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I am working on a campaign which I am going to run for a group of friends, all of whom are new to D&D.

I was discussing available classes with one of the players, more specifically classes with access to magic and the differences between them. I brought up that paladins draw their powers from the gods. The player was offended by this and made a comment about how there is only one god and no one should be allowed to play as a paladin. I tried to explain that it's a fictional universe in which there are different gods, to which the player responded, "No."

I really don't know how to deal with this, because I would prefer not to limit the classes or my world creation because of this, but I also don't want to kick this player out because they're a close friend of mine and it would probably cause a conflict I don't want.

I'm already invested in 5e and playing that, so I also don't want recommendations for other systems.

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Rubiksmoose Jul 13 at 22:37

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is a very strong candidate for Good Subjective: I'm going to advise anyone who answers this question to focus on backing their answer with experience they've had dealing with players like this. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema May 29 at 16:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think we need more information to understand their problem and therefore your problem. Do they object just to paladins, or to the concept of multiple gods? What do they think about wizards, tieflings, warlocks, warlock patrons, faieries, thieves, primordials, druids, elementals, aberrations, the Far Realms, resurrection magic, zombies, necromancy, ghosts, devas, devils, demons? Not much use solving a paladin and/or polytheism problem if they’re just going to run into warlocks a few pages further and declare that nobody should play one of those either, because of undisclosed reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 29 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've closed this as primarily opinion based, as "What should I do?" is pretty much a matter of opinion that depends on what your goal is. (Change everything to make them comfortable, kick them out, burn them at the stake, go out for burritos; all are theoretically valid "what should I do?" options though which is best and which ones are a bad idea depends on opinion.) What are you aiming for here? I imagine one of your primary goals is to just have a game with (at least most of) your friends. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 29 at 21:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ If these questions that got unsupported answers just had all the unsupported answers downvoted negative, we'd feel confident in leaving them open. But when some of the top voted answers are completely not Backed Up!, then we feel like it's been lost to the "I like the sound of that" mob (many of which, to be fair, may be driving by from other SEs), My suggestion to keep stuff like this open is to be proactive about comments and downvotes (I do note some great community effort to warn people about it in the answers here...) so the right behavior is rewarded. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 30 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ For those who don't understand our requirements around this, see rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8696/… There is also now a related meta discussion: rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9164/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 30 at 17:11

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The largest issue here, from what I can tell, seems to be that your player is unwilling to accept anything outside of their current worldview, or paradigm.

Regardless of what RPG system you use (at least almost, I'm sure there are exceptions), you're going to run into situations where the game's reality is fundamentally different from ours in some way.

One of the great things about RPGs is they can challenge our worldviews, and allow us to explore realities different than our own. If your player isn't interested in exploring that, then maybe RPGs aren't their kind of game.

You have to consider the ramifications of other aspects here as well, like the concept of undead, resurrection, demons, devils, or even the concepts of magic and casting spells. It doesn't seem like a big leap to think if your player has an issue with Paladins and polytheism, that there might be some other issues along the way.

The fact that your player seems unwilling to suspend disbelief and explore a reality different than their own doesn't bode well for a) playing a fantasy game, or b) playing such a game with different people that may behave unpredictably.

I haven't dealt with this explicit situation where a religious player is unwilling to adapt, but I've encountered plenty of other scenarios where people get in the mindset of "This is what I think and you can’t change my mind, even though the situation calls for me to be open-minded." What's worked for me in the past is to try to understand where they're coming from, while enforcing the facts of "this is how it is." I'm not saying to be inflexible, because you definitely should be flexible, but there's only so much flexibility we can afford before we start making the kinds of large changes you've mentioned you want to avoid.

The best you can do is include them and encourage them to give it a try and "play pretend" with their friends for a couple hours by creating an environment of openness. Look for common ground: Remind them of classic fantasy series like C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia or of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings. Both of those authors had strong religious beliefs yet were able to translate them to fantasy settings. Have a talk with all the players together and set expectations. I have pre-empted issues many times - not just in RPGs - by speaking with a group beforehand about expectations. When our expectations were in conflict, sometimes we were able to discuss and find common ground. Other times there was not much willingness to compromise, and that’s when you have to make the unfortunate call of whether it’s worth it to try to push through, or just cut the individual loose.

The long and short of it is, there's no good way to "convince" your player to play D&D and there's no good way to sculpt D&D to their ideals. It's all about perspective, and hopefully your player can come around to the idea that this is really just pretend.

If not, then the answer may be that you just don't play RPGs with them.

The common wisdom is "no gaming is better than bad gaming," and I've seen this especially hold true for new players in RPGs. If it's a negative experience for someone, regardless of reason, that person is unlikely to want to try again. Remember to consider the experience for everyone at the table.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 31 at 1:09
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I actually almost had a player like this

He insisted to be a cleric of One God and make his character's main goal to punish daemon worshipers - that is, everybody who does not believe in One God.

We talked.

  1. We tried to make him see how we are imagining a world from Greek mythology. He said his history teacher was Christian so he could call ancient Greeks pagans, and that they are mostly Christians now so that's OK.

  2. He on his own claimed that fantasy is based on Tolkien works, and Tolkien had One God in his world, under different name. And then he went on how Narnia had Jesus under different name.

  3. We tried to convince him that it might be interesting to roleplay someone he's not, in a world different from reality. He went like "How being a heretic can be interesting?

And it went like that for about two weeks of occasional conversations.

We came to mutual understanding that while we are not heretics or blasphemers, he will not have fun if he will join us. Sadly, I believe that was the very best outcome we realistically could get.


Lesson I've learnt? Talk, understand each other, and then decide if you can find a common ground. Simply saying no can create antagonisms where they can be avoided, simply saying OK can lead to confusion and arguments. Honest conversation was the key there and I believe that it wasn't an exception.

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Problem 1: the player doesn't understand player and DM roles

This may not be solvable. And it may be. Don't play until this is settled.

I tried to explain that it's a fictional universe in which there are different gods, to which the player responded, "No."

Your first answer to this is "Yes, it is, and if you don't accept that, then you are unable to play in this game." There are two reasons for this position as the way forward if you want them included in a D&D 5e game. (But I am not sure that this is about the game in the first place - we'll save that for later).

  1. This particular game is structurally built to be an exploration of a subset of the lands of make believe, with magic and strange things that are not in our mundane world.

  2. The DM is in charge of the world and its cosmos (to include such deites as the cosmos has) and - this is the key point - the DM's rule on that is the last word.

    Ultimately, the Dungeon Master is the authority on the campaign and its setting, even if the setting is a published world. (PHB, p. 6)

    See the DMG sections on "Master of Worlds" and "Master of Rules" in the opening chapter (pages 3-5). You need to brush up on your understanding of this system for your own benefit. This related Q&A may be helpful.

    There are a variety of role playing games where the world building itself, from the ground up, is a collaborative exercise. At the structural level of world building, D&D 5e isn't one of them (as laid out in the DMG).

Players can contribute to world building in D&D 5e

Each table will have a variation on how much the players flesh the world out.

  • I've seen it go from the players offering little to nothing beyond their player's back story, to the point in my brother's campaign where I recommended that we add a deity, I outlined its portfolio, and my brother (the DM) approved it. (Over the years I've seen various points in between).

  • In my first 5e campaign, I didn't find a deity that I liked in Faerun. I asked my DM about some options. We settled on Thor. Notice that I didn't say "NO, ONLY THOR!" I worked with the DM to come up with a deal that we both liked. (With your player's stance, do you see this working? See below).

    Telling you who the deities are or are not is beyond the player's level of contribution unless you the DM (per examples above) are amenable to a change in the deity line up - and for that matter, unless your other players buy in as well since they are interested parties. Their fun matters.

    1. If you are playing in the baseline Forgotten Realms setting the deities are listed in the PHB in Appendix B. So too are pantheons such as Dragonlance, Eberron, Greyhawk, as well as D & D-ized versions of the Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, etc) pantheons.

    2. If you are playing in your own world, whatever that world works like is how it works - deities or no. See the DMG for detailed treatment of that.

Sit down with this player and show them that you are the Master of Worlds per the DMG, and the PHB. It's in writing. The DMG and PHB are your support in this case. This player apparently needs more than your say so. (See below for why I suspect that this is a symptom of a bigger problem).

If they still do not accept this basic premise, then D&D 5e isn't the game you ought to be using if you want this player to be included. They are toxic and will be a problem for your whole group.

Problem 2: Player doesn't understand Paladins in D&D 5e

I brought up that paladins draw their powers from the gods. The player was offended by this and made a comment about how there is only one god and no one should be allowed to play as a paladin.

In D&D 5e, a paladin's powers comes from their Oath. (PHB, Paladin). In this related question, and answer, the source of a Paladin's divine power is shown to be his or her oath. (Not necessarily a deity). You need to educate your player on what a paladin is, and what it can be, in this edition of the game.

A possible solution is in the DMG: Forces and Philosophies

In the linked answer there is a reference to the section in the DMG (pages 10-13) about using forces and philosophies, rather than gods/deities, in a D&D game world. Using this approach - where divine magic comes from forces and philosophies rather than deities - is a way to sidestep the problem that this player has with deities/gods in D&D.

  • Experience with Forces and Philosophies.

    I am currently running a D&D 5e game as the DM with that basis for all divine magic. It works, but I may be in a more advantageous position than you are. I discussed this approach with my players before we started play in order to get a feel for how they like to engage with the fictional world. (We are all adults, and all have played various editions of D&D, and various RPGs, over the years. We have learned how to get along and work with each other to have fun).

  • Why I think this will work for your group

    You don't want this real world religion issue to be an obstacle to your group having fun. This approach has the benefit of removing gods and deities from the game as a point of contention. The matter of God, gods, and the real world and scriptural treatment of such (I am Christian and familiar with your friend's basis for objection) is set aside.

    • There was a time in my country (the USA) that it was considered bad manners to discuss sex, politics, or religion in a social setting. Games, and certainly Table Top RPGs, are a social activity. While that social convention seems to have lost traction, you are seeing an example of why that was, for a time, conventional wisdom.
  • Recommendation: use the Forces and Philosophies approach for Divine Magic as an in-game tool so that you can avoid this problem altogether - real world religious belief being in conflict with the game.

    Discuss this with all of your players. See if they take to it the way my players have.

Lastly, you are being pushed: this has begun as a test of wills

This is the "see below" material alluded to a few times already.

Your player obviously has strong feelings, and may have a very strong personality. It may be that, when it comes to a test of wills, they are less willing to compromise than you are. If that is the relationship between you two, you've got an interpersonal issue to deal with that may not fit with playing RPGs together - or at least this one.

A rule learned by hard experience over the years: bad gaming is not better than no gaming.

If this kind of pushy behavior is to be expected session after session, there is no point in embarking on the game with this player included. I've seen games broken up, and in a couple of cases, friendships ruined, all thanks to disputes over a game. Yeah, it's an awful experience. An RPG isn't worth ruining a friendship over. (In my opinion and from bitter experience.)

"I'm already invested in 5e and playing that, so I also don't want recommendations for other systems"

Unless you get some movement on this player's part, you are setting yourself up for a hard time. Find out how the other players feel about this: actively solicit their input. Spend the time and effort to build a group consensus. You need the buy in from all of your players, or you'll be frustrated as a DM.

We play these games to have fun, not to get into an argument each time play starts.

A possible silver lining in this cloud: if your group accepts the "Forces and Philosophies" approach to divine magic, you can avoid that argument (though others may arise on unrelated topics).

It may be best to pick another game if Forces and Philosophies approach is not accepted

For raw world building you can try Microscope. Some of the veteran players here have used Microscope as a prelude game to get an idea of what the world will look like before they embark on an adventure game "in another world" or in another time and place. There are numerous other games where the GM's role isn't formally built as having the dominant say in how the game-cosmos is structured. Those games may be a better fit for your group if you want to include this player.

For a game with no gods (or very few), try Traveller. (Been years since I've played; there are some helpful resources here).

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One player should not be allowed to force his personal views on the other players. If he has a problem with Paladins, he's not going to react well to Clerics either.

This player needs to realize that the game world is not the real world, and it does not need to conform to his ideas of how the real world works. There are other stories - Greek and Roman, alongside a broad number of non-D&D fantasy works - that feature pantheism.

Unfortunately, if your player is vehemently opposed to the very concept of pantheism, you probably won't be able to convince him otherwise. Your best bet may be to remove him from the game. For the health of the game and the integrity of the teaching experience, it's best to do it before play has begun, rather than try to eject him later.

I have chosen to deliberately avoid citing any specific examples, though I do have multiple decades of DMing in public venues (both Organized Play programs, convention administration, and open gaming in stores). When it comes to religious motivations, the reasoning is often personal and private, therefore not my place to share details. That said, it often also extends beyond the scope of gaming, making citations even more inappropriate for this venue.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You mention problems with Clerics and Paladins. When they breach the subjects of summoning and interacting with dead/undead, demons, and devils, I imagine even more issues arising. This is potentially a huge can of worms and I think your evaluation here is correct that it's better to pre-empt the problem by removing it. \$\endgroup\$ – G. Moylan May 29 at 16:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this answer, specifically your last paragraph, based in any kind of experience that you can use to support your answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 29 at 16:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Much as this answer strikes me as being a fair assessment of the situation, as Rubiksmoose suggests this is a kind of question where answers really need to be backed up with relevant experience in dealing with issues of this kind. (I think it's probably even fine if the relevant experience isn't even directly RPG-related and was a similar issue in some other context, but there needs to be experience and not just armchair speculation.) \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer May 29 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ @T.J.L. hello, while these may are helpful guidelines I can not deduce where your expertise comes from - which is a requirement for this kind of answers on subjective answers, please add your source of expertise and describe how you or someone that you know has tried these guidelines and whether or not they have worked out. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 30 at 10:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL Here you go, it's our citation expectations meta which quotes and embodies Good Subjective. Requiring Good Subjective has been our policy for years, well before that meta post existed explaining how it applies here (it was created because such an explanation does not exist). That's not "some blog post", it's the blog post describing the official treatment of subjective Q&A on Stack Exchange from 2010 onwards. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 1 at 9:27
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This is a rough situation to be in, and is one that I have actually dealt with before. I tried approaching it from three different angles (and one of them actually worked).

Approach 1 - Nature of Fiction

This was my first approach, and it went over poorly...but I'll share it here for posterity's sake.

I tried to approach the discussion from the direction of "We know this is not real...it's just made-up." I drew comparisons to other works of fiction this person enjoyed that had invented elements to it. The Force in Star Wars, Magic in virtually-all-fantasy, and so on. I talked about how we were all aware that the world we were playing it was entirely made up, and it could have rules different from our own.

The person was still uncomfortable with this...citing that 'The Force' isn't the same thing as messing with what they consider an immutable part of their Faith. So...I moved on. The next two options, I presented in parallel, to see how this potential player reacted.

Approach 2 - Eberron: The Unknowable

My second suggestion was that we could use Eberron's model for Divine Magic.

In Eberron, there are multiple faiths that conflict. They disagree on the nature of gods, number of gods, or even if they are any. They make claims that are mutually exclusive. But all of these faiths produce Clerics. Keith Baker even commented on the possibility of an Atheist Cleric in Eberron.

In Eberron, nobody has met their gods and while there is some agreement on the Creation Myth...it's completely unverifiable. Divination magic cannot directly contact the gods, and even Celestials have never met them. It's not like The Realms where a powerful enough caster could Plane Shift over and have tea with their deity. This brings the nature of Faith and Deity closer to our world...painting Divine Magic as a form of magic powered by belief in something greater than yourself, rather than mastery of (or an innate connection to) the Weave of Magic.

My player was fairly okay with this model...as it allowed them to assert that their character worshiped 'The True God' in a world where things were uncertain.

Approach 3 - The Forgotten Realms: Ao the Overgod

This is, ultimately, the approach that my player accepted.

In The Realms, there exists a singular being of absolute power--its name is Ao the Overgod. Ao created the cosmos on his own and created a number of subsidiary, but extremely powerful, beings to finish shaping it and then administer it for him. He then laid down the rules they were required to follow, and withdrew to observe.

This is, in fact, almost the exact same mythology model used by JRR Tolkien (whom my friend loved) for Middle Earth. By Tolkien's mythology, the "almighty" is named Eru Ilúvatar, and is the singular creator of the universe in which Middle Earth (Arda) exists. He then created the Ainur for the same purpose that Ao created the gods--to finish shaping it, then care for it once completed. A number of the Ainur descended to interact with Arda directly, known as the Valar and Maiar. One of the Valar turned evil, taking many of the Maiar with him.

This gave my friend a model they were more okay with. "Little-g" gods were subsidiary 'administrators' that were created by the "Big-G" God, named Ao. They were celestial in nature, but they weren't God. The model was basically a supposition on "Suppose God delegated direct interaction with mortals to his most powerful Angels--but some of them Fell." It's not a perfect match for the mythos of Abeir-Toril, but it was close enough to play the game.

(Note: I edited out the fact that, in one novel, Ao reports back to yet another even more high-ranking being. That just confused the issue, so I ignored it.)

A Note of Caution

If your player has issues with polytheism in fiction, they may have issues with other things that come up in D&D. It took some careful explaining to, for example, explain to this person that Tieflings are not all automatically evil ("Their heritage is not their fault...they have free will, and if they wish to be good, they can" see: Deuteronomy 24:16). And this player still gets uncomfortable when other players do things that are immoral ("Are actors who play villains evil? Is the writer who created the villain? No? That's all we're doing).

Consider having an extended talk with this player about the sorts of things they are likely to encounter in a game of D&D. It may turn out that tabletop RPGs aren't a good fit for them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like your use of experience to support this! Thank you for sharing. +1 for a very good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose May 31 at 12:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm actually glad now the question got reopened so you could submit this. Fantastic personal experience and use of some great approaches. +1. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an excellent answer and gives multiple approaches that may work. \$\endgroup\$ – JohnP May 31 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ao reports back to yet another even more high-ranking being. That being is called Dee Em. (DM) 8^D \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 13 at 17:54
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I had a similar situation during my time as a graduate university student.

The person in question was a Catholic who had a crush on one of our players and wanted to spend time with her. So he asked to play with us, and we tried to accommodate his worldview. At the time, I was a player at that table, and our DM decided to provide a niche for the Catholic.

Our DM decided to allow the creation of the Catholic paladin of the Church of the True Faith who came from another world to proselytise everyone to the Church of the True Faith.

Initially, we had a lot of fun until the Catholic, about twelve sessions in - after he established an Order of the Church of the True Faith with the rest of our party who got ready for a crusade, realised that his crush was not interested in converting to Catholicism. He quoted (2 Cor. 6:14-18, ESV):

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of the living God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will make dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty'.

and left our group. We were confused, because of the out of context use of that quote, sadly, we could not reconcile with the Catholic. We played the rest of the campaign without him (another four sessions) which ended in all of our player characters' deaths and the crumbling of the Order of the Church of the True Faith due to the resistance against the crusade.

If I were the DM I would have handled this differently, but we had a great time overall. Based on this experience, I recommend finding a niche for your group and your player. Preparation for a niche, like this one, includes lots of transparent communication, so you are all on the same page. If we (the other players) weren't down for a campaign like this, we wouldn't have played it.

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I had two players similar to yours in different games where I was a player or the DM.

The first case was the easier one and I was a fellow player. He is a evangelical christian (not sure which segment) and when we were teaching him about D&D 3.5 we clashed the first time a polytheist view of the world came right on the third class of PHB, the Cleric. When he refuted the existence of multiple gods, we told him clearly that none of us had the book as a worldview but as a work of fantasy and fiction, like the movies and animes he like to watch (He came to us because of Lord of the Rings) and while no one there shared the same religion as him, we would still respect his beliefs as much as we wanted him to respect ours as we live in a country with hundreds of religions (mostly Christian). He understood that and we played together without problems later for almost 10 years and we never touched the subject again.

The second case was trickier and I was the DM. The player in this case was the wife of one of my players and she is a very religious evangelical christian. Her husband himself is the son of a pastor (priest) of the same church, although he is way more liberal/condescending about religion away from his family so he wasn't a problem to begin with. Anyway, back to his wife. She came to us because she and her husband didn't had much time together because of work in different schedules and she isn't the type of person that watched movies, cartoons or anime and spent most of her time at work or church events. She also said that there is only one God and there's no way other gods exist. Her husband tried to explain that is just fiction and shouldn't be taken seriously but she still was uncomfortable. Then I said "Prove them wrong. Show them the might of the One True God and convert them. Make them review their ways." It worked. She went Cleric full missionary mode and start proselytizing everywhere at every opportunity and I let her have some degree of success on that campaign. Saving the lost lambs showing them the might of God. She questioned why the pagans could also use divine spells and came to conclusion that God with his love was granting them His power from one of his facades in the case of good religions and the others were selling their souls to the Devil. It wasn't the case but was what her character believed and I didn't correct her. She played with us weekly for about 4 months until the campaign ended. Not sure this method could be easily replicated but I tried without much expectations and it went well in the end.

I would say the players I played with (as player or DM) were 30% Catholics, 30% protestant Christians, 20% atheists and 20% other religions. You can give or take around 3% as error and it would be quite accurate. Only 2 players in about a 100 ever came up with something about religion in games I participated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, and good job supporting it with your own experiences! :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 31 at 9:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another great answer that includes personal experience to support the direction given to OP. +1! \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 15:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the idea of letting them play with their mindset but use the normal rules, after all a character don't have to be right to be fun. Although you will have to make sure the other players are aware of the situation otherwise you might inadvertently make them fell like the butt of a joke. I played an staunch atheist in a dnd campaign for fun but I knew that my character was wrong about their world, your player might not enjoy it as much. \$\endgroup\$ – John Jun 1 at 23:51
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Change the terms you use and leave things open to interpretation - try and meet them halfway

I have experience with a very similar situation as I am a player similar to your friend.

(Note for readers, this section is simply a preamble about my experiences. If this does not interest you, feel free to skip to the next section starting from “Applying this to your world” in bold, after the page break.)

I am not a religious person, I have great respect for and am interested in religions, their history and mythology but I’ve never believed in any religion, I much prefer a scientific understanding of the world.

Why is this relevant? Well because of my beliefs in science over religion, I am opposed to the concept of a higher power creating and influencing the world. So, when a game, or any piece of fiction, forces the idea of “higher beings created the world” upon me, I don’t appreciate it. It’s not an idea I subscribe to and I don’t feel like I should have to alter my beliefs just to be able to immerse myself into a world and fully enjoy a piece of fiction.

Now, this isn’t to say I can’t enjoy fiction with divine beings in it. What I do is rationalise these beings and ideas in other ways. For example, I state that the beings are godlike beings with magic rather than actual gods (which I find to be more realistic in the context of a magic world), or that the religious interpretation is just one possibility and that things can still be explained scientifically or logically (for example, explaining fictional creatures using the Anatomically Correct series on Worldbuilding).

Or, another method I use is to simply ignore the religious side and focus on another part of the game I enjoy. For example, I enjoy God of War, a game focused around gods. The mythology interests me, the story and gameplay are entertaining enough, I just don’t focus on the religious side of it (which is easy enough to do as the game itself does not focus too much on the religious side of the gods, more on the mythological side).

I find that these methods allow for me to better roleplay as my character as, rather than being forced into believing the religion of the world, I can choose not to and use my own interpretations to explain things. If things are left ambiguous or open to interpretation, for example “he might have been a god, or he was simply a powerful wizard or sorcerer”, I find I can roleplay as my non-religious character better, as opposed to being told that “no, he is an actual god, not a spellcaster”.

(For clarification, note that I as a person am fully aware that fictional gods in a fictional world are fictional. However, I as a character in that world would not definitively know if the gods were real or not. When I talk about being forced to believe in the religion of the world, I am talking about myself as my character, not myself as a person.)


Applying this to your question:

I would imagine your friend holds to their religious belief strongly as I do with my scientific belief. As such, I can understand where they might be coming from. They may feel they should not have to alter their belief just so they can play a game.

Additionally, many monotheistic religions punish those who believe in other gods. For example, one of the 10 commandments of Christianity doesn’t allow you to “idolise other gods than myself” (paraphrased). Your friend may feel that, if they accept those gods in your game, they may be punished by their God for doing so. It's unlikely but a possibility. (Also, as an aside, the phrase “don’t idolise other gods than myself“ is itself open to interpretation. It could mean you are allowed to believe in other gods, as long as you don’t worship them). On the other hand though, many followers from monotheistic religions accept the gods of others as being their own God. For example, many Jews and Christians believe they worship the same God as each other, just in different ways - many Muslims accept that the god that Christians and Jews worship is the same one as their God, just they worship them in different ways. So you might suggest that the gods in your world are actually different interpretations of the god and texts they believe in.

If you leave the concept of the gods open to interpretation, your friend may be more accepting of the concept of multiple gods. Your friend has the option of rationalising that “these entities are simply godlike in their power, not actual gods. The only god is their one true God” or “these are not multiple gods, simply people focusing on different aspects of the one true God”.

Or, they could simply try and ignore it, focusing on parts of the game they do enjoy. Although, admittedly, this may be difficult to do if they are in a party with clerics and paladins.

However, I would just like to point out that, as this is all based of my experiences and how I handled it, it may not necessarily work for your player. Personally I am interested in worldbuilding and creating explanations for things, your player may not wish to put in the same amount of leg-work I do just so they can play. If that is the case, you might just have to not play D&D together. However, there are still things you can do to try and meet them halfway.

What you can do:

You do not have to limit the classes or your worldbuilding.

Whilst yes, clerics and paladins are often associated with gods, the actual mechanics of the game focus around dominions, such as life and death, peace and war. Rather than offering gods to believe in, you could offer dominions. Paladins may believe in the oaths they make to themselves and others, which is what gives them their power. There is actually a precedent for doing this in the books. Page 13 of the DMG says this about Forces and Philosophies:

In other campaigns, impersonal forces of nature or magic replace the gods by granting power to mortals attuned to them. Just as druids and rangers can gain their spell ability from the force of nature rather than from a specific nature deity, some clerics devote themselves to ideals rather than to a god. Paladins might serve a philosophy of justice and chivalry rather than a specific deity.

By having clerics and paladins gain the power from slightly different sources, you could keep them in your world but disassociate them from gods. Here and here are videos which explain how you could do this better than I can. I highly recommend you watch them as they cover more things than I could possibly cover here. There are also videos about roleplaying paladins and clerics which you may also find interesting.

As long as there is always the possibility that the god is simply a “man behind the curtain” or they might be different interpretations of the same God, your player may be more willing to accept the game world. Also from the same section on page 13 of the DMG:

it's unusual for a philosophy to deny the existence of deities, although a common philosophical belief states that the deities are more like mortals than they would have mortals believe. According to such philosophies, the gods aren't truly immortal (just very long-lived), and mortals can attain divinity. In fact, ascending to godhood is the ultimate goal of some philosophies.

Again this shows that your ‘divine beings’ don’t have to be actual gods, they may merely be mortals with a lot of power.

I would look to things like Eberron, a D&D setting in which there is more ambiguity about the existence of gods, taking inspiration from that of your own world. Dark Sun is another D&D setting you could take inspiration from, the DMG briefly mentions it on page 10:

In the Dark Sun setting, the gods are extremely distant-perhaps nonexistent-and clerics rely instead on elemental power for their magic.

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It might be pretty easy to modify 5e to satisfy your friend

So, your friend's objection, while not popular amongst broader society, is pretty common amongst certain smaller subgroups of potential RPG participants. I've encountered this sort of objection, often accompanied by either the position that anything within the game world that is referred to as magic should be inherently evil or the position that the same should be limited solely to mundane trickery and legerdemain, principally among evangelical protestant Christians though I have also heard from friends that the same is common amongst conservative Sunni Muslim players.

If you want to play with such people, the thing to do is to just ban religious divine casters (for some reason Druids and other 'nature-powered' classes seem to rarely inspire the same ire), and not include religious NPC casters (e.g. the acolyte or priest) without re-fluffing them. You will need to play the game in a homebrew setting that does not pay too much attention to religion, though you can generally use published modules if you'd like, provided you scrub them of religious imagery first.

For example, one time I GMed several games of D&D 3.5 for a particular player who objected to D&D gods in RPGs ostensibly because there is only one God in real life. We used two different methods that both worked with this particular player:

  • We played games-- including the 3.5 revision of Return to White Plume Mountain, which required only a minor change to the legacy weapon effects of Wave-- with no Clerics or things like that and they played a paladin and it was fine (paladins in 3.5 are devoted to Lawfulness and Goodness, religion has nothing to do with it)

  • We played games where we used the Greyhawk pantheon but didn't refer to the beings in question as gods and the central good-aligned deity for the player's character, Heironious, was attempting to actively suppress his own cult because of his belief that people should worship Goodness as a whole, not any specific person or persons.

As another example, I GMed games for another player with this objection in 3.5 D&D and FATE 2.0. We found two solutions that worked for them as well.

  • We played games without any gods, Clerics, etc. and that worked sort-of fine. They played a half-celestial half-dragon PHB fighter with crippling level adjustment issues. Deities and stuff weren't a problem but their repeated insistence on extremely suboptimal character building choices followed with dismay at the results of said choices in play did regularly cause problems.
  • We also did a game where the effect of the Gods' on the world was much less concrete but religions did exist in the world, with the proviso that it was fine for their character to be convinced that any or all of said religions were wrong. This went okay but was very stressful whenever religious things came up in-game and resulted in their character being pretty psychopathic.

If the problem extends to all things called 'magic', you aren't going to be able to play 5e (or any variety of D&D) with that person, because magic is critical to the function of D&D as a system in every edition, and that person will thus not enjoy any variety of D&D. There are lots of other systems that would work, though, and some that are especially interesting to players with monotheistic religious beliefs (e.g. Dogs in the Vineyard, The Minstrel's Song).

For example, I once played 4th edition Shadowrun with such a player. They objected to magic so the GM decided that, while the metatypes varience was still present, there would be no magic in the game and also no technomancy. It was very different from normal SR4 play, to the point that most of the world and history no longer made sense and the game fell apart more and more each time it became important (like when the CAS and the NAN started a war, and the NAN were doing great but then we looked at it and the GM realized they couldn't have mages or spirits etc. and didn't have tanks or planes and the other side did...). We also tried to play 5e with that player once but we didn't get past character creation because I made us play FATE instead.

I have tried playing for, with, and GMing for that player in FATE 2.0 as well as a variety of homebrew systems and that often went fine. For example, in one of their homebrew systems that is fairly similar to a standard medieval fantasy world there are lots of people that look like they have magic powers but actually it's nanites and 'bio energy', which are okay because it's not magic. The characters think they live in generic medieval fantasy land but actually they live on the inside of a giant cylindrical space station as slaves / test subjects for the scientists who live inside the station and secretly observe things with advanced technology and are studying 'bio energy upgrades' and also presumably nanites and pharmaceuticals.

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Once upon a time, D&D got a lot of press as a Tool of Satan that turns innocent children into murderous devil worshipers. Obviously that is BS, but American culture at the time was more fundamentalist than today and the attitudes of this "problem" player were not uncommon. Those of us who were not adults also had to deal with parents who were even more likely to have these type of concerns.

What most of us did was explain the polytheistic aspects away by saying that the various "gods" in the game are just different aspects of the One God. Another similar approach was to describe the gods as servants of the One God something like saints in the Roman Catholic church. If you are playing Forgotten Realms then you can point to Ao as this higher power. I have not played any of the other current realms so I don't know what they have in this role. Mechanically nothing changes but making a semantic change in the label was generally enough to allay worries. A person either wants to play and will find a way to rationalize away their concerns or they will decide the game is "evil" and they will go away on their own.

I should note that it was easier back then since clerics and paladins were all the same no matter what deity they chose. Alignment could make a difference but deity could generally just be ignored since it was really just a role playing concern rather than a mechanical issue like it is in modern editions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well put. A "god" is merely a statement of power in relation to human beings There can still be "Only One God" in this story if one so desires, without removing all of the deities \$\endgroup\$ – Premier Bromanov May 31 at 14:45
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I really don't know how to deal with this, because I would prefer not to limit the classes or my world creation because of this

You have a couple of options:

  • Dungeon Master's Guide 5e has a variant for a monotheistic setting. See page 12, "Monotheism":

    Monotheistic religions revere only one deity, and in some cases, deny the existence of any other deity. If you introduce a monotheistic religion into your campaign, you need to decide whether other gods exist. Even if they don't, other religions can exist side by side with the monotheistic religion. If these religions have clerics with spellcasting ability, their spells might be powered by the one true deity, by lesser spirits who aren't deities (possibly including powerful aberrations, celestials, fey, fiends, or elementals), or simply by their faith.

  • Don't touch the religion topic at all. If your setting requires polytheism, don't call them "gods", call them "powerful entities". Yes, some people pray to them.

  • Distinguish player's beliefs and character's beliefs. It's a game, where you're supposed to kill people and loot their bodies. I don't think you do the same things in real life.

Whatever approach you take, you need to make it clear to this player that they hold no veto over other players' choices. (thanks @frog)

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor hello, while these may are helpful guidelines I can not deduce where your expertise comes from - which is a requirement for this kind of answers on subjective answers, please add your source of expertise and describe how you or someone that you know has tried these guidelines and whether or not they have worked out. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu May 30 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ You've got some good ideas here, but they really do need to be backed up per our good subjective policy. While your ideas are good, we should not be upvoting answers that aren't backed up unless you can support them. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 30 at 19:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 31 at 1:10
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This problem has real-world solutions dating back centuries

Adapting a belief structure to accomodate Christianity is a real challenge that actual societies and churches of Europe had to find ways adapt to throughout history. Fundamentally, it often required some compromises on both sides.

We can apply these methods in a D&D game to help smooth over conflicts between the player's real-world religion, and the fictional world which presents elements they find incongruous with deeply-held tenets of that religion.

Form a syncretism to reconciliate differences in belief

In our history, the Romans revered Mercury, and the Greeks Apollo. They solved this conflict by simply agreeing that the two were different names of the same deity. One Roman writer who met Germanic tribes agreed that their god Odin/Wotan was Mercury and Thor was Mars; our days Wednesday and Thursday are named from the Germanic deities, while the French call those days Mercredi and Mardi after the equivalent Roman deities.

It's easy in D&D to say that Corellon is just the elven name for god, or Moradin simply his dwarven aspect. And many of D&D's evil deities are canonically just powerful demons or devils (Lolth, Asmodeus, Kurtulmak), the existence of which is not contradictory to a Christian belief in a single deity.

Christianize the "pagan" world elements

Today, the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf is believed to have been written down by Christian scribe c. 1000 AD, but the story itself seems to be several centuries older and probably of pre-Christian origin. The story appears to have been deliberately Christianized in parts, with asides explaining away monsters as descendents of the biblical Cain, praising God for Beowulf's victories, or warning the reader against the heroes' historic pagan practices.

One might approach D&D with a similar attitude. Create a world in which there is a dominant, implicitly Christian church, but pagan elements are remembered from history and still exist in places. Ancient temples have been reconsecrated as churches, mythic beasts re-interpreted under Christian lore, and pagan kings number among the campaign's villains.

Reduce your deities to saints

Some historians believe that Saint Brigid, ostensibly an Irish nun born in 451 AD, was in fact an adaption of a pagan goddess, in order to ease Christianization of pagan Ireland.

In Matt Colville's campaign world, for example, demigods are termed Saint; e.g. the god Ajax is called Saint Ajax. Each has their own temples and followers, and functions for D&D game purposes as a god.

However, this approach may be controversial with some Christian denominations, who consider the reverence of saints to be a form of idol worship.

Set your game in a mythic version of real-world Europe

Dragon Magazine #257's Dark Ages: Roleplaying in Anglo-Saxon Britain details the background of a campaign set in of the real-world British Isles between 410 AD and 1066 AD. Mythic elements are included in this world, such as elves and dwarves. This is the setting in which King Arthur lived, and of course slew a dragon.

This article was written for the AD&D 2e rules, but you can throw out the mechanical aspects and use D&D 5e's rules in this setting instead. You also have countless real-world history books as your sourcebooks. Dragon #263 also describes the pagan deities of Dark Ages Britain and includes the Christian church, although most of our culture are already sufficiently familiar with that the tenets of Christianity to run a D&D game with it.

The advantage of setting your game in the real-world Dark Ages is that Christianity will fit in perfectly, being historically accurate. At the same time, it's historically accurate to still have some pagan elements in the campaign.

Hand-wave the campaign's religious elements

Prior to D&D 3e including the Greyhawk deities, it was not entirely uncommon for DMs to use a generic unspecified monotheistic "church" in their campaign. I've done this in campaigns before; the only difference is whether the "good" campaign deity is explicitly the Christian God, which can be left to the players to imagine.

Simply leave polytheistic deities out of your campaign, or push it into the background. This was the standard approach in some earlier editions (e.g. Mentzer BECMI), which officially relegated all deities to the status of powerful beings called "immortals".

There may be one church that most people follow, and the party cleric is of this church. Wizards don't worship Boccob (it's not like they need to worship a specific deity to receive their spells), they just attend Church on Sundays like everyone else, and magic is accepted as a form of alchemy that does not violate any of God's laws.

Another approach I've used successfully is to allow clerics and paladins to embody principles, rather than deities. This was common in my D&D 3e campaigns where someone would pick two useful domains (like War and Fire) and declare the character to be a cleric of the abstract concept of these things, rather than of a certain polytheistic deity. The character's actual churchgoing, like in the real world, can thus be left to the background.

Mechanically, a monotheistic D&D works fine; the only major non-thematic reason you need deities is for clerics to worship, and there's usually only one party cleric, who's traditionally of a vaguely Judeo-Christian themed church anyway.

Drawbacks

However, your group may be attached to D&D polytheism, and this may cause issues: in one of my campaigns, a player who missed the first session was upset when he couldn't pick his usual Greyhawk deity. It later emerged that the player, a devout atheist, was also somewhat bothered at that campaign's heavy use of Judeo-Christian lore, a reaction I hadn't expected.

This is, like many GM/player problems, something that requires you to talk to your group and work out what's going to work for you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for including that you've done this in campaigns, but it would be further improved if you included how it went. How did you handle lack of other gods/deities? Were players okay with the limitations? etc. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch May 31 at 17:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another approach I've used successfully seems to cover your concern. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 31 at 17:16
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(A bit of personal background: There is only one God.)

I'm going to assume that your friend is a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, (or one of their offshoots) as those are the only common monotheistic religions I can think of. So, I might talk to him about this quote from the book of Jonah, when the storm threatens the ship:

The sailors were so afraid that each cried out to his own god [...] -- NET translation, many more here

I've seen commentaries that present this as "the ship is in mortal peril, everyone pray to your own god and maybe one of them will save us" -- an early example of the power of cultural diversity.

So present the party as the crew of Jonah's ship -- each has their own gods to pray to, as even people who know/believe that there is only one God have always had to accept the reality of multiple religions in the world. A person with beliefs as strong as your friend's may feel better about the setting when you provide them with Scriptural support.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice job finding a passage in Scripture to use as a bridge to allow this player to see it as varied beliefs/religions. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 13 at 16:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wonder if it's worth a bridging sentence in your first paragraph to connect two ideas that might seem disparate to a reader who isn't steeped in the Book: your assumption of the player's religion and the appropriateness of quoting Jonah. I.e. Your "so" leading off the second sentence implies (correctly) a connection between those three religions and Jonah that might not be obvious to all. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 15 at 2:19
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I am a very strong Christian. There is only one God. I love fantasy. I can handle settings with multiple gods because they are fiction. I've had to explain my stance to other Christians and have even helped one or two deal with this same kind of problem.

Now that I've set my credentials for answering, here's some ideas. Of course I don't know the player so I don't know what the base issue is. As such you might find that I miss the mark entirely. In my experience though, it all stems from the same issue to some degree or another.

It sounds like you tried to have a conversation about this being fiction but were shut down hard, possibly before you even got far. To this I ask, how much fantasy does the player read/play/watch? If not much there might be a good reason for this. It's possible that this is a person who has disconnect issues. They can't put themselves into a setting like this without it effecting them. In this instance I would recommend one of two things, possibly both.

  1. Keep the system but change the setting a little. Make it only one god.
  2. The other option is to suggest that the player has a character that believes there is only one god. This might be enough to calm them on the game.

If there's some push back point out that it's the same thing in the real world. Many people believe differently, and this is a setting with multiple humanoid races and multiple religions so the differences can be more extreme.

If they do a lot with fantasy ask them how this is any different than something they enjoy.

Of course always be respectful. In all of this point out that nothing in the game has any impact on the validity of the Bible (assuming Christian but if not replace with proper religious book). If none of that gets through to them, ask them if the fantasy genre is right for them. This is a common trope of the genre and maybe they should just stay away from it. And there's nothing wrong with that. They need to do what's right for them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Mostly a format edit. How many players have responded positively to this approach in your experience? Adding that would I think help with the "GS/BS" guidance mxyzplk alluded to in his comment under the question. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 13 at 17:30

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