Saturday, February 26, 2011

Law in Gothic Greyhawk

In the beginning, Oerth was without form; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit moved upon the face of the waters…

The first mythic act of the divine being is to bring order to Chaos, to create the heavens and the Oerth.  This is the second article adding detail to the cosmology of Gothic Greyhawk.  Last week, when we looked at Chaos, we touched on the Elemental Chaos that existed before the world.  This week, we'll look at the "one god" , the divine realms, and the role of Law in Gothic Greyhawk.

There are two principle divine realms that concern the mortals of Gothic Greyhawk.  The realm of Heaven is the abode of the god called Pholtus, who revealed himself as the creator to the great prophet of Nyrond  cy320 (when Nyrond threw off the yoke of the overlord of Aerdi).  The worship of Pholtus swept through the west lands with evangelical zeal.

Theologists debate the nature of Pholtus - is he the uncreated prime mover, or an outside being that enforced order on a fallen material universe when he imprisoned the Chained god?  Were the titans and Tharizduin the creators of the world, and Pholtus only the savior of man?

In the northlands of the Theocracy of the Pale, Pholtus is also called the Blinding Light; in the Archclericy of Veluna and places south, he is referred to as the Eternal Spirit; Velunites do not call their deity by name.  The two denominations are rivals, and disagree on theological differences about the nature of their god and the universe; however, both churches put aside their differences in the face of larger external threats, and there are many.

Heaven - Home of the Blinding Light, the Eternal Spirit
The churches of Veluna and the Pale both preach of an eternal, unchanging heaven for believers that uphold a life of goodness, virtue, and law.  They claim Pholtus is the sole god in the universe, and that all other "gods" worshipped by the pagan folk of Greyhawk are demons or mere spirits; evangelism and conversion are important church functions.  They believe only followers of the light will achieve eternal salvation.

A visitation by Pholtus?
Pholtus operates in the world through the actions of prophets and champions gifted with divine powers (clerics and paladins, respectively).  Both the Theocracy and Veluna have large bureaucratic churches managed by non-spell casting clergy.  Actual spell casting ability is bestowed by angelic messengers of Pholtus on prophets, mystics, and the unlikeliest of people.  Guided by divine messengers, these god-touched folk become clerics and get thrust into the front lines of the cosmic war against Chaos.  The churches find and draw clerics into their sphere of influence, and many clerics join the hierarchy, but there have been famous clerics that operated outside of the church institutions as reformers.

Pholtus is served by a host of divine messengers known as angels; his other heavenly servants are saints.  Devout clergy and spell casting clerics  over the past few centuries have been canonized as saints, and can intercede on behalf of the faithful and inspire clerics.  One of the most famous of these saints is Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel.

The evil one looks like David Warner
The Nine Hells
Similar to Heaven, the Nine Hells are a divine realm in the astral sea.  Both the realms of Heaven and Hell are built on principles of cosmic order and law; however, where the realm of Heaven promises eternal good for the faithful, the Hells are a place of punishment and torment.

Theologists of Oerth argue about the nature of the Hells; is Asmodeus a fallen angel that turned against the creator with an army of faithless angels?  Are the Hells part of a divine plan - do the devils play an important role as Accusers of the mortal races, to lure the unworthy off a righteous path so only the worthy advance?  The devils are in the forefront of the war between Law and Chaos, fighting demons in an eternal struggle known as the Blood War.  Are the devils the ancient soldiers of Law, turned into monsters due to their constant fighting, or is their rivalry due to something else?

Regardless of their origins, the devils delight in laying snares for mortals.  Limited to haunting lonely crossroads or appearing through mystic summons, they  act as testers, tempters, and deceivers - especially versus followers of Pholtus.  The lords of Hell are worshipped from time to time by the misguided, and grant limited powers to anti-clerics and witches.  There are ways to sign a pact with the devils of Hell, wagering one's soul for  temporary youth, knowledge, wealth, or power; such victims may never be Raised or Resurrected.  The devil doesn't give up his due.

Good vs Evil
I'm using Alignment as allegiance - more specifically, alignment is a supernatural aura for creatures that draw power from either the divine realms (Law) or Chaos.  Clerics (both good and evil) are touched by Law, and magic users and elves are touched by Chaos.  That doesn't mean they have to act a certain way - just that they're detectable as users of power.

Good and evil are important concepts in the game world, I just don't want to manage them as game concepts  with rules tied to them.

Clerics without gods?
In a setting where the powerful churches espouse monotheism, where do "other clerics" get their powers?

You may recall that in Deities and Demigods, there are provisions for demons, devils, and lesser beings to grant some clerical spells.  Greater gods are the only beings that can grant 7th level spells.  Lesser gods can grant 6th level spells.  Demigods grant 3rd-5th.

Clerics of Pholtus will be the only ones able to cast 7th level spells -though I'm not sure how many 17th level clerics are hanging around right now!  Some of the powerful saints (like Cuthbert) will be able to grant 6th level spells.  I'd like to limit followers of demon princes or arch devils to 5th level spells, where possible.

A History of Greyhawk Deities
Long time fans of Greyhawk may think this monotheistic approach is too far out there.  What the heck is Beedo thinking?  What about Obad-Hai, Pelor, Hextor, Nerull and the rest of the "beloved" Greyhawk deities?

Ironically enough, the earliest campaign used deities from the real world - Zeus, Odin, guys like that.  Gygax introduced some monotheistic, faux Christian churches thereafter, such as the church of St Cuthbert, or the Church of the Blinding Light (which later became Pholtus).  You can see the faux-Christian influence in early locales like Hommlet, which feature tension between the church of Cuthbert and a pagan Old Faith.  This makes sense, seeing as the cleric is basically a medieval templar with a touch of Van Helsing.

The World of Greyhawk was published in 1980, but the Greyhawk deities that became so popular in later years (I'm thinking of 3.x Living Greyhawk, for instance) weren't published until 1982  in Dragon magazine, and then were added to a published version of Greyhawk in the boxed set of 1983.   We do know a few demigods were in the campaign earlier, such as the ones that were freed in the depths of Castle Greyhawk.

However, I'm fairly comfortable using the early version of the published World of Greyhawk, without the gods that were tacked on later.  Interlopers!  I'll likely work them in here and there where possible (not as gods, but other types of beings - like St Cuthbert as an actual saint).

Further Development and Notes
Cosmology, religion, the role of clerics - these are big topics.  I had created a large list of saints, religious orders, and tenets to give the church of the Eternal Spirit a bit more depth and interest; detail on the churches may make future appearances.

When I first created my alternate Greyhawk timeline, I put the great prophet of Nyrond at the time of the revolution from the demon-infested Great Kingdom; using a historical model, that would put the churches in the same mode as the late Roman era in earth history.  Spirited philosophical differences have arisen as the churches confront theological questions, but the decadence and corruption of the papacy in the middle ages is remote and distant.

To develop gothic themes, it was important to me to have a pseudo-Christian church in Greyhawk, replete with gothic cathedrals, stained glass windows, and that rich supernatural atmosphere of the medieval church.

As for Hell, I wanted to keep the origins ambiguous, but otherwise plan to use Hell pretty much as is (Ed Greenwood's Dragon articles detailing Hell do just fine).  The Monster Manual is woefully missing the archetypical silver-tongued "tempter" devil, so expect to see one in an upcoming Mythic Monday.


  1. Like this. As I am currently thinking of building a new world & campaign fro future use, I have been thinking about creation myths and gods, and posts such as this certainly help focus my mind. Look forward to hearing more.

  2. Forgot to say: like the new banner :)

  3. Here's a potential twist on the Heaven/Hell thing: if you're going pseudo-Christian, why not take the Creator / Satan / DIVINE PLAN!!1! dynamic to its logical end and say that Hell is a bastion, not of capital-E-Evil, but of a sort of hyper-Machiavellian pragmatism?

    On the level the PCs operate at, after all, they generally aren't going to be Good Guys. They're a team of amoral Murder Hobos motivated primarily by self-interest who just happen to man the walls between civilization and the wild, essentially doing terrible things that allow everyone else to live relatively gentle lives. The adventurers, no matter how stained their hands are with the blood of goblins, giants, and other sentient beings, are feted as heroes.

    So why not the same dynamic on the cosmic scale? If the most fundamental conflict in the cosmology is forces of Order attempting to keep all of existence from dissolving back into Chaos, then the army of "devils of Hell" fighting the "demons" of Chaos are the divine equivalent of the PCs!

    So just as the PCs do terrible things that protect civilization, and lure hirelings and henchmen into their ranks with promises of treasure -- so do the devils do terrible things that protect the universe, and lure mortal souls into their ranks with promises of power. Just like PCs looking for new hires, the devils look for mortals who are most willing to tough it out in horrible circumstances, mow down enemies without hesitation or mercy, and generally Do What It Takes. They don't tempt mortals with power as a trick; they're just actively recruiting for soldiers ruthless enough to do the forces of Law some good. The Devil is literally doing the Creator's dirty work.

    That makes a lot more sense to me, in context, than some sort of borrowed Zoroastrian dualism.