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Among players of various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, there is the idea that a deity's power, perhaps even existence, is derived from the number of people who worship them. A deity who gains more followers may rise in divine rank, while one who loses all of their followers may be powerless or even lifeless.

Assuming that this notion is supported by the books, what is the original source of this notion in D&D?

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is the central feature of Terry Pratchett’s 1992 novel Small Gods (en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Gods), however, I believe the idea was mentioned in his earlier work. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 23 '18 at 1:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related, but probably not a dupe: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10358/… \$\endgroup\$ – Adeptus Mar 23 '18 at 3:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ “Assuming this notion is supported by the books” - do you have any reason to think it is? \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 23 '18 at 4:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM It was notably Fritz Leiber's books set in Lankhmar before that, which Terry Pratchett spoofs at times. Presumably it is also canon for the Lankhmar AD&D setting. \$\endgroup\$ – richardb Mar 23 '18 at 8:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM There's a story by Plutarch (AD 46 – AD 120) about the death of the god Pan when people start thinking of him as only a myth, so the idea was around well before Pratchett. \$\endgroup\$ – fortyCakes Mar 23 '18 at 9:32
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As commentators have said, this is a very common idea in mythology and fantasy fiction. It is not mentioned in the first D&D book about deities, Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes, but it is included in Deities and Demigods, published in 1980:

It is possible to imagine a campaign where all the gods in this book — and perhaps more — are co-existent. This would require a truly vast world, one large enough to contain all of the worshipers necessary to sustain such a multiplicity of gods! (page 5)

The source of a deity's godheads is in some way connected to his or her earthly worshipers, though in what manner the gods derive this power is a mystery totally beyond mortal (or immortal) comprehension. However, it is true that a god's power often increases or decreases as the number of his worshipers varies. (page 8)

This clearly assumes that the idea is true for game purposes, and that it's sufficiently well known that a complete explanation is not required.

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