Behind the Screen01/21/2005

Membership Has Its Privileges
Building a Campaign Story Arc, Part 9

"You cast what?" Samantha asked.

"Quell the unrighteous," replied Ally with a grin.

"And what, pray tell, is that? Arphaxad the Mighty has never heard of such a thing."

"That," Ally said with some satisfaction, "is because Arphaxad the Mighty is not a Disciple of Eleazar the Peacemaker like Melantha is. It's all very hush-hush, you understand. Can't just be handing out the secrets of the faith to the great unwashed masses."

"So how come you never cast it before?" Michael asked.

"Well, for one thing, it only works on humanoids, and our last several adventures have involved giants, undead, magical beasts -- not a humanoid in sight, except for the prisoners we rescued! Also, I've been able to cast it only for the last two sessions. Besides, it's not like you guys don't have your own little secret stashes, right Ally?"

"Um . . . no comment."


How can you add extra flavor to divine magic without using domains?

Bought with a price: Membership in a secret organization or access to magical secrets may be purchased with gifts of money, or magic or may be granted as a reward for some great service or with the sponsorship of someone already a member.

A secret is only a secret if you keep it: New spells are part of regular class lists. It just so happens that one group knows the spells and doesn't share knowledge of them. If you can find their "prayer books" (or however the knowledge is stored), you can cast them too.

You gotta have faith: Certain deities grant special or unusual spells. You don't need a domain or anything special; the deity simply grants them as part of its normal class list. Others can't get them because their deities don't give those spells, period. Make sure every deity has something of its own, though.

Initiate the procedure: Create an initiate feat that represents membership in the inner circles of the faith and knowledge of its secrets, including an extra feat benefit (like a granted power) and some unique spells to add to the base class list for people who have that feat.

Always go in feat first: Use a feat similar to a regional feat that does not add new spells but boosts ability to use spells of a certain type (school, subschool, or descriptor) or from a particular list along a theme (languages, travel, magic weapons, etc.), or allow alteration/enhancement of spells through use of other abilities (turn undead, bardic music, extra components, cooperative ritual, etc.).

It's always fun when your character has a couple of special things he or she can do that other people can't. For divine magic, one place you find stuff like that is in your domains. Last month's column gave some very specific examples of how to create a themed domain using already-existing spells and rules with creative renaming and regrouping. While the column particularly explored how fictional DM Eddie set up an amphibian domain, the method can be used to pursue any kind of theme for domains.

Sometimes, though, you already have some domains you want to use, and you don't want to clutter the landscape still further. Hey, clerics only get two domains, ever! That's not a whole lot of room, making it a pretty restrictive device for adding variety to your divine magic. What are some other ways to go?

We talked generally in "It's a Kind of Magic" about how to organize different varieties of magic at a cultural or regional level, but let's take the idea down to a closer level. What about magic that is specific to a particular organization, or a religious group, or a secret society of some sort? In earlier columns about character bloodlines, we heard Ally talking about Melantha's heritage as a descendant of Eleazar the Wise, warrior-priest of Morab the Peacemaker and founder of Morab's temple in the City of Terah. Besides that accident of birth, however, she has also chosen to take up his legacy and the traditions of his followers. In religious terms, she became a Disciple of Eleazar, a sect within the larger church of Morab. That could be just a flavor text issue, but Eddie set it up so that the Disciples of Eleazar have special knowledge that they share only with other disciples. This kind of "insider information" could be almost anything, but for now we are talking about how membership might affect your divine magical abilities.

Eddie has already established a precedent of allowing this kind of 'insider information' in his campaign, but he's looking for a way to apply it more broadly. The way the Disciples worked was kind of a holdover from his old AD&D campaign, where you would literally buy your way into membership in a secret society, either with money, or referral or nomination by some allied NPC as a reward for service (like the Masons: "2B1ASK1"). You can still go that route, but the 3rd Edition model leans more toward making you choose what you want and then pay for it -- take this feat but not that one, this class but not that, all of it either-or, making it harder to just work the system and load up on all the good stuff with no trade-offs.

The most obvious way to model this is with a prestige class. There are many divine-casting prestige classes tied to specific deities or particular themes, easily found in Complete Divine, various Forgotten Realms sourcebooks, and the like. Some add extra domains, and prestige classes with their own spell lists may even add unique spells, spells at a different level than for a base class list, or the ability to cast domain spells with "regular" spell slots or to spontaneously cast certain domain spells. There are even divine-themed prestige classes that don't enhance your spellcasting but give you other kinds of class abilities while keeping with the flavor of the religion. Still, prerequisites can make prestige classes hard to manage, and like adding new domains, adding new prestige classes further bloats an already overstuffed menu of options, even if they're really cool.

An easier method is to use feats. Feats are also in limited supply, so this is not a perfect solution, but it's easier to spiff up your divine casting in an interesting thematic way without totally derailing your character build. Examples of such feats can be found in Races of Faerûn and in the Player's Guide to Faerûn. In the Player's Guide, "initiate" feats indicate that you "have been initiated into the greatest secrets of [whomever's] church." These feats have some prerequisites, the foremost being worship of the deity in question (so no taking two initiate feats!), but also membership in some divine spellcasting class (usually cleric but often also paladin, ranger, druid, or even certain prestige classes), sometimes with a minimum level. They give a benefit somewhat akin to a domain's granted power, linked to the deity's area of influence (e.g., Initiates of Malar the Beastlord summon stronger, fiercer natural or fiendish animals with their summon monster/summon nature's ally spells). They also add a handful of spells to your regular spell list, sometimes spells that only an initiate can cast and sometimes spells that are normally domain spells but that you can now cast with normal spell slots.

You could just add spells like these to the list of a basic class like cleric or druid and say that only the members of this church happen to know about them. Someone else who found out about them could pray for them as well. This makes them kind of like wizard spells in a book -- once you discover the "divine prayer book" you can learn those spells. There is a certain appeal and logic to that, but it might feel a little weird if suddenly Melantha finds a siv priest's prayer book and starts casting croak of doom or summon amphibian ally (assuming those were cleric spells that only sivs happened to know, rather than domain spells).

You could also say they are regular cleric spells, but they are granted only by certain deities. Therefore, they are available as cleric spells only for worshipers of an appropriate deity, but unless you're planning to do this for all deities it would be pretty unfair. This is how rare cleric spells were presented AD&D, such as in the Faiths & Avatars, Powers & Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities supplements for Forgotten Realms. The 3rd edition Forgotten Realms setting assume common knowledge of these formerly deity-specific spells, but you could use the old model just as easily. Still, having the option to pick up these spells as part of an initiate feat means that you can take them if you want, or you can pass and choose other things instead. The feats are good, but it's hardly a no-brainer to take them.

Don't get stuck on the idea of just adding new spells to enhance divine magic, though. Races of Faerûn offers a different model of feats. The ones here are mostly presented as "regional" feats for people from a particular nation or race, but you could just as easily make similar feats for particular religions. These feats do not add spells but instead enhance the spells you have -- increase effective caster level, save DCs, or other parameters. A Calishite Elementalist gains a caster level bonus with particular spells linked to air or fire magic; this could certainly be replicated for elemental cultists, or even an elemental-themed sect of a larger faith (like the Burning Eye Legion of Zimburoz the Reaver; Zimburoz is a militant war deity in Eddie's world, but the Burning Eye Legion sees the funeral pyre as the epitome of their faith and burning destruction the natural consummation of war). A Chondathan Missionary gains a caster level bonus to list of spells linked to spreading the faith, a bonus that is increased when actually using those spells to help proselytize to a reasonably receptive audience; heck, this could work for any church, but especially more peaceful ones. There are similar feats for a variety of themes: Eldritch Linguist for languages; Forest Gnome Phantasmist for illusion-loving gnomes; Gold Dwarf Dweomersmith, focused on weapon-type spells and enchanting weapons; halfling Hin Wandermages who specialize in travel; Infernal Bargainer for outsider-blooded characters who know the secrets of communing with and engaging the services of lower-planar creatures, etc.
Besides feats that enhance the power of your spells, either from a particular list or all spells of a certain type, you might have feats that integrate spellcasting with other actions. For example, the Lightbringer feat lets you spend turn undead attempts to infuse a spell with positive energy, while a Primitive Caster adds extra components (often bestial screams, dances, or gestures) to increase spell power. Getting a Sacred Tattoo might boost your spells in special ways in hallowed or consecrated areas, and a similar feat might boost spells underground, underwater, in forested areas, or any other kind of place appropriate to the deity.

For Eddie and his caste-conscious siv society, he could easily envision several "secret societies" that could each have their own special feat to represent their group membership and some special bonuses that they get from that membership. The bullywug servants of the sivs might be more appropriate as Primitive Casters than the oh-so-civilized sivs, or perhaps monkey-like tasloi adepts and druids in the surrounding jungles might use a feat like that. An Initiate of Wastri feat would be a good idea in principle, but with the work Eddie's already done on the Amphibian domain, at this point it might be gilding the lily.

Actually, a lot of work has gotten done, and Eddie is getting close to starting the story arc. Arcane magic could use a few tweaks, but most of what has already been stated for divine magic could be applied equally well to matters arcane. Pretty soon it will just be a matter of getting there and letting the PCs swelter in the fetid jungles. In the immortal words of Hannibal from the A-Team: "I love it when a plan comes together!"

About the Author

Jason Nelson lives in Seattle with his daughter (Meshia), son (Allen), and dog (Bear). He writes freelance D&D articles but pays the bills as a medical transcriptionist while finishing his Ph.D. in social and cultural foundations of education. He is an active and committed born-again Christian who began playing D&D in 1981 and currently runs one weekly campaign while playing intermittently in two others.

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