The Great Church

The Great Church

The Lords of Heaven (Lords of Good, Gods of the Tree, Holy Ones)

Myths

First Thunder

In midsummer, eons ago, Zheenkeef hit upon a cure for her boredom. She would enchant a lump of normal marble so that whosoever beheld it would swear the rock was a statue in the likeness of the beholder. Her enchantment would be so powerful that to look at the rock would be to become utterly convinced it was a statue. Such a thing would reveal the vanity of all around her, for every member of her family, all of the Lords of Heaven, would look upon her creation and believe it was a monument in his own honor and preen and strut at the sight of it.

When she had crafted this glorious work of mockery, Zheenkeef put the statue in the middle of the great hall of the Holy Ones. That night, when the Gods of the Tree assembled for their feasting, each one came upon and the rock and gazed in wonder. “Who has put this statue of me in the middle of the hall?” shouted Terak with a great laugh, so delighted was he at its workmanship. “Was it you, Korak, my loving son?” Korak thought perhaps his father had gone mad, or played him a trick, for he stared quite plainly at his own face hewn in the marble. He was about to respond when Tinel called out, “Why do you always spread your lies, brother? Can you not stand even one statue of me, that you must demean it by calling it your own?”

It was not long before the argument of the gods reached such a volume that Urian shook and Thunder was born. Whenever the gods argue to the exclusion of all else, Urian shakes and rumbles that all of the world might hear.

Founding The Great Church

The statue was never forgotten by any of the Holy Ones. Though they put aside arguing about it for a time, hiding it under Terak’s great chair, once in a while one of the Lords of Good would mention it and the shouting would begin anew. After some time of this, Darmon grew tired of the ceaseless arguing. “It is quite clear that we will never agree on what this statue represents. Clearly, it is important that we decide this matter, or Heaven shall be sundered over a lump of rock.” Darmon had ever a honeyed tongue and the gods could not help but agree with him. “What does my clever brother suggest?” Aymara asked.

Darmon suggested the statue be destroyed, which was not a popular notion. Each of the gods presented a different way to resolve the problem, each more ludicrous than the last, until at last Anwyn, the gentle little sister, suggested that the gods pluck a lowly mortal from the world and have him tell them what he saw. He would be beyond guile and other such problems, for he would be the simplest fellow they could find.

And so Darmon set out to tour the mortal sphere and find such a mortal. One day he stumbled on a drunken shepherd asleep in his pasture from a night of long drinking. He grabbed this fellow by the collar and shouted at him, “Awake, shepherd! For you have much to do! You must resolve a great dispute among my family…” and he took the shepherd to the Celestial Palace.As would soon become apparent, this drunken shepherd was in fact a religious scholar. Named Hefasten (HEH-fuh-stun) the Wise, he had been exiled by the king of his country, for the monarch was jealous of his wisdom and influence. At this time, each of the gods had a church dedicated to his or her honor, but faith in all of the Gods of the Tree had never been unified. Hefasten, a scholar and faithful member of Morwyn’s Healing Halls, was known as a peacemaker and had negotiated settlements in many conflicts between churches.

Despondent at his exile, Hefasten found shelter with a poor family in a neighboring land. After four years of drunken ostracism, the wise man found himself taken by Darmon to an opulent house. There he was surrounded by a large family of the most beautiful people he had ever beheld. It took him only a moment to realize he stood before the gods in mortal guise, but before he could prostrate himself and make proper obeisance, the woman at the head of the family spoke: “What is your name, simple shepherd?”

“My name is Hefasten, who was once Hefasten the Wise, and is now Hefasten the Drunk, milady Morwyn, the compassionate.” So saying, he fell to his knees and touched his forehead to the ground three times, as is fitting. This was precisely what the gods had not wanted. Instead of a simple peasant, they had a religious leader, and one who had sworn himself to Morwyn. The Holy Ones began to argue once more, and thunder shook the heavens. At last they came to a solution:

“Hefasten, who was once the Wise, we would ask this of you – to help us solve a riddle,” Tinel said to the blessed shepherd. “But before we ask for your aid, we ask that you cast aside your worship of my sister, Morwyn. We ask that instead you swear that you will give homage to each of us equally, and swear to obey us all when we have need of your service.”

To this Hefasten agreed. Once he had done so, the gods asked him what he saw when he looked at the statue. And when he gazed at it, he beheld the likenesses of all the Lords of Heaven standing before him. When he said so – “I see all of you” – the argument was resolved. For indeed it was a statue of them all.

They gave Hefasten the statue and returned him to his fl ock. The scholar journeyed back to his homeland, with the lump of marble upon a cart, and he went about the land preaching the worship of the Lords of Good together, without exclusion. The king who had exiled him was converted upon beholding the statue – which seemed to him a magnificent statue in his own likeness – and, when he heard it was a gift from the gods, he built for Hefasten the Wise a great cathedral in which to house it. It rests there today, the central cathedral of the Great Church.

Associations

Because the Great Church worships the gods equally as a family, it is hard to say what the God of this church is associated with. The individual gods in the family have associations as described in the sections on their churches below.

As a group, the gods are called the Lords of Good for a reason; they are associated with all that is holy and sacred. Together they represent life, its many wonders and its prolifi c disappointments. There are three groups of gods: the old gods, the treeborn gods, and the gods born of woman (which usually includes the three sisters, though their origins are mysterious). The old gods can generally be associated with the fundamental earth – the elements that are everywhere with or without the interference of the mortal hand or mind (rocks, oceans, stars). Scholars sometimes call these the “chthonic” gods. The treeborn gods can be said to represent the individual, with Terak being the body, Tinel the mind, Morwyn the spirit, Zheenkeef the emotions and dreams, and Mormekar the body’s ultimate failure, death. Finally, the young gods represent the concepts of society, or groups of individuals – nobility, forging, diplomacy, love, woodcraft. The Great Church, therefore, worships everything that is living and thriving in the world as personified by the Gods of the Tree, from the smallest monetary transaction to the unfathomable workings of the heavens.

The gods as a group do not associate themselves with any particular creatures or animals, and the Great Church does not hold any such beings as sacred. In truth, if the gods are associated strongly with any living creatures, it is the five great mortal races.

The Gods of the Tree are not associated particularly strongly with any one group of people, or any one race. The Great Church certainly is, though, and its associations are explained below.

Alignment

The gods can be described as dominantly neutral good. Although the pantheon is divided quite strongly between the chaotic-tending gods and the lawful ones (necessitating the Compact), they are united in their opposition to the works of evil – slaughtering infants, slavery, eating your sister’s baby, etc. Unlike every other church in this book, the Great Church is not the same alignment as the pantheon. The dominant alignment of the Great Church is lawful good. Because of this, the chaotic gods can rarely be bothered with the Church.

Representations

When the Great Church represents the gods with icons, it shows them seated in a semi-circle on thrones of gold. Each god appears in such representations as she is described in the following chapters. The symbolic representation of the Lords of Heaven is a white tree with five golden fruits growing on it. A cleric of the Great Church’s holy symbol is usually a tree crafted from white gold with five yellow gold fruits.

The tree symbol is simplified when scrawled or put on small surfaces as an inverted triangle containing five circles in a star pattern. This is a much less formal symbol than the tree, but it can be made quickly or crafted out of basic materials and used by a cleric of the great church as a holy symbol in times of crisis. It is also the symbol used by the very poor.

Purpose

As a family, the gods’ motives are complex. Each god seeks to further her own ends, bringing mortals to her way of thinking. As determined by the Compact, a god grows stronger with worship, so it is each god’s goal to influence the world through her followers and promote those forces that lead worshippers to her. This often brings two or more gods into conflict. Add to this the schism between the two families of gods: one is unruly and believes that the individual is the strongest force in the universe; the other believes that organization and societal structure are the keys to strength.

Now, while the gods have much to argue about, they are unified in the principles of good. They oppose senseless destruction, murder, and the many other trappings of evil. This is for several reasons: The destruction that evil brings leads to fewer followers (or at the very least corrupts the mortal races away from the ways of the gods); the gods are quite fond of the mortal races and would see them thrive; and the treeborn gods were nearly destroyed by murder and mayhem in their youth when they were moved to war against one another – they have learned the perils of that path. The purpose the gods serve as a unified group, therefore, is to aid the mortals in their struggles against evil.

Servants

While each god has a number of celestials to perform his bidding, the three great choirs of Heaven exist to serve the gods and mortals without prejudice. It can therefore be said that the entire celestial host serves the Lords of Heaven. There are three choirs of angels, ranging from the mightiest Seraphim to the lowest Ischim.

Principal among the Heavenly host are the Seven Archangels (all of whom are Huge Solars):

  • Mika’il (mee-kahEEL), chief among the Archangels, protects the downtrodden and is the champion of those in need. Mika’il is a being of such profound goodness that some worship him as a god in his own right. He was once a great div king who was elevated to great power by Morwyn and
    raised to be chief of the Archangels after the fall of Iblis.
  • Jibraiil (zheb-rai-EEL), the herald of the gods, marches at the front of the Heavenly host. She is the most charismatic of the choirs, and it is said that to hear her unmuted voice is to hear a music so perfect that the mortal heart will break with joy.
  • Rafaiil (ra-fai-EEL), the guide of the lost, is the giver of charity from the gods. It is said that if the gods send a mortal aid, it is Rafaiil who delivers it. Rafaiil is charged with overseeing Elysium.
  • Uriel (YUR-ee-el) is the protector of Heaven. Mortals will only have an opportunity to meet with Uriel should they seek entrance through the locked gates of the mountain of Heaven. Uriel also watches over the celestial host; it is he who casts down the fallen. It is also said that Uriel, who is the favorite of Tinel, gave magic to the mortal races when they lost it long ago (see the Church of Tinel).
  • Saraqael (say-RA-kai-el) is the magistrate of Heaven. It is Saraqael who oversees the laws of Heaven and sees to it that all celestials perform their duties under the Compact. She is not well liked by the chaotic gods.
  • Raguel (RA-gyoo-el) is the vengeance of Heaven. Raguel is charged by the gods to smite down those who have grown too high and think themselves equal to the gods (such as all-powerful wizards researching spells to kill the gods), as well as infernal powers when they trespass on the prime material plane for reasons other than the Compact.
  • Camael (CAH-mai-el) attends the thrones of the gods. Camael is, essentially, the minister of the kingdom of Heaven, and stands behind the gods. It is Camael who oversees all the workings of the gods’ court and arranges audiences with some of them — a commune spell is, in essence, a plea to her for a god’s ear (some of the gods have servants who perform this function for them; these are mentioned in the appropriate church sections). The Great Church believes that it receives its powers from Camael on behalf of the gods.

The Church

Description

The Great Church, whose members simply call themselves “the faithful,” is an enormous organization spanning nations and cultures. Its primary goal is to make sure that every population center in the world has a church dedicated to all of the gods and performing their work. Its secondary goal is to make the worship of the gods pedestrian and accessible to everyone. Because of these goals, there is a church dedicated to the entire pantheon in almost every human or mixed-race city you might care to visit. In the cities with particularly large Great Church structures, other churches sometimes set up small shrines within the Great Church’s halls (so that a traveler, asking for the church of Korak, may be told “It’s yonder, in the Great Church”).

The Great Church enjoys good relations with most of the other churches, particularly the lawful churches, which is why clerics of individual gods are willing to offer services under the Great Church’s roof. But these pleasant relations are, in many cases, only surface deep. The leaders of the Great Church believe that all of the other churches wrongly focus their worship and condescendingly humor them. Many of the leaders of the other churches are jealous of the Great Church’s wealth and authority, which are significant. Because it is easy to avoid alienating any religious group by supporting the Great Church, many secular leaders give generously to its missions, support its efforts to expand, and otherwise interact with it as the accepted legitimate religious center of power in the world. Further, the leaders of the Great Church are generally free to involve themselves in politics and other earthly matters, since they do not have direct rapport with any one god and are not being used regularly by the gods as instruments for their plans in the mortal sphere. This freedom means that many secular leaders have a cleric or paladin from the Great Church as an advisor, and members of the local Great Church hierarchy are often on town and city councils. All of this amounts to a church that is able to exert an enormous amount of influence on the political affairs of the day.

To be absolutely clear: The Great Church is less connected to the gods than any other church, and the other churches are in no way loyal to or subservient toward the Supreme Patriarch of the Great Church. While its clerics receive spells, and its paladins are a force for righteousness throughout the world, the gods rarely reveal themselves to members of the Great Church or call upon its faithful to perform great deeds in their name. Each of the gods relies on her own church for such purposes. The Great Church is therefore a fantastic place for smug NPCs, or for PCs interested in politics. If you want your PC at high levels to actually become an instrument of the will of the gods, the Great Church is an unlikely home.

While the organization welcomes worshippers of any race, its membership is made up mostly of humans. Other races seem to find its highly unspecific worship of the gods unappealing. It is therefore rare to find a Great Church in, say, a dwarven hold or elven wood. The Church’s congregations are generally made up of those who do not have the time or inclination to dedicate themselves to one god in particular. Religion is an important part of nearly everyone’s life, but the average commoner has no real reason to specify her worship. When her crops are failing, she goes to the Great Church and prays to Rontra. When she is heavy with child, she goes to the same church and prays to Morwyn. Usually, this is done for simplicity, but it is also done to avoid offending any of the gods. Legends are quite explicit: If you pray to all of the gods and accidentally leave one off, that god will grow angry and vengeful against you. The Great Church takes these sorts of concerns out of the common person’s hands, providing complete, non-mysterious ceremonies for all occasions and making religion far more accessible to the average peasant or layperson. Its popularity with the common folk also helps account for its wealth, as a tithe to the church is customary, swelling the church’s coffers as its congregations grow.

The Great Church is terribly unpopular with religious zealots of all varieties. They accuse the Church of making the gods commonplace, decreasing their worship to a few perfunctory gestures made out of duty or habit instead of devotion. There are many people deeply concerned with what seems to be the unstoppable growth of the Great Church; many of the concerned are elders of other churches.

Church Structure

The Great Church has three powerful holy orders: clergy, paladins, and deacons. The clergy has five levels of status: clerics, deans, bishops, archbishops, and the Supreme Patriarch or Matriarch. The paladins have three: paladins, captains, and lord or lady protectors. Deacons have only two: deacons and archdeacons. There are also two lesser holy orders: the churchguard and the friars.

Of these orders, the clergy are dominant, deciding the direction of the faith. The paladins are enormously important and influential, but operate almost entirely autonomously from the Church. The deacons are perhaps the Church’s greatest strength: While they are officially referred to as “teachers,” they are actually an order dedicated to influencing the secular leaders and events of the world. The deaconry is made up either of Church members skilled in political matters or secular leaders given status in the Church to seal their loyalty.

The Supreme Patriarch, the highest-ranking member of the clergy, heads the Church. The Supreme Patriarch is seated in the Great Cathedral, which is located in the city where Saint Hefasten founded the Church. In the center of the Cathedral is the great rock, the lump of marble enchanted by Zheenkeef. Anyone looking at it will see their own likeness unless they make a Will save of DC 100. Once in a great while, someone, presumably someone chosen by the gods for greatness, sees something other than themselves in the rock, as Hefasten did. This has not happened for hundreds of years, and is an event of potentially cataclysmic importance.

The usual Great Church in a population center has a dean, three or four clerics, one or two paladins, six to ten churchguard and a deacon. The dean makes all decisions pertaining to the Church, usually after consulting with those below her. While the paladins are technically free to follow their own paths, they will obey the dean if told to do something and will certainly consult with the dean about their adventures and any matters requiring spiritual guidance.

The Great Church’s places of worship vary wildly in size: The Great Cathedral has the Supreme Patriarch, an archbishop, a bishop, 25 clerics, three lord protectors, ten captains, 100 paladins, 12 archdeacons, 20 deacons, and 50 churchguard.

Doctrine

“If the people shall not come to the gods, verily, verily, we shall bring the gods to the people.”
– From Saint Hefastan’s A People, A Doctrine, A Faith

The Doctrine of the Great Church can most easily be described as pure good. One should strive to give, not to take; to love, not to hate; to befriend, not to shun. It is the moral imperative of every mortal to try to do as the gods have done – offering shelter to the weak, raging against terrible wrongs, and protecting their families. Of course, the Church is well aware that the world is filled with fallible people and believes that, if we ask for our wrongs to be forgiven, the gods will forgive them as they once forgave each other for great wrongs. The Church believes, however, that there are sins that cannot be forgiven: trying to topple the gods as Kador did, making bargains with devils or demons, and giving up your soul for any reason. These behaviors take one outside the realm of forgiveness, and offenders become like demons in the eyes of the faithful. All else, including the most heinous crimes against another person, can be forgiven by the gods (though likely not by the law). It is in this that the Church’s lawful side is seen, for while its faith in the gods is one of pure good, the Church professes a very legalistic worship of the gods. The clergy discusses the laws and commandments of the gods that all people should obey. The church sees itself as bringing the rule of the gods to the uninformed.

The Great Church has two great schools of thought in approaching this doctrine, and while they usually operate in harmony among church elders, they are occasionally drawn into conflict.

The first philosophy, that adhered to by clergy and deacons, is the ministry of the gods’ work. The Great Church, according to this school of thought, exists to spread the legends and worship of the gods – particularly to foreign or barbaric lands with different faiths. Part and parcel with this is the Church’s goal to consolidate its power base and make sure that the lands where the gods are worshipped never lose sight of the faith. This involves making sure that the Church has many chapels and cathedrals throughout the land. One of the many reasons the Church puts such a focus on secular matters is that it serves the Church’s goals to have close relations with the nobles who own the land and run the nations.

It would be easy to assume the clergy pushes for expansion because its hierarchy is made up of rank opportunists seeking to line their pockets with donations. In fact, the Church really is a good organization (as far as anyone can tell – GMs may have other plans…) and most of the clergy believe deeply in this idea. It began with Hefastan, who believed that he had been selected by the gods to answer the riddle of the statue because the gods had tired of their constant infighting. At the core of Hefastan’s teachings is the notion that every person’s life is bettered when she comes to pay proper homage to the gods. When Hefastan, the first Supreme Patriarch, was writing his earliest screeds, most common people had no idea how to pray or pay proper homage to the gods; instead, they let their priests do it for them. Hefastan believed in the democratization of faith, and it is still very important to the Great Church that the ways of worship be made understandable to anyone, that everyone know how to pray to the gods herself. This is clearly a good goal, even if the Church’s rate of expansion and political power is quite threatening to all the other churches.

The second major branch of Church philosophy states that the Church’s mission is to tirelessly oppose evil in all its many forms. One can see that this requires a very different mindset than actively spreading the religion, and over the years the two doctrines have led to a friendly split in the clergy. While most focus on the strengthening of the Church and the spread of the faith, there is a core group of adventuring clerics who seek simply to do good in the world in the name of the Gods. Supporting this group of “good works” clergy is an entire holy order dedicated to fighting the good fight: the paladins.

Common Prayers

Most Great Church prayers invoke all of the gods by referring to them as “Holy Ones” or “Lords of Good” or “Lords of Heaven.” An example, called “The Passage,” is from the naming ceremony where the Church recognizes a child after its birth:

“May the Lords of Heaven shine on thee,
May they lift you up in their great presence,
For thou art name’d in their hallowed halls,
And the Holy Ones shall know thee in the last.”

However, the most common prayer, which is used as the invocation for important events and is said by many common folk when they need a formal prayer, is the Order. The Order refers to each of the gods by name. In particularly important ceremonies a candle is lit (or a bell is rung) when each name is read:

“Lords of Heaven, hear our prayer!
That Rontra’s earth will feed us,
And nourish those who hunger;
That Urian’s skies will warm us,
And shelter those in need;
That Shalimyr’s waves will wash us clean,
And cleanse those who have failed us;
That Morwyn’s wisdom will guide us,
And her compassion aid the lost;
That Terak’s strength will embolden us,
And protect those who are weak;
That Tinel’s teachings will open our eyes,
And lift up those who are in ignorance;
That Zheenkeef’s inspiration will better us,
And her wine will bring us happiness;
That Mormekar’s hands will take us at our time,
And pass over the young and the innocent;
That Maal’s judgment will not find us lacking,
And his laws prevail over darkness;
That Naryne’s rulership will forever prevail,
And her servants share in her wisdom;
That Korak’s forge will provide for us,
And his skill will be reflected in mortal hands;
That Anwyn’s hearth fire will always burn,
And give sanctuary to the weary;
That Thellyne’s prey will be plentiful,
And that her gardens will fl ourish;
That Canelle’s swift feet shall carry us,
And we may all be victorious;
That Darmon’s trade will prosper,
And that we may share in his fortune;
That Aymara’s eyes will shine on us all,
And we each shall know love.
So we pray, Oh Holy Ones,
So we entreat you as your servants.”

Most of the prayers are far less elaborate than this one, and many that are situation-specific name only one god. Before a competition, a cleric may invoke only Canelle. Before a birth, Rontra, Morwyn, and Anwyn are all named. At weddings, funerals, and other great life-changing ceremonies, however, all of the gods are called on for blessing.

Paladins say the prayers of the Church in ceremonies, but in general the paladins’ prayers are far less elaborate. They usually involve a quick invocation of “all that is holy” or “may the gods protect us.” It is rare for a paladin to appeal to just one of the gods, but there have been members of the order who feel closer to one god than the others. Many times, these paladins become members of the church of that god as well as the Great Church (and yet retain their status as paladins, as this in no way violates their holy mission or oaths).

Holy Days

The holy numbers of the mythology are three (three good elemental gods, three sisters, three tribes of Div, etc.) and five (five fruits on the tree, five mortal races, five treeborn gods, five gods born of woman, etc.) and so the holidays take place on threes and fives.

Three Sorrows

The third month of the year is called the “Three Sorrows.” For the deeply devout, one must fast in the daytime and contemplate all of one’s misdeeds over the past year at night (it is allowed to continue to work and perform one’s secular duties during this time, including adventuring). On the third, ninth, and 27th nights of the month are day-long services followed by solemn feasts. Each such holiday is an observance of one of the great sorrows:

The First Sorrow

On the third day of the third month, this service mourns the fall of Kador (whose name is not spoken in the service and is instead called “First Born” and “Fallen Fire”). This service serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of personal greed and pride, and all in attendance are to see themselves in Kador.

The Second Sorrow

On the ninth day, the service recalls the first murder, brother upon brother, when Terak and Tinel killed one another and the great tree. The service reminds all in attendance to be forgiving of their neighbors and to live in harmony.

The Third Sorrow

On the 27th day, the service recalls the departure of the gods from the world with the forging of the Compact. In this service, the faithful pray to be reunited with the gods in death, and hope for a time when the gods may rejoin the world of mortals in peace. It is the church’s belief, as expressed in this ceremony, that the gods left the earth not only for their own struggles but because of the weakness of mortals, a weakness that is lamented in the ceremony.

Those of the faithful who are not particularly devout do not fast during the month, but nearly everyone attends the three ceremonies of sorrow.

Five Blessings

The fifth month of the year is called the “Five Blessings” and is a month of great celebration. If at all possible, the devout will avoid being far from home during this month, though church business has certainly taken servants of the faith far from home even during the five blessings. Every five days of this month there is a great festival day, including a noontime service in the local parish (which usually spills out into the streets, as these ceremonies bring so many people to the church) and an enormous feast.

The First Blessing

On the fifth day of the fifth month, the faithful thank the gods for the blessing of life. On this day all the babies born in the past three months are dressed up in ceremonial costumes and given special names. However, each name is whispered to the baby by the cleric performing the ceremony after he recites “The Passage,” so it’s generally unheard of for any of the faithful to know their baby name. It is said that if the baby dies before it can speak, this name will grant it an immediate audience with Lord Maal. Babies born more than three months before this ceremony usually have already had a small ceremony and received their name.

The Second Blessing

On the tenth day, the faithful thank the gods for the blessing of food. On this day everyone in the parish prepares the most sumptuous dish they can imagine, usually spending more than they can possibly afford on ingredients, and the faithful feed one another all day long in a festival that takes place in the streets.

The Third Blessing

On the 15th day, the faithful thank the gods for the blessing of home and family. On this day there is a great festival where the parish builds a home for anyone who may need it. In small communities, this may involve raising a barn if no one needs a new home, but most often a new house is built for newlyweds married in the past year who, up until this time, have been living with the parents of the bride. In very large communities with omnipresent beggars, the congregation will build a home for only one person selected symbolically by the dean of the church.

The Fourth Blessing

On the 20th day of the fifth month, the faithful enjoy their greatest festival – and the one that brings the Church its most converts. On this day, the faithful thank the gods for the blessing of joy. Also known as “Fool’s Day,” this holiday sees no poor performers. Acting troupes, jugglers, jesters, and every other entertainer who can bring out a laugh is paid handsomely by the church to perform in the streets for the faithful. There is a great deal of wine consumed, and all of the faithful dress up in outlandish costumes, usually in animal forms.

The Fifth Blessing

On the 25th day, the faithful thank the gods for the gift of death, which brings all mortals back to the gods’ embrace. At this festival, likenesses of all those who have died that year are placed on a dais, and all those in attendance have a great feast in their honor. It is the duty of the family of the deceased to try and accomplish something this day that the departed left unfinished.

Even those who are not devout members of the church observe these five holy days, and it is considered wrong to work during the festivals. Along with these two months of celebration, the Great Church has weekly religious services.

Saints

Saints are named such only by the Supreme Patriarch. A servant of the church must have been dead for at least a decade before she can be named a saint, and only then if she is credited with a deed of tremendous importance to the Church’s work. This is the key: the Church’s work. Nearly always, this includes the most pious members of the Church who have worked great goods in their life, but it also occasionally includes secular figures who have aided the Church greatly, with land grants and other gifts.

A saint’s name is remembered with great reverence, and the holy orders often have sub-orders named after saints. For instance, there is an Order of St. Edrien among the paladins. Saint Edrien was a lord protector who, it is said, journeyed to Hell and won back the immortal soul of a Supreme Patriarch wrongly stolen by the servants of Asmodeus. The order in his name is especially dedicated to protecting those who are attacked by Hell for their goodness.

Most churches are named after saints from the area. The two most famous saints are Saint Hefastan and Saint Anne, the founders of the Great Church and the order of paladins, respectively.

God’s View of the Church

The gods actually view the Great Church with some ambivalence. They are made very powerful by its world prominence, but it is not as useful to them as their own churches. That being said, the gods all know that the Compact has allowed Hell and the Abyss to become very powerful, and the paladins and other works of the Church against evil are very valuable to their struggle against Asmodeus and the demon princes.

Once in a great while a figure will arise in the Great Church who is so good and pious that she will become a favorite of all the gods and receive special boons from the entire pantheon. This is exceedingly rare and has not happened since Saint Anne.

Preferred Weapon

The preferred weapon of the Church is a heavy or light club, the more tree-like the better. Particularly powerful or important clerics have massive maces made to look like trees, with green heads and studs that look like golden fruit.

Holy Orders: Clerics of the Great Church

The Order

The clergy is the center of the Great Church’s five holy orders. From the clergy arise the bishops, the archbishops, and the Supreme Patriarch. Members of the order focus on both missions of the church, spreading the faith wherever they go but also doing great work in the name of the gods.

The clergy of the Great Church is quite vast, and within it there is room for many different beliefs. However, the official attitude of the order, its missions, its goals, and its actions are all determined by the Supreme Patriarch. Therefore, the role of the Church in any world will vary based on the heart of its highest ranking cleric.

Titles

A first-level cleric, addressed as “father” or “mother” and introduced by full title, will be part of a group of clerics assigned to a church – large or small, depending on the campaign. A character is ordained as a cleric after spending several years working in a church learning all of the prayers and services necessary. A character wanting to multi-class as a cleric will either have to stop adventuring for several years, or already know the entire Great Church liturgy.

First-level clerics of the Church do not operate independently in any way and are not trusted with their own ministries. They may only go adventuring on Church business or with their dean’s permission. Once a cleric reaches third level, however, he may operate freely and be away from the Church to which he is assigned for long periods of time performing the gods’ work.

At seventh level, a cleric becomes eligible to become a dean of his own church – generally a small one for a first-time dean. The local bishop makes this decision, and it is usually a political one. A cleric must petition the bishop directly for the deanship, and may be turned down for any reason. One may only petition for deanship once per level. A dean oversees all the goings on of his church, issuing assignments to all the clergy below him. A dean is addressed as “reverend father” or “reverend mother,” and introduced by full title.

At 12th level, a dean becomes eligible to become a bishop. The bishops are handpicked by the archbishop of the nation, and each archbishop has only as many bishops as are allowed him by the Supreme Patriarch – so getting a bishop spot usually requires the death of an existing bishop. One may petition for a bishopric as often as one likes, but such petitions are only important when one is available. A bishop oversees a large geographic area and is generally found at its largest church, instructing the deans and participating in the political affairs of the area. Bishops are addressed as “blessed father” or “blessed mother,” and introduced by full title.

At 15th level, a bishop may be named archbishop of a nation or large region by the Supreme Patriarch. There is no petitioning for this position, and the method by which archbishops are chosen is shrouded in mystery and known only to the Supreme Patriarch. As with bishoprics, an archbishopric is only available when a new region becomes available to the Church or an existing archbishop dies (or is elevated to Supreme Patriarch). An archbishop is granted control of the Church’s presence in an entire nation or other significant political body, is addressed as “holy father” or “holy mother,” and introduced by full title.

An archbishop may be named the Supreme Patriarch only by a unanimous vote of all the archbishops. When the existing Supreme Patriarch dies, all the archbishops convene at the Great Cathedral. Together they determine who among their number might be an appropriate Supreme Patriarch. All those named are excluded from the vote. One can imagine that this is a very useful political tool for removing dissenting voices and raising a candidate some of the archbishops might oppose fiercely – and it is a method that has been abused in the past. Each archbishop may only name one appropriate candidate, and no more than half of the deliberating body may be forced to sit out the decision. Once appropriate candidates have been selected, the remaining archbishops come to a unanimous conclusion and name the new Supreme Patriarch. This may take months. The Supreme Patriarch is the voice of the Church and commands the clergy and the faithful alike. The Supreme Patriarch is addressed as “Most Reverend Lord” or “Most Holy Father,” and introduced by full title.

Bishops, archbishops, and the Supreme Patriarch can all be addressed as “your eminence,” “your holiness,” or “your grace.”

Table 3-1 Table 3-1
Clerics of the Great Church Titles Clerics of the Great Church Titles
Minimum
Cleric Level Title Requirement
1 Cleric Three Years Training
7 Dean Available Church; Petition Granted by Bishop
12 Bishop Available Bishopric; Named to Position by Archbishop of
Region
15 Archbishop Available Archbishopric;
Named to Position by
Supreme Patriarch
15+ Matriarch
Supreme Patriarch/ Death of the Previous Supreme
Patriarch; Unanimous Vote of
Body of Archbishops

Alignments

Most clerics of the Great Church are lawful good in alignment, as is the Church. However, there are strong contingents of neutral good and lawful neutral clergy. The lawful good clerics are dedicated to the furthering of the Church’s goals for the spiritual salvation of every common person, and believe strongly that this can best be accomplished by doing the Church’s work and spreading its teachings and laws.

Lawful neutral clerics of the Church care for little but the Church itself. Most are busily involved in Church politics as well as secular affairs, seeking to expand the influence of the faith. Because they are so dedicated to their work, lawful neutral clerics are among some of the most powerful in the Great Church. They are also the most closely tied with the deaconry.

Neutral good clerics are as a rule unskilled politically, but are particularly good at fulfilling Church doctrine. It is from the neutral good group that most of the adventuring clerics come, with many of them gone from their home Church for years on end performing the gods’ works abroad. For this reason among others, they make terrible deans and almost never receive the opportunity to rise further in Church hierarchy.

Holy Warrior: Paladins of the Great Church

The Order

Paladins are the warriors of the Great Church. Founded by Saint Anne, the first paladin (or, according to the Church, the first “modern” paladin, as the many mortals who fought at the gods’ side before the Compact were all paladins), the holy order of paladins is vast and dedicated to opposing evil wherever it may rise. Saint Anne was a pilgrim who came to see the wondrous marble statue in the Great Cathedral soon after the founding of the faith. When she looked at it she saw herself in shining armor flanked by a thousand warriors. At Saint Hefastan’s urging, she founded the order, and its numbers soon began to swell as people from all over the world heard the call to rise up and fight evil. They do not pay homage to any one god in particular. They worship them all, receive power from the Choirs (or so Church scholars assert), and fight evil in the name of the gods. They are totally loyal to their order and, therefore, the Church – but were the Church to become corrupt, it likely would not take the paladins with it, as they seem connected to the heavenly at a deeper level than most.

Loyal as they are, paladins are not the enforcing arm of the Church’s will, or servants and protectors to the clerics. Paladins are great heroes with their own will and purpose, wandering the earth to fight against evil and depravity in their many forms. Every paladin heeds a very personal call to do this, feeling destiny-bound to perform her duties.

The primary purpose of paladins is to go questing. They travel, righting wrongs. When they are not abroad, they use a Church as a base of operations. At low levels, paladins are given quests by higher level paladins or, if there is one at the Church, a captain.

Titles

A first-level paladin, addressed as “sir” or “dame” and introduced by full title, is usually housed at a Church where a captain is regularly present. The process for becoming a paladin is simple enough – those who receive the call know instinctively what they must do. They go to a Great Church and pray for three days without food or sleep until they are lifted up by the local paladins and taken into the order. For the next ten years they are trained exhaustively in warfare and holy doctrine. In cases where the new paladin already knows much of this (at least a first-level character with at least one rank in the Knowledge (religion) skill), this period is reduced to a year. Obviously, these are only general rules and are at the GM’s discretion.

At tenth level, a paladin becomes a captain. No one’s permission is needed for this transition in title. All other paladins will recognize that the character is a captain and will obey her. In cases of more than one captain ordering a group, the lower-level captain will simply defer to the higher level – no argument necessary. Deans of churches (and higher authority figures) and any cleric of the Great Church with a Wisdom higher then 13 recognize a captain for the commanding figure she is without needing to be told. A dean will always welcome a captain to use his church as a base of operations for the captain’s quests. A captain continues to be addressed and introduced as a paladin.

At 18th level, a captain becomes a lord protector. Again, this simply happens and does not require anyone’s permission. Throughout the world, a lord protector is a figure of legend and renown. Kings bow to them, the infirm beg them for healing, and those of evil heart leave the continent when they hear a lord protector is coming. Lord protectors are addressed as “lord” or “lady” and introduced by full title.

Table 3-2 Table 3-2
Paladins of the Great Church Titles Paladins of the Great Church Titles
Minimum Holy
Warrior Level Title Requirement
1 Paladin Ten Years Training or 1st
Level
Character with 1+ Rank in
Knowledge (Religion) and
One Year of Training
10 Captain None
18 Lord/Lady Protector None

The Great Church

World of Tersa ThomasJones