Divine Trappings: Aspects of a Domain

In Anatomy of a God I wrote of the elements that I expect to include when describing a deity, and that I expect to use domains to gather the bases of these elements.

This post expands on that idea, and describes the information I expect to include in a domain description.

Perhaps surprisingly, spells and granted powers don’t even come into it. Most of the information here actually is descriptive.

Domain Aspects

Domain aspects are, on their face, a set of lists covering various descriptive elements that could be applied to a deity, holy grounds, and so on.

Aspect Simple Lists

The elements below are straightforward and don’t really need expansion, and are likely to be presented as simple lists themselves.

  • Portfolios are areas of interest that might cause a deity to have this domain. Many portfolios will likely be shared by domains, and vice-versa.
  • Motifs are sensory elements (often pictures, but may be sounds or smells or other sensory elements) commonly associated with the domain. A church of the god of the sea probably includes scenes of the sea: ships, waves, etc.
  • Manifestations are descriptive elements that might be associated with a deity with this domain (a cloak that always flutters in an unseen breeze, literally flaming eyes, etc.)
  • Colors are colors that might be associated with the domain, such as Fire being associated with red, orange, and yellow (and possibly certain blues).
  • Holy Places identifies the sorts of places, or characteristics of places, likely to be holy to a deity with the domain.
  • Patronage indicates the sorts of people likely to follow a deity with this domain.

Aspect Complex Lists

Dogmas, tenets, and duties are ‘complex lists’, each consisting of several subsets, each with examples. For instance, a set of duties might contain entries such as:

  • Allegiance Sailors, explorers, singers, and musicians.
    • “Succor those who travel the seas and unknown lands. Give them shelter and rest before they continue their journeys.”
  • Bond Harnessing wind for work and for music.
    • “Teach those who build ships and mills how to better use the wind’s bounty. The power of Brother Sky frees people to see the world and from tedious work.”
    • “Embrace and promote and celebrate the music of the winds: songs, horns, flutes, and the thunder of the drums.”

Duties are easier to express than dogmas or tenets, since they are specific instructions. I would probably identify dogmas as tenets as they became more relevant to my campaign.

Quests and trials might be considered adventure seeds, as they are specific things to pursue.

  • “People report that the air near the Forest of Shelbaneau is causing them to sicken. Find and fix the problem.”
  • “A generation ago, a ship carrying the Horn of Gales sank somewhere to the east. Uncommon storms have been happening in that region lately… perhaps the Horn has resurfaced. Go find it.”

Characters and Creatures

In some cases, those who follow deities with certain domains may share some characteristics. Someone following an earth deity might be unusually muscular and thick-bodied, someone following an animal deity might be fierce and wild, someone following a healing deity might be peaceful and serene. Similarly with creatures, a moon deity might be associated with lycanthropes, and a fire deity with elementals.

These are likely to be expressed as lists of characteristics (for characters), or of creatures, creature types, and templates, for creatures. These might or might not be system-specific: even a game without ‘cavaliers’ or ‘inquisitors’ (Pathfinder has both, but they are not in the Core Rulebook) could probably map these two ‘mounted military leader’ and ‘religious (and probably intolerant) hunter of blasphemy’.

Heralds, allies, and summoning lists are likely to align with these characteristic, and probably intersect. Cestelline, Goddess of the Shielding Moon (Moon subdomain, Good and Protection domains) has a celestial (Good) werewolf (Moon) paladin (Good and Protection) as her herald.

Closing Comments

Once the elements above are defined for a domain, it should provide a game master or world builder with quite a bit of material to use when defining a deity and the deity’s followers.

Note that these are mostly just suggestions, recommendations at most. Not all elements of a domain are going to apply to any deity, and not only could an individual be wildly non-compliant with the elements that are chosen, the elements themselves could be contradicted. The follower of an earth deity might be unusually thick-bodied and muscular, and probably slow to move… but metal also is associated with earth, and might mean a follower could be lean, sharp, and fast.


    • Hi Anne, welcome to my blog.

      I think there are two elements that go into how ordered RPG mythology is.

      First, I believe most people like things to be at least mostly ordered. A little asymmetry here and there, or the occasional exception or the like isn’t too bad, but overall they want it to make sense. Real-world mythology is a convoluted mess, and we really don’t see that in most RPG mythology. (Most fictional feudalism is similarly simplified; in real world history things were inconsistent and even seemingly contradictory. That scene from Belgariad where Queen Mayaserana asked, “do you mean to tell me this civil war has lasted for centuries over a technicality?!” is pretty close to something that actually could have happened.) Someone designing a mythology will likely want it to fit a reasonable mental model, and the need to make sense is a huge constraint. To quote Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

      Second, because it’s mythology for a roleplaying game, we usually want to have lots of options for players to play the characters they want. There might be only one ‘god of war’ (in Polyhedral Pantheon turns, one deity that has War as the primary domain), but there can be many war gods, deities with the War domain as a secondary domain and other domains that influence how this one applies. I know people who can make these things up in their heads, but I like to have some tools to help.

      These tools lead to semi-ordered results. That is, deities ‘near each other’ may share some domains, enough for people to see patterns and how things shift as you move around the pantheon. Some of my early attempts at pantheon creation involved randomly assigning domains. They looked horrible because there was no sense to it. The process I use now instills some sense to it and people can see ‘order’, which helps make it easier for them to accept, to suspend their disbelief. See ‘First’ point above :)

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