Dungeoncraft -- Gotta Have Faith: Part II
Ray Winninger

Last month, we looked at the major gods that hold sway over the Lost World. In this outing, let's conclude the design of faith and religion by taking a long look at those who worship the gods. Along the way, we'll consider some tips for customizing the D&D game rules to accentuate the unique flavor of the campaign.

Note that we're employing a five-step process for designing gods and faiths originally detailed way back in Dragon 258. You can find this piece in the "Dungeoncraft" archives.

Last issue, we completed steps one and two of the process, which leads us next to . . .

Step Three: Faith and Worshippers
Most of the active gods in the campaign are essentially the oldest and largest dinosaurs on the planet. They earned their divine aspects by surviving the travails of the Lost World for ages, and this process has somehow translated into a mystical aura that surrounds them. The gods are rarely seen, but when they appear their presence inspires an overpowering sense of awe, and the planet itself seems to tremble in their shadows. It's important to note that, unlike the divine beings of the typical D&D world, these gods don't dwell in an extradimensional palace on another plane. They live right on the Lost World with everyone else, although they confine their wanderings to secret glens and grottos known only to their followers.

Although the dinosaur gods aren't overtly sentient, they do possess an undeniable intelligence and personality. They are clearly capable of communicating with their own kind using some sort of unspoken language, and the few humans who have managed to interact with the gods have been left with an impression of great wisdom. We've already decided that one of the gods, Kor the tyrannosaur, is somehow involved in a mysterious plot that threatens the whole of the Lost World (see Dragon 283).

Now that we know something about the gods, the next task is to decide how the other inhabitants of the Lost World pay homage to them. One possibility is that the humans and other civilized residents of the planet don't worship the gods. Perhaps only the other dinosaurs recognize their sovereignty. Although this is an interesting idea, it's pretty easy to reject. After all, faith and religion are important parts of the D&D game. If the humans and other intelligent races don't honor the gods, it's difficult to imagine clerics and paladins, and the whole game changes radically. While it's certainly possible to run a campaign like this, it's not what we have in mind for the Lost World. We aim to create a game world with a distinctive "feel," but one built on familiar D&D concepts.

Somehow, then, the civilized inhabitants must pay their respects to the dinosaur gods. This presents a slightly sticky situation, since few of the traditional reasons why a culture worships its deities are applicable to these gods. Typically, one might pray to the god of the skies for good weather before setting out to sea, or pray to the goddess of bounty to guarantee a good harvest. It's pretty clear, though, that these dinosaur gods don't have this sort of direct control over the environment. Other than not eating him, it's hard to say exactly how one of these gods might reward a loyal follower.

Our best bet is to take advantage of this mystery. Perhaps no one knows why certain members of the civilized communities of the Lost World swear their allegiance to the dinosaur gods -- not even the faithful themselves. Let's suppose that each of the gods has a cult of priests. Each cult serves as a network of guardians and agents that looks out for the god's interests and carries out subtle instructions the god somehow communicates to them through instinct and intuition. Oddly, the priests cannot explain exactly why they serve -- it's simply a compulsion that has been with them for as long as they can remember. Shortly after birth, the priests-to-be receive a telepathic calling from the god and feel the mysterious compulsion to serve. This isn't to imply that the priests are mind-controlled by their lords, simply that they are guided through instinct and emotion; each priest maintains freewill and is theoretically capable of turning his back on his patron, though few have done so. No one understands the mechanics of how the gods select their followers. Heredity is certainly not a factor (for example, the son of a priest has no better or worse chance of becoming a priest than anyone else), and geographical location seems equally meaningless. It's clear that some receive the call to serve even though their gods have never passed within hundreds of miles of their birthplaces.

These priests are the clerics of the Lost World. In addition to spiritual guidance, the gods also bestow powers upon them in the form of divine spells. Partially because of these powers, the priests are natural leaders in their communities. They are often able to assemble their own flocks of followers to help them do their master's bidding. This means that all the inhabitants of the Lost World are generally aware of the various priesthoods, and it guarantees that the dinosaur priests function almost exactly like the clerics who inhabit the traditional D&D game world.

Note that by keeping the true nature of the telepathic bond between the priests and their sovereigns somewhat secretive, we're hoping to lend the dinosaur gods an air of divine mystery. Clearly, these beings possess some strange power that is beyond the comprehension of most mere mortals. One day, we'll have an opportunity to develop this secret further, perhaps giving the players an interesting revelation or two to uncover (don't forget the Second Rule of Dungeoncraft). When we finally do delve into this mystery, it might be an opportunity to develop the exact mechanics by which the Lost World chooses its dinosaur gods and bestows their strange powers upon them. Fortunately, such matters are best left for later in the campaign, after the players have a few experience levels under the belts, so we needn't worry about providing any of this detail just yet.

So far so good, but we still have to answer one obvious question -- exactly what sort of services do the priests perform for the dinosaur gods? First and foremost, the priests protect their lords and act as their eyes and ears. Suppose some formidable hero decides to make a name for himself by launching a quest to find and kill Kor. In that case, the tyrannosaur god would immediately mobilize his network of priests who would in turn mobilize their networks of followers to dispatch the hero long before he even comes close to attaining his goal. Likewise, if a band of nomads builds a fortress in a dense forest that disrupts the feeding patterns of the large dinosaurs that live there, Kalaar (the ultrasaurus) might see the move as a threat to her "children" and mobilize her priests to drive away the invaders.

Beyond protection and intelligence gathering, the duties and activities of each priesthood depend upon the nature of the god in question.

Name Alignment Domains
Kor Lawful evil Evil, Death, Destruction
Abrexis Lawful good Good, Air, Knowledge
Kalaar Neutral good Plant, Protection
Haali Chaotic neutral Strength, Water

Kor (Tyrranosaur): As we decided in the last installment, Kor and his followers have absorbed the essence of the great god of darkness. As a consequence, Kor is essentially dedicated to eradicating the humans, elves, and dwarves who reside on the Lost World. In accord with his wishes, the priesthood of Kor is constantly hatching plots designed to slowly chip away at the power amassed by the civilized societies. Ultimately, all of these efforts are part of a coordinated plan of attack masterminded by Kor himself.

Obviously, all of Kor's priests are evil, and most are lizardfolk. There are, however, a few renegade humans among the faithful who act as spies and operate secret cults inside the Lost World's civilized societies.

Abrexis (Pterosaur): As a creature of the air, Abrexis values freedom above all else. Because he understands that freedom goes hand-in-hand with peace, his priesthood is dedicated to ending conflict and promoting harmony. In essence, Abrexis abhors the savagery of the Lost World and uses his priesthood to help the planet evolve beyond its harsh realities.

Clearly, this mission often brings Abrexis's priests into conflict with the priests of Kor. In fact, the two sects are sworn enemies.

Kalaar (Ultrasaur): Kalaar and her "children" (the various brachiosaurs, apatosaurs, and other large plant-eating dinosaurs of the Lost World) are especially dependent upon the planet's forests for survival. As a result, she and her priesthood are dedicated to safeguarding the planet's wilderness and helping the great herds of herbivorous dinosaurs migrate across the planet's surface to avoid the elements and large concentrations of predators.

In many ways, Kalaar is a balancing force between Abrexis and Kor. Although she too appreciates the value of peace, she believes that the ever-expanding civilizations erected by the humans, elves, and dwarves might one day pose a threat to purity of the wilderness and the well-being of her children.

Haali (Plesiosaur): Haali is a vain god who is chiefly concerned with protecting his domain, the world's oceans, from encroachment. Although the seas of the Lost World are too big for Haali and his followers to patrol with complete efficiency, Haali is attempting to ensure that no one can cross the oceans without his permission. His priesthood is dedicating to making sure that fishermen and others who travel by sea pay their god his proper respects. Although the priests of all four gods occasionally organize rituals and festivals to honor their lords, Haali is far more interested in these activities than any of the others.

What we've created so far should work quite nicely and provide the Lost World with plenty of pizzazz. Unfortunately, the cleric character class as described in the Player's Handbook doesn't quite sound like the dinosaur priests I've just described. The typical D&D cleric has certain abilities (such as turning undead), that don't logically stem from the dinosaur gods, while our dinosaur priests should clearly possess certain powers not germane to the cleric class. (Shouldn't a priest of Kor receive some sort of protection against tyrannosaurs?) Once you start creating more ambitious and distinctive faiths, it's fairly easy to run into this problem. Fortunately, it's not too difficult to modify the standard D&D character classes to bring them in line with your vision. In fact, this can be a powerful means of lending your campaign its own distinctive flavor.

Just because such measures can be effective, though, doesn't mean they should be undertaken lightly. You should realize that the D&D rules are carefully balanced and sometimes fit together in ways that aren't obvious. Too much tampering with the rules can result in an unbalanced game that is no longer fun. Think about what might happen, for instance, if you gave your clerics a new power that turns out to be a lot more useful than you thought it would be. Suddenly, your modified cleric class is more powerful than the other classes, and you might end up with a campaign in which the clerics hog all the attention. Before long, you might even discover that nobody is interested in playing anything else.

Performing major surgery on a class, therefore, is a task best left to more experienced DMs who will do a better job of predicting the impact their changes might have on the campaign. Fortunately, there's a simple strategy for "tweaking" a class that doesn't run too much risk. The basic philosophy is not to add or subtract any abilities to the class but to replace a few key abilities with nearly exact equivalents. Let's look at a few of the cleric's abilities and think about how we might apply such a philosophy.

Skills: Sometimes the cleric's listed class skills don't adequately reflect your campaign. On the Lost World, for instance, dinosaurs serve as mounts and beasts of burden. Since the priests of the Lost World all have a special connection with dinosaurs, shouldn't Animal Empathy be a class skill available to them? After all, it's hard to imagine any resident of the Lost World handling a dinosaur better than a priest.

Again, the basic philosophy is not to add or subtract any abilities but to replace a few key abilities with near exact equivalents. Thus, if we replace a few of the cleric's class skills with completely different skills, we shouldn't run too great a risk of unbalancing the class. For example, Animal Empathy is normally not a class skill for clerics. We can give our clerics Animal Empathy as a class skill, though, so long as we're willing to give up one of the cleric's existing class skills and make it unavailable to the class altogether. In this case, Scry might be a good skill to forfeit.

Turning Undead: Given what we know about the dinosaur gods, it does not necessarily follow that the clerics of the Lost World have any special powers over undead. On the other hand, our clerics do have a special relationship with certain types of dinosaurs that is clearly not reflected by any of the standard cleric's abilities. Thus, let's eliminate the cleric's ability to turn undead and replace it with the ability to "turn" dinosaurs. A priest of Abrexis has the ability to dismiss (or turn) flying dinosaurs, making them leave the area. This ability requires a standard turning check and has the exact same effects as the standard turn undead ability. Similarly, priests of Kor can turn tyrannosaurs and similar predatory dinosaurs, priests of Kalaar can turn large herbivorous dinosaurs, and priests of Haali can turn aquatic dinosaurs. Again, we're not adding or subtracting abilities, merely replacing some abilities with nearly identical equivalents.

Spells: Some of the cleric spells listed in the Player's Handbook look like they'll fit well with our conception of the dinosaur priests, while others look wholly inappropriate. This is another good opportunity to customize the class to give it some unique flavor. Once again, the easiest way to do this is to apply our general philosophy of replacing abilities with near exact equivalents. In this case, we have two options:

First, we can replace some key spells with spells of an identical level drawn from the lists of wizard spells.
In addition or instead, we can replace the specifics of a spell with a near equivalent.
See the sidebars for specific notes on these two processes.

Step Four and Five: Two Myths and Other Faiths
Fortunately, both of these stages are already complete. The last installment laid down the framework for the dinosaur gods, creating myths that account for the creation of the Lost World and the "deaths" of the elder gods. As for other faiths, the elder gods aren't really dead, leaving open the possibility that a few of the Lost World's inhabitants still worship these older deities directly.


Cutting and Modifying Spells

Spells that should be modified or eliminated on the Lost World include:

Create water
(eliminate this spell because it doesn't fit our conception of the gods, and it can't be this easy to get fresh water on the harsh Lost World)

Purify food and drink
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as create water)

1st level
Bless/curse water
(eliminate these because "holy water" doesn't fit with our dinosaur gods)

Detect undead
(modify to detect dinosaur; instead of detecting undead, this spell detects dinosaurs of the sort the cleric can turn)

Summon monster I
(modify to summon dinosaur I; this spell summons appropriate dinosaurs based on the priest's deity)

2nd level
(eliminate these spells because our clerics aren't particularly good at dealing with undead)

Summon monster II
(modify to summon dinosaur II)

3rd level
Searing light
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as eliminating consecrate/desecrate)

Summon monster III
(modify to summon dinosaur III)

4th level
Dimensional anchor
(eliminate this spell because the dinosaur gods have no extradimensional power or presence)

(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Lesser planar ally
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Summon monster IV
(modify to summon dinosaur IV)
5th level
Ethereal jaunt
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Plane shift
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Summon monster V
(modify to summon dinosaur V)

6th level
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Create undead
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as consecrate)

(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Planar ally
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Summon monster VI
(modify to summon dinosaur VI)

7th level
Summon monster VII
(modify to summon dinosaur VII)

8th level
Create greater undead
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as consecrate)

Summon monster VIII
(modify to summon dinosaur VIII)

9th level
(eliminate this spell for the same reasons as dimensional anchor)

Summon monster IX
(modify to summon dinosaur IX)


Replacing Spells

After cutting the inappropriate spells from the list, it's time to select suitable replacements. Note that, when replacing a domain spell, you should assume that the replacement spell substitutes for the original spell on the domain list unless there is a compelling reason why it shouldn't. If there is such a reason, select a new entry to replace the spell on the domain list.

Also note that when selecting replacement spells, you should make sure you don't pick a spell that's already available to the cleric class at a different level.


Ghost sound

1st level
(summons appropriate riding dinosaur)

2nd level
Detect thoughts

3rd level
Invisibility sphere
(Sun domain)

4th level
Arcane eye
(represents the ability to see through the eyes of distant dinosaurs)

Charm monster
(works only on dinosaurs)

Locate creature
5th level

Prying eyes
(again, represents the ability to see through the eyes of distant dinosaurs)


6th level
Circle of death
(Death and Evil domains)


Guards and wards

Move earth

8th level
Trap the soul
(Death domain)

9th level
Dominate monster
(dinosaurs only)

Solaani Inuundi Half-Breed Bruun Vistiiri Lizardfolk
Solaani P N S N F E
Inuundi N P S N T E
Half-Breed S S P S T S
Bruun N N S P S E
Vistiiri F T T S P T
Lizardfolk E E S E T P

P: Each tribe generally prefers dealing with its own kind

T: The Vistiiri trade with all most other inhabitants of the lost world, including some lizardfolk. The one exception is the separatist Bruun faction. By and large, the Vistiiri have cordial, but not particularly friendly relations with their trading partners.

F: The two tribes favor each other and enjoy friendly relations.

S: The tribes view each other with suspicion, though they are not openly enemies.

E: The tribes generally view each other as enemies.