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Divine Right of the DM - the reworking of deities in Pathfinder 2e

C: As a Christmas gift we got access to the Pathfinder 2 Playtest Handbook, which gives us an idea of what the finished version of Pathfinder 2e will look like when it comes out. What do you think of it so far, Ange?

A: I want to clarify, when you say ‘Christmas gift’, what you mean is that you bought the book for me. This isn’t something we were mysteriously gifted or that we acquired through nefarious means.

C: Yeah, but, I dunno. This was really a house gift more than anything. I feel kinda guilty calling it a gift for you since I’m going to use the handbook too.

A: Well, you also got me a wine rack, which I’m equally excited about. But yeah, Pathfinder 2—what do I think? We’ve only just started flicking through it.

C: Yeah, we’re not looking through it in a ‘Point A to Point B way’. We’re kind of just pick-n’-mixing.

A: And we’ve not actually got any plans to play this, at least until the official 2.0 version is out. So this is more us seeing what’s what. But already, the few bits we’ve looked at—there’s been a lot of arguments.

C: I’d say discussions. But yeah, we strongly disagree about some things, like their changes to cleric alignments. To briefly sum up that change, you like it and I don’t.

A: I’d say I have fewer problems with the new system with regards to alignments than you do, but basically, yeah.

C: To explain what’s different, in old-school Pathfinder, a cleric’s alignment can be one step away from their god's. So, for example—clerics of Iomedae, who is a Lawful Good god, can be Lawful Good, Neutral Good or Lawful Neutral. And that’s true for all clerics, whether their gods are Chaotic or Evil or whatever. But in 2e, some clerics have to exactly emulate their god’s alignment. For example, if you’re a cleric of Asmodeus, you can only be Lawful Evil.

A: Though with other gods, like Nethys, you can still be really anything you want.

C: Right. But then there are some like Gorum. He’s a Chaotic Neutral god who now, in the new system, can only have Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Evil clerics, but not Chaotic Good or True Neutral ones. Which is strange to me.

A: I think I’m more okay with this system because we already get this with familiars in Pathfinder 1. If you take the Improved Familiar feat to get an advanced familiar, you tend to have to be the same alignment as that creature. And I think that’s more annoying because you can’t get an improved familiar until later levels but you’ve locked in your alignment at level 1 and then you’re like, ‘Dammit, if only I’d known I could get a Cat Sith at level 7, I’d have been Chaotic Neutral but I’m stuck being Chaotic Good. No cool cats for me.’ Whereas clerics chose alignment and god at level 1 so it’s easier for them.

C: That’s a very good point. And there are some things that these new alignment restrictions simplify. Like, clerics aren’t meant to cast spells that go against their moral code. So, to use Asmodeus again, if his clerics can only be Lawful Evil, then Good and Chaotic spells are anathema to them. That just sets it in stone, whereas before, when you could be a Lawful Neutral Asmodean cleric, you were like, ‘Wait a minute. Is doing something Good now antithetical to me because my god doesn’t like it? But my alignment isn’t necessarily anti-Good…’ So there are positive clarifications.

A: Also, I’m assuming that for people moving from Pathfinder 1e to 2e, if they’re worshipping a different god with a different alignment, their DM will let them keep their old beliefs. I’d make this only apply to new characters.

C: That’s fair. But the changes are still radical. Like Gorum—making it so his clerics can only be CN or CE throws a lot of people into disarray about what Gorum is. Does he exist between those two alignments? It really changes how he is viewed, which is a problem if you’re a CG cleric of his.

A: That’s true.

C: And I’d argue that these alignment changes restrict roleplay and gameplay. The one-away alignment system utilized in Pathfinder 1e allows for more varied play and keeps clerics more mobile and more unpredictable, just as it keeps the will of the gods more mobile and unpredictable. If you look online, there’s a lot of zealous (no pun intended) and really heated discourse about this because, in a lot of Pathfinder vanilla settings, there are places where Asmodeus, for example, is worshipped by Lawful Neutral people and has Lawful Neutral clerics.

A: Although I sometimes wonder about Evil gods giving powers to not-Evil people. And people who are Neutral worshipping an Evil god. It must be weird to be like, ‘Yeah, my god is morally bankrupt but I still follow him.’

C: I don’t know; I think that’s putting too simple a spin on it. Putting it in those terms makes the alignment restrictions the be-all and the end-all of the roleplay when it shouldn’t be. Besides, there are lots of people in our world who are shitty but who worship gods who profess good, and there are lots of people who are perfectly approachable and well-mannered but who subscribe to belief systems or ideologies which are hurtful towards others. Also, I think that keeping it varied allows for more of an interesting dynamic—and the mortal and the immortal is more of a grapple, especially if it’s an alignment set-up that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.

A: That’s a good point. I mean, you already know what I would have done if I were changing the alignments of gods. I'd make them all Neutral.

C: Yeah, you said that you would put all the deities somewhere between Chaotic and Lawful, but you wouldn’t give them a Good/Evil modifier.

A: Yep, though their clerics can still be Good or Evil.

C: Right; you’d allow the six closest alignments but forbid the three furthest. Or, in the case of a True Neutral deity, wouldn’t allow the four extremes at the corners of the alignment chart. I don’t know if I agree with your system, but it’s a really fascinating way of thinking about it. The analogy we were using before was the Greek pantheon, where the gods can be dicks, but no one’s portrayed as completely evil.

A: Or completely good.

C: Yeah, you were roasting Shelyn for being too good last night.

A: Look, I just have a soft spot for Calistria. She is the kind of Chaotic, morally indifferent god I can get behind.

C: Online there’s lots of discourse because Calistria can have clerics who are Chaotic Good as well as Chaotic Evil clerics, unlike Gorum, and there are a lot of people being like, ‘Give me a break. Just because elves are a core race, elf-god Calistria is not better than Gorum,’ and my point is that I don’t think the game should get to determine exactly—ooh, hang on, I was about to say, ‘It shouldn’t get to determine exactly how a god’s faithful function,’ but maybe this is kind of your point about the canon not being able to determine if a god is truly good or evil.

A: Yes! I don’t think that gods can understand or grapple with mortal ideas of good and evil. They have to be Neutral.

C: One thing I like about your proposed system is that you can have two clerics of the same god fucking throwing down with major beef. You can do this with some gods in Pathfinder 1, such as Calistria, but it’s not easy, and it’s pretty fucking implausible in 2e from the sounds of things. In your setting, where a god is just Chaotic/Lawful and who has no association with Good or Evil, you could have, like, one town with a Lamashtu-inspired fertility clinic or family support centre with midwives, and then ten towns over you could have a crazy, blood-sacrificing theocracy to Lamashtu that’s very obviously evil, whereas the first one is doing objectively good things.

A: Like in the real world, where different religious sects hold very different views about the same holy figures and beliefs.

C: Yeah; your system is less fantastical than either of the Pathfinder systems, but it allows for this really cool world-building where you can have a Good cleric of Gorum encountering lots of people who are fucking evil and in service to Gorum and to be like, ‘Goddammit, this sucks. I almost dislike you more than clerics of gods that Gorum doesn’t like because I think you’ve got him wrong.’

A: Exactly.

C: Although I will say that a lot of these interpretations are specific to our game’s world-building. In our shared setting, the gods used to be palpable world superpowers who committed atrocities or did world-changing deeds, and now they’re more ambiguous forces who cannot visit the mortal world in-person. And I’ve played in games before where they’ve been even more nebulous and didn’t manifest in overt ways at all, which is always fun. In those games, interpretations of them changed in every town and city.

A: Yeah, that’s true. Because the gods don’t come to the mortal plane in our games, it’s easy to think of them as these higher powers who don’t really get morality. But I can see that maybe that wouldn’t work in every D&D game.

C: And I think we can both agree that there are also some shocking changes to the deities in 2e.

A: Like the fact the Cayden Cailean no longer gets Luck as one of his domains? How can the Lucky Drunk not get Luck powers?

C: Yeah, there’s a certain point of online discourse that’s no longer effective or useful, but it is certainly relatable to be feeling, you know, ‘I had this whole idea of this god in my head and now it’s, like, totally fucked up.’

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