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In my campaign, the goal is to find ten major god-level artifacts, each linked to a specific god in the setting. Each artifact has a part of the soul of the god it’s linked to, and that soul has the ability to possess the attuned wielder of the artifact.

There are three types of possession, each a different level of possession. The lowest level is partial possession — this is a willing choice to allow the god-fragment into the character’s mind, but the god cannot take over the character fully; it’s undetectable except in a few cases, and the character could easily throw off the possession if they wanted. The middle level is full possession — the god-fragment is in the character’s mind to a greater degree (in game the characters are unwilling to be possessed, out of game I cleared it with everyone), the god can take over the character for a limited time (in times of great emotion, when their mental guard is down, or for a single action if the character resists), and the possession cannot be easily removed. The most powerful level is the willing host — they basically are two souls in one body, and this can only happen if the character is so devout that their belief strengthens the god-fragment to the point that it’s unclear how much is godly influence and how much is the mortal (the PCs don’t get to be at this level, it’s for the campaign villain of sorts so it doesn’t have to be balanced).

I explained these levels in general terms when I first brought up the idea of these artifacts being able to possess someone, and I bring it up in more detail to an individual player when it comes up. Everyone understands, but it doesn’t seem like it’s getting used like I intended.

I intended the god-voice in the mind to be primarily a source of plot hooks, conflict, and the occasional thing that none of them could find out but needed to know. However, the players are using it differently.

One player is playing it as intended; they occasionally bring it up to check how the god responds or ask a single question at a time. Sometimes I give them an unprompted hint from the god, the way I do to the others, and they use it to help themself without trying to find a way to get more information. Another player is possibly under-using it; they only bring it up with me if I tell them something the god says or if someone else suggests they check a bit of information against the god. They take hints, but don’t go seeking the god’s advice or really use it as a plot hook, and I’m fine with that because they’re a pretty casual player.

The third player who’s possessed is the problem. She’s a druid, heavily focused on charisma and healing (she wanted to make a character who could mechanically complement the party, who at that time lacked both a face and a healer), and she’s the only one who actively sought out possession (she found the ring of the forest god and pretty much begged it to possess her; the other players were the result of bad choices or happy accidents). She also happens to be the sort of person who likes to win, and we’ve had arguments over this in the past. The problem is not that she wants to be possessed. I’m fine with that and it’s good character development.

The problem is that she abuses the god-voice in her mind. Pretty much every time she comes across anything weird or unusual, she asks the god about it, and won’t accept a vague or cryptic answer. She’ll also occasionally ask random-seeming questions and demand an immediate answer, even when I’m obviously doing something else (we play by zoom and she’s constantly sending me chat messages). This bothers me because she either makes me explain something that was supposed to be a brief mention, such as a rock formation in the desert looking like a crow, or she nearly makes me bypass the entire plot of a session because she asked a question and wants an answer even if it would spoil the plot.

I tried giving cryptic answers. She only asked me to explain them, and kept bugging me until I explained it to her satisfaction. Then, I tried not answering, but she responded by freaking out about why the god wasn’t answering. When I told her it spoiled the plot, she stopped asking about a specific thing, but then she used that meta knowledge to figure out the plot anyways. When I tried requiring a charisma check before any questions got answered, I applied that rule to everyone in the interest of fairness. But any DCs for the checks that would challenge her (she has at least a +7 in pretty much all charisma skills, and more with magic) are so far above the skill level of the other possessed characters (one with +1 to most charisma stuff, one with +0) that it’s unfair to them, and lowering the DC meant she almost always passed it. She understands why I want to limit her, but she doesn’t limit herself so I keep either getting into arguments or acquiescing because getting into an argument would take too much time.

I don’t know how to balance her desire for information and winning with my desire to have at least some of the plot be a surprise for the players, and I don’t know whether it’s something I should solve by changing the mechanic (which I want to leave as open as possible so the other players continue to use it the same way) or by trying to make her see reason. Is this the fault of my mechanic, and how do I solve this in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings or make me have to completely rewrite my mechanic?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you looked at the Cleric class ability Divine Intervention, its scaling and its level 20 modification? If not I'll flesh it out into a true answer, but asking in comments because I don't see any mention in your post \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2021 at 1:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Punintended no, I know of that but I didn’t use it as an example or basis for research — I did this as a plot/fluff/non-mechanical thing back when I thought the club was going to be playing Fate this year, and I just transferred it over to D&D a few months ago without giving it much of a mechanical makeover. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2021 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure what you mean by "plot" - before I consider an answer, are you familiar with The Alexandrian's article covering 'don't prep plots, prep situations' from a DM's perspective? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2021 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I added the player-agency tag due to the inherent nature of how these possesions drive the story and result in conflict, if you think it unconducive, then please feel free to rollback :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Oct 29, 2021 at 7:53

6 Answers 6

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Embrace it.

You have three stage possession, and the player is desperately asking for more divine presence in their life.

So give them that. Have the god give them clear and unambiguous answers on questions they know, like nature and other deities, and say they don't know if it's outside their domains.

Example.

"What's that rock that's shaped like a crow?"

"I don't really know. I'm a nature deity, not a rock deity. Rocks are weird."

"Why is that wolf massive?"

"It's a dire wolf. I made them fear fire, for they were too strong without it." Or such.

If they ask too many questions then tell them that you need to focus on other players.

Then, have them be possessed. While they sleep or while they are under great stress have the deity help by taking over, and doing suitably dramatic things that help the plot along and aren't directly in the player's interests.

They get someone with a huge nature skill bonus. You get a nature deity in the party to help out and cause chaos.

In terms of balance, you gave the players major divine artifacts. Giving them a good skill check for nature situations is well within acceptable balance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If they ask too many questions then tell them that you need to focus on other players - that's a very polite way to deal with a spotlight hog. +1 😊 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2021 at 13:57
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You don't have a problem mechanic. You have a problem player.

What you have here is a player who you described as 'wants to win', and who doesn't accept the answers that they receive from the DM. That is a huge problem and while this mechanic might be the primary way it plays out, I would put money on there being many more smaller ways the issue manifests.

There are lots of amazing answers to dealing with problem players on this site so I don't think it bears repeating them, but do a search, or look for other questions with the problem-players tag.

Good examples:

Problematic player constantly looking to power play

What do you do when one of your players is being difficult?

The gist however is that you talk to the player, explain the situation and come to an understanding of some variety.

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Lean in!

I think Nepene Nep's answer is on the right track, in that yes, the player gets to have a nature deity in their mind, but what you're neglecting is that you as the DM now have a nature deity in their mind to play with. As a result, you're able to drive the plot and introduce fun and interesting moments (like you've been doing with your other players!).

I think with the problem player you need to lean in. So what do I mean by that? Well, I would imagine a couple of things:

  • Don't be afraid to tell the player that the deity does not know the answer. You could root this lack of knowledge based on the domain of the question (e.g. asking a question about a city's history might be outside the scope of the nature deity's knowledge), or disinterest ("Druid, why are you bothering me with this, if you can't figure this out then I should find a new host who can")
  • Don't shy away from having the deity become annoyed. If I was a powerful deity and my host kept bothering me with useless questions, I'd sure start getting annoyed. Maybe there is a way to remind the player who is "in charge" here (in a way that is fun for everyone at the table, including the problem player). Though I might avoid imposing serious penalties to start, I might hint that they were possible. For example, next time there is a random question, maybe in the voice of the deity you could say "Watch yourself Druid, you waste my time. Don't forget who is in charge here...". Likewise if the behaviour continues, you could have the deity take control of the Druid's hand and slap them for some trivial damage, or when the Druid goes to draw their weapon, they find that their hand hesitates to draw their blade. Take these suggestions as what they are - suggestions - and use them as inspiration for your situation. If the behaviour continues, you can create drama and intrigue in the party by having this deity become less cooperative if they are annoyed by the player's actions. Again, I'd probably avoid imposing serious penalties since that would take away from the fun. If you're finding yourself wanting to impose serious penalties, then...
  • Have a one-on-one chat with the problem player outside the game. There are plenty of resources on this site for how to approach having this conversation in a constructive way, and I'd encourage you to take a read regardless of how you decide to approach this situation.
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Gods don’t have to put up with the pestering of mortals

Gods receive millions of prayers a day, thousands from their priests, and dozens from their sponsored adventurers. Many Gods direct devas, and other extra-planar beings, in epic fights beyond our comprehension as well as battling themselves.

When the Druid calls them up and asks a simple question you can tell them you are busy and leave.

“Silvanus, why is that rock shaped like a crow?”

“What? I am not aware of why that rock bears such a resemblance, but I need to get back to my war council.”

“Silvanus, where is the best bar in the city?”

“I can’t say, I have never been to that city and I am busy working on my latest plan to regrow a forest in an afternoon.”

If they ask for everything to be explained, say something like “Silvanus has spoken” and have the God leave. Further contact is broken while the God does other things.

If they persist, tell them that they won’t waste anymore time on them and won’t take any questions.

“Silvanus, can you help me tie this knot?”

“I retreated from a battle against the dread god of rot to receive this message. Do not call upon me again for a day until I can sort out my more pressing matters.”

Roll a die to determine how long the God won’t respond. Hopefully nothing happens that requires the God, or your Druid will be the kid who cried “wolf”.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Right now, this reads mostly as an untested suggestion, which we try to avoid. If you have any personal experiences with things like this, they would make for an excellent addition to this answer \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2021 at 22:18
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Lots of good answers here, but I see one missing:

Gods can lie!

A great way for a trapped deity that is being annoyed to school the upstart mortal is abusing their knowledge is to lie to them. Give them bad info that gets them into trouble (note the nice plot hook for a trouble to solve), then afterwards tells them, "Some of me is here, but not all, and I do have important matters to attend to elsewhere. Next time you call on me, make sure your questions are worthy of a god, or your consequences could be even more dire."

After that, you can tell her the god ignores the trivial stuff, as promised. And if it continues anyway, then the next time she really needs it, she gets a scolding instead (and possibly just enough help to make sure she survives, maybe not without some unpleasantness). Hopefully all this will teach her character to respect the gift.

I've done similar things, both in D&D and in supers games. While I find more experienced players tend to be more suspicious from the beginning, some players naïvely expect certain types of beings to be truthful. Removing that myth changes the relationship to a more balanced one. Now its not just a fact vending machine, but another character to be negotiated with, and with whom you need to build trust and rapport to get what you want. You know, roleplay! And I find people generally respond well, especially if you put in the effort to make the being an engaging character.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hopefully all this will teach her character to respect the gift As to the player, you can reasonably predict that it will pile on aggravation. Have you done this in your games before (need not be D&D, as numerous games include deity - character bonds)? How did the player respond in those instances? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 28, 2021 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I have, but thinking about that made me realize I could provide more guidance. Thks for the question! \$\endgroup\$
    – Zimul8r
    Oct 28, 2021 at 23:40
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Gods are only human too

I kinda feel you play these Gods quite mechanical, instead of with a personality.

What is the God's motivation to help? Do they want the same thing as the players? In that case, they will help, and you will need to design your campaign accordingly. E.g. if the players are fighting an enemy of the Gods, they will probably design their traps and stuff in a way that the Gods are limited in what help they can offer.

Or maybe the God has their own motivations and only help out of sympathy or in exchange of a later favour. Then their help is limited. They might get annoyed or refuse to help. They might stop answering for a time or withhold information, if the players get too annoying.

Imagine a teacher at school. The kids are doing project work and the teacher oversees their work. If the pupils ask a few good questions, the teacher might be happy to help. But if the questions descend into trivialities and they keep asking a lot of annoyingly flat questions, the teacher might tell them that they should do their project on their own.

TLDR:
  • Try to give your God personality
  • Try to give your God a motivation for helping the PCs
  • Play accordingly

Own experience

Since the OP is asking how these principles have been used in other games, here is what I did before. I didn't have a God in my campaign before, but I had an NPC who was old, powerful, wise and the superior of the group. He knew a lot, and also knew the answer to many mysteries that the PCs were trying to learn about.

If he would immediately spill all the beans, that would have cleared up most of the mysteries in the campaign, so I could not do that.

Instead, I followed the list above.

  • Give the NPC a personality The NPC was the leader of a criminal organization, and he had been in this position for decades. Even though he was old and a bit fragile, he still was the undisputed boss, because he knew how to play people. His trust would have to be earned, and even his most trusted circle did not know everything he knew, so that they could not get rid of him, without losing a lot.

  • Give the NPC a motivation for helping the PCs The NPC knew that the PCs were quite powerful fighters and mages and also outcasts without a support net. So he wanted to take advantage of the PCs power for his own purposes. If possible, he wanted to do so for a long time, so he wanted a long-term partnership. But at the same time, the PCs weren't indispensable to the NPC.

  • Play accordingly The NPC made it clear to the players, that this was a mutually beneficial business cooperation. He would provide what the PCs needed to do the things the NPC wanted. As long as it would be beneficial for both parties, they would work together.

But he would never give away secrets, that he didn't want to give away just yet. He sometimes tested the PCs and if they were too annoying or would try to work around him, he would often purposely leave out information or withhold resources.

The PCs were better off with him, than without him, so they stuck with him. But he was, by no means, their pawn, and he would make sure they knew.

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