Perhaps the most powerful entities in existense, the powers — also known as gods or deities — are a part of life on every plane, as well as the Prime. Immortal, nonphysical, bound by their own laws of existence. Spiritual, but in a far more all-encompassing sense than incarnates or similar planar entities; much as the planes themselves, powers are beings of belief. Unlike those entities, powers have utterly transcended the physical and exist in their natural state beyond the metaphysical realms, appearing only when they wish to interact with those that dwell here. While some would say that the powers are not true gods worthy of worship, they still stand as the most powerful of accessible beings known to exist.
The origins of powers are unknown, both due to their existence beyond normal reality and the lack of records from the earliest days from which they emerged. Some claim that they were once simple spirits formed out of the aether, venerated by early mortals, that found they could draw sustenance from that veneration. To gain more, they established the first religions, creating rituals and structures for the mortals to use to demonstrate even greater loyalty, eventually transcending to true worship. Others claim the powers didn't come into existence until religion was already established among mortals, and that the force of belief brought them into being. There are a scant few powers that are definitively known to have formed this way by the historical records, but there is no evidence for or against the entire body having been brought about in this fashion.
What is known is that some mortals, as well as many planar entities, do predate the powers, giving the lie to most claims of the powers having created the multiverse. However, some sages say that the transcendental nature of the powers works beyond even causality, and thus it is quite possible that beliefs that the powers created the multiverse empowered them to make it so, setting up a retroactive shift in the history of events. While unlikely, this theory has a strong hold among some groups of theologicians, partially due to passing mentions in historical texts they claim would otherwise be anachronistic.
Powers, as mentioned, are transcendant entities existing through no physically detectable manner except for when they wish to manifest in a visible form. While certain magical or psionic methods are able to detect them, they exist within the multiverse only as much as they wish. While there are a few deities said by some (mostly the Godsmen) to have withdrawn entirely to the point that they no longer have any ties to this reality — the chief example of such being Danu of the Tuatha de Danann — even if true this is a slim minority, and for good reason. Nearly all deities draw sustenance from the worship and faith of other beings, taking in such energy and in return granting a variety of boons, ranging from simple blessings of good (or ill) will, to the ability to channel the divine through either spell or pure energy, to the status of proxy. Every act taken by a deity expends some amount of the energy that composes their core being, and this energy can only be replenished through the benefit of their worshippers. Even the darker of powers return their followers' gifts with such boons, in order to ensure a constant flow of this sustaining force.
It is because of this purely nonphysical nature, though, that a power finds it so easy to grant its boons to mortal beings. Clerics, druids, oracles, and other channelers of the divine are the weakest expressions of direct gifts, their spells in fact the expression of their power's will (or, for the less powerful manifestations, occasionally the will of an underling of the power). The next step above priest, even the most powerful of such, is the proxy; a mortal directly imbued with a permanent portion of the power's essence, thus granting them a direct channel to their being and allowing them even greater feats. The special abilities granted by the status of proxy differ both from individual to individual and from power to power, the latter due to a key facet of their existence.
Perhaps due to their transcendant nature, every power finds itself almost memetic in nature, expressing the core essence of some concept or concepts. These representations (known as the power's "portfolio", "domain", or "area of concern") are an expression of the deity itself, and can be as broad as "life" or as narrow as "rice". While a deity's interests with respect to their portfolio can change over time, the only way for the portfolio itself to change (besides the influence of an overpower) is through transferrence, either willing (e.g., granting an aspect of a portfolio to an underling, or abandoning an aspect), or unwilling (e.g., slaying a rival power and taking on their portfolio). These core values cannot be shifted by belief alone, only the nature of their expression, and they influence not just the power's interests, but their very personality. Even the gifts they bestow upon mortals are always through the lens of their portfolio; not just proxies, but priests as well find that which they can channel bent by the portfolio of their patron or matron. These portfolios can occasionally be the source of strife between powers, and as such most pantheons have a strict rule that only the more powerful deities can possess especially broad portfolios, and portfolio overlap is only allowed at the lower levels of the heirarchy, or among a superior-servant relationship. Those that violate this agreement often have aspects of their portfolios reapportioned forcefully by those at the highest ranks. Further, while technically any power could restrict the bestowing of boons by other deities that technically fall within their own purview (a god of healing denying the right of other powers within its pantheon to grant spells of such, for example), most deities have agreed one way or another not to let such incidents occur, except in certain specific and rare situations. Thankfully, most natural pantheons, due to the nature of their formation, rarely have concerns or conflicts over their various portfolios, as in some sense the deities were brought to the portfolio rather than vice versa; such issues tend to arise chiefly among single-sphere pantheons.
While some powers do seem to have, and claim to have, familial relations, it is unknown how literal this is. The ways of deific reproduction are entirely unknown, and none can say how literal or metaphorical the tales of various powers' histories truly are. It is possible that claims of birth, status as siblings, or parent-child relationships are merely best-translations of some equivalent status among powers.
The creation of a power in the modern day most commonly comes about via one of two means. The first is divine birth — although as mentioned above, the details of what this entails are still sketchy and possibly merely akin to physical reproduction. Ignoring that issue, however, this works much the same way. One or more powers interact in such a way that a new power results from the interaction, sometimes but not necessarily with any connection in terms of portfolio to their "parents". Overpowers also seem able to create powers out of whole cloth when necessary, but as no power formed in such a way claims the overpower as their parent, this suggests this to be somehow distinct as a process.
Second is apotheosis, the transformation of mortal to divine. In most cases, a number of preconditions must be met. First, said mortal must have a divine benefactor. Second, said mortal must have a great deal of skill, ability, and quite honestly luck. Third, said mortal must have some means of collecting divine power in order to begin the process of transformation and allow it to continue to a point whereby their benefactor can bring them the rest of the way.
More rarely, but not so much so that it doesn't deserve mentioning, a mortal, an object, or even an abstract concept somehow gaining worship without a pre-existing divine state can be channeled through pure belief to the state of godhood; this is the method sought by many fiendish lords, and though it requires a truly immense worshipper base compared to that needed to merely sustain a new power brought about through other means, it has been known to happen on occasion.
Least common of all are the corner cases that occur only under special circumstances, usually around the world of Abeir-Toril for obvious reasons. Karsus' Folly showed that it is possible (in the loosest sense of the term) for a powerful enough spellcaster to magically steal the divine nature from a power, although the sole example of this, as the name suggests, ended very badly. The Time of Troubles revealed that if a mortal manages to truly slay a power with the aid of another (an actual power itself, not just an avatar manifestation), that power's portfolio and divine essence can be channeled by the second power and absorbed by the mortal, instantly catapulting them to divinity. As each of these has only been known to have happened under very pecular circumstances that are unlikely to be reproduced easily, they are mentioned only for the sake of completeness.
As previously mentioned, although powers are not physical, they can manifest physical incarnations known as "avatars". The more powerful of powers can manifest multiple simultaneously, but all true powers are able to manifest at least one as necessary. These forms appear mortal to all appearances, and in fact can be killed, but they are merely shells through which a given power acts. Further, while mortal, they tend to possess abilities far beyond any but the most powerful mortal beings, wielding great skills in and out of combat.
Should a deity's avatar be slain, this does seem to cause some form of distress to the deity, possibly because of the investment of power needed to form an avatar. While the most powerful deities can recover in a matter of hours, the weakest can require days or even months to recover from the attack. Weaker avatars seem to cause less impact to the deity when slain, but only to a degree; as such, most deities will rarely bother to make an avatar on the same footing as the average mortal due to the risk involved should it be killed. Some, though — especially former mortals — do choose to interact with mortals chiefly in this fashion for reasons of their own.
The term "pantheon" actually describes one of two distinct sorts of deific conglomerations. The one usually thought of by most planars is the cultural pantheon, that being a collection of powers connected by, and spawned from, a single culture on a single world. Most planar pantheons — the Ennead, the Olympians, the Aesir and Vanir, etc. — are of this sort, having manifested eons ago from a single cultural heritage and since spread to the various planes and innumerous Prime worlds. These pantheons tend to be a fairly tight-knit collection, with strong connections to one another and equally as strong rivalries, occasionally even battles.
The single-sphere pantheons, on the other hand, are merely collections of deities associated by nothing more than sharing a crystal sphere, originating from disparate cultures within that sphere and so bound by nothing more than proximity. While it is true that all multi-sphere pantheons had to have started in a single sphere, they usually arose from a single culture within that sphere that went to dominate its world; further, they tended to do so before heavy travel between planes or spheres, only having the wherewithal to depart their sphere after achieving that domination. In the more modern era, a single-sphere pantheon present on the planes tends not to be bound by a common culture due to the greater prevalence of planar travel; further, it often holds members of other multi-sphere pantheons moonlighting for a greater worshipper base. (e.g., Mielikki of Toril, also a member of the Pantheon of Ukko) As such, they rarely have a single leader (besides whatever overpower their home sphere may hold), a common cause, or even a common theme. Single-sphere pantheons tend only to become noticed on the planes when from spheres with heavy planar travel; as such, the most prominent examples are those of Oerthspace or Realmspace, both bearing a large number of interplanar connections for various reasons.
Despite the wide variety in the specific abilities held by various powers, they can still be divided up largely into a number of categories. The more powerful a deity, the greater the boons they are able to disperse amongst their faith, but the larger or more fervant a worshipper base they must have to sustain their existence at that level.
- Hero Power: The lowest level, these entities are not technically divine, but rather mortals on the path to apotheosis, possessing divine power sufficient to collect energy from worship and manifest a few minor abilities but not yet enough to transition. This is the status held by many legendary figures of various Prime worlds.
- Quasipower: So named because of its transitionary state, this is a mortal just barely below the precipice of apotheosis, able to grant minor spells but still requiring one last act to become truly divine.
- Demipower: The lowest of the true deities, demipowers make up the vast majority of known powers. These often fall into one of three classes; those eager to prove themselves, those biding their time at the outskirts of a pantheon and learning of the ways of divine politicking, and those with no desire to advance whatsoever.
- Lesser Power, Intermediate Power: Although distinct categories, little distinguishes the role these two have within a given pantheon. Lesser powers on their own are unable to bestow the greatest of spells to their faithful, and so they tend to have fewer true priests than intermediate powers, but within a pantheon there seems to be little difference between the two.
- Greater Power: The highest of powers among the planes, greater powers tend to be chief among their pantheon. Not necessarily the leader, but one of the most prominent figures within it. The deities that seem to be everywhere both within and without the planes — Zeus, Thor, Pelor, Isis — are almost universally greater powers, if only by virtue of their wide reach.
Although technically the most powerful of deities, overpowers don't seem to fit into the heirarchy the way the others do. Overpowers are exclusively a phenomenon associated with single-sphere pantheons, and while literally omnipotent within their crystal sphere, they have no influence beyond it. Overpowers require no worship (though some have theorized them to be fueled by the worship of every single deity within their realm), they grant no boons to those that choose to worship them anyway, and they have total authority over all powers in their purview. A crystal sphere with an overpower can only accept the appearance of a new deity given permission by that overpower, and overpowers can bar deities from their sphere regardless of strength. They seem able to alter the portfolio of single-sphere powers at will, create powers out of nothing at all, and even force powers to manifest as true physical entities when necessary. Very little is known of overpowers, as only a handful of avatar manifestations of such are even known, and no mortal is known to have ever directly communicated with one. The most prominent such known are Ao, the entity responsible for the aforementioned Time of Troubles on Toril, and the High God, leader of the powers of Krynn.
Though immortal for any reasonable definition of the term, powers can be slain to a degree. There are only two known methods through which this can be accomplished, however; violence or starvation.
First, it must be noted that to all appearances, only one deity can slay another. While there may be some possible exceptions (the Lady of Pain's destruction of Aoskar, for example), questions about the nature of the beings involved render the core precept still valid; all instances of confirmed mortals seeming to kill a power have eventually been revealed to have had deific support through one way or another, and the deathblow itself was always delivered through that means. When this happens and the defending power is weakened sufficiently by the attack, the attacking power can rip their victim's core essence from them; with nothing left to sustain them, the remains of the power transition to the Astral where they take form as a godcorpse. The attacker can then either claim the portfolio of their victim for their own, or allow it to merely disperse, at their discretion.
Starvation similarly requires a lack of sustaining energy, but via different means. If a power is deprived of worship, they slowly begin sinking in ability as they consume their own core essence to stay alive. Eventually, though, once they have nothing left to consume, they pass on, also manifesting as a godcorpse on the Astral.
Even this, however, does not seem to be true death as it is for mortals. Some godcorpses seem to still possess some semblance of life, if only through physical or emotional manifestations of events in the deity's life. They have been known to have been used as the foci of various deific resurrection rituals, although most such rituals required preplanning on the part of the deity during life. Still, unlike mortals, there seems to be no point at which the deity is completely beyond life, possibly due to the partially memetic nature of powers; some say that full and total destruction of a deity is theoretically possible, but it has never been recorded, and would likely require something on the level of wiping the core essence of the deity from even conceptual and imaginatory existence.
- Faiths & Avatars, pgs.2-4,14-18
- On Hallowed Ground, pg.34-43,68