Divine Intervention

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on March 16, 2011

I’ve always had a fondness for divine characters. The idea that these classes actually receive divine power directly from their deity everyday in the form of prayer spells has always blown my mind. Unlike the Wizard who need to study and learn their spells, the power of a divine character is based largely in the strength of his faith.

Even though I’m not a particularly devote person in real life, playing a pious character is a role I have very little trouble getting into. This character actually receives confirmation every day that his deity not only exists but allows the PCs to act in his name. I just don’t see how your faith can waiver after you’ve felt the touch of your patron.

As the DM I’ve tried to emphasize this connection between divine characters and their deity at my gaming table. The DM (acting in his role as the patron deity) provides the divine PC with something useful for the upcoming adventure. Usually this is just information that would otherwise be unknown to the PC, but often I granted power boons as well. However, I’ve found this to be a more difficult undertaking with 4e D&D then it ever was in previous editions.

Any divine intervention needs to be story-driven. It should be seen as a reward for a player who role-plays the character particularly well. Considering how potentially powerful divine intervention can be, it should also be used sparingly. Nothing devalues something special like making it common place.

Before 4e, D&D Clerics could prepare any prayer spell that didn’t directly conflict with his deity’s dogma. So from day to day his arsenal changed based on the knowledge and whims of the player. My divine intervention was often delivered as a feeling that the PC should take a particular prayer spell over another. But with the way the 4e mechanics work character have at-will, encounter and daily powers that can’t be changed each day. They can retrain between levels, but that’s not really the versatility I’m looking for as the DM.

So where does that leave today’s 4e DM? With even better options for divine intervention as you’ll see below.

Key Words Are Key

When the DM knows that the PCs will face creatures with specific vulnerabilities he can use divine intervention to bless the PC. The DM can choose some or all of the PC’s powers and add the appropriate key word. For example if the DM plans to have the party fight creatures with vulnerability cold, he could add the cold key word to all of the Cleric’s at-will powers for the day. The PC may not know why this has happened, but he should realize that his deity has taken steps to make him special.

From a mechanics point of view, adding or changing a key word to a power is probably the easiest way for a DM to implement a divine boon to PCs. None of the numbers change on the PC’s character sheet, just the damage type.

Depending on just how powerful the DM wants the blessing to be he can apply it to all of the Cleric’s powers, just the at-will powers, just the daily powers, or any combination as he sees fit.

By providing a set time limit to the blessing the divine PC will keep the party moving forward to get the most benefit out of the blessing. This has the added bonus of eliminating the 5-minute work day that some DMs face regularly.

Change or Add a Power

If adding or changing a power’s key word seems too powerful or not powerful enough there are still other options. The divine intervention could be the addition of a new power for a limited amount of time.

If the PC has a power that the DM knows will be next to useless for the upcoming battle, perhaps that PC awakens and realizes that his deity has blessed him with something different. Goodbye Astral Seal, hello Lance of Faith. Perhaps today you’ll need to push monsters or perhaps your next battle will be filled with creatures that are particularly vulnerable to Thunder. Either way the PC now has the right tools for the job.

The DM could just opt to give the PC a new power all together. This doesn’t interfere with anything the PC already has on his character sheet and doesn’t in any way critique choices the player made when selecting powers along the way. The divine intervention is just the deity’s way of giving you one more weapon in your arsenal.

If it’s a daily power then the PC has to decide when to use this blessing to its greatest potency. This still gives the player a lot of room to weigh consequences and role-playing the situation accordingly.

The Down Side of Divine Intervention

The players running the divine characters likely won’t see any down sides to this kind of blessing. Divine intervention is just his patron’s way of keeping this humble servant alive a little longer so that he can keep spreading the deity’s message to the masses.

However, players not running divine character who realize that they’re build doesn’t give them access to this particular edge might feel bitter and resentful. If the DM is going to all of a sudden introduce this kind of house rule, then there should be something just as awesome in store for the martial, psionic, and arcane classes, shouldn’t there? This is totally up to the DM.

When I’ve used this kind of divine intervention in the past my table has been pretty good about it. They don’t necessarily see it as them being excluded as much as the party getting a shot in the arm that’s going to make overall victory more likely. Just because a single PC gets a new power doesn’t mean that the entire party doesn’t benefit.

Let’s say that the Cleric awakens and realizes that all of his prayers are now blessed to deal cold damage. When he shares this information with the party they can use this information to their advantage too. If they have time and resources they can equip themselves with consumables that will allow them to also deal cold damage. So the blessing to one PC ends up helping everyone if the PCs use their heads and don’t see the divine intervention as a slight that’s excluded them.

A really generous DM might even allow for the next divine intervention to extend to those who share the same faith as the divine PC. That could certainly motivate some interesting role-playing among the group.

How likely are you to use divine intervention in your game? Would you use any of the examples I’ve described? What other ways have you used divine intervention in your game? Does introducing this kind of boon make playing divine characters more appealing?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tourq March 16, 2011 at 11:33 am

Excellent read. You have just inspired me about the Paladin, and I’ll likely have trouble going to sleep because of it.

I already have some great ideas of how to punch up the Paladin, and his role in the game….
Tourq´s last blog post ..Write for Stuffer Shack – Get Paid!

2 Kilsek March 16, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I also love divine personalities – PCs, NPCs, angels, avatars, gods, etc. – in my D&D campaigns. Like you said, they’re easily understood when it comes to motivation and values, so it makes their portrayal fairly easy.

Like Tourq, I’m feeling inspired to speak some divine prayers in the next campaign I play – I’m really liking the flavor of the Invoker, and since he’s newish and a role I haven’t yet tried in 4e, it’s at the top of my list!
Kilsek´s last blog post ..Rituals Re-Organized

3 Neuroglyph March 17, 2011 at 11:02 am

In my younger days of gaming, I never thought twice about making a angel or avatar of a deity appear before a divine based character if they needed help. Fresh out of seminary (yea, there’s quite a story), I felt that divine characters deserved an edge, particularly in light of the fact that in AD&D days, most of their spells had to be devoted to healing to keep a party alive, and this left cleric with little more than a single mace swing a round to make his presence felt.

Nowadays, divine characters are not mere healing machines, so I tend to use divine intervention in more subtle ways. Divine characters are often subject to dreams and portents, psychic whispers from on high that give insight into dangers ahead, and coincidentally advance my plot in nifty ways. Divine characters tend to command instant respect in almost any population center, from village to city-state, being the representative of a deity, and capable of possibly invoking divine wrath.

I admit though, I love your idea to suddenly add power keywords to assist the divine character, but I think I’d almost certainly add those if the deity was in direct conflict with the enemy – say, a priest of Pelor hunting Orcus cultists might get the keyword divine boon. At other times, I’d do it if I thought the player-characters were having troubles, but that would come with a pricetag – deities are fickle and love sacrifices for saving their worshippers behinds!

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