Saturday, March 14, 2015

Human Religions and Cults of Centerra


pics unrelated
Digression: A History Lesson

The calendar begins with the apocalypse.  The date in Centerra is measured by years TFM--since the Time of Fire and Madness.  Everyone was amnesiac or insane, possessed with an insatiable lust for the flame.  Even deer would carry branches through the wood, methodically incinerating the whole forest.  Burning metal fell from the sky, wrapping delicate innards of glass and metal (this is where adamantine comes from) and volcanoes erupted everywhere, vomiting lava and smothering the sun in their smoke.

But within a generation, all this strangeness had stopped.  The rain of fire ended, and the volcanoes all fell silent.  There are no more volcanoes in Centerra, only dead mountains with cold hearts.  The only exception is Lady Hellfire, but that is outside the scope of this post.


Red: The Fire Cults

Before the advent of the Church, the continent of Centerra was studded with gods.  Not religions--religion isn't the right word.  But every city had its god, and every god, its city.

The gods were all volcano gods, voices of fire from beneath the earth.  Some good, some foul, most neither.  They spoke through fire and through wheezing shamans, gasping out prophecies with lungs full of smoke, or through holy men who spent their entire lives--from birth to death--at the bottom of a pit.

Temples were built on peaks, at first.  After humans remastered the crafts of stonework and architecture, they could finally build temples magnificent enough to lure a god down from their volcano home.  This is how humanity domesticated gods.

There were sea gods, too, but they only heard the prayers of the fish people.  They had a deaf ear for land-dwellers.

Eventually, a new religion, founded on principles of peace and charity, put the other religions to the sword.  The fire gods were driven back into their volcanoes where they were imprisoned or killed.  The fire gods who lived in their temples were kidnapped (by the physical removal of their temples) and integrated into the Church of Hesaya.  Those who still worship the fire gods are persecuted as heretics, still clinging to a demonic cult.

As far as anyone knows, the fish people still have all of their gods.  (Although the Church has Lady Evica, the daughter and inheritor of the fish-people's creator-god.)


Blue: The Mandate of Heaven

The Church of Hesaya was founded by a mason's daughter named Ianu (or Yanu), who was divinely inspired to become the first prophetess for the Authority, the Sky-God.

I could tell you more about them, but they're basically just Catholic Rome.  Except its not called Rome, it's called Coramont.

They aren't bad guys.  They run the banks and pave the roads.  Their priests are kind and gentle to everyone, except fire cultists, who they despise.  Their witch-finders are stern and unsympathetic people who expect whatever assistance they demand, but who wouldn't hesitate to sacrifice themselves to save a life.

They practice human sacrifice, of the best and the worst.  Criminals and heretics are often killed.  Saints and great warriors are often killed.  (If a PC becomes known as a great warriors or leaders, the Church will do their best to convince them to sacrifice themselves for the glory of the Authority.  Never through force, of course, but there are many other motivators.)

At the center of Coramont is the Pillar of Heaven, a 77-story pillar of pearlescent blue stone.  It fell from heaven in 434 TFM and landed so gently that it didn't even scare the flocks of the awestruck shepherds.

The end of every pilgrimage is the Pillar of Heaven.  To gain favor with the Authority, one has only to walk clockwise around the Pillar.  The area around the pillar is choked with thousands of the faithful who constantly circle it, like rush hour traffic to get into heaven.

All that matter is how many laps around the Pillar you do.  Technically, you can walk laps around the city and it would count.  More important people are allowed to walk closer to the Pillar.  Unbaptised people have to stay the fuck away.

Inside the Pillar of Heaven is a stairwell that goes to Heaven.  It has 24242 steps.  Kings and bishops sometimes go there.  The Patriarch visits often; the Matriarch less so.  (Once considered heretical, the concept of a Patriarch is now accepted by most of the Church; he is empowered by the Authority in the East, while the Matriarch oversees the Church from Coramont.)

A thief once broke in to heaven and stole a peace of its magic.  There used to be a clerical spell called sending, but it stopped working after the burglary.


Green: Legendary Beast Kings

There are many, many nature spirits.  Their apathy increases with their power, which is sometimes considerable.  The Church calls them demons, and there is a bounty on them.

According to legend, every species of animal has a legendary progenitor that is half-flesh and half-spirit.  The Church made it their business to hunt down these great animal spirits, with great success.  The last great Legendary Beast King to stand against Coramont was the Lion Spirit, whose pelt now shades the Patriarch's flock of holy sacrificial sheep.

There is also a large bounty on information pertaining to the surviving Legendary Beast Kings.  They don't expect adventurers to actually kill one.  For that, the Church will use their paladins, decapitated saints*, golem lords**, regular golems***, and/or St. Cascarion****.  (They have a lot of experience with this.)

Especially Coyote.  They hate that guy.



Black: Zala Vacha

Lost gods don't fare well without worshippers.  They are creatures of thought and intention, and if they are forgotten by others they forget themselves.  (This is the opposite of nature spirits, who are often thoughtless and may actually diminish in power the more that they are known.)

These abandoned gods sometimes found each other and huddled together against oblivion.  They remembered for each other; they worshiped each other.  And they really, really hate the Church.

When people talk about chaos cults and black masses, this is why they're talking about.  They are the disinherited spirits of primordial volcanoes, and they attract the desperate and malicious in the same way that shower drains attract hair.

The fallen gods of Zala Vacha exist in sort of a secret commune.  To keep the playing field equal, not even their worshipers know their names or their extent.

Don't assume that Zala Vacha is made up of evil gods of war and death.  True, they have death gods (4 competing death gods, actually), but most of them are harvest gods, or gods of knowledge, the ones who fled before the Church's aggressive assimilation policy.  And many of the cultists are decent people, after all.

They can't even get back into hell, because of the Sealed Temple built in the Brimstone Waste.  (Hell is literally a series of caves.  You can walk there.  You can map it.  Everyone knows where it is.


White: Heralds of the Immaculate Morning

The guys in blue robes with a snake draped around their shoulders--that's a priest of Hesaya.  They're the good guys.

The guys in white robes with a golden sunburst motif, those are the Heralds of the New Dawn.  I've already written a lot about them, but suffice to say that they want to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and extinguish all sentience so that the world will be restarted into a glorious new era of rebirth.

The current era is a post-apocalyptic one, where Satan long ago triumphed over the true God, which caused sickness, old age, and death--tribulations that humanity was never intended to endure.  All gods are false.  Etc.

They murder whole villages, too, but they do it painlessly and gently, apologizing the whole time.

A lot of paladins, disgusted by the things that they have witnessed and performed, lose their faith in the Church and join the Heralds.


Grey?

It's not really clear what a 'god' is in Centerra.  None of them are omniscient (although some of them are very astute).  Some of them are actually pretty dumb.

None of them created the world.  Some of them are younger than the culture that worships them.  They are emotional and often very petty.

Most damning of all, is that there seems to be a clear gradient from tiny nature spirits all the way up to the gods that are worshipped, even the Authority of the Church and the Bureaucracy of Heaven.

They aren't even that high level.  HD 12 or 18.  In that range.  There are scarier dragons.  Even the Authority itself is probably only HD 20.

There aren't even clear lines of demarcation between angels, demons, and nature spirits.  Your religion's angels are another religion's demons.  (Although most of the things called demons are unaffiliated with any deity and wholly malevolent to everyone.)

No "aligned planes" are known.  Angels and demons live at locations you can point to on your map.  (Mostly mountain tops and caves, though.)

The relationships between divine power, immortality, and worship are fuzzy.

The Radiant Maiden (the leader of the Heralds of Immaculate Morning) is perhaps a goddess herself, although she denies it.

And the creature called Kesselgrave is an even more perplexing.  He is obviously immortal, has never been hurt by any attack, and is strong enough to pick up mountains.  Yet all he does is make shitty moonshine in the swamp and pass out drunk every night.  When people try to worship him, he just screams at them in an unknown language and beats them to death with a rock.  His dreadlocks smell like piss.

And yet he's defeated entire companies of paladins sent to capture him, entirely unaffected by weapons, arcane magic, and divine miracles.  (He beat all the paladins to death with a rock, too, after waking up hungover inside an adamantine coffin.)


*Decapitated saints are saints who were martyred for their religion.  The Church keeps their heads in the Cathedral of the Fallen.  They are brought out only for warfare, where they are stuck on a banner.  The more disfigured ones (burned, mangled) are usually covered in gold jewelry or plastered with holy scrolls.  The heads begin chanting and basically fight as well as high-level clerics (even if they weren't powerful clerics in life).  They don't seem to be sentient.

There's a bit of a controversy about decapitated saints--it doesn't work for saints who die peacefully in their bed.  The Church has been accused of sending their holiest, most venerable members into horrible warzones with the hope that they'll die.

Plot Hook: The Church gives the PCs the task of clearing out the old catacombs, and they'll even give you a senile-but-kindly old geezer as your guide.  One of them whispers "And we'll double your pay if Father Abernaffy doesn't make it back."

**Golemlords are the decapitated heads of paladins that have put on top of an anointed golem.  They are fully alive.  There are only about a half-dozen of them or so, and they are so in demand that they are often deployed to warzones for years at a time.  Their bodies are kept in the vaults below Angelmar.

When their head is re-united with their body for the first time in years, they tend to flip out a bit and are usually confined to their monastery for a couple weeks before appearing in public.  Their a pretty badass bunch of men and women, and every Hesayan paladin aspires to be one of them.

***Because of how they're constructed, the Church considers all golem use except for their own to be heretical.  And they have a lot of golems, most of them in storage.  They're stacked like cordwood beneath Coramont.

****St. Cascarion is the Church's only vampire saint.  (While the normally only canonize saints after their deaths, an exception was made for Cascarion because he is, technically, dead.)  He hunts witches and heretics.  He used to hunt other vampires until he killed them all*****.  He is usually overqualified for the tasks assigned him.

*****Vampires are considered extinct on Centerra.  Sure, there are plenty of vampire spawn.  The curse is still out there, and it is still contagious.  The only extraordinary powers that (most) vampire spawn have are a dangerous allergy and dietary restrictions.  It takes centuries to become a "real" vampire.


4 comments:

  1. Awesome stuff, as per usual. Do you intend to ever compile all of the Centerra-material into a pdf/book/whatever or is part of the rite of passage to hunt it down around here?

    Loving every line of it.

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    1. It's on the todo list, honest. It's been my campaign setting for the last decade though, which means that its less of a coherent whole and more of a stack of incoherent folders, often full of boring or contradictory ravings.

      I try to put the quality stuff on the blog, though, where it might go to a good use.

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  2. So the Church is the reason we can't have nice things...

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    1. Except golem lords.Those a re church-approved.

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