When I first proposed the idea of a cleric whose divine powers came from being a demigod — a half-deity — one of my good friends, also a long-time gamer, took exception with the idea, contending that a demigod character with entry-level (first-level) abilities might be fine for a novel, or for fiction, but that that is not how demigods in D&D work. He has a point, in that 3rd-edition bestowed the label of demigod on beings that had divine ranks of 1 to 5, and that any 5th-edition character with abilities on par with 3rd-edition’s divine ranks 1 to 5 would be grossly overpowered.
However, I disagree with my friend. There is a difference between the term demigod used to mean “child of a mortal and a god” and the term demigod used to mean “divine ranks 1 to 5 in 3rd edition of D&D.” The first usage is the more historic, more established usage, and is simply a statement of lineage. The second is a bit of 3rd-edition bookkeeping designed to keep stat blocks clear.
Meanwhile, the new 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide says little about demigods, aside from this: they cannot grant spells to worshipers and cannot do a lot of other things that full gods do. As for what a demigod can do, the DMG is murky, indicating only that they wield some power. For all the rules say, that power might as well be 1st level and clerical.
It’s also patently untrue that the game has never thought of demigods as models for entry-level human characters. Since the first edition, descriptions of classes like Fighter, Wizard (or Magic-User), and Rogue have listed legendary figures as examples of those classes for players to use as inspiration. Many of those, like Robin Hood, are mortal. But quite a few are, according to their backstories, demigods. The second-edition’s Player’s Handbook, for instance, cites nine legendary figures as examples of the Fighter, and a third of those named are demigods: Hercules, Perseus, and Cú Chulainn. For the wizard, the book names three: Merlin, son of an incubus (not a demigod, but not human either — more like a tiefling); Circe (demigod); Medea (daughter of a demigod).
If demigods have been cited in previous editions as models or inspiration for players to draw upon for their own heroic characters, then I don’t see why a player couldn’t decide his or her character is in fact the descendant of a deity, as long as the backstory doesn’t grant divine rank or otherwise create a mechanical advantage over other PCs in ways that throw off the GM’s encounter balancing. (As a GM, I have once worked into a PC’s backstory that he was the offspring of Tuerny the Merciless and a witch, which is a similar sort of backstory.)
So I am going to play here with the idea of using the clerical class — which already is a master of divine magic — to represent a birthright rather than a faith. Specifically, Mitra will be the daughter of a trickster goddess, the Queen of Masks. Her clerical abilities are a result of her divine origin, though they’re prepared in exactly the same way.
Ah, you say, but clerics are also bound by allegiance to a faith–they’re not just unchecked power, like a wizard.
Agreed. But who says a divine being isn’t bound to a faith?
Here, I turn to a point I’ve invoked before: Past editions of the game have permitted and even encouraged the idea of a cleric who draws on faith in a philosophy rather than faith in a god. That idea was acceptable in the rules for mortal spellcasters, but frankly a philosophy-based power source makes a lot more sense for a demigod spellcaster. That is, the demigod’s philosophy gives her power the same way a greater god’s philosophy and portfolio gives that god power. The demigod must adhere to her own code, alignment, and character concept, for it’s the intersection of these principles with divinity and the fabric of the cosmos that somehow powers her abilities.
A last issue to worry about is the suite of spells and abilities that involve direct contact with a cleric’s god: Divine Intervention, commune, and the like. For most of these, one could argue that she’s drawing on her own power. Divine Intervention could represent the chance that she can perform a miracle out of her own willpower, for instance. However, while that might be fine, I’m going to nerf that ability somewhat in the 10th-level version of Mitra, for role-playing purposes: Her other abilities draw on her own power, but Divine Intervention is a call to her aloof mother—one that has never, to date, been answered. Mitra is her own “god,” and this means, for the most part, she has to rely on herself.
As always, I start with the randomly generated stats listed in the article that started this series.
We’ll use Human for race (despite her mixed nature), so she’ll get a +1 to each of those stats.
Let’s meet Mitra.
Mitra, Daughter of Masks
(Note: This background differs slightly from the original short write-up that I forecasted in the first article in this series, back in November, mostly because I’ve since developed the full pantheon for the region Mitra will live in.)
The Queen of Masks, goddess of the Vorago and equal partner at the head of the Palatial Realms, is legendary for—among other things—enjoying the sort of frequent dalliances with mortals normally associated with the patriarchs of a pantheon. Although there are no records of the patroness of court schemers ever transforming into a swan, the Queen is by nature an unpredictable shapeshifter and trickster who follows primal urges. In stories reminiscent of nymph or dryad tales, mortals sometimes find their way to an exotic, otherworldly court and into the company of a beguiling woman in a court mask. Her exact species in each encounter varies by tale. Some time later, seneschals smuggle a child through the Veil to the Mortal Realms, often leaving the child with faithful worshipers or orders loyal to the Queen. Sages are uncertain how many such children exist, but at least two such legends are known and cited in folklore.
Neither of those legends is about Mitra, a more low-profile daughter of the Queen—and this low profile is to Mitra’s liking.
Left at a temple dedicated to her mother and raised as an orphan on the streets, Mitra now maintains two identities in two different cities. Neither of those roles is as a priest, though Mitra wields divine power. One identity is Shandry Cork, a shadowy figure in the criminal underground who runs something of an intelligence operation, using information she obtains to further the goals of both of her identities. Her other identity is as Galimitra, an upper-class wife to a gentleman adventurer active in the politics of a large city, where she engages in the intrigues of court and bench. (Her marriage is one of convenience, a mutually beneficial alliance with not a spark of romance to it.) In each role, Mitra draws on information and influence available from the other role to further plots nearly indecipherable unless one has inside knowledge of both of her networks. In both roles, she supplements her intelligence networks’ information through direct action on her own part, as she enjoys the thrill.
She does not, however, relish combat. When threatened or confronted by other schemers in the criminal or courtly environments she inhabits, she does what she can to avoid violence by submitting to demands, cooperating, acting terrified, or employing any other behavior that seems required to get through the moment. When the moment has passed, she plays a long and clever game to deal with the threats and repair damage to her operations. Wise enough to know that thirst for revenge often leads to the undoing of the avenger, she avoids trying to teach enemies a lesson, preferring to leave them baffled at their gradual loss of power or influence. She periodically brings food and drink to people who once threatened her, now undone and living in poverty. She listens kindly to their tales of woe and misfortune and pours them more (non-poisoned!) drink, listening to them remark at how odd it is that she is their only remaining friend in the world. All the while, she knows she caused their current situation. Nevertheless, there have been a few times when a foe has been so frustrating and so vile that she has set aside her usual Wisdom in the pursuit of emotional satisfaction. On the rare occasions when this happens, Mitra is vicious, for all of her other frustrations have been bottled up and unloaded on one enemy unwise enough to volunteer for the job of scapegoat.
Mitra uses a blend of ruses, cons, informants, thieves, spies, and divination magic to collect information, which she then uses to manipulate events. Believing strongly in using the least extreme methods to accomplish her goals, she accomplishes as much as she can without using lies, stealth, or magic. In so doing, she conceals from enemies her full capabilities. Nevertheless, occasions arise frequently enough in which a clever application of truth or subtle reframing of information in the halls of power isn’t enough to get things done. In these more extreme cases, Mitra pursues goals by identifying key, vulnerable parties and then charming, geasing, or dominating them, depending on which level of her character is in play, or by (more rarely) inserting herself into events using fraudulent paperwork and magical disguises to nudge things in desired directions.
Mitra knows who her mother is, but the god who bore her remains aloof. Even at higher levels in Mitra’s development, when Mitra is able to successfully cast spells like commune, any attempts to call on her mother for aid via Divine Intervention tend to be unsuccessful.
Guile and time will always outplay strength of arms.
Guile is only an option for the well-informed.
A person who only listens to the street is a fool to trust criminals.
A person who only listens to court gossip is a fool to trust intriguers.
A person who listens for the correspondences between both, who sees through both eyes, can play any kind of one-eyed fool.
Elevate yourself, those loyal to you, and those who warrant admiration. The abominable will punish themselves in due time.
Patience produces opportunities more reliably than does desperation.
Petty revenge is self-destructive.
If revenge is called for, be thorough. Leave no survivors, only rumors. You only ever get once chance to ruin a person to his face. So make it count.
Mitra doesn’t have worshipers and doesn’t grant spells to anyone. Nevertheless, she has a realm of activity and specialization that functions, for her, much like the portfolio of a god would. Broadly, her domain of specialization is Trickery. More specifically, she favors the gathering of information and the manipulation of behavior for what she thinks of as “collective elevation” – she believes that if she advances the prosperity and power of smart, good, deserving people, she and society as a whole will both improve in tandem. The focus of her philosophy is almost entirely urban, though she may at times venture outside a city to obtain an object or a bit of lore precious to her plans.
You can find Mitra’s stat blocks here.
♦ Graham Robert Scott writes regularly for Ludus Ludorum when not teaching or writing scholarly stuff. He has also written a fantasy novella about the last cleric in this article series, titled Godfathom, which is presently available for free. Like the Ludus on Facebook to get a heads-up when we publish new content.