D&D Franchise Creative Director Mike Mearls has got creative fever! The co-creator of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons already streams his creative process during the Mike Mearls Happy Fun Hour on Twitch, pulling back the curtain to show how subclass options for D&D character classes are created and developed. And recently, on Twitter he shared a creation particular to his own home campaign — the Beauty Domain for clerics. Adding a custom character option like this can enrich your own D&D world too.
Making your D&D world special
What’s this Beauty Domain anyway?
It’s not in a Happy Fun Hour video, or an Unearthed Arcana release, or even in the homebrew collection on D&D Beyond. Okay, it’s sort of on DDB; I added it to my own collection using the homebrew tools. As you can see from Mearls’ tweet, the Beauty Domain was created for his own personal campaign to represent a unique part of his world’s pantheon of gods. He also offered the following caveat in a follow-up:
“None of this has seen play. Darkness and Destruction written Thursday and Friday night, fell asleep at my keyboard on both. Beauty written in between taking the cat to the vet and getting ready for a party this evening. So, use at your own risk until I make revisions.” – Mike Mearls via Twitter
Almost done with the new domains I need for to round out my campaign’s pantheon. The Beauty domain is a little bonkers, probably too nutty for a print product. What do you think? pic.twitter.com/DbA9MrPEzP
— Mike Mearls (@mikemearls) July 8, 2018
Recreating the Beauty Domain in DDB gave me a chance to really consider each ability and how it might play out during a campaign. Several ideas came to mind, both from a player and Dungeon Master point of view.
Overall, contrary to what Mearls suggests, I don’t think it’s nutty at all. In fact, I’d be more than willing to play a cleric of beauty myself. Sure, it could use a bit of polish, and there’s a couple of things I thought were unusual. But what can one expect when a creator upfront tells you their creation was written between a trip to the vet and party preparations?
The parts of the Beauty Domain focused on buffing allies is top notch in my book. The domain spell heroism is not only a personal favorite but perfectly fits this theme. On the other hand, the rest of the domain spells are mostly charms and holds. If ever there were a place for my beloved calm emotions it’s on this spell list.
Rebuke the Defiler is very on brand for this custom character option, causing mental stress to those who perpetrate harm upon the cleric of beauty or their allies. Beauty’s Truce, meanwhile, is incredibly thematic and really neat! And really powerful too – it affects all creatures within 100 feet of you, whether you see them or not — including potentially other player characters! What a cool effect though. Superior Refuge seems a little meh, followed up by Potent Cantrip, which…why? Boosting cantrip damage doesn’t feel right here. Soul of Beauty makes up for it though, with a terrific and thematic capstone for the Beauty Domain.
All of this isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with this custom character option. It is, after all, a hastily written piece of content Mearls was kind enough to share. And it certainly got me thinking about several different things, aside from the great potential to play a character oozing with inspirational energy.
Could you imagine a villainous Beauty Domain cleric? Whether a conduit for decadently divine beings or manipulative figure who plays off people’s attraction to beautiful things, an evil cleric of this ilk could easily find beauty in the macabre or grotesque. They might see the divine aesthetic in incomprehensible (and reprehensible) ways. I’m thinking Hellraiser-level beauty inside of pain here.
But aside from all of that, the Beauty Domain illustrates a much broader point.
Enriching your D&D world
Viewed through a wider lens, the Beauty Domain represents a part of D&D homebrew creation open to both the players and DM with wonderful applications for a campaign. When you create a custom character option for your campaign like this, it makes the world come more alive.
In the case of the Beauty Domain, it fills a hole in Mearls campaign. I would speculate he has a pantheon of deities and one of them simply didn’t fit the mold for existing cleric Domains. You could probably make a case for several existing Domains to represent a deity of beauty, from Grave (there’s beauty in death) to Life, Light, or Nature. But in this case, likely none of those captured the flavor. In Mearls’ campaign, beauty is an important part of existence, cultural mores, the cosmic order or something similar — it’s crucial enough to have a deity to represent the concept.What’s more, by making the Beauty Domain a custom character option, the opportunity arises for players to directly engage and interact with a big part of the world. The homebrew creation isn’t a monster for characters to battle, or a magic item to discover. It’s an intrinsic part of who the character is and their place in the world. Certainly, every class and subclass can carry this level of importance in a campaign, but when you get to the point of creating new character options, you know they have a certain gravitas above the rest.
In this way, the Beauty Domain is similar to the Purple Dragon Knight Martial Archetype. True, the Banneret is the generic version, but the PDK is tied directly to a particular region of the Forgotten Realms, and playing one of these characters in that setting brings an extra level of engagement. All of a sudden, your fighter isn’t just another warrior, but one of Cormyr’s finest.
Another example is Beau from Critical Role. Marisha Ray’s character is a Way of the Cobalt Soul monk, a Monastic Tradition created by Matt Mercer for his world of Exandria. Incidentally, Mercer just recently shared an updated version of the Cobalt Soul that includes his reasoning for the changes. He was generous enough to share the revised Way of the Cobalt Soul here. Like the Beauty Domain, this Monastic Tradition represents something particular to the D&D world it was created for, telling the players something important about the world and this character option’s place there.
For my own games, I’ve included a few custom character options too, and players exploring those options with their characters used them as a window to discover peculiar elements of my D&D world. The Path of the Azure Primal Path for barbarians, and the Void and Star Otherworldly Patrons for warlocks gave players avenues to understand cultural and cosmological details making the setting unique. Using a custom character option made their characters distinctly part of something larger and important to the world.
At the end of the day, you can absolutely play D&D using only official content and have amazing adventures from here to eternity. I’d go so far as to say (and often do when new players ask what they need to play) you could use just the free Basic Rules and play D&D for the rest of your life. But when you create a custom character option for your D&D world, it can enrich your setting and illustrate to the players something important about the world you’re creating together.
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Nerditor-in-Chief Doug Vehovec is a proud native of Cleveland, Ohio, with D&D in his blood since the early 80s. Fast forward to today and he’s still rolling those polyhedral dice. When he’s not DMing, worldbuilding, or working on endeavors for Nerdarchy, he enjoys cryptozoology trips and eating awesome food.