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Context: this is for a Pathfinder 2e campaign, the setting is my own but the available spells are those present in the rulebook.*

I would like a character in this setting to have an artifact which is extremely technologically advanced and which can do something that will make everyone (or almost everyone) instantly believe that they are in fact a god and not just a spellcaster.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of commoners in my setting have never witnessed any of the higher-level spells (nor ever will) so they just might believe that, but one could argue that they must have at least heard about what mages are capable of doing, so that sounds a little hand-wavy.

*For example, here's some of the highest-level spells that the most powerful wizards can cast in Pathfinder 2e, which are pretty damn miracle-ish:

  • Gate: tear open a portal to another dimension
  • Cataclysm: self explanatory
  • Time Stop: briefly stop time for everything but you

As to how exactly casting a spell "works", wizards and other casters typically have a pouch containing typical materials necessary for casting: precious metals, powders, catalysts, and so on. The caster takes out the material, speaks magic words or moves their hands in a specific pattern, and then the spell is cast. The whole thing typically takes 4 to 6 seconds for most spells.

I know this is a very difficult question to answer, but I'm looking for just a prompt that will put me in the right direction and make me think of something that didn't come to mind.

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    $\begingroup$ Since this is for a Pathfinder 2e campaign, why not asking on the pertinent SE? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 27 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica I thought about that, but this isn't a question about "what can I do and still respect the rules" or such, but rather a worldbuilding question about what actually could be an idea for having clearly-divine powers in a world where powerful mages exist. I could have skipped specifying that it's PF and just described what the most powerful mages in my world can do, and that way there would have been no doubt about the appropriate SE (I think). I specified the game system because this way if someone is interested they can look up the other spells, though not required :) $\endgroup$ – Hankrecords Jan 27 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ Could you fill in the details a bit - how do wizards cast spells? If they require 5 hours of chanting and to burn 3 virgins on a bonfire of blessed oak to do it, then there might be a clear difference if the "god" only has to press a button. How does magic work in your world? $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Jan 27 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Tantalus'touch. that was an important part to specify, I hadn't thought about the how... and there lies a possible answer to my question, actually. $\endgroup$ – Hankrecords Jan 27 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Magic stop working. Completely. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Jan 28 at 16:05

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Undo death.

lazarus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4HoxDhLRR0

Depicted: the Resurrection of Lazarus from Last Temptation of Christ*. A classic demonstration of divine power.

I took a look thru the Pathfinder spells. In Pathfinder you can make things undead but as far as I can tell, making something that was dead be alive again is not among the spells. The Resurrection of Lazarus is the second best example of this and is done awesomely well in this movie. Lazarus has been dead a while and he smells bad. For the people in his country who were keeping track of Jesus, this was when they realized what he was.

The best example of being divine is of course the resurrection of Christ himself. Pathfinder spells offer no option for a person who is definitely, unquestionably dead to be not dead. When that happens a god is involved. Negating death and bringing back life is a divine power.


*Kids, if you dig amazing movies with amazing soundtracks, don't watch the link. Watch the movie. You do not have to be a Christian to enjoy (enjoy? make you think? Move you?) the story of a man who suddenly starts hearing his God. Willem Dafoe should have won an academy award for his portrayal of Christ.

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  • $\begingroup$ Huh. Interesting that there's no resurrection in pathfinder 2e as it's a rather common spell in newer RPG editions with "raise dead" being available at comparatively low levels. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jan 27 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek (+Willk) resurrection is now a ritual, a new mechanic introduced in PF2 (basically a spell which requires multiple casters performing a ritual for hours/days). Since these are long tasks, someone being able to resurrect the dead in the blink of an eye would definitely be considered a miracle, even by knowledgeable wizards (or perhaps especially by them) $\endgroup$ – Hankrecords Jan 27 at 23:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Hankrecords - even more so the dead person resurrecting himself. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 27 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ "Depicted: the Resurrection of Lazarus from Last Temptation of Christ. A classic demonstration of divine power." it's classing only in our world where death is considered more or less a permanent state. Animate Dead is something a beginner wizard can learn. It's a crude spell but it can make a dead body move around. There are better necromantic spells that can make the body seem more alive. So, clerics can also just do an actual resurrection. Death is less "permanent" and more for the poor and insignificant. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 28 at 8:34
  • $\begingroup$ How can 26th century technology bring someone back from death long after they have died? Scientifically speaking, you could clone someone (or massively repair a rotted corse?) if you had their DNA and a good scan of their brain from before they died, but without a brain scan, you are not getting anything better than what necromancy can do. So, this could backfire when people start asking your to resurrect people you've never met before... so you may want to address that too. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jan 28 at 14:35
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I would like a character in this setting to have an artifact which is extremely technologically advanced and which can do something that will make everyone (or almost everyone) instantly believe that they are in fact a god and not just a spellcaster.

Well, an atomic bomb would do I think.

Oppenheimer is quoted to have said "Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds."

And the Ramayana, an ancient Indian epic poem, writes

Gurkha, flying a swift and powerful Vimana, hurled a single projectile charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as ten thousand suns, rose in all its splendor.

atomic explosion

Just to be on the safe side you can take a Zar bomb.

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    $\begingroup$ "Just to be on the safe side you can take a Zar bomb." safe side in terms of believability? Because just detonating one anywhere nearby doesn't sound very safe. In fact, I'm not sure how you "demonstrate" that and still have eye witnesses afterwards. Your best bet is to set it quite far away at which point you don't have direct sight. The explosion will be absolutely positively felt but it doesn't really seem very convincing, if you ask me. "Yeah, that guy went over the mountain, came back and we heard a big boom. There was also a crater when we visited later. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 27 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ on the safe side of being impressive $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 27 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ In a D&D(-ish) setting high level wizards can destroy quite a lot. I'm not sure a nuke can outdo them. Magic users can already create tsunamis, turn into a tornado, terrify crowds to death, curse a one mile radius, or even straight up reality warp. A big boom seems comparable. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 27 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ if I remember it correftly Castle Bravo cursed a 100-miles radius area and it was a rwltively small blast for today's standards. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Feb 3 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw but would it really seem impossible to somebody in a high fantasy setting? As I pointed out, magic users can turn into natural disasters. A big explosion is impressive, sure but I posit that high fantasy dweller with any familiarity with magic wouldn't think it improbable for a mage to achieve this. Let me set the context - there are stuff like teleporting a cannon blast or pulling down a meteorite or calling literal celestial being to attack. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Feb 3 at 13:57
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You Need a 2-Way Radio

... but not for the reasons you may be thinking...

In DnD e5, Divine Sense is a Level 1 Paladin ability. This allows them to confirm the nature of Demonic, Angelic, Devine, and Undead beings. Other systems have things like See Aura or something else like it which can do more or less the same thing. I'm not sure if Pathfinder has something like this, but I'd be surprised if it did not since you see these things in nearly every fantasy setting.

What this means for you is that an impressive show of force is far less important than fooling a Paladin/Cleric/Wizard/etc into seeing a divine aura around you. The most common scientific explanation of auras that exist today is that your body produces a low frequency electromagnetic field that some people are sensitive enough to detect. So, what you need to do is first use a radio to record the divine aura of one of the gods' Avatars, then have it transmit that aura when you are near someone with the ability to see auras. Since these special individuals know what a divine aura is supposed to look like, they will see this aura emanating from your person.

Scientists are already starting to prove the existence of human auras; so, I would bet that by 2500AD, cellphones (or their future equivalent) will have downloadable apps for things like detecting and manipulating people's auras. For your ancient civilization, this app was likely meant as just a play thing for 9 year old girls to see if a boy likes her, or to hide how she is feeling from others who might be scanning her aura... or perhaps it was a tool designed to fool highly advanced biometric scanners.

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    $\begingroup$ While I am not familiar with Pathfinder 2, I am skeptical of this approach from an RPG perspective for two reasons. First, many systems with aura detection also have spells to modify the appearance of those auras. Second, abilities like Divine Sense that typically allow the user to distinguish between a person's aura and the aura of a magical item in their possession. $\endgroup$ – Joel Harmon Jan 28 at 0:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelHarmon This is part of why I described the device as a futuristic tool for manipulating auras specifically, rather than just a basic 20th century radio. When a human manipulates something, it is an artistic representation, but machines can capture exact duplicates. As for person/item, I do not have enough information to say exactly how pathfinder does it, but the exact specs of the device can be hand-waved to match the setting since it itself has to be designed to fool 26th century bio-metric technology. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jan 28 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ "Scientists are already starting to prove the existence of human auras" what? $\endgroup$ – R. Barrett Jan 28 at 23:33
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The spells might be miracle-like, but their mechanics are still the same. All spells require at least one of the following: Materials, words, movement.

Now imagine in a world where that is the established norm that someone comes up to you, touches you and your clothes are instantly changed into flowing robes. This person then without any materials, words or movements lets an entire feast appear before them. He creates living creatures, kills a person and brings them back to life, lets crops grow, changes the weather and more with a thought, a single word or the dismissive wave of a hand.

You are either witnessing someone who has discovered simultaneously a new type of magic and has such magic potential it's hard to conveive, like the rest of the mages in the world are candles and your characters is the sun, or you are truly a capitol-G God. (or you've secretly found a device that gives people the (de)illusion, but you aren't going to give them that idea now are you?).

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    $\begingroup$ "All spells require at least one of the following: Materials, words, movement." there are various ways to go around each of these. I've not looked at the newest editions of PF or D&D but at least in older ones you could take metamagic feats to eliminate word or movement and even just cast the spell instantaneously. You can eliminate the cost via some feats and some spells. You can even *pre-*cast a spell which still requires materials, words, movement but once that is done (away from people), you can release it at any point. Items can also hold spells that they unleash on a trigger. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 28 at 8:41
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ I didnt know that, I unfortunately had to work with the information given. Even so if you pull off miracle after miracle I would assume you'll reach a limit where people can only say "this is so many new spells in so many different classes at such a high power, this has to be something out of the ordinary". $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jan 28 at 16:34
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Simple: Use SCOPE

As far as wizards in Dnd and Pathfinder go, they're practically gods in minutiae, and the powers of the greatest wizards will be talked about. In a particularly knowledgeable society, the limitations of these wizards will be known and discussed. Assuming this, all your character needs is the perfect wizarding artifact:

Solocus Description: This Artifact is magically inert until it attunes to the energies of a holder, then it is "bound" until the holder's death. Upon attuning, it causes a wizard's magic to develop new properties. Effects:

  1. Limitless Mana-In most series, mana is replenished over time, like water in a bowl when rain is falling, or water trickling into a basin. A mage attuned to this Artifact is like a basin with a built-in spring; whenever their mana is used for spell-casting, more mana flows in to replace it.
  2. Potentiel-The caster's spells and magical abilities are elevated to god-like levels in terms of scope and power. A regular wizard can Resurrect one person; a Solocus wielder can resurrect an army.

Assuming magic is a function of quantum physics, an enhancement of man's ability to change the world around them, and uses energy as its means, the Solocus is then perfectly feasible advanced technology, as long as the extinct civilization is very, very, VERY advanced. Furthermore, since your character will now have both traits of a diety (extreme and limitless power) no one should be able to tell the difference.

Seriously, considering the Egyptian Pharoahs were considered gods, there's nothing implausible about a human being considered as a god.

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  • $\begingroup$ Adapting the limitless mana to pathfinder spell system : renewable, high-level spells slots. That's not something you happen to see in a matter of minutes in this game ^^. $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Feb 3 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not familiar with Pathfinder, but I'm pretty sure limitless mana can be easily accounted for by simply allowing someone to cast whatever spells without accounting for mana. In fact, it might even be easier, since you won't have to calculate how much mana they have left! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Feb 3 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ In PF (at least 1st edition and I think 2nd), some characters have a "mana point" system, but wizards need to memorize spells into slots of appropriate levels, then expend these spells when needed. In other words, you need to predict what you will need later on instead of choosing on the run. That's the main difference with most other RPG games ^^. But yeah, if you have limitless-magic, then being to cast any spell you have in your spellbook for free without memorizing them would probably be godlike (and really cheaty). $\endgroup$ – Tortliena Feb 3 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ It could be fun though! $\endgroup$ – Alendyias Feb 3 at 20:33
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Create life from raw materials.

Many mages can spawn some monster for a battle. Many can reanimated the dead into some undead horrors. Even jesus could return life to Lazarus, so that's been done too.

No-one can turn mud or clay into a living, breathing, intelligent character. The ability to spawn an inteligent companion by drawing their outline in the sand and giving them a name, throw dust in the air and turn it into a bird, or spawn a crying infant from the mud, or turn a small pebble into a seed and plant it and have it grow a plant.

... and do it under lab conditions so it can be studied to ensure no trickery, obviously.

No existing answer on this page would convince me you were a God. Undo death happens every day in our ed, even non spellcasters could learn CPR. there are stories of multi-hour brain deaths coming back when hypothermic. Nukes and pretty apps are a fact of modern life, and violations of the laws of magic / physics are interesting research topics implying theres more to study, not proof of the divine.

If you could create life on command from raw materials, that would convince even me.

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  • $\begingroup$ "No-one can turn mud or clay into a living, breathing, intelligent character" golems are a thing. As are elementals. And spirits that can manifest and inhabit some shell. And just so many other things. If I was in a high fantasy setting and saw somebody make a dust bird, I'd probably clap politely and throw them some coins. Sounds like somebody who dropped out of wizarding school to do street performance. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 28 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ "and do it under lab conditions so it can be studied to ensure no trickery, obviously." then how is this now different from any other magic in the world? The in-universe lab conditions would include detecting and understanding what exact magic is involved. If somebody can produce an effect that doesn't tap into the existing magic system, does it really matter if they created life or did anything else? The lab conditions would already ensure it's not regular magic. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 28 at 13:00
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In a standard high-magic fantasy world, there are three universal truths most inhabitants (as well as many writers and readers) will have trouble to accept:

  1. Gods are basically extremely powerful magic users
  2. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (Arthur C. Clarke)
  3. When magic follows well-defined rules and creates reproducible results in controlled experiments, then there is nothing paranormal about it. It becomes just another branch of physics. That means any so-called magic items are technology. Or in other words: "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology" (Terry Pratchett)

That means divine intervention, magic and technology are basically the same thing.

Unless, of course, you as the worldbuilder make up rules which distinguish one from the other and make those rules common knowledge in your world. When there are things which one of these things can accomplish but the others can not, then that is a way to tell them apart. Examples could be:

  • Gods receive their power from faith, so they can not affect those who do not believe in their existence.
  • Magic comes from the minds of mortals, so it can not be created, stored or directed by that what is not alive and mortal.
  • Technology is bound to the laws of thermodynamics, so it can not create energy from nothing.

Yes, I understand that these examples conflict with the game mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons. But the DnD game mechanics really don't distinguish much between divine and arcane spellcasters, and only has very vague rules about technology (at least in the base game without optional supplemental rulebooks). So when you want a solution which works within the DnD framework, then you have to find other distinguishing criteria.

But fortunately, DnD 2e already has a solution for you: Anyone who fails their Knowledge(religion) check will not recognize the symbols on the artifact as belonging to any god they ever heard of. Anyone who fails their Knowledge(arcane) check will not recognize whatever happens as arcane magic. Anyone who fails their Knowledge (engineering) check won't have any idea on what technological principles this device could operate. So the only conclusion of the average low-level peasant would be that they are looking at the power of a new god.

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Gods make miracles, mages cast spells. So the question can be turned upside-down like this :

What is the difference between a spell and a miracle?

A spell is an action on the world that follows a set of rules even though the source of the action is never truly explained (magicka and so). For instance, even if you don't understand how the energy comes out of your palm, and how the character feel when they draw magic to hold a fireball, you know that a water elementalist (kineticist in Pathfinder) will only be able to make water things, within their own limits.

A miracle is an action on the world that breaks any kind of rule and more importantly common sense. That is the main difference. In the real-world, splitting a river in half in a matter of seconds is considered as a miracle, as much as the act of multiplying bread is. Even though they vary in scale, they break our world known rules. And this makes them unexplainable, even by the biggest heads of the country, for centuries and millennias. Then your goal first and foremost is to make something that breaches into the thread of reality, making something truly impossible in regards to your world rules.

On top of that, miracles are often grouped into themes like gods in mythology are in charge of one topic (Poseidon : sea, Anubis : death...). It's simply because people put a face to things, and having one god doing everything makes them less clearly defined. If your artifact can make multiple things at once, it can be wise to group them in the same thematic to reinforce the creation of a myth.

Last but not least, miracles inspire most of the time pure awe. A strong effect makes this feeling sprout and reach the skies (as I bet your worries lies in), but! In reality, the roots of it come from the fact it's unexplainable, so you can create miracles even if people can reach a quite high level of power.

How can you make a miracle?

So the way to go is to breach a physical rule in a way which makes it totally unexplainable to the people of your world. You can add on top untangible and/or unescapable effects, as they're often related to mythology (like Fate or souls) and are things which are hardly interactible nor understandable.

To give two examples : In the quite-old-now game Planescape Torment, there is an enigmatic character who can basically kill whoever they want inside their territory, without constraint of time or effort (untangible and unescapable), and no-one could ever explain how they do this, even the wisest mage/priest (unexplainable). Without going to the extent of killing, you could calm one's deep soul (untangible) through a single gaze that can pacify even the most belligerent, angry warrior (unescapable), without any trace of magic (unexplainable).

That's a quick trick to make miracles, but you can use other extraordinary terms based on your context and world laws. The lower your overall fantasy and technology level is, the more possibilities you will be given.

Traps to watch out for

When looking for your miracle, don't look too much at the inherent mechanics of your world and forcefully try to break them, saying "this is like that mechanic but...". Doing so would make you risk facing people seeing it as a variant, and eventually find a plausible explanation to this or simply comparing to it. Stopping gravity in an area when a mage can lower it the same way is too close to an existing rule. Making as if raindrops of gravity make one's soul fly to the sky is far enough different from a simple gravity field, as much as in terms of strength as in the form it is delivered : You can have a grasp of what a no-gravity field would be like on the body, but can you explain what it would be like to have rain of anti-gravity droplets move out your inner-self?

Also, as is shown in the previous rain example, don't forget people's perception and feelings when faced to the miracle. This is a really big factor in order to fall in awe and gives lots of unexplainable things, yet it can easily be overlooked, especially if you inspire yourself from a pen-and-paper rulebook. If you think your magic as some kind of river, and magic is sent with a continuous stream of it, then a periodic, fluctuating wave coming from all around you would make anyone truly uncertain about the true nature of the action. Not because the effects are utterly different, but the way it is felt is.

Finally, to make a character look like a god, it should NOT be something your character don't have any control over. Miracles are actions, and if the entity behind that action is the item and not the person, then the godlikeness will be credited accordingly to the item, not the person. That's kinda silly, but it's one thing that makes heroes and gods different.

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There are a lot of good answers here, but I'd still like to add my suggestion.

Although I've never played Pathfinder, I am quite familiar with D&D 5e and the spell system there. For balance reasons, I assume that there is also a limit to magic in PF beyond what the spell can do: how often you can cast it. If a powerful mage can cast Time Stop, can they cast it multiple times in a row and take all the turns? If they can open a Gate to the astral plane, how long can they maintain the gate? How many people can pass through? Can they make the gate permanent?

I don't know if the gods you mention are major or minor, but that could be something to play with. Even a minor god of time could be able to create a few hours of time out of thin air. Perhaps a major god could fuse planes together for multiple days, if not years. What would a permanent Cataclysm look like?

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If people know about spells, then the only way to seem divone is to use bigger spells.

I was initially thinking about the 10th plague, a biblical passage in which the angel of death kills every egyptian firstborn man. Then I found something bigger: the Familicide spell from the Order Of Stick.

I have extinguished their own family lines as well! Countless parents, siblings, and children, dead—down to the last cousin.

This kills everyone who is a relative of the target up to three steps. Since the mere existence of a being capable of this is a constant threat to dinasties and royal families, the caster will become the stuff of legends. People will wonder what happens if you cast it on a demigod...

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