So there’s this topic that’s run 17 pages the last time I looked. It’s called Wanting players to take in-game religion more seriously.
In my experience at the gaming table this is a worthy goal for a Realms DM to have, regardless of a particular group’s level of interest in things divine.
How to do it? Let’s crack open Elminster’s Forgotten Realms and pair it with my own gaming experience, and see what comes to mind.
1. The deities of the Realms are many and varied, but you only ever need a handful to bring the concept of divine influence and faith-driven actions into a campaign. What’s good about places like Cormyr is that you have the basic set of neutral, good and lawful deities that are openly worshiped, as well as a few evil deities that are worshiped as well (yes, some evil deities are tolerated in Cormyr). This design tenant is far older than 5th Edition D&D, but it follows what I consider to be the very best core concept of 5th Edition: Keep It Simple.
2. In other words, don’t throw all the deities of the Realms at your players at once. Stick to one region for a few adventures and let the players see for themselves over time what the followers of the gods are up to.
3. It’s good to remember that the numerous churches in the Realms all have secular goals. They don’t just follow some divine creed and call it a day. Followers of Beshaba don’t work misfortunes on others because the Maid of Misfortune commands it, for example. They do it to enrich themselves and their temples through schemes to start wars and topple thrones, and in so doing find wealth unguarded that can be seized.
4. What I like to do is include encounters between regular adventures that put the PCs in the middle of someone else’s conflict. The followers of Beshaba are good at getting two individuals or groups to be at each other’s throats–especially the local populace against law enforcement, the local militia, whatever/whoever is in charge–so here’s one avenue for a DM to change up downtime or at least show the players that the time between adventures isn’t always one of peaceful rest and recuperation.
5. Another form of divine conflict that PCs can witness (and so become embroiled in) is inter-faith conflict. Here’s something that is not limited to evil deities, since all faiths suffer from it. Followers of the church of Deneir are just as good as the Zhentarim at blackmailing, and they engage in it regularly. And since we’re talking about Deneir we know the deity’s follower’s have a huge store of written information (read: secrets) to draw on.
6. But not all followers of the Lord of All Glyphs do this, or believe it’s right to do it. Where disagreements arise and stay unresolved, conflict ensues. A DM can easily have an important Glyphscribe of Deneir hire the PCs to steal records from a fellow Glyphscribe who plans to blackmail someone important in Cormyr–perhaps a highly placed courtier.
7. The creeds of the deities change over time, but you’re almost certain to find at least one admonishment for the faithful to travel once a year, or otherwise get out and about in the world to work deeds in line with the faith.
8. For the faithful of Deneir this means getting out in the world three months out of the year to hunt for lost records. This is a serious business–deadly serious, when the faithful plumb the depths of old tombs or search for the graves of dead mages who felt the need to be buried with all their tomes.
9. Cue up the player characters, who may have among them a follower of Deneir, or may be in between adventurers and ready to be hired by the church to assist in records recovery somewhere dangerous.
10. Dangerous may include places where records were hidden away on purpose, as well as records whose owners don’t wish to share them with anyone. This last could include everyone from Kings to paupers.