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One of my PCs (a Cleric of Bahamut) pondered aloud: "Can I use my Insight to determine why my God has brought us here?" There was some entertaining discussion on whether that should be a Religion check instead, but it eventually deteriorated into my players asking for a skill check to be able to read the mind of the DM.

In retrospect, I suppose some kind of ritual appealing for divine guidance would be more appropriate (and effective as well). Regardless, my answer was to laugh at them and then plunge them into an encounter with a metric ass-ton of ice elementals.

My TPKing aside, how do my fellow DMs deal with these kinds of inquiries? Have you ever dealt with these kinds of questions? Do you allow your players to peek behind the screen from time-to-time?

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Based on the answers so far, can you also clarify: is this a question about how a PC can contact a deity, or is this a question about how DMs handle players asking for DM-only info? –  SevenSidedDie Oct 21 '10 at 20:47
    
Could you please rephrase the question to ask a real gaming question. –  anon186 Oct 22 '10 at 13:41
    
@Jeremiah Genest - Why do you feel this isn't a real gaming question? –  LeguRi Oct 29 '10 at 0:29
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4th wall isn't a game term, it refers to something quite different. This question just starts with bad terminology and then gets muddled from there. –  anon186 Oct 29 '10 at 0:39
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6 Answers

I don't think any skill rolls can directly dial you in to your character's deity. As a DM, I wouldn't allow it, though I wouldn't be above letting Divine characters getting a good/bad feeling about things in situations where they might be closer to their deity, like while praying in an appropriate temple, or at a certain altar, etc. As a player in a recent campaign, my cleric of Ioun was getting visions in dreams from the get-go, indicating he and the party-to-be was pivotal in some prophecy, so he figured he was special enough to check in on the party's progress now and again, whenever he was at an altar or shrine. Occasionally the GM would humor me and say something like, "You get a feeling like a pat on the shoulder, as if to say, 'Good cleric.'"

What I think is more important to recognize in these situations is not that your players are looking for direct divine information for its own sake, but that they may feel that a sense of continuity, or of the plot affirming their actions, is lacking in general from the game. This is really an out-of-game issue; if there's no real sense of why the characters are doing what they're doing, then the players will question what's going on. As GM, it's your job to either provide that directly, or to keep checking in with the players as to their characters' goals, and how those will affect the direction of the campaign. Either way, it could be that your players' expectations and your own aren't in sync.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into this. :) If your campaign isn't serious and was based on the premise of "we need something to do Wednesday nights so I'm gonna throw some monsters at you, roll up," then it doesn't matter and you could just remind your players of this.

Edit: I just remembered the Hand of Fate ritual (link to DDI), level 4, divination.

When you perform the ritual, ask up to three questions about possible courses of action. A translucent blue hand appears and indicates with a gesture what the most rewarding course of action is.

...and then it goes on about the specifics about how the Hand will go about answering questions, and why it's not an easy cop-out, circumvent-the-DM ritual. So, not a direct line to a deity, not cheap (it's 70gp in components), but it's there.

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Whichever ones you chose.

You're the GM, you decide how in touch your character is with their deity, "the arcane currents", or simply their common sense.

Often it is helpful, especially for newer GMs to pierce the fourth wall. Sometimes it's difficult to otherwise convey the information you want the players to have.

So, whenever it's to your benefit to do so. Don't kill off your characters just because you didn't feel right giving them some information. Now if you want to kill off their characters ...

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In many games, there is a high level spell to commune with the gods... In others, a prophecy skill or faith skill to get a portent.

In 4E, on page PHB 302, Consult Mystic Sages and Consult Oracle have just that effect. 10th and 16th level rituals.

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I don't know the core mechanism of D&D 4. I do know that D&D 3 had a couple of cleric spells to communicate with the deity in order to get future insights. One allows the deity to answer to a yes/no question. This is one circumstance you can take advantage of. If there is a circumstance where the player can ask a question to the deity, the following line should be applied:

  • is the problem big enough for the deity to actually be aware/interested in it?
  • is the problem competence of the deity (you wouldn't probably expect a reasonable answer on "why the gnolls are attacking the village from Lathander...) ?
  • deities are superior beings. This means that their communication can be difficult to interpret for mortals. Give a puzzling answer which contains the core message, but appears abstruse or that requires interpretation.

I strongly suggest against considering this move a way to outsmart the DM. The players play according to the rules the core book and the master imposes. If they "outsmart" the rules, it is your duty to outsmart them within the core system, otherwise your DMing style will potentially result in excessive railroading and lack of immersion for the players into their characters.

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That question seems to me a variant of a "hint roll." I'm usually favorably disposed to those; it gives me a chance to drop a small clue to the rest of the evening's entertainment for the players to chew on.

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And Insight is a good skill to use for general "Am I missing something?" type questions. –  Allen Gould Jun 15 '11 at 20:28
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I don't know a lot about the specific setting you're playing in, but as I understand it the religion is polytheistic. This is an advantage for you because the gods in a polytheistic setting are NOT infallible, omniscient, or omnipotent. Powerful? Yes. So powerful that as far as the characters are concerned the gods might as well be omnipotent? Certainly. But hey, I'm sure that to an individual any we humans seem pretty much omnipotent too.

At any rate, the point is that just because a character can ask his god a question doesn't guarantee the god will be capable of anwsering it. Of course, the god would never say "I don't know", he'd likely say "how dare you disturb my bath time just to ask me such an impertinent question" and then smite the PC (read your Greek and Norse mythology, polytheistic deities are pretty much jerks) and teleport back to Asgard.

In short, letting the PCs ask the gods questions is something that should be allowed, but at the same time it should never give them answers you don't want them to have, and it should always be risky ("This is the 4th time this week you've called me cleric, no more spells for a month!")

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