Twelve Shu-shi Deities

A-Z 2015 "T"‘T day’ in the A-Z Blog Challenge. I refused to be cheap and claim a title starting with ‘The’, but I’m not too proud to use ‘Twelve’.

Here are twelve of the twenty-two Shu-shi deities. The Jixiang Shen are the auspicious deities, favored by (and believed to favor) the Shu-shi. The Bukeshi Shen would never be disrespected or disregarded, but they do make the Shu-shi uncomfortable.

Jixiang Shen

These deities are a welcome part of halfling culture, and the ones most openly followed.

Deity Sex Alignment Domains Chosen Weapon
Huanghou F Lawful Good Nobility, Community, Law, Earth, Good Guan Dao
Xingyun M Neutral Good Luck, Community, Water, Air, Animal Bolas
Xiao Ling F Lawful Neutral Healing, Community, Earth, Water, Plant Sai
Chengshi F Neutral Community, Nobility, Luck, Repose, Healing, Knowledge Spear
Zhongli M Lawful Neutral Law, Nobility, Protection, Knowledge Fighting Fan
Jingcai M Neutral Good Good, Nobility, Rune, Protection Bo Staff


  • Domains Nobility, Community, Law, Earth, Good
  • Alignment Lawful Good
  • Chosen Weapon Guan Dao (naginata or glaive)
  • Symbol Bronze goblet

Huanghou is the empress of heaven, and the Jixiang Shen are her court. She represents proper order within society and with the land

Her shrines can be found in every village and town. They are public centres of each settlement, where official notices and activities take place. They are open on all sides, so what happens within can be seen. The floors are stone only in towns; in villages the floors are more often clay or packed earth.

Daily offerings are made at dawn, before beginning the day’s work.

Her followers are called Chaochen, ‘courtiers’. They most often dress in good cotton, reserving finery for formal ceremonies and rituals. Their primary responsibility is to ensure the spiritual obligations to the Jixiang Shen are met, and to act as intermediaries to the Court as a whole.

Huanghou manifests as a majestically serene Shu-shi dressed in fine silks of sedate color.


  • Domains Luck, Community, Water, Air, Animal
  • Alignment Neutral Good
  • Chosen Weapon Bolas
  • Symbol Mandarin duck

Xingyun is the god of good fortune and community, of secure bonds and strong relationships.

His shrines are located at the edge of groves near shallow fresh water. In many villages this is likely near a rice paddy. Many weddings and other commitment ceremonies take place at these shrines.

Daily offerings are made at dawn, often consisting of symbolically scattering grain for the ducks that are Xingyun’s symbol. As a symbol of marital fidelity and conjugal affection, attracting them is seen as auspicious.

His followers are often referred to as Yuanyang, ‘ducks’, out of affection. They are noted for their loyalty and the consistent good fortune that comes of it.

Xingyun manifests as an amiable middle-aged Shu-shi, willing to lend an ear and listen to troubles. He rarely offers advice or direction, but will ask questions that will help someone clarify thoughts.

Xiao Ling

  • Domains Healing, Community, Earth, Water, Plant
  • Alignment Lawful Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Sai
  • Symbol Five stalks of bamboo

Xiao Ling is the goddess of healing, not only of the body but of social order.

Her shrines are restful places, near healthy soil and soothing, gently-running water. They are usually well-shaded by bamboo groves, often upstream of Xingyun’s shrines.

Daily offerings are made at dusk, and the end of the day’s work and before night falls. It is a time of contemplation of the day before, and consideration of the day to come.

Her followers are called Zhonjianren, ‘mediators’. They heal the body, of course, but also mediate disputes and adjudicate disagreements.

Xiao Ling manifests as a stern old Shu-shi, wrinkled and weathered but keen-eyed and sharp-eared. She will always help, but the help granted will be the help deserved and not necessarily the help requested.


  • Domains Community, Nobility, Luck, Repose, Healing, Knowledge
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Spear
  • Symbol Open scroll marked with a seal

Chengshi is the goddess of administrators. Huangou is the empress, Xiao Ling is the mediator, Zhongli is the magistrate, but Chengshi is the one who keeps things working.

Her shrines are always located near Huanghou’s. They have secure areas where official records (and collected taxes, before they are picked up) are stored.

Prayers are offered at midday, as much to force a break in work and allow some rest as for any other reason.

Followers are called Daoyan, ‘directors’. They are expected to maintain solid relationships with followers of the other Jixiang Shen, and with Daoyan of other towns and villages. They coordinate the activities of the settlement, ensuring that the local lord’s requirements are met and things work smoothly.

Chengshi usually manifests as an older, experienced– and competent-looking Shu-shi with no patience for fools.


  • Domains Law, Nobility, Protection, Knowledge
  • Alignment Lawful Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Fighting Fan
  • Symbol Furled scroll, sealed and tied with a red ribbon

Zhongli is magistrate of the Shu-shi pantheon, adjudicating disagreements when mediation cannot resolve them, and as an unimpeachable witness when requested.

His shrines are used as courtrooms, when needed. Among the Shu-shi severe disagreements are uncommon, but contracts and formal agreements are often signed and witnessed here, and a copy securely stored as evidence.

Daily prayers are offered at noon, providing a recess from other duties.

Followers are called Jianzheng, ‘witnesses’, for their most common duty.

Zhongli manifests as patient, attentive middle-aged Shu-shi wearing black robes. When acting as magistrate the robes are trimmed in red. When acting as witness the robes are trimmed in blue.


  • Domains Good, Nobility, Rune, Protection
  • Alignment Neutral Good
  • Chosen Weapon Bo Staff
  • Symbol Shu-shi bowing over a staff

Jingcai is the Shu-shi god of righteous guardians, protector against those who would harm his people.

His shrines are training grounds for warrior monks who provide protection for the settlements. They are punctuated by the sound of martial training and chants used to develop mental strength

Daily prayers are offered at dawn, and consist of kata, practiced movements that develop the mind and body.

Followers are called Jianhuren, ‘guardians’, for their training and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.

Jingcai manifests as a spry old Shu-shi, in the worn and outdated finery of a former courtier, and bearing a bo staff.

Bukeishiyi Shen

There are no evil deities in the halfling pantheon, but these ones make the halflings feel distinctly uncomfortable. Most Shu-shi are poorly-constituted for dealing with disorder, and while Jingshen is not chaotic her presence is often associated with unexpected and unwelcome changes.

Deity Sex Alignment Domains Chosen Weapon
Hunluan M Chaotic Neutral Chaos, Liberation, Trickery, Travel, Weather Double-chained Kama
Jingshen F Neutral Repose, Community, Liberation, Air, Travel Blowgun
Jiefang M Chaotic Neutral Liberation, Chaos, Repose, Knowledge Kusarigama
Pianju A Chaotic Neutral Trickery, Chaos, Protection, Knowledge Urumi (whip sword)
Liulang Zhe M Chaotic Neutral Travel, Chaos, Repose, Sun Rope Dart
Fengbao F Chaotic Neutral Weather, Chaos, Rune, Protection, Sun, Strength Meteor Hammer


  • Domains Chaos, Liberation, Trickery, Travel, Weather
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Double-chained Kama
  • Symbol Four cracked chain links

Hunluan is the deity of almost everything that makes the Shu-shi uncomfortable: freedom from social constraint, deception, wandering and homeless, and the uncontrollable elements.

His shrines are located away from those of Huanghou, Chengshi, and Zhongli. They often appear disreputable compared to their neighbors, somewhat shabby and untidy. The Shu-shi would do something about it but the extreme unease they feel prevents it. This does not seem to displease Hunluan.

Daily prayers are offered at dusk, identifying the mishaps and uncontrolled things that happened that day. It is sometimes unclear whether this is in an effort to propitiate Hunluan so the next day will be better, or a simple acknowledgement of Hunluan’s influence.

Followers are called Kuanrong, ‘tolerant’, for their ability to withstand the constant disruption attributed to their patron.

Hunluan manifests as a different Shu-shi each time, but is readily identified by his untidiness and lack of orderliness.


  • Domains Repose, Community, Liberation, Air, Travel
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Blowgun
  • Symbol Hollow reed, glowing from within

Jingshen is the goddess of peaceful repose and the great cycle. She can be compassionate, but will not be denied in her duty and is implacable against those who would try to avoid her.

Her shrines can be found in groves sheltered from the great winds. Breezes cause the soul reeds hung there to brush against each other in a constant gentle knocking sound, purifying the souls within until they are ready to pass into their next lives.

Shu-shi make daily offerings to their ancestors, but only call on Jingshen directly when a death is imminent or has already arrived. All carry short lengths of reed that their souls will inhabit when they die.

Zhidao, the followers of Jingshen, travel the land and gather these soul reeds. They take the reeds to Jingshen’s groves to begin the process of renewal and rebirth.

Jingshen manifests as a Shu-shi woman of indeterminate age, dressed in faded white cotton with whitened face.


  • Domains Liberation, Chaos, Repose, Knowledge
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Kusarigama
  • Symbol Open book

Jiefang is the god of freedom of thought, of the open mind that entertains ideas counter to social order, and the disruption that causes.

His shrines are usually located in towns, especially ports and near border crossings, where foreigners with alien beliefs and attitudes can be found. These shrines are often well-stocked with unusual artifacts, art, and texts from other lands.

Daily prayers are offered at noon, to help refresh the mind before changing tasks and delving into new material to study.

Followers are called Zhexuejia, ‘philosophers’, for their willingness to entertain strange ideas and try to fit them into Shu-shi believes – or vice-versa.

Jiefang manifests as a callow young Shu-shi, poking his nose into anything that looks of interest and asking ‘why?’


  • Domains Trickery, Chaos, Protection, Knowledge
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Urumi
  • Symbol Two-faced Shu-shi

Pianju is a confusing entity, deliberately so, and delights in confounding everyone. Pianju’s greatest interests beyond this perversity seem to revolve around learning secrets, though no one knows what Pianju does with them.

This deity’s shrines are confusing places, often hidden in unsuspected locations. They usually contain mazes, riddles, and traps, and the nature of the challenges reflects the nature of the individual trap designer. Most start relatively harmless, but some can be dangerous, even deadly. Nobody not of Pianju has reported what lies at the center of the greater Pianju shrines.

Daily prayers are offered at irregular times, as ideally they are offered in public disguised as something else. This might be as a song, haggling between a merchant and a customer, and so on.

Followers are called Pianrende and Pianzi, ‘deceptives’ and ‘tricksters’. The terms might be applied to any who lie or deceive, but anything beyond shading the truth to ease social interaction – ‘white lies’ – is uncomfortable to most Shu-shi.

Pianju manifests in whatever form seems likely to be useful or fun. Male or female, Shu-shi or other, this deity has so many shapes that none know what the true one is, if it even still exists.

Liulang Zhe

  • Domains Travel, Chaos, Repose, Sun
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Rope Dart
  • Symbol Sandal with a broken thong

Liulang Zhe is an explorer, a wanderer who follows the sun to see what is beyond the next hill.

His shrines are small but very common, found at nearly every road leading out of a town or village. They are usually well-stacked with tokens of personal value in the hope that he will lead a traveler home.

Daily prayers are offered at dawn, as the traveler sets out on the day’s journey. Depending on the one praying it might be a fervent wish to return home, a quiet request for guidance to a goal, or even an excited request to see something new today.

Followers are called Tanxian, ‘explorers’. They have the wanderlust and rarely stay in one place very long, but can be semi-reliable messengers and sources of news from elsewhere.

Liulang Zhe manifests as a jaunty Shu-shi, well-weathered by travels, and usually carrying some oddities he is trying to figure out.


  • Domains Weather, Chaos, Rune, Protection, Sun, Strength
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Meteor hammer
  • Symbol Lightning bolt

Fengbao is the goddess of rain and storms. She usually is not a threat, but she is fickle and easily angered.

Her shrines are located at the top of hills, fully exposed to her view (and incidentally well away from most houses and cultivated land).

Daily prayers are offered at dusk, thanking her for good weather or acknowledging her power, and usually include requests for favorable weather the next day – if that’s what she wants to do, that is.

Her followers are called Leisheng, ‘thunder’. They tend to be loud and boisterous (for Shu-shi), generally easy to get along with unless angered.

Fengbao manifests as a muscular Shu-shi wielding a meteor hammer. She does not manifest often, but if she shows up personally she’s probably angry about something. More often she will manifest more subtly as unexpectedly favorable weather, welcome shelter from a storm, from something lost that is found because of the weather.

Closing Comments

I am really excited by this pantheon and its associated culture. I think it’s staying pretty true to the expected halfling nature, while placing it in a distinctly not-English-farmer culture. I think I’m hitting a decent balance between sinister (or at least worrisome) but not actually bad in the Bukeshi Shen, representing things that make the Shu-shi distinctly uncomfortable without the depth of darkness I’ve been working with in the other pantheons.

Now I just need to draft the ten Zhengchang Shen, the ‘normal deities’ (this subpantheon name might change) that are neither as favored and favorable as the Jixiang Shen nor as uncanny and uncomfortable as the Bukeshi Shen, and I’ll be done drafting all my examples for Polyhedral Pantheons!

Finally. Six dozen deities make for a lot of work.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Shu-shi Pantheon (Halfling Pantheon Revised)

A-Z 2015 "S"I started work on a halfling pantheon to include in Polyhedral Pantheons, but it got sidelined while I worked on other things. Now that I’m up to ‘S’ in the April A-Z Blog Challenge I thought I’d look for a name for the halflings, or at least the subpantheons I expect to include, that starts with ‘S’.

Halflings are often perceived as Tolkienesque hobbits, ‘English farmers’ primarily interested in living calm, orderly lives, safe from danger and strife. They can learn to be brave and fierce when threatened, but they are often located far from places where this would be so.

Words to begin my search: comfortable, safe, cozy…

According to Google Translate, ‘cozy’ in English translates to (phonetically) ‘Shūshì’ in… Chinese. It doesn’t say whether it’s Cantonese or Mandarin, but I can live with it.

Chinese halflings? I mentally stumbled for a moment until realizing that this could actually work quite well. Still a fairly bucolic, culture, close to the land. Instead of wheat they grow rice, instead of livestock they might rely more on fish (which help in the rice paddies, also). They might still be located far from the borderlands; I can imagine them being primary occupants of one of the more effective food-producing provinces. Not terribly warlike, isolated from many of the dangers that would require it, but they can still be fierce defenders when needed.

Revised Domain Worksheet

The Shu-shi share many of the characteristics expected of halflings, include their aversion to the darker, stranger, and more violent side of things. Like the earlier halfling pantheon, the Shu-shi pantheon does not include the Death, Evil, Fire, or Magic domains. I’m combining some steps this time around, I’m confident I’ve shown enough examples of going through the first steps that I can simply wrap up with the results here.

Face Deities

Face New Deity Domains Old Deity Domains
1 (LG) Nobility, Community, Law, Earth, Good (CN) Liberation, Community, Trickery, Repose, Chaos
2 (CN) Chaos, Liberation, Trickery, Travel, Weather (TN) Animal, Water, Earth, War, Weather
3 (N) Luck, Community, Water, Air, Animal (LN) Law, Community, Nobility, Rune, Knowledge
4 (NG) Rune, Earth, Good, Plant, Weather (CG) Travel, Repose, Chaos, Good, Weather
5 (N) Repose, Community, Liberation, Air, Travel (TN) Protection, Community, Water, Rune, War
6 (LG) Protection, Law, Good, Trickery, Weather (CN) Luck, Trickery, Chaos, Earth, Weather
7 (N) Healing, Community, Earth, Water, Plant (NG) Healing, Community, Repose, Nobility, Good
8 (N) Sun, Air, Travel, Animal, Weather (TN) Sun, Rune, War, Knowledge, Weather
9 (LN) Knowledge, Community, Law, Liberation, Trickery (TN) Plant, Community, Trickery, Water, Earth
10 (N) Strength, Water, Plant, Animal, Weather (NG) Air, Nobility, Good, Knowledge, Weather

Point Deities

Point New Deity Domains Old Deity Domains
A (N) Community, Nobility, Luck, Repose, Healing, Knowledge (LN) Community, Liberation, Law, Protection, Healing, Plant
B (LN) Law, Nobility, Protection, Knowledge (TN) Trickery, Liberation, Luck, Plant
C (N) Earth, Nobility, Rune, Healing (TN) Repose, Liberation, Travel, Healing
D (CN) Liberation, Chaos, Repose, Knowledge (TN) Water, Animal, Protection, Plant
E (N) Water, Luck, Healing, Strength (LN) Nobility, Law, Healing, Air
F (N) Air, Luck, Repose, Sun (LN) Rune, Law, Protection, Sun
G (NG) Good, Nobility, Rune, Protection (CN) Chaos, Liberation, Travel, Luck
H (CN) Trickery, Chaos, Protection, Knowledge (TN) Earth, Animal, Luck, Plant
I (N) Plant, Rune, Healing, Strength (NG) Good, Travel, Healing, Air
J (CN) Travel, Chaos, Repose, Sun (TN) War, Animal, Protection, Sun
K (N) Animal, Luck, Sun, Strength (LN) Knowledge, Law, Sun, Air
L (CN) Weather, Chaos, Rune, Protection, Sun, Strength (TN) Weather, Animal, Travel, Luck, Sun, Air

I basically started over from first principles and made little effort to incorporate the earlier results. Given the restricted set of domains and a few specific combinations I wanted to keep resulted in some similarity between the two, obviously, but direct comparison isn’t possible on these tables.


I see two Lawful Good deities (Nobility and Protection, okay), two Lawful Neutral (Knowledge and Law), two Neutral Good (Rune and Good), eleven Neutral (Luck, Repose, Healing, Sun, Strength, Community, Earth, Water, Air, Plant, Animal — I can imagine a lot of druids in this culture), and four Chaotic Neutral.

This largely aligns with the original parameters, but changes the focus on some elements. I see some combinations I’ll really enjoy expanding on, too.

Closing Comments

I have to say that the pantheon I originally had in mind was fairly pedestrian. I could make Yet Another Halfling Pantheon pretty easily, and I didn’t want to do that.

Stumbling on Chinese as the language I was going to use for names within the pantheon immediately fired parts of my brain I hadn’t engaged. I can see so many more ideas that will make this more interesting, while still allowing for the classic ‘halfling nature’.

I’m quite excited about this and looking forward to where it goes.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Reviewing the Elemental Tetratheon

A-Z 2015 "R"The Elemental Tetratheon is a deliberately polarized pantheon focusing primarily on the hermetic elements. While I like how most of the deities in this pantheon turned out, and the individual subpantheons show merit, I decided to take a closer look to see how they fit together as a whole.

Final List of Deities

Below is the list of all deities in the Elemental Tetratheon.

Each subpantheon is pretty coherent, in that each is built around a theme and there are many pairs of shared domains. Later examination will demonstrate that most domains are in fact largely associated with a single elemental subpantheon. For instance, the Artifice domain is largely associated with the fire deities, with only one other (Stvari, and earth deity) also granting access to it.

Each subpantheon has seven deities of six alignments (there are two neutral deities in each subpantheon), but it is possible for clerics of any alignment to follow gods in each subpantheon.

  Deity Sex Alignment Domains Chosen Weapon
Fire Deities
  Spaljivan M Neutral Fire, Sun, Knowledge, Nobility Battle Axe
  Sjajan F Neutral Good Sun, Fire, Glory, Artifice, Good, Luck Fire
  Syvetlos A Lawful Neutral Knowledge, Fire, Law, Artifice, Healing, Rune Staff
  Gespedi M Chaotic Neutral Nobility, Fire, Chaos, Magic, Healing, Luck Light Mace
  Vestina F Lawful Good Artifice, Sun, Knowledge, Animal Longbow
  Ravneza F Neutral Healing, Knowledge, Nobility, Death Spear
  Namaran M Chaotic Good Luck, Sun, Nobility, Trickery Rapier
Earth Deities
  Povratak F Neutral Earth, Animal, Plant, Destruction Greatclub
  Stvari F Neutral Good Animal, Artifice, Community, Earth, Rune, Good Hammer
  Saranti M Lawful Neutral Plant, Strength, Law, Earth, Rune, Repose Heavy Mace
  Buntovnik M Neutral Evil Destruction, Strength, War, Community, Earth, Evil Heavy Flail
  Glavni F Lawful Evil Strength, Plant, Destruction, Madness Major
  Gajivak M Neutral Community, Animal, Protection, Destruction Lance
  Valjida M Lawful Good Rune, Knowledge, Animal, Plant Staff
Water Deities
  Vodenjak F Neutral Water, Trickery, Protection, Darkness Spear
  Izvodac M Chaotic Neutral Trickery, Glory, Weather, Chaos, Water, Luck Rapier
  Staratel A Neutral Good Protection, Glory, War, Community, Water, Good Trident
  Ponoc F Neutral Evil Darkness, Weather, War, Travel, Water, Evil Cutlass and Pistol
  Valican M Chaotic Good Glory, Sun, Trickery, Protection Longsword
  Jurisati F Chaotic Evil Weather, Trickery, Liberation, Darkness Shortsword
  Ubojni F Neutral War, Protection, Destruction, Darkness Battleaxe
Air Deities
  Povjetara F Neutral Air, Death, Liberation, Madness Heavy Mace
  Promjena M Lawful Neutral Death, Air, Law, Magic, Healing, Repose Dagger
  Nesmetan M Chaotic Neutral Liberation, Air, Weather, Chaos, Magic, Travel Staff
  Razuma A Neutral Evil Madness, Strength, Air, Travel, Repose, Evil Flail
  Charolija M Chaotic Neutral Magic, Nobility, Death, Liberation Longsword
  Putovanja A Chaotic Evil Travel, Liberation, Darkness, Madness Hammer
  Pokonici F Lawful Evil Repose, Death, Plant, Madness Sickle

Domain Examination

I’ll be looking primarily at the domains and their allocation. First I’ll look at the domain access by subpantheon, then by alignment.

Domain Access by Subpantheon

I created a table with all thirty-three domains from the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, and a column for each elemental subpantheon. For each domain and element, I listed the deities granting access to that domain.

Domain Fire Earth Air Water
Air Povjetara, Promijena, Nesmetan, Razuma
Animal Vestina Povratak, Stvari, Gajivak, Valjida
Artifice Sjajan, Syvetlos, Vestina Stvari
Chaos Gespedi Nesmetan Izvodac
Community Stvari, Buntovnik, Gajivak Staratel
Darkness Putovanja Vodenjak, Osvajac, Jurisati, Ubojni
Death Ravneza Povjetara, Promijena, Charolija, Pokonici
Destruction Povratak, Buntovnik, Glavni, Gajivak Ubojni
Earth Povratak, Stvari, Saranti, Buntovnik
Evil Buntovnik Razuma Osvajac
Fire Spaljivan, Sjajan, Syvetlos, Gespedi
Glory Sjajan Izvodac, Staratel, Velican
Good Sjajan Stvari Staratel
Healing Syvetlos, Gespedi, Ravneza Promijena
Knowledge Spaljivan, Syvetlos, Vestina, Ravneza Valjida
Law Syvetlos Saranti
Liberation Povjetara, Nesmetan, Charolija, Putovanja Jurisati
Luck Sjajan, Gespedi, Namaran Izvodac
Madness Glavni Povjetara, Razuma, Putovanja, Pokonici
Magic Gespedi Promijena, Nesmetan, Charolija
Nobility Spaljivan, Gespedi, Ravneza, Namaran Charolija
Plant Povratak, Saranti, Glavni, Valjida Pokonici
Protection Gajivak Vodenjak, Staratel, Velican, Ubojni
Repose Saranti Promijena, Razuma, Pokonici
Rune Syvetlos Stvari, Saranti, Valjida
Strength Saranti, Buntovnik, Glavni Razuma
Sun Spaljivan, Sjajan, Vestina, Namaran Velican
Travel Nesmetan, Razuma, Putovanja Osvajac
Trickery Namaran Vodenjak, Izvodac, Staratel, Velican, Jurisati
War Buntovnik Staratel, Osvajac, Ubojni
Water Vodenjak, Izvodac, Osvajac
Weather Nesmetan Izvodac, Osvajac, Jurisati

From this I see:

  • Elemental domains are accessible by only one subpantheon, and it’s only to be expected.
  • Alignment domains are each accessible by a single deity in each subpantheon. Again, this was to be expected because the alignment domains were deliberately placed on points where three alignment subpantheons ‘touch’.
  • All other domains present are accessed by deities of only two pantheons. I should have expected this because the ‘alignment deities’ (of which I have none, see below) are the only ones on points accessible by more than one pantheon.

I think I like this, to be honest. Each elemental domain is solidly associated with a single subpantheon, the alignment domains have the broadest but ‘lightest’ touch within each subpantheon, and the domains present in two subpantheons are pretty heavily weighted toward one over the other. This tells me the culture associated with the pantheon sets less store on alignment than element, and that most other divine interests (domains) have strong association with one element and a lesser association with one more. It feels like I should be able to determine other aspects of the culture based on this.

Domain Access by Alignment

The structure of this pantheon causes it to be a bit different from most. Initial examination reveals:

  • All alignments are present, with symmetric frequencies. There are two deities of each of the non-neutral (LG, CE, etc.), three of each partially neutral alignment, and eight neutral deities.
  • Each subpantheon has a bias away from one alignment. There are no evil Fire deities, no good Air deities, no chaotic Earth deities, and no lawful Water deities.
  • No non-neutral deity has an alignment domain. That is, only a partially-neutral deity has an alignment domain. I might adjust things so the non-neutral deities have all alignment domains appropriate to their alignment (deviating from normal practice), but for now I’m going to keep it like this. I like how it looks.

With each pantheon having a bias away from one alignment, and each non-alignment domain accessible by only two elemental subpantheons, the domains available by alignment may be too restricted. I think (because I’ve already done the work) that they are not.

The table below shows how many deities of each alignment grant access to each domain. The table looks a little sparse, but workable.

Air 1 1 1 1
Animal 2 1 2
Artifice 1 2 1
Chaos 3
Community 2 1 1
Darkness 2 1 2
Death 1 3 1
Destruction 3 1 1
Earth 1 1 1 1
Evil 3
Fire 1 1 1 1
Glory 2 1 1
Good 3
Healing 2 1 1
Knowledge 2 1 2
Law 3
Liberation 2 1 2
Luck 1 1 2
Madness 1 2 1 1
Magic 1 1 2
Nobility 1 3 1
Plant 1 1 1 2
Protection 1 1 3
Repose 2 1 1
Rune 1 1 2
Strength 1 1 2
Sun 1 1 2 1
Travel 1 2 1
Trickery 2 1 1 1
War 1 1 2
Water 1 1 1 1
Weather 2 1 1

However, the table above does not take into account the rule that a cleric may follow any deity as long as the cleric’s alignment is within one step of the deity’s (there used to be a rule that neutral clerics had to follow neutral deities only, but it looks like that no longer applies). The only other restriction is that a cleric may only take an alignment domain if the cleric has that alignment.

This changes things.

Air * * * 1 1 1 * 1 *
Animal 2 1 * * 2 * *
Artifice 1 2 * 1 * *
Chaos * 3 *
Community * 2 * * 1 * * 1 *
Darkness * * 2 * * 1 2
Death * * 1 3 * 1 *
Destruction * * 3 * 1 1 *
Earth * 1 * 1 1 * * 1 *
Evil * 3 *
Fire * 1 * 1 1 1 * * *
Glory * 2 1 * 1 *
Good * 3 *
Healing * * * 2 1 1 * * *
Knowledge 2 * * 1 2 * * *
Law * 3 *
Liberation * * * 2 1 * 2
Luck * 1 1 * 2 *
Madness * * 1  * 2 1 1
Magic * * * 1 1 2 * * *
Nobility * 1 * 3 1 * *
Plant 1 * 1 1 * 2 *
Protection * 1 1 * 3 * *
Repose * 2 * * 1 1 *
Rune 1 1 * 2 *  *
Strength * 1  * 1 2 *
Sun 1 1 2 * 1 * *
Travel * * 1 * 2 1
Trickery * 2 * 1 1 * 1
War * 1 * * 1 * * 2  *
Water * 1 * * 1 1 * 1 *
Weather * * 2 * 1 1

(Domain, Alignment) cells marked with an asterisk (“*”) are available because of the rules regarding alignment adjacency. Despite there being no deity with that alignment granting the domain, a cleric of the adjacent alignment can follow that deity and gain access to the domain.

This works out so that all ‘neutral domains’ (that is, domains associated with deities that are neutral) are access to clerics of all alignments. While there are no evil fire deities, Syvetlos is lawful neutral, Gespedi is chaotic neutral, and Ravneza and Spaljivan are both neutral. You won’t see a cleric with the Evil domain worshiping a deity of the fire subpantheon, but you can find clerics with an evil alignment.

The following domains are available to clerics of all alignments: Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Community, Healing, Magic, War.

Closing Comments

Each cleric gets to pick two domains. In the Elemental Tetratheon this is limited by elemental subpantheon you subscribe to and your alignment. Each subpantheon has deities granting access to a total of sixteen domains, half the total used, and each alignment grants access to between 2/3 and 3/4 of all the domains used. Each subpantheon can have clerics of any alignment. The combinations become stricter when considering pairs of domains (clerics pick two, after all), but the selection for any given cleric alignment is quite broad.

I think this hits a good balance between freedom of choice and the constraints needed to provide framework and structure.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Quick Update on Polyhedral Pantheons

A-Z 2015 "Q"The April A-Z Blog Challenge is proving to be a great way to encourage me to work on Polyhedral Pantheons. I have completed drafts of all deities of the Goblin Pantheon and the Elemental Tetratheon. The Halfling Pantheon is hardly started, but I should be able to get back to that one soon.

Reviewing against the book outline I wrote:

  • Introduction drafted
  • Process (Crunch-Oriented) drafted, retitled ‘Creating the Pantheon’
    • Glossary (point, face, edge, node) drafted, likely to move
    • Choosing Polyhedron added, one paragraph per polyhedron
    • Domain Allocation random table
      • Subdomains included in domain table for reference, but not rolled
      • Hybrid Domains out of scope
      • Exalted Domains out of scope
  • World Building added, explains briefly how to expand on base material in stages from low-detail to increasingly higher detail
    • First Pass: Simple Description Round out summary information (chosen weapon if not yet known, symbol)
    • Second Pass: Setting Information Provide basic setting information: theme, shrines and holy grounds, prayers, followers, manifestations
    • Third Pass: Fine Details Expands on information previously created. To be rewritten
  • Fleshing Things Out (Fluff-Oriented) Replaced by Worldbuilding
    • Portfolios
    • Portfolio vs. Domain
    • Alternate Channeling
    • Adapting Paladin Codes
    • Religious Dress
  • Polyhedral Examination Reduced to section in ‘Creating the Pantheon’. Might expand on in appendix, haven’t decided.
    • d12, d20 Dual
    • d6, d8 Dual
    • d4
    • d10, 2d10
    • Alternate d8 (d10-style)
  • Sample Pantheons in progress; will take only to second pass
  • Appendices List of appendices to be revised, might be reduced to ‘helpful references’ page
    • Worksheets May or may not include, already available as free/PWYW product
    • Domain Lists (with sources) Likely to be dropped; domain table in first chapter, subdomains are manually selected to fit, not planning to delve into hybrid domains or exalted domains
      • Domains
      • Subdomains
      • Hybrid Domains
      • Exalted Domains
Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Water Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon

I was asked how ‘water can be chaotic’. Certainly the surface of the water can be unpredictable, but water, fluids in general, follow rules. In fact, the movement of water encourages and grows toward more orderly movement (erosion cuts channels so water will be more likely to follow ‘previous water’).

Which is all true, but does not take into account how those who use the water might use it.

Goddess of Water


  • Domains Water, Trickery, Protection, Darkness
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Spear
  • Symbol Heron

This goddess of water is most often found in pools and behind waterfalls, and enjoys playing pranks on those who think too lightly of the power of water. She is most powerful near moving water, but even still and stagnant water bends to her will. Those who approach her properly can sometimes elicit her aid.

Shrines to Vodenjak are simple cairns and small altars (much as tiny dolmens, really) made of found materials near waterfalls, pools, and springs.

Daily prayers are offered at dusk, as darkness falls, and offerings are left to float away on the water.

Vodenjak’s followers are called Herons, after the long-legged freshwater birds.

She has been known to manifest as a deep blue-grey heron, and as a small, sleek woman wearing only a feathered cloak and bearing a spear with a shaft made of reeds.

Aspects of Vodenjak


  • Domains Trickery, Glory, Weather, Chaos, Water, Luck
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Rapier
  • Symbol Flamboyant feathered hat

This trickster god is an intrepid explorer and revels in going to sea during storms to go where the storm takes him. It is never known where he will be, and while his presence on board a ship may be a good sign the ship will not sink, the sheer uncertainty of the destination that will be reached quite reduces his welcome. It is said that sometimes ships end up in places that should be impossible to reach in the time traveled, or even the space traveled.

Shrines to Izvodac are most often found in harbors, near the docks, where sailors can make offerings in hopes of returning safely, or in hopes of discovering new lands previously unseen by those who don’t already live there.

Daily prayers are offered at noon, when the sun is highest and a navigator has a chance to learn where the ship is.

Followers are known as Explorers. They spend much of their time at sea serving aboard ships, ideally seeking out new places.

Izvodac sometimes manifests as a grandiosely (and inappropriately for the job) dressed member of the gentry, wearing (his vision of) a dashing uniform suited for a sailing officer or well-tailored and pressed explorer’s outfit. His influence might be seen in a serendipitous discovery of a life-saving resource such as food that isn’t full of weevils, or a barrel of fresh water.


  • Domains Protection, Glory, War, Community, Water, Good
  • Alignment Neutral Good
  • Chosen Weapon Trident
  • Symbol Clasped hand and fin, as a handshake

Staratel is a guardian deity working to improve the relationship between land dwellers and the shallow-sea locathah, for the betterment of both. Just as locathah exhibit sequential hermaphroditism (i.e. switch back and forth between male and female), Staratel may be male or female, or in-between, at any given time.

Shrines to this deity are located on the shore and made of driftwood bound in kelp found only at depths difficult for humans to harvest. The need for the shrines to be periodically rebuilt is a repeated opportunity for the land dwellers and the locathah to work together.

Prayers are offered at one of the daily low tides, with each follower choosing which one based on personal schedules of responsibilities and duties.

This deity’s followers are called Seawardens.

Staratel manifests as a seven-foot tall locathah wearing glistening scale mail and wielding a vicious trident.


  • Domains Darkness, Weather, War, Travel, Water, Evil
  • Alignment Neutral Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Cutlass and pistol
  • Symbol Skull above crossed cutlass and pistol

This goddess is the patron of pirates, raiders, buccaneers, and privateers. Whether sanctioned by a letter of marque and thus sanctioned by some governments, or merely out for plunder and slaughter, all fall under her bailiwick.

Shrines to Osvajac are always hidden from public view, and often are accessible only by boat (and small boats at that). They are often in grottos that are partially flooded at high tide, or on forbidding uninhabited islands. Even in a pirate town you are unlikely to find a true shrine to Osvajac. The shrines accumulate mounds of treasure, offerings from her followers in exchange for her boons, and dire curses await anyone foolhardy enough to try to steal from them.

Prayers are offered on first waking, since later in the day is likely to be busy with work and possibly with raiding.

Followers of this deity are known by many unsavory terms including Pirates or Privateers.

Osvajac most often manifests as a bloodthirsty pirate queen, lightly armed and armored, and possibly drenched with sea water and blood. She might be suspected when raiders ‘get lucky’: sentries fall sleep or are drunk, gates are unlocked, or powder stores of the enemy are damp.

Associates of the Water Deities


  • Domains Glory, Sun, Trickery, Protection
  • Alignment Chaotic Good
  • Chosen Weapon Longsword
  • Symbol Lighthouse

This god of glory and protection is a beacon to his people. Weathered by his time on the water, crafty enough to see through attempts to mislead, and cunning enough to draw invaders into his traps. He is a sworn foe of Osvajac, pledged to stand in her way.

Velican’s shrines are lighthouses, towers with powerful search lights to seek out attacking ships (and to a lesser extent, ships attempting a clandestine landing). It is not uncommon to find them surrounded by trophies taken from defeated pirates – the torn, burned, and bloody flags from their ships, the transoms with the ships’ names, and so on.

Prayers are offered to Velican at noon, when attack is least likely and the sun is highest in the sky.

The most prominent followers of this god are called Bright Sentries, always on watch and prepared to fight for their god and protect the city in their care. Little spoken of are the more covert followers, known to few, who gather information from less savory sources and in less obvious ways.

Valican almost always manifests as a mighty warrior clad in white ship’s uniform and wearing a gleaming mail shirt, bearing a long sword. At need, however, he might appear as a disreputable longshoreman or dock rat, such as to pass on a secret message or trick information out of someone. His influence might be suspected in a lucky break – the gleam of light reflecting from a blackened weapon, sound that carries over water, or a timely wind that blows an attacker’s ship out of position.


  • Domains Weather, Trickery, Liberation, Darkness
  • Alignment Chaotic Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Shortsword
  • Symbol Sinking ship

This goddess of storms delights in jailbreaks and in capricious weather sinking ships. She can be found in the darkness of the stormy night, and among the black-greased pirates swimming ashore to rescue their mates.

Jurisati’s shrines are durably built and well-concealed. They are often surprisingly close to coastal fortresses and towns that might be worth raiding, whether for riches, for ships, or for prisoners.

Prayers to this goddess are offered at dusk, when night’s work begins.

Her followers are called Saboteurs, well-trained in infiltration techniques and how to scuttle ships.

Jurisati manifests as a slender woman clad in tight black leather (suede, to reduce reflections) wielding a wickedly-curved shortsword.


  • Domains War, Protection, Destruction, Darkness
  • Alignment Neutral Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Heavy flail
  • Symbol Broken bones

This goddess of war embraces her role. Even protecting something, be it a city or a child, is only an opportunity to wage war with no restraint as long as the goals are met. No tactic is too underhanded, no act too vicious. Her only sense of honor toward her troops and allies is to not waste them, to save them so they can be spent to greater effect.

Ubojni’s shrines are training grounds for dirty fighting. Bloodstains abound, and broken teeth can be found swept into corners and cracks in the floor. Pit fights and gambling are seen as training exercises and revenue opportunities.

Prayers are offered daily at dusk, after the daily work is done (whether ‘civilian work’ or ship work) and before ‘night training’, the pit fights mentioned above, begins. In a large enough group, each follower might be involved in a fight only once every month or two, depending how often his bones get broken and how long they take to heal.

Her followers are called Bonebreakers because of their training practices, and how they go about warfare. A dead enemy is a good enemy, but a broken enemy is still out of the fight and distracts or demoralizes his allies. Or both.

Ubojni manifests as a muscular, scarred woman wearing an eyepatch, with a previously-broken nose and missing a few teeth. She bears a heavy flail that still bears shreds of previous foes.

Closing Comments

The deities of water tend to the chaotic. There ended up being a fairly strong nautical theme (though not explicitly mentioned in all deities), we’ve got an explorer that hints at ending up on strange seas (on other worlds?), pirates and brigands, one who would protect against them, and one that care for little beyond carnage.

This wraps up the twenty-eight deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. I ultimately decided that though there are deities with alignments, and deities with alignment domains, the culture does not have the philosophical abstractions that would have a deity focused on each alignment (no ‘god of good’ or ‘goddess of law’, etc.). In fact, I feel like this pantheon has enough nuance that such deities might not even be needed.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Air Deities of the Elemental Tetratheon

Here are the air deities of the Elemental Tetratheon. Not actually part of the A-Z Challenge, or I would’ve done it three weeks ago for ‘A’, but I have a use for it fairly soon.

Much of this pantheon was shaped, even created, by a tragic misjudgement on Povjetara’s part. It broke her mind, and the fragments were scattered far.

Goddess of Air

Povjetara, The Anguished Wind

  • Domains Air, Death, Liberation, Madness
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Heavy mace (actually a twisted battleaxe)
  • Symbol Broken skull with shards of a crown embedded

This goddess of winds once was seen as a loving deity who sought to free her people from the rule of a cruel emperor. When her agents and allies finally defeated the oppressive ruler, it was discovered that his policies were not due to malice, but necessity. The fall of the ruler released the evil that had been held back by his will and his power. A deadly wind swept the land, devastating her people. This torments her to this day, and being a deity she still sees every one of her followers that died.

Povjetara’s shrines are tall, open places exposed to the wind. Her followers still gather, but there is a feeling of stillness, of absence.

Prayers are offered to this goddess at evening, when changing temperatures cause the wind to shift.

Her followers are called Vagabonds, and wander without direction until they find a quest that might reduce Povjetara’s anguish.

This goddess has not openly manifested in centuries. From time to time it is thought she might manifest indirectly as a surprising patch of dead air where a wind would be expected, or as an unexpected wind bearing a stench of death.

Aspects of Povjetara


  • Domains Death, Air, Law, Magic, Healing, Repose
  • Alignment Lawful Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Dagger
  • Symbol Balance with a cheerful face and a skull on the pans

This god of eternity acts as a breeze that clears away debris and stale air, guiding and enforcing the incontrovertible cycle of life and death. Separated from Povjetara when her mind shattered, his power is her fervent hope that all things end so that new things may begin, and the harm done to her people will ultimately be undone. Undead are anathema in his sight, and he countenances the creation of undead only as a punishment, to remove an offender from the great cycle.

Promijena’s temples are well-ordered places, clean and well-aired. Those who suffer injury or disease can come here, certain that one way or the other the problem will end. Life and health, or a death no worse than it must be, are the likely outcomes.

Prayers to this god are offered at midnight, as one day becomes the next.

His followers are called Guides, because they escort the unwell to health or to their next lives.

Promijena manifests as an ordinary-looking man dressed in brown, possibly wearing a bloodstained apron and bearing a small, very sharp knife (scalpel).


  • Domains Liberation, Air, Weather, Chaos, Magic, Travel
  • Alignment Chaotic Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Staff
  • Symbol Battered hat, or a ragged fan

The god of freedom was torn from Povjetara in the moment her mind shattered. He goes where the wind blows him, satisfied with the consequences of the deadly wind because “at least they died free”. It is thought that if Povjetara does regain her mind that he will seek to evade her and fight returning to her.

Nesmetan has no shrines, they could ultimately be a way to find and capture him when Povjetara is restored. However, given how much and how quickly he travels, any prayer offered to the wind can reach him.

Prayers are offered to the wind as much as possible, at no set time. The greater the wind the more likely it is Nesmetan will receive the prayers, and many followers have used fans (or their hats) to try to create or increase wind and increase the success of their prayers.

His followers are known as the Unfettered, seeking always to avoid entanglement and commitment.

Nesmetan manifests as a disheveled, wind-blown man with a furtive look, bearing a curiously-carved staff.


  • Domains Madness, Strength, Air, Travel, Repose, Evil
  • Alignment Neutral Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Flail
  • Symbol Face with eyes torn out

This amorphous being is the projection of the mind of a mad goddess. Povjetara’s anguish is so great it has expanded beyond her immortal body to spread among mortals. Razuma wanders the world and causes situations to drive others mad. Where Vydirani strives to torment mortals into suicide, Razuma stretches them to the breaking point and keeps them there indefinitely.

All shrines to Razuma are constructed by those who have been broken by this mad deity, and they vary in form. Each is strewn with the remnants and mementos of what the broken one has lost.

Prayers are offered to Razuma at midnight, in the depth of the night when there is no one else to hear.

Razuma’s followers are known as the Broken, the shattered remnants of people who were once healthy and strong.

This deity rarely manifests openly, instead appearing as disturbing images to the one being attacked. These images might be unpleasant lies, even more unpleasant lies, or painful reminders. All are formed specifically to drive the viewer to madness.

Associates of the Air Deities


  • Domains Magic, Nobility, Death, Liberation
  • Alignment Neutral
  • Chosen Weapon Longsword
  • Symbol Steel mask with fiery eyes

This god of magic grants people the freedom they deserve. Charolija is an unusual god of justice that is less concerned about order than returning to people what they have given. Those who give weal or woe will be rewarded in kind… and Charolija’s burning eyes can see all.

Shrines to Charolija always take the form of a court, with a raised throne where a ruler might give judgement. A steel mask rests on the throne, and during ceremonies rises with flaming eyes to accept obeisance.

Prayers are offered at noon, when mortals come closest to seeing as well as Charolija.

This god’s followers are called Magistrates, as they make all effort to ensure balance as does their patron.

Charolija manifests as a majestic wizard with rich robes and wearing a polished steel mask. His eyes can be seen burning through the holes in the mask, and nothing can be hidden from his sight.


  • Domains Travel, Liberation, Darkness, Madness
  • Alignment Chaotic Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Hammer
  • Symbol Broken shackles made of gold

This deity is a further extension of Razuma, and similarly amorphous. Putovanja is a cloud of darkness that breaks people from the doldrums of a secure life. This deity delights in disruption and the breaking of social contracts.

Shrines to Putovanja are light and portable. Most often a shrine is little more than a brazier.

Prayers are offered at midnight, consisting of burning a litany of grievance and hatred, stained with the blood of the petitioner, so the ashes can be blown into the night and received by Putvanja.

This deity’s followers are called Solicitors, as they seek out those who wish to call on Putovanja.

Putovanja manifests as a cloud of darkness, full of smoke and the ashes of petitions received. This deity might be suspected present when people seem to suddenly change personality or break commitments, throwing away what they have worked for.


  • Domains Repose, Death, Plant, Madness
  • Alignment Lawful Evil
  • Chosen Weapon Sickle
  • Symbol Bloody hand with dirty fingernails

This goddess of death is a dark reflection of Promijena. One of the consequences of the deadly winds that cross the lands were many people and animals died, providing fertilization for the soil. Trees and other plants grew wildly, in some cases overgrowing parts of settlements, to the point that some have been entirely lost. Where Promijena is the cycle of life and death, Pokonici aggressively works to see that more people die so the rest of the land can return to forest.

Her shrines are all untended groves and thickets of well-grown plants and trees, fertilized by those who died in the deadly winds.

Prayers are offered just several hours before dawn, when sane people sleep and will not see the offerings being buried.

Followers are called Planters, and they spend much of their time spread seeds and planting seedlings in ‘surprisingly fertile soil’.

Pokonici manifests as a farmer with vines and small plants growing from her clothes and hair, and bloody hands with dirt under her fingernails.

Closing Comments

When I started working on this pantheon the air deities tended toward evil. I originally thought of something along the lines of taking the old ‘Wind Dukes of Aaqa’ and making them sinister. Instead, I ended up with a mad goddess whose broken mind has scattered, like the wind, with the power to spread the harm that she experiences.

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Polyhedral Pantheons Cover

Points and Nodes and Paths, Oh My!

A-Z 2015 "P"Chris Kutalik of the Hill Cantons and I share an interest in the use of graph theory in roleplaying games. He refers to it as ‘pointcrawling‘ (an obvious allusion to hex crawling), and has Kickstarted and published an adventure featuring a pointcrawl, Slumbering Ursine Dunes.

I never really got to naming it, but since my node-based megadungeon (see final map at the bottom of this post) was designed in a similar manner other people have taken to referring to it as ‘nodecrawling’. I design at this level, drilling down and refining each node until I am satisfied I have sufficient detail for my purpose. In the node-based megadungeon series this was two levels, one identifying regions and one identifying areas in each region.

The critical element of graph-based adventure design is that it focuses on key entities (places, creatures, and things) and the relationships between them. By largely ignoring the physical implementation at first you can ensure all the necessary connections are present, and start preparing the information the PCs will need to navigate the adventure with knowledge and agency.

Then, when I thought Chris and I were each so clever, a couple of other folks came along with ideas to make the mechanism even better.

Lionel's Abandoned Tower Transitions

Lionel’s Abandoned Tower Transitions

Lionel di Giacomo made an obviously great addition: transitional notes. This is especially useful for GMs who like to improvise, and for less improvisation GMs during their development process. Put simple, make notes about what may be seen or experienced while moving from one node (or point) to the next. The linked article has an example where Lionel took the graph (node map) of the Abandoned Tower and added notes to most of the edges between nodes. They indicate some continuity of design (the oak steps in the tower proper and the brass steps in the clockwork tower), differences and challenges (the fallen stairs between the second and third floors, the locked grate preventing access to the iron ladder), and so on.

Daniel Davis had another very good addition to the process: the pathcrawl. It is much like the pointcrawl or the nodecrawl, but like Lionel’s idea it puts greater emphasis on the edges between nodes, the paths between them. Paths connect ‘interesting things’. The GM has probably prepared the major paths the PCs might interact with, but new paths might be found that could take you somewhere else. For instance, while traveling between the Keys of Heraka-at to Spire of the Bronze Sorceress, the PCs might stumble on a long-abandoned trail that leads… somewhere else. The old path still exists, but this new (well, new to the PCs) path is another option. Unlike simply striking out overland, though, a path goes somewhere interesting, so the PCs can be reasonably confident there will be something at the other end. There might be clues as to what’s at the other end, there might not, but at least they can be confident that they’ll find something.

If you found this article interesting and want to learn more, go read Chris’ most excellent material on point crawling.

You may find Daniel Davis’ article on pathcrawling useful as well, as it extends the mechanism to provide a way for new elements can be added to an existing graph.

Between the graph theory Chris and I explore, and the suggestions from Lionel and Daniel, I think there are some great mechanisms for use in designing and developing adventures.

And because I tend to think in abstractions, I find many of the same processes can be applied to campaign and setting design, and at many levels. And the branching mechanism of the pathcrawl makes me want to think again of how Ben Robbins’ Microscope RPG can be adapted to physical exploration.

Node-Based Megadungeon Final Graph

Node-Based Megadungeon Final Graph

On Wandering Monsters and Random Encounters

A-Z 2015 "O"While working with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Reference Document (PRD) monster information I’ve noticed that there are very few wandering monster or random encounter tables. There used to be pages of them in each of the monster manuals of previous editions (at least, up to 3.5; I can’t comment on 4e).

So I went looking through some of the Adventure Path modules and found — or rather, didn’t find — much at all about random encounters. Again, back in the day you could pretty reliably count on finding at least one wandering monster table per level or region of an adventure, and now I don’t see them.

This makes me sad, a little. I play mostly old school games and find during play that the random encounters bring out things that might otherwise have not been seen. I think there is something gained by unexpected events in a scenario, even when the scenario itself is well-mapped.

If you’re familiar with my scenario design process, I develop an entity map, a graph showing the major entities (locations, characters, events, etc., as needed) in the scenario and how they are related to each other. This makes it quite easy to see and understand the scenario and how the pieces fit together. It works. Left at that, though, it comes to feel like everything is related to the scenario.

Strangely enough, this high cohesion can in fact reduce engagement in the setting because it is outside the scenario and thus not important. It becomes easy to forget that there is more to the world than just the quest the PCs are following.

Random encounters, random events, wandering monsters, they all can serve to remind the players that there is more going on. Their intrusion into the scenario or question can actually increase engagement because it becomes more evident that there are other things to explore. There may be other avenues to pursue goals, perhaps allies to be gained, or previously undiscovered threats to defeat.

Types of Random Encounters

Random encounters are often set up as just that. Throw a few monsters together, give them some hit points and loot, and drop them on the PCs when the dice say to.

This is a wasted opportunity.

I split random encounters into three broad classes: local notables, notable passersby, and local flavor, for lack of better names. I usually try to have about one third of the random encounters from each class.

Local Notables

These are encounters with creatures or situations relevant to the current scenario. The PCs might run into some patrolling guards (or wandering inhabitants), or a named NPC, or stumble on something one of the locals is looking for (“What has it got in its pocketses?”). This can cause a sudden shift in plans, potentially because the PCs have to quickly silence some guards, alarms are raised, a peaceful conversation happens that reveals some information.

Notable Passersby

Unless a scenario is in a tightly controlled area such as a dungeon (but not so much a megadungeon), it can be easy to have outside influences intrude. In a city scenario you could potentially interact with almost anyone: a pickpocket who lifts your purse, a drunken noble who is about to be mugged and could use some help, a traveler with news from abroad. A smaller town or village is likely more insular, but still you can have travelers and unexpected events.

These can all be opportunities to introduce information, hooks to other adventures, and (failing all else) experience points and loot.

Local Flavor

These random encounters and events provide an opportunity to make more evident the tone and nature of the scenario. The PCs might encounter local, unimportant monsters, or stumble on a natural feature of note, or find ‘dressing’ that helps make the place more memorable.

Designing an Encounter Table

To this day I still find the AD&D 2e encounter table design practices to be quite good.

Make a list of potential encounters and events, grouped loosely by how common you want them to be (common, uncommon, rare, very rare).

If you prepare your scenario to focus on ‘level-appropriate’ encounters you might plan to have APL (Average Party Level) encounters ‘common’, APL+1 and APL-1 ‘uncommon’, APL+2 and APL-2 ‘rare’, and APL+3 and APL-3 ‘very rare’. In class dungeon terms these might point to encounters from higher or lower levels.

Prepare a table with 19 entries, numbered 2..20. When an encounter is called for, roll d12+d8. This provides a range of frequencies from 1/96 chance of being rolled (2 and 20, each) to 8/96 (9 through 13).

Roll Frequency Frequency Description
2 1/96 Very rare
3 2/96 Very rare
4 3/96 Very rare or rare
5 4/96 Rare
6 5/96 Rare
7 6/96 Uncommon
8 7/96 Uncommon
9 8/96 Common
10 8/96 Common
11 8/96 Common
12 8/96 Common
13 8/96 Common
14 7/96 Uncommon
15 6/96 Uncommon
16 5/96 Rare
17 4/96 Rare
18 3/96 Very rare or rare
19 2/96 Very rare
20 1/96 Very rare

Assign the potential encounters or events to the table above so they align with your desired frequency. That is, place common encounters or events on the rows marked 9..13, rare ones on rows marked 4..6 or 16..18, depending what else you have present. I might have another column with notes about the encounter, such as (for local notables) their ‘normal home base’ (that’s where you might find the NPC’s stat block, after all, and if you kill him here you won’t find him there later), or how many goblins are actually present to be encountered (again, if you kill them all there will be none left for later).

Then, when the dice indicate a random encounter, roll d12+d8 on the table and you identify your encounter.

There are nine entries that are common or uncommon, accounting for 66/96 (slightly more than 2/3) of the entire table. I would try to assign two or three encounters or events of each type above to these entries. In places where access is constrained I might reduce the notable passersby. In cosmopolitan places I might increase them. The rare and very rare encounter entries are good places for weird or unlikely events, ideally ones that are not important to the advancement of the story.


I like to have multiple columns of potential encounters or events. There may be something I want to have likely to happen, but only once. In this case I might populate the first column of a ‘common’ row with that event or encounter and mark it ‘once only’, with a different encounter (or none at all) in the next column in case this row gets rolled again.

This can also serve as an escalation mechanism. The first time you run into goblin guards, if you don’t successfully evade them (or talk your way past, or pay them off) it might be a patrol of d4+1 goblins. On a subsequent encounter it might become 2d4+1 (with one being a sergeant) because the place is becoming more alert and patrols are going out in force. There might be an ‘alertness level’ that could move you from one column to the next even if you haven’t encountered the row before (i.e. if an alarm is raised then all patrols are doubled — next column over for ‘goblin encounters’ automatically).

Closing Comments

There was a time when I found random encounters arbitrary and time-consuming, and they could interfere with the expected activities and events.

I have since come to the conclusion that this is actually a useful feature. They provide me a way to introduce hooks and information about things that are outside the scope of the current scenario, to provide flavor to reinforce the tone of the scenario, and provide opportunities to do things that will change how the scenario plays out.

Naming Things with Style

A-Z 2015 "N"I find that naming things well can be difficult.

  • If I just make up a name, I fall into patterns (similar sounds and emphasis and rhythm) that cause the names to be overly similar and thus no longer distinct.
  • Using ‘real world’ names is great for matching real-world settings, and can help evoke the real-world source of the name (‘Frederick of Haversham’ is a great name for a scenario based in England) but I’ve found they tend to break down and become ‘Fred the Paladin’.
  • Purely random name generation, as by using word fragments assembled randomly (a common technique) can emulate the language the fragments come from, but often sound silly in my ear.
  • Name based on epithets or descriptive phrases. ‘Fiery Sun’ (flaming battleaxe), ‘Fading Twilight’ (could be anything), and the like can be workable. I find this method leads to flowery descriptive names that get tedious after a while.

Even so, the techniques above can be workable for character names. However, I find they fall down when naming places, creatures, and other things.

The single best mechanism I’ve found for naming things: Google Translate. While I would not want to use it to try to translate anything of significance, beyond trying to gain a superficial understanding, it works very well indeed for naming characters and setting elements.

The process is dead simple:

  • Enter a word or phrase that describes the entity being named.
  • Translate to other languages until you find something that looks or sounds the way you like, or close to it.
  • Munge the translation a bit as needed.
    • English is my primary language, and I’m good at emulating other language sounds, but even so there are letter combinations I find are hard to pronounce.
    • English uses very few accents compared to other languages. I tend to discard them when using this technique.
    • Sometimes I like how part of the translation looks, either a word fragment or even the ‘wrong word’ if there are multiple words in the translated result.
  • Write down the new name. I usually make notes about what languages were used in the translation and the exact phrase I translated, in case I want to recreate or adjust things later.

I use this method frequently. Beobachten, The Dragon Watching, is named based on ‘watching’ or ‘watcher’ in German. All of the goblin deities are named using English words or phrases translated to Czech. The deities of the Elemental Tetratheon are named using English words or phrases translated to Bosnian. The  halfling deities are named using translations to Chinese. In fact, I only learned they were Chinese when I found the name of their culture — Shu-shi — and it worked out quite well.

This technique has several benefits:

  • You can start with a word or phrase that describes the subject (easy starting point), but hides it.
  • You can get names that ‘feel similar’ (word fragments, sounds and rhythm), without being random.
  • You can manipulate things so similar entities have similar name structure (much as many German cities have names ending with ‘burg’ or ‘stedt’).

Between them, you can generate names that are consistent in form and yet distinctive, something I find difficult to do simply making things up. By switching target languages you can work with several cultures and evoke different feel for each group or source of named objects.

A useful tool to have in your pocket when it’s needed.

Musing on Spell-Like Abilities in Echelon

A-Z 2015 "M"In almost all editions of D&D many creatures have abilities defined in terms of spells, such as the succubus’ suggestion. These are like spells (subject to spell resistance, etc.) but not exactly (each may be limited to a certain number of uses per day, and they don’t share all the casting requirements of normal spells). ‘Spell-like abilities’ is an appropriate expression.

I have never much cared for the ‘uses/day’ style of limitation, and I’d like to see it gone. All creatures in Echelon have magic points. These are used by casters to fuel their magic, other characters might use them to power magic items, and so on.

Using these points to pay for the use of spell-like abilities makes sense. However, at that point they become even more like spells.

By itself it doesn’t bother me, but it does lead me to question whether the distinction between ‘creature with spell-like ability’ and ‘creature that is a spell caster’ is relevant any more.. and if not, should a creature with spell-like abilities, inherently magical, have that count toward ‘normal’ spell casting?

I see several ways forward with this:

  • Treat as spells. Casting them requires magic points, just like spells, and they interact with all other rules as spells do. This suggests that the talents that grant access to these abilities will behave either as casting tradition cornerstone talents or as spell knowledge common talents that provide a training bonus.
  • Treat as magical abilities. Using these abilities requires magic points, just like spells, and when used they interact with most other rules as spells do (subject to SR, but don’t require material components). Both cornerstone talents and common talents can grant access to tier-appropriate spell-like abilities. These will be narrower in scope than casting tradition cornerstones or spell knowledge common talents and don’t provide a training bonus, but they can provide direct access to higher-tier spells than either of the other two talent types.
  • Treat must as D&D 3.x. Using these abilities consumes ‘uses per day’, and when used they interact with most other rules as spells do (subject to SR, but don’t require material components). No interaction whatsoever with the casting system.

What are some other possible approaches?