Praying in the Darkness – Good Clerics for Evil Gods

A few weeks ago I rolled up the very first Cleric of my D&D career. I wanted him to be from the Tempest Domain – because who doesn’t want to basically become Thor at level 17 – so set about searching for a suitably stormy God to worship.

The moment I came across Umberlee, Goddess of the Sea, I knew I had my deity. In an instant I decided that my Cleric would be a wandering sailor-priest, handy with both the hammer and the cutlass. His moods would be as changeable as the tides, and he would fight against those that wished to exert too much control on the world around them.

There was only one issue with my choice. According to the books Umberlee is Chaotic Evil, and most of the party tends towards Lawful Good.

Divine Wrath and You

When we think of Clerics and Paladins the mind naturally turns to shining, radiant do-gooders, bringing light to the shadows and life to the injured.

But not every D&D god is good-aligned. In fact, a quick glance at the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide shows that of the 48 conventional members of the Forgotten Realms pantheon, only 14 of them are out-and-out good guys. If you were to pick your faith at random there’s a very good chance that the object of your worship would be neutral at best.

This is somewhat explained away by the fact that the good-aligned gods are likely to have wider pools or worshippers than their evil counterparts. It’s not hard to imagine that Chauntea, Goddess of Agriculture, might draw a bigger crowd than the Goddess of Pain, Loviatar, for example.

Still, even though they may not exist in particularly vast numbers, virtually every God has their own priests and worshippers, even if they have to keep their beliefs behind closed doors.

Naturally, there will also be at least a handful of Clerics and Paladins campaigning on their behalf, but does that mean that each and every one of them is running around with sacrificial knives, asking for directions to the nearest nunnery?

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The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

The answer to that is a little tricky. In many ways the rigid D&D alignment charts come across as a little unfair to several officially ‘evil’ gods, especially those that represent the harsher side of nature and reality.

While they may have higher overall death tolls, the active malevolence shown by the Gods of Storms and Winter hardly seem to rank alongside Bhall and Cyric, the Gods of Murder and Lies respectively. A hurricane or hungry bear may leave you just as dead as a cultist’s dagger, but it would be crazy to suggest that there’s no moral difference between them.

So though it’s hard to imagine how a character who openly prayed to Asomedeus every night would be tolerated by a band of thoroughly heroic do-gooders, a Cleric of the Wavemother doesn’t seem too out-of-place.

Luckily for me WoTC ditched the old ‘must be the same alignment as your deity’ rules for 5E, and my DM didn’t see any problem with me rolling up a  Cleric that isn’t going to ping off any ‘Detect Evil’ spells.

Maybe his moral compass may seem a little out of whack when it comes to averting natural disasters, but he doesn’t have a problem cracking the skulls of those that seek to manipulate the world and its peoples.

Tips for players:

  • Remember that alignment is a guideline, not a strait-jacket (in 5E at least)
  • It’s entirely possible to do good deeds for selfish or evil reasons
  • If you worship the devil, you’d better have a damn good explanation for why the Lawgul Good Paladin doesn’t smite your arse

Tips for DMs:

  • Make sure you make alignment restrictions known to the party before they roll up characters
  • If a player openly worships a widely-reviled god, people are going to let them know it
  • Try to understand how a player views their relationship with their god and church before handing out punishments for ‘playing out of alignment’

 

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Will says:

    I had a hard time finding a good-aligned god of tempest for the FR setting. Closest I could come to was to say God of War, until I came across Valkur – a pretty minor god of sailors. Other than Thor, storms seem like a maritime or evil domain rather than a good one.

    Ultimately I decided the god wasn’t all that important but my cleric’s motivation – to break the (metaphorical) storms that threaten the lands of men even as he broke the storms that threatened his former crew.

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    1. Completely agree. In fact, in the list of FR gods in the back of the Player’s Hand Book every single FR Tempest-domain god is evil-aligned.
      They only introduced a handful of neutral or good ones in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.

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  2. Thanks for writing this. It addresses a real possibility in a logical way and is just a fun topic. Anyways, my favorite variant of this is an evil cleric of a good god. I once played with a guy who played an evil cleric of Pelor. He had been a regular cleric of Pelor until he developed skin cancer. His mind decided that this was Pelor testing him and has set out to become more powerful than Pelor (to overcome his test and take his place while “spreading his message”). It actually worked out pretty well.

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  3. Rinky says:

    Thank you for writing this! I’m considering rolling up a neutral (or even good? still working that one out) cleric of Umberlee, who ended up in her service after nearly drowning; the sailor’s swearing vengeance on the pirates that destroyed her ship piqued the goddess’ interest and became a sort of pact; sacrifice who you see fit, and I’ll lend you my power.

    Ultimately, I’d wanted a sailor character and wanted/needed a cleric, but really wasn’t feeling the more conventional cleric routes. A tempest cleric just fits a lot better, but I don’t see the character as evil. Rather that she focuses on certain aspects, and hopes to appease the goddess to spare the innocent by sacrificing who she sees as deserving of that fate.

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