a priestess of Desna

Review – Inner Sea Gods (Pathfinder)

After realizing that generic Kyra was getting a bit worn out at the local Pathfinder Society games, I assured the group that my next starting character would be a cleric. I like playing clerics. Always have. I know some folks consider them boring, what with all the repeated casting of healing spells, but I’m quite happy to be the one keeping all of you foolhardy types from untimely deaths.

So, I was thinking about Pathfinder clerics, and what god to worship is kind of super-extremely-important for that sort a cleric. Yes, even my Pathfinder Society characters get personality and backstory. Plus I’m also going to be starting a Pathfinder Playtest version of Curse of the Crimson Throne, and that sort of campaign definitely wants to character to your character (I would really, really like to play a Harrower so I can use my Harrow Deck, but alas there are no Pathfinder Playtest rules for it).

So, I got to thinking that I should go pick up a copy of Inner Sea Gods for the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. And then I remembered that I had bought a copy back in July, and it was presently taking up space on my Shelf of Shame – my very full bookshelf of books I haven’t gotten around to reading yet (as we speak it still has 36! roleplaying game books on it). Result!

Well, it turns out that Inner Sea Gods was really fantastic. And I’ve still got three whole days to decide what part of it to use for this Curse of the Crimson Throne campaign.

Most of the space in Inner Sea Gods is devoted to the “Core 20” – the 20 deities who have the most influence in the Inner Sea region of Golarion (where almost all of the action in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting takes place). Each of those 20 deities gets 10 pages devoted to just that deity, plus some entries in the magic items section. Of those ten pages, one is specifications related to the prestige classes (more on that later), two are servitors of the god (one unique CR15 entity, and one CR4 generic type – these are located in the back, away from the main entry), and half a page is suggestions for characters who focus on that deity. The other 7.5 are pure flavor and art (including a half-page shot of the god on their home plane and a character-style image of the god in the text). Each entry has an introduction, a description of the deity’s church (including organizations, rituals, and attitudes towards some social conventions), temples and shrines (the physical places), the role of a priest in the religion, what sort of adventurers (if any) followers of the deity make, priest’s garments (or other distinguishing aspects of appearance, such as tattoos), any holy texts, any holidays, aphorisms (e.g., Desna’s “Feet Are for Walking”), relations with other religions (both direct relations between the gods and relations between their churches), their planar realm, and their planar allies (a servitor race and a few unique entities, including the one that gets a full stat block).

Shelyn faces what's left of her brother, now known as Zon-Kuthon

The Core 20

One of the interesting thing about the Inner Sea Gods is that they’re a relatively diverse bunch. They aren’t a unified pantheon with a common origin story or cultural theme. And, unlike a lot of fantasy deities, there aren’t a whole bunch of good deities and then a handful of bad ones – the alignments are spread all over the place. For purposes of this brief overview, I’m going to split the 20 deities into three groups – ones that make great patrons for player characters, ones that are a bit harder to pull off (well), and ones that should really be NPC-only (no, I don’t care that your GM lets you play an insane worshiper of Rovagug). Note that this isn’t a hierarchy of overall utility – the gods that aren’t great for players can have worshipers who make excellent adversaries, and Inner Sea Gods can go a long way towards helping the GM flesh them out.

Good Options for Player Characters

Cayden Cailean – I may as well just start off with the unofficial patron of fantasy roleplaying stereotypes. The Drunken Hero is the patron of bravery, freedom, ale and – because one kind of alcohol isn’t enough – wine. He combines the instinctive heroism of a classic fighter-type with the oldest traditions of the party meeting at the tavern and coming back there often.

Sarenrae – OK, I have everyone Cayden Cailean first, but to my mind it is Sarenrae who is the most natural fit for a generic sort of cleric (let the fighter worship Cayden Cailean). If nothing else, the Dawnflower is the goddess of healing – and that is why the adventuring party really wants the cleric along, after all. But the goddess of honesty, redemption, and the sun is also a powerful force for good in the world. And that includes the use of literal force – she is a warrior as well as a healer, and her clerics are expected to be as well. If the party is helping those in need or opposing evil, there will always be a reason for a follower of Sarenrae to be involved.

Iomedae – The Inheritor is the goddess of honor, justice, rulership, and value. Iomedae is known as the Inheritor because her church has largely absorbed the church of the dead god Aroden, for whom Iomedae worked most of her short time as a divinity (at less than a millenium of age, she is the youngest major deity). Like Sarenrae’s, her followers translate readily to the heroic model. Iomedae is a crusader – a militant in the literal war against evil. While Sarenrae has more fire (literally and figuratively) and more compassion, Iomedae is always the focused, organized soldier.

Desna – One of my personal favorites, the Song of the Spheres is the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travelers. She likes to go new places, experience new things, and maybe get in some trouble while she’s at it. As long as the adventuring party is moving down the road, a follower of Desna can readily join them to explore the overgrown forest, the dark dungeon, the high mountains, or wherever the latest quest takes them. Also, she’s got cosmic butterfly wings, and how can you knock that?

Abadar – As you can tell from this list, I consider Good deities to be much easier to work into a high fantasy roleplaying campaign – you’re a good person, you worship a good god, you want to go do good things and save people. That doesn’t mean you don’t want money and fame and all that, but the character has a reason to want to be out risking life and limb to defeat monsters. The Master of the First Vault, the god of cities, law, merchants, and wealth is not Good. His interests, however, still line up on the side of protecting people – both the lawful and the good can agree on stopping bandits and goblin attacks, after all. At the same time, a cleric of Abadar does have twists on that traditional archetype. They don’t help people for nothing – everything has a price (and that certainly fits in with the part of the party that really cares about getting paid). More broadly speaking, Abadar is one of the most omnipresent gods in the campaign setting, because he’s the kind of the king once you get into an urban area (unless the city actively focuses on a particular deity, especially an Evil one).

Torag – The lone dwarf in the core 20, and the only classic ‘racial’ deity, Torag is the leader of the dwarven pantheon. The Father of Creation is the god of the forge, protection, and strategy. It is his martial aspects, especially strategy, that extends Torag beyond being just a dwarven deity. Within his dwarven focus, he is a fairly stereotypical dwarven god.

Shelyn – The Eternal Rose is the goddess of art, beauty, love, and music. And if you think, art, beauty, love, and music cannot an adventurer make, then please do not get in a conversation with your party’s bard, because they are not going to buff you in the next combat until you apologize. Sure, plenty of followers of Shelyn stay in their cities, make music, engage in matchmaking, and inspire artists. But that passion can readily be taken on the road.

Herald of IroriIrori – The Master of Masters is, at his simplest, the God of the Monks. However, in addition to being the god of self-perfection, Irori is the god of history and knowledge. So, while the central sort of follower of Irori is a monk seeking physical and spiritual perfection, there is also room for sage-like arcane casters to follow him.

Pharasma – The Inner Sea, like many fantasy settings, has a god to judge the dead, and Pharasma is she. The Lady of Graves is the goddess of birth, death, fate, and prophecy (note that prophecy works in Golarion anymore). The goddess herself is True Neutral, but her church engages in a lot of good acts, such as combating undead, assisting with childbirth, and providing valuable services for the community. Somewhat like Erastil, below, the challenge is just in getting a reason to pry the cleric away from the traditional church duties and into the adventuring life. But I’m sure fate can come up with some reason for that.

Erastil – I’m tempted to put Old Deadeye in the next section, although being Lawful Good normally puts a god in the easily usable category. But Erastil, the god of family, farming, hunting, and trade, is kind of a small town guy. He believes in small communities living in harmony with each other. Sure, priests of Erastil will readily defend their village. But they aren’t big on urban areas or grand questing. With that said, Erastil is as close as you can get to the Green Faith while still having a god, and druids find themselves in adventuring parties all the time, so I shall leave him up here.

You’re Going to Have to Work a Bit for These Ones

Calistria – There is one dwarf among the Core 20 (Torag), and there is one elf – Calistria, the Savored Sting, the goddess of lust, revenge, and trickery. However, unlike Torag, she isn’t any sort of uber-elf. She is one of a few Chaotic Neutral deities in this part of the list. These gods often represent some sort of force of nature or aspect of the human spirit. They aren’t inherently evil (although we can have a talk about Gorum), and they can be harnessed for good, but left alone they probably do lean towards the Evil side. Revenge and trickery, for example, easily lend themselves to evil. But an appropriately placed revenge can look a lot like justice. And, while there can be a dark side to lust, there can also be a joyful side to it. And the discussion of Calistria’s church clearly leaves space for a congregation that focuses on the good aspects of her portfolio. However, I think that, given the subject matter of her portfolio, it does take a more mature set of players interested in a more character-intensive game to make a Calistrian cleric really work well. Without those preconditions, it is far, far to easy for the character to become a one-note joke about prostitutes or an outlet for obnoxious lust-related humor.

Gorum – It might be a bit controversial to put Gorum down here, because I know a player might say, well, there’s a lot of fighting in Pathfinder, so what’s wrong with worshiping Our Lord in Iron, god of battle, strength, and weapons. But there’s a wide space between battle in defense of yourself or others, and battle for the sake of battle, violence for the sake of violence. While Gorum is Chaotic Neutral, it’s hard to think of violence for the sake of violence not pushing hard towards the Evil side of things (indeed, I would more readily put him further down than here). But, sure, if the party is just a group of murder hobos, then a follower of Gorum will fit right in. And a follower of Gorum might make the calculation that he’ll get the most fighting with a group of trouble magnets like the player characters. But staying true to Gorum and the adventuring spirit takes some work. What I think often happens instead is that a cleric of Gorum works in the party because the broader implications of the religion aren’t explored – the character wants to fight, the game involves fighting, and that’s the end of it.

Nethys – If Gorum. In most campaign settings, the god of magic is a very workable deity to worship, especially for arcane casters. In many campaign setting, the god of magic is actively good – or, at least, there is a god of magic who is actively good. Not so with the All-Seeing Eye. Nethys is, well, insane. Sure, sure, he’s True Neutral, and one half of his split existence is positively focused. But Nethys is only about magic for the sake of magic for the sake of magic. It’s not a coincidence that I put him right after the discussion on Gorum. Characters who want to master magic for some constructive purpose don’t really fall into Nethys territory – they tend to follow whatever deity’s portfolio includes their ultimate purpose. The follower of Nethys just wants to master magic. And that’s a very narrow motivation for an adventurer.

Asmodeus – Yes, I put an evil god in this section. Asmodeus is the devil, the Prince of Darkness, the patron of contracts, pride, slavery, and tyranny. And the vast majority of Asmodeus’s followers are Bad People. But … there is also some room for focusing on the Lawful part of Asmodeus. This takes the form of groups like the Hell Knights, who are all about a very strict sort of law and order. And just as Asmodeus himself knows how to work with the Good deities when the need arises, there’s certainly room to have a steel-booted enforcer in an adventuring party. Just keep them away from Merisiel.

Gozreh – This elemental deity of the Wind and the Waves is the god/goddess of nature, the sea, and weather (so air and water, but not so much fire or earth). Gozreh is probably the type of deity you choose when you want to throw around lightning bolts. As with a lot of ocean/weather deities, Gozreh is probably more often someone who is prayed to when the characters encounter that particular sort of natural problem, rather than someone a character dedicates their existence to.

No. Just No.

Lamashtu – The Mother of Monsters is, to my mind, the iconic evil Pathfinder god. The goddess of madness, monsters, and nightmares is credited with creating many monstrous creatures, and her cults feature a lot of mutation and creepy pregnancies that don’t end well for the mother.

Norgorber – The Reaper of Reputation (secrets, Father Skinsaw (murder), the Gray Master (greed), Blackfingers (poison) – Norgorber’s got a lot of names to cover his portfolio of wicked deeds. But let’s just stop at god of murder (as in, the Skinsaw Murders, of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path). If Lamashtu is a classic god of monsters, then Norgorber is the god of a lot of very human evils.

Urgathoa – The Pallid Princess is primarily a goddess of undeath, but her portfolio also includes disease and gluttony. That doesn’t really leave any room for a player character.

Zon-Kuthon – The Midnight Lord was one brother to Shelyn, but is now the god of darkness, envy, loss, and pain – traits he picked up after an unwise foray into the beyond. If Rovagug pays his followers no thought at all (see below), Zon-Kuthon’s followers are probably even worse off, since their god might actually pay attention to them.

Rovagug – Possibly the least appropriate player-character choice for a patron deity ever, the Rough Beast is pure destruction. He does not care one white for his followers, who would be destroyed along with everyone else if Rovagug was ever released from his eternal prison at the heart of Golarion. Rovagug’s followers believe that he wants this ritual, or that sacrifice, or the other horrible deed – but the reality is that Rovagug cares for nothing but obliteration (and maybe tormenting Sarenrae for a bit along the way).

Other Deities

Inner Sea Gods does cover other deities, but in much less space. Indeed, about the only thing that made me a bit sad in reading Inner Sea Gods was that the 13 gods who each got half a page didn’t get a full page (well, that and the story of Naderi). I know it may not really matter a ton what a deity looks like, since it’s not like the players should ever actually be meeting them … but I still wish these deities could have gotten a page each to fit some art in. The most noteworthy of the 13, to my mind, are:

  • Besmara, The Pirate Queen – I don’t have a thing for pirates, but I know a lot of gamers who do;
  • Milani, the Everbloom – The goddess of hope and uprising is dedicated to fighting oppression and slavery, making her an excellent option for a player character.
  • Naderi, the Lost Maiden – Once a servitor of Shelyn, focused on forbidden love, the mutual suicide of two of her charges imbued Naderi with a spark of divinity and a portfolio that included romantic suicides. This traumatic transformation drove Naderi away from Shelyn, where she has slowly moved toward Urgathoa’s orbit, despite Shelyn’s efforts at reconciliation.

There are a few pages with single paragraph discussion of some racial deities, but they do not play a big role in Golarion. Also the entire cast of the Cthulhu Mythos appear in the form of the Outer Gods.

Crunchy Options

The central crunchy bit of Inner Sea Gods is the Deific Obedience feat. Each of the core 20 deities has an “obedience” section describing what the dedicated follower of the god must do each day to earn favor. This feat then unlocks access to the three prestige classes – the Exalted (divine casters), the Sentinel (combat types), and the Evangelist (everybody else). Although the feat alone eventually unlocks boons, the prestige classes unlock them much more quickly. Each core 20 god has detailed, unique boons for those who can stay on the right path. Of the prestige classes, I especially like the Exalted, who can become something of an avatar of their faith.

There are a good 70 feats or so, many (maybe most) of them restricted by patron deity. Some feats that stood out were:

  • Beacon of Hope (Milani) – Channeling positive energy to heal also provides bonuses to saving throws, attack rolls, and skill checks;
  • Drunken Brawler (Cayden Cailean) – There are always fans of drunken fighting concepts – I could list what the feat actually does, but if you like the concept you probably aren’t that concerned;
  • Glorious Heat (Sarenrae) – If you want to cast some destructive magic as a cleric, this feat lets you heal an ally whenever you cast a fire spell.

There’s even more though – six pages of trait options, ~20 subdomains (for example, Dragon or Saurian instead of Scalykind), 18 pages of spells, and 26 pages of magic items – all of it keyed to a patron entity.

Other Stuff

In addition to all that, another thing I liked about Inner Sea Gods was how the graphic design made it easy to navigate. Each of the pages about a particular god had that god’s name and holy symbol (even the two pages further in the back dedicated to the two servitors of the god). This means that anytime you flip the book open, it’s easy to see exactly where you are and where you need to go to get to what you want. But the cherry on top was that, when you look at the edge of the pages, you can see this one section that’s clearly marked off from the rest. Those distinctively marked pages are the player crunch section – prestige classes, feat, spells, and magic items. I know, that’s not going to shake the heavens – but that is one excellent use of layout.

If you’re a fan of tables, Inner Sea Gods doesn’t just have the usual excellent index, but also 14 pages of deities and other entities capable of granting spells. There’s no flavor write-up here, unless you consider the four words of “areas of concern” to be flavor. Beyond that, it’s just page after page of name, alignment, domains, favored weapon, and so forth – infernal dukes, giant gods, dragon gods, and on and on.

I really liked Inner Sea Gods. It’s a deep dive into a particular aspect of Golarion, but it’s an aspect that should be a significant aspect of any divine caster, and that can be a significant aspect of the life of any character. Even if you aren’t super into character personality and backstory (or you want to be, but don’t know where to start), material like this can be used to start breathing some life into a character – the deity a character worships really should say something about who they are. I heartily recommend Inner Sea Gods if the world of Golarion, or this sort of character backgrounding, appeal to you at all.

 

 

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