Tight-Knit Worldbuilding or How I Let Go and Learned to Enjoy the Hexcrawl

Last post, I created a pantheon, but it is pretty bare-bones. To make this an interesting region on a map, here are more fluff and crunch details. This is a long post. The OSR version of all this comes in a near-future post.

Water and Animal Domains

With the water domain so strong, let's assume the people that worship these gods live on the coast and have strong ties to the sea. Since the deities are so similar and the animal domain is also prominent, I'll assign totems by alignment: Dolphin (CG), Shark (CE), Octopus (LE), Walrus (LG). The totem is part holy symbol, part animistic religion. More on that later in the post.

Male and Female Were They Made

Since there are two gods for each alignment, I will make them brother and sister. Why would there be male and female aspects of the same alignment? Why are all the domains so tightly bound together? Let's say that at first, there was only one True Neutral god of the Sea. After creating the water and all the creatures that live there, his final act of creation was to split into eight weaker, but divine pieces. These pieces are what comprise our pantheon.

Areas of Concern

In addition to the names and favored weapons, I'm going to add areas of concerns. This is mostly to match the format of the Egyptian pantheon on the Pathfinder SRD, but it can be a lot of fun for background. I didn't want to overload the pantheon with a bunch of new features, so this is a way to accentuate the Strength and Wisdom domains without adding more crunch. Here's our pantheon again:

DEITY AL AREAS OF CONCERN NON-ALIGNMENT DOMAINS FAVORED WEAPON
Samoora N Oceans, Sea Creatures, Wisdom Animal, Creation, Knowledge, Strength, Water trident
Camalanth LG Habitat, Fishing, Walrus Animal, Knowledge spear
Clawata LG Tides, Currents, Walrus Strength, Water dagger
Broadhead CG Exploration, Ships, Creatures Lost at Sea, Dolphin Knowledge, Water Kusarigama
Galelile CG Giant Sea Creatures, Social Graces, Dolphin Animal, Strength quaterstaff
Villefred CE Sea Shanties, Predators, Poison, Shark Animal, Knowledge short sword
Helica CE Speed, Strength, Brutality, Shark Strength, Water maul
L'Sak LE Obscurement, Deception, Octopus Knowledge, Water spear
Nagelot LE Aquatic Birds, Thievery, Blackmail, Octopus Animal, Strength net

A Dead God and Subdomains

Since the creator god, Samoora, is gone, we'll call this the Samoora Pantheon. One way to make the gods more distinct is to use subdomains. Since the Samoora Pantheon is tied closely with the sea, the default Water domain for these gods is really the Ocean subdomain. Just as a bit of flavor, I'll call the traditional Water domain the Current (as in a cold water current) domain.

Defining Totems

Even with subdomains, I want to make the animal totems mean something more. Let's make something like subdomains based on the totem. For ease of reference, I'll call them Totem Subdomains.

Each totem represents one alignment. For example, Clerics of Camalanth and Clawata may take the Walrus Totem Subdomain since both gods are Lawful Good.

Since every god in the Samoora Pantheon covers either the Animal or Water domain, these totem domains are used with those domains instead of Law, Chaos, Good, or Evil. No god has both Animal and Water, so it shouldn't create an issue.

Keith gave a bit of advice to make the totem more meaningful, so all Totem subdomains also gain the following ability.

Spirit Animal (Su): You can take the shape of your totem animal once/day at 4th level, +1/day per two levels after that until 18th level, then at will. Each use is good for one hour per level or until canceled. At higher levels they can take on more varied forms (initially small and medium animals, then smaller and larger, plants, elementals, and so on, at different levels). At 12th level, you may take the shape of your totem's avatar, a half-human/half-animal form.

There are four Totem Subdomains; Walrus, Dolphin, Shark, and Octopus. Here are the stats for each one.

Walrus  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Walrus Totem, you seek to promote the welfare of your seafaring community.

Inspiring Word (Su): As a standard action, you can speak an inspiring word to a creature within 30 feet. That creature receives a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls, skill checks, ability checks, and saving throws for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1). You can use this power a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

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

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—remove fear, 3rd—protection from energy(cold only), 7th—repulsion

Dolphin  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Dolphin Totem, you value the common good and strong family bonds through play. You seek to find what is lost to help others.

Bit of Luck (Su): You can touch a willing creature as a standard action, giving it a bit of luck. For the next round, any time the target rolls a d20, he may roll twice and take the more favorable result. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Echolocation (Ex): At 6th level, you gain the power to use once a day. Echolocation functions the same as the Locate Object spell except that this power is foiled by polymorph any object and silence. It is not foiled by nondetection.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—Air Bubble, 3rd—Ocean's Blessing (+10 Swim checks), 6th—mislead

Shark  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Shark Totem, you are ruthless and efficient in all you do.

Bleed Touch (Su): As a melee touch attack, you can cause a living creature to take 1d6 points of damage per round. This effect persists for a number of rounds equal to 1/2 your cleric level (minimum 1) or until stopped with a DC 15 Heal check or any spell or effect that heals damage. You can use this ability a number of times per day equal to 3 + your Wisdom modifier.

Gale Aura (Su): At 6th level, as a standard action, you can create a 30-foot aura of gale-like winds that slows the progress of enemies. Creatures in the aura cannot take a 5-foot step. Enemies in the aura treat each square that brings them closer to you as difficult terrain. They can move normally in any other direction. You can use this ability for a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level. The rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—cause fear, 3rd—rage, 6th—harm

Octopus  Subdomain

Associated Domains: Animal, Water

Granted Powers: As followers of the Octopus Totem, you are cold, calculating, and always in control. This means you know when to press an advantage and when to regroup for a more opportune time.

Obscuring Ink (Su): This power functions as the Obscuring Mist spell except that it also functions underwater. Any objects that come in contact with the ink are stained for one minute per round of effect. The duration of this affect is 3 + Wisdom bonus rounds. The rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Whispering Evil (Su): At 8th level, as a standard action, you can whisper a hypnotizing litany of empty promises. Each enemy within a 30-foot emanation that can hear you must succeed on a Will saving throw or become fascinated for as long as you continue the litany. You can use this power a number of rounds per day equal to your cleric level, but these rounds do not need to be consecutive. This is a mind-affecting effect

Replacement Domain Spells: 1st—disguise self, 3rd—nondetection, 6th—hold monster or modify memory

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

With our deities defined, we can now look out for other events to shape the pantheon and the implied community that reveres these gods. Since the Walrus totem focuses on protection from cold, we can place an ancient White Dragon named Vinakrah to the north as a constant threat. To make it interesting, the Cult of the Vinakrah is a unifying threat for the followers of these gods. Specifically, when Priests of the White Dragon menace the community, these gods can work together to overcome a common enemy.

One Enemy Is Not Enough

Some time ago, I wrote about a golem-making group of crabmen called the Portán. In real crabs, molting occurs twice a year for a total of three weeks. The molting times would see a dramatic increase in the number of the crabmen golems and no doubt fuel the discussion about a final solution for these menaces.

At low and medium levels, these guys could keep any group busy, especially in raid on the Portán nests. When a party arrives, though, they soon discover the secrets of the Portán and pray to return to the safety of their own civilization. The crabmen also present a number of good adventure hooks, including quests for alien technology and/or an alien metal.

The best way to put it is that Vinakrah is an obvious, ever-present threat. The Portán and the shadowy Hlong Khagee are a secret danger that will likely arise only if the crabmen are provoked.

A New Race

This is also a good entry point for a race of land-adventuring dolphins defined here not that long ago. They are setup for Swords & Wizardry in my post, so here are a few notes to serve as guidelines:

Ability Score Racial Traits: +2 CON, +2 DEX, -2 CHA
Size: Medium
Type: Animal with Water subtype
Base Speed: 20, but speed is not affected by armor or encumbrance.

It would be easy to imagine the Howerters (dolphin race) as emissaries of the Gods. In that way, you could present them as paladins of the two Dolphin Totem gods. As originally planned, they would make excellent Rogues and if you use psionics,  Psychic Knives.

With the Portán running around, it's good to know that there is a group of creatures putting technology to good use.

One last bit of world building fluff to make the setting interesting:

There is a commonly proscribed tonic in the Samoora region made up of cinnamon and vinegar. It is believed to be an effective bracer against the cold air blowing off the water and a curative for minor ills. All taverns in the area feature a mulled dry wine  with a strong flavor of cinnamon. A yearly festival prominently featuring the Dolphin totem culminates in a grand contest of the best mulled wine. Outsiders and visitors are usually identified quickly by the local tavern-goers by their preference for ale, beer, or mead.

This entire post is declared Open Game Content under the OGL. Section 15 listed below:

System Reference Document. Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, based on material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. Copyright 2009, Paizo Publishing, LLC; Author: Jason Bulmahn, based on material by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams.
Polyhedral Pantheons. Copyright 2014, Echelon Game Design; Author: Keith Davies.
Echelon Reference Series: Clerics (3pp+PRD). Copyright 2014, Echelon Game Design; Author: Keith Davies.
The Book of Divine Magic. Copyright 2009, 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming; Authors Connie J. Thomson and Robert W. Thomson, with Katheryn Bauer and Sean O’Connor.
The Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting Copyright 2008, Paizo Publishing; Author: Stan!, Keith Baker, Wolfgang Baur, Clinton J. Boomer, Jason Bulmahn, Joshua J. Frost, Ed Greenwood, Stephen S. Greer, Jeff Grubb, James Jacobs, Michael Kortes, Tito Leati, Mike McArtor, Rob McCreary, Erik Mona, Jason Eric Nelson, Jeff Quick, Sean K Reynolds, David Schwartz, Leandra Christine Schneider, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber E. Scott, Owen K.C. Stephens, Todd Stewart, James L. Sutter, Greg A. Vaughan, Jeremy Walker, JD Wiker.

Swords and Planet Speculation Pt. 1

Sometime ago, I wrote about one of my favorite monsters from the Fiend Folio, the Crabmen. In thinking about a recent post about societies being further away from the sun, I brought back the Crabmen to think of a Swords & Planets type of setting. It's long and in need of an edit.

For the sake of the discussion, I'm going to refer to them as the Portán. For the setting, they will be very intelligent having achieved advanced technology at some point in their past. Physically, they are roughly humanoid with a hard carapace on their back. The carapace forms a hood over their squat faces, but otherwise forms a double axe-blade shape from their shoulders to their hips. They have six limbs, the bottom two function as legs, the upper four function as arms.

The top two arms are accommodated by their backplate to have a full range of motion like a human shoulder. In other words, they can swing their upper arms in any motion a human can perform. The lower arms are, however, restricted by the carapace, limiting their motion.

The hands on the upper arms feature an opposable thumb and five fingers. The first two fingers are quite a bit larger than the remaining three. The thumb and first two fingers appear similar to a crab's claw, though the thumb and fingers have two joints in them (like human fingers). The remaining three fingers are more slender, but not short.

The hands on the lower arms feature four slender fingers and an opposable thumb. The shoulder joints on the lower arms are restricted in motion, but the hands can manipulate objects in a manner similar to humans.

The Portán vary in coloration. Most species are identified by body coloration. Body colors include solid green, a blue-green gradient and a green-red gradient. Other species exist in small groups. Individual Portán are distinguished by patterns or marks on the back of the two fingers on the upper hands as well as their faces.

Their thick legs end in thin broad feet with two toes. The first toe is similar to the big toe of a human, the second toe is broad and thicker. It would be equivalent to the four toes of a human foot fused together.

Molting

One per eighteen months, a Portán will shed its body shell, or shlig, in order to grow. On average, a Portán will increase their body mass up to 10% per molting time. Old Portán can reach heights of ten feet.

Traditionally, the shlig was not buried, but broken down and used for making tools. Anything not used this way would be ground into powder and used as fertilizer. In the past 100 years, the shlig has been used very differently. That will be covered later.

Dress

Typical Portán wear very little clothing. The most common article of clothing, the skallee, consists of two pieces of leather shaped like bowls. The skallee are worn to hide the armpits of the upper arms. Skallee are usually colored to match a Portán's body color.

Since contact with other humanoids, some Portán wear a sash around their waist with a large flap covering the area between their legs. Being able to wear a sash requires a bit of modification to their carapace to create hooks to hang it on.

Combat

In combat, the traditional warrior uses a large shield in an upper arm and a smaller shield on the opposite lower arm. The upper arm without a shield wields a saber. Many times the lower arm that doesn't use a shield wields a thrusting weapon, like a dagger. Other warriors will use a one-shot pistol for their "lower" weapon.

History

Hundreds of years ago, Portán society featured a highly advanced civilization. The various species of Portán worked together to explore the stars in the solar system and engage in scientific and medical research. Portán society was egalitarian, no singular species held power over another. The Portán worshiped various gods without acrimony - many believed that the various gods were part of a larger pantheon that were generally revered by all. At the height of their civilization, non-theism was also accepted without judgment.

The Portán reached all the planets in the solar system and planted colonies on three. Equipment refined by their great technical advances allowed them to do some terraforming as well as genetic manipulation of various plants to flourish on alien worlds.

The Portán encountered only one other species in space. The Portán name for this species is the Elley. Although, they never entered into conflict, the Elley transmitted diseases to the Portán that their immune systems could not overcome. The diseases were slow-acting and affected the mind before destroying the central nervous system. It is not known if the Portán ever discovered that it was the Elley that transmitted the plagues to them. In most literature, the Elley are considered friends and companions, so it is unlikely that the Portán discovered the true sources of the diseases.

With widespread degenerative nerve disease, Portán society descended into great decay within 100 years. Wars between the Portán began as well as religious dissension. Sometimes the two intermixed.

Although all the religious orders claimed to attempt peace and reunite the Portán, one church seemed the most effective. As the Hlong Kaghee rose in power, they were able to reshape Portán society in ways more stabilizing, but also more barbaric.

The largest change instituted by the Hlong Kaghee was an edict to use the shlig, or the molted shell left behind by growing, for the common defense of the Portán against their enemies. Using a metal commonly found in technological devices (stainey keyir), the priests of Hlong Kaghee were able to animate the shlig.

With mass animation of shilg for the past three or four generations, many technological devices are cannibalized for the stainey keyir required. Stainey Keyir exists in small amounts to be mined, but it is not known if anyone is trying to actively mine it.

Animated shilg appear like normal Portán except for the blank metal face. The molt itself fades to an off-white color, so it is impossible to determine to whom an individual shlig belongs. Since the Portán do not molt the skin around their faces, the metal serves a secondary purpose to seal the contents of the animated shlig. Animated shlig cannot talk, but they can accept simple verbal orders. When not engaged in military action, it is common to see an animated shlig performing work in cities. Such projects are meant to demonstrate the kindness of the High Priest of the Hlong Khagee.

The High Priest of the Hlong Kaghee, himself, is over 100 years old. He can no longer walk. He floats on a massive platform, his bloated body covered in a paper-thin shell. He is probably 25 to 30 feet in length. He remembers the Elley, the last creature to do so. It is not certain if he has the neurological disease or not, but it is assumed he does as he uses various technological means to prolong his life well beyond normal limits.

Present Day

The Hlong Khagee dominate the civilization of the Portán. All Portán claim some sort of positive relationship with the Hlong Khagee, mostly out of fear of reprisal. Advanced technology is used mostly by temple workers and priests of the Hlong Kaghee. A few enclaves of Portán away from the larger cities and temples to other Portán gods also have use of advanced technology. In these areas, the technology available is usually medical along with a small amount of construction tech. Only the Hlong Khagee can animate a shlig.

The arrival of other humanoids has sparked hope in some that the Hlong Khagee can be overthrown. Humans from other worlds can take advantage of the planet's lighter gravity to leap and move objects. Magic is seen as technology performed without metal, and so raises no significant reaction outside of questions about where the mage acquired so much stainey keyir.

Attack of the Portán

One of the oddities of Fiend Folio I used in coastal areas was the crabmen. In 2e, their entry went on to talk about their molting noting that some individuals reach ten feet tall and live to be about 20 years old.

I thought about them again today in part because I was recently in my hometown during the time of year for harvesting soft-shell crabs. Without going into the process too deeply, the idea is to catch crabs close to molting and place them in a make-shift aquarium until they shed their shell. During the process, the crab will usually increase in size by 33%.

This triggered three ideas for the as-of-yet-unnamed-clone:

  1. Alter the stats to include a 33% growth rate per molting
  2. Give a few shamans the ability to create golems from their old shells.
  3. Create a module that features them as a function of mass combat rules

I also wanted to give my crabmen a new name, Portán, mostly to differentiate them from the old stats. The Portán are similar in some ways, but generally have more intelligence (barely), grow larger, and practice their own form of primitive magic.

Portán

Frequency: Rare
No. encountered:
2d6
Size:
Medium (5 ft tall) to Large (11 feet tall)
Move:
90 ft, swimming 60 ft
Armour Class:
4
Hit Dice:
3 - 6
Attacks:
2
Damage:
1d4 - 1d10 / 1d4 - 1d10
Special Attacks:
None*
Special Defenses:
None
Magic Resistance:
Standard
Lair probability:
30%
Intelligence:
Average
Alignment:
Neutral

The special attack refers to the special ability to create golems from discarded molts. Portán shamans do not know any other spells.

The golems are created by filling the old shells full of mud and animating them. The stats would be the same except:

  • No 11 foot tall golem would be found. After reaching that height, a portán will die shortly before or during any molting.
  • Move is 60ft and Swimming 30ft.
  • As golems, the creatures are immune to charm and sleep spells as well as psionics.

When I get the mass combat rules hammered out, we'll see these guys again.