Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Starting an Adventure: Religion!

Gods & Faith for your Players

When I first started designing my adventure, I didn't really think about gods. The player came to me and said that he wanted to play a priest and that he chose the Agriculture mythoi. I responded that the priest would come from a small monastery, and they have apple orchards and blackberry bushes. Interestingly, one of his weapon choices was the bill-guisarme, which made sense with the type of agriculture the priests practiced. Growing up out in a very rural part of New England, the garage at my house had a lot of old style agriculture tools including a billhook and an actual scythe - so I loved having that be a focus.

Beyond just wanting the polearm, the player and I conferred about what this religion would look like using just the PHB. First, we decided that the god was a minor god, focused primarily on the agriculture of trees: fruit and nut trees being the most obvious, but I also had the neat idea that the priests made a fuel out of pine resin and their pine pitch candles were a special trade item:
Candle, Pine Pitch (1sp): A pine pitch candles are mixtures of pine pitch, wax, and charcoal. Each candle is a dark black color, and is shaped as a small three inch rod. These rods are then dipped into regular wax until they create a votive candle. They can then be put into small stone or glass containers and lit. Unlike wick candles, pine pitch candles take longer to light - the priests also make special matches consisting of a long bronze arm with a pitch soaked twine match (2sp, can be used ten times) - but burn brighter and longer then regular candles. They will burn for 20 minutes per inch, and shed light in a 15' radius. 
Now just using the PHB, I decided to throw together the religion for the character by going through each step. At the time, I did not have the Complete Priest Handbook, but the PHB chapter on priests is detailed enough to allow the DM some amazing discretion when it comes to designing a faith. This post will walk you through those steps and how I approached them.


In addition to requiring a wisdom of 9, a specific religion might have other requirements for the player as well. I decided that a minor agricultural god would expect a certain level of health and intelligence and made the requirements be a Strength of 12 and an Intelligence of 10. Why? I assumed farmers would have to be fairly strong, and intelligence was the relevant ability score for the agriculture NWP. The priests work their own orchards, and using heavy tools for hours on end would be exhausting work.

I generally expected that the members of this church would be of a neutral good alignment. Generally supportive, but separated from the core of civilization.

Weapons & Armor

The god we developed was a minor agricultural deity, primarily worshiped in the northern areas. A big emphasis was on harvesting and maintaining trees. We decided that the weapon selection, however, would be pretty basic and focused primarily on weapons converted from agricultural use or that farmers might have available: club, flail, hand/throwing axe, bill-guisarme, fauchard, quarterstaff, and sickle. We felt that this made sense as the weapons were basically all modifications of tools that they would normally use or were very simple and commonly available like the club and quarterstaff.

We didn't touch armor selection, and left the priests of this deity with full access to all armor available. I did make a note that the priesthood is generally not in favor of out of control fire, so throwing burning oil on a goblin in the woods would be seen as a bad thing.


I felt that being a priest of an agricultural god meant - especially a minor one - meant that the priest would not necessarily have access to all spells and spheres. This was essentially the same approach used by the specialist wizard. I banned necromancy, combat, and astral out of hand - far beyond the scope of this god. I also got rid of creation, since it creates something from nothing while the whole point of this God is to grow and nurture. You don't just create food, you grow it and earn it. I felt that the sphere's description didn't match what I saw the religion being about.

For major access, plant, weather, sun and healing were right at the top. I felt that all three made sense and provided the "key focus" of what the god was, and what it was hoping to do in the world. You'll also see that I choose to ban four spheres and make four schools major access. My thought was that for each major access you had to ban an "opposed" sphere. Although there are no real oppositions, I felt that was a good way to show specialization.

Everything else defaulted to minor access.


Granted powers, such as turning undead are where the priest class could truly shine. For my agricultural priest, I decided that they could turn undead, but they also able to turn vermin such as rodents and insects, and had immunity to any plant based poison. The turning abilities I felt could both be used once per encounter - so you can turn undead in one round, and then turn a beetle in the next round. I told the player that vermin were only those rodents and insects that attempted to destroy trees or eat crops, and thus something like bees or dragonflies wouldn't count, but that insect swarms (See Monster Manual, pg 206 would count). Rats would count, while weasels wouldn't count. The purpose of the power was to protect agriculture.

The poison ability was something I thought would make sense. A deity focused on plant life would probably have a strong understanding of plant poisons and provide protection to their followers. How embarrassing would it be if you start a fight with the god of disease, and his followers poison yours using the very plants you represent? Note, this also gave me another deity - a chaotic evil disease god that the cleric's character was sworn to fight against.


In defining the ethos, the player and I had a full discussion. We defined seven primary beliefs of the religion that we felt made sense from the perspective we had developed above:

  1. Support and encourage farmers. 
  2. Defend against urbanization.
  3. Teach the best methods for tending orchards and using the resources of the trees.
  4. Encourage the growth of orchards where possible.
  5. Defend against disease and fire, and the spread of disease carrying vermin.
  6. Encourage peace, protect the innocent, and face challenges with bravery.
  7. Develop the knowledge of agriculture, and discourage the use of wild forests.
The player felt that the religion would strongly encourage the development of orchards and tree farms for pretty much everything. Examples we developed:
  • Special ships are built only using timber grown by this priesthood. 
  • Wooden weapons such as long bows and quarterstaffs made by this priesthood are easier to enchant. 
  • Fruit and nuts raised by this priesthood are healthier and last longer


Since the religion is primarily built around monasteries, all the members are Brothers or Sisters, and leaders are Abbots or Abbess. Men and women would work side by side, so defining their buildings as a convent or monastery would be meaningless, and we defaulted to monastery to emphasize that it was isolated and often remote.


Religion is one of those things that a lot of world designers sweat on. Yet, it isn't that hard. As you can see from the above, just using the Player's Handbook it is possible to design an entire priesthood quickly and easily. Everything you need to start building your world is right there - and you don't even need the priest's handbook to do it!

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