Designing a Pantheon: Base Design

Time to get started.

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, deities can be mechanically defined as simply as a name, an alignment, a set of domains (and possibly subdomains), and a favored weapon. World building calls for a lot more work, but the base mechanics are a pretty functional place to start. The domains themselves will each identify an area of interest to the deity, but the combinations are what really start to differentiate them.

After all, a deity of Fire, Glory, and War is likely to be somewhat different from a deity of Fire, Artifice, and Knowledge. They share the Fire domain, but the other domains will influence exactly how.

To start, then, we will need each deity to have a set of assigned domains. These domains will also identify each deity’s alignment (convention calls for a deity with an alignment to have that alignment domain, and the alignment domain is only assigned to deities with that alignment).

I’m kind of pattern-bound. My mind is structured enough that I follow the same patterns of thought and behavior, which is great for me professionally but limits my application of imagination. Thankfully, I’ve found some ways to fake it, and I’m going to apply one of them here.

The Polyhedral Pantheons process let’s me assign domains to deities in a way that gives me patterns I can recognize and build off, but leads to situations that force me to get creative in explaining them. This exercise leads me to a pantheon I would not have invented given just a list of names and domains, but that has a degree of sense to it.

In this case, I’m going to start with a ‘d20 worksheet‘. I’ve chosen 32 of the 35 domains published by Paizo, and each will be assigned to one ‘face’ or ‘point’ in the worksheet. I do like many of the third-party domains, but they tend to be very specific to purpose while the Paizo domains are mostly more general. I excluded 3 domains (Void and Scalykind because they are more specific than I like, and Animal because I have the idea of assigning each deity a ‘totem animal’ — each will have an additional ‘animal’ domain… or now that I think of it, perhaps a druidic ‘terrain domain’).

The remaining 32 domains I split into two groups. The first are ‘primal forces’ (Air, Earth, Fire, Water; Chaos, Evil, Good, Law; Darkness, Death, Magic, Sun). The elemental and alignment domains have obvious dichotomies, which suggests the last four might also. Darkness and Sun could clearly oppose each other, which suggests Death and Magic could as well. I didn’t plan for this, and in fact realized it just now, so I’m going to keep the idea handy in case I can do something with it.

The second set are ‘mortal interests’: Artifice, Charm, Community, Destruction, Glory, Healing, Knowledge, Liberation, Luck, Madness, Nobility, Plant, Protection, Repose, Rune, Strength, Travel, Trickery, War, Weather. The divisions clearly aren’t perfect, but they’ll do for now.

Now, to assign these to the faces and points of the d20 worksheet. I’ve got 20 ‘mortal interests’ and 12 ‘primal forces’, the d20 worksheet has 20 faces and 12 points. I randomly assigned a mortal interest domain to each face of the worksheet and a primal force domain to each point of the worksheet. I made two swaps: I had a couple deities with both the Law and the Chaos domains (many pairs of domains are shared; it’s part of why this process works so nicely), and I thought the Plant and Weather domains would be better if I swapped their assignments. This table below is otherwise randomly assigned.

DeityFace/PointOppositeAlignmentWeightPrimary DomainSecondary Domains
Unnamed120NE0ProtectionFire, Water, Evil
Unnamed219CN0LiberationMagic, Chaos, Darkness
Unnamed318LN0DestructionFire, Law, Death
Unnamed417N0ArtificeEarth, Air, Darkness
Unnamed516N0PlantWater, Earth, Magic
Unnamed615LG0HealingLaw, Air, Good
Unnamed714N0StrengthFire, Water, Sun
Unnamed813CG0TrickeryDeath, Chaos, Good
Unnamed912LE0MadnessEvil, Law, Air
Unnamed1011CN0WeatherSun, Death, Chaos
Unnamed1110NE0CommunityEvil, Earth, Air
Unnamed129CN0ReposeSun, Magic, Chaos
Unnamed138NE0KnowledgeWater, Evil, Earth
Unnamed147NG0NobilityAir, Good, Darkness
Unnamed156N0GloryWater, Sun, Magic
Unnamed165LG0CharmLaw, Death, Good
Unnamed174N0LuckFire, Sun, Death
Unnamed183N0TravelEarth, Magic, Darkness
Unnamed192LE0WarFire, Evil, Law
Unnamed201CG0RuneChaos, Good, Darkness
UnnamedALN0FireProtection, Destruction, Strength, Luck, War
UnnamedBKN0WaterProtection, Plant, Strength, Knowledge, Glory
UnnamedCJNE0EvilProtection, Madness, Community, Knowledge, War
UnnamedDIN0SunStrength, Weather, Repose, Glory, Luck
UnnamedEHLN0LawDestruction, Healing, Madness, Charm, War
UnnamedFGN0DeathDestruction, Trickery, Weather, Charm, Luck
UnnamedGFN0EarthArtifice, Plant, Community, Knowledge, Travel
UnnamedHEN0MagicLiberation, Plant, Repose, Glory, Travel
UnnamedIDN0AirArtifice, Healing, Madness, Community, Nobility
UnnamedJCCN0ChaosLiberation, Trickery, Weather, Repose, Rune
UnnamedKBNG0GoodHealing, Trickery, Nobility, Charm, Rune
UnnamedLAN0DarknessLiberation, Artifice, Nobility, Travel, Rune

None of the deities are named yet. The Face/Point identifies which site is being assigned, the ‘Opposite’ is the face or point opposite that one, Alignment is derived from the assigned domains (most are Neutral), the Weight can be calculated later to help me determine deity rankings. The Primary Domain is the domain most closely associated with the deity (i.e. the primary thematic driver), and Secondary Domains are the other domains assigned to the deity.

I’m not going to dive deeply into examining the assignments in this post, but a few things did catch my eye.

  • Deity 1 has Protection as their primary domain, but also Evil… a trait not often associated with being protective. ‘Extortion’ could be an obvious take, but I can also imagine a ‘protector’ that has been tainted by what it is protecting against, or a protector of evil beings? A protective demon: one might call on it because the protection offered is worth the cost in souls? Okay, ‘Protection and Evil’ aren’t normally paired, but I can see ways this can work. (That this deity also has Fire and Water isn’t so hard to reconcile, really… and suddenly I have visions of Castle Heterodyne: utterly ruthless, protective of Mechanicsburg and of the Heterodynes, and largely steam-driven…).
    • Opposed by point 20: Rune, Chaos, Good, Darkness.
  • Deity 2: Liberation, Magic, Chaos, Darkness is easy to explain, in comparison.
    • Opposed by point 19: War, Fire, Evil, Law.
  • Deity 4: Artifice, Earth, Air, Darkness. Another easy one, first thing that comes to mind is one who creates flying machines of starmetal.
    • Opposed by point 17: Luck, Fire, Sun, Death.
  • Deity 7: Strength, Fire, Water, Sun. BEACH GOD. Too easy, I may want to look for something else… but SURFERGOD amuses me.
    • Opposed by point 14: Nobility, Air, Good, Darkness.
  • Deity 11: Community, Evil, Earth, Air. I’ve seen Community often paired with Law or Good, not often with Evil. This one also might require some thought. That it also has Earth and Air suggests there might be something about dust involved.
    • Opposed by point 10: Weather, Sun, Death, Chaos.
  • Deity 18: Travel, Earth, Magic, Darkness.
    • Opposed by point 3: Destruction, Fire, Law, Death.
    • Shares Earth and Magic with deity 4 (Artifice and Air)… they could be allied, could be rivals, might be totally unconnected but I don’t feel that’s right, yet.
  • Deity 19: War, Fire, Evil, Law. This one can be pretty easy.
    • Opposed by point 2: Liberation, Magic, Chaos, Darkness.

I haven’t really looked at the point assignments, but since they have more domains I expect they might be a little more work to make sense of, because they have more connections. This is not a problem! I just haven’t looked hard at them yet.

Regarding opposition, this is purely a matter of how the faces and points are arranged on the polyhedron. There is not necessarily any relationship between the deities represented by these sites. In fact, it is just as likely that neighbors might be thematically opposed because they share two domains… but it’s not a horrible place to start, either. As it happens in this case, I see several places the opposite sites actually could be thematically opposed: 2 (Liberation, Magic, Chaos, Darkness) and 19 (War, Fire, Evil, Law) could easily be enemies.

The last thing I tend to look at is alignment frequency. The larger polyhedrons tend to have many neutral deities, and I’m okay with that (I favor an allegiance system over alignment most of the time). I do like to see the relative frequencies, mostly because it can help me identify ‘heroic’ and ‘villainous’ deities. I was a little startled to find that all alignments are directly represented except chaotic evil. I didn’t plan for that, but I’m not in the least bothered by it, either. It does suggest that chaotic evil priests and whatnot are anomalies, that while the society might have some chaotic or evil elements, the two together are not common.

LawfulNeutralChaotic#
Good2226
Neutral214420
Evil2406
#6206

Closing Comments

So far, I’m pretty happy with what I see. Some of the assignments give me deities that could be very easy to develop because all the pieces fit together in obvious ways. These deities make for figures easily recognizable to players. Some of the assignments will take a little more thought, and in my experience those tend to lead to more interesting deities. I don’t see anything I can’t work with, and I already see some potential connections between the deities, based on domains alone.

I’ve almost got something here sufficient for play purposes. From a world building perspective there’s quite a bit left to do, and I’ll be doing that in later posts.

3 Comments

    • Hi! thanks for stopping by.

      I’ve created a few pantheons as world building exercises — so much can be inferred about the world by understanding the deities and myths that come from it.

      I see you’re writing about gemstone folklore, but while the stories and beliefs around different gems interests me I’ve never really had time to dig into them much. Your series this year could be a good start for me.

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