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I'm currently running a 3-year long campaign that is coming to an ending in which God is likely to appear as an NPC. Since this is the end of the campaign I won't need to manage it for very long, but I will almost certainly have to run direct dialogue with God or portray God in ways that touch on important or sensitive eschatological issues.

This game takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic (not the Biblical apocalypse) setting, approximately three hundred years in the future. The PCs started in the mega-city of Kansas, which is a state in the United States of America. The game essentially takes place 'in the real world', though there are a number of obvious differences, like the existence of flying cars, much more advanced natural-language processing, the proliferation of fusion-based technology, etc.

Obviously this in-game God is necessarily a fictionalized representation of real-world God, but we're all fellow Christians and I'm concerned about my in-game choices for or about God transgressing our real-life boundaries as believers. I want to do this is a respectful and sacred way, and I am worried about being up to the task.

How can I respectfully handle introducing the sensitive subject of God to my game? Or should I just flat-out not do it?


I hope it goes without saying that answers from experience are far, far better answers than uninformed speculation. I haven't explained all of the relevant theology and eschatology, because answers should be bringing Good Subjective experience to the table. I also hope it's obvious that answers (or comments) which are insensitive or hostile to religious concerns, on a question about how to be sensitive to religious concerns, are inappropriate.

(Further recommended reading is Meta.Christianity's post about answering as a religious person and Meta.Islam's post about avoiding theological debates, apologetics, or other discussion masquerading as a question/answer/comment; and, of course, Be Nice.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you decided if you want to be more "OT God" or more "NT God" in terms of the interaction with the PC's? I ask this because that will inform an answer I have cooking in my brain. Secondly, are all of your players Christians who accept the Trinity? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 9 '16 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Either's fine, I haven't committed one way or the other yet. I'm Catholic. The group now consists of a member of the Brethren, and an Episcopalian. (So yes on the Trinity, I think) \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jan 28 '17 at 23:09
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(Background: I am also a Christian, along with several of the people in my gaming group.)

tl;dr -- The fictional god of your fictional world is not the God of our universe. Make the fictional god clearly distinct from our God. Figure out how much of what the party knows about that god is true.

Define what you mean by "God" in your game world.

Your game world is a fictional creation. The God character in your fictional world is also a fictional creation. He (let's call him Steve) is not the God of our universe.

So if Steve isn't our God, in what way is he the god of your game world?

  • Is Steve all-knowing or merely mostly-knowing?
  • Is Steve all-powerful or merely mostly-powerful?
  • Does Steve have a physical location in the world or is he everywhere at once?
  • Did Steve create the world or did he pick it up later on?
  • Does Steve intervene in the workings of the world or is he an absentee landlord (perhaps only stepping in at the end of the world)?

Characterize the god of your game world.

The God of our universe has some very particular characteristics. Steve could be the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe, and yet not be much like our God. Christianity describes a God with some very particular characteristics, a God who loves his creation, is triune in nature, is slow to anger, steps into the universe as a human, finds the aroma of burnt offerings pleasing, etc. There's no reason Steve needs to have these particular characteristics. Imagine that Steve has characteristics of his own:

  • Steve always appears as five figures at once. Each one embodies a different aspect of his personality. The dragon speaks about wisdom and long-term plans. The butterfly whispers about transient beauty. The giant speaks about using power to achieve results. The coyote speaks about relationships with others. The child speaks about the deep things of the listener's heart.
  • Steve wants his followers to gather in the open air on hilltops when they conduct their worship of him. His people have come up with several reasons why they believe this to be the case -- some of them are correct, some are not, but Steve always has many reasons for doing what he does, most of which are beyond human understanding.
  • Steve deliberately established five separate churches in the world, not just one. The five churches each have different areas of interest and responsibility, different tasks to accomplish in the world. These churches (being made of mere mortals) have very little comprehension of Steve's great plans for the world. Sometimes they think they're working together and sometimes they think they're working against each other, but it's all part of Steve's unknowable plans.
  • Steve is not concerned with whether people believe in him or not. Belief is not required for salvation, because...
  • Steve brings neither salvation nor damnation to people. We live, we die, then we live on in our descendants in a literal way. Each of us is a composite of all of our ancestors' souls, plus a unique spark of our own. When we die, we become part of all of our descendants. Steve has a special plan for those who die childless.

Match Steve to your game world.

It's been three years, and you've probably established many expectations about the god of your game world. Figure out what the players know for sure and make up your own Steve that fits with that knowledge. For example, if you've presented the party a vaguely-Christian world:

  • Steve is believed to be a triune being -- because two of Steve's five aspects are not understood by the people of this part of the world.
  • Steve is worshipped indoors at a temple like the temple of Jerusalem -- because people understood the instruction to worship on the temple mount, but they added the idea of building over it later, borrowing from pagan religions around them.
  • Steve is believed to judge everyone when they die -- but everyone is made of all the souls of their ancestors; at the end of the world the evil souls will be filtered out and the good ones persist.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am not sure this answers the question - he's running a game in the real modern world, which is a pretty common thing, and changing all God references to "Steve" is going to be bizarre and jarring long before this comes up. This would work in a clearly alternate/fantasy world but isn't very satisfying for real world settings. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Dec 16 '14 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I understood his election of the term 'Steve' to distinguish that this god he's describing is a unique creation and separate from the the god in real world Christianity. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jun 9 '17 at 19:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right, which doesn't make a lot of sense in what's basically a (post-)modern day real world USA setting. The premise of the question seems based on a general need to depict the recognizably Christian God. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jun 9 '17 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Pyrotechnical mxyzplk is correct that this answer is completely unhelpful to me. Not only does this game take place in a setting wherein not portraying God as God would make no sense, but moreover this answer doesn't really pull from experience trying to present God appropriately in an RPG attempting to depict reality as its setting, and also the sort of trite trivialization of religion the answer advocates is entirely the sort of thing I'm hoping to avoid. I actually find this answer offensive, but there's not a whole lot I can do about that. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jun 11 '17 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer, when I answered, your question didn't make it clear to me that you wanted to portray our world's God in a fiction based closely on our world. No offense or trivialization was intended, I simply misunderstood what problem you were trying to solve. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Jun 11 '17 at 21:08
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God is a being central to all creation, whose will, mind, and power are absolute and unrivalled, and yet so subtle that His existence and intentions are subject to doubt.

Use that to your advantage: Be vague. Your players are dealing with an incomprehensibly complex being; They can't really expect to understand the true depths of His psychology.

That doesn't mean you can get away with giving God a personality trait that one of your players insists He wouldn't have, of course, but it does make it easier to justify not giving him too many discernible (read: non-incomprehensible) personality traits, while still allowing the NPC to posess verisimilitude.

So, to put all that into actionable advice: Stick to the basics. If you and your players are all the same denomination of Christianity, you should already have some idea how your players interpret the character of God; If you stick to the points of overlap, you'll avoid conflicting with someone's understanding.

Avoid being drawn on questions of faith and doctrine that might reveal the flaws and seams in your portrayal. I've found that having the players focused on a crisis or cause at the point that God appears on-stage helps prevent them from going off-topic. (Also the awe. It takes a very specific kind of personality to not be awed by God, and the other players might find a lack of awe way less believable than any mistake you make as GM.)

Finally, if you do slip up, and offend one of your players, have a plan in place to deal with that. Put the game on pause, apologise (Even if you don't see the harm in what you did, you definitely didn't mean to cause offence), and then work out how to proceed from there. A discussion of Lines and Veils might be appropriate.

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Don't represent God directly.

My recommendation is that to avoid violating players' external expectations of God you should use custom characters that represent His interests and work as His hands, rather than Himself directly.

And this should make sense to your players. This is the reason why there are archangels, saints, The Pope, the pastor of your local church, etc. These are beings and people who aren't God, but are doing God's work. They don't and can't act exactly how God acts, especially because He is mysterious, and especially the human characters no matter how exalted could have interesting character traits that will make them enjoyable for the players to deal with.

For an example see the archangel Uriel in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.

In my DnD game of 2 years and change I used the standard DnD pantheon, but also used several different Christian groups, including some militaristic nuns. My players were very distinctly atheistic to contrast with my faith, but they accepted my interesting characters at face value. And, when they tried to summon Jesus as part of their investigation they instead got attention from Uriel (I borrowed from Dresden since I was familiar with it and some of my players appreciated a nod to a fiction they also enjoyed), so that I wouldn't have to violate my own expectations of God or Jesus or risk my players offending me if they decided to get a little sacrilegious in character (they were also trying to summon Moradin and Bahamut, who the majority of the party worshiped, so I didn't think was a very great risk of that, but why risk it?).

The party was overall very impressed with the whole scenario.

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I read Joes answer and do not quite agree with his stand point. In my opinion separating the in-game God you create/represent in your Campaign from the individual perception of God of your players is hard or impossible.

TLDR; I think superimposing an 'artificial' conception of God in a campaign is not going to resolve the issues players may have with that conception, because they will compare that to their conception which probably originates in their personal real-life belief.

While it may work in very artificial setups (say, the polytheistic pantheon of a high fantasy world) I think the separation of the conception of the game world God from their personal God is asking a lot of your players if the setting is closer to reality. Belief is a very personal and very emotional thing and your campaign has apparently been going on for quite a while.

  • I assume thus, that the players in your group will already have a pretty good conception of the God in your setting - just because of the fact that this is what they expect of the world. Furthermore, if it is indeed a realistic setup, then the conception of God is probably modelled very closely to their own personal beliefs in real life.

  • Trying to now introduce a new and different image of God into your setting or characterizing the existing image differently to their exceptions might put your players off or offend their feelings. (Extreme example could be: bending the setting in a way where there exists no single abrahamitic God, but the full Hindu Pantheon.)

So what to do about this? I'd suggest that for any representation and characterization of God in your setting you stick to the biggest common denominator between all the religious views which exist in your group. If all of your players are e.g. roman catholic you might already have a fairly clear picture of how the representation of God shall look in your setting. If, however, your group consists of people from very incompatible subsets of christianity you might be in for a challenge and will have to keep the conception of God in your setting on a very basic and nondescript level.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comparing them now the answers have a big overlap. I just wanted to stress, that I think superimposing an 'artificial' conception of God in a campaign is not going to resolve the issues players may have with that conception. I tried to outline this in an edit. \$\endgroup\$ – fgysin reinstate Monica Dec 16 '14 at 13:19
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I think the best place to start looking at this is by looking at other media where God figures that are supposed to resound to a Christian audience are portrayed. There have been many different approaches. Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments chose to keep their version off screen, represented by a glow of light. Alanis Morissette's portrayed God in Dogma as a quirky, benevolent young woman. Southpark showed God as a chimeric creature whose own religion is Buddhist. All of these have Christian fans who found the portrayals poignant and ones who found it disappointing or offensive. Based on what you know of your group, how do they feel about these portrayals?

Think about the portrayals your party is ok with and try to draw from those. You can ask them about movies and books where they think God was portrayed well, or ask them their opinion on ones you want to draw inspiration from. Some potential directions to go in:

  1. The off screen God: If you don't know what your party will be ok with, sticking with the Ten Commandments God is probably the safest bet. This can be done by simply describing their encounter with God as a warm feeling of being bathed in light accompanied by a sudden knowledge of whatever it is the God is trying to communicate to them.

  2. The sci-fi misinterpretation God: There is a trope that comes up a lot in sci-fi where God is something that was not fully comprehensible to humans at the time religion was created, so we simplified it to something we could understand - thus religion. This is related to the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens Trope and Clark's Third Law. This can take a similar approach to Joe's answer. By making a God that is similar enough to the Christian God to be recognizable (similar philosophy and myths), you can hopefully tap into the meaning that God holds for your players. By adding a clear difference between this God and the Biblical one, any philosophical differences can be written off as part of the universe this different version of God lives in.

  3. The God of no religion: This would be the type of God figure portrayed in Dogma or the Godfellas episode of Futurama and can be related to the God Before Dogma Trope. These portrayals try to stick to the parts of religion that most people agree is a good thing (e.g. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), which is also generally considered to be the most important part of the religion to many adherents. Because of the broad appeal of the philosophy, you can make meaningful statements without alienating particular beliefs. As a note, these portrayals are generally paired with an element of humor, which can be used to avoid answering questions outside the scope you feel comfortable addressing:

Bethany Sloane: Why are we here?

God: [pokes Bethany's nose] Nweep.

-Dogma (1999)

The big thing I would avoid is any specific tenants of the religion. The reason so many religions exist is because just about no one agrees on any given point. Things you may assume all other Christians believe is not necessarily a given. There is even a group of people call Christian atheists who consider themselves Christian, but do not believe in God, so unless you have actually talked with your players about their beliefs, make no assumptions. Knowing your player's religion isn't enough either. Many people still consider themselves part of the religion they grew up in even if their beliefs no longer match those of the religion.

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Your problem is the Uncanny Valley

See, humans love seeing the resemblances between things. Well....only when we know its an "other" thing. When we see things we truly and really believe are a representative of a set of things, we then start looking for differences. Basically, if its in the set, look for differences, if its not in the set, look for similarities.

How this applies

Your representation of God can only be so good, and the question is: Does your presentation in the valley, a clearly fictional representation, or a seemingly accurate representation?

If you get stuck in the valley, players will be PISSED because they expect your representation to be good.

If your representation is clearly fictional, someone will only be pissed if they refuse to contribute to a fiction that has an inaccurate portrayal of god. These are the sorts of people who can't laugh at Dogma, or enjoy the Constantine movie.

If your representation is seemingly accurate, which seems to be your goal, the players will be moved.

Of the 3 options, landing in the Valley is out of the question obviously. That leaves you either trying to be seeming accurate, or being blatantly fictional.

The Catch

Yeah, there's a catch. Its that if you try to be seemingly accurate, you have to be accurate to several people's perceptions of the same thing, which is actually even more difficult to being accurate to the original thing.

My Solution

While there's some useful advice on how to solve this problem by being seemingly accurate enough, my advice is to go the other way. Draw intentional dissimilarities between your "god" and the actual god you think you're representing. By forcing your players to view your "god" as a purely fictional character, they'll focus on his similarities to the actual god you're representing. Note, this is the method both C.S.Lewis and Tolkien took on the subject. Tolkien used a god named Eru Ilúvatar, while Lewis used Aslan, a fricken lion. But both were quite christian, and Lewis' books are widely accepted within christian society.

Specific Oddities

  • Unusual Avatar form
  • Unusual stance on irrelevant topic(Jesus hates the taste of meat?)
  • There's a lost book of the Bible, describing some banalities, but also contains a lost practice of hair-braiding among early christians.
  • Jesus was born in Rome

etc etc. Point is, this'll prepare your players, subconsciously, to accept that your representation isn't supposed to be "truly" accurate at all for when you inevitably mess up.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is about trying to do it in a seemingly accurate way. Doing otherwise is not an option here. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jun 10 '17 at 18:11
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Long ago I did first-edition MM style stat sheets for Yaweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I don't think we ever had any encounters with them; I just wanted them listed so players could choose them as deities for a Lancelot-based paladin or whatever.

We had a Catholic, a Lutheran, and an Atheist in the group, and none ever complained. We treated the game as a game. I think it helped to keep the deities offstage as much as possible, though.

The Old Testament God speaks mostly through messengers - would it help to have Gabriel or Michael do most of the interactions?

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(This answer assumes that you mean the Judeo/Christian/Islamic deity and that the campaign is set in a place where he would be expected to be involved, such as the ancient Middle East or similar real-world locations. If not, then go with Joe's reply).

"God" is a character in a book; handle him as you would an encounter with Gandalf, Conan, or Sherlock Holmes. Ie, play them as they are portrayed in the book. Assuming that you don't have any major disagreements with the player in question about how to interpret the character and you are true to that interpretation, then you shouldn't have any problem. "God" is shown encountering many heroes (and some villains) in the Bible, so there's nothing particularly outrageous in having him encounter heroes in your game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Assuming that you don't have any major disagreements with the player in question about how to interpret the character": this appears to actually be what the question is about: how not to assume, or how to assume in a way that is recoverable. Compare: "How do I portray a flaming gay man sensitively (I have gay players)?" then answering "Assuming you don't do something your players find offensive, it should be fine," doesn't really offer anything relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 14 '14 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's more like "How do I portray Quentin Crisp in a game (I have a gay player)?" and the answer is the same: stick to what everyone knows about the character and you should be safe. The OP said the group are all Christians, so there's no obvious reason that this should be hard or difficult. As I said, there's lots of examples in the source material to draw on. \$\endgroup\$ – Nagora Dec 14 '14 at 21:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Nagora Even within Christianity, interpretations of God's character differ greatly from sect to sect and from individual to individual. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 15 '14 at 4:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe which is why I suggested sticking to the examples of "God" interacting with individuals in the source material. There's very little variation in which parts of the Bible are accepted by different Christians. Less so than, for example, the variation of what is accepted as canonical Conan or even about historical figures like Napoleon, and no one's going to get too worked up about putting them into a game, are they? "God" regularly appears to and talks with characters, especially in the OT. \$\endgroup\$ – Nagora Dec 16 '14 at 11:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I endorse the idea of treating "God" as a fictional character (whatever your irl views). It should be clear to everyone that games are an exercise in fiction. \$\endgroup\$ – bp. Dec 9 '16 at 9:16

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