Burst of Insight—World Building and Rules Redesign

I’ve talked a lot about kit-bashing Pathfinder, whether it was for heading to the stars in early preparation for Starfinder or for playing in the world of Supernatural. Today I want to begin talking about changing the game’s mechanics to service your own world building efforts by doing some of my own world building.

Since I’ve also been a part of a couple of discussions regarding what specifically makes this game Pathfinder. I thought it would be interesting to really stretch the ruleset to its limit and consider some big changes. There won’t be a lot of mechanics this week, right now I want to focus on setting elements.

I also don’t want to make this just medieval Europe with the serial numbers filed off. I want to create a setting different from anything I already have. Now, I’ve had this idea of a minotaur kingdom that was an actual physical maze for a long time, but the longer I consider it the more central I want to make this maze to an ongoing campaign. I also wanted to run a game that steps away from the typical Vancian magic. So that’s where we’ll start.

Now, what if the gods of the world not only turned their backs on the mortal races but also confined them to a vast prison maze and set the minotaurs as the guards or rulers? This sets the gods up ultimately as antagonists rather than constant (if inscrutable) allies. Although, given the capricious nature of the gods in earth’s own mythologies it is possible that every so often one of the gods may lend the PCs a hand.

This maze built by the gods would be open to the sky like a vast canyon system but in some places cities may be carved out of the maze walls or built atop the walls. Plenty of these walls would be wide enough to support several buildings or even allow for limited farming. In my mind, The Maze is huge like a small continent. Likely as large as Australia. What lies beyond its borders may be other kingdoms, untamed wilderness, or perhaps the sea.

Why would the gods do this? Was it a punishment for some transgression or was it an act of fear. I’m imagining this was an act of fear. Fear that humans, elves, and other races might one day rise up and cast down the gods…Just as the gods cast down their creator?

The Legend of the Maze

In an age, long ago before written histories the bards and skalds sang of the creation of the world. Their stories spoke of a great creator who birthed the world. The Creator lit the fires of the firmament from the forge she used to cast the black iron bowl of the sky. From the same metals as she used for the sky she cast the first of the gods.

The bards and skalds also told tales of betrayal and treachery. Of Uiran and his rebellion against the creator. Uiran led the gods to slay their maker they cut her down and cremated her corpse in the very forge from which each of the gods emerged.

They sing of the great sadness and anger of the early mortal kingdoms and how the Creator’s ashes spread across the world drifting and settling into every bit of the natural world awakening as divergent spirits who spoke to mortals and taught each race secrets and magic once known only to the Creator and the gods.

The gods began to fear the mortals who were justly angry at the death of the creator. As the mortal races grew in power Uiran again roused the gods to action. “The mortals will rise against us as we rose against the Creator.” Mithran the goddess of moonlight, dreams, and mercy refused to allow Uiran to slay the mortals. Instead, the gods raised a great prison a maze to keep the mortal races contained.

It is said that Auric god of the Sun and Knowledge raised the minotaurs up above the other mortal races and gave the first Minotaur king the only map of the maze and now generations later no minotaur gets lost in the maze. Another song, tells the story of a minotaur hero who found a hidden way into heaven and snuck into the realm of the gods and into Auric’s castle. The hero stole the map and when the gods found out they punished the minotaurs by making them the guards of the maze and stripping them of the trust of the other races.

This is just one myth of the maze. One of the most prevalent. But there are others. Some believe that those born in the Maze are the recently departed from another world and that the maze is redemption for a sinful life and escape through the maze will lead the petitioner to a paradise where their memories will be restored and they will live in joy with their loved ones who lived a more faithful life.

Regardless of faith, however, it is often a dream of the young to escape the maze. If anyone has ever succeeded is unknown. It is this uncertainty that keeps most mortals safely locked away inside. Well, that and the dragons.

The PC Races of the Maze

The Minotaurs are either being punished by the gods for the arrogance of stealing the First Map or are the elevated chosen of the gods but either way they are now the undisputed rulers of the Maze. The only people capable of reliable trade between cities because they alone can travel unerringly through the confusing passages. As a race, they are also responsible for ensuring no one escapes confinement within the maze. Minotaurs are likely not going to be a PC race.

Humans are the most numerous of the mortal races. And live with nearly all the races sometimes even adapting to the cultures of the people who take them in.

Elves also are known as the Tower People and Bright Elves most often live atop the maze walls. The elves remember trees in their art and in the elevation of their homes but few of the majestic legendary plants grow atop the maze except for a few small flowering fruit trees the elves revere almost religiously.

Dwarves live in vaults and tunnels below the maze. While they are not bound by the maze borders none have ever found a way to bypass the maze borders too much of the Undermaze is unstable and prone to collapse. The Dwarves after centuries below the Maze the Dwarves do not excavate many new tunnels and choose to live in the vaults of their ancestors and mine the precious metals they find in the earth. Many dwarves also serve the surface races carving new homes from the walls of the maze.

Special Note about Elves and Dwarves: I have recently finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and I like the idea of dwarves are dark elves. So we’ll eliminate drow from the campaign (at least for now) and say that it is believed that once before the Maze dwarves and elves were one race and that sometimes, particularly in old texts, dwarves are called dark elves.

Halflings and Gnomes: I have a few ideas about these races but for the moment I’m going to wait and see.

Half-Elves and Half-Orcs: I’m inclined to make half-breeds all the more uncommon. And so I may reskin half-orcs as orcs and remove half-elves altogether.

Mechanical Note: I’d like to make a character’s choice of a race a more lasting and relevant decision as play continues. I may or may not pursue this as we proceed.

Magic of the Maze

There are no clerics in this setting. The gods have not only turned their backs on mortals but have locked them away. It might be possible for some minotaurs to have clerics but that would be an adversarial NPC option only.

All living things have a spark of the Creator’s essence. Magic-users are among the select few whose spark has blossomed into a flame. Those so gifted with this fire of creation can sense and speak to the myriad invisible and intangible spirits who inhabit the world. Through will, word, and gesture a caster can imbue these spirits with a portion of their inner fire and direct the spirits to create certain magical effects.

I’m inclined to create a custom list of spells that serves my purposes.

Metal and the Gods

Many people living in Maze are likely unaware that each of the gods is matched to a corresponding metal as each was forged from metal just as the bowl of the heavens was. Uiran the First is bound to iron. Mithran goddess of the moon is tied to mithril while her daughter Seeva is linked to silver.

Mechanical Note: How this impacts the world I haven’t decided yet but I have a few ideas. It might negatively affect spell casting or give the gods a way to spy on mortals or perhaps corrupt them.

Threats in the Maze

“Dungeons” sometimes these are old places from before the Maze that survived hidden underground or raised hundreds of feet into the air inside a maze wall. Other times, they are the homes of legendary figures long forgotten. A dungeon can contain nearly any threat a dungeon in another world might contain.

Chromatic dragons dwell out in remote portions of the Maze. The minotaurs work hard to keep the beasts from the cities and villages. Sometimes herding crews of slave warriors into dragon dens to overwhelm younger dragons in sheer numbers so that the minotaur knights can claim the kill in relative safety.

It is said that dragons are the only other creatures who can navigate the passages of the maze.

Goblins, kobolds, lizardmen, and other similar foes. While a few of examples of these races can be found living in the minotaur cities and towns. Many more tribes of these races live in the maze outside the strict laws of the minotaurs living as raiders and bandits.

Giant fauna like spiders might hunt wild places in the maze.


Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.