In Anatomy of a God I wrote of the elements that I expect to include when describing a deity, and that I expect to use domains to gather the bases of these elements.
This post expands on that idea, and describes the information I expect to include in a domain description.
Perhaps surprisingly, spells and granted powers don’t even come into it. Most of the information here actually is descriptive.
Domain aspects are, on their face, a set of lists covering various descriptive elements that could be applied to a deity, holy grounds, and so on.
Aspect Simple Lists
The elements below are straightforward and don’t really need expansion, and are likely to be presented as simple lists themselves.
- Portfolios are areas of interest that might cause a deity to have this domain. Many portfolios will likely be shared by domains, and vice-versa.
- Motifs are sensory elements (often pictures, but may be sounds or smells or other sensory elements) commonly associated with the domain. A church of the god of the sea probably includes scenes of the sea: ships, waves, etc.
- Manifestations are descriptive elements that might be associated with a deity with this domain (a cloak that always flutters in an unseen breeze, literally flaming eyes, etc.)
- Colors are colors that might be associated with the domain, such as Fire being associated with red, orange, and yellow (and possibly certain blues).
- Holy Places identifies the sorts of places, or characteristics of places, likely to be holy to a deity with the domain.
- Patronage indicates the sorts of people likely to follow a deity with this domain.
Aspect Complex Lists
Dogmas, tenets, and duties are ‘complex lists’, each consisting of several subsets, each with examples. For instance, a set of duties might contain entries such as:
- Allegiance Sailors, explorers, singers, and musicians.
- “Succor those who travel the seas and unknown lands. Give them shelter and rest before they continue their journeys.”
- Bond Harnessing wind for work and for music.
- “Teach those who build ships and mills how to better use the wind’s bounty. The power of Brother Sky frees people to see the world and from tedious work.”
- “Embrace and promote and celebrate the music of the winds: songs, horns, flutes, and the thunder of the drums.”
Duties are easier to express than dogmas or tenets, since they are specific instructions. I would probably identify dogmas as tenets as they became more relevant to my campaign.
Quests and trials might be considered adventure seeds, as they are specific things to pursue.
- “People report that the air near the Forest of Shelbaneau is causing them to sicken. Find and fix the problem.”
- “A generation ago, a ship carrying the Horn of Gales sank somewhere to the east. Uncommon storms have been happening in that region lately… perhaps the Horn has resurfaced. Go find it.”
Characters and Creatures
In some cases, those who follow deities with certain domains may share some characteristics. Someone following an earth deity might be unusually muscular and thick-bodied, someone following an animal deity might be fierce and wild, someone following a healing deity might be peaceful and serene. Similarly with creatures, a moon deity might be associated with lycanthropes, and a fire deity with elementals.
These are likely to be expressed as lists of characteristics (for characters), or of creatures, creature types, and templates, for creatures. These might or might not be system-specific: even a game without ‘cavaliers’ or ‘inquisitors’ (Pathfinder has both, but they are not in the Core Rulebook) could probably map these two ‘mounted military leader’ and ‘religious (and probably intolerant) hunter of blasphemy’.
Heralds, allies, and summoning lists are likely to align with these characteristic, and probably intersect. Cestelline, Goddess of the Shielding Moon (Moon subdomain, Good and Protection domains) has a celestial (Good) werewolf (Moon) paladin (Good and Protection) as her herald.
Once the elements above are defined for a domain, it should provide a game master or world builder with quite a bit of material to use when defining a deity and the deity’s followers.
Note that these are mostly just suggestions, recommendations at most. Not all elements of a domain are going to apply to any deity, and not only could an individual be wildly non-compliant with the elements that are chosen, the elements themselves could be contradicted. The follower of an earth deity might be unusually thick-bodied and muscular, and probably slow to move… but metal also is associated with earth, and might mean a follower could be lean, sharp, and fast.