Ok so I’m a new-ish DM. I’m not familiar with the lore of D&D 5e, like I don’t know a lot about gods or the pantheon or anything like that. However, I want to write a campaign where all of the gods are dead/missing, and there’s a vast empire that worships their leader as a god. My question: because the gods are dead, classes like cleric or paladin probably wouldn’t be feasible, so how can I balance a party/campaign so that my players don’t die? Thanks!
I'm running this campaign in 5e right now. (Dragonlance converted on-the-fly, in case you're curious.) And for us it's not just clerics and paladins "missing," but also druids and rangers. No divine casters. Period.
I don't actually make any adjustments, and it's not a big problem.
There are two "big" things you're missing if you go this route: on-demand healing and some tools for dealing with undead/fiends.
1. On-demand healing. The obvious "fix" is to make easy access to potions of healing: an action to administer, anyone can do it, and they perform the same role as combat-healing: they flip the up/down switch on a PC. (And re-skinned as an herbal medicine draught, they play thematically.)*
Remember, your monsters/npcs don't have access to magical healing, either! I routinely use, and recommend, morale checks for opponents. Nobody wants to be the last one to die for a lost cause!
Once you're out of combat you're down to rests for regaining hp. You may be "giving those out" a little more often, but as a gm you've already had your hands all over that dial. Tempo/pace is soooo under your control that all it takes is a little recalibration here. (I've heard worries that this'll "advantage" the short-rest classes--battlemasters and monks and warlocks and the like--over long-rest ones, but it's never caused my table troubles.)
2. Sensing/turning undead/fiends/fey/&c. Again, this is one of those things that's already under your control: you're the one designing encounters! Those with undead become a little scarier, but I like that, personally.
TL;DR: you don't need to worry too much. Have fun with it.
* - note there's an argument to be made that this actually balances the party better: the ~responsibility~ of managing another player's up/down status doesn't just fall to the heal-bot, it's shared by the whole party. It's not just the cleric having to struggle with "I'd really like to be directly contributing to our progress, but I guess I'll sit out 1/3 of the encounter just to make sure Steve still gets to play his character." Everyone now shoulders that burden.
Use the Healing Surges variant rule
The primary issue without divine casters is the lack of healing in combat. The Dungeon Master's Guide, (p.266-267) describes a variant rule called Healing Surges, recommended especially for this situation:
This optional rule allows characters to heal up in the thick of combat and works well for parties that feature few or no characters with healing magic, or for campaigns in which magical healing is rare.
You might also make this healing easier (e.g. the variant to spend a Healing Surge as a bonus action, or allowing the Heal skill or healer's kit to restore hit points) in order to help avoid losing characters, since you no longer have raise dead.
Consider alternative access to divine magic
If it's consistent with your lore and the type of campaign world you're trying to build, you may allow a divine spellcaster in the party, even if it's rare. For example:
- The mysterious druids, who draw their power from nature, may still receive divine magic.
- A player character uniquely receives divine magic despite the gods supposedly being dead. How and why this occurs is a mystery to be explored in the campaign. Perhaps some people of divine heritage can tap into the scattered power of the former gods.
- A cleric might still receive divine magic from another quasi-divine entity, such as a demon prince or a devil lord. (In 5th edition the followers of such beings are typically warlocks, but older D&D traditions have allowed clerics of some fiends, and you could implement this in your world.) Unfortunately, serving such an entity is not without risk.
- According to the Dungeon Master's Guide, p.13, "not all divine powers need to be derived from deities." A world may allow a cleric to draw power from an ideal, or a philosophy, or the power of belief, or the force of nature.
- According to the Dungeon Master's Guide, p.11, obscure rituals can draw power from vestiges, the remnants of dead deities.
Certain spells traditionally limited to divine casters might be accessible to arcane spellcasters in your world, or even lay people by special rituals involving multiple people. This may be particularly important for things like raise dead, since without these spells, it becomes much more dangerous to adventure with your high level character.
Perhaps artifacts left by the gods still hold their power. Locating these could be the focus of many adventures or even an entire campaign.
The Dungeon Master's Guide, p. 10-14, under the heading Gods of Your World, describes various approaches to deities.