D&D Next: Priesthoods Esoteric and Solemn

In order to give the players in my Aurikesh campaign a range of options suitable to the setting, I have created two new “deities” for clerics to choose at character creation, and one new spell (as I was dissatisfied with the extant options in the playtest packet). I place deities in quotation marks here not because there are no deities in Aurikesh, but because ordination works a bit differently there: clergy (including characters with the Priest background and the Acolyte or Divine Magic Specialist specialties) are clerics of all five deities – the pantheon as a whole represents roles that every cleric may be called upon to play in the course of their service. Any given temple, on the other hand, is consecrated to only one of the five deities, so that those who seek the benediction of a particular deity have a specific place to go (often more like a pilgrimage than a walk down to the local chapel).

I’ve made this decision because several of the gods have some sinister aspects, yet I do not want clerics to feel like they are in any way expected to clash with clerics of those other deities, for the deities’ sake. (Clerics can clash with one another as a result of their own natures and motives just fine, thank you, but in Aurikesh they find it slightly harder to blame it on the gods they serve.) Ultimately, it’s a thought experiment, but the gameplay implication is that Aurikesh clerics can and do “respend” their choice of deity – requiring probably a day or two of prayer and ritual ablutions.

Another of the odd things about deities in Aurikesh (less relevant to this post) is that when two cultures meet for the first time, they invariably find that they use the same names for the same five gods, and basically agree on their aspects – even if their languages have not even one other word in common. The existence of the gods is regarded as incontrovertible; the more relevant debates for the setting are whether or how they ought to be worshiped. This is a direct result of the repeatable, demonstrable success of divine magic, in particular the commune spell. I am not attempting to make any broader theological or political statements here – I just felt that it would be a rich ground for gameplay.

Deity: The Esoteric

The Esoteric is a god of mystics, wizards, seers, wisdom-seekers, and astrologers. The god might offer enlightenment or sanity-destroying secrets, depending on whether the god is benevolent or malicious. The god is usually portrayed as being of advanced age, or a person who has surpassed the limits of mortality, as a sign of the value in the god’s lore. Esoteric gods are very often associated with physical blindness leading to spiritual awakening. They value patience, perseverance, and discernment above all else. When faced with challenges that they cannot simply outlast or avoid, the Esoteric often takes on an aspect of the Trickster, teaching moral lessons to the adversary or exercising superior understanding.

Examples of the Esoteric include Thoth of the Pharaonic pantheon, Hecate (and often Hermes) of the Hellenistic pantheon, Odin of the Norse and Germanic pantheons, Vecna and Ioun (as opposite aspects) of the Greyhawk pantheon, and a whole list of Faerunian deities: Mystra, Oghma, Azuth, Deneir, and Savras. However, almost every deity has esoteric aspects, comprehended only by those who pursue the god’s mysteries; such a cleric might represent a truth-seeker of any deity who largely eschews the warrior-priest mentality of other clerics.

As a follower of an Esoteric god, your life is barely distinguishable from that of a wizard, but your specific practice of magic differs somewhat. Dabbling in arcane magic is hardly uncommon, but it is also not universal. The quest to become truly Wise, and offer your wisdom in service to the world, is the most benevolent manifestation of this path. Others pursue darker secrets, leading them toward lichdom and madness. The promise of powerful secrets has been the lure that many evil deities have offered their followers – this is, after all, what is at stake in the word occult.

Esoteric gods favor the ordered mind and an alignment with Law, though that is only a tendency.

Domain Spells: You always have the following spells prepared, provided you are able to cast spells of the given level.

  1. Identify
  2. Augury
  3. Speak with Dead
  4. Divination
  5. True Seeing

Esoteric Disciple: You gain a +1 bonus to your Magic Attack and Save DC values for all divine spells you cast.

At-Will Spells: While you have any 0th-level cleric spell prepared, you can cast it without spending a spell slot.

Deity: The Psychopomp

The Psychopomp is a god of death, the dead, the afterlife, ghosts, judgment, and (often) rebirth. (Note: I am here conflating the gods of the dead with psychopomps for ease of use. The mechanical things I would tend to give them are nearly identical anyway.) The god harvests the living whose time has run out, transports the dead to their assigned portion of the afterlife, guards the separation between the lands of the living and the lands of the dead, judges the dead for their deeds in life, and the like. The god is usually portrayed as a skeletal figure (robed and bearing a scythe), a raven, or another kind of scavenger; depictions of the god’s demeanor vary more widely, with some cultures depicting the god as malicious and others as comforting. The god values solemnity in all proceedings. In some cases, the god may claim sole authority over spells that restore the dead to life.

Examples of the (again, conflated) Psychopomp include Anubis, Horus, and Osiris of the Pharaonic pantheon, Charon and Hades of the Hellenistic pantheon, Hel and Odin of the Norse pantheon, Arawn and Gwyn ap Nudd of the Welsh pantheon, Nerull of the Greyhawk pantheon, and Myrkul, Velsharoon, Cyric, and Kelemvor (variously) of the Faerunian pantheon.

As a follower of a Psychopomp god, your life is focused on either easing the passage into death, comforting the survivors with your solemn presence, and assuring that the proper funereal rites are performed; or bending the dead to your will, commanding forces of undeath, and (so to speak) recruiting for the armies of the dead. In general, the former is more socially acceptable. Many put forth the air of the former, while demanding outrageous sums from the survivors and collecting all of the grave-treasures for themselves.

Psychopomp gods tend to favor the solemnity of alignment with Law, though this is too is only a tendency.

Domain Spells: You always have the following spells prepared, provided you are able to cast spells of the given level.

  1. Detect Undead
  2. Darkness
  3. Speak with Dead
  4. Death Ward
  5. Wall of Bone (see below)

Disciple of the Psychopomp: When making Turning rolls and damage rolls for necromancy spells, all rolls of 1 or 2 are treated as 3.

At-Will Spells: While you have guidance or lance of faith prepared, you cast these spells without spending a spell slot.

Wall of Bone

5th-level necromancy
When you call upon the powers of the dead, you can create a wall of bones that blocks the passage of enemies and turns the wrath of the dead upon them.

Effect: You create a wall of bones within 100 feet of you on a solid surface. You choose to make the wall 30 feet long, 10 feet high, and 1 foot wide; or a circle that has a 10-foot radius and is 20 feet high. The wall lasts until your concentration is broken, but for no more than 1 minute. The wall heavily obscures creatures behind it.

One side of the wall, selected by you when you cast this spell, deals 1d6 piercing and 2d6 necrotic damage to each creature within 10 feet of that side. The wall deals this damage when it appears, and a creature takes the damage when it ends its turn within 10 feet of the wall’s damaging side. The other side of the wall deals no damage.

Creatures may not pass through this wall without breaking a hole in it. Each five-foot-long and ten-foot-high section of wall has 40 hit points, and has resistance to piercing and necrotic damage but vulnerability to holy damage. A creature who deals damage to the wall and ends its turn within 10 feet of the wall’s damaging side takes an additional 2d6 necrotic damage.
If you create the wall on top of a creature, that creature must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 4d6 necrotic damage. On a success, the creature can move 5 feet so that it is not in the wall.

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