I realized a while ago that for my polyhedral pantheons methods to really shine, I need more subdomains, and I want them to be more interesting. I think I know how to manage that, but it leads me to some other things I need to consider.
The polyhedral pantheon methods result in assigning thirty-two domains (one for each node and face on the polyhedron — 20 and 12 for a dodecahedron, shown to the right; 12 and 20 for an icosahedron, not shown). There are thirty-three domains in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, and I find I can usually live without one or the other of them, so that works out pssingly well. It manes each domain is assigned to four or six gods, which means there is a fair number of domain sets available to choose from. This is quite playable.
Having each domain available to clerics of four or six gods gives nice domain selection options, but each domain is still the same for each god. I’d like to see more variety in the domain powers and spell choices.
The Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide presents subdomains, each of which is associated with one or more domains. Each subdomain is like the associated domain (or chosen associated domain if there are two or more) but replaces one of the domain powers and a small number of spells — usually about three, but I believe I’ve seen anywhere from two to five. This is a step in the right direction, but I think it could go farther. I can easily see use in having five subdomains for each major domain — in the diagram above, if the Good domain is assigned to ‘Face 2’ it would be available to the gods represented by ‘Face 2, and Nodes A, E, F, N, and O’. Because the primary domain is assigned directly to ‘Face 2’ is is reasonable to expect that god to have the primary domain, and it could easily be appropriate for the other gods to have subdomains associated with Good but colored by their other interests. That is, if ‘Node A’ has the Law domain, ‘Node A’ could have the Archon subdomain (associated with Law and Good) instead of the Good domain — and the god represented by ‘Face 2’ might have the Archon subdomain in place of the Law domain.
There are two problems with this, though. First, the Advanced Player’s Guide only provides two or three subdomains for each domain. There simply aren’t enough to go around. Second, the small changes made in the subdomains mean that the subdomains are still quite similar to the associated domain, whichever one is used. I find this troublesome because there is still a stronger feeling of homogeneity than I want.
I realized recently that subdomains serve another purpose than simply tweaking effects to flavor a primary domain. Many of the primary domains represent fundamental cosmic forces: Death, Order, Fire, Magic. Others may represent major mortal interests: Knowledge, War, Travel. Many published domains, however (and this goes back to the D&D 3.x days, it’s not particularly a Pathfinder thing) are much more limited in scope: Artifice, Rune, Liberation.
I am starting to think this can be handily represented by changing how the domains are defined. Mechanically they remain as they have (domain powers and spells), but instead of the subdomains being simply minor adjustments to the associated domains, they represent cosmic forces that have smaller scope. Mechanically they are roughly equivalent to their associated domains (powers and spell choices are comparably strong and useful), but they can vary more from the associated domains.
Even though the Archon subdomain is associated with the Law and Good domains, is it necessary that it have much the same spells and powers as the chosen associated domain? I think it could be better if it were instead more focused on Archons and their abilities than on either the Good or Law domain — grant abilities reminiscent of Archons, grant spells that reflect Archon abilities or interests, and so on. Being associated with Good and Law domains means you still can only choose this subdomain if your god has the appropriate associated domain and subdomain, but even having that association does not mean a character must have the same powers.
Perhaps the primary domains are the ‘pure form’ of the power. The god of Good, the god of Law, their servants with those domains have the abilities common to the alignment domains. The god of Archons demonstrates a facet of goodness, just as do the gods of Agathions and Azata (and whatever other subdomains are associated with Good). They may have common features, they may vary a great deal… it depends on what forces are represented by each god and its facet of the primary domain.
This leads to the question, then: what are the fundamental cosmic forces?
Some are fairly easily chosen: Life and Death, Creation and Destruction, Order and Chaos… these might all be related, or not. Magic. The elements Air, Earth, Fire, Water. Good and Evil might be fundamental cosmic forces, or merely mortal opinion.
What about Light and Darkness? Are Animals and Plants worth considering fundamental forces, or are they little more than manifestations of Life or totems of the gods? Magic may inherently be power, but what about Knowledge? War is a common endeavor, but is it a fundamental cosmic force?
By the definitions I’m considering above, it seems to me that many of the primary domains from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook might be better suited as subdomains. I can see ‘Nature’ as a primary domain and Animal and Plant being subdomains — which I think is supported by the evidently weak definitions of the subdomains presented for these in the Advanced Player’s Guide.
If I can, I’d like to find thirty-two primary domains. The extant set don’t quite cut it for me. I think it would be fairly easy to find twelve (four alignments, four elements, Life, Death, and Magic cover eleven already!), twenty may be within reach, I’m not sure about twenty.
So, I ask you: what fundamental cosmic forces are there?