In looking through the Dragonlance material, I find the thing is...mm..."problematic" in its relationship with and treatment of gods and religion. Which is a little ironic, given just how IMPORTANT the whole concept of divinity (and its role) is to the unfolding story.
Let's review for a moment: like many "vanilla" fantasy settings, DL has the usual, trope-riddled pantheon of multiple gods of various alignments (good, neutral, and evil) connected to their various spheres of interest (magic, farming, war, elves, etc. ad nauseam). As per standard D&D, these various powers grant spells to their most devout followers (clerics) whose job it is to...um...kind of "spread the good news" to the peoples. Well, at least the followers of the good deities. The neutral deities (like Gilean/Astinus or the dwarf god Reorx) appear to be more "take it or leave it" types with no interest in proselytizing or drumming up interest in their worship. And the evil deities' clerics are more bog standard villains of the Evil High Priest variety (i.e. mustache twirling villains who, if anything, appear to be jealous of sharing their power and standing).
[with regard to this treatment of neutral and evil deities, you need to remember and consider the context of the setting. Dragonlance was originally written and developed for 1st edition (pre-Unearthed Arcana!!) AD&D. In AD&D there aren't any "neutral" clerics (only druids, which Dragonlance doesn't appear to have). And as for "evil" clerics, there is only ONE named in the entirety of the original trilogy (Verminaard) and he gets disemboweled in the first book. The adventure modules have more (including Verminaard, who is supposed to survive through most of the series), and even changes main bad guy Ariakus from a wizard to a cleric]
[it's also worth noting that pre-UA did not allow non-human player characters to become clerics, with the exception of half-elves and half-orcs. Since DL dispenses with setting-specific IP, there aren't any Tolkien orcs (nor half-orcs) in the game, and half-elves are portrayed as extremely rare (there's only one - the protagonist, Tanis - and he's a fighter)]
Where DL gets credit for changing the "standard trope" is making a post-apocalyptic world where "true clerics" have disappeared from the world. The gods have literally abandoned the people (no more spells for clerics) which has made for a rather grim and perilous fantasy world. Reconnecting the people with their gods is a major plot arc of the novels.
*DEEP BREATH* Now, I have written about this "subversion" before, and some of the reasons I find it problematic...I'm not going to rehash those here. Instead, I'm going to talk about more underlying problems to the world building; things I feel I need to address before any sort of reclamation project.
First, let's talk about clerics specifically: just what the heck are they? What do they represent? Look I realize Dragonlance is the fantasy equivalent of space opera (where explaining FTL travel, for example, isn't important or integral to the story being told), but I've grown beyond the point where I can be satisfied with "it's just D&D; there are clerics" as a definition. No. Clerics and their faith and the gods are MAJOR POINTS OF THE SETTING (in both the novels and the adventure modules!); I can't just "write them off."
So just what do they do? What are they for? WELL...in the novels, they appear to fill the same role we see priests and preachers of our modern world: they counsel people and lecture people and comfort people and help guide people to positive life choices (and again, please note this is only with regard to good-aligned clerics). They have temples where they live and worship and pray, though they also do "outreach" to other parts of the world/environment. Villages and small towns have lone clerics and small churches around whom the entire community congregates; larger towns and cities have larger places of worship and multiple options of faith: whether you're talking pre-Cataclysm (note the descriptions of Istar in the Legends trilogy) or post-Cataclysm (see the Seekers of Haven in DL1). Despite being polytheistic, it's still comparable (i.e. recognizable) to our churches of today.
Except that this is D&D. That's not what priests...well, clerics...do. They go out on adventures. And while Goldmoon and Elistan (in the modules) are going out on adventures, it's under the thin guise of spreading the gospel of the True Gods (i.e. the ones that grant powers). While practically speaking they're offering medic and undead crushing skills to an adventuring party, that's not the fluff and fiction of the setting. What they should be doing (and what they are doing later in the novels) is ministering to the Faithful in a non-combatant fashion. Adventuring clerics are a strange abnormality in the Dragonlance setting. Even Lady Crysania (from the Legends trilogy) only accompanies the twins on their adventures unwillingly; she'd rather be doing the work of growing the newly established church on Krynn (and, in fact, returns to this work at the end of her "adventure"). And it is precisely because of her devotion that is given as the justification for her (high level) powers as a cleric.
[per the Dragonlance Adventures sourcebook, Crysania is 14th level(!!), despite a complete absence of adventuring experience]
But that (defining clerics, distinguishing their priesthood, and explaining their role as adventurers) is only part of the problem. The other parts are the actual lack of religion and ritual (kind of an important part of any pseudo-medieval setting) and the way DL treats polytheism in general (i.e. not really how polytheism worked in ancient times). Regarding the latter (a discussion on polytheism), I'd direct readers to Bret Devereaux's essays on the subject; they make for excellent reading and a decent enough overview. To me, Krynn's religion more resembles a medieval Christian theology with minor gods in the roles of the saints...nice, but not especially important compared to Paladine/Jehovah (I suppose, in such an analogy, Mishakal would be Mother Mary).
Which is all the more crazy when you consider Krynn's gods to be literal, active beings walking amongst humans (Takhisis has been physically manifest in the world more than once, and Paladine walks around in disguise much as Odin does in the Norse sagas, while the immortal Astinus, purported to be the god Gilean, is living and scribing in Palanthas, easily accessible with anyone with the right credentials)! The gods of Krynn are VERY manifest and VERY real, and thus do not even require "faith" for belief...and, yet they're treated fairly contemptuously in many regards (though I suppose not much more so than one would treat a "divine emperor" living in a far away capital).
|Fall on your knees.|
But, heck, even the draconians feel more worshipful and subservient to their gods (worshipping a dragon effigy, for example). Sure, Paladine might eschew ritual and reverence (he says something to that effect in the third book, if I remember correctly), but his priesthood's rather casual treatment of religion seems at odds with, oh say, the construction of huge temples and edifices to his glory (or the glory of the other gods: Mishakal's temple in Xak Tsaroth, for example). Such buildings require copious amounts of resources in pre-industrial societies, don't they?
I guess, right now, I'm just sitting in a place where I feel it's not enough to say "the gods of Krynn move in mysterious ways." They're NOT mysterious. They literally walk among the people of the world, interacting and directing them. One of them (Takhisis) wants to enter the world with all her forces of the Abyss and "conquer" it (though to what purpose is a little obscure)...and it's not the first time she's undertaken the task.
[interestingly...to me, anyhoo...that this the DL setting also includes such iconic MM personalities as Demogorgan, who appears in the Roger Moore-penned Tasslehoff story "A Stone's Throw Away" (Dragon #85). Perhaps, Takhisis is annoyed with demonic competition and wishes a plane of existence all to herself?]
I like the religious overtones and themes found in the DL-verse; I really do. I think they should be present in any campaign set in Krynn. However, even as I think the "quest to return the gods" can and should be detached (as a plot/story arc) from the player characters, the overtones and themes should be more ingrained into the setting...there should be more intensity. The "perceived abandonment" of the gods should probably be changed to ACTUAL abandonment; bringing them back may require an atonement on behalf of wayward humanity. Maybe. But that makes for a pretty dark campaign (one where most folks are in state of despair and hopelessness)...plus it doesn't wash with the presence of divine soldiers (Verminaard, etc.) in the service of the Dragon Army.
*sigh* More later. Next I'll be talking about the whole "steel pieces" thang.