Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The State of Religion in Centerra

This is a primer on religion in Centerra.

I'm writing partially for me, since I want a good grasp on religions before I publish rules for GLOG clerics.

And I'm writing partially for the players in the game I started last week, who have no idea what they're getting into, but want to make a paladin anyway.

I'll update this post as the canon reloads, probably.

St. Peter's Basilica, Apse

This level of detail represents what a village priest would know.  Heresies (alternate facts) are indicated in italics.

The Church of Hesaya

The continent of Centerra is dominated by a monotheistic religion that subordinates all other gods.

The Church of Hesaya is ancient, powerful, and full of secrets.  It is led by the Pope (the last vestige of a former imperial line).  It's authority is upheld by clerics, paladins, golems, and the Winds.

The Church is conservative, authoritarian, and intolerant.  It is sometimes greedy, sometimes corrupt.  And yet, the Church uses its immense resources to build roads, sue for peace, regulate finance, and field armies of brave paladins, who would die to protect the innocent.

The Church is loved.  The Church is hated.

The Church rose to its current position of dominance by killing all of the local gods that once pocketed Centerra.  A few of the old gods exist as slave-gods beneath Coramont, mostly forgotten and worshipped only briefly.

Other old gods have proved to be worshipped, and so are worshipped along side the Zulin and the Emperors.  Any time a sacrifice is made to one of the old gods, an equal sacrifice must also be made to Zulin.

Even monsters know of Zulin, and even dragons hesitate to blaspheme against the Prince of the Upper Air.

The Faithful of the Church are called to prayer every morning by the ringing of the bell of St. Dorbaine, which only they can hear.

The Authority

Creator of Heaven, Earth, and all living things.  The Law Giver.  The First Voice.  Humanity was created to order the world and make creation pleasing to him, and fair to all of humanity.  He is the head of the Church of Hesaya.  When he is invoked by magicians, he is calle the name of the sun, which is Dumadiyel.

The Elven Heresy: The Authority did not create the world, he merely discovered it and established himself as ruler of it.  Life was not created, it evolved prior to his arrival.

The Antediluvian Heresy: The Authority spent several billion years testing different types of biologies before settling on the current one.  In dark corners of the world, you can still bump into ancient creatures whose metabolisms do not use sugars or proteins, instead relying on impossible energy sources, such as morality, or songs.  The scholars who proposed this heresy were killed by sky execution.

The Authority lives inside the sun, which is a golden palace that orbits Centerra.  In fact, it is possible to see the golden domes of the sun's gardens with a powerful telescope.

Ninca Heresy: the Authority is absent, his palace is empty.  The world is like a ship with no one at the helm, adrift.  Ninca was killed via scaphism.

Since the Authority is the god of gods, no one is worthy of addressing him directly.  Anyone who speaks directly to the Authority risks his wrath.  Except for kings, of course, who are allowed to pray directly.

Everyone who is not a king must pray to a lesser deity in his service, most typically Zulin, the Prince of the Upper Air.  It is a sin to know the true name of the Authority.

The Fox's Heresy: The true name of the Authority is Akatom.  (Foxes do not exist, so they cannot be punished.)

Zulin

The foremost son of the Authority, Zulin is associated with the color blue, the sky, the wind, and the spoken word (and symbolic thought, by extension).  His symbol is a blue hand, sometimes depicted with a tail, usually depicted as a pattern or a tesselation.  (This is how Zulin is represented in religious art, at least).  His other symbol is a teacup.

He lives atop the Immortal Mountains.  The faithful may walk among those peaks with comfort, subsisting only on the snow, while the doubting man will stumble and freeze.  Heathens may not even look at the mountains without feeling sick.  Saints may actually walk to the Heavenly City while barefoot, walking atop soft snow, untouched by the winds or the cold.

His ex-wife is the Simurgh, the Queen of Birds, who is Thirty Birds.  The verdant gardens of the Heavenly House were once hers.  Her church is now shunned, and there are no birds in the Heavenly Mansions, except in cages.

At the center of the Heavenly House, Zulin hosts a tea party, the Eternal Tea.  The Eternal Tea cannot ever conclude, because if he does, his guests will be allowed to depart.

One of his guests is Agda, a primeval goddess of darkness, silence, and secret fire, who will one day drown the cities in lava.  She intends to do this as soon as she departs.  She is furious because she has fallen in love with Zulin.

His guests also include all of the emperors who ascended: the first, fourth, ninth, and nineteenth.

Also in attendance are the Three Cryptic Sins, the last three members of the Ten Deadly Sins.  While the first seven Sins declined Zulin's invitation and descended on the world, the three eldest Sins were intrigued, and became entrapped.  Their names are Ibsia, Ambathy, and Moscalune.  Humanity has never experienced them.

Lastly, the party is attended by all of the greatest entertainers, philosophers, and socialites who ever lived.  Many of them are especially invested in the party's success, since they are destined for hell once the party ends.

Anyone who accepts an invitation to the tea party and sits down is required to stay until it is finished.  This is not a punishment--Zulin is an excellent host.

The Boiler Heresy: There is no contract or compulsion surrounding the Eternal Tea.  Zulin remains there, aloof from the affairs of humanity, because he does not care about us.  Neither does Agda, who has refrained from ending the world mostly because she can't be bothered.  (Timmaeus Boiler still lives, among the orcs.)

The Prophetessa, May She Live Again

Essa (May She Live Again) was the daughter of a gravedigger, and was nineteen when the Zulin revealed himself to her, and asked for her to be his voice.  Since that moment, the prophetessa worked tirelessly to bring his words to the world.  She founded the Hesayan Church, which is named for her.

After many years, she finally died.  Rather than allowing her to join him in the Heavenly Mansion, she was reincarnated so that she could continue to be a source of inspiration for the Church.  She has continued to be reincarnated, and currently lives in the holy city of Coramont.  She is currently on her 57th cycle.

Essa (May She Live Again) serves as the fulcrum for modernizing interests within the Church, and is a subtle critic of the Pope.  If the Church ever fractures, it will be along these lines.

Her body is 10 years old and has not yet remembered all of her past lives.  She is protected by her immortal dog, St. Smaudius.

The Planet of Phasmodel (FAZ-mo-DELL)

Centerra is a continent on the planet of Phasmodel, which is hollow and named after its inner sun (as most planets are).  The outside of the planet holds the oceans and the continents, while the inside of the planet is Hell.

Water falls as rain, drains through rivers into a porous network of subterranean oceans that border on both the inner and outer suns.  Since Hell is so much hotter than the outerside of the planet, water evaporates faster, and exits the planet's interior through the poles, which are open.  (Thus is the water cycle of the planet alloyed to the morality of its inhabitants.)

Hell

Objects fall towards the earth because they seek to reunite with it.  And so a boulder will roll downhill until it encounters a valley.  Souls have a similar attractive force towards Phasmodel, which priests call the Furnace of Souls and fools call the Anti-Sun.

Most of the souls who travel to Hell follow the same path as the water, first gathering on the rivers before tricking down through the abyssal caverns on the ocean's floor.  Some ride magnificent dream-ships, while others merely drift.

Hell was not created.  Every dead thing, every abandoned place, will eventually sink down to hell.

This includes people that no god has claimed, gods that no people have claimed, ideas that have been forgotten, and the geography of abandoned continents.  Demons ride iron ships across boiling oceans, and primeval landscapes run together like paints in a pot.

Satan ruled Hell for eons, until an army of paladins found a way into Hell.  The Infernal Crusade ended came to a climax when Maxodus of the Holy Hand struck Satan down, and sundered the King of Lies into 77 fragments.

Most of the Satans were captured and enslaved through the use of powerful magic.  Many demons were also captured, and forced to swear the Oath.  These demons were given Shackles, and became devils--infernal spirits bound to the will of the Church.  And while demons war and cavort as their whimsy dictates, the shackled devils have all been given tasks by the Meragon, the son of Maxodus and the first king of Hell.

Heresy of Dead Embers: Maxodus lost to Satan and was possessed.  Everything that has happened since then is a ruse to undermine the Church.  (No originator could be found for this heresy.  It seems to have arisen from many people simultaneously.)

Some devils hunt their free brethren.  Other devils have been turned in gargoyles, and now silently guard the great cathedrals.  And yet other devils have been tasked with tempting humans into sin, to better separate the chaff from the grain.

Some may balk at this last task, but consider this: if a cruel man is never given an opportunity for cruelty, how shall we know him for what he is?

Zala Vacha

The Church stamped out many of the local cults, but many survived the destruction of their temples.  This loose collective of fallen gods is called Zala Vacha.  They have many different personalities integrated within them, and many different goals, but they are united in their opposition to the Church.

Some of these gods are monstrous, like Elcoroth, the Infinite Pillar of Flesh, who is the god of Growth, Livestock, and Biologic Change.  He appears as an infinitely long worm composed of the torsos of all species, arcing through the sky like a banner.

Some are benign, like Oressa and Ulda, two goddesses of the harvest who hate each other almost as much as they hate the Church.

And some are inscrutable, like Casca, a powerful spirit of void, forgetfulness, peace, and solitude.  Casca appears as a hole in the universe, and teaches that everything is an illusion, and that desire is the root of all evil.

Heralds of the New Dawn

The Dawnbringers teach that the world was once the battleground between Good and Evil.  In the end, Good was defeated, and the world fell to ruin, and was remade in the image of Evil.  This is why there is so much pain, disease, death, and futility in the world.  It was never meant to be this way.

Humanity was never meant to suffer disease, old age, enslavement, and death.  Children were never meant to contract bone cancer.  The world is inherently unjust.

The only way to save the world is to end it.  Only when the last wicked man has perished will the sun truly set and the world be allowed the purification of a rebirth.  And so that is their goal: to extinguish the last wicked soul on Centerra.  However, since we cannot tell who is wicked, everyone must pass on before this world is abandoned.

The Cult of the New Dawn operates hospitals, orphanages, and soup kitchens.  They take care of the most disadvantaged members of society.  (Just because the world is wicked doesn't mean that there aren't still good people who need help.)  Most of the time, this is all that they do.

But there have also been mass suicides.  And mass murders--entire towns wiped out, hundreds of families who perished peacefully in their sleep.

The Dawnbringers are led by the Radiant Maiden, who appears to be a veiled angel.  Lesser angels obey her as well, but they are her creations.  She claims to be the only living creature that remembers the world as it was before the Fall, and the Victory of Satan.  She brings healing, mercy, and gentle death.

The Deep Gods

The merfolk have their gods, too.  Little is known of them, except that they are living creatures that dwell in the blackest abysses of the sea.  They are never seen, and in fact it is believed that the lower pressures of the upper ocean would rip them apart if they ever ascended.

Their priestesses spend their entire lives attempting to grow large enough to mate with them.

The Green God

The Green God is more of a force, or a consensus.  It is the hatred of civilization, specifically symbolic thought (such as language).  In the eyes of nature, symbolism is the only abomination.  Just read this post.

Friday, January 18, 2019

You Walk Into a Tavern

Verisimilitude.  The "sense of place".  One minute the DM is just talking about chairs and mead and then suddenly she inserts a few more details and the scene comes alive a little bit.  This kind of attention is required for "3 orcs, 2000 copper coins" and they are required for shopkeepers. 

They're also required for taverns.

Rhetoricians at a Window by Jan Steen
d20 Tavern Conversations

These aren't rumors.  These aren't even necessarily quest hooks.  This is the inane blather that you encounter whenever you eavesdrop on a few people having a semi-public conversation.

It's gossip, politics, and whatever passes for entertainment among a bunch of turnip farmers.

1. Taxes have been raised on honey and lowered on grain.  Surely this proves that the king is afraid of bees.

2. Addition and subtraction might be godly but surely exponents are the devil's own handiwork.  That's why usury is a sin.

3. If you get really drunk you float better.  That's why we can't cut the navy's rum rations--they'll all drown.

4. You seen the new shirts that women are wearing?  Makes them look like a goddamn sailboat.  Supposedly prostitutes advertise their specialties by how they wear the buttons. 

5. If you piss on a goat it'll never eat from your garden again.  If you piss on other people's goats, they'll be more obedient, too.  It's all about the piss, I reckon.

6. I swear, if I catch Old Man Bogard pissing on my goats again I'm going to catch him by his beard and dunk him in the river until he stops stinking like boiled cabbage.

7. I saw a bunch of ducks hanging out in a circle, and then I heard one duck quack, and then all the other ducks quack like they was laughing, and then they all turned to look at me, and I ran out of there quick, lemme tell you.  I need another beer.

8. The priest is trying to send out coded messages, I think.  Ever notice how he always stutters in his sermons?  And not on random words neither.

9. Goddamn Joabites are everywhere these days.  I caught my son playing with some Joabites the other morning, making shit out of spider webs.  And folks these days are getting so lazy, just like the Joabites with their looms.  You ever think the two are related?

10. Wise Old Sheppu ain't that wise.  Milac was at his place fore last harvest, asking about the planting calendar, and he got a peek at her "magic book", an' it was just full of filthy pictures!

11. When the priests give sermons they must be reciting mighty spells of protection that would fry the brains of a lesser man and that’s why they don’t let us read the holy books: for our own safety.

12. It oughta be illegal what the duke's doing.  Just cause they held a spear next to our boys doesn't mean that they ought to get free land here.  Specially not land that used to belong to someone.  Hell, they gave Jaxon's field to those bug-eyed weirdos.  It shouldn't been sold and the money given to the war widows.

13. I'm going to kill my brother!  Drinks are on me!  - Some guy wearing a crown.

14. Farrmer McGregor is a fair and honest man. The only reason I don''t want him on the town council is because I once caught him fucking my goat.  My goat! He has his own goats, so why fuck mine? Claimed it seduced him it did, but I know my goats, it did no such thing!

15. I wouldn't call myself a racist, but we just can't let dwarves into our communities. Today they're good blacksmiths and tomorrow they'll kill us all with some sort of magma cannon. I'm not saying I blame them but that's just how it is.

16. And I say we've taken their grief for too long. Those damn bastards steal our grain, molest our children, and shit all over the streets.  So who's with me? Fuck birds! Fuck all of them!

17. The old duke's a bastard, the new duke's a bastard, and I bet his little brat will be a bastard too. About time we give an elf the job - at least we'll only need to deal with one bastard.

18. I heard Ethel's son is a coward, so they dressed up his big sister and sent her as a conscript instead. Why else haven't we seen her around?  It was bad enough when the war was just gobbling up all our young men!

Aye! And Ethel’s girl going off to war means poor Ethel doesn’t have any strong hands around the house. That young lad of Rosa’s has been mighty helpful thereabouts lately. 

19. Juggler? Pfft, that's just another name for sorcerer.

20. A heron isn't a real bird. That's what the Queen's wizards polymorph into to spy on us. It takes magic to balance with a neck that long I tell you, magic.

21. You walk into a bar fight. Everyone freezes on the spot. Then half the guys begin cheering and one bloke yells "Not fair, not fair, I demand a do over!"

22. I saw it I tell you, a boat as large a building, a veritable floating cathedral! Galleon's they call them. I heard the Sultan wants one built to be his traveling palace.  THAT'S why we need Sinless Stan to write that letter for us! If the Sultan chooses our forest to provide the wood we'll never go hungry again!

23. You know some books, when you read them, they read you back. Just be careful what you check out in the library is what I'm saying.

24. If I let an infidel buy my goods, that just means that godless swine has less gold. I'm practically a crusader when you think of it like that.

25. That's what they drink in Urst, mead with eyeballs in it! THAT'S why they're invading. If they conquer us they're gonna tax every family an eye.

26. There's actually no dragon in the Dragon Bank - they just tell you that to scare away robbers. That's why the Bank is so successful, because no one would dare find out about the dragon.

27. The Pelican Glider from Galad is late. That must mean the Eastern Elves are up to no good, we should team up with the duchies and strike first!

28. There's a little drop of blood in every cannonball and sword. You need to give it a taste of blood before it can take a life. My brother's a smith; he told me that.

29. Yeah well it STILL doesn't make sense why things are backwards in the mirror but aren't upside-down. Even the wizards don't know. I think they're in on it.

30. Piracy isn't a crime. Crimes can only happen in a country and the sea isn't a country. Stands to reason.

31. I know you're not allowed to fuck goats, but hyperthetically, if you got a wizard to make an illusion of a goat, could you do it then? Would it be a sin? No, of course I don't want to fuck a goat but hyperthetically....

32. When you pay a toll you always need to include a silver piece to show the toll-man you're not a foreign spy. If you don't he'll have some "bandits" attack you down the road.

33. That tax on honey crap, it's because of MEAD, the favourite tipple of the Northern berserks, King Kollip put it up because he is a racist arsehole and also a wuss. Back in the good old days of King Athelfrith he wanted the Norse persecuted he just skinned the buggers and nailed their hides to church doors, none of these oblique fiscal attacks on obscure headache inducing beverages. Nosnikrap will be taxing orange food colouring next to  mildly annoy the Tizer drinking Pixies, Athelfrith would have had a bounty out on pointy ears, day one. They don't make tyrants like they used to, do they? I mean it's not even illegal to point out that Kollip is pillok backwards, if anyone had said 'htirfletha' back in the day he'd have got a spear up the jaxie for being Welsh.

34. Goddamn shit that fell last St. Maple's warn't snow at all.  I put my taper in it and it the frotzy shit didn't melt, just turned black and twisted.  I don't know what they're burning in Barvenna, but whatever it is is fucking the sky up.  I made the mistake of letter Mimsy drink and little and she's been in a right tiss ever since, squinting up her eyes soon as she sees me, nipping at flies.  Ain't been drinking much water neither.

35. Remember when we brained Yosterman and his asshole cousin?  Good, it felt good to finally see some justice done.  Washed our hands in the same river we cast 'em in.  Even the magistrate saw the wisdom in it, in the end.  Never spoke against any of us, just left town like the magpie that he was, trembling in his lambskin.  That's what I tell my lad, when he talks about Magatha and her milks.  That's what I tell him, when he asks what he should do about her.  But the lad doesn't have the stones.  So that's why I'm here, drinking.  A hundred roofs in this town, and not a single man left.

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I wrote the first eleven and last two.  The others belong to 

Max Sellers: 11, 18

Maxime Golubchik: 12-25

Enzo Garabatos: 26-27

Skerples: 28-32

Barry Blatt: 33

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I'm not going to count this as a Patreon post, since I didn't write half of it. 

But I am going to count it as half a Patreon post, to be cashed in the next time I do one of these.





Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Joga and the Tamberlanders

The Joga

The joga are a race of constructs, although they would never describe themselves as such.  They look like stylized humanoids made from brass and wood.  They take pains never too look too similar too humans, as they would never like to be confused with a human, and they would never like a human to treat them as more than a tool.

They live inside churches, and rarely leave their designated chambers.  They are memory-keepers, able to record their memories perfectly, copy them quickly, and trade them among themselves.  These memories are stored as copper rods, which are kept into their chest.  (Their heads are usually full of their bulky optical and vocal apparatuses.)

The downside to their impeccable memory is the size of it.  Each joga's capacity for memory is much smaller than a human's, and surplus memories must be stored outside of their body.  Each joga must decide what knowledge/memories/goals are important enough to keep loaded (in their body) and which must be kept on the bookshelf.

Because daily activities are seldom of any great importance, it is common for a joga to fail to recognize you from day to day.  They are like a microscope--seeing a tiny part of their own history, but with an immense level of detail.

Joga: "Good morning, brother.  Have you come to worship the prophetess (may she live again)?"


Korgoth: "I was here on April 9th, asking about a demonic weasel.  You said you would research it for me."

Joga: "Seek patience."  [finds and inserts the relevant memories]  "Ah yes, the musteloth.  It was described by St. Gwinnious of Fynn. . ."

Each Joga usually keeps an index of their important memories, usually a tome of some sort.

They "replay" their memories by speaking.  Each of them is an impressive caricaturist and vocal impersonator.  It is believed that they can never lie.

They illustrate their memories by painting.  Each of them is a technically masterful painter, and each of their fingers is capable of wielding a paintbrush independently.

Each generation of Joga is built by the previous one.  The secrets of this manufacture are not shared with humans--it is the only secret that the Joga keep.

This is their rationale for such secrecy:

The joga are perfect, and exist only to serve the Church.  Humans are not perfect.  If humans were allowed to create a joga, they might create an imperfect joga, and thus corruption may spread down our line.

It is a mistake to think that they are creatures composed entirely of logic, without any emotion.  They are stoic, yes, but they also mourn, laugh, and grow wrathful.

Above all, however, they insist that they are not alive.  In their own words, they are just "mechanisms undergoing a very complicated unwinding".  They will destroy themselves if ordered to by a high-ranking member of the Church.  (They will cry during this, although they will deny that they feel any sadness.)

Usually, however, the Church will order the joga to simply melt down their brass rods, effectively rebooting the joga.

Because their memories are so easy to isolate and erase, the Chuch usually employs them to identify and catalog heresies.

Because heresies constitute a moral hazard (they imperil your soul's ability in the afterlife), it is not uncommon to spread knowledge of a heresy across multiple joga.

Alternatively, heresies are sometimes summarized through several joga (or more reasonably, the same joga in different states), by wrapping the heresy in layers of summary and encoding (such as translating parts to a different language that the joga currently has no understanding of).

For example, each paragraph of a heresy can be encoded in a different language.  By cycling languages, a joga can access each paragraph quickly and individually, without being exposed to the corrupting effect of the whole.

Joga were purchased from the Tamberlanders, who are their ancestors.

The Tamberlanders

Most people know them as the balloonists: mad, goggle-eyed men who fly across Centerra in harnesses suspending from balloons.

The balloons are (mostly) alchemical, and can fold up and fit into their own backpack, which is attached to the harness that each tamberlander wears.  The balloons quickly break when not in the possession of the tamberlander.  They are tricky devices to maintain, and the tamberlanders maintain their secrets well.

This allows them to drop in and out very quickly.

Their faces are fake, and their fingers are cold.  They will remove both when they believe themselves to be alone.  They communicate to each other by sticking their rod-like "tongue" into the ground--which is inconvenient for a race that spends so much time airborne.  (Or at least, the tambermen you meet in Centerra will most likely be travelling balloonists).

Sleeping is performed in a similar way.  Face in the dirt, anchored by their tongue, feet in the air, body stiff as a rod.

Like the joga, they are primarily made from wood and copper, along with clever prosthetics they use to hide their nature.  They are also a race of constructs, but believe themselves to be people just like any other.  Most are mildly contemptuous of the Church.  Most of the ones you'll meet in Centerra are a bit mad, and tend to have strange obsessions.

They're renowned as scouts and traders.  Most will hire themselves out for a high price, or trade in small, transportable valuables: saffron, sapphires.

In their homeland, power is correlated with having the most descendants, who are (mostly) loyal to their creators.  But since it takes a tamberlander over a year of labor to build a child, and the parts required are costly, it is not easy to quickly raise an army.

Parts can be quickly obtained by killing another tamberlanders and scavenging their parts, but this is as risky as murder is in our society.  Although this does seem to be the prior norm.  Only the current power structure in Tambool seems to restrain them, allowing (because of) aggression against Yog.

Their homeland is far to the north, across the deserts of the Madlands, past the Infinite City of Yog.  They live on the Isle of Tambool, which is not an island but a mountain.  

Tambool is described as an island because it rises above a sea of poisonous fog. The tamberlanders produce the fog themselves through their alchemy, as a defense against invasion.  Being constructs, the poison doesn't harm them directly.

The tamberlanders have declared war on the Infinite City of Yog, which has not yet noticed.  (The messenger is, presumably, still threading his way to the throne room of that great city).  But they will, eventually, and when that happens, it is best to hide behind a giant poisonous cloud.

Until then, their bombing campaign continues, which is similarly unnoticed in Yog.

A city has a great deal of needs, besides food and farmland, and for this reason the tamberlanders are constantly venturing out on their balloons and ekubas (undead horses, usually purchased from Kel Dravonis).

It is not known how the Church came to purchase the children of the tamberlanders, what they paid for it, or how their progeny was ultimately transformed into the (very different) joga.