Rethinking Pathfinder Cleric Subdomains, Part 1

I’ll start by saying that I like Pathfinder’s domains and subdomains.

Domains provide a structured means to collect divine spells and granted powers so they can be assigned and associated with gods in a structured way.  Pathfinder expanded on the D&D 3.x model by adding an intermediate power available to eighth-level clerics.  I like this.

Subdomains provide a structured means for variation in cleric domains, so two gods that might have quite similar portfolios can easily have differences in how that power manifests.  They can also be used as something of a systematic hierarchical categorization of clerics, in that you might consider a cleric with the Murder subdomain of the Death domain as having the Death domain, for some purposes (such as meeting prestige class prerequisites).

This has become particularly important to me recently because of my work with Polyhedral Pantheons, especially since I end up with gods sharing access to the same domains, and pairs of domains.  In fact, every pair of domain associations with gods in this mechanism is shared by two gods.  Overall this is a good thing, but it leads to a certain feeling of homogeneity.  Subdomains let me break things up a bit — I might have four gods with the Death domain, or even six depending how the domain gets assigned, but subdomains give me some flexibility in how precisely that manifests for each.

I run into a few difficulties, though.

Limitations of Pathfinder Subdomains

Not Enough Subdomains

First, there aren’t enough subdomains to suit me.  Allowing  Polyhedral Pantheon Clerics to have different domains available for each god requires more subdomains than are provided.  If I have five subdomains per domain I have enough to give each god assigned a particular parent domain during the initial pass a different domain or subdomain.  The node directly assigned ‘Death’ might have the ‘Death’ domain, then each other god that touches that node and has gains access to that domain might have a different subdomain.

This is mostly a preference thing, but I’d like to see if it is possible to get more subdomains.

Hard to Use Subdomains

Second, using subdomains is more work than it needs to be because the information is not organized as well as it could be.

The way subdomains are documented makes sense initially (“replace that domain power with this new one, and replace these domain spells”).  It is generally concise and gets the job done.  However, in actual use it means looking in two places to get all the information for what the subdomain actually provides.

From the Pathfinder System Reference Document:

Air Domain

Granted Powers: You can manipulate lightning, mist, and wind, traffic with air creatures, and are resistant to electricity damage.

Lightning Arc (Sp): As a standard action, you can unleash an arc of electricity targeting any foe within 30 feet as a ranged touch attack. This arc of electricity deals 1d6 points of electricity damage + 1 point for every two cleric levels you possess. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Electricity Resistance (Ex): At 6th level, you gain resist electricity 10. This resistance increases to 20 at 12th level. At 20th level, you gain immunity to electricity.

Domain Spells: 1st—obscuring mist, 2nd—wind wall, 3rd—gaseous form, 4th—air walk, 5th—control winds, 6th—chain lightning, 7th—elemental body IV (air only), 8th—whirlwind, 9th—elemental swarm(air spell only).

So far, so good.  Now let’s look at the subdomains.

Cloud Subdomain

Associated Domain: Air

Replacement Power: The following granted power replaces the electricity resistance power of the Air domain.

Thundercloud (Su): At 8th level, you can, as a standard action, summon a storm cloud. This power functions as fog cloud except that creatures inside the cloud are deafened and take 2d6 points of electricity damage each round from the flashes of thunder and lightning. Once created, you can concentrate on the cloud to move it up to 30 feet each round. You can use this ability for a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level. These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Replacement Domain Spells: 4th—solid fog, 9th—storm of vengeance.

Wind Subdomain

Associated Domain: Air.

Replacement Power: The following granted power replaces the lightning arc power of the Air domain.

Wind Blast (Su): As a standard action, you can unleash a blast of air in a 30-foot line. Make a combat maneuver check against each creature in the line, using your caster level as your base attack bonus and your Wisdom modifier in place of your Strength modifier. Treat the results as a bull rush attempt. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—whispering wind, 6th—wind walk, 9th—winds of vengeance.

This means I have to look in a couple of places to get all the information.  This isn’t so bad if I’m reading the online PFSRD, but if I’m trying to do it from the books it means not just looking on different pages, but in different books.  Not what I want to do, so I decided to create references with all the information.

Air Domain

Granted Powers: You can manipulate lightning, mist, and wind, traffic with air creatures, and are resistant to electricity damage.

Lightning Arc (Sp): As a standard action, you can unleash an arc of electricity targeting any foe within 30 feet as a ranged touch attack. This arc of electricity deals 1d6 points of electricity damage + 1 point for every two cleric levels you possess. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Electricity Resistance (Ex): At 6th level, you gain resist electricity 10. This resistance increases to 20 at 12th level. At 20th level, you gain immunity to electricity.

Domain Spells: 1st—obscuring mist, 2nd—wind wall, 3rd—gaseous form, 4th—air walk, 5th—control winds, 6th—chain lightning, 7th—elemental body IV (air only), 8th—whirlwind, 9th—elemental swarm(air spell only).

Cloud Subdomain

Associated Domain: Air

Replacement Power: The thundercloud granted power replaces the electricity resistance power of the Air domain.

Lightning Arc (Sp): As a standard action, you can unleash an arc of electricity targeting any foe within 30 feet as a ranged touch attack. This arc of electricity deals 1d6 points of electricity damage + 1 point for every two cleric levels you possess. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Thundercloud (Su): At 8th level, you can, as a standard action, summon a storm cloud. This power functions as fog cloud except that creatures inside the cloud are deafened and take 2d6 points of electricity damage each round from the flashes of thunder and lightning. Once created, you can concentrate on the cloud to move it up to 30 feet each round. You can use this ability for a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level. These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Replacement Domain Spells: 4th—solid fog, 9th—storm of vengeance.

Domain Spells: 1st—obscuring mist, 2nd—wind wall, 3rd—gaseous form, 4th—solid fog, 5th—control winds, 6th—chain lightning, 7th—elemental body IV (air only), 8th—whirlwind, 9th—storm of vengeance.

Wind Subdomain

Associated Domain: Air.

Replacement Power: The wind blast granted power replaces the lightning arc power of the Air domain.

Wind Blast (Su): As a standard action, you can unleash a blast of air in a 30-foot line. Make a combat maneuver check against each creature in the line, using your caster level as your base attack bonus and your Wisdom modifier in place of your Strength modifier. Treat the results as a bull rush attempt. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Electricity Resistance (Ex): At 6th level, you gain resist electricity 10. This resistance increases to 20 at 12th level. At 20th level, you gain immunity to electricity.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—whispering wind, 6th—wind walk, 9th—winds of vengeance.

Domain Spells: 1st—whispering wind, 2nd—wind wall, 3rd—gaseous form, 4th—air walk, 5th—control winds, 6th—wind walk, 7th—elemental body IV (air only), 8th—whirlwind, 9th—winds of vengeance.

This is better.  I can now see everything subdomains provide, and what specifically the differences are.  Each entry is a little larger, but I find this rather more useful.

I actually like laying them out more like the Revised System Reference Document (or D&D 3.5 Player’s Handbook) with the spells in a table with a brief note about each, plus some additional information I log such as related skills and the like (the cleric class in my campaign has a very abridged class skill list, domains in my campaign have associated skills — all ‘domain skills’ are added to the cleric’s ‘class list’, and the cleric can choose one skill per domain that he ‘gets free’ — level+3 skill points each that are spent on the chosen skills). There may also be domain-specific feats that I include with the domain descriptions.  Not important here, I just thought I’d mention why I prefer the other layout.

Inconsistent Subdomains

When a subdomain is associated with only one parent domain, using them is just a little more work.  However, when a subdomain is associated with two parent domains, things get a little uglier.  I am not certain if Paizo just didn’t think things through as well as I’d like, or if they’re thinking in a way I don’t care for.

Let’s consider the Demon subdomain, associated with both the Chaos and Evil domains.  As described in the PFSRD:

Demon Subdomain

Associated Domains: Chaos, Evil.

Replacement Power: The following granted power replaces the touch of chaos power of the Chaos domain or the touch of evil power of the Evil domain. Demons are a race of chaotic evil outsiders.

Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement bonus equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum +1) on melee attacks, melee damage rolls, and combat maneuver checks. This bonus lasts for 1 round. During this round, you take a –2 penalty to AC. You can use this ability for a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—doom, 3rd—rage, 6th—planar binding (demons only).

Fairly straightforward so far, but when I try to collect the information as shown above, I run into a problem because the Chaos and Evil domains differ.

Chaos Subdomain

Granted Powers: Your touch infuses life and weapons with chaos, and you revel in all things anarchic.

Touch of Chaos (Sp): You can imbue a target with chaos as a melee touch attack. For the next round, anytime the target rolls a d20, he must roll twice and take the less favorable result. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Chaos Blade (Su): At 8th level, you can give a weapon touched the anarchic special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level. You can use this ability once per day at 8th level, and an additional time per day for every four levels beyond 8th.

Domain Spells: 1st—protection from law, 2nd—align weapon (chaos only), 3rd—magic circle against law, 4th—chaos hammer, 5th—dispel law, 6th—animate objects, 7th—word of chaos, 8th—cloak of chaos, 9th—summon monster IX (chaos spell only).

Evil Subdomain

Granted Powers: You are sinister and cruel, and have wholly pledged your soul to the cause of evil.

Touch of Evil (Sp): You can cause a creature to become sickened as a melee touch attack. Creatures sickened by your touch count as good for the purposes of spells with the evil descriptor. This ability lasts for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Scythe of Evil (Su): At 8th level, you can give a weapon touched the unholy special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level. You can use this ability once per day at 8th level, and an additional time per day for every four levels beyond 8th.

Domain Spells: 1st—protection from good, 2nd—align weapon (evil only), 3rd—magic circle against good, 4th—unholy blight, 5th—dispel good, 6th—create undead, 7th—blasphemy, 8th—unholy aura, 9th—summon monster IX (evil spell only).

The exact representation of the Demon subdomain depends on how the subdomain is created.

Demon (Chaos) Subdomain

Associated Domain: Chaos

Replacement Power: The fury of the abyss granted power replaces the touch of chaos power of the Chaos domain. Demons are a race of chaotic evil outsiders.
Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement bonus equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum +1) on melee attacks, melee damage rolls, and combat maneuver checks. This bonus lasts for 1 round. During this round, you take a –2 penalty to AC. You can use this ability for a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Chaos Blade (Su): At 8th level, you can give a weapon touched the anarchic special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level. You can use this ability once per day at 8th level, and an additional time per day for every four levels beyond 8th.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—doom, 3rd—rage, 6th—planar binding (demons only).

Domain Spells: 1st—doom, 2nd—align weapon (chaos only), 3rd—rage, 4th—chaos hammer, 5th—dispel law, 6th—planar binding (demons only), 7th—word of chaos, 8th—cloak of chaos, 9th—summon monster IX (chaos spell only).

Demon (Evil) Subdomain

Associated Domains: Evil.

Replacement Power: The fury of the abyss granted power replaces the touch of evil power of the Evil domain. Demons are a race of chaotic evil outsiders.

Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement bonus equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum +1) on melee attacks, melee damage rolls, and combat maneuver checks. This bonus lasts for 1 round. During this round, you take a –2 penalty to AC. You can use this ability for a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Scythe of Evil (Su): At 8th level, you can give a weapon touched the unholy special weapon quality for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level. You can use this ability once per day at 8th level, and an additional time per day for every four levels beyond 8th.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—doom, 3rd—rage, 6th—planar binding (demons only).

Domain Spells: 1st—protection from good, 2nd—align weapon (evil only), 3rd—magic circle against good, 4th—unholy blight, 5th—dispel good, 6th—create undead, 7th—blasphemy, 8th—unholy aura, 9th—summon monster IX (evil spell only).

This is workable, but I’m not sure implementing this as two domains with almost the same name is what I really want to do.

What Next?

So, I’ve identified a few things I don’t much like about the subdomains as now implemented in Pathfinder.

I think the problems are not huge, but things can be made better.

I will describe some thoughts on the matter in my next post.

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3 Comments to "Rethinking Pathfinder Cleric Subdomains, Part 1"

  1. Michael Tumey's Gravatar Michael Tumey
    September 13, 2012 - 8:43 am | Permalink

    While it won’t help your polyhedral structure, and would have been included in the Kaidan Player’s Guide had we been able to finance it – we planned for an interesting way to handle Yokinto (Shinto derived divine powers). Since kami spirits are bound to specific locations (specific parts of a river, a mountain, etc.) we were looking to create a cleric with the Travel domain, and his second domain depends upon the particular kami spirit he has communed with in a given region. If the local kami has the Air domain, for example, after proper communion, the cleric now has Travel and Air domain. His access is limited to a certain maximum distance from the given shrine. If the cleric travels elsewhere, when within the proximity to a different kami spirit, which he’ll need to commune, will gain a different secondary domain.

  2. September 19, 2012 - 3:00 pm | Permalink

    You know if you wanted to you could do this on d20pfsrd.com. All I need is a Google ID to add you as a collaborator :D

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  1. on September 25, 2013 at 9:13 am