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.

Where Primordials Reside

I like Mahjal currently for the name of where the Fire Primordials reside. Something in me wants to pronounce it MAH-zhal.

I digress.

In describing Mahjal or The Primordial Plane of Fire, it's important to flesh out some of the details of the place. For one, it is not a place composed primarily of fire. One of the races living there is composed of fire, not everything else. In fact, it should be different from the biblical Gehenna or even the Greek idea of Hades.

In the last post, we established that the Fire Primordials eat a native plant rich in sodium chlorate to sustain themselves. They would not necessarily need a lot of water, but could make use of salt water to make "tea". Maybe the native plant grows on great salt lakes like lillypads on ponds. Great rafts of these plants could form in the oceans, drifting around the seas. (Imagine the party having to quest to the Plodding Island of Farouz.)

It was also established that there was less atmospheric oxygen in Mahjal than here. It doesn't necessarily mean *no* oxygen. I imagine it has an atmosphere with the oxygen content found at around 10,000 feet above sea level. I also imagine it might have a higher CO2 concentration than here as well. Maybe we can add varying amounts of other gases like neon and helium. Why neon and helium? It will come up later.

With all the light and heat generated by some of the inhabitants, I imagine that the place is darker, like twilight most of the time. With that, plants won't get most of their food from photosynthesis, so lush fields of grass may exist, but they won't be green. Let's say that the plant colors are darker, maybe dark green, purple or a navy blue. With lower light conditions, other animals will have larger eyes, making a spooky place feel even more spooky. With the lack of light in some places, I imagine a few creatures will take advantage of the neon in the air to produce their own light (but not heat).

To account for the proliferation of Fire Primordials, I imagine that great salt glaciers came down from the colder regions, creating a vast network of salt springs and lakes. Every lake and spring isn't salty, just more than here.

The presence of salt glaciers implies very cold areas, fairly probable for a place with a dim sun (pardon the pun) and/or thicker atmosphere. Just to be different, planets on this plane may rotate on an extreme angle like Uranus. Maybe the great cold areas are found East and West instead of North and South.

All this is great, but what else could be there?

Sodium is a very important element on this plane. Whereas the control of water can create and destroy empires in our history, the control of salt or sodium should do the same here. After all, a sodium compound keeps one of the sentient species alive in the form of sodium chlorate. With so much talk of salt, I would imagine that use of salt in magic would be common. There's nahcolite that could be used as a semi-precious gem or a component of Mahjal's own psionic disciplines.

Still, there's no other species for the Fire Primordials to contend with. Let's put an intelligent people as a rival called the Karnakel. They live in the plains of vegetation mentioned earlier. They live in communities similar to the smaller medieval villages. Karnakel houses are structures similar to the traditional Navajo hogan and some of the newer versions built after the railroads came. Houses are hexagonal or octagonal and made from the ground, stone, nahcolite and other materials.

To be rivals, let's make the Karnakel less aggressive and more artisan than the Fire Primordials. For example, they have more agriculture, stone-working, magic expertise and domesticated animals. Speaking of domesticated animals, the animals used for transportation and building need to be stronger than a horse and possibly shorter. Just to be weird, they could have tails like a platypus and rounder heads like a hippopotamus.

Physically, the Karnakel would have big eyes due to the low light. They would also be a bit shorter and broader. Working with stone implies a greater physical strength. Part of their broadness comes from the large lungs they require to breathe. Unlike the Fire Primordials, the Karnakel do not eat sodium chlorate to stay alive - they exist in a similar fashion to humans on our world. I imagine that they have cultivated plants high in sugar to consume - one of the side benefits being that these sweet plants are a poison to the Fire Primordials.

Now let's bring in the Teleportation Crystals. The crystals stand about seven feet tall and four feet wide. That act as one way gates from one location to another. Walking through one gate will teleport you to the next gate.

Little pieces of the gate act as keys. Pressing the keys to your forehead will teleport you to that gate.

As an aside, I could imagine a Karnakel being directionally confused on the Prime Material plane. Getting used to a sun that rises in the east instead of the north would be a big deal. Then again, the converse would be true of a party of human adventurers with a map of the Plodding Island of Farouz...