Rethinking Pathfinder Cleric Subdomains, Part 2

Yesterday I described some things I don’t like about Pathfinder cleric subdomains.  Now it’s time to think about what to do about these things.

I think I’ll do this in several passes, since so far I’ve found the solutions I come up with tend to interact with more than one of my sources of dissatisfaction.

First Thoughts

Not Enough Subdomains

The obvious thing here is to create more subdomains for each domain.  Straightforward, “it’s just work”.

Hard To Use Subdomains

Again, just takes a bit of effort to go through and describe each domain in full and explicitly.  I’ve seen similar things done in monster books focusing on dragons, where a dragon type is expanded from “a single description plus some work” to “a dozen monster descriptions in full”.

The first two problems are pretty straightforward.  The third is a little more challenging.

Inconsistent Subdomains

This is the one that can get ugly.

I noticed when reviewing subdomains that they generally replace a single power and perhaps three or four spells.  This is not unreasonable, since the subdomain is supposed to represent something that is still mostly the same as the associated domain.  If they were more divergent, perhaps the subdomain should not be one.  This is probably about right for most subdomains.

It seems, however, that when a subdomain has more than one parent domain, there is more room to work.  To use the example from yesterday’s post, the Demon subdomain has both Chaos and Evil as associated domains.  The Demon subdomains, since there are in practice two forms, each include elements from only one of the associated domains.

What if the subdomain was specifically crafted to incorporate elements from both associated domains?

Let’s look at the two associated domains again, and the Pathfinder description of the subdomain.

Chaos Domain

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 Domain

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).

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).

It seems pretty straightforward that the replacement power could be kept as it is.  The replacement domain spells are still pretty reasonable, since they replace otherwise bland alignment-specific spells.

Actually, it looks like pretty much all the spells in the associated domains are kind of bland.  I suppose that makes sense after a fashion, but I’d like to mention that I would probably replace them wholesale… later.  I want alignment domains to be qualitiatively different, not just different in polarity.  I digress

Let’s start building this up.

New Demon Subdomain

Associated Domains: Chaos, Evil

Granted Powers: You are tainted by the powers of the abyss.

Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself an enhancement a profane 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.

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

Not a bad start.  It needs another granted power, and some more domain spells.  The associated domains should be the first source examined, I think.

As Cleveland points out in the comments below, having Fury of the Abyss grant an enhancement bonus is kind of silly. Those usually go on weapons or armor, or directly on ability scores, they show up really often (which can limit the applicability of this, or complicate it), and I got rid of enhancement bonuses in my campaign anyway. Given the source, a profane bonus would be much more appropriate. I’ve changed the domain power to fit.

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.

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.

I can’t really pick one or the other… but I don’t entirely see the need to.  I think the powers presented above are okay, but I want something a little simpler, and a little more visceral, a little more hands on… perhaps something like

Demonic Hide (Ex): At 8th level the demonic energies coursing through your body give you a measure of protection.  You gain DR 5/cold iron.

Or, since I just realized I’m being a little stupid here

Demonic Minion (Ex): At 8th level the powers of the Abyss grant you a subservient minion of your own.  You gain a demonic familiar, as with the Improved Familiar feat using your cleric level in place of the arcane caster level.  This is likely to be a quasit or an animal with the fiendish template (per the Improved Familiar feat), but other minions may be possible.

I think I like the minion better, I’ll go with that for now.

Moving on to spells…

Chaos 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 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).

These look like they really only differ by color, having much the same effect but varying in target.  Neither really says “Demon” to me.  It seems to me, though, that there isn’t much to do with summoning here.  It would likely be appropriate to add more summoning spells.  I considered both planar ally and planar binding, and seeing planar binding already present tips the scale for me.  Replacing the fourth and eighth level spells with lesser planar binding and greater planar binding respectively gives:

Domain spells: 1st—doom, 3rd—rage, 4th—lesser planar binding, 6th—planar binding (demons only), 8th—greater planar binding.

I considered keeping summon monster ix and restricting it to demons, but I think there is a better option:

Domain spells: 1st—doom, 3rd—rage, 4th—lesser planar binding, 6th—planar binding (demons only), 8th—greater planar binding, 9th—gate (demons or the Abyss only).

Getting closer, only need spells for second, fifth, and seventh level now, and a granted power.

Second level didn’t have anything that grabbed my attention initially, but it occurs to me that followers of this god are likely to unpopular.  Let’s give them a bit of ability to avoid detection — undetectable alignment.

Fifth level has a few spells that seem likely — commune, demons have historically been seen as a valuable source of information; righteous might, drawing on the powers of the Abyss to destroy the enemy with your own hands; plane shift, to travel between the planes; and symbol of pain, for obvious reasons.

Seventh level has only a couple of cleric spells that appeal to me — repulsion, to keep enemies from getting to close; and greater scrying, to learn more about the world.

This considers only cleric spells, not other domain spells or spells from other lists (let alone other references), a deeper examination might turn up more options.  However, align weapon, dispel good/law, and word of chaos/blasphemy just don’t do anything for me.  For the sake of this example, I think I’ll go with plane shift and greater scrying.

Domain spells: 1st—doom, 2nd—undetectable alignment, 3rd—rage, 4th—lesser planar binding, 5th—plane shift, 6th—planar binding (demons only), 7th—greater scrying, 8th—greater planar binding, 9th—gate (demons or the Abyss only).

This rounds out the spells pretty nicely, I think.

I agree with a suggestion from Justin Stochmal on Facebook, ‘Abyss Domain’ is perhaps a better name. It also helps avoid messing up the name space by having two objects of (roughly) the same type with the same name doing different things.

This leaves me with the following new domain:

Abyss Domain

Associated Domains: Chaos, Evil

Granted Powers: You are tainted by the powers of the abyss.

Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself a profane 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.

Demonic Minion (Ex): At 8th level the powers of the Abyss grant you a subservient minion of your own.  You gain a demonic familiar, as with the Improved Familiar feat using your cleric level in place of the arcane caster level.  This is likely to be a quasit or an animal with the fiendish template (per the Improved Familiar feat), but other minions may be possible.

Domain spells: 1st—doom, 2nd—undetectable alignment, 3rd—rage, 4th—lesser planar binding, 5th—plane shift, 6th—planar binding (demons only), 7th—greater scrying, 8th—greater planar binding, 9th—gate (demons or the Abyss only).

Comparing this to the original subdomain(s) this is singular, no longer having two forms with spells and granted powers that are kind of different, but mostly in that they target different alignments.  It is distinctly demonic in effect and flavor.  It could use tuning; this is a first draft and I still find the spell choices a little uninspiring, especially with three forms of planar binding present.  It looks like it could be a reasonable substitution for either Chaos or Evil more or less equally, possibly because overall it is distinctly different from both while still clearly being related to both.

Closing Comments

I believe this is a decent replacement for the Demon subdomain. As described above I think ‘secondary domain’ (like a primary domain such as Chaos or Evil, but not as commonly found and associated with one or more primary domains) is a better nomenclature when I make changes like this. Part of why I think the Abyss secondary domain works is specifically because it is so distinctly different from either of the associated domains, while still be relevant to both.  I certainly don’t see a god that isn’t Chaotic or Evil (or both, and certainly not Chaotic Good or Lawful Evil) granting this domain.

The domain just created is somewhat different from most domains and subdomains.

  • Like a subdomain:
    • It has associated domains, like a subdomain.
    • I am prepared to treat it as equivalent to all of its associated domains for prerequisite purposes (Chaos domain is a prerequisite of the Channeled Rage and Wild Favor feats, Evil domain is a prerequisite of the Channel Unholy Gift feat), as a subdomain potentially is.
    • Narrower focus than the associated domains.
  • Not like a subdomain:
    • The associated domains are entirely unrepresented in this domain. Despite being initially derived from and associated with the Chaos and Evil domains, there is nothing present from those domains. There are elements of the Demon subdomain here, but the other domain power and the other spells were all chosen from elsewhere.
  • Like a domain:
    • Fully defined in and of itself, and does not modify another domain.
  • Not like a domain:
    • I don’t expect there to be subdomains of this domain (but I could be mistaken; I can imagine there being a distinct subdomain for each of the demon lords).
    • Narrower focus than most domains; most basic domains cover concepts broadly relevant, ‘Abyss’ is much more specific.

I don’t know yet if this will hold for other subdomains.  I suspect it might, but I’ll have to explore that some more later.

I considered calling it something else (secondary domain, subordinate domain, specialized domain) but I for now I have decided not to. The distinction might not be important to most people. Perhaps I’ll just add a type to it (“specialized”) so it can be easily marked and recognized, and leave it at that.

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7 Comments

    • Thanks, I’m moderately pleased with where this is headed.

      If you take a look at the Polyhedral Pantheon Clerics article you’ll see there’s a fair bit of customization going on. Clerics no longer start with knowledge of all accessible cleric spells. Instead, they automatically learn three spells when they gain a level, drawn in order from the god’s primary domain (the one assigned to the gods face/node), the cleric’s chosen domains, any remaining domains, then the cleric list. If the primary domain is one of the cleric’s chosen domains you bump down the list, and if two domains have the same spell (which I’m going to try quite hard to avoid) then you similarly bump down. Of course, if the god has only four domains the cleric gets to pick from the general cleric list a little faster.

      The cleric can also learn more spells from the class list, but in a fashion similar to that of a wizard learning additional spells. The cleric can cast spontaneously from his chosen domains.

      Thus, all clerics of a particular god have access to the spells of the god’s primary domain and spells from the cleric’s chosen domains (and can spontaneously cast those), and then will know any spells from the god’s other domains. They should feel fairly consistent within the group, but distinct from the clerics of other gods.

      And if that isn’t enough, I might customize further from here (see D&D Meta-Classes)… but I think I might start here.

  1. Cenglish

    Actualy I would change the following because Enhancement bonuses are way over used and don’t stack with standard magic weapons rendering them semi worthless. That and this just makes allot more sense considering the source.

    Fury of the Abyss (Su): As a swift action, you can give yourself an PROFANE 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.

    • That’s a very good suggestion. I used Fury of the Abyss as written and didn’t think to change the bonus type, but profane is a much more appropriate bonus type than enhancement — it’s more specific and appropriate to the source, enhancement bonuses aren’t usually used this way, and I got rid of enhancement bonuses in my campaign anyway. I’ve changed the text above. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: New Pathfinder Cleric Domains: Specialized Domains | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  3. Pingback: Specialized Domain: Abyss Domain | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

  4. Pingback: Hybrid Domain: Abyss Domain | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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