Ah, the gods. To be invoked, cursed at, pleaded to, revered -- and feared. In Faerûn, the gods walk among mortals, see all, and reach far.
Yet they strive one against another, and between their strivings mortals are free to act as they please, to win wealth, carve out lives for themselves -- and to adventure.
Deities are an integral part of life in Faerûn, yet we've already published three long, dense, and superb books on the gods -- and still left out a lot about the churches and daily rituals and taboos of each faith. So how on Toril are we going to cram useful stuff on deities into a few pages of an all-in-one new edition D&D guide to the Forgotten Realms setting?
Well, I'm amazed. It hath been done!
Space limitations prohibit lengthy entries for each of the deities and their faiths, but the bare guidelines are all there, including the aims of the priesthood, and the tenets of belief that all faithful (and clerics in particular) must follow. Want to know what time of day your cleric should pray for spells? When the holy days are? The basic dogma of the faith? It's all here.
Let's choose a deity at random, and do a little -- a little, mind you -- expansion. Let us further assume that I'm a DM new to the Forgotten Realms setting, that I've never seen Faiths & Avatars, and that I have a player who wants to run a character named Balasco Taeris from Neverwinter who's a priest of -- Tymora.
A good deity for an adventuring party. A quick glance at the text of the new Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book tells me that Balasco prays for his spells in the morning, that boldness and taking risks must be his lifestyle -- but that to proceed in life entirely at random whim is to court Beshaba, so he must have both personal goals and direction. That direction will of course come from both circumstances (such as what his fellow party members are up to and what Balasco achieves) and the church of Tymora.
A second glance at the entry tells me that only two holy days are common to all temples of the faith -- ah, a rather freeform priesthood. In other words, my NPC clerics can follow whatever local rituals I want them to. The entry also tells me that shrines and temples of Tymora are widespread, that the need of adventurers to be healed makes the temples wealthy, that the church encourages folk to pursue their dreams, and that they're dutybound to aid the daring by providing healing and even some minor magic items.
Hmm. This tells me that Balasco will have a lot of fellow priests of Tymora to call on wherever he goes, that they'll heal adventurers and support those starting new ventures (rather as the priests of Lathander do), and that Tymoran clergy can be very different from each other in powers and manners and titles, with little overall authority or hierarchy. It also tells me that the custom is to pay the temple with offerings in return for healings and other aid. The wording of the minor magic suggests that the temple provides potions, scrolls, and other one-shot items, or little things like glowstones that provide light and/or heat upon demand, perhaps a silver-bladed dagger if need be. These goodies aren't just handed out at a whim. They're more rewards to those who serve Tymora and her tenets well.
Hmm. Who judges this "serving well"? Do the clerics spy on those they aid, rely on reports from the faithful as to their own performance, or both? Perhaps Balasco should pray at a shrine or temple regularly, and at such times also report in to presiding clergy as to what boldnesses he's involved in or is aiding. Perhaps those clerics are watching as well as listening. They're probably constantly judging what plans and ventures to sponsor or aid. One way to provide aid might be to bring Balasco's adventurers (sponsored with needed better weapons and armor, say) together with other worshipers of Tymora who need guarding or a little muscle in, ah, cleansing a ruin full of monsters or brigands in order to found new business in it. In return, the adventurers will enjoy the favor of the church, with local adventuring possibilities pointed out to them, and a cut rate on the next healing they may need.
Names and precise powers of these NPC priests and their temples or shrines I'll have to fill in myself, rituals too -- but I know how they operate, now, and what's appropriate. With that base to build on, I can work at making the church seem reverent in play by concentrating on the characters of the clerics and some of their customary pious phrases, to shift the feel of things away from the rather mercenary doings I've just postulated toward something that'll encourage better roleplaying.
Look and see: The foundation, however sparse, is there. From these stones a temple shall arise . . .
And that's just one deity out of a collection that fills only a few pages of the forthcoming Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book. Someday I have to find a way to sneak detailed prayers and rituals into print. (With at least a dozen deities well suited to adventurers, I'm going to need to do a lot of sneaking. But until that day comes along, there's a nice set of starter guidelines here.