A strange campaign
Desna, the song of the Spheres
Blessed is the long road, the destination, the homeward path, and all who makethe journey. Let each dream be a bright star in the night sky of your mind, and let it light your path in the day. Do not be troubled if your dream falters, for thereare countless stars in the sky and countless dreams to experience—pick a new one and change your course.
—Prayer to Desna, carved on the wood of Riverrook Shrine near Magnimar
Desna as a Goddess
esna (DEZ-nuh) is an impulsive and aloof goddess who delights in freedom, discovery, and mystery. Her aloofness stems not from arrogance, but from confidence in her own abilities and her desire to be unburdened by troubles. She is a collection of contrasts—an ancient goddess who dislikes predicting the future, a traveler who cares nothing for her destination, a carefree creature of instinct haunted by a past stretching back eons, and a peaceful deity forced to battle with old enemies, eternally young despite the weight of ages and stars upon her.
Some believe Desna is flighty, frivolous, and easily distracted, but she has a hard, cold side that few see, born of loss, tragedy, and battle. As a luck goddess, she always believes there is a chance for success. She knows that people fear the unknown, that dreams can turn to nightmares and a bright destiny can become a dark fate; these opposites in her own nature define her and give her things to strive against. She challenges those who would corrupt her domain or who have wronged her friends or followers, striking at them with burning starlight, bad luck, and energies alien to Golarion.
Although her dominion over dreams and stars means that many seers, diviners, and mystics revere her as an informal goddess of prophecy, she delights in the freedom of people to choose their own destiny and only uses her power to help others make good choices, avoid troublesome outcomes, and achieve happiness. She believes that “doom and gloom” prophecies or those that seem to guarantee or self-fulfill horrible acts are distasteful, and she only hands out such messages in the direst circumstances. She prefers to use prophecy as a tool for exploration and creating choices, not for limiting action and snuffing hope.
Primarily interested in travel for its own benefit, Desna watches over those who sojourn for any reason. Trailblazers, scouts, adventurers, and sailors all praise her name. (Although most sailors revere Gozreh, he is a temperamental deity and a little luck from Desna often comes in handy during a storm.) Her influence over luck makes her a favorite among gamblers, thieves, and others who rely on fortune for shady dealings.
Desna teaches her followers to indulge their desires, experience all they can, and trust instinct as a guide. Her followers are often wide-eyed, exuberant people, embracing the world in all its strangeness, and willing to jump in with both feet. Desnans aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, their feet wet, or their knuckles (or faces) bloodied while living life to its fullest. Critics call them hedonists, but that is an exaggeration, as worldly experience, rather than pure sensation, is their true goal. Ascetics, hermits, and meticulous planners are unknown in her church. Her faithful teach it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, as sometimes a unique opportunity requires a split second decision, whether to touch a dragon’s egg, savor a rare fruit, or passionately kiss the mayor’s daughter.
Desna encourages her worshipers to believe in themselves and express their inner strengths, often in the form of music, dance, or theater. Many songs penned by her faithful become popular tunes for dancing and gatherings, and several “old favorites” are attributed to long-dead Desnan bards, their musical legacies persisting for centuries. Many believe thatthe custom of a traveling bard paying for his lodging with a song stems from Desna’s church and, like bards, wandering followers of Desna encourage young folk to sing and dance in the hopes of discovering hidden talents.
When the goddess has a message for one of her faithful, she prefers to intervene in the form of dreams, sending simple impressions, visions, or even prophecies that the sleeper clearly remembers upon awakening. If a member of her faith is in duress and prays to her before sleeping, she might send them encouraging dreams. In the most dire circumstances, or situations in which Desna takes a direct interest, a follower in need might awaken with the benefit of a helpful spell (such as aid, magic vestment, prayer, protection from evil, or remove fear) that persists throughout the day. When dreams are unsuitable or time is short she indicates her favor with flights of swallowtail butterflies, sparrows, dragonflies, geese flying in a fourpointed star shape, or the timely arrival of messenger birds. She typically shows her disfavor with a dreamless sleep that fails to refresh the sleeper (as if the person had not slept at all), sore feet, messenger animals losing their messages, and minor travel accidents.
When Desna manifests an avatar in the mortal world, she normally takes the appearance of a beautiful but coy female elven acolyte of her faith. In this guise she aids people in need or suggests relevant excerpts from her holy writings, the Seven Scrolls, as a way to lead the faithful on the correct path. She is not above singing to lighten dour moods or dancing with those in need to reinvigorate their confidence. When Desna wishes to reveal her true nature, she transforms her common clothing into a billowing silken gown and grows brightly colored butterfly wings on her back, although in somber situations her wing colors are pale and moth-like.
Desna is chaotic good, and her portfolio is dreams, stars, travelers, and luck. Her domains are Chaos, Good, Liberation, Luck, and Travel, and her favored weapon is the starknife. Her holy symbol is a butterfly with images of stars, suns, and moons upon its wings. Most of her clergy are clerics, although about one-third of her priests are bards or rogues, with a number of neutral good druids or rangers choosing her as their patron. She is called the Song of the Spheres, the Great Dreamer, Starsong, and the Tender of Dreams.
Ghlaunder (GLON-der) is a demigod of parasites and infection. His origin is unknown, but he might be a corrupt spawn of an evil deity or something that once grew on the corpse of
a slain god. His natural form is said to be that of an immense mosquito-like creature with a dozen wings and proboscises and parasitic prehensile worms that act as his limbs. He is associated
with stirges, giant mosquitos, faceless stalkers (see page 88), fungoid creatures, and vampires. His holy symbol is a blood-fat mosquito.
Ghlaunder’s primary doctrine is that parasites and infection are necessary, lest the weak and old overrun the world. Cultists of Ghlaunder usually live in secluded communes and travel in
secret, concealing their true devotion for fear of being shunned or attacked. Only in areas ravaged by disease do they make themselves known, preaching salvation from afflictions for the
small price of eternal worship of their blood-drinking god. They only use spells such as remove disease on those of their faith, convincing many of the terminally ill to convert. The faith has
a strong rivalry with Desna, as she actively hunts its followers. Few religions consider themselves allies of Ghlaunder, although followers of Rovagug hold that Ghlaunder is one of the Rough Beast’s spawn.
Alignment: CE. Domains: Air, Animal, Chaos, Destruction, Evil. Clerics and druids of Ghlaunder may use animal-oriented spells (such as animal shapes, detect animals or plants, and hide
from animals) to affect vermin instead of animals, although a vermin’s natural immunities may render certain spells useless for this purpose.
hile an ancient faith—known even in the age of storied Thassilon—Desna’s church is extremely disorganized with few actual temples or settled priests and no formal chain of command. Physical and magical might are respected, as are knowledge and experience, with personal expertise in a field trumping mere combat prowess or spellcasting ability. For example, when dealing with a basilisk’s attacks on a frontier town, a low-level cleric who survives an encounter with the creature is accorded greater authority than a high-level character who has never faced one. This structure means that Desnans have certain ideas about what they consider “informed” authority; they feel free to ignore nobles, politicians, and other “meritless” leaders if more knowledgeable folk are on hand to provide better advice. Although they can be competitive with others inside and outside the church, these are friendly rivalries; they prefer to move on if a disagreement is going to turn ugly—after all, there is an entire world of wonder to explore, so there is no sense wasting time in an unhappy argument.
Desna’s priesthood has no regalia or vestments beyond bright colors—sometimes in patterns like butterfly wings—and their goddess’s holy symbol. Worshipers typically have little problem recognizing each other, as they often work Desna’s symbol into jewelry, clothing, tattoos, or her holy weapon, the starknife. Even if their faith isn’t prominently displayed, the like personalities of Desna’s followers often attract one to another.
Services dedicated to Desna include singing, dancing, storytelling (especially of unusual dreams), footraces, and music. Some use exotic substances, herbal drinks, alcohol, or animal venom to spark unusual dreams or (for the very lucky) to create lucid dreams. Many rituals involve sand because of its relation to sleep and the comparison of grains of sand to the number of stars in the sky. Dust made from crushed rose quartz (which can have a starry pattern when illuminated from behind) is used in the faith’s rare ceremonies and blessings instead of water or sacred oil; Desnan priests carry holy quartz dust in glass flasks instead of holy water. Some luck-seeking faithful carry dice or other luck talismans carved of rose quartz.
Temples and Shrines
esna keeps few temples, preferring unattended shrines at crossroads and places of secluded beauty, like hilltops or peninsula points. Although unmanned, these shrines often hold simple provisions and a place to scrawl notes or feelings if visitors are so inspired. Her association with the stars and night sky means that her temples sometimes double as celestial observatories, or at least have one room partially open to the sky. In many cases, these observatories have markers on the walls or windows to indicate the positions of important stars on holy days (one-room churches might have a single hole in the ceiling to show a particular star’s position, kept covered on other days to keep out rain or snow). Temples inlarge cities often take the form of tall towers with observatories at their tops, and with small libraries of astronomical and astrological charts. More common rural temples usually incorporate an inn or stable as a service to travelers. As Desna maintains good—or, at least, non-conflicting—relationships with most good-aligned and civilized deities, it’s not uncommon for her faith to be found among those worshiped in communal temples.
Butterflies and moths (as well as their caterpillar young) congregate at her holy sites; legends say the priests can call upon these creatures to defend the temple, devouring cloth and leather to leave would-be thieves naked but unharmed. Some temples maintain colonies of silk-producing moths, creating hardy and beautiful silk for use and sale by the temple. Every temple protects a small chest of silver coins (usually no more than 300 sp), which it uses to help fund journeys by the faithful. Needy travelers can petition the temple for financing (up to a number of silver pieces equal to the supplicant’s level squared). This funding is normally only available for frontier exploration or travel to exotic locations (a trip to the next town might merit only a silver for water, bread, and a spare blanket) and those who exploit this generosity tend to suffer bad luck in the long run.
A Priest’s Role
riests of Desna—cleric, bard, rogue, ranger, or the rare druid— go where they please, earning money by telling fortunes, providing entertainment, and interpreting dreams as messages from the goddess. They help people where they can, but they prefer to make their acts seem like luck, coincidence, or the blessings of their goddess.
A typical day for a Desnan priest involves travel, often just from one shrine or temple to another, collecting stories and spreading the word of the goddess. If a holy site needs maintenance or repair, the priest takes care of what is needed or hires a skilled person to do it. Many caravan masters like to hire a priest of Desna to accompany their wagons (as they believe it brings good luck, especially in regard to warding off attacks from beasts), and this gives the priest an excuse to travel when she has no other pressing matters.
Many of Desna’s faithful are talented artists, writers, and entertainers, and the church expects all priests to at least befamiliar with contemporary music, theater, and literature (even though a particular priest might have no talent for playing instruments, acting, or writing). Those with skill should share it on a regular basis, usually with performances at festivals, open local venues, gatherings such as weddings, or public parties thrown specifically for that purpose. These latter events endear the church to the public, even if the offered fare is no more than cheese, warm bread, and watered wine. Those with no personal ability in these areas should learn to recognize such gifts in others and encourage them to explore those talents.
Some Desnans are skilled fortune-tellers, using their gift of reading people to entertain and inspire hope. Like their goddess, they oppose the use of divination to create fear or despair, and brush off unhappy requests such as when the listener or one of his enemies might die. The goddess expects her diviners to challenge any speaker who prophesies ill, misfortune, or doom, and when they hear of magical auguries predicting bad times, they actively intervene to make sure those events do not come to pass.
In addition to soothsaying, some Desnans learn to interpret dreams in order to ease troubled minds and mend other wounds of the psyche. Recurring or shared dreams are of particular interest, as they often stem from inner traumas or external magical sources. Those plagued by insomnia or nightmares call on Desnan priests for aid, for their healing spells or even just a soothing touch are often enough to bring a tranquil night’s sleep. Her priests oppose night hags— which Desna particularly hates, and who equally despise the goddess—and similar creatures that prey on sleepers, as well as mages who use nightmare, going so far as to destroy spellbooks and magic items that use the spell. Her feud with Lamashtu means her priests are charged with protecting the common folk from dangerous beasts (especially intelligent beast-like creatures such as worgs), although they hold no hatred for wary predators that avoid mankind.
Elder priests whose bodies can no longer handle physical travel tend to use magic to visit the minds of others (using the dream spell), remote parts of the world (using scrying and traveling dream spells), or even distant planes (using the astral travel spell). Some use herbal oralchemical substances to enter a dreamlike state to explore higher levels of consciousness or to commune with dream entities. A few such Wakeless Ones are so strong-willed that they have remained asleep and dreaming for years, not even waking to eat or drink, sustained by faith, will, and dream-food. Unlike battle-oriented faiths, it is considered a noble end for a Desnan to die in her sleep, as it makes the first step of the spiritual journey to the goddess that much easier (although not necessarily making the remainder of the journey simple or easy, as there is no challenge or wonder in that).
There are at least two bardic colleges founded by Desnan priests: Taldor’s Baumont Conservatorium and Polyhymnia’s Hall of Andoran, with alumni of each considering themselves the best in a long-standing rivalry. Many semi-retired Desnan musicians and actors hold private study for handfuls of students; some of these masters are graduates of a specific school and teach in a similar style, while a handful reject more orthodox teachings to use their own methods, often inspired by fardistant cultures or ancient lore. Nobles who want their children educated and protected sometimes hire a Desnan priest for this purpose. It is a comfortable living, especially as the noble usually has the priest on retainer for more adventurer-worthy duties, such as escorting the scion through a dangerous area,giving him a taste of battle, or staving off the amorous advances of a rival family’s heir.
A typical day for a priest involves an early prayer (often spoken in bed moments after waking), recording remembered dreams in a journal, breakfast, study (the arts if so inclined, geography or the culture of a foreign land if not), and any duties assigned by an elder priest if one is present. After a light lunch the priest should go for a walk or ride, either to someplace new or by taking a new path to a known place; because there are usually only a limited number of routes between any two cities and local dangers might prevent serious exploration on these journeys, a priest might compromise by treating the left, right, and center parts of the road as “new” paths. Once at their destination they attend to their duties there, help passersby who require their skills, possibly entertain at a local gathering spot, seek a place to stay for the night, dine, pray, and sleep. Divine priests prepare their spells during morning prayers, while Desna’s bard-priests generally prepare spells after those prayers.
Because they consider an uninterrupted sleep a kind of prayer to their goddess, traveling Desnans never volunteer for a middle watch during the night; first or last watch is preferable to them. If a priest believes he won’t get as much sleep as he likes that night (for example, if his comrades plan a midnight battle), he tries to fit a nap or two into his schedule for the day rather than “toughing it out” and being short on sleep.
Desna’s priests have a tradition of exploring distant places and leaving a mark indicating someone of the faith has been there. This “found-mark” might be as simple as the goddess’s symbol scratched on a flat rock or tree trunk, as elaborate as a small shrine, or anything in between. Often, the explorer leaves a personal glyph or a note indicating who they are; in this way they gain fame in the church, and someone who has marked many sites in this way is called a Founder—a title with no formal powers but high esteem among the faithful, especially as other explorers discover their found-marks. Although Desnans constantly seek to make new discoveries, some particularly remote or hard-to-reach locales—such as mountaintops, islands, or the tops of ruined buildings—have become holy sites in their own right, with the mark of the original Founder being surrounded by dozens of personal runes or butterfly symbols left by those who have followed in his path.
Allies of Desna
Desna’s clerics can use summon monster spells to call upon
the aid of the following creatures in addition to those listed in
Summon Monster II
Lyrakien (CG)—see page 86.
Summon Monster III
Star monarch (CG)—same stats as a giant eagle.
Summon Monster VII
Young brass dragon (CG)—This creature has the extraplanar
subtype but otherwise has the normal statistics for a creature
of its kind.
s Desna’s faithful delight in storytelling, her worshipers find
the greatest enjoyment in telling tales of their goddess. Here are
but a few of their favorite and best-known myths.
- Ghlaunder’s Hatching: Legends tell how Desna wandered
the Ethereal Plane and discovered a strange cocoon that pulsed
with magic. Curious about its contents, she broke it open and
released a mosquito-like being called Ghlaunder, which immediately
attacked her. She easily fended off its attacks, but the resilient
creature managed to escape before she could destroy it. Now
Ghlaunder plagues the mortal world as a demigod of parasites and
infection. Desna still hunts the godling and his cults in the hope
of wiping them from the world or perhaps turning his power to
a more positive end, just as leeches can aid certain ailments and
maggots can cleanse infected wounds. The moral of this myth is
that every life contains mistakes and bad choices, but it is better
to live, make those mistakes, and accept the challenges they
present than to hide away from the world and do nothing.
- Lamashtu’s Trap: In her earliest days as a goddess, Desna’s
mentor was Curchanus, a mostly forgotten god of beasts, travel,
and endurance, and Desna spent many nights listening to stories
of his travels. Curchanus’s enemy was Lamashtu, an equally
ancient goddess of monsters, madness, and nightmares who
longed for his control over beasts. Lamashtu set a trap for Curchanus,
leading him on a strange wandering path into her realm,
where she swarmed him with horrible monsters, finally attacking
in the guise of a great deformed jackal, tearing his beast-dominion
from him. This wound was too great for the elder deity, and as his
last act he willed his power over travel to Desna. Since this theft,
wild animals have treated mankind as an outsider and an enemy
rather than a part of nature, and Desna has searched far and wide
to find a way to force Lamashtu to surrender Curchanus’s stolen power.
The faithful use this story to remind them of Lamashtu’s treachery,
to honor Curchanus’s gift to Desna, and to remind them that failure
is just a setback, not an end.
- The Stair of Stars: This long and convoluted myth tells of the journeys
of a priest who explored the world for many years, placing found-marks at
the tops of mountains and in the deepest forests. As he sensed the edges of
the world closing in on him, he lamented the end of discoveries and wonders.
That night he dreamed he walked to the shore of a great ocean, and upon
that shore he saw a stairway made of glittering stars.
In the dream, he trod upon the stair and saw that it led to infinite worlds
in the sky and beyond. He awoke, praised the goddess for this inspiration,
and spent the rest of his days seeking this stairway and the other worlds it promised.
This myth teaches that there are always new things to discover,
even after a lifetime of journeys. Some faithful believe that
the stars in his dream represent the countless people of the world and
how getting to know each of their stories is a great journey in
itself—that the need to explore and discover refers to people as well as places
Relations With Other Religions
esna remains aloof from most deities for she is a loner and a wanderer, and her sometimes-tragic history has left her cautious about leaving herself vulnerable to others. While coyly unreceptive, she is aware that some find her remoteness enticing, and she encourages even godly paramours to explore and discover new things while trying to court her. Recently, the young god Cayden Cailean has made attempts to woo Desna, a flirtation she finds endearing and that reminds her of her own youth.
For a deity who keeps her distance, Desna has several enemies, most from long-standing feuds or old grudges. She battles Zon-Kuthon (god of envy, pain, and darkness), for she wants the night to remain a time of wonder rather than of fear and oppression. Rovagug (god of wrath, disaster, and destruction) contests for the void of space, which she considers her realm—for it contains the stars—while her pursuits of Ghlaunder and Lamashtu are ongoing. The goddess also watches for signs of numerous mostly-forgotten and departed deities from ages long past, guarding against their unlikely but ever-possible return.
Desna’s only sources of comfort among the deities are Sarenrae, who tends her wounds after battling the evils of the night, and Shelyn, who ever reinvigorates her spirits and creates new wonders to be explored.
The faithful of Desna care little for heavy tomes of holy doctrine or arguments over the most righteous path. They prefer their religion concise, entertaining to read, and easy to carry.
The Seven Scrolls: These seven short scrolls contain all the official doctrine of the church, summerizing Desna’s early days as a goddess, interaction with other deities, discovery of her powers,
and the fixing of the stars in the night sky. The fifth scroll contains most of the church’s words regarding the behavior of mortals, which sparks many friendly debates among the faithful. Desna
is a goddess of inherent contradictions and not all of her dogma is absolutely clear. Fortunately, her faithful are not the sort to start fights over doctrinal differences, and her loosely organized
church accepts all plausible interpretations of the scrolls that do not radically deviate from standard church teachings. The scrolls themselves are short enough that they all fit within two scroll cases
(one if the writer’s handwriting is particularly fine).
Shrine Writings: Wayside shrines to Desna are typically covered in graffiti, most perpetrated by travelling followers of the goddess. It is said that inspiration indulged at such a place is
granted by the goddess herself and that adding to the artistry, scribbled verses, or life observations scrawled upon the shrine grants safe travels and good luck.