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In the near future I am likely to have to GM God. Part of the difficulty I perceive I am going to have in this is God is immeasurably smarter, wiser, more creative, etc than I am - not by a quantifiable degree, but entirely on a different order. Ordinarily when I GM characters that are better than me in some mental/spiritual area, I cheat by using a certain amount of extra time to figure out what that character would do/think/feel either before a game session or during it. Because the difference here is functionally infinite, however, that method won't work. What should I do instead?

I have read How can I roleplay a character more manipulative than myself? and How do I roleplay a character more intelligent than I am? but both of these seem heavily tailored to players, rather than GMs. The top-rated answer (by @AceCalhoon) on the latter question at least theoretically addresses the GM side of the problem, but I'd prefer an answer that specifically focused on GMing and was vetted by the community on that point alone.

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You can't

It is not possible for you to model the thought processes of God, no matter how much time you spend on it. There are too many fundamental barriers to emulating its mind, some of which you have touched upon in this question and in your previous one.

The silver lining here is that your players aren't in a position to do this either. Nobody, in the game universe or at your game table, is qualified to do this. So don't do it.

Don't play God as a character

God is a singular, primeval force. It will do what it does, and there isn't any reasonable way to explain, categorize, or justify any of those things in any true way. But that's fine. Humanity has been attempting to explain, categorize, and justify the actions of God for thousands of years, and the impossibility of it has never really stopped us.

God is a story. It's a story that you're going to tell your players, because that's the story that their characters are going to invent to justify the experience they just had. Something happened to them that fundamentally cannot be explained, and so they will paint over it and fill in the rough edges and do whatever they have to so that they don't all go insane.

There is never just one story

This encounter with God is not an objective event. It can't be. Every single one of the characters is going to fit their own story to what happens. Every single one of the characters is going to think they figured it all out. And they're all wrong. But they're all right.

You need a way to tell this story in multiple ways to multiple people at the same time. It's not going to be easy (I hope you didn't expect it to be).

  1. Come up with a metaphor of God for each of the characters. This shouldn't be elaborate, but it's a lens through which you can craft the characters' unique experiences. Think about the varying manifestations of God in our world. These are all different people attempting to explain the unknowable. This metaphor will also probably suggest some human-like personality qualities of God; use them to further differentiate responses.
  2. Come up with the intended outcome of the scene. This is where God is going to be steering the whole experience, and knowing about this goal will make it easier to improvise the events of the scene. You're going to be improvising a lot. This goal allows you to craft the story of this scene, which is really all there is to it. The rest is just expression.
  3. Sit everybody down at the table. (If you're playing in some non-real-time format, this is significantly easier, but it doesn't sound like this is the case.)
  4. Announce and enforce a very strict no-meta-talk rule during this scene. Everything your players say about the game must be in universe. If they want to coordinate perceptions, they're doing it explicitly.
  5. Pass each of your players a card telling them what their character perceives at the start of the scene. This should map to each of their metaphors, but all of the descriptions should have similar themes (keep in mind the scene goal).
  6. Let the players describe their characters' actions, and then write out how God responds to each of them. The response should be based on whatever any of the characters has just done, but each will see a different reaction. This is going to be slow, because you have to think about the responses and then write several of them, but that's pretty unavoidable. Remember that you are in some sense portraying a different scene to each player, but that the end goal is the same for all of them. This can get very slow, so simplify the communication as much as possible on your side: speak with brief, vague statements; use imagery rather than words; and don't be afraid of your signals being too subtle. All of these things contribute to the ambiguity of the encounter, which is exactly right.
  7. Eventually, the scene reaches its goal, God leaves, and everyone can go back to however you normally play. Depending on how much you tailor to each character, their recollections of the scene could be very different, which is a good thing.

At the end of this, the characters have each experienced something very different, but the fact that all of their actions were interwoven consistently and that there was that single secret goal that you were working from should provide enough similarity for them to agree that something happened to all of them and that there's a direction to go next.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 12 '14 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie That's a very appropriate metaphor, really - The mind of God is supposed to be so complex as to be incomprehensible and ungraspable for us mere mortals, so everyone who touches it having a different-but-correct-in-context interpretation makes a lot of sense. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 15 '14 at 5:57
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Metagame it, Batman style!

No, I'm serious. When you read Batman comics, or watch some of the animated series, Batman always has a contingency for everything. No one can escape him, because Batman always outsmarts them. He's a master psychologist, has way beyond average observation skills, even Sherlock Holmes wouldn't be able to give him a run for his money. He's just the best detective in the world!

But you're not... And here is what's fun about portraying a god or similar beings of vastly superior intellect in a roleplaying game : you don't have to be (as long as you're the GM)! You can cheat your way out of it, not unlike how you can cheat your way out of playing a character more intelligent than you by taking some more time to think things through. Sometimes, you'll need some quick wits, sure, but you don't need to have a Ph.D. in everything to pull it off. Here's how you can do it :

  • Don't remove the free will of your PCs : Although not exactly part of the answer, this point is important to make. Free will is one of the core beliefs in Christianity, and God would most likely never force a course of action onto the PCs. Rather, he would subtly guide them by giving them cryptic and mysterious messages.
  • You know everything : You don't? Think again... you DO! God is both omniscient and omnipotent. As such, he can pierce the heart of men to witness their true motivations. While your players shouldn't metagame by assuming that their characters know something you publicly revealed to another while their characters weren't present, you are definitely not bound by this restriction. In fact, assume that anything your players say or plan is known to God.
  • It's all part of your plan : No matter what happens or how little sense it makes, resolve the actions of your players as well as you can and, when you have sufficient time (back at home after the game, for instance), figure out how you can benefit from these actions. After all, God works in mysterious ways! No matter what eventually happened, assume it was part of Gods plan and work it in the story. Remember : YOU are the one telling the story. As such, you can change pretty much everything that hasn't happened yet and no one will know better!
  • It's OK to be caught in an awkward spot : Remember : it's all part of the plan! If the players find a contradiction in what you're telling them, don't sweat it! According to some, there are even contradictions in the Bible anyways, so it's not impossible that some could pop-out from God's own words. This can be a sensible line of thought for some, but you need to remember that God knows everything and can thus plan accordingly. As such, He never says anything in vain, and just said whatever was needed for you to act the way you did. If caught in an awkward spot, turn to a mysterious tone and let your players believe that God is either testing them or encouraging them to think in a certain way.
  • Don't plan ahead : By that, I don't mean to improvise everything. Far from it! You should always be able to tell what God's final objective is for your campaign. But when it comes to figuring out his specific actions (as in affecting the material world in some way or another), don't plan ahead too much! Indeed, the best way to actually act as if you knew everything is to wait until you actually know everything. Let your players declare their actions and/or motivations first, and use this knowledge to figure out what's more convenient for you.

In the end, godlike intelligence can be faked to a certain extent. You need to remember that the players should be the focus of the action, though. If your campaign leads to a direct confrontation with an intelligent being such as God, it is your responsibility to provide them some way or another for the players to achieve victory. If you simply want God to play a more mystical part in your campaign, it is OK to metagame and assume that whatever happens is part of his plans and that he knows everything. Be cryptic and mysterious, then work with what your players do and make it fit!


TL;DR

Whatever your PCs do, stay calm! Whenever you have enough time, figure out how their actions could've secretly been part of God's plan. After all, he's omniscient and could've easily anticipated their actions, and thus planned accordingly. When you absolutely have to make God act, decide his actions after the players have declared theirs, so you can fake having planned everything by taking their actions into account. The best way to act as if you knew everything all along is to wait until you know everything to decide your actions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ this is a great answer. I used to apply this technique when I was DMing a campaign where the villain was the high cleric of the god of betrayal. He would outsmart the players every time because I would use my time to turn every victory into the evil cleric's win. In the end, the players found out they spent 1 year working for the bad guy and they spend another year trying to kill him for it. It was epic, but hard because the villain wasn't a god. Playing god would be much, much easier for the reasons you described. \$\endgroup\$ – Davi Braid Jan 19 '15 at 9:04
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There are some fantastic answers on here, and this is just meant to supplement them.

One of the most universal characteristics of supreme beings is that communication with them is difficult. Whether they communicate through oracles, or merely answer prayers, or require sacrifice to be heard, part of roleplaying any deity - outside of the extraordinarily fickle and petty beings we see in some franchises - is that they are mysterious, unfathomable beings.

Meeting a deity might be like setting foot on the shore of a new continent - you can see the land in front of you, and maybe mountains in the distance, but you can only see this tiny portion of the whole thing, and the immensity of it rolls away from you towards the horizon. You don't know where the far shore is, or if there even is one.

So, as a deity, I wouldn't explain everything. If the characters ask something, you don't always have to answer them straight, or at all. Your answers don't have to relate to what's happening in the immediate time frame; you could hint at secrets that their enemies kept deep in their hearts, or mention the importance of something without a thorough explanation. Your players should have to think about what you said. They should be able to figure out some stuff, but not everything.

You want to give them the impression that they could never map the continent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please provide a whole and complete answer. If there is some position you want to convey that other answers have conveyed, the linked answer contains some advice on how to do that succinctly. If you feel your answer is a complete answer, I suggest you remove the first sentence: we don't, in general, desire mere supplementary stuff that doesn't stand on its own. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 13 '14 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ In this case, it seems unlikely that any answer could cover so broad a topic. While I think that my answer is a whole and complete answer for one aspect of GMing God, and is sound advice on its own, I wished to convey that it is not in competition with the other ideas present. \$\endgroup\$ – Archebius Dec 13 '14 at 4:47
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It's really worth noting that there is a vast difference between super intelligence and omniscience - being able to think much further ahead and deduce things is NOT the same as knowing everything including what anyone and everyone is thinking and, depending on your theology, possibly every possible thing that will happen in the future.

Opening a door of trouble

Funny enough, Sorcerer, a game about summoning demons, had a pretty excellent point about this - if you include God as an NPC, then players can interact with God, which opens you up to either:

a) the players argue against God and you can't come up with a reasonable return argument, and so God looks like a terrible, petty tyrant

b) God folds to a more reasonable stance, which means God wasn't all-intellgent, wise, and benevolent to begin with.

Effectively, adding God as an NPC means opening yourself up to having to potentially address any and every theological problem intelligent, devoted people have not successfully solved for centuries.

Useful play alternatives

Sorcerer suggests the possibility of including angels with either enigmatic or simple messages, which often mirrors many other stories. As angels are not required to be all-knowing, they can simply say, "I wasn't told." "I do not know." "Only the Lord knows the full extent." "I am not allowed to speak on this." and everyone can accept it as fictionally legit (though, if they are too limited in what they know, it's really annoying and not fun for play.)

Another game, Dogs in the Vineyard, explicitly instructs the GM that nothing in the mechanics or gameplay should give people direct insight/direction FROM God. Since the game revolves on figuring out what is the moral way to resolve people being terrible to each other, the fact everyone is left to wrestle it out on their own is what makes the game work. Thematically, being left with only faith and nothing else to prove what you believe, is also fitting.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What if dodging the problem isn't an option in a certain situation or game? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 12 '14 at 23:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Effectively the question is, "How do I roleplay something that is omniscient and benevolent?" Games that use God as more than a plot point end up losing on one or both of those because no person is capable of holding those up to questioning. You can either have God's perfection or God's presence in your game, just not both at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Dec 13 '14 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bankuei You can fake perfection for very short periods of time - steering the conversation away from topics that would reveal flaws in your portrayal and so on - but it's a real tightrope walk; Any slip-up could ruin it. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Dec 15 '14 at 6:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I'm saying that God doesn't work as a full NPC. If God ends up with about as much portrayal as "the guy who sells you the sword at the armory shop" then you're not really roleplaying God, right? But the question is about portraying God in a way that involves potentially full interaction, instead of "God as a plot element". \$\endgroup\$ – user9935 Dec 15 '14 at 23:25
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I make here the assumption, based on your other post, that you're referring to "God" in a monotheist rather than polytheist vision. This makes a major difference : a monotheist "God" tend to transcend all qualities, possess all of them, etc. Such God will be ineffable and completely out of understanding of any mind, and it's mere "presence" is likely to completely transform/destroy/enlighten you due to its infinite perfection. Even if your campaign implies a somewhat less powerful God, it is likely to be orders of magnitude beyond the understanding and comprehension of humans.

For example, you seem to consider not only pure analytical intelligence, but also creative capacity, wisdom, smartness. This means God could foresee the consequences of any action, convince/manipulate anybody effortlessly, etc. Roleplaying this is challenging, if possible at all.

An option is to use avatars/messengers that incarnate a finite part/power of such God, but lack the global picture and understanding. Such avatars are way more playable, as they do not have all answers, and can even only be in charge of providing a specific bit of information or doing a specific act.

You should also question the assumption that God needs/wants to meet characters. Did you ever consider to meet ants, termites, or an bacteria ? The gap between you and these lifeforms may be even smaller than the gap between God and characters.

In my personal RP experience, in a science-fiction setup, I had to play entities that transcended humanity and accessed to god-like intelligence : I turned their morality to something completely weird to obfuscate the fact that I could not properly play them at this point of time.

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As the GM, you are omnipotent and omniscent. What you say, goes. This counts double when playing god. One way to go about it to simply reverse the order of things. Rather than figuring out all possible paths before speaking, just answer questions and adapt the world to match.

So rather than figuring out how to answer "why did Bad Person X do Terrible Act Y even though Mitigating Circumstance Z?" before the players even ask so you´ll know what to say, just come up with an answer on the spot and make it work. If that means changing things in your story, change them. Anything your characters don't know, isn't set in stone. Make up new characters, events, history, motivations, as you go. And your characters don't know a lot of things.

Just make sure to write down all the answers given so you can figure out their impact after the session.

Of course this approach works best if you're running the game at least somewhat sandbox and don't have future events written down yet. And you can still try to come up with answers to most likely questions beforehand, like you do normally. But when you are thrown something you didn't prepare for, answer it first and make it work later. It's way easier to come up with good reasons after the direction is set than it is to predict all possible directions before they happen.

(Remember, they made "Luke, I am your father" make sense in the end. And it didn't exactly change the story for the worse.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I REALLY hate it when GMs do this. It is, nonetheless, good advice-- as long as either a) your players never notice or b) you explain to your players you are doing this beforehand. Option 'a', obviously, isn't very sustainable. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 12 '14 at 9:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Difference in style then, I guess. But I don't think you can really play an unmeasurably intelligent character without doing this. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 12 '14 at 10:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The TV show Lost tried this, and even with a platoon of writers, couldn't pull it off in the end. It's not a method that's free of landmines. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 12 '14 at 23:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've never seen Lost so I wouldn't know, but it's definately not landmine safe, no. You need to be able to come up with a lot of stuff. But it helps that you have a high-magic world at your disposal. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Dec 13 '14 at 8:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Unless you don't. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 23 '14 at 20:15
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GMing an NPC who is smarter than you is easy - you are god in your game. You know everything the players know and everything else besides. You even know what they're discussing at the table, which no in-game NPC could know. You know what they are planning and what lies they have agreed to tell or truths to omit. And you can take your time to make decisions which is not available to any NPC. All these add up to a lot of advantages which can be used to simulate great intelligence.

Playing a PC who is smarter than you is a bit harder as you don't have access to the GM's knowledge but even then you have quite a lot of meta-knowledge and usually more time to think.

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If you want your players to meet a/the god as npc, I can think of two ways such interaction can be played out. I assumed that god won't be fighting along side the pcs, because that will bring other questions with it.

1) The god is 100% present at the encounter. When the characters meet the big kahuna, they will know he is the big guy, the bearded guy in the sky, the all mighty one. This is pretty hard to pull off, and Id advice you to keep this encounter to a short limited time. A god has many things to do, souls to judge, etc, so being in one place for 100% is giving him piles of overwork. He would need a pretty dam good reason to encounter the players in the first place. An hail Mary and amen won´t cut it.

2) The god only is present in a fraction of his conscious, in the form of a simple npc. The players might at first even doubt that they're dealing with a god, but when they question him further, he knows things only the god should know. To me this makes much more sense as it would show that while he is a god, he has lots of other things to do. And even though he is all knowing, he can't be troubled to answer all petty squabbles the mortals have. It's like the stern dad that is trying to say figure it out yourself son.

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