First and foremost, the Religion skill is not required for priests or divine characters. Sure, most of them have it, but the Religion skill does not equal FAITH. Religion is a measure of how much you’ve studied religious texts, how much you know about other religions of the world, and how much you know the obscure teachings of your own faith. Sure, it also measures how well you’ve memorized your own faith’s “bible”, as it were, but it’s entirely possible to be a charismatic preacher who gives passionate sermons with little or no actual scriptural back-up. It’s also possible to be, say, an Invoker who somehow just “knows” the things that are “right” and “wrong” in a way that coincides with your god’s teachings.
Certain faiths, like the many scholars of Ioun, cherish lots of Knowledge, so officiants of that church will most definitely have this skill. But a druid who worships Melora may have more Nature knowledge than rote memory of specific Religion texts… and that’s perfectly cool in Melora’s eyes (technically it’s cool in Ioun’s eyes, as well, since she values ALL Knowledge, but try explaining that to a room full of Iounic Professors).
If you’re trained in Religion, you’ll certainly know most of what’s listed on the Gods page, as well as many of the more obscure facts listed below.
In a world where evidence of the gods is physically apparent on a fairly regular basis (healing magic, divine characters calling down holy fire, etc), you certainly don’t NEED Religion to know a bit about the gods. Rather, Religion represents a concerted effort to have put time into studying texts and stories about one (or more) gods. Certain races, like the Deva (who are rumored to have once been angels) are more likely to have Religion as a trained skill than others (like half-orcs, who probably spent more time learning how to swing an axe).
Religion also covers the study of the sort of things that evil faiths do, like raising the Undead. While there are certainly many arcane necromancy powers that raise undead, necrotic power in general is considered the opposite of divine radiant power, and thus falls under the umbrella of Religion when you’re looking for information on it (and not Arcana). Also, almost all of the texts about how to fight the Undead have been written by the Faithful of one church or another. Even Von Richten, the famous writer of all sorts of guides on the undead, was a devout Iounic Scholar, and opened each book with prayers to particular deities who would help when fighting that breed of night creature (though the story of how those books was written is pretty awesome in its own right).
In certain scenarios, Religion can be replaced or enhanced through the use of other skills. For example, if you have no idea what you’re talking about, but your audience doesn’t either, you could make a Bluff check to make them think you’re spouting religious doggerel. If you’ve made your Religion check to research a speech (or if you have other texts handy), the onus of a skill challenge will fall to your Diplomacy (if you believe it), Bluff (if you don’t), or Intimidate (if you want them to fear it) skills. Course, a great Religion check beforehand to research the speech properly will probably get you a bonus to that second check, but the real deal is in how well you present the information when we’re talking about preaching.
Atheists, historians, secular humanoidists, and other intellectuals are also known to sometimes have the Religion skill trained, if only to refute the scripture-bangers who come prostheletizing at their doors. An infernal pact warlock might learn Religion to know who he can call for help when his demonic dealings go south. A bard might know Religion because more wars, murders, and INSANE plots have happened because of religious beliefs than most any other cause. And certainly anyone with a fear of death is likely to try and study whatever they can about whatever god might take them after they pass through the veil.
Stuff You Might Know…
If you’re trained in Religion, you might know or be aware of any of the following:
- The origin of the world, it is generally accepted, happened when there was a war between the Gods and the Primordials. The Gods won when some of the Primordials teamed-up with them to stop a crazy God from destroying all of reality.
- Tharizdun is that crazy God who wanted to destroy reality by summoning the gods of the Outsiders and Aberrants (think Cthulu), creatures of impossible power with no reason or sanity or need for our reality. Fortunately, he was stopped by an alliance of wiser primordials and the rest of the gods back just before the Dawn War ended. Tharizdun’s early attempts to destroy reality resulted in the creation of the Abyss. His name is never spoken by clergy of any faith, for fear that even mentioning it might help to complete the rituals he was casting before he was defeated.
- Undead are generally hated by most of the good gods. They are things that were once living, but now draw existence not from life energy, but from shadows and darkness. There is some debate among religious scholars as to what happens to the soul when a body is made undead. The debate gets more complicated when talking about ghosts and other undead that have no bodies… is that their soul? Is it an echo of who they were? Is it just an emotional imprint in the universe? In general, creating undead is seen as very bad. Making a particular good god’s servant into an undead is a special form of sacrilege that’ll earn you all kinds of holy wrath coming down on you… but it’ll also earn you respect in the eyes of many of the evil powers out there.
- While there is a sect of Raven Queen worshippers (the Cult of Corax) who maintain that necromancy should be freely allowed so that everyone can understand this magic (better the devil you know), most of the Raven Queen’s servants are at the front of the line at of any undead-destroying party. As the RQ guides souls to their final rest, her followers tend to believe that creating undead will deny the RQ her sacred task… and equate it somewhere in the realm of taking a dump on her altar.
- Speaking of the Raven Queen, she’s typically seen as the go-between who brings souls of any god’s worshippers to their final home (or “heaven”). Ravens are often seen at funerals put on by any faith (even evil ones like Gruumsh or Bane). For this reason the RQ is sometimes held at arm’s length by other gods, given the fact that she universally will come to all gods’ followers at some point.
- While you may not be an ordained priest, having training in the Religion skill will allow you to know how to properly perform any religious rituals, calling down a god’s power to cure disease, remove blindness, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to do a ritual to a specific god… you might simply know how to use a ritual to call in the divine nature of the universe to help you. But without the Religion skill, you ain’t getting anywhere near doing stuff like that.
- You can reasonably be assumed to have some knowledge of most of the things listed on the Gods page, including names, tendencies, and general ideologies.
- Regardless of the faith, training in this skill will let you know how to not do something offensive in a sacred site or in front of a faith’s believers. It’ll also help you to know how to really piss off any given priest, if that’s the sort of person you are. But it’ll show you where that line is, regardless of where you choose to stand afterwards.
- while the specifics vary a bit faith-to-faith, it is generally accepted that there are several ways a holy adventurer could access the Divine power of his/her god:
1. clerics… preachers, templars, warpriests, rune priests, the default holy person and healer
2. paladins… righteous warriors who are all about sacrifice and the purest version of a god’s will. They tend to be heavily armed, sometimes atop a horse, and able to dispense absolute justice.
3. avengers… sort of holy assassins, they hunt down the enemies of a god and destroy them. They are not always talked about, but every faith has them.
4. invokers… individuals with some sort of personal connection to the source of divine power. While they often worship a god or gods, their explosive powers probably actually come from a bloodline that was exposed to a dead god, or some strange insight into the nature of the universe, or something else like that.
(5. Druids?)… druids are sometimes called “clerics of the forest” by locals, but their energy derives from a primal source of natural power. While Melora is also tied to this power, druids are still not technically “divine” characters, and are seen by some clerics as the country-bumpkin cousins of clerics. Sort of the same way Sarumon looked at Radagast as a fellow “wizard”.
A Note on Holy Relics, Other Gods, and Heresy (or not)
As long as the god’s ideologies are not directly opposed, it is generally accepted that it’s okay for the clergy & followers of one god to pray to another, since this is a polytheistic society where gods actually get along with one another. And Moradin probably wouldn’t know what to do with your prayer about getting elected in a democracy, anyway. It’s also possible for a cleric of one faith to use another faith’s holy symbol, as long as that cleric understands some kind of cooperation between the two powers. For instance, a Raven Queen cleric could use a holy symbol of Moradin, because she knows that her queen guides the souls of fallen dwarves to their final rest in the halls of Moradin.
Though this is a slippery slope when you start dealing with gods that don’t necessarily agree with your own, depending on the god’s teachings. For instance, a follower of Ioun will want to gain as much Knowledge as possible. This will lead her into hidden libraries, which may convince her that reading books of evil gods is important, too. Eventually this will convince her that some of that evil teachings shouldn’t be let into the hands of commoners, which will grow into an ideology that all Knowledge should be kept secret from those who don’t deserve it, and suddenly you’re a servant of Vecna wearing Iounic clothes. The same thing happens with Kordian warriors who start fighting using weapons of evil gods of slaughter, so be careful.
While the gods are forbidden/unable to take direct action in the world due to some provision of the deals made that ended the Dawn War, that doesn’t mean they can’t show an awful lot of favoritism. Each god has one who is most dedicated, most zealous, and therefore most blessed. This creature is called an “Exarch”, and is typically the paragon of what it means to be a follower of that god. Often Exarchs are saints on their way to demi-godhood themselves (and many exarchs have sub-sects named after them… see below). But each god only has one Exarch, who represents the most benefit and power a god can give a creature of this world without breaking the agreements forged at the end of the Dawn War (except Tiamat… see below).
Specific God Info
Some obscure details about different faiths that you’ve probably studied in the course of your religious scholarship.
The faithful of the Goddess of Change don’t actually have a “heaven”, per se. Since one of their guiding scriptures says “Every life is a new adventure,” they tend to reincarnate. Of course, Avandrans are not as in-tune with their past lives as, say, Deva, but they do tend to experience deja-vu every so often.
Many miles south of Ionia is a hugely tall mesa known as Avandra’s Plateau. Reaching the top is possible, though incredibly difficult. What makes this site prominent, though, is the fact that anyone who makes the journey is fundamentally changed by Avandra’s power as they ascend. When they are done, they are very different. While class and ideology changes can be dramatic, it is rumored that even race and gender have been changed in some who made this climb. For others, the change has been wholly internal. For many, the journey to the site alone is enough to change them. What is important, though, is that anyone who attempts the climb has to be genuinely seeking a change in their life in order to succeed.
As Avandra is a goddess of change, the structure of her church is never set in stone, so there are often small sects that pop up for a decade or so before dying out. However, one of her first exarchs did gain enough of a following to still have some sway today. The order of Tymora, Saint of Luck is very popular among gamblers and anyone hoping for good fortune. However, Tymorans will also be quick to tell you that not all “luck” is good, and that those who would abuse prayers to Tymora might find themselves wishing they’d never asked for the luck they received. Non-Tymoran followers of Avandra sometimes say that we make our own luck, but they still find a way to avoid bad-mouthing the old saint.
The Platinum Dragon is known to send an avatar into the world that looks like an old man with seven canaries. Rumor has it that each of the canaries is the soul of an honored gold dragon servant of Bahamut (likely former Exarchs), and that the old man can turn each one into an elder Gold Wyrm or use them for other amazing powers. In Bahamut’s faith, canaries are seen as a sacred animal and as the god’s messengers in the world (not unlike Odin with his ravens). Maybe the “old man” is actually just an Exarch of Bahamut polymorphed to look like an old human… nobody really knows. But if he’s around, you best be nice to him, and you can rest assured that something big is about to happen.
Corellon – Lost Sect
The church of the Elves has no evidence that there is any truth to the rumors about Phayrd, a supposed elf/orc hybrid goddess whose birth will either bring about peace between elves & orcs or the end of the world. And the church certainly denies the possibility of a group of elvish clerics ever breaking away from the main Church of Corellon to worship such a goddess. No records of such heresy would ever be allowed to exist… if it had happened… which it didn’t. Now focus on your archery and purge all other thoughts from your mind.
The Dwarven god of Secrets Under the Mountain is peculiar in that there are no documented records of where he came from, what his role in the Dawn War was, or how he interacts with the other gods. In general, this is chalked-up to the fact that he’s a god of Secrets, but there are plenty of conspiracy theorists out there who will claim that he’s actually Vecna in disguise, or that the actual god Dumathoin died years ago, and that’s the ultimate secret his high clerics keep. There are even those who say that he never existed, and that the word Dumatho’in was actually an Old Low Dwarvish for “secret”, and somehow a church was created after the language evolved. Another rumor states that Gond actually helped a group of dwarves and gnomes to “invent” the god Dumathoin, and any divine power he has is actually because he is Gond’s brainchild. In general, though, most dwarves are set in their ways, and have no reason to waste good mining time on debating the origin of a god who might help them find the next big lode or vein of mithril.
The largest church of Erathis is located in Waterdeep, the world’s largest city. However, there is no central mortal authority of Erathis. The Erathin faith teaches that each civilization must match its people, so no one central command of how to govern, how to run a civilization, could ever apply to all creatures in all places. Certainly Ionia is the greatest example of a nation applying Erathin principles across an entire country. Elections are a sacred rite for churches of Erathis in democratic societies, but a royal wedding or transfer of crown to a new king are sacred rites overseen by Erathin clerics in monarchies. Even despots can ask Erathin clergy to help craft laws that have no loopholes and are clear. For this reason, nonmembers sometimes see the Church of Erathis as merely a tool of law, without actual morals. Clergy will tell a different story, that clear and strict laws enable an application of morality… but there are certainly those who disagree.
Since there are so many types of civilization, and so many aspects of the concept, there are sub-groups within the church of Erathis dedicated to the ideals of different Erathan Exarchs, known now as saints. Think of these sub-groups as being similar to the Jesuits or the Franciscans in the Catholic Church… they’ve all got the same god, they just have different aspects that they find more prominent in the god’s teachings…
Feringar, Saint of Finance: Members of this order, called the Ferengi, believe that the market and the ability to keep trade flowing are the core factors of any civilization. Occasionally they’re called greedy and/or blind to other social issues, but they will say that no other societal problems can be solved without funding.
Plato, Saint of Republics: Members of this order, called Platons, believe that true governance is best served when it comes from the people. They tend to support democracies, republics, socialist collectives, and other participatory forms of government. Occasionally they may rail against kings and other leaders who don’t share their views, but this is normal dissent… and certainly not connected to the terrorist activities that occasionally occur in conjunction with their protests.
Righteous Dissenters: A large separatist offshoot of the Church of Erathis is a cult known as the Righteous Dissenters. There’s more information on them on the Waterdeep page. Basically they oppose any kind of hidden government (like the Lords of Waterdeep), and seek to overthrow any such government in favor of an open and transparent government. Though they have no exarch to attribute their cause to, they are nonetheless quite popular.
Salamone, Saint of Law: Members of this order, who call themselves Lawyers, believe that documented laws are what separates us from total chaos. Saint Salamone, while she lived, was able to avert wars with cleverly worded treaties, and was able to write contracts that were so detailed that they could not be broken. There are those with bad words to say about Lawyers, but most have been served with injunctions to cease & desist all defamatory remarks.
Swe’Dargala, Saint of Peace: Members of this order, called Swedes, hold to the principals taught by the tiefling Exarch Swe’Dargala, who brokered the first peace between Arkhosia and Bael Turoth by walking between the two armies and asking which warrior was “brave” and “noble” enough to strike down an unarmed woman pleading for understanding and peace. Swedes believe that fighting is always the least desirable choice. Consequently, members of this order do not often get along well with servants of Kord, though clerics of Bahamut often have a quiet respect for them.
The Gnomish god of invention is revered by anyone who values creativity, not just inventors. Prayers to Gond are common among writers with writers block, sculptors who can’t see what their block of stone should become, and even soldiers who are surrounded with no other options and need a crazy scheme to get out alive. While other races use Gond as a god of inpiration (overlapping with Corellon where artistic inspiration is concerned), the gnomes take it a step further to revere that inspiration as the divine spark… the essence of existence. When a gnome speaks of Gond, he is also speaking of himself, because Gond is the infinite and eternal idea, which anyone can access in some way or another whenever they get an idea. If a human took the time to discuss it with gnomish scholars, he’d realize that Gond is, to them, like the idea of a quantum consciousness… but most non-gnomes never get that far, and just accept Gond as another god of inspiration.
The greatest library in the world, and therefore the greatest temple to Ioun, is actually simultaneously located in the Prime Material Plane and the Astral Sea. In this world, it is located atop an earth mote, called Kerath-Ald, that is usually found floating above the Great Planes area far south of Ionia. It is known as the Swan Tower, and it houses the greatest tomes and minds in the world. The connection to the Astral Sea allows scholars who have passed on to offer Knowledge from the Final Library, the Iounic version of heaven. Though the rules of life and death forbid the transfer of too much Knowledge from beyond the grave, there have been a number of Great Scholars who have offered their Knowledge to the Tower before passing on. These individuals have, essentially, magical replicas of themselves present in the tower. Those Scholars, called the Pillars of Ioun, are the seven individuals who created each of the original types of Ioun Stones. Visits to and the opportunity to study at the Swan Tower are reserved for those who truly value Knowledge, though occasionally those who find significant lost tomes or discover great new Knowledge are invited there to present their findings in the Hall of Enlightenment, the great amphitheater of the Swan Tower.
The Iounic Death Rite is known as the Rite of Remembrance. Typically the ritual leader, known as the Speaker for the Dead, will invite those present to join him in remembering. He will then speak the words “I Remember ____…” and will speak of his knowledge about the deceased. In the magic of the ritual, the memories of willing participants will also be channeled through the Speaker, so that had can tell the tales of everyone’s memories, with the enhanced clarity granted by Ioun’s actual Knowledge of the soul of the deceased. In this way, Knowledge about the fallen lives on in all who attend the funeral. In particularly massive rituals, or for particularly well-loved person, there are sometimes actual images of the memories that will play (through ritual magic) in the minds of all participating, so that everyone’s minds are essentially linked in memory of the deceased. When plot says it’s appropriate, the soul of the departed may even arrive through that link to send a final message to loved ones… but that’s ridiculously rare. Speakers are typically clerics of Ioun or the Raven Queen, though there is a sub-industry of bards who train in ritual magic to be able to perform Speaker duties (for a fee, of course).
There is so much to Know that members of the Church of Knowledge often affiliate themselves with different sects, called “Colleges”. They’re a little less divisive than, say, the Erathan sects, because the College of Mathematics certainly understands the need for the College of History. Of the Iounic sects, the only really controversial ones are the College of Dark Knowledge (which studies necromancy, demonology, etc) and the College of Private Truths (which has a very Big Brother/Inquisition feel). Most Iounic scholars, when they come across a topic that they’d rather not learn, will hold to the sacred teaching that says “Knowledge is most valuable when tempered with Wisdom.” Some topics are better left untaught to certain groups, though there is still an Iounic sect that knows these things, if their Knowledge does become necessary.
The ultimate blessing of the God of Battle is the ability to keep fighting eternally. Usually, though, this blessing is nothing more than a legend. For there are often servants of battle on each side of a fight. However, in the darkest of times, when monsters of no intellect amass in hordes to overrun true and noble warriors, it is said that Kord may grant his blessing upon one of those soldiers, so that no matter how many times he is struck, he will keep fighting until all the enemies are defeated.
The Church of Kord is regimented into different legions… the Legion of Skirmishers, the Legion of Siege Weapons, the Legion of the Navy, the Legion of Magical Artillery, etc. Adherents of one legion or another often wear garb denoting such in an obvious fashion. High Clerics of Kord are known as Warmasters, and can preach to many legions equally, demonstrating their mastery of many different types of warfare.
Kord & Bane
Originally there were three brothers, all gods of battle: Kord, Tuern, and Achra. When the Dawn War came, Kord saw alliances with other gods as a sign of weakness and fought on his own. Tuern reveled in the joy of each battle, but had no mind for the larger war. Only Achra saw that all gods must be united as a militant force to wipe the Primordials from existence. As Achra’s efforts lead to the deaths of more and more primordials, the primordials began to refer to Achra by a different name: Primordial Bane… which got shortened to just Bane. As the Dawn War drew to a close, though, and Tharizdun’s attempt at erasing reality resulted in the creation of the Abyss, Bane realized that the other gods would not continue to follow him once the fighting was over. He also disagreed with the idea of trusting the Xel’Naga, or of letting any primordials survive at all. He sought to solidify his place as the ultimate authority, and he saw his brothers as his main obstacles to this goal. With the aide of his chief angel, Asmodeus, he launched a surprise attack on Tuern, who was defeated and killed (while Bane absorbed his essence). The other good gods saw this and feared Bane’s new tactics, combining their forces against him. While they had his attention, though, Gruumsh decided to attack Bane’s realm, forging a permanent link between their two realms of battle. Bane could not face down all the united good gods, as well as a constant threat from Gruumsh, and so he backed down. It is thought that some of the good gods may have aided Gruumsh in his flanking maneuver, for since that day Bane has never been able to fully devote all of his attention to attacking any other god. To this day, though, Kord has been hesitant to work with other gods, as he saw where that path lead his brother.
When the Dawn War was in full force, there was a primordial known only as The Forest Walker. This being and Melora fought in a battle for the control of the power of nature. When the battle was finished, Melora stood, but there was no sign of The Forest Walker. In one of the few instances where a primordial was completely destroyed, Melora consumed her foe, like a predator eating the carcass of a fallen hunt, and took the Forest Walker’s power as her own. However, consuming the raw energy of a primordial also took a toll on Melora, transforming her into something less individual than other gods. This is why it is said that Melora is the strongest of gods, but also the weakest, for she embodies too much to solidify into one sole mentality.
Moradin is a god of all dwarves, and so there are Moradinic rites for just about every major important dwarvish thing that happens: opening a new mine, the first harvest from a mine, the first brew of an ale season, any large drinking-based party, the forming of an adventuring party, surviving a particularly fierce battle, dedicating a new statue, firing-up a new forge, forging a great blade/armor/shield, competing against an elven team in a competition of some sort (Quidditch), etc. While, to an outsider, it may seem like dwarves do these rituals automatically, in truth it’s just their stoic nature that keeps them from showing too much outward emotion while they occur.
Moradin’s exarchs have all been dwarves (obviously), and to outsiders their differences are rather minor. To dwarves, though, the details of their philosophies represent the infinite variations of stones in the earth.
The Berroneir: both male and female dwarves venerate Beronnar Truesilver, who was a female exarch of Moradin, or his wife, or his mother, or some combination thereof (depending on the priest). Regardless of her relationship to the All-Father, she is seen as the guardian of the hearth and especially as the guardian of children. She is said to bless those who throw themselves bodily between trouble and children, which is the greatest sacrifice one can make, in her eyes.
The Kuldar: the word means “axe-wielders” in Dwarven, but more accurately it refers to “those who use axes properly for the glory of Moradin”, which is what the Kuldar sect does. Known to particularly hate undead and creatures with tentacles, just as St. Kuldar did when he single-handedly fought off an army of undead illithids, protecting the dwarven Festival of Children.
The Sonlinnor: The name of the exarch Sonnlinor is now a part of the dwarven language, a word that means “workers of stone”, but also the stoicism inherent in taking time to work stone. Saint Sonnlinor was big on stoicism and loyalty, and taking time to work a forge or a block of stone properly. Members of this sect teach the values of Moradin parallel to the process of learning how to forge metal and/or carve stone. They also teach the protection of wounded, because “Moradin put too much effort into each dwarven life to allow it to be snuffed out quickly.”
Soulforged Knighthood: A group of paladins and fighters who either dual-wield a hammer and axe or weird polearms that are a hammer on one and and an axe on the other. They love axes and hammers, but they believe that they are more versatile in their combat awareness than those who choose to only use one or the other.
The church of Pelor has no central mortal authority, but rather follows a philosophy that the Sun shines on all equally. Though there are a great many cathedrals to Pelor in the East (especially in Dambrath). While many lay-people believe that Dambrath is effectively the head of the church of Pelor, in reality it’s just a place with lots of churches to Pelor.
Pelor & Lathander
While Pelor is the god of the sun, Lathander is demi-god of the dawn, the lord of morning. If you know The Morninglord’s Story, however, you know that he is also a god of safely revealing things kept secret, especially hidden natures that shouldn’t be forced into hiding (like being gay). In practice, a large number of Pelorites are more conservative, frowning on the lifestyles of those in Lathander’s church. For their part, Lathanderites often see Pelorians as too stuck in tradition to see all that the sun shines upon. And while they both have been seen celebrating Rites of Dawn together, in such celebrations you’ll often note a decided line between the two solar groups. In places like Dambrath, where Pelor is cheifly revered, Lathanderites will often be careful about specifically identifying themselves as such, saying simply (and technically truthfully) “I worship the Sun”.
The Raven Queen
There’s a holiday in the Church of Death that doesn’t have a set date or regular interval between occurences. Normally a raven is the creature that delivers the soul of a dead person to his/her final resting place. However, every so often there is a day when the skies are full of ravens. On these days, it is the Raven Queen herself who delivers the souls of the dead. This “holiday”, known as Raven Day, is most notable because those who are dying can sometimes have visions or conversations with the Raven Queen, without any divination magic or other powers. On this holiday, the presence of ravens also makes nearby undead weaker, and makes the raising of undead near impossible. A few overly zealous devotees have even tried to die for a little while to speak with the Raven Queen, though they of course tried to make sure there were friends on-hand to cast a Raise Dead ritual to bring them back. Funny thing, though… those rituals reportedly haven’t worked when said friends tried to cast them afterward. The reason for this is unclear… maybe it was the Queen of Death refusing to release them, or maybe their souls didn’t want to leave after meeting her. The important thing, though, is that nobody knows when this holiday will happen, so the forces that would try to do awful things to the Raven Queen can’t plan to take advantage of her in this way.
The Raven Queen, Death, and Resurrection
While their is no single highest priest in the Church of Death, it is said that the highest levels of the priesthood require that the priest have died and been resurrected at some point. It’s seen as an indication that the Raven Queen gives her blessing. Even among lower-level clerics, to have survived a resurrection is seen as a mark that you’re destined for big things in the Church. Of course, this can come into conflict with the idea of Death coming at the proper time for us all. Some overly zealous members of the church will initiate the Final Rite, a ritual that prevents your body from ever returning from death (as undead or via resurrection). Most in the church see this as okay, though, because the only people in the world for whom resurrections work are those that the gods have deemed important to destiny (i.e., “heroes” or “PCs”). Therefore, it is accepted that if the gods allow someone to come back from death, they’re still okay in the Raven Queen’s book, and she just makes sure their souls are accompanied during the in-between times, waiting for that final time when she knows they will finally let slip their mortal coils. There is also a popular theory that the Raven Queen has a specific divine/shadow raven assigned to every living person, and that this raven knows what the final death of any person will be… arriving just beforehand to ferry their soul to what’s next. Some of the PCs in our party witnessed this firsthand with Mirt in the dream where his raven was released (and he subsequently died).
The Raven Queen – Rites
The Rite of Sending is a simple last rite performed on a body, bidding that the queen’s ravens will take the soul on to where ever it needs to go.
The Final Rites prevent a body from ever being raised (via necromancy or resurrection), and is taught by the more hard-line elements of the church.
Gentle Repose is a level 1 ritual originally taught by the Raven Church to clerics of other faiths, and lengthens the amount of time a corpse can lie before being resurrected, while also ensuring that it cannot be raised via necromancy.
Marriage in the Raven Church uses the phrase “till death do we commit to a new journey,” ensuring that if one spouse dies, his/her soul will await the release of the other, that they may go on to what is next together.
The Raven Queen – Sects
Jergal, the Clerk: Jergal was a clerical cleric of the Raven Queen, who eventually worked his way into a state of high regard. Whether or not he was ever actually her Exarch is a point of debate, but Jergal is known as the “Clerk of the Dead”, who oversees the great book upon which the name and date of every death of every mortal is held. The Order of Jergal manages death certificates, oversees last wills & testaments, and does other paperwork related to death and the dead.
Cult of Corax: Unpopular in the rest of the church, the Cult of Corax believes that necromancy needs to be studied to be understood, and that “if necromancy is criminalized, only criminals will have necromancy.” The cult of Corax has a particular sign that looks like a raven carved from 4 claw marks… perhaps the claws of an undead creature:
While adherents of other faiths may laughingly refer to Sehanine’s followers as “lunatics”, sometimes that label isn’t too far from the truth. Specifically, there is a group known as the Temple of the Full Moon that is actually composed of lycanthropes who have, supposedly, given up their feral ways and now worship the moon goddess in the hopes of living at harmony with their dual nature. Many of these are from primal classes, finding strength in ties to Nature as they fight to resist losing control in the face of Sehanine’s gaze. The word is that they succeed, though few outside of their sect will be able to verify that. There is no actual “temple” for this group, either. They are a band of wanderers, seeking out those newly cursed by lycanthropy, that they might offer them another option besides the monstrous one. Some even say that the ranks of folks known as shifters, the longtooths and the razorclaws, are children of those who fought the curse in this way. These shifters can usually pass as human, though, and they tend not to openly congregate, so reliable information about them is also difficult to come by.
The goddess of the Moon has many rites and signs related to the twilight hours, shadows, and the moon’s metal (silver). Here are a few:
- Blue moon (good omen, marks an auspicious event);
- Red moon (bad omen, heralds bloodshed);
- Dead tree with a single gold leaf (good omen, encourages hope);
- Shadows moving on their own (bad omen, heralds betrayal);
- A person who briefly casts no shadow (bad omen, marks a bringer of misfortune);
- An archer’s arrow turns to silver (good omen, marks a bringer of justice);
- A candle’s flame glows with silvery light during prayer (good omen, marks a heard prayer).
Granted, there may be other explanations, as with any omens (a shadow moving on its own may, in fact, be the undead creature a Shadow, which would be a bad omen for any living soul, since it would want to drain your life force). However, the moon’s place in the night seems to push her followers more to look for signs and portents than followers of other faiths might.
Tiamat is a chaotic goddess with 5 heads, each representing a different race of evil chromatic dragons. Unlike every other god, Tiamat also has 5 different exarchs… one of each chromatic race of dragons. Even Bahamut only has one Exarch, yet somehow Tiamat manages to give Exarch-level power to 5 different dragons… and there are rumors that they are each more powerful than an Exarch ought to be (as if there were a way to judge that sort of thing).
Most of the really juicy stuff about the one-eyed god of Secrets and undeath is, understandably, kept secret. However, tales of Vecna’s lost eye and hand are too popular to keep secret. Vecna was once mortal, and his lost eye and hand still exist as evil relics in the world. If you were to cut off your own hand or pluck out your own eye, it is said that you could replace it with the appropriate relic and gain vast powers unknown to anyone else. There are allegedly lesser versions of these relics, taken from Vecna’s various exarchs (who were using the true Hand and/or Eye at the time and so didn’t need theirs) that will grant lesser benefits, but there are also likely many fakes out there.
Vecna and Mammon
You would think that Mammon, the insane god of Greed, might have acquired some things that Vecna might want. However, it is curious to note that Vecna and his forces tend to avoid whatever cults of Mammon still exist in the world, almost as if Vecna knew that whatever “secret” Mammon found in the Far Realms beyond reality is not actually a treasure to possess. Or at least that’s what he believes. Then again, maybe the undead secret god is just biding his time…
There are rumors that the god of assassins uses a particularly insidious method of creating followers. In areas where there is a high martial mindset, where the idea of killing is not necessarily abhorrent to people in the area, certain relics, known as the “13 Coins of Killing”, have been known to appear. Each coin is supposedly infused with the soul of one of Zehir’s former exarchs, and can corrupt a region so that those in the area who might enjoy killing start to mutate into Yuan-Ti (Zehir’s chosen race). Humans have been shown to be most susceptible to this influence, though other races have also been witnessed to suffer the mutation as well. There are other ways Yuan-Ti can be created, usually with great ritual and prayer to Zehir, but the presence of one of his coins makes the transformation much more likely.
The 13 Coins of Killing each bear the name of one of Zehir’s Exarchs:
1. Andromalius, the fire snake
2. Botis, the viper
3. Dark Io, the fallen dragon
4. Duemos, the four-horned mistress
5. Forcas, the logical naga
6. Gusion, the seer
7. Komodo, the strong warrior
8. Leonard, the arcane master
9. Lerajie, the archer
10. Nybbas, the dream hydra
11. Obyzouth, the offspring-eater
12. Thulsa Dune, the speaker
13. Vepar, the sea serpent
Zehir & Lusemnee
The betrayal of the god of assassins by his daughter (and chief assassin) was quite immense, as was Zehir’s revenge. Not only did he assassinate Lusemnee (who was in the process of becoming a minor goddess of redemption), but he personally slaughtered her angels, sent assassins to each of her known churches, and levied a curse that anyone praying to the name of Lusemnee would be mystically marked for assassination (a mark that any follower of Zehir would be able to see and understand). In response to this, a few scattered churches of Lusemnee started praying to the memory of “Nusemnee”, changing the name slightly to avoid the curse… though of course their goddess is dead, so no one knows which god might send them messages or power, if they receive any.
The Ultimate Penalty for Heresy
While there are those who fall away from a faith all the time, they often don’t necessarily face the worst of a god’s vengeance. Sure, an apostate cleric may stop getting spells, or a fallen paladin may no longer be welcome at temples of his former god… but it’s hardly the end of the world. Also, the gods are typically not directly active in the Prime Material Plane, letting their agents do their work.
Sometimes, though, a favored servant really betrays a god, committing a horrid heresy that cannot go unanswered. In these cases, the gods (both good and evil) invest a portion of their personal energy into a being of pure vengeance, known as an Aleax, to go into the world and destroy the perpetrator. The appearance of these creatures is immensely rare, and also universally bad. Because they are created solely for the purpose of divine vengeance, they do not care about things like circumstances or excuses… or innocents who might stand in the way. An Aleax has a portion of a god’s essence, but not any of the soul/intellect. An Aleax is like an immortal version of an Avenger, fused with the unthinking ferocity of a natural disaster. They tend to wield radiant blades, regenerate wounds, teleport around the battlefield, and shrug off effects like gentle summer breezes. They never sleep, never stop, never hesitate, and never falter. There are no tales of anyone ever surviving being the target of an Aleax.
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