregants (worth 5xp each) generate (5 x 50 x 6% x 10% x 7) 10gp worth of divine power for their cleric. 

The definition of a living creature, in fact, is one that sustains its soul through the biological processes of its body. The definition of an undead creature is one that sustains its soul through feeding on the souls of the living. This can be through feeding on spiritual residue found in corpses (as a ghoul) or from directly draining the life energy of living creatures (like a wraith or vampire).

Following from this, the definition of a god is a living being that sustains its soul through divine worship and sacrifice.

A note on the spheres: In the Auran Empire setting, the various spheres of existence (Chthonic Darkness, Empyrean Heaven, and the Elemental Planes) are all coterminous simulacra of the primary sphere (akin to the Shadowfell and Feywild in 4E/5E D&D, or to the Ethereal in 1E/2E). The geography of the world is mirrored in the geography of the other spheres, albeit in a distorted format representative of the nature of the other sphere. Thus the Empyrean gods could be said to live on the peak of Mt. Audarammas, but the Mt. Audarammas they live on is in the Empyrean Heaven.

The spheres are always in motion. When an other sphere is are juxtaposed with the primary sphere, it becomes possible to pass between at various gateways. Thus on certain high holy days, when the spheres are aligned, one might pass from Mt. Audarammas on the primary sphere to Mt. Audarammas on the Empyrean Heaven.

*Pneuma is very much the *correct* word in terms of the Stoic origins of this concept but it seems like it sounds wrong to modern English ears. I'm open to suggestions of an alternative. Numen? Numina? The Divine? Psychocosm? Cosmic Soul? Oversoul?



I was going to come in here and post the old post Alex had on basically this topic, which contained most of the same information as his new infodump.

But now it feels like a waste to go dig it up.

edit: For what it’s worth, in the campaign setting I’m working on, there are no gods in the traditional D&D sense. That role is filled by anthropomorphic personifications of what are basically aspects of magic. (Trickster, Maker, Walker for Fire, Earth, and Air, and so on.)

I take a "hard S&S" approach: gods are very old, very powerful aliens who thrive on psychic energy. For reasons unfathomable to mere mortals, some favor positive emotions and tend to be Lawful, others prefer the heady nectars of fear, hatred or despair and veer toward the Chaotic, with Neutral gods sampling from all sorts of emotion.

The fact that worlds inhabited by sentient life are few and far between across the Multiverse means any one such world can attract and host dozens of gods of varying age and power. One very powerful god starving and/or besting the opposition isn't unheard of, but because the massive destruction in the wake of a godly battle threatens the survival of their precious worshippers, the most common outcome is for the gods on a given world to draft and enforce some sort of compact forbidding direct intervention; most conflict between gods happens by proxy, via worshippers.

While it is generally accepted by most discerning sages that the idealized forms of Lawful and many Neutral gods are made to order to awe worshippers, there is considerable debate whether the monstruous appearance of many Chaotic gods represent the true forms of the god race, or merely a disguise crafted to inspire fear and revulsion.

In any case, Alex's metaphysics look very compatible with my ideas. Just say that the "psychic energy" I mention above is Pneuma and we're good.


You really are the mad genius of systematization, Alex.  (I do mean that in the nicest way).  I'll go off and ruminate on the concepts - I definitely love the direction.  Would this type of material get delivered through the Patreon process as new systems sometime in advance of the Auran Empire setting?


I did a little forum sifting to find the previous post discussing the theories of divine power.  It's a super-interesting "behind the scenes" approach to explaining how gods and clerics work.

What jumps out to me is how this mechanical approach can drive some really interesting stories for the referee:

  • How new gods get created through a critical mass of belief (the Neil Gaiman 'American Gods' approach)
  • Destroying a god by killing off all the believers
  • Hierarchies, tiers, and power levels of the gods based on believers and divine power
  • Competition between deities for divine portfolios and believers driving campaign arcs
  • A mechanical reason for all those awful sacrifices to the Cthonic monstrosities
  • An explanation (perhaps) for why transmigration of souls to the deity's plane matters to the deity

I can see how this probably isn't front-burner, but it's great stuff - looking forward to the further development!

Thanks for the kind words! My favorite kinds of systems are those which can drive interesting opportunities in game, and I think you're right that this approach does so.

Since Pneuma is Greek, maybe one of the other words from ancient languages with similar meanings? Hebrew Nephesh or Ruah would fit (although Nephesh is closer to Psyche, so Ruah might be better).

Soooo… if a person, say a king, were to establish worship of himself as a God-King, they would accrue 8 times the divine power for sacrifice, and 9 times the divine power for worship? Cool :slight_smile: Much more efficient than being a middleman (though beings that depend on the energy may disagree)

Yes! Assuming the worship was genuine, and that other gods don't strike him down...

The morale penalty for changing religions, combined with the rules on relating morale to divine power from congregants, can be a useful guide here.


As per Pilgrim of Eternity (Star Trek Continues) can you hack out their faith reciever and de-god a god?

Additional question, in this model how do immortal beings (like intelligent magic items etc) feed their soul? Do magic weapons feed when they strike? and thus count as undead? 

Not in any rules or mechanics I've written, no.

My current interpretation is that some forms are structured in such a way that the soul can reside in them without decay, but also without any bleed off. 


the glaive can't lick stuff though


and by lick stuff I mean persue intellectual pursuits befitting a wizard