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The Divine Summons

Written by Nicholas - Published on December 11, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

divine-powerThink about divine characters you have played with in the past, even some of those you have played yourself. How many of them never developed a personality beyond who they worshiped? In my sad experience, far too many divine characters never escape the shadow of their god.  Clerics often become heal-bots that occasionally mention Moradin. Paladins are nags and babysitters too afraid of a mechanical banhammer to stray from the path. I am here to tell you that the options are so much wider than that.

Strayed From the Path

In 4e divine powers are assumed to come from a ritual, not directly from the god. The powers don’t go away for any infractions. This opens up some huge areas to explore within a divine class. Firstly, it allows a character to fail to live up to the tenants of his faith. Perhaps a soldier has started walking a clerical path of a peaceful god of healing. He wants to do his god’s work to heal instead of harm, but he finds it difficult to let go of his old anger. He is still a true believer, just falters in his resolve sometimes.

Or perhaps a divine character who uses to disobeys the faith so others don’t have to. Avengers can do the dirty work and live in darkness so that others don’t have to.  His unsavory methods are barred by the church dogma, but they are necessary to protect the religion for others.

The new rules also open the possibility of a complete betrayer. As a young man he had the rituals done to imbue him with clerical power. As he grow older he became disillusioned with the church or perhaps the entire religion. He might flee from his duties and be hunted down by the “true believers” or he could fight back against his former brothers using the same power they wield. Of course, he may never have believed at all and simply took an easy path to power.


Those who enter divine service often speak of being called, but what about those who didn’t want to be called? The life of an adventurer is not a pleasant one and means giving up an awful lot. What was your character before being called? A farmer with a lot of little mouths to feed? A simple academic that doesn’t like to leave the library? A student in the final year of university with a whole life planned out? And now he is expected to give all that up. Does he try to ignore the call? What are the consequences of that hesitation?

Once the character finally gives into the call, how does he feel about it? Is he scared of the new world he has entered? Does he feel bitter towards the god that forced him into service or does he understand?

Over Eager

On the opposite side of the coin are the zealots. Zealots are all too eager to do the “god’s” bidding. The trouble is they often misunderstand what that really is. Either they follow a corrupt church official’s rule as though it were gospel or depend on their own flawed interpretation of religious texts. This particularly works well in low tech worlds where there is probably not a canonized religious text for each religion and it would be difficult to mass produce versions.identical A common theme to zealots is their ability to violently condemn a few particular transgressions, but overlook their own glaring faults.

Avengers make for great zealots, but be careful when using them as a player character. Most players will get tired of having their character preached to all the time. If players are all members of the same church than a zealot can be a very interesting character. Even his peers think that he goes too far.

Do you play a divinely empowered character? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



3 Responses to “The Divine Summons”
  1. Scott says:

    I love playing left field characters

    One of my favourites was a cleric of the god of Exorcism. He was a bit extreme in his methods and captured the devils he exorcised to use them against their own kind.

    He was expelled from the church but the god still approved of his results so he kept on keeping on, This was back in 3.5 so god approval was paramount. Had some very cool Devilish abilities towards the end but was finally silenced by the church. A fitting end i think and a fun zealot to play with.

  2. WillF says:

    very cool ideas. Always played the choir boy type divine characters

  3. Neuroglyph says:

    I have a character in my campaign like this – the player created a recovering alcoholic dwarf that has become an Avenger of Bahamut – it was a group of Bahamut followers that led him from the “evils of strong drink”. The two other dwarves in the party are completely aghast that one of their brothers in arms is a teetotaller – makes for some awesome role-playing!

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