Send Naomi to Nationals

My daughter Naomi is eligible to compete as a judoka in both the BC Winter Games and the Canadian Open National tournament this year. To make the team, though, there are training requirements. She is expected to take part in a certain number of tournament leading up to these events, and team training events. These involve travel and in some cases, staying overnight out of town.

These are some unexpected expenses, beyond what we had planned for this year’s judo season. I’d really like her to have these opportunities, so to try to raise money I’m putting all Echelon Game Design products on sale: 50% off everything, until the end of September.

Naomi (orange belt) countered and decisively defeated a higher-grade green belt in a meet last season.

Naomi (orange belt) countered and decisively defeated a higher-grade green belt in a meet last season.

Plots and Player Agency

I have long agreed with the premise of Justin Alexander‘s article, Don’t Prep Plots. The gist of it is that if you prepare an adventure or scenario with a plot, it is easy to become attached to the outcome, and the game play can become ‘fragile’, where deviation from the plot causes the story to break down. The game can become a railroad in order to protect the plot, or a mess as deviation from the plot causes the prepared material become irrelevant and play becomes unexpectedly improvised.

I still agree with the intent of Justin’s article, but I think I have found a way to reframe it in my mind that gives me better results.

Plots are what happen unless the PCs change things.

I now do prepare plots. I plan, at a suitable level of detail, what happens if the PCs do nothing.

Duke Whatsit wants to become king. He’s too far down the line of succession to expect anything short of extreme pruning of the king’s family tree to be helpful, so he’s going to have to go full usurper. He has several schemes on the go:

  • he discredits the Earl of Ware, who has an inordinate amount of military power and is fiercely loyal to the king;
  • he arranges an atrocity in a foreign land to cause a crusade and distracts the church;
  • he has a woman (or better yet, a man?) seduce the king (alienating the queen, and hopefully his heirs; with any luck he’ll step down);
  • arranges a marriage between himself and one of the king’s daughters;
  • builds up his military force ‘to take part in the crusade’… but they never seem to get Over There;
  • etc.

This all happens over time, and while the root causes are not always known, the effects can be seen. The PCs should become aware of them (how else can they get involved?), but if they don’t do anything about them then eventually Duke Whatsit might become King Whatsit.

Plot is there… but plot is there specifically for PCs to tamper with.

I know the Duke’s goal, I know the things he’s doing to advance that goal. Because I know what happens if the PCs do nothing, when the PCs interfere with it it means they made a difference. The Duke might be forced to adapt his schemes to account for the PCs’ actions. The Duke might end up becoming a direct opponent or enemy of the PCs. The PCs might kill the Duke, or better yet defeat him and reveal his dastardly plans and ruin him!

Or the PCs might agree with the Duke and join forces to dethrone the king. I can’t rule that out. In fact, that might be a deliberate effort on the Duke’s part, to sway the PCs from supporting an ineffectual king who’s busy with his paramour instead of paying attention to the crusade his nation’s church is on. After all, the Duke is interested in what is best for the kingdom, even if it means going down in history as a regicide and putting himself on the throne, sacrificing his relative freedom for the sake of all…

Either way, because the PCs got involved, things changed. The PCs made a difference.

And PCs making a difference is critical to player agency.

Updated Release Plans for the Echelon Reference Series

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers cover

Echelon Reference Series: Sorcerers

Until now, I have been releasing the Echelon Reference Series books as and when each is complete. I am thinking of changing that. I’m a programmer by trade, and staged releases are a common thing in my world. First make it go, then make it go good, then make it gold. For the Echelon Reference Series, I see three stages:

  1. Make It Go: Game content is collected, organized, and consistently formatted. This is the ‘minimum working version’.
    • All the game content to be included in this release is present, presentable, and organized.
  2. Make It Go Good: Game content is polished and made easier to use.
    • Certain game information broken out and linked. For instance, class subfeature prerequisites present in the original text (“must be a 8th level and have the inspiring rant rage power”) are presented more clearly (separate line, “Prerequisites: inspiring rant rage power, barbarian level 8″) and hyperlinked.
    • ‘Useful redundancy’ added: apply archetypes to base classes to make the resulting ‘archetype classes’, apply variant class subfeatures to base class subfeatures (such as subdomains to domains) to get the resulting domain, class feature catalogue created with normalized text and how each class and archetype using it changes it.
  3. Make it Gold: Diagrams and other finishing touches.

Of course, it’s not really reasonable to charge full price for something that is not yet finished. As such, I expect I would offer a discount on the price to those who buy early. Those who buy early get the upgrades when they are available, at no additional cost.

Make It Go 50% discount, half price. The game content is here, but better is to come.
Make It Go Good 25% discount. The content is here and more polished, but we’re not quite done.
Make it Gold No discount. The book is done.

Right now each book is a large, monolithic endeavor. Staging the releases in this way gives me smaller work units, gets the primary content to players sooner, and reduces the up-front cost to those who buy in early for the primary content.

Reframing Campaigns and Adventures

A realization on the way home from work, combined with discussing it with a friend online, means I’ll be changing a few definitions I’ve used for a while.

GreyKnight, I think this one qualifies as a ‘Revisit old post and completely change everything’ result on the Keith Davies Blog Post Generator.

Old Definitions

There are some terms I’ve used for quite a while when discussing campaign and setting design. I have a more complete set of definitions, with examples, but I will include brief definitions here for context.

A setting is a place where many campaigns happen, often a particular world. Forgotten Realms is a quite well-known Dungeons & Dragons setting. There are recurring entities (major NPCs, deities, nations, etc.) that can be experienced or can influence things across the setting.

campaign is a set of related scenarios that take place in a setting. ‘Setting entities’ may be present in a campaign, and there are recurring entities within the campaign that might not be present outside it. Usually lasts about four levels of advancement; anything shorter tends to feel episodic and not really significant enough, and I’ve found players tend to start losing interest when they run much longer.

scenario is a single situation or location to be played in. Setting and campaign entities can be present, as can scenario entities that are present only in this scenario. I usually expect the PCs to take part in 12-15 encounters (D&D 3.x assumes ‘13.333 encounters per level’), and I might design 16-20 on the assumption not all will actually happen.

New Definitions, and Reframing

I was working on some documentation at work today, describing how to develop a test plan. One of the more important points is that each test is to answer a specific question. It has preconditions, steps to follow, and expected results (measurable postconditions).

On my way from work, I realized that there is entirely nothing preventing us from applying the reasoning to adventures, and many things suddenly fell into place. Discussing this led to a couple of terminology shifts in order to accommodate the mental shift.


The definition of setting remains the same.


A campaign is now a set of related stories involving a central cast of player characters. The specific PCs may change over time as they die (or less commonly retire) and are replaced, but the general core tends to remain consistent. A campaign happens in a single setting; a campaign that might ‘span settings’ (such as planehopping campaign or a Spelljammer campaign) actually expands the setting to include the new areas.

Story Arc

A story arc is a series of adventures or stories, each of which might involve several adventures. A story arc need not be contiguous, there may be other adventures or even other stories between the stories that make up a story arc. However, there will and must be recurring entities and themes that cause the stories to be related.

Story arcs tell stories, and as such there must be a goal or purpose. Common murderhobo behavior is adventuring, but typically without a goal or purpose. ‘Kill things and take their stuff’ isn’t really a story, it’s an activity. ‘Defeat the invading hobgoblins’ and ‘become crowned king of Arlington’ are more likely appropriate goals or purposes.

I would still expect a story arc to run for about four levels of PC advancement. Longer may work for some people, but I’ve found this to be a sweet spot for the groups I’ve played with.


A story is similar to a story arc, but has a much more limited scope (and no ‘sub-stories’ per se, though it may have adventures). In the context of a story arc it would describe how a major event or situation was resolved. If the story arc goal is ‘defeat the invading hobgoblins’, ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ might be one of the stories (and it might be retitled ‘The Razing of Tal Forenn’ if things don’t go well — not all stories have happy endings).

Each story has a goal or purpose. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’, the goal obviously is to defend Tal Forenn. The story that comes out of it depends on how the game plays out. If the goal is achieved and the city is successfully defended, you get one story. If the defense fails, you get another.

I would expect a story to run for about one level of PC advancement. I have had ‘half-level stories’ at times, but more often I treat the completion of a story — whether victorious or not — as cause to advance the PCs a level. It would probably play out over several sessions, and if I were one to track experience points it would probably come out fairly close (expect 12-15 encounters, but it might take as many as 20 or as few as 8 or 10 depending how the PCs go about it).

Adventure or Scenario

I use these words more or less interchangeably, with the primary difference involving tone or location. An adventure usually involves exploration, while a scenario usually involves resolving a situation present, without exploration. They really amount to the same thing structurally.

An adventure answers (usually) a single question about a story, and can provide resources that can help the PCs reach victory. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ you might have an adventure to gain allies (you hear of potential allies also threatened by the hobgoblins, so you find a way to raise the siege and they join you), another to gain an important resource (a holy relic that will empower the temple wards and help protect the city), another to infiltrate the hobgoblin camp for covert purposes (assassination, sabotage, rescuing hostages, etc.). I would expect an adventure to involve 3-5 encounters, and usually play out in one session, or two. My OSR group can go through a large number of encounters if we stay on task, but more likely a handful of encounters; in ‘more modern D&D’ we’d do well to complete one fight.

If I expected each story to be about 12-15 encounters (and prepared 16-20) and an adventure to be 3-5 encounters, this means I might have about 3-7 adventures identified, and more likely 4-6. Assuming each plays out in a single night, this means approximately five sessions per level, which is a little slow for modern D&D standards but about right for the way we like it.

From Bottom to Top

The adventures in a story or story arc should each resolve a plot point in the larger context. Individual encounters are not likely to be relevant in the grand scheme of things. Whether a particular unnamed hobgoblin dies probably doesn’t much matter. An adventure’s consequence, though, should. In ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’, raising the siege of Tal Theris and gaining allies will make it easier to defend Tal Forenn, and provide a stronger position for dealing with the hobgoblins as a whole. Not raising the siege of Tal Theris might mean that city falls, making it harder to defend Tal Forenn and putting the PCs in a harder position overall.

Closing Comments

Framing adventures, stories, and story arcs this way provides clear and measurable plot points that can be used to gauge overall success. By having each adventure resolve specific events and answer specific questions it is easy to make higher-level decisions and direct the story and story arc as a whole.

I have found in the past that such measurements and determinations might be identified for specific entities within an adventure (such as “if the PCs kill this guy, this will happen later, but if they don’t, this other thing will happen”). I’ve also found that often the adventures are expected to be played in a particular order, because each depends on previous events. By working at the higher level it is possible to treat the individual adventures as discrete events with identifiable consequences within the fabric of the whole. This helps reduce the order dependency between individual adventures.

Also, structuring stories and story arcs this way makes it easy to compartmentalize the piece and work on only what is necessary. I might identify ‘The Defense of Tal Forenn’ as a story in the hobgoblins story arc, and six questions (potential adventures) to be answered. If the PCs answer at least four ‘victoriously’, they successfully defend the city. If they don’t get at least two victories, the hobgoblins win and the city is destroyed. Individual answers can cause specific results: killing the bloodthirsty leader might mean the replacement is more merciful — he only pillages the city, destroys the dockyards, and takes the ranking military and leaders hostage, rather than slaughtering everyone and burning the place to the ground.

Of course, this might mean the hobgoblins now have a better leader available than the bloodthirsty one that might otherwise have led, and this one is not only more capable but is favored by the hobgoblin high command and has more troops… but you can’t have everything.

Z-A Challenge 2015 Index

A-Z 2015 "Z"I didn’t write as many articles this year as last year (28 vs. 32) and my word count is lower (27,000 vs. 38,000).

However, I stayed closer to the theme: more than half, almost two thirds I think, of all posts were related to Polyhedral Pantheons. This includes drafting 72 deities across three pantheons (halfling, goblin, and elemental-focused), which in turn were split into 10 subpantheons. This was a lot of writing for the book, and I am very pleased with how they turned out. I am almost done drafting Polyhedral Pantheons, and I should be able to finish the last bits this week and start reviewing.

Only one post missed the correct day, and was still posted only 12 minutes late. All other posts were the night before, if sometimes by less than an hour.

All things considered, I am satisfied.

Total   27,444 About 11,000 fewer words than last year, but still 1/2 of a NaNoWriMo target.
Date Letter Words Title Description
2014-04-29 Z 1,166 Z-A Challenge 2015 Index This post, summarizing the articles I’ve written for this year’s A-Z Blog Challenge.
2014-04-29 Y  457 Yet More Projects I never seem to run out of things I’d like to do. Here are some of the projects I’d like to find the time and energy for. Stupid ‘regular working hours’ and ‘sense of responsbility’….
2014-04-28 X 923 Examples of Adapted Polyhedral Pantheons I worked two examples of the adapted polyhedral assignment mechanism, one for physical geography that leads to a campaign premise I wouldn’t mind exploring (aberrations teaming up with dwarves against the goblins, with a dwarf/goblin counteralliance resisting them) and one preparing a template for use creating cities in a particular culture using Last Gasp Grimoire‘s In Cörpathium dice drop mechanism.
2014-04-27 W 2,176 Working on Polyhedral Adaptations Expansion of Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons, drafting lists of attributes that can be applied for each purpose.
2014-04-26 V 2,178 Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons Seven ways the polyhedral assignment mechanism used by Polyhedral Pantheons can be applied to other purposes: physical geography, planar geography, city wards, characters, 13th Age-style icons, megadungeons, and campaigns.
2014-04-24 U 2,077 Ultimate Shu-shi Deities Post The remaining ten members of the Shu-shi pantheon, the ultimate (i.e. last) post on the Shu-shi deities, and as is happens also the last post of draft deities I plan for Polyhedral Pantheons.
2014-04-23 T 2,332 Twelve Shu-shi Deities Twelve of the twenty-two members of the Shu-shi pantheon. I started with the six Jixiang Shen (auspicious deities favored by the Shu-shi) and the six Bukeishiyi Shen (the uncanny deities that make Shu-shi uncomfortable).
2014-04-22 S 800 Shu-shi Pantheon (Halfling Pantheon Revised) I didn’t feel really good about the original halfling pantheon, but stumbling on the idea of Chinese culture merged with halfling sensibilities resulted in a revised pantheon I feel really good about.
2014-04-21 R  1,601 Reviewing the Elemental Tetratheon The Elemental Tetratheon is a largish thing and deliberately polarized, focusing on the hermetic elements. I reviewed it to be certain it covered everything I needed it to. This post has the full deities table, examines the domain allocations by deity within each element, and domain access by alignment (both ‘domain by deity having this alignment’ and ‘domain by alignment of cleric’, which must be within one step of the deity).
2014-04-20 Q 372 Quick Update on Polyhedral Pantheons An review of the Polyhedral Pantheons outline I had prepared. Some things added, more things dropped, many things changed. I’m actually getting close to having a complete draft.
2014-04-20 1,657 Water Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the water deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. Bonus post, I needed the material for review.
2014-04-20 1,478 Air Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the air deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. Bonus post, I needed the material for review.
2014-04-18 P 637 Points and Nodes and Paths, Oh My! Describes nodecrawl/pointcrawl adventuring, a pathcrawl variation, and a transitional nodes variation that can apply to all three. Includes many links to relevant material.
2014-04-17 O  1,250 On Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters I went back and revisited some previous thoughts I’d had on wandering monsters. This time I described in a little more detail how I choose what to put in a random event table, and how this in turn related to how I design campaigns and adventures.
2014-04-16 N 554 Naming Things with Style I’ve talked before about how I name things, but a comment about how the names within the sample pantheons seemed so natural and internally consistent in style caused me to explain again how I often devise names for setting entities.
2014-04-15 M 367 Musing on Spell-Like Abilities in Echelon Jumped track a bit to ponder a design problem I’ve been having in another project.
2014-04-14 L  453 Lusus Naturae is Live in PDF The Kickstarter project closed April 12, 2014. Rafael made the PDF available on April 13, 2015. A bit behind schedule, and we’re still waiting for the physical books, but they’ll be here soon enough.
2014-04-13 K 1,439 Kouzelnik Deities of the Goblin Pantheon The kozelnik, on the other hand… take a chaotic race with violent tendencies, then make them lawful and watch their minds snap. It seems pursuit of alien lore and ‘jatemst’ (nobody knows what ‘jatemst’ is, but the kouzelnik swear they’ll recognize it when the find it) has done something strange to them.
2014-04-11 J 1,565 Jhesiri Deities of the Goblin Pantheon, Rewritten The jhesiri are still focused on destruction, but the rewrite makes them much more credible. The original was hyperbolic, this makes much more sense and feels almost believable.
2014-04-10 I 563 Icosahedral Pantheons I started drafting text describing why someone might use various polyhedrons. I suspect I’ll reduce this to a summary paragraph in the book. It’s a good thing I’m reviewing my posts, I forgot to finish these!
2014-04-09 H 1,402 Hilljack Deities of the Goblin Pantheon Reclusive and insular, the hilljacks would as soon be left alone. They are not nearly as malicious as most other goblins, but they are still opportunistic and will take advantage of situations if they come up.
2014-04-08 G 642 Goblin Pantheon Revisited The original goblin pantheon was over-exaggerated, I think, to the point of being caricature. I revised the domain assignments and started over, and I think ended up with something much better.
2014-04-07 F  1,307 Fire Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the fire deities of the Elemental Tetratheon.
2014-04-06 E 1,221 Earth Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon Drafted the earth deities of the Elemental Tetratheon.
2014-04-04 D 1,163 Designing Dynamic Spells Revisiting another old topic, this time about families of very similar spells and how they can be reduced to a smaller number of more dynamic spells.
2014-04-03 C 754 Composition of an Autoscaling Magic Item Notes about how an autoscaling magic item might be designed and written up. The idea needs work; the example I explored didn’t work out to my satisfaction, it lacks elegance.
2014-04-02 B 592 Background Information on Autoscaling Magic Items Background research into other attempts at autoscaling items. The theme has been examined before and I wanted to be aware of the prior art.
2014-04-01 A 1,385 Autoscaling Magic Items Prompted by reading the Legendary Items series from Purple Duck Games, I thought I’d take a look at magic items that scale with the levels of their wielders.


Yet More Projects

A-Z 2015 "Y"For the Z-A Challenge 2014 I focused mostly on demonstrating the creation of a sandbox campaign. I didn’t focus very hard and I wandered a fair bit, but managed to write a bit more than 38,000 words.

For the Z-A Challenge 2015 I mostly wrote about Polyhedral Pantheons, and finally got my example pantheons drafted. I still have to do some introductory text, and there are some elements of the process — the nominal point of the book, even if it amounts to perhaps 20% of the page count — that I want to revise. About 60%-70% of the final page count will be three pantheons: the Shu-shi pantheon (twenty-two deities of Chinese halflings), the Goblin pantheon (twenty-two deities followed by three tribes, the hilljacks, the jhesiri, and the kouzelnik), and the Elemental Tetratheon (a pantheon of twenty-eight deities heavily polarized by element). I was tempted to make today’s post ‘Yet Another Pantheon’ and do one comparable in size to the Elemental Tetratheon, but decided that seventy-two will have to be enough. Time to wrap this one up and get back to some other projects

What projects? Well

  • The Echelon Reference Series is still in the works. I’ve published the Barbarian, Cleric, and Sorcerer books, but I still want to complete the other base classes. The next one up is likely to be the Rogue book. I may knock out Samurai as a quick sample book. And I’m still thinking about race books.
  • Review and update Echelon itself, the game that caused me to start the Echelon Reference Series (these books were originally research documents for Echelon). I think I may take another run at that for NaGaDeMon (National Game Design Month) in November. I would dearly love to have it in the bag so I can demo it at GottaCon, near the end of February.
  • Work on the Donnerkonig Chronicle, the setting and campaigns I started outlining for the A-Z Challenge last year. If nothing else, wrap up the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign. I really want to see how that turns out.
  • More Echelon Explorations books along the same lines as Polyhedral Pantheons. I think I’d really like to expand on the adaptations to Polyhedral Pantheons I’ve been writing about this week, and I’ve long wanted to expand on and polish my Campaign and Scenario Design material for publication.
  • … so many other projects. I have many ideas of things to work on, and I know people who come up with exciting things I want to be part of. It’s a shame I have so little time to work on the cool stuff.

And that’s just off the top of my head. I sometimes think I really do need a ticketing system to keep track of all the stuff I want to do.

Examples of Adapted Polyhedral Pantheons

A-Z 2015 "X"I’m calling ‘Examples’ close enough for ‘X Day’ of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

The last couple of posts have been about ways the Polyhedral Pantheons mechanism can be adapted to other purposes. In this post I’ll start applying the adaptations.

Adaptations of Polyhedral Pantheons

I’m going to start with just the initial work, assigning some attributes and seeing what comes out. I don’t plan to do much detailed interpretation at this point, but I will make some notes and some idea of what the results might mean.

I’m going to work with the icosahedron, the d20, for all examples below.

Physical Geography

Point Primary
A Forest
B Dwarves
C Aberrations
D Goblins
E Ruined
F Hills
G Purposed
H Mountains
I Plains
J Resource
K Cities
L Magic

I’ve applied four terrains (Forest, Hills, Mountains, Plains), three creature types (Goblins, Dwarves, and Aberrations), three modifiers (Ruined, Resource, Magic), and two civilization (Cities, Purposed) attributes. Altogether I get the following faces.

Face Attribute Attribute Attribute Notes
1 Forest Dwarves Aberrations
2 Mountains Resource Magic
3 Forest Ruined Hills
4 Purposed Plains Magic
5 Dwarves Purposed Mountains Power centre? Moving to engage goblins?
6 Ruined Plains Cities Also destroyed during aberration arrival? Invaded and abandoned?
7 Forest Dwarves Goblins  Counteralliance against dwarves+aberrations?
8 Hills Resource Cities
9 Aberrations Ruined Plains Initial catastrophic arrival location? Invaded and pillaged?
10 Goblins Hills Resource
11 Aberrations Purposed Plains Power centre
12 Goblins Mountains Resource
13 Dwarves Aberrations Purposed  Shared power centre?
14 Plains Cities Magic
15 Dwarves Goblins Mountains Counteralliance against dwarves+aberrations?
16 Ruined Hills Cities
17 Forest Goblins Hills
18 Purposed Mountains Magic
19 Forest Aberrations Ruined
20 Resource Cities Magic

Every pairing above appears twice, each with a different third attribute. I’m going to look at the populations first.

  • Goblins are matched to (Forest, Dwarves), (Hills, Resource), (Mountains, Resource), (Dwarves, Mountains), (Forest, Hills).
  • Dwarves are matched to (Forest, Aberrations), (Purposed, Mountains), (Forest, Goblins), (Aberrations, Purposed), (Goblins, Mountains)
  • Aberrations are matched to (Forest, Dwarves), (Ruined, Plains), (Purposed, Plains), (Dwarves, Purposed), (Forest, Ruined)

The faces provide elements relevant to the geography, not necessarily those who live there. The inhabitants of the region are attributes of the region, not the other way around.

Just on writing out the relationships above, I see a struggle happening. I’m going to say that because the aberrations are associated with regions that are mostly ruined and/or purposed, they have somehow ‘arrived’ (from below ground, over the sea, or outer space, doesn’t matter yet). I’m going to give in to temptation here: they are allied somehow with the dwarves (or possibly have infiltrated or subverted them). I think I’m going to say the dwarves have since made overtures to the goblins, looking for peace, and possibly an alliance against the aberrations.

I don’t know yet what all of the above means, but I’m guessing someone is going to get screwed pretty bad.

This accounts for thirteen of the twenty regions. I’m going to assume they’re fairly contiguous. I’m guessing the three factions are arranged in a more or less triangular arrangement, with the goblins and aberrations aware of each other and the dwarves heavily interfaced with both. The remaining regions are probably fairly closely linked to those sharing attributes. A ‘forested hills’ region is likely adjacent to another ‘forested hills’ region, or at least one that has forest or hills.

Because I decided some of the relationships and inferred an arrangement of the regions, I’m not going to randomize the placement or relationships.

I don’t know everything yet, but I think I’d be prepared to take this as a start.

City Wards

Point Primary
A Craft
B Large
C Academic
D Commercial
E Magical
F Prosperous
G Transients
H Impoverished
I Religious
J Industrial
K Minority
L Military

This doesn’t tell me much so far. I’ve got seven ward types (Craft, Academic, Commercial, Magical, Religious, Industrial, Military), then a mix of other attributes: size (Large), wealth (Prosperous, Impoverished), and population (Transients, Minority). This gives me the faces below.

Face Attribute Attribute Attribute Notes
1 Craft Large Academic
2 Impoverished Industrial Military Road builders?
3 Craft Magic Prosperous
4 Transients Religious Military  Paladins on quest, crusaders?
5 Large Transients Impoverished
6 Magic Religious Minority
7 Craft Large Commercial
8 Prosperous Industrial Minority
9 Academic Magic Religious Temple quarter?
10 Commercial Prosperous Industrial
11 Academic Transients Religious
12 Commercial Impoverished Industrial Dockyards?
13 Large Academic Transients ‘Academic pilgrims’? University?
14 Religious Minority Military
15 Large Commercial Impoverished Thieves’ Market?
16 Magic Prosperous Minority Elven quarter?
17 Craft Commercial Prosperous High-end markets?
18 Transients Impoverished Military Recruitment and levies? Training grounds?
19 Craft Academic Magic
20 Industrial Minority Military

I suspect some of the attributes need clarification. The ‘Craft’ attribute indicates artisans and other skilled workers, while ‘Industrial’ tends to be ‘more work’. You might expect smiths would gravitate to Craft wards and docks are more likely to be found in Industrial wards. Dockyards, on the other hand, where they actually build ships, might have one or both of the Craft and Industrial attributes.

‘Academic transients’ suggests temporary training schools, where students attend for a time before moving on (training complete or to other training). ‘Religious transients’ might be pilgrims or those on quest.

I’m not going to arrange these in any particular order. I think I can find explanations and descriptions for most of these, and then apply Last Gasp Grimoire‘s In Cörpathium dice drop mechanism to determine placement within any particular city.

Closing Comments

I think I’ll stop there for tonight. I skipped the Planar Geography adaptation for now because I want to consider further how it differs from Physical Geography. The Megadungeon and Campaign adaptations have attributes that are too abstract at this point. I’ll want to spend more time fleshing them out.

Working on Polyhedral Adaptations

A-Z 2015 "W"Yesterday I wrote about adapting the Polyhedral Pantheons mechanism for other purposes. And now my brain, because it’s like that, insists I make some notes about the attributes that might be used for the various adaptations.

Polyhedral Pantheons Adaptations

For (almost) every adaptation in yesterday’s post, I’ll present a draft table of attributes that can be used for that adaptation. Each table will have columns for various attribute types. The attributes should mostly be straightforward so I don’t expect to spend much time explaining them.

Physical Geography

Physical geography has many kinds of attributes. Terrain is an obvious starting point. Climate might come into it, but I suspect that with basically three (cold, temperate, hot; I don’t think I want to get higher-resolution than that) it’ll get rolled into another attribute type. Degree of settlement or civilization, on the other hand, ranges largely from ‘uninhabited’ to ‘metropolises’, with a couple special cases. I expect major inhabitants could be an attribute type, as could modifiers and special features.

d8 Terrain Climate Civilization Inhabitants Modifier
1 Desert Cold Uninhabited Humanoids Magic
2 Hills Temperate Borderland Aberrations Holy
3 Mountains Hot Villages Dragons Ruined
4 Plains Dry Towns Fey Haunted
5 Forest Wet Cities Outsiders Resource
6 Swamp Variable Metropolises Undead Landmark
7 Aquatic Planar Abandoned Animals Hazard
8 Underground Chaotic Purposed Monsters Fairytale

I’ll stick to eight of each attribute type for now. Assuming you use an icosahedron, a d20, you’d use less than a third of them, and I’m stretching to get as many as I did.

  • Underground means that ‘the important things’ are underground rather than on the surface
  • Variable climate means it changes, usually swinging strongly. Cold climates are usually cold, hot climates are usually hot, temperate move between these moderately, but ‘variable’ temperatures are more extreme. Similar things happen with humidity.
  • Planar climate means that the climate is not limited to real-world norms. There may be planar traits; the Ghost Hills might have a ‘Planar (negative)’ climate.
  • Chaotic climate goes beyond ‘variable’; the climate is unpredictable and can have massive shifts.
  • Uninhabited civilization means that nobody and nothing has taken control of the region.
  • Borderland means that civilization is starting to move into the area, but it is not settled.
  • VillagesTownsCitiesMetropolises indicate the degree of civilization and infrastructure present. ‘Villages’ suggests low infrastructure but relatively safe (unsafe would be borderland), while ‘metropolises’ suggests something like late Medieval Paris, which would draw resources from all over Europe.
  • Abandoned means that the region was once populated but almost everyone left.
  • Purposed civilization means that whoever lives there is probably for a reason, and needs resources from outside to survive. Military outposts often would have this.
  • The Inhabitants describe the general type of creature that commonly occupy or control the region. Others may be present, but these are the dominant or most common. It is possible to have more than one.
    • For many of these, specific subtypes might be chosen. You might leave it at ‘humanoids’ for the attribute but choose specific races for each face, or you might choose a race and apply that as the attribute.
  • The Modifiers mean basically what you choose them to mean, and could apply to any other attribute.

Remember that the attributes are used to mark unexpected elements. It is safe to assume that the primary inhabitants are humanoids unless otherwise indicated.

Planar Geography

d6 Alignment Gravity Time Morphic Elemental Magic
1 Good Normal Normal Alterable Earth Normal
2 Lawful Heavy Erratic Divinely Air Dead
3 Chaotic Light Timeless Highly Fire Enhanced
4 Evil No Gravity Outside Time Magically Water Impeded
5 Neutral Objective Directional Faster Sentient Positive Limited
6 Unaligned Subjective Directional Slower Static Negative Wild

This just nails down the basic planar traits. If I were working up an entire cosmology I would be inclined to then approach each plane using the Physical Geography table.

  • Out of Time is like Timeless, but time passed does not get dumped on the character retroactively. You could spend a year in a Timeless plane and die immediately on returning to the Prime Plane (one year of hunger, retroactively), but a year in an Outside Time plane is safe.
  • Faster time is like Erratic time but doesn’t change. It is ‘half of’ the Flowing time trait, where time passes faster on the other plane than in the Prime Plane.
  • Slower time is like Erratic time but doesn’t change. It is ‘half of’ the Flowing time trait, where time passes slower on the other plane than in the Prime Plane.

Again, look first to ‘how this is different’. Most planes will be ‘normal gravity, alterable morphic’, but can be expected to vary quite a bit on alignment, elemental traits, and magic.

City Wards

d8 Ward Type Wealth Size Inhabitants Qualities 1 Qualities 2 Disadvantages
1 Residential Poor Tiny Uninhabited Academic Prosperous Anarchy
2 Craft Low Small Transients Holy Site Racially Intolerant Cursed
3 Commercial Middle Medium Minority Insular Rumormongering Citizens Hunted
4 Industrial High Large Monster Magically Attuned Strategic Location Impoverished
5 Religious Wealthy Huge Notorious Superstitious Plagued
6 Military Opulent Segmented Pious Tourist Attraction
7 Magical
8 Criminal

This table will certainly want some expansion, if only to complete each column. I expect that several of these attributes are likely to be reused, especially the Ward Type and Inhabitants attribute types. I don’t doubt that there are some attributes above that really should be merged.

  • Ward Type indicates the normal activity that takes place in the ward. Remember that historically most people lived at or near their workplace, so in most of these places you will find many people living. ‘Residential’ wards are primarily just living space, with other interests having only a minor presence.
  • Segmented size means that the ward itself is functionally distributed throughout the city. I put it in Size for lack of a better idea. If I had a Modifies column I’d probably put it there.
  • Uninhabited means that the ward is either abandoned or nobody really lives there. For example, parks and graveyards are two places that nominally aren’t very well-populated, though there are people there at times.
  • Transients indicates that the area is largely populated with people who don’t live locally and are just ‘passing through’. Depending on the culture ‘passing through’ might take months or years.
  • Minority indicates that a race other than the local majority live here. Depending on the city this might result in each such ward having a different minority, or you might choose a single one that will be used for all relevant wards. In a ‘cosmopolitan’ settlement you might have multiple racial attributes like this to account for the number of races; you might not have an overwhelming majority, so even that race might be present in order to mark where you can find them.
  • Monster indicates that an alien creature type, something not of the dominant inhabitants or even similar to them, has a significant presence in the city because of this ward. For instance, a mindflayer enclave openly living in town.
  • Qualities 1 and Qualities 2 are taken directly from Pathfinder® Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide™ chapter on settlements (but split into two to balance the columns), as did the Disadvantages.

Characters and 13th Age-style Icons

I’m going to skip these two for now. I suspect they are hairy enough I’ll want to give them specific treatment another time.


I will, however, start something on megadungeons. I think the first step of building a megadungeon is choosing the regions and their associations,

d8 Region Type Challenges Connectors
1 Temple Inhabitants Outside
2 Cavern Traps Underdark
3 Monster Environment Planar Gate
4 Lake Terrain
5 Inhabited

I will want to expand this one, or at least fill in the blanks. Right now I would need all twelve populated entries just to fill all the points of an icosahedron (d20) and have enough to start with.

If nothing else I could expand some of these into attribute types themselves. Most of the entries above are fairly abstract. For instance, Monster could be expanded into several kinds, as could Environment and Terrain.

Traps, Environment and Terrain (under Hazard) are similar but different. Traps are often hidden or puzzle-oriented elements that can cause problems, Environment is a pervasive condition or status of the area that can have effect, while terrain is the physical (or possibly mental) arrangement of the place itself.

I think I’ll have to come back to this one, it’s a little too abstract yet.


I define a campaign as a series of related adventures that tell a story from beginning to end. ‘Story arc’ is another expression for the same idea.

As a rule I try to design nonlinear adventures and campaigns. I might pick a starting point and identify (but not aim for) potential end points, but beyond that it’s up to the players to decide what they’re going to do. For a campaign I would typically identify some 10-15 adventures or scenarios I could anticipate the PCs taking part in on their way through the campaign. For example, the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign identifies fourteen potential adventures — five are critical (the start point where they learn what’s going on and the four that get them the artifacts they’ll need), four that are actually gateways to or from other campaigns (where they might learn of other things that sound worth attention, and are there primarily to remind them that there are things going on besides ‘their story’), and the remainder are mostly ‘between here and there’ and side treks.

d8 Objective Reward Challenges Location
1 Achieve Resource Environment Physical Geography
2 Escape Artifact Terrain City Ward
3 Breach Information Inhabitants Megadungeon
4 Hold Help Competition Planar Geography
5 Obtain
6 Prevent

Again, I’ll want to expand on these, because they tend to be abstract and I don’t have very many.

The objectives are straight out of Sneak Attack Press’ Advanced Encounters: Alternate Objectives. Many adventures end up becoming “kill everything and take their stuff”, and that might be a good backup plan, but if you view an adventure as an effort to achieve a particular goal you can avoid a great deal of repetition. I have yet to see an adventure that doesn’t have at least a little bit of “kill things and take their stuff” happen, but a different primary goal can keep the adventures more varied.

Achieve objectives mean the adventure is about doing something. In context of a campaign, this should be something that could make it easier to succeed. Closing a planar gate might be an example, or reclaiming a captured fortress so the mountain pass can be used again.

Escape objectives mean the adventure is about getting out of something. In purest form it might start with the PCs captured and stripped of their gear (most players hate this), but scenarios such as sieges and rescues can qualify under escape objectives. ‘Chase adventures’ where the PCs try to avoid capture (or capture someone) might count as well.

Breach objectives are a variation of, and almost the exact opposite of, escape objectives. Instead of wanting to get out, the PCs want to get in or through. Yes, they could get through the Kobold Tunnels by killing all the kobolds, but they might find that sneaking through, avoiding traps and patrols, and fighting only when needed might be better.

Hold objectives focus on withstanding something until either it goes away or help arrives. In many ways these are like escape objectives except the PCs basically stay where they are despite efforts to make them leave (or die). An escape scenario might be about problem avoidance, a hold objective might be more about resource management, ensuring there is enough (food, hit points, whatever) to outlast the opposition. Many survival scenarios could fit into this category.

Obtain objectives are all about getting something. When the PCs need the Unobtainium MacGuffin in order to complete their quest, this is the objective to use. Not all things to be obtained are specific objects, sometimes the PCs will need information, general resources, or an alliance. An achieve objective is about doing something (which might mean creating something), an obtain objective is all about walking away with something they didn’t have before.

Prevent objectives are about making something not happen. Keep the king alive despite the assassins, don’t let kidnappers steal the baby heir, and so on.

The rewards are abstract here because they necessarily vary so much by setting and campaign.

Resource rewards are generally useful resources such as ‘treasure’, food, and so on.

Artifact rewards are specific items that will be needed (or just make things easier) later.

Information rewards can lead the PCs to other adventures or other rewards, or provide some other intangible benefit based on knowledge. This might also include access to new spells, feats, and similar benefits.

Help rewards result in alliance or other assistance from the rewarder.

Location makes use of other polyhedral adaptations: physical geography, city ward, megadungeon (for individual dungeon description), or planar geography.

Closing Comments

I could expand on all of these some more, but I’m somewhat over 2100 words for this post. I’m going to knock off here for the night.

Tomorrow, I’m going to present some examples of what these might look like when applied.


Variations on a Theme: Adapting Polyhedral Pantheons

A-Z 2015 "V"I’ve been doing a lot of work on Polyhedral Pantheons this month. The processes and mechanisms were devised around creating a pantheon, but they can be adapted to other purposes.

Primary elements of the process and its results are:

  • Attributes are placed on sites (points and/or faces) of a polyhedron.
  • Entities are described based on the attributes assigned to each site.
  • Entity attributes are ‘coherent’, in that nearby entities will share some attributes.

I can think of several things this can be used for.

The In Cörpathium Mechanism

In Cörpathium

In Cörpathium, click to read the excellent article

The polyhedral allocation mechanism used in Polyhedral Pantheons can be combined with Last Gasp Grimoire‘s In Cörpathium dice drop mechanism.

  • Assign twelve attributes to the points of a d20, and each face represents an entity of interest. In In Cörpathium these are ‘boroughs’ (‘wards’ or ‘neighborhoods’ if you prefer).
  • Build a d20 table with the resulting entities.
  • Roll dice (In Cörpathium uses a ‘seven dice set’ — d4, d6, d8, 2d10, d12, d20 — plus more d20 depending on how big the city is), keeping them reasonably close together.
  • The number on each die indicate which entity was rolled.
  • The physical placement of each die indicates the relative location of the entity.
  • The orientation, the ‘corners of the face’ of each die, is used to determine what each entity is related to.

Last Gasp has rules for resolving duplicate rolls and ‘mandatory selections’ (some wards are always present in Cörpathium, and some in particular locations, and as I recall some specific relationships).

This mechanism is referenced fairly heavily below. It could also be used in Polyhedral Pantheons, and I expect I’ll include that when I write ‘Third Pass’ development (building the mythology), but I haven’t discussed it yet.

Adaptations of Polyhedral Pantheons

Here are some ways the Polyhedral Pantheons mechanism could be repurposed.

Physical Geography

Assign terrain types, major inhabitants, and major geographical modifiers to each point of a polyhedron. The faces could then represent geographical regions with those attributes.

A face with (forest, elf, magic) is so easily recognized it’s cliche. The  adjacent faces (forest, elf, ruins), (swamp, elf, magic), and (forest, goblin, magic) are perhaps not as common.

I would use this mechanism to identify what regions are present, but I would probably would not try to reflect the physical relationships suggested by the polyhedron. That is, I would not try to keep all forest faces together, all elven faces together, and so on. The only way to do that completely is to use the polyhedron as the geography. It would probably be more useful to populate the polyhedron and use a subset of the faces, placing judiciously.

Given the icosahedral (d20) point allocations below,

Point Primary
A Forest
B Elf
C Magic
D Ruins
E Goblin
F Hills
G Haunted
H Holy
I War
J City
K Unholy
L Resource

we get the following faces.

Face Attribute Attribute Attribute
1 Forest Elf Magic
2 Holy City Resource
3 Forest Goblin Hills
4 Haunted War Resource
5 Elf Haunted Holy
6 Goblin War Unholy
7 Forest Elf Ruins
8 Hills City Unholy
9 Magic Goblin War
10 Ruins Hills City
11 Magic Haunted War
12 Ruins Holy City
13 Elf Magic Haunted
14 War Unholy Resource
15 Elf Ruins Holy
16 Goblin Hills Unholy
17 Forest Ruins Hills
18 Haunted Holy Resource
19 Forest Magic Goblin
20 City Unholy Resource

Between them I have identified twenty region types that might be present on this map. I might decide that Face 1 is the elven homeland in this geography, and Face 3 is the hilljack homeland. Face 6 is overrun by jhesiri, and the kouzelnik are rooting around Face 19 while groups of them are fighting over something in Face 9.

I haven’t explored this idea much yet, but I suspect that perhaps a third each ‘terrain’, ‘major inhabitant’, and ‘modifier’ would work pretty well. The example I through together has only two races (elf and goblin), two terrain types (forest and hills), and seven modifiers (magic, city, resource, war, holy, unholy, haunted, and ruins).

The In Cörpathium mechanism could work well here. It might not, because the In Cörpathium mechanism probably works better when there can be more artificial divisions, but I’d be prepared to give it a try.

Planar Geography

Planar geography is in some ways even simpler because the combinations don’t need to really make sense, and it can be appropriate to have the resulting geography directly reflect the polyhedron used. In fact, I have long used a planar cosmology that has the elements arranged ‘tetrahedrally’ (that is, equidistant in a notional three-dimensional space), much as with the Elemental Tetratheon. I can easily imagine using that very arrangement (for the elemental and alignment planar traits) as a starting point for a planar cosmology. Three planes of dominant fire, three of dominant earth, and so on, and three each of good, law, evil, and chaos. I still wouldn’t have an evil plane of fire here, just as there are no evil fire deities in the Elemental Tetratheon, but that’s fine.

Come to that, the ‘least deities’ of each subpantheon of the tetratheon, the ones on the ‘points’ touching two faces of that element (i.e. the last three listed in each subpantheon) could be comparable to the para-elemental planes. This gives me twelve more planes, one each being the path from one specific element to another specific element, without being a route back.

The In Cörpathium mechanism could work well here. In some ways there are even fewer restrictions on connections than with geography, but there are also fewer rules about ‘sensible placement’, and almost nothing about what links make sense and what links don’t.

City Wards

This might be a narrowly-focused application of physical geography, above. The attributes might focus more on the nature of the wards of a city: trade, religion, wealth or nobility, military, etc. Or the local population, by race (and the attribute highlights difference from the local norm: you might have a halfling enclave in a city otherwise full of humans, so you only mention the halfling attribute because it’s different and you don’t have to have a ‘human attribute’).

In this case you might have some that retain the physical relationship suggested by the polyhedron. If you have a small enclave of halflings they might all be clustered together, while the market areas are scattered around the town.

I suspect this could work well, perhaps very well, when you have settlements with common characteristics. For instance, within a particular kingdom you might use the same attribute polyhedron (and thus the same ‘d20 table’) for all cities in the kingdom. You might vary the number of dice based on city size, any particular ward type might or might not be present, but there will be a strong commonality to the cities that could make then quite distinct from those of a neighboring kingdom.

The In Cörpathium mechanism can be expected to work well here. This is what it was made for.


This could be a powerful tool for creating NPCs with similar nature. Use attributes based on personalities, affiliations, goals, locations, and perhaps conditions (such as ‘secret’, likely indicating that the NPC either is hiding something, or has learned something). Again this gives some coherency to the result by allowing for multiple NPCs with similar nature to be present, giving a pattern of sorts for PCs to recognize.

The In Cörpathium mechanism might work here, but I expect that a GM would really only use it when looking for ideas for a scenario. If the scenario is understood and the GM is just looking to expand the cast then the primary relationships would likely already be known, but some secondary relationships, or relationships between secondary characters, might be randomly generated. Physical location of the dice is likely of lesser importance as well.

13th Age-Style Icons

You might use this mechanism to build a series of icons similar to those in 13th Age. Assign the attributes to each point and then build around that. This is much like the Characters section above, but the resulting entities have much broader scope and influence than you would normally see in NPCs.

The In Cörpathium mechanism could work better here than would be expected with normal NPCs because of the expanded scope they have. The NPC relationships are fairly constrained by their relative lack of scope and relevance apart from the scenario itself, but icons have a much longer reach. Still, I expect I would probably want to make most of these decisions myself.

Or perhaps not. Icons are not as powerful as gods, but they take a similar place in a 13th Age-style setting. Perhaps it would be a good approach.


This mechanism probably isn’t so useful for a regular dungeon, mostly because a regular dungeon is likely to be too internally consistent to really benefit. That is, if the dungeon is a goblin warren you’re likely to find ‘just goblin warren stuff there (mostly)’, and a white dragon’s lair is probably going to be similarly homogeneous.

A megadungeon, though, is almost always broken down into regions that differ, sometimes wildly. The node-based megadungeon has a dwarven safeholddark temple, mad wizard’s laboratory, dragon’s lair, aboleth enclave, and another half dozen regions more. I can see the polyhedral mechanism being a very powerful tool for an initial outline. One point might be ‘outdoors’, another ‘underdark’ (indicating entrances and links to the underdark respectively), then various region types or characteristics on the points.

The In Cörpathium mechanism would be a wonderful fit here for determining relationships between the regions. The physical placement might or might not be relevant, but in a megadungeon almost anything can connect to almost anything.


I define a campaign as a series of related scenarios that has a beginning and an end. Open-ended adventuring might happen in a ‘setting’, but a campaign tells a story. I suspect many people might call this a ‘story arc within a campaign’. As a result, I would expect a campaign to include repeating and shared elements from adventure to adventure. Not all attributes need to be present in each adventure, and not all adventures will even get used (but each costs me maybe 10-15 minutes if I don’t use it, just enough to make notes about what it is and move on).

This sounds like it should be a good fit. Put attributes relevant to the theme or purpose of the campaign on the points of the polyhedron, then the faces are the ‘adventures’. For the Donnerkonig Heirs campaign ‘artifact’ might be one of the attributes (there are four artifacts associated with the Donnerkonig, and they need to be retrieved), ‘gateway’ (adventure that potentially leads to another campaign), and so on. This identifies something of the nature of each adventure that I can build on.

The In Cörpathium mechanism fits quite well here, I think. I try to design campaigns (and each adventure) to be as nonlinear as possible, so the node-based graph that comes out of this can be a good fit. It also encourages me to get some variety in the adventures while still allowing me to constrain them to certain characteristics. I can still do my high-level design in an abstract manner and ensure all required adventures are present and accessible, without forcing them into an ‘adventure path’.

Closing Comments

I suspect that the d12 would likely see less use than normal, mostly because making five disparate attributes work together can be hard. However, having twenty attributes available to work with might be useful.

In all the discussion above I had attributes always on points, with the faces being the result. Because the points are often descriptive attributes I don’t expect to make them entities, so assigning other attributes to faces is pointless nonsensical. However, I can see times when putting attributes on faces could be useful. Any attribute assigned to a point will be associated with multiple faces. Assigning an attribute to a face means it applies to only that face (because you are not creating entities for the points). You might put a race attribute on a face, for the one ward of the city where that race lives. You might put a haunted attribute on a face for a region full of ghosts.

For that matter, the ‘attributes on the points’ don’t need to be descriptive. They might themselves represent entities relevant to the process. If I had a more developed setting for the Donnerkonig Chronicle I might create a polyhedron with the various entities in the setting on the points and use it to decide which of them (and it would be more than one much of the time). Similarly, I can easily, easily imagine in a 13th Age-style setting having an ‘icon polyhedron’ with the twelve icons on the points (the Prince of Shadows can appear anywhere, so leave him off) that might be used to indicate which ones might be interested in any particular event.

I have spent a lot of time working on Polyhedral Pantheons, but the underlying mechanism could be used in many other ways.

Ultimate Shu-shi Deities Post

A-Z 2015 "U"As much as I like the Shu-shi pantheon and the implied culture, and as delighted as I am at the results, and as glad I am to have this pantheon drafted, I don’t mean this is the best Shu-shi article ever. Even if there is only one other to compare it to.

It’s just the last one. That’s what ‘ultimate’ means, after all.

What can I say? It is ‘U Day’ in the A-Z Blog Challenge.

Zhengchang Shen

These are deities that are neither particularly auspicious nor particularly uncanny.

Deity Sex Alignment Domains Chosen Weapon
Diao Wen M Neutral Good Rune, Earth, Good, Plant, Weather Iron Brush
Shouwei A Lawful Good Protection, Law, Good, Trickery, Weather Sansetsukon (three-section staff)
Jiaohua M Lawful Neutral Knowledge, Community, Law, Liberation, Trickery Jutte
Taiyang F Neutral Sun, Air, Travel, Animal, Weather Longbow
Qiangda F Neutral Strength, Water, Plant, Animal, Weather Tetsubo
Piao Li F Neutral Earth, Nobility, Rune, Knowledge Dan Bong
Haiyang M Neutral Water, Luck, Healing, Strength Net
Weifeng F Neutral Air, Luck, Repose, Sun Monk’s Spade
Liangshi M Neutral Plant, Rune, Healing, Strength Flail
Jiachu M Neutral Animal, Luck, Sun, Strength Spear

Diao Wen

  • Domains Rune, Earth, Good, Plant, Weather
  • Alignment Neutral Good
  • Chosen Weapon Iron brush
  • Symbol Empty plaque with a brush poised to write

Daio Wen is the god of runes and mystic writing, and the closest the Shu-shi have to a god of magic. Rather than the spectacle and mystery and grandeur of magic, though, Daio Wen focuses on more subtle and practical, pragmatic effects.

His shrines are ideally placed on rocky mounds in forests and bamboo groves. They are open to the weather the pillars holding the roof are often painted or carved with glyphs and sigils of tranquility and protection. There are places for plaques to be hung for additional or specific purpose.

Daily prayers are offered at dawn, ritually practicing calligraphy. Upon completion the sigil will briefly animate and disappear, leaving the surface clean for the next day’s calligraphy.

Followers are known as Tuzhi, ‘drawings’, as they are themselves symbols of the world’s thoughts.

Diao Wen manifests as a middle-aged Shu-shi with calloused hands and ink-stained sleeves. He is normally quite peaceable, but is frightfully adept with his iron brush and at need his drawings will come to life to serve him.


  • Domains Protection, Law, Good, Trickery, Weather
  • Alignment Lawful Good
  • Chosen Weapon Sansetsukon (three-section staff)
  • Symbol Square jade plaque with the glyph for ‘safety’ in gold

Shouwei is wholly dedicated to protecting the Shu-shi, and has grown beyond many basic needs and desires. Shouwei is unfailingly polite and gracious, fair of face and temperament, but is now entirely asexual and close only to Jingcai as mentor and student.

Shouwei’s shrines are refuges accessible to those in danger, offering succor and comfort to those who find their way peacefully. Any who would try to enter with negative intention will find themselves mazed and confused.

Prayers are offered daily at dawn. Shouwei’s followers and Jingcai’s followers often share quarters or are located close to each other, and it is common for them to offer their prayers together as they train.

Followers are called Baohuzhe, ‘protectors’. Being physically attractive is not a strict requirement, but a well-formed body is taken as an indicator of a well-formed mind and spirit. As much as is practicable without distracting from their duties, they are expected to do the best they can.

Shouwei manifests as a beautiful Shu-shi wearing flowing silks cut to not inhibit movement in battle, and wielding a sansetsukon, a three-section staff.


  • Domains Knowledge, Community, Law, Liberation, Trickery
  • Alignment Lawful Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Jutte
  • Symbol Scroll, with brush poised to write

Jiaohua is seen by most as a protégé of Zhongli, and investigates mysteries for his patron. Few know that he is also the god of spies, those who seek to learn secrets others wish to hide. As an adjunct to Zhongli he is not accorded the greater respect received by the Jixiang, but is insulated from the discomfort that would reduce him to Bukeishiyi.

His shrines seem to be simple libraries, where official but less important or sensitive information might be archived. They usually have covert entrances and exits, cunningly hidden spyholes and listening posts.

Prayers are offered in midafternoon, after those to Zhongli are complete, partly to reinforce the perception of their relationship and partly because it frees Jiaohua’s followers to snoop during lunch.

Followers are called Zhentan, ‘detectives’, for their investigative and deductive skills.

Jiaohua manifests as a nondescript Shu-shi with ordinary, unremarkable features. Few remember him being present if they do not interact with him.


  • Domains Sun, Air, Travel, Animal, Weather
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Longbow
  • Symbol Golden phoenix

This goddess of the sun is the daughter of Huanghou and heir presumptive. Lovely to look upon, well-mannered, but not yet mature enough to start rising to her inheritance. Qiangda is her mentor and lover, though presumably she will find another to assist when it is time for her to birth her heir.

Her shrines are always in open areas, exposed to sun and wind and weather. They are primarily marked by symbols on the ground rather than actual structures.

Prayers are offered daily at noon, when the sun is highest and brightest.

Her followers are called Guangming, ‘brights’ or ‘lights’. As they grow in service to Taiyang, their skin color, and later hair, lighten toward Taiyang’s golden colors.

Taiyang manifests as a beautiful young Shu-shi with golden hair, skin, and eyes. She has no known less-conspicuous manifestation; her alternate manifestation as a golden phoenix is even more noticeable.


  • Domains Strength, Water, Plant, Animal, Weather
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Tetsubo
  • Symbol Sea dragon

This goddess of strength and of the ocean is Taiyang’s mentor, training her to the responsibilities she will assume when she inherits her mother’s position. Despite this responsibility, she could not resist Taiyang’s beauty and spirit and has become her lover as well.

Her shrines are located on the shore, and ideally on islands somewhat offshore. They are strongly built of stone to withstand the weather and fierce waves of the sea.

Prayers are offered daily at dawn, as the petitioner seeks strength and endurance for the day, and some foresight as to the unavoidable things that are to come.

Followers are called Langchao, ‘tidal waves’, for their great strength and indefatigable spirit.

Qiangda manifests as a middle-aged Shu-shi with blue-black hair and a determined mein. She also manifests as an immense and sinuous grey-blue sea dragon.

Piao Li

  • Domains Earth, Nobility, Rune, Knowledge
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Dan Bong
  • Symbol Faceted gem embedded in raw stone

Piao Li is the goddess of spirit of the land, and all the secrets it holds. When properly approached, she may be willing to share those secrets for the betterment of the land.

Her shrines are most often caves underground, where one with great patience can listen to the earth and gain its wisdom.

Prayers are offered daily after sundown, while in contact with her spirit. Ideally this means barefoot on natural stone, but barefoot in the cool earth will suffice. Prayers offered on worked stone or wood are only rarely heard, and only in great need.

Followers are called Baoshi, ‘gems’. Small stones that can be great treasures.

Piao Li manifests variously as a Shu-shi with iron-grey hair and earth-brown skin, or as an earth elemental.


  • Domains Water, Luck, Healing, Strength
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Net
  • Symbol Fishing boat or carp

Haiyang is a river god, always happy to be moving within his limits, bringing clean and fresh water where needed.

His shrines are over streams or near pools of clear flowing water, never ponds or other relative stagnant water. Many choose to bathe at the shrine for the cleanliness of the water.

Prayers are offered daily at dawn, while fetching drinking and cleaning water for the day. At need Haiyang will accept water fetched for irrigation, but does not countenance more permanent irrigation methods such as ditches and channels that draw fresh water from his home. He is angered should anyone take steps to pollute his rivers and streams.

Followers are called Liyu, ‘carp’. Many legends surround this fish, associating it with strength, persistence, and profit, favorable outcomes.

Haiyan manifests variously as a young Shu-shi with wet hair and and large smile, a carp when he wants to wish someone good fortune, and even a river dragon when enraged.


  • Domains Air, Luck, Repose, Sun
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Monk’s Spade
  • Symbol White fan, or a fan with auspicious glyphs

Weifeng is a goddess of purification and serendipity, and of hard work and exhaustion. Her favored aspects are only seen after being earned, as her husband Liangshi has learned.

Her shrines are found anywhere Shu-shi work unusually hard, and provide places where an exhausted Shu-shi can rest for a time. They is usually some sort of incense burning to chase away unfavorable spirits and to lift the mind before the Shu-shi returns to work.

Prayers are offered always at dusk, at the end of a day of work. Prayers offered to Weifeng are often shared with Liangshi, as they share all things as husband and wife should.

Followers are called Fendouzhe, ‘strivers’. Regardless of ability, they can be counted on to try to achieve more, and most often this hard work pays off.

Weifeng manifests as a Shu-shi, most often old when granting ease but young when celebrating a serendipitous result.


  • Domains Plant, Rune, Healing, Strength
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Flail
  • Symbol Basket of rice

Liangshi is a god of farmers and those who work long before their reward. As with his wife Weifeng, reward comes after work, and work well done is its own reward.

His shrines are always located near fields and paddies, where farmers work. They are simple affairs, stone markers where a farmer can offer brief prayers on his way to and from his work.

Prayers are offered at dusk, just as they are to Weifeng. Followers often offer prayers to Weifeng and Liangshi together, thanking them for the opportunity to work and improve and earn what is needed.

Followers are called Nongmin, ‘farmers’, whether they sow and reap or not. Those who do not work the land but must make plans and start long before gaining from it can benefit from following this god.

Lianghi manifests as an older, sun-browned and weathered Shu-shi with gnarly muscle and calloused hands.


  • Domains Animal, Luck, Sun, Strength
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Spear
  • Symbol Bull’s horns

Jiachu is the god of livestock and animal husbandry. Shu-shi usually do not eat a lot of meat, subsisting primarily on grain and vegetables and fish. Meat is usually reserved for celebrations and major events.

His shrines are usually located somewhat away from residences, and always downstream or far enough away from water the water supply to avoid contamination. The shrines include a sheltered area to house the livestock as needed (chicken houses, barns, and so on), and the altar is used not only for ceremonial sacrifice but for butchering.

Prayers to Jiachu are offered before dawn, while the petitioner is doing the early morning chores to care for his stock.

Followers are called Muren, ‘herders’. They spend much of their time ensuring their animals are well cared for and healthy.

Jiachu manifests as a Shu-shi, unusually clad in leather rather than cotton or other cloth. Unless inappropriate he is likely to be mounted on a pony and holding a goad such as he might use to herd animals.

Closing Comments

This completes the first draft of all Shu-shi deities.

I wanted to create a pantheon here that is easily recognizable, and I think I did that by retaining much of the ‘halfling nature’. Home, safety, predictability, and community are all major elements of that culture.

At the same time, I wanted to introduce something different, to avoid the simply re-implementing a ‘normal halfling culture’. The veneer of Chinese culture — changing the milieu, the dress, and some of the social expectations — provided that, without greatly contradicting other expectations. I don’t think I could have created this pantheon for dwarves, and half-orcs would probably end up being analogues of the Mongol horde.

This completes 72 deities to be included as examples in Polyhedral Pantheons. There are eight more to be done, the Samoora Pantheon, then I can start my revisions and editing.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover