Learned scholars have debated the nature of godhood for centuries without a theory that satisfies all.
What follows is a summary of various theories of “godhood” and an explanation provided by XXXX of XXXX.
In order to debate the mysteries of godhood, one must first understand the nature of the soul. Many have equated the soul as a mysterious and unfathomable essence that grants life and sentience to those who possess it. Most scholars theorize that a soul is unique to the person but this beggars the question “where do souls come from”.
A recent theory is that the soul is nothing more than a spark of positive energy and it becomes imprinted with the memories and experiences of a life. When a person dies the positive energy dissipates to the ethereal plane and from there is often captured in the Outer Planes, making its way towards a place that the person believed would be the afterlife.
Over time the soul is subsumed into the Outer Plane in question, or if it did not make its way to a planar demesne then it returns to the positive energy plane or back to the material plane (reincarnation). This explains why even the most powerful magic cannot restore life to people long dead (the positive energy no longer remembers its former life or is part of something else and cannot be torn away. It also explains how awakening spells can give life to inanimate or unintelligent objects, by imbuing them with positive energy that can then form its own memories.
As a “soul” accumulates memories, knowledge, and experiences it grows in power and increases the amount of positive energy. That is why beings such as demons and devils desire souls above all, because they contain power to feed them or to make new life in places where positive energy does not normally occur.
A person that accumulates enough experience reaches a level of power that affords it special properties in the Outer Planes, rather than be attracted towards large concentrations of positive energy like normal souls, these powerful souls become beacons themselves to other souls.
This is the nature of godhood, a concentration of positive energy in the Outer Planes that is so powerful it attracts other “souls” to it, which it then merges with and subsumes into itself. This “god” can donate some of its power to beings on the material plane that form a connection with it (a connection mortals call prayer and worship), it can manifest magical effects on the Material Plane using those it is connected with, it can even alter the planar stuff around it forming a Planar Demesne within other Outer Planes.
However, in order to become a true god, one must first move one’s soul to the Outer Planes, which explains why mortals who become true gods do so most often by dying. There are of course other methods of ascension that involve voluntarily shedding their mortal form and ascending, but these are difficult and secret knowledge throughout the Multiverse. If you die and your soul forms the beginning of a true god, do you really know about it, since you are dead after all. More importantly, by subsuming the souls of others into yourself, do their memories change or dilute your soul so that you are no longer you. These are just a few of the questions that sages of divinity ponder endlessly, and there must be a reason beings such as Elminster have chosen not to ascend to true gods.
Those who choose not to move their soul to the Outer Planes are known as Demi-Gods, they house a tremendous amount of power within their bodies and are able to work truly miraculous feats of magic at a whim. They are also immortal and immune to all non-magical maladies, but can be killed through injury or magic.
This is the most confusing and hotly contested topic of divinity and “godhood”, because it prompts the question; at what point does a being stop being mortal and become a divine being. The answer to this question is still unresolved and as a result the term Demi-God or Quasi-Deity is used to encompass all beings capable of divine power that exist in a single physical body, and/or dwell on the Material Plane of existence.
Beings of incredible power and possessed of seeming immortality, Demi-God status beings includes (or included) those such as Elminster and the Seven Sisters who claim to have received their power from an existing deity (Mystra the Faerunian goddess of Magic), Moander and Lurue who are thought to have been “born” to such a status, the Dark Three who stole their divine status from other powerful beings (and have since become True-Gods), and finally those like Tchazzar who gradually increased their own power to that of godlike proportions and thus achieving Demi-Godhood.
Regardless of their level of power or how they acquired it, all Demi-Gods have a few things in common; they are possessed of a single material body/entity, they are immortal unless slain.
This status of divinity is often arbitrarily separated into Lesser, Intermediate, and Greater gods, but in truth such separations are merely a way of categorising gods according to levels of power.
All True-Gods are beings of pure positive energy, they have no physical form (existing as a form of malleable energy) and must therefore dwell on one of the Outer Planes (which themselves are shaped by thought and belief). True gods are powered by the belief and so gain power in accordance with how much worship they receive, as well as receiving power from the souls of those believers who make there way to the Planar Demesne of their god.
A True-God is capable of creating and shaping energy into matter on the Outer Planes (to varying degrees and skill) and even manifest such creations on the Material Plane, although such activities expend their power to do so. By using their power a True-God can craft physical representations of themselves (known as Avatars, Aspects, etc), perform magical feats, create intelligent servants (although such an act requires imbuing the creation with positive energy – a soul – to provide the sentience), and even create a divine realm to serve as a fortress for themselves. All these acts expend varying amounts of power, and some require continued expenditure as upkeep.
Lesser Gods are thought to be able to create and maintain between 1 and 3 Avatars at any one time, Intermediate Gods between 3 and 6, Greater Gods between 7 and 10.
Only Greater Gods or an alliance of Intermediate and Lesser Gods are thought to be able to create and maintain a divine realm indefinitely, which means that Lesser Gods must ally themselves with more powerful deities in order to survive on the Outer Planes as the upkeep of a divine realm can quickly drain a Lesser God dry of energy within months.
The learned sage Deior Rasthavin of Selgaunt detailed in his widely published works; “Faiths and Avatars”, and its follow up works “Powers and Pantheons”, and “Demihuman Deities”, how the power of deities is dependant upon the amount of worship they receive and upon the number of actions performed within a deity’s portfolio. He went further to claim that only one deity of true divine rank within a pantheon can possess a particular portfolio. These portfolios included things like death, birth, the sun, the moon, and other everyday occurrences.
Deior also collated and published the myths and legends of every deity known in the Faerunian Pantheon today (paying adventurers a handsome fee to travel the length and breadth of Faerun to gather these tales). The truth of these legends was supposedly verified by direct communion with a number of deities and Deior’s works have passed into the cultural knowledge of most in Faerun and are now widely accepted as fact.
Historical and current events have recently led a number of Deior’s peers to question his theories on the divine (and his collection of myths; known as the “True Tales of Faerun’s Gods”). Recent discoveries of works hidden deep in the bowels of Candlekeep are causing fresh scrutiny of the portfolio theory.
It is now the growing belief by many learned sages that portfolios do not exist and have no bearing on divine power. Instead the churches of a particular deity are responsible for claiming whether their god has dominion over certain activities. Whenever a rival church appears within the regional sphere of influence of another church then a religious turf war ensues and the winner typically claims their cause as the true and righteous one. These religious style wars were common place in ages passed when the Netherese, Jhaamic, Illuskan, or Akanic people encroached into (or were encroached onto by) the homelands of other people. Nowadays this activity can be seen only mildly in places like Chessenta and Thay where the Mulhorandi – Untheric and Faerunian Pantheons vie for dominance.
While portfolios may or may not exist, actions dedicated to a deity (even with a stray thought if not a spoken word) almost certainly contribute a measure of divine power to that deity, as do prayers and offerings made to that deity.
The power of a god can be measured in many ways. There are some Demi-Gods that are more powerful than True-Gods (The Elemental Lords, Demon Princes, and Lords of Hell possess more raw power than some True-Gods that could be classed as Greater Gods), but in order to test such a contest a deity will have to visit the divine realm of his foe and therefore battle multiple Avatars, innumerable servants, and existence itself as the deity throws all his forces against the intruder (remembering that True-Gods can shape energy into matter and alter the very substance of their own divine realm).
In game terms for those wishing to measure the power of a god (or become one), use the accumulation of experience points to measure a god’s raw power level.
Each act of worship grants 1 experience point to the dedicated god. A god may also accumulate experience in the normal manner that all characters do.
An act a god performs; from a magical ritual, to creating or altering his divine realm, to creating an Avatar, uses up varying amounts of experience points. A god can expend levels of experience to gain more experience points. Once all levels and experience are expended the god becomes impotent (see Death of a God).
Planar Bias: All True-Gods are aligned to one or more of the four cornerstones of belief; Chaos, Evil, Good, Law. When a True-God chooses a divine realm (either his own or another’s), he is affected by the alignment of the plane in which the divine realm is based.
The alignment’s exist on two axis Good-Evil and Chaos-Law, with Neutral sitting in between both. Each step the alignment of a god differs from the alignment of the Plane (on both axis’) increases the Planar Bias by 1 point. So for instance a Neutral god dwelling in a divine realm whose base Plane alignment is Lawful Good has a Planar Bias of 2 (1 point for the difference between Lawful and Neutral and 1 point for the difference between Good and Neutral). Any opposition in alignment doubles the Planar Bias.
Whenever a god expends any of his experience points he must multiply the cost by the Planar Bias.
Below are a few formula that can be adapted for those wishing to play a god of any sort or those with heavy deific involvement.
Magic Ritual: The cost of performing this ritual is the same as for mortals performing them on the Material Plane (see Rituals in the ARRGS section), except that it is entirely possible for a god to power the ritual solely with his vast reserves of experience.
Avatar: Creating an Avatar is one of the most expensive acts a god may perform. It requires 10, 000 experience points per level/HD imbued into the Avatar. Maintaining the Avatar requires experience points be expended each day equal to half the cost required to create it.
Upon achieving True-Godhood a deity is able to create Avatar’s in the form it possessed in it’s Material Plane existence. Creating a new Avatar form costs 1, 000, 000 experience points (although other forms can be acquired or stolen by other means).
Voluntarily ending an Avatar allows the god to recoup half the experience cost required to create the Avatar.
Low powered Avatar’s have been given the term “Aspect” as many believe (wrongly) they are created via a different process. Avatar’s and Aspect’s have also been known to exhibit their own independence of thought from it’s creator, while others are seemingly under direct control or just more in accordance with the creator’s will. It is unknown whether Avatar’s acquire an independence and sentience of their own depending upon the length of their existence or whether it is part of the creation process (or both).
In almost all known cases, it is only True-Gods that have created Avatar’s. It is thought that until a being has ascended to True-Godhood, splitting it’s sentience into another body would drive the being mad. However the Demon-Princes have been known to create lesser Avatar’s (both with and without free-willed independence).
Divine Realm: Creating a Divine Realm is the ultimate goal for all gods. In doing so a True-God creates a fortress to defend their true form that they can alter at will and fill with servants. It is believed that choosing a Divine Realm is part of the ascension to True-God, because some speculate that a True-God must only exist on the Outer Planes and therefore must have a Divine Realm from the moment they ascend.
Creating a Divine Realms costs 1, 000, 000 experience points per square mile, and costs 1, 000 per square mile per day to maintain it.
Those who are familiar with Unther maintain that ascension is not necessarily part of becoming a True-God, because the gods of Unther seem to have ascended but were confined to the Material Plane by Gil-Geamesq (else risk destruction at his hands). Perhaps it is merely preferable for True-Gods to have a Divine Realm for protection,.
Death of a God
The death of a god is relatively simple to achieve, if the god in question is a Demi-God. Simply find your quarry and slay him, thus ending his existence. True-Gods are much more difficult to destroy, and this may be part of the lure of ascending beyond the material existence.
As beings of massive amounts of positive energy, a True-God can only be killed by removing the belief that powers it. Such things have happened in the past, but only over lengthy periods of time. True-Gods such as Kozah, and Auppenser (and most of the rest of the Jhaamdath Pantheon) were starved of worship as their followers abandoned them and/or were slain down to their last avatar/aspect.
In theory it is possible for a True-God to be slain much more quickly, but such a feat would involve convincing the majority of a god’s worshippers that the god no longer existed or that they should worship someone else, and at the same time destroying the god on the Outer Planes in their Divine Realm.