While I’m using Golarion as the world for my upcoming Pathfinder campaign, I’m making changes to the powers-that-be in a move that is the ultimate change in top-down planning.
Spoiler warning: players in my campaign please read no further.
A big dynamic in my upcoming Riddleport campaign will be the Ascended – a group of near-gods who become ensnared by scheming over the Cyphergate. You will know the Ascended by name: Lloth, Demogorgon, Tiamat, Baphamut and Asmodeus, to name a few.
Borrowing from the excellent Malazan series, Primal Order and D&D 3E edition of Deities & Demigods, there are three types of higher powers in my version of Golarion: the Ascended, the Divine and the Primals.
The first gods. Only the most knowledgeable sages and some of the Divine know of the existence of these creatures. Primals are thought to be non-sentient and responsible for the structure of the universe, including those forces that drive physics, magic and emotions.
These creatures are raw energy. In the past they have spawned Cthulhuesque nightmares to
perform inscrutable quests, giving unfortunate worlds and generations apocalyptic endings or crippling transformations.
Examples of Primals are Death, Chaos, Magic, Passion and Atrophy.
I do not expect Primals to come into gameplay, but they might make interesting trivia for PCs as they gain high levels. Some players also like having a mental framework for their fantasy worlds, and this information can help cap off the top end for them.
Traditional gods. The first were birthed an unknown period of time after the Primals; all others have come from the Ascended.
The Divine channel the raw energy of the Primals, whether they know it or not. Each Divine is attuned to one or more Primals, making the energy of the affinity Primals easier to tap. In turn, the energy the Divine draws also transforms them so they embody their source Primals more so over time.
Only a Divine can kill another Divine being, with one exception: Divine can be killed by mortals in a specific way that is unique to each Divine. Knowledge of each Divine’s mortal weakness is jealously guarded – and highly valuable.
The Divine rarely confront foes due to their achilles heel, so the Ascended have become their foot soldiers in an eternal holy war.
Upon reaching epic level, a creature can beseech their parton divinity to give them a divine spark. If granted, the creature Ascends, which confers various benefits, some of which are universal to Ascended and some of which are unique to the Divine who shared the spark.
Ascending a follower weakens a Divine somewhat, so it is rarely done, yet many mortals pursue this path. And the Divine do need to replace dead, insubordinate or incompetent Ascended followers ongoing.
Ascended are mortal
A key difference between Ascended and Divine is Ascended can be killed by mortals, albeit with much difficulty. Divine assignments can therefore put them in great danger.
Like all middle managers, Ascended are in constant peril:
- Some Divine reward their followers with Ascendency if they kill an Ascended of the enemy. Thus Ascended are hunted.
- Great magicks can be woven using Ascended as components. This makes them targets of bold questers.
- Ascended are attuned to two planes. The first is their home plane, the second their patron’s. Every being with a divine spark has a shard that must remain on their home plane. This shard is similar to a lich’s phylactery, and has weaknesses of its own. Destroy the shard and you destroy the Ascended. (The Divine are just banished to their home plane in a weakened state until they expend more costly power to spin out a new shard.)Shards can never leave their affinity plane, though Ascended can. While every being with a shard protects it to the best of their ability – some build mega dungeons with their shard at the heart just for that purpose – circumstances will require they leave their shard behind while travelling to other planes or tangling with others.Thus shards are often the object of epic quests of enemies and rivals.
- Fellow Ascended seeking Divine favour and Elevation (the process where an Ascended becomes a Divine) create fierce levels of competition within a Divine’s ranks. Keep your enemies close and your friends closer.
The names will change
At this point I’m still noodling over the connection between the Cyphergate in Riddleport and the group of Ascended enemies who vie for control and advantage in the pirate city.
Most Ascended will fight by proxy using trusted minions. These minions are the foes the PCs will face most of the time, though an Ascended might make a personal visit if conditions warrant it.
My vision is the PCs will peel away the layers of various stage bosses to eventually confront one or more crime lords of Riddleport directly. At that time they will discover the crime lords are but puppets of the Ascended in an epic power struggle involving the Cypergate.
The Ascended will be known by other names than their monster manual entries. For example, Asmodeus is known as The Angel, and Lloth the Night Queen. The names Asmodeus and Lloth will never be uttered by an NPC – Divine or mortal – during the campaign.
Here’s the rub
More campaign plotting to come in future blogs. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your reactions and ideas, especially about what the link is between the Ascended and the Cyphergate.
A problem that sticks out to me is why the Ascended should pay such attention to the little city of Riddleport. Of all Golarion, why fight on this city’s streets? It seems a bit unbelievable that Ascended would take such risks, albeit mostly through minions, and give such focus to this small region.
One potential answer is the Cyphergate. It could be worth all the confrontation, resources and risks. And that begs the question of why the Cyphergate is important to the Ascended. I have a couple ideas, one which involves the shards of the Ascended, but they’re just ideas for now.
What do you think? Why does a group of Ascended enemies happen to be playing in the same sandbox as the PCs?