Divine Trappings: Anatomy of a God

What makes up a deity?

Leaving aside the philosophical elements, we can start pretty simply. In fact, we could get by with as little as a name (so we can identify which is which), an alignment (so we have some idea of what team they’re on and what their personality might be like), domains (so we know what powers they grant their clerics) and favored weapon (because clerics gain proficiency in their deity’s favored weapon, and it affects the shape of the spiritual weapon spell.

This is not enough to satisfy most world builders, but as far as the game is concerned, it’s enough.

It would be nice to know more. But what?

Entity Template

When writing up a deity, or any other significant entity, I start with my Entity Template. This template is focused on story-related and world building elements, and has a section on mechanics.

  • Name, including titles and aliases
  • Role, the entity’s theme, goals, threads, and rewards. I would likely put portfolio, the primary interests of the deity, in this section.
  • Relationships, how the entity is associated with others, and may be positive, negative, or conflicted/neutral.
  • Identification, how you know you’re dealing with the entity: description/appearance, signature, location, and scope. For a deity I’d also add symbols.
  • Status, what the deity is up to: entanglements, hooks, and events.
  • Mechanics, the rules-based elements of the entity.
  • Story, describing the history of the entity (and often skipped altogether; the status often is sufficient).

The Entity Template is pretty well defined elsewhere, so let’s focus on the Mechanics section. This is basically freeform in the template because the template is used for entities of many types, so let’s make something more specific to purpose.

Mechanics Section

Mechanically, what do we want to know about a deity? We can start with the basic stat block.

  • Alignment, giving us an idea of the attitudes and allies of the deity.
  • Domains, because they define the powers granted to followers of the deity.
  • Subdomains, which refine and make the domains more specific.
  • Favored weapon, because this affects weapon proficiency and some other (relatively minor) elements.

There are some other mechanical elements of interest.

Heralds, Allies, and Summoned Creatures

Summoning and calling spells are fairly generic. The summon monster spells share lists of creatures to be called, and the planar ally spells just refer to outsiders by their Hit Dice. I’d like to be more precise and more varied.

  • Identity allies (6 HD, 12 HD, and 18 HD, or groups of creatures coming to those totals) that can be called by planar ally spells.
  • Identify variant creature lists for summon monster spells.

Deities can also have specific, unique creatures in their service, who act in their name and as their hands in the mortal realms. These are heralds, and often are powers in their own right. It might be possible to call them using planar ally or summon monster, or it might be necessary to use gate. I like to try to identify at least one major herald and possibly several lesser, and provide at least enough of a description that I can flesh them out as needed. For instance, Cestelline, goddess of the shielding moon, has Shrarul, a half-celestial werewolf paladin as one of her heralds.

That’s all I really need to know about Shrarul at this point. I can expand on this when needed, probably in the form of stories that involve him, heard from followers of Cestelline. It is possible the PCs will meet him, likely they will not, but simply identifying him gives some additional shape and texture to the goddess.

Additions:

  • Heralds: Usually specific, powerful, unique creatures associated with the deity.
  • Allies: Specific choices for planar ally spells. These might be fairly generic (planetar with shining silver skin), but may be unique and specific creatures. There could be a pool of like creatures for summoning, possibly all named, but using the standard stats.
  • Variant creature lists: Alternate choices for summon monster spells, specific to the deity. These are likely still fairly generic within that list (i.e. you probably get whatever celestial eagle is available to answer the call, you probably don’t get Fred the Celestial Eagle each time you cast the spell).

Dogma, Tenets, and Duties

These are the rules of the religion, what a character is expected to do as a follower of the deity. These are mostly a descriptive element, in that they have little mechanical effect, but provide guidance for what a character could be expected to do under various circumstances. The two words are very similar in meaning, but I’m going to treat dogma as “the official word” and tenets as “what is commonly believed”. For instance, a god of trade might teach that successful trade is rewarded by profit, and many of his followers might believe that making profit from trade is the goal. Dogma and tenets are often related, but might differ in degree or interpretation.

Additions:

  • Dogma: what followers of the deity are told.
  • Tenets: what followers of the deity often believe.
  • Duties: what followers are expected to do.

Obediences and Boons

Obediences are one of my favorite additions from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as far as deities are concerned. An obedience is an action the character performs daily in exchange for boons, a mix of spell-like abilities and special abilities. If the obedience is not performed the abilities are not available until the obedience is next performed. Obediences are often aligned with or indicative of dogma.

Even without the boons, I am happy to replace the generic prayer and meditation session to regain spells with the obedience.

Additions:

  • Obedience: the daily activity to gain boons and regain spells. There may even be more than one obedience, associated either with different character types or boons granted.
  • Boons: abilities gained via obedience. The deities I’ve examined each have three sets of boons, for different classes.

Roles

Some Pathfinder Companion supplements describe ‘roles’, which are basically advice for building characters of certain types. These usually include things like suitable classes, class feature choices, feat choices, and so on. A ‘Cestelline Warden’ role might identify that paladins and good-aligned rangers (possibly each with certain archetypes) are particular suitable, and might suggest certain divine bonds or hunter bonds, and certain feats, and so on. These roles are in no way binding (not all Cestelline Wardens have these builds), but give some guidance as to good fits.

Additions:

  • Roles: builds for characters of certain thematic types. May be multiple.

Symbolism and Manifestation

Holy symbols, religious iconography, and the appearance of the deity all fit under Identification in the Entity Template. I am unlikely to move them here because they likely have no mechanical effect.

Closing Comments

The information above consists of initial thoughts, and are subject to change.

Deities in Dungeons & Dragons, at least for the last twenty years or so, are mechanically (and to some degree thematically) defined by their domains. A goddess of Protection and Darkness (with the Moon subdomain) is likely to be quite a bit different from a goddess of Nobility and Sun. It seems likely that domains can influence choices of supporters (heralds, allies, and summoned creatures), canon (dogma, tenets, and duties), and covenants (obediences and boons). They may also affect symbolism and manifestation.

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