3 Rules for Creating Compelling Fantasy Religions

Whether you are creating your own setting or just adding your own flare to an existing setting, creating your own fantasy religions can be fun for both you and your players. The gods and their religions is a way to emphasize something important in your campaign. Learning more about the god of stealth is important when fighting the thieves’ guild; discovering a particular blacksmith is a follower of the deity of war equipment may tip off the players to the NPC being more than they appear.

So how can you go about making your own, without shamelessly ripping off real world religions? Before I answer that, I wholeheartedly endorce “borrowing heavily” from mythology. Some exceptional tales are there and are a classic for a reason. Pick up a book on them, read and borrow.

But if you still feel you need to create a religion from whole cloth, I have three rules for you to follow.

1) Pick a Theme and Run With It

Start with a core concept that is going to be important enough that it could draw followers. Clearly define it in 1-3 words: war, art, thieving, servants, farming, birds, a particular celestial body, and crafting are but a few examples. Now take that core concept and let your mind wander on what else is related to that theme. Servants work hard all day long for little reward. Who else does that? Employees. So this moves beyond a Noble’s servants and incorporates the baker’s lowly assistant, the dock workers, the one that cooks for to the caravan guards, and so on. So this deity is not a good of servants, but a god to the downtrodden. When the downtrodden are about to be beaten by their master’s for some minor mistake (or because the master is in the mood), they call upon their deity and the deity shows them some place to hide, perhaps even helping them to plan for such eventualities. So this deity is also a god of forethought and hiding places. Now this deity is both fun and more fleshed out than just “servants.”

2) Add in Something Unexpected … And DON’T Explain it.

Players will latch in to that oddity and think about that far longer than anything else, trying to figure out how they work together? Why does the deity of understanding, reason, and time have a groundhog as their spirit animal? Sure it makes total sense if you’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day, but if you hadn’t, how long would you try puzzling that one through. More importantly, what crazy ideas would you come up with trying to make that one work.

The most important part of this step is to limit it to one or two things. Anything more and the theme to your carefully thought out deity starts to look like a collection of random ideas rolled up together. This is definitely a less-is-more situation. Take the deity of servants from the previous step. What if we make them associated with purple flowers? Or instead its sacred animal is a particular breed of goldfish? Maybe followers should always turn their glass or bowl of water counterclockwise three times before taking their first drink for the day. Obviously, there is a perfectly logical explanation for whatever oddity is chosen, but leaving such reasons said unspoken both adds an heir of mystery and makes the world feel more lived in. Besides, it is entirely possible no one knows why such oddity is the case. It could have been lost to time over the last 1,000+ years. Maybe the deity never felt the need to explain such oddities to their followers. Heck you could make the answer explainable should someone ask, but they have to ask someone in world so they can give an in-world explanation. No matter what it is, treat it as ordinary as a Catholic priest putting a wafer into your mouth saying that it is from the body of someone that died about two thousand years ago and you should eat that dead person’s flesh.

3) Describe How Mundane Followers Interact With Their Faith

In my experience, this more than anything else is forgotten by game designers and GMs when describing religions. While the religion is focused around the deity/deities, the followers are no less important. Without followers, gods lose power. Terry Pratchett described this relationship perfectly in his book Small Gods. The great god Om said several times throughout the book, “Smite you with lightning bolts!” when he got angry at someone, yet nothing happened until he gained a single follower. Even then, he got hit with the equivalent of static electricity. When many people believed in him, he swelled with power.

Mind you, that book was really about how the people in the church of Om had no faith and simply did the ceremony without knowing the reasons why. However, a religion without some type of regular way for the followers to participate in is a religion that is going to lose followers. How many books are forgotten after their author dies? Sure some classics are remembered, like Mary Shelley’s The Modern Prometheus is well remembered, but Percy Shelly is not nearly as well remembered despite the fact he was an established author when his wife created Dr Frankenstein and his monster. Same idea.

So yes, any religion needs a consistent way for the followers to interact with their faith. All of these should interact with stuff we decided above. Prayers at select times or for certain reasons. Eating / not eating certain foods on certain days. Regular community gatherings with preferred offerings. Ceremonies to mark important events in the religion as well as the lives of the followers. Perhaps the god of servants has a ceremony marking someone’s promotion. Similarly, prayers for enough energy and strength to make it through a hard day’s work comes at dawn while prayers of protection against an angry master’s wrath can come at any time. Compare that with a god of intellect and arcane study: prayers to that deity should be before sitting down at a desk to do some heavy reading and study. That same deity probably talks about the evils of eating excessive carbs as they will make one drowsy before a long night of study by candlelight.

I hope these tips help you create compelling religions in your game. Be sure to check out all of JBE’s Pathfinder 1e, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Traveller at the JBE Shop.

Pathfinder 1e: Steal Strength

As I’ve mentioned before, working on the Book of Beasts: Magus Codex has shown me the many holes in their spell selection particularly their lack of touch spells. The magus class is built around delivering touch spells through your weapon. However, there are far too few touch spells making the close range arcana necessary.

To address this, we are working on a bunch of new touch spells for the magus with a number of other classes benefitting as well. We’ve shown off the 1st level spell frigid grasp and the 2nd level spell tarfoot. Today we’re talking the steal strength spell for 3rd level.

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Steal Strength

School necromancy; Level arcanist/sorcerer/wizard 3, bloodrager 3, magus 3, witch 3
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S
Range touch
Target creature touched
Duration 1 round/level
Saving Throw Fortitude half; Spell Resistance yes
The subject takes a penalty to Strength equal to 1d4 per three caster levels (maximum 5d4). The subject’s Strength score cannot drop below 1. A successful Fortitude save reduces this penalty by half. This penalty does not stack with itself nor similar penalties such as from ray of enfeeblement. Apply the highest penalty instead. Half of the Strength penalty taken by the target from this spell is granted to you as an enhancement bonus for the duration of this spell.

Pathfinder: Face Mask of Disease Prevention

I saw a meme of how if there was a magic item that gave you a bonus to prevent disease, you’d wear it all the time. Well, I don’t know of such an item so I figured now was a great time to create one.

Wear your face masks. Wash your hands. Social distance.

Play RPGs while social distancing by playing them over Fantasy Grounds with JBE’s expanding suite of expansions. See them all today at the Fantasy Grounds Store.

Face Mask of Disease Prevention

Aura divination; CL 1st

Slot face; Price 300 gp; Weight 0.5 lbs.


Description


When this black cotton scarf is tied over the nose and mouth, the wearer receives a +1 resistance bonus to saving throws against disease.


Construction


Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, guidance; Cost 150 gp

Pathfinder 1e: Bag of Wind

Over the years, I’ve read many mythological tales and seen such items in D&D/Pathfinder. Belts of giant strength, winged boots, various magical weapon and armor properties all owe their origins to the Greek, Norse, and other tales.

Of all the items I have seen there one I have never seen: a big of wind. In The Odyssey, the bag of wind was supposed to blow the Odesseus and the crew home; instead the crew opened the bag early and they were blown to the other side of the world. While such a powerful item would be an artifact level power in Pathfinder, something of similar concept could be used to blow enemies around the battlefield. With that in mind, I present to you a bag of wind.

Bag of Wind

Aura weak evocation; CL 3rd

Slot –; Price 300 gp; Weight 1 lbs.

Description

The size of a water skin and closed with a stone stopper, a bag of wind can be opened as a swift action after a successful bull rush attempt. The winds carry the target an additional 10 feet.

Construction

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, gust of wind; Cost 150 gp

PF1e: Apprentice Mage

I’ve said before that the next in the Book of Beasts series of NPCs known as the Character Codex will cover the Magus class. The first round of edits is moving along nicely (with some unrelated delays). So today I want to share with you the first NPC in this supplement.

When I created this NPC, I couldn’t help but remember my very first D&D character—Xavier. Mind you, that character was a grey elf fighter/magic-user, back in the days when you had to keep track of your XP separately and elves had names like Swift. This NPC was made in honor of that character. The actual name this character gets will be more in line with today’s names for elves. But I hope it finds a home in our game.

Subscribe to the Book of Beasts: Character Codex today at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and Paizo.

Apprentice Mage CR 1/2

XP 200
Elf magus 1
CN Medium humanoid (elf)
Init +3; Senses low-light vision; Perception +1


Defense


AC 17, touch 13, flat-footed 14 (+4 armor, +3 Dex)
hp 9 (1d8+1)
Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +1; +2 vs. enchantments
Immune sleep


Offense


Speed 30 ft.
Melee rapier +3 (1d6+1/18–20)
Ranged dagger +3 (1d4+1/19–20)
Special Attacks arcane pool (+1, 3 points), spell combat
Magus Spells Prepared (CL 1st; concentration +3)
1st—magic missile, shocking grasp
0 (at will)—daze (DC 12), detect magic, ray of frost


Tactics


During Combat The magus opens combat with magic missile and then engages in melee combat, enhancing attacks from the arcane pool.


Statistics


Str 12, Dex 17, Con 12, Int 15, Wis 8, Cha 10
Base Atk +0; CMB +1; CMD 14
Feats Weapon Finesse
Skills Climb +3, Knowledge (arcana) +6, Knowledge (planes) +6, Perception +1, Spellcraft +6 (+8 to identify magic item properties), Use Magic Device +4; Racial Modifiers +2 Perception, +2 Spellcraft to identify magic item properties
Languages Common, Elven, Goblin, Orc
SQ elven magic
Combat Gear scroll of blur, alchemical grease APG, poison ward salve ACG, weapon blanch (silver) APG; Other Gear chain shirt, dagger (2), rapier, ioun torch APG, magus spellbook (contains all 0-level spells and all prepared spells plus 1st—chill touch, returning weapon UC, shield), 16 gp

Black Lives Matter

Like so many of our fellow gaming industry professionals, fellow Americans, and fellow humans around the world, we at JBE are horrified and outraged by the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, and so, so many others. We say it with you: Black Lives Matter.

We call upon our elected officials to enact meaningful reforms such as banning chokeholds, holding officers accountable for their actions, and cutting bloated budgets of police departments and transferring it to services that will help people without involving law enforcement.

To that end, Jon Brazer Enterprises is proud to take part in the Black Lives Matter Bundles at DriveThruRPG. All proceeds from these bundles go to support some very important causes such as Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Police Accountability Project. You can find all 6 of the Black Lives Matter Bundles as well as some awesome products created by person’s of color here. Our contribution to the bundle is the Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Elans. We chose this book because it features a strong and wise black woman on the cover that can defeat her enemies with both her weapons as well as her mind.

Recently it was pointed out that our diversity in our cover artwork is lacking. We may be decent with our representation in our interior artwork but we are by no means great. We are committing to increasing the representation of skin tones and body types in our artwork, particularly in our cover artwork.

It’s not just that black lives matter, their voices matter as well. Everyone has the potential to be a hero; those that stand up for the good of all are heroes. No matter what your heritage is, you should be able to see yourself in the games you love. Heroes should be represented in gaming artwork, and that is what we will be aiming to do. As a game designer I look up to once said, “It is not about being perfect but learning from your mistakes and being better than yesterday.”

PF 1e: Tarfoot

Not long ago, I mentioned that while working on Book of Beasts: Magus Codex, I noticed there are far too few touch spells. Now that that supplement is with the editors, I am writing new spells designed with the magus class in mind. All of these spells are touch spells. Previously I showed off the level 1 spell frigid grasp. This time I’m sharing a level 2 spell named tarfoot.

When creating tarfoot, I looked at slow and ask how I could make it more advantageous for a magus. Obviously, reducing the range to touch came first. Next was to make it available earlier than 7th level. The solution there was to make it a 2nd level spell. To accomplish I had to turn the power down just a little (since the power was already reduced by making it a touch spell). Reducing the versatility was a good start so I cut the possibility of losing the target’s attack. Losing the move action entirely was to powerful, so I cut the speed by an amount that would hurt. Even that, however, seemed an excessive reduction in power for a second level spell. So I added in the loss of the 5-foot step.

It was this last change, however, that I like best. Slow is a transmutation spell, magicly affecting the body and making it resistable to normal saving throws. By switching it to conjuration, the magic is creating something, and that something is what is holding the target back. That allowed me to play with the way to bypass this spell in a fun and memorable way.

If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts. Also be sure to check out all of JBE’s 1e Pathfinder products at our shop at JonBrazer.com. It is your support that let’s us keep making new Pathfinder supplements.

Tarfoot

School conjuration (creation); Level arcanist/sorcerer/wizard 2, bard/skald 2, bloodrager 2, magus 2, occultist 2, psychic 2, spiritualist 2, summoner 2, unchained summoner 2
Casting Time 1 standard action
Components V, S, M (a snail shell)
Range touch
Target creature touched
Duration 1 round/level
Saving Throw see text; Spell Resistance yes
Black sticky goo covers the target’s feet, reducing its base land speed–as well as burrow and climb speed if the target has either of these speeds–to half their normal; armor and encumbrance reduce the target’s speed as if the target’s speed is unchanged, reducing it after the speed is halved (to a minimum of 0). Additionally, the target cannot take a 5-foot step while under the effects of this spell. As a standard action, the target can attempt to escape this with either a CMB check or an Escape Artist check. CMD in this case equals the saving throw DC for this spell. A successful check ends this spell.

3 Rules for Plot Lines in a Long Term Campaign

This blog post is my latest in my 3 Rules series. Check out the others here.

During COVID-19, I’ve been running two D&D 5e games over Fantasy Grounds: one is for my daughter and her cousins, the other is for my wife and a group of adults. Through it all, I have a number of rules that help me tie plot lines together, even when weaving several different modules into a single campaign. These are not exclusive to Dungeons and Dragons or even fantasy games. These work no matter what your game.

1) Don’t Define Everything

When I started off the adult campaign, I had two PCs deliver messages to various NPCs. While the idea for them was to simply get them to go to the location I wanted them, I had absolutely no idea what was in those notes. I’m glad they didn’t look because I would have had to make it up on the spot. In my younger days as a GM, I would have had those notes detailed out; when the PCs didn’t look at them, that would have been work saved for a different day at best or at worst forgotten about when I needed it or simply no longer relevant.

Fast forward several sessions, I needed a way to get the PCs to investigate some orcs as I was transitioning from the Lost Mines of Phandelver to the Forge of Fury from Tales of the Yawning Portal. To help with this, I created a secret love affair between the one of those NPCs sending the note and its recipient, saying their love child (now an adult) that they sent away was coming to visit, and that their child was now missing so the recipient asked the adventurers to find the missing person. That got them to the orcs and worked great, until …

2) Turn Dropped Plot Threads into Plot Hooks

… Until the players got distracted and left that plot thread by the wayside. Part of this was my fault; I failed to leave them enough clues to lead them to their target. By the time I realized this, they were literally heading in the wrong direction to save this person.

In my younger days as a GM, I would have made it impossible for them to proceed until they turned back and saved the person. As a more mature GM, I know to turn this into an opportunity. I left the players an old journal from someone long dead, hoping that some superweapon never gets repaired and turned on again, citing a hope about how one born under a certain sign with various rare characteristics (that just happens to match the missing person) is never born. When they read the note I could hear them all collectively swallow hard, as they realized that the plot line they missed suddenly became very important.

And that is now the catalyst for the new adventure.

3) Leave Some Threads Unresolved

One of my characters in my adult game is seeking the sword of their fallen family member. So I gave him the detail that one vaguely like it was reportedly in a dragon’s treasure pile. Tonight they defeated the dragon, and it wasn’t his family’s sword but one similar. I did that so I could deal with the sword at a future point in time, but leave it for now as we transition from the Forge of Fury to the Tomb of Annihilation. The players raised the questions of why these swords are popping up, and are they being targeted. All of those are perfect to work into a future adventure down the line when the Tomb of Annihilation is in the rear view mirror. But for now, I left that plot thread unresolved. Picking it up later will help it make a more continuous story while still having different chapters within.

Get adventures for your Pathfinder or D&D campaign today at the JBE Shop. You can also find our books at DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and Paizo.com.

Black Pudding Vial

There’s a thread over on Paizo.com’s boards titled Stuff You Wish Paizo Had Done During Pathfinder 1e. This thread is awesome for ideas for material to create for Pathfinder 1e.

I just want to take a moment to thank every person that contributed to that thread; your thoughts are invaluable. Today we’re presenting an idea coming straight from that thread. The item is based in the elemental gems, except it summons an ooze. More ooze vials will be coming as soon as I have a chance to make more.

Download all of our Pathfinder 1e products at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and Paizo.com.

Black Pudding Vial

Aura moderate conjuration; CL 11th
Slot none; Price 3,300 gp; Weight


Description


A clear glass vial contains a viscous black fluid and held inside by a black cork and sealed up with wax. Should the cork be removed or the vial be broken (such as by throwing it), a black pudding appears. It is mindless but attacks the closest creature, even if the creature was the one that removed the cork. The black pudding has the extraplanar subtype. If the black pudding has not been destroyed after 11 rounds, it disappears, returning to it’s home plane.


Construction


Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, conjure black pudding; Cost 1,650 gp

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