Tight-Knit Worldbuilding or How I Let Go and Learned to Enjoy the Hexcrawl

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Last post, I created a pantheon, but it is pretty bare-bones. To make this an interesting region on a map, here are more fluff and crunch details. This is a long post. The OSR version of all this comes in a near-future post.

Water and Animal Domains

With the water domain so strong, let's assume the people that worship these gods live on the coast and have strong ties to the sea. Since the deities are so similar and the animal domain is also prominent, I'll assign totems by alignment: Dolphin (CG), Shark (CE), Octopus (LE), Walrus (LG). The totem is part holy symbol, part animistic religion. More on that later in the post.

Male and Female Were They Made

Since there are two gods for each alignment, I will make them brother and sister. Why would there be male and female aspects of the same alignment? Why are all the domains so tightly bound together? Let's say that at first, there was only one True Neutral god of the Sea. After creating the water and all the creatures that live there, his final act of creation was to split into eight weaker, but divine pieces. These pieces are what comprise our pantheon.

Areas of Concern

In addition to the names and favored weapons, I'm going to add areas of concerns. This is mostly to match the format of the Egyptian pantheon on the Pathfinder SRD, but it can be a lot of fun for background. I didn't want to overload the pantheon with a bunch of new features, so this is a way to accentuate the Strength and Wisdom domains without adding more crunch. Here's our pantheon again:

DEITY AL AREAS OF CONCERN NON-ALIGNMENT DOMAINS FAVORED WEAPON
Samoora N Oceans, Sea Creatures, Wisdom Animal, Creation, Knowledge, Strength, Water trident
Camalanth LG Habitat, Fishing, Walrus Animal, Knowledge spear
Clawata LG Tides, Currents, Walrus Strength, Water dagger
Broadhead CG Exploration, Ships, Creatures Lost at Sea, Dolphin Knowledge, Water Kusarigama
Galelile CG Giant Sea Creatures, Social Graces, Dolphin Animal, Strength quaterstaff
Villefred CE Sea Shanties, Predators, Poison, Shark Animal, Knowledge short sword
Helica CE Speed, Strength, Brutality, Shark Strength, Water maul
L'Sak LE Obscurement, Deception, Octopus Knowledge, Water spear
Nagelot LE Aquatic Birds, Thievery, Blackmail, Octopus Animal, Strength net

A Dead God and Subdomains

Since the creator god, Samoora, is gone, we'll call this the Samoora Pantheon. One way to make the gods more distinct is to use subdomains. Since the Samoora Pantheon is tied closely with the sea, the default Water domain for these gods is really the Ocean subdomain. Just as a bit of flavor, I'll call the traditional Water domain the Current (as in a cold water current) domain.

Defining Totems

Even with subdomains, I want to make the animal totems mean something more. Let's make something like subdomains based on the totem. For ease of reference, I'll call them Totem Subdomains.

Each totem represents one alignment. For example, Clerics of Camalanth and Clawata may take the Walrus Totem Subdomain since both gods are Lawful Good.

Since every god in the Samoora Pantheon covers either the Animal or Water domain, these totem domains are used with those domains instead of Law, Chaos, Good, or Evil. No god has both Animal and Water, so it shouldn't create an issue.

Keith gave a bit of advice to make the totem more meaningful, so all Totem subdomains also gain the following ability.

Spirit Animal (Su): You can take the shape of your totem animal once/day at 4th level, +1/day per two levels after that until 18th level, then at will. Each use is good for one hour per level or until canceled. At higher levels they can take on more varied forms (initially small and medium animals, then smaller and larger, plants, elementals, and so on, at different levels). At 12th level, you may take the shape of your totem's avatar, a half-human/half-animal form.

There are four Totem Subdomains; Walrus, Dolphin, Shark, and Octopus. Here are the stats for each one.

Walrus  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Walrus Totem, you seek to promote the welfare of your seafaring community.

Inspiring Word (Su): As a standard action, you can speak an inspiring word to a creature within 30 feet. That creature receives a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls, skill checks, ability checks, and saving throws for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). You can use this power a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Cold Resistance (Ex): At 6th level, you gain resist cold 10. This resistance increases to 20 at 12th level. At 20th level, you gain immunity to cold.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—remove fear, 3rd—protection from energy(cold only), 7th—repulsion

Dolphin  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Dolphin Totem, you value the common good and strong family bonds through play. You seek to find what is lost to help others.

Bit of Luck (Su): You can touch a willing creature as a standard action, giving it a bit of luck. For the next round, any time the target rolls a d20, he may roll twice and take the more favorable result. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Echolocation (Ex): At 6th level, you gain the power to use once a day. Echolocation functions the same as the Locate Object spell except that this power is foiled by polymorph any object and silence. It is not foiled by nondetection.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—Air Bubble, 3rd—Ocean's Blessing (+10 Swim checks), 6th—mislead

Shark  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Shark Totem, you are ruthless and efficient in all you do.

Bleed Touch (Su): As a melee touch attack, you can cause a living creature to take 1d6 points of damage per round. This effect persists for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1) or until stopped with a DC 15 Heal check or any spell or effect that heals damage. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Gale Aura (Su): At 6th level, as a standard action, you can create a 30-foot aura of gale-like winds that slows the progress of enemies. Creatures in the aura cannot take a 5-foot step. Enemies in the aura treat each square that brings them closer to you as difficult terrain. They can move normally in any other direction. You can use this ability for a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level. The rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—cause fear, 3rd—rage, 6th—harm

Octopus  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Octopus Totem, you are cold, calculating, and always in control. This means you know when to press an advantage and when to regroup for a more opportune time.

Obscuring Ink (Su): This power functions as the Obscuring Mist spell except that it also functions underwater. Any objects that come in contact with the ink are stained for one minute per round of effect. The duration of this affect is 3 + Wisdom bonus rounds. The rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Whispering Evil (Su): At 8th level, as a standard action, you can whisper a hypnotizing litany of empty promises. Each enemy within a 30-foot emanation that can hear you must succeed on a Will saving throw or become fascinated for as long as you continue the litany. You can use this power a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level, but these rounds do not need to be consecutive. This is a mind-affecting effect

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—disguise self, 3rd—nondetection, 6th—hold monster or modify memory

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

With our deities defined, we can now look out for other events to shape the pantheon and the implied community that reveres these gods. Since the Walrus totem focuses on protection from cold, we can place an ancient White Dragon named Vinakrah to the north as a constant threat. To make it interesting, the Cult of the Vinakrah is a unifying threat for the followers of these gods. Specifically, when Priests of the White Dragon menace the community, these gods can work together to overcome a common enemy.

One Enemy Is Not Enough

Some time ago, I wrote about a golem-making group of crabmen called the Portán. In real crabs, molting occurs twice a year for a total of three weeks. The molting times would see a dramatic increase in the number of the crabmen golems and no doubt fuel the discussion about a final solution for these menaces.

At low and medium levels, these guys could keep any group busy, especially in raid on the Portán nests. When a party arrives, though, they soon discover the secrets of the Portán and pray to return to the safety of their own civilization. The crabmen also present a number of good adventure hooks, including quests for alien technology and/or an alien metal.

The best way to put it is that Vinakrah is an obvious, ever-present threat. The Portán and the shadowy Hlong Khagee are a secret danger that will likely arise only if the crabmen are provoked.

A New Race

This is also a good entry point for a race of land-adventuring dolphins defined here not that long ago. They are setup for Swords & Wizardry in my post, so here are a few notes to serve as guidelines:

Ability Score Racial Traits: +2 CON, +2 DEX, -2 CHA
Size: Medium
Type: Animal with Water subtype
Base Speed: 20, but speed is not affected by armor or encumbrance.

It would be easy to imagine the Howerters (dolphin race) as emissaries of the Gods. In that way, you could present them as paladins of the two Dolphin Totem gods. As originally planned, they would make excellent Rogues and if you use psionics,  Psychic Knives.

With the Portán running around, it's good to know that there is a group of creatures putting technology to good use.

One last bit of world building fluff to make the setting interesting:

There is a commonly proscribed tonic in the Samoora region made up of cinnamon and vinegar. It is believed to be an effective bracer against the cold air blowing off the water and a curative for minor ills. All taverns in the area feature a mulled dry wine  with a strong flavor of cinnamon. A yearly festival prominently featuring the Dolphin totem culminates in a grand contest of the best mulled wine. Outsiders and visitors are usually identified quickly by the local tavern-goers by their preference for ale, beer, or mead.

This entire post is declared Open Game Content under the OGL. Section 15 listed below:

System Reference Document. Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, based on material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. Copyright 2009, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author: Jason Bulmahn, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams.
Polyhedral Pantheons. Copyright 2014, Echelon Game Design; Author: Keith Davies.
Echelon Reference Series: Clerics (3pp+PRD). Copyright 2014, Echelon Game Design; Author: Keith Davies.
The Book of Divine Magic. Copyright 2009, 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming; Authors Connie J. Thomson and Robert W. Thomson, with Katheryn Bauer and Sean O’Connor.
The Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting Copyright 2008, Paizo Publishing; Author: Stan!, Keith Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Clinton J. Boomer, Jason Bulmahn, Joshua J. Frost, Ed Greenwood, Stephen S. Greer, Jeff Grubb, James Jacobs, Michael Kortes, Tito Leati, Mike McArtor, Rob McCreary, Erik Mona, Jason Eric Nelson, Jeff Quick, Sean K Reynolds, David Schwartz, Leandra Christine Schneider, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber E. Scott, Owen K.C. Stephens, Todd Stewart, James L. Sutter, Greg A. Vaughan, Jeremy Walker, JD Wiker.

A Tight-Knit Pantheon

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I mentioned Keith Davies’ polyhedral pantheons in a previous post. Using the process, here is an example using the smallest die in the traditional dice bad; the d4. You only generate eight different gods with this method and their abilities are very closely related. Don't let that fool you, it can still generate a fun pantheon ready to drop into a one-shot setting or part of your campaign.

My modified version of his process is this:

  1. Choose a polyhedron.
  2. Set some values for certain points and faces.
  3. Randomly assign a domain to remaining points and faces.
  4. Group domains for each god.
  5. Determine Alignment for each god.
  6. Determine the name and ‘chosen weapon’ of each god.

1. Choose a polyhedron: d4.

2. Set some values for certain points and faces:

For this step and the next, I made a diagram. Basically, I flattened a d4, numbered the faces, and assigned letters to the points.

d4pp

It may be easier to visualize if you think of point “D” as the top of the pyramid.

I want to ensure that I no god gets ‘weird’ alignment domains, so I am going to assign Law, Chaos, Good, and Evil. This prevents results like Lawful Chaos. I set the values like this: Law Domain for 1, Good Domain for 2, Evil Domain for C, and Chaos Domain for D.

3. Randomly assign a domain to remaining points and faces:

That leaves us to randomly pick 4 out of the remaining 18 standard domains to map out our pantheon. (For our purposes, we are not going to worry about Subdomains yet.) I use a d20 to roll against the remaining list of domains. A result of 1 or 20 is re-rolled.

Roll Domain
1 re-roll
2 Air Domain
3 Animal Domain
4 Death Domain
5 Destruction Domain
6 Earth Domain
7 Fire Domain
8 Healing Domain
9 Knowledge Domain
10 Luck Domain
11 Magic Domain
12 Plant Domain
13 Protection Domain
14 Strength Domain
15 Sun Domain
16 Travel Domain
17 Trickery Domain
18 War Domain
19 Water Domain
20 re-roll

I rolled Animal, Strength, Knowledge, Water. Going in order: 3 is Animal, 4 is Strength, A is Knowledge, and B is Water.

4. Group domain for each god:

Keith does a better job of explaining grouping than I can, so I'll explain by example. Basically, start with face 1 and group the points that touch face 1. Looking at the diagram, face 1 is touched by points A, B, and C. That means our first god will have the domains associated with 1, A, B, and C. In other words, Law, Knowledge, Water, and Evil. Law will be the primary domain for this god.

Then move on to face 2 and group the points that touch face 2, namely, A, B, D. So this god will have a primary domain of Good and the secondary domains of Chaos, Knowledge, and Water.

Continue with face 3 and face 4 in the same way. To determine the last four gods, I start with point A and group it with the faces that touch point A. This results in A, 2, 1, 3 or Knowledge (primary domain), Good, Law, and Animal.

Then continue the process with points B, C, and D.

To make the process less confusing, I used a spreadsheet that Keith will include with his polyhedral pantheons pdf. Here are the results in a form that is easier to read. Domains in bold represent the primary domain for each deity.

1 - Lawful,Knowledge, Water, Evil
2 - Good,Chaotic, Knowledge, Water
3 - Animal, Knowledge, Chaotic, Evil
4 - Strength, Water, Evil, Chaotic
A - Knowledge, Good, Lawful, Animal
B - Water, Good, Lawful, Strength
C - Evil, Animal, Lawful, Strength
D - Chaotic, Strength, Good, Animal

So there we are, eight different gods that are closely related, but still different.

5. Determine the Alignment:

There is no reason that you couldn't just randomly determine the domains and just pick an alignment for each deity. I chose to set alignment domains at the beginning to prevent weird results, so I’m going to use the alignment domains of each god to determine the alignment.

1 – Lawful Evil, 2 – Chaotic Good, 3 – Chaotic Evil, 4 – Chaotic Evil
A – Lawful Good, B – Lawful Good, C – Lawful Evil, D – Chaotic Good

6. Determine the Name and Chosen Weapon of each god:

I randomly determined the names, but put some thought into the chosen weapon. Since there is a lot of water, I wanted to pick weapons that made sense to a pantheon that lives near water. Here are my results:

DEITY

AL

NON-ALIGNMENT DOMAINS

FAVORED WEAPON

Camalanth LG Animal, Knowledge spear
Clawata LG Strength, Water dagger
Broadhead CG Knowledge, Water Kusarigama
Galelile CG Animal, Strength quaterstaff
Villefred CE Animal, Knowledge short sword
Helica CE Strength, Water maul
L'Sak LE Knowledge, Water spear
Nagelot LE Animal, Strength net

With these eight gods, there’s something to work with for a one shot or the beginning of a campaign. Looking at subdomains, you can make Galelile different from Nagelot in more ways than just alignment.

As an unrepentant worldbuilder, there many different directions this can take, especially pondering over my initial thoughts of placing these gods with a community that lives near the water.

More worldbuilding in the next post.

Polyhedral Pantheons and Future Projects

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Keith Davies has been working on a semi-random system of generating new gods and pantheons for a number of years. It began with using the faces and "corners" of a d20 to create entire pantheons.

Recently, he has been posting on G+ about using d12s and d10s. I have especially enjoyed the d10 method and I have been wanting to give it a try.

Somewhat related to this, I have been working on classifying Swords & Wizardry Cleric and Druid spells according to 2e spheres. (This also led to classifying the Wizard spells according to 2e schools.) The goal is to create a system for generating Priests of Different Mythoi that work with S&W.

Yes, it would be much easier to use 3e, 3.5e, and Pathfinder domains and schools to retrofit a bunch of spells, but the spheres and schools of 2e are just quirky enough to feel better to me. At the very least I want to make something as close to S&W Complete Rules as possible before I go after more modern stuff.

So while Keith is working with Pathfinder domains, I am working with something closer to OSR feel. Nothing against Pathfinder, one of my neighbors runs a weekly game. I even wrote a small bit of Pathfinder stuff many years ago at NevermetPress (with a lot of help with number crunching). In fact, the next few posts are going to use domains in the 3.5/Pathfinder SRD.

You're not against new games. You play in a Dungeon World group. You've done some post-Gygax D&D. You still hold a torch for S&W. We get it. You can stop being an apologist for what you play? Where is all this going?

Keith posted today about using other dice as models for generating pantheons. So I thought about how the d4 and d6 could be used with this model. I also thought about to adapt his system to create really interesting Priests of Different Mythoi in S&W. The system not only generates interesting deities and pantheons, it also generates interesting Clerics with different abilities.

I'm going to use SRD/Pathfinder domains to create pantheons from his system as examples. He asked me to post the d4 creation I am working on. I also plan to post about larger examples. After I finish my works with S&W spells and the 2e spheres, I plan to generate more examples with those.

Keith's Polyhedral Pantheon system is not necessarily game specific. It works in Pathfinder or any OSR game. You just need some categories of spells. I imagine it will work well in 5e (and I'll certainly try to make it work.) Heck, you can collect a list of 20 to 30 trappings and make an interesting set of spells for Savage Worlds.

Anyway, future posts will be:

  • a d4 example of Keith's Polyhedral Pantheon system.
  • expansion of the d4 pantheon with serious Pathfinder-based worldbuilding.
  • another d4 pantheon to provide tension (not a big bad) in the region
  • a complete S&W spell database (with descriptions) grouped by 2e sphere (Cleric/Druid spells) and school (Wizard spells).
  • some examples of Priests of Different Mythoi using Keith's system
  • other examples of a modified system

That's a lot, but it will be fun.

For those that may wonder, I haven't forgotten about publishing the mecha rules for S&W in January. I'm also happy to say that the Sum Bach o Hud project is back in development. No set date for this huge project, but I am sufficiently inspired to get it done.