Past editions of D&D have permitted clerics to serve an entire pantheon, rather than a single god. The 5th edition Player’s Handbook is silent about this matter, but the new Dungeon Master’s Guide (p. 11-13) seems fairly flexible, often repeating paragraphs wholesale from 3rd edition’s Deities & Demigods.
Few clerics, even in the old days, have taken the pantheonic route, but I’ve lately been drawn to the idea. In fact, I’ve started playing with the idea of having clerics serve groups of gods within a pantheon. In my article on the Pantheon of the Vorago, I described a range of home-brew deities, their plots and schemes, and their alliances. Along the way, I described the existence of several, rival courts of deities. The pantheon of the Vorago features a dominant court, an ousted, out-of-power court, and several shadow or peripheral courts. (You can think of the courts as divine factions; whenever I say “court” below, feel free to substitute “faction” or “alliance” or whatever term best fits your own campaign.)
What if each court (faction) had dedicated clerics — clerics who served the court as a whole, rather than a single god?
One wouldn’t need to create any new character class features, paths, domains, or feats. Certainly, one could do those things if one wanted to, but court allegiance would be easy enough to handle within the existing game mechanics:
- A cleric could still, of course, elect to serve a specific, single god.
- For court clerics, however, each court would grant access to a range of domains, much like a god would. The cleric would pick one domain, just as before.
- The court cleric’s range of domain choices should probably be capped at maybe three or four possibilities, even if members of the court in question have access to other domains outside of that set.
- The available court domains should reflect the style, personality, and ethos of the court as a whole. If a god within the court has a unique domain (no other gods in the same court share it), that domain should probably be reserved only for clerics who serve that specific god.
- The holy symbol would be a court symbol, seal, or icon, instead of the symbol of a specific god.
- The temples for court worship would be like those described for Tight Pantheons (DMG, p. 11). That is, they would host worship of members of the entire court, rather than of just one god within it.
- Divine Intervention and other class features would work in exactly the same manner as before, except that in each case the responding power might be a different god within the court. (Think of how many gods helped some of the Greek heroes. They often seemed to be tag-teaming. So there’s certainly precedent for this in mythology.)
The court-serving cleric offers some role-playing and campaign advantages, and not just to the PC: The DM now has a wider range of applicable missions, goals, quests, and interests for the cleric to serve. At the same time, the cleric has more room to be his or her own person, instead of a mini-me of Thor–while still being recognizable as a cleric, instead of one of my recent “stunt” clerics (see Galatherina, Bettelfegne, or Mitra).
Below, I offer an example of how court clerics might work in my own region, the Vorago.
Court Clerics of the Vorago
Below, I list each of the courts with a brief summary description. The court domains are listed in parentheses next to each court name. You can read more about them, if curious, in the original article describing this pantheon.
The Court of Masks (Knowledge, Life, Trickery, War)
The court most actively worshiped by inhabitants of the Vorago is the Court of Masks, winners of the last titanomachy (a war among generations of the gods). Although the King of Tomes, nominal head of the court, has access to the Death domain, court clerics will not. A cleric loyal to the Court of Masks who wants access to the Death domain would have to serve the King directly. As the dominant court, this is the only court that offers clerics a choice of access to four domains.
The Court of Storms (Light, Tempest, War)
Defeated by the Court of Masks, out of power, but still active is the Court of Storms, led by the Outcast King and Magagara the Invoked. In addition to the Minister of Mutes (a minor god or seneschal described in the Outcast King overview), several other unnamed and unlisted divine beings serve this court.
The Rookery Court (Death, Knowledge, Trickery)
The Marquess of Ravens is the only named member of this secret, “shadow” court in the original article, but she has a roster of demigods, minor godlings, fiends, and the like who answer to her and respond to clerics of her court. Her court aims to replace the current Queen of Masks with the Marquess, who would then become the Queen of Ravens. Note that aside from this agenda, the Marquess is loyal enough to the Court of Masks as a whole that her goals and those of the main court are often entwined or identical.
The Ruin Courts
Before the current courts was the Hall of the Titanic King, now long dead, and murkier, less fathomable powers may have existed before his reign, though records of such an era are often based on ancient oral traditions only recorded fairly recently. As such, those records are spotty, highly metaphorical (one hopes), and contradictory. These fallen divine empires are sometimes referred to collectively as the Ruin Courts or the Ruin Line. Worshipers and cultists who follow such powers often do so in secret and seldom receive any magical benefits. They have no court domains. However, sometimes members of such cults might develop spellcasting abilities in an arcane class (e.g., warlock or sorcerer), crediting their powers to the fallen courts.
Gods Outside the Courts
Several gods work largely outside of the court structure, with goals either indifferent to or opposed to those of the courts above. These gods are often followed by mystery cults (DMG, p. 11-12) or spellcasters of other classes.
The Warden of Wastes and Waters, a.k.a., The Queen without a Court: Her clerics form a mystery cult. Clerics within the mystery cult often shift alignment with the seasons, like she does. She is also followed by druids, who tend to be more consistently neutral.
The Barrow Dragon: Although he heads a faction sometimes called the Barrow Court, he’s the only truly divine power within it, though he is served by fiends and seneschals. As a result, the Barrow Court works much like a mystery cult. Arcane spellcasters of draconic descent and others who make pacts with him comprise many of the spellcasters who revere him. †