The Gods of Dawn
The Gods of Dawn, otherwise known simply as “the gods,” form the foundation of worship throughout Stormfell. With the exception of cultists worshipping primordials, demons, or devils, almost every sentient creature in the Middle World, the Feywild, and the Shadowfell worships one or more of these deities.
In mortal understanding, each deity represents one or two specific facets of the mortal condition. Clergy often refer to this as the god’s “portfolio” or “spheres of influence.” The god Erathis, for example, holds sway over the concepts of cities and civilization, while Kord represents strength, athleticism, and martial prowess. Some deities hold some overlap with the spheres of influence of other gods; in such instances, each god represents a different part of that concept, often colored by the god’s overall alignment.
Most mortals prefer to simplify the gods and religion by breaking things down into easy to understand concepts (relatively speaking) such as good and evil. The majority of mortals view Bane, Tiamat, and Zehir as evil gods, while viewing Bahamut, Moradin, and Pelor as good gods. Although the gods certainly encompass far more complex ideas and philosophies than mere good, evil, or neutrality, most mortal creatures are incapable of understanding the nuances and variations. Thus, no matter what Bane accomplishes or destroys, he represents the forces of evil, and shall always do so.
The Gods of Dawn worshipped today are those that survived the Dawn War and survived the trials and conflicts since that time. A number of gods have perished over the ages, either during the war or since. A few gods have simply withdrawn from any interest in the mortal realms, and thus are forgotten, unknown, or cloaked in layers of mystery.
Interactions Amongst Faiths
Humans, elves, and other mortal creatures understand the gods through concepts of morality – good, evil, and neutrality. When gods interact with one another, their relationships and attitudes are influenced by their overall ethos, but these relationships are far more complex than most mortals care to believe. The true nature of these interactions remains forever hidden to mortal eyes. A related issue centers on relations between different faiths. How do clerics of Bane deal with priests of Pelor?
In general, mortal churches dedicated to the good deities cooperate when necessary and often maintain good relations. They frequently argue and debate over matters of theology and practice, but they share a fundamental agreement in a number of beliefs. At the same time, these different faiths have numerous differences, both in beliefs and practices, and these differences seem more likely to spark bitter, long-lasting disagreements and rancor. In some ways, it often seems that the more similarities two faiths hold, the more frequently and angrily they clash. Fortunately, such clashes almost never involve violence or bloodshed. On the downside, most of these faiths have proven especially stubborn and unwilling to compromise.
The various churches dedicated to evil deities have far less interactions with each other. For the most part, these faiths focus their concerns on what their god wants and obeying his or her whims and commandments. These churches see little to no value in cooperation with other faiths; indeed, their doctrines often teach that such cooperation leads to weakness, vulnerability, and diluting of the faith. Followers of Bane, for example, would almost never consider aiding servants of the church of Zehir or Gruumsh, and vice versa. At the same time, violent clashes between these different “evil” churches are infrequent to rare; after all, if these differing faiths have no need to interact, they have even less need to fight. That being said, when an evil church focuses on a goal or task, they are perfectly willing to resort to violence should the need arise. When evil churches clash, the skirmishes and battles are typically bloody, cruel affairs fought in sewers, alleyways, and basements rather than out in the open.
The various good-aligned churches often come to blows with the evil-aligned churches, especially when their overarching philosophies are diametrically opposed. Servants of Gruumsh (the god of orcs) hold all elves in contempt, and their faith teaches them to slay elves and eladrin on sight. Not surprisingly, this opposes the goals and objectives of the faiths of Corellon and Sehanine, both of whom are frequently worshipped by both elves and eladrin.
Most conflicts between good-aligned and evil-aligned churches are short, secretive, and small in scale. The servants and minions of opposing religions fight in small groups, usually out of sight of local secular authorities. These battles can be just as lethal and intense as those between two evil-based faiths.
For the gods themselves, the Covenant keeps god versus god conflicts extremely rare and brief. The Covenant also inhibits gods from interfering directly in mortal affairs, including a number of penalties and disincentives for a god traveling to the mortal realm. They must remain content to allow their servants, minions, and priests to fight out their battles by proxy.
Except in extremely rare situations, gods do not travel to the mortal realm, and they almost never interact directly with mortals (worshippers or otherwise). There have been occasions where a god manifests a fraction of his divine essence in the Middle World, a form otherwise known as an avatar or aspect. Because an aspect represents such a minute portion of a god’s powers and knowledge, such intervention does not contravene the word of the Covenant (although it most certainly skirts the spirit of that agreement). Nonetheless, most gods make limited use of avatars, and the appearance of one on a battlefield or in a church is considered a miracle.
The vast majority of divine intervention comes in one of three forms: answered prayers, visions, and omens. On rare occasions, divine intervention takes the form of an intermediary or messenger.
Answered prayers consist primarily of the prayers by the god’s clergy. These individuals call upon their god for aid, wisdom, and information. The gods grant the tiniest spark of divine power in answer to these prayers. An adventuring cleric, for example, prays daily for his god’s assistance – both in and out of combat. Such a cleric makes use of his god’s power to pursue that god’s agenda. Cloistered clerics, and priests charged with guiding a congregation of worshippers also receive answers to their prayers. Their prayers focus on healing, restoration, atonement, and blessings. Although such answered prayers are less dramatic or obvious than those of an adventuring cleric, they nonetheless form the backbone of every denomination.
Each god seems to have his or her preferred way to answer or fulfill prayers, and each god reveals his divine essence in a different way. Certain clerics, for example, possess the power to drive away or harm the undead. Other clerics, often those devoted to evil gods, instead hold power to command the undead, or even create such horrors. Sharra the Merciful’s clerics, for example, possess exceptional healing talents above and beyond those demonstrated by other clerics. Clerics of Pelor have powers based in sunlight, as another example.
There have long been stories, rumors, and folktales that a fallen or disgraced cleric no longer receives answers to his prayers. Despite the recurrence of this concept, there remains little proof of its occurrence. Basically, the gods do not deem it their responsibility to sift through every cleric’s prayer and determine who to answer, with what, and when. Except in rare cases, when a cleric – cloistered or adventurer – sends forth a prayer, he receives the answer (in the form of divine magic) he expects. Only a cleric who has forsaken his god and joined service with another deity will no longer receive answers to prayers to his former god.
Visions are granted to people from almost every walk of life. A vision consists of a dream – often waking – or a quick flash of insight. Overall, people receiving visions are laypersons, not clergy members. Visions may foretell of an impending disaster, a desperate need, or a task the recipient must complete. Frequently, visions are open to interpretation, and rarely straightforward. A vision may mean one thing to one person, and something entirely different to someone else. Most churches remain skeptical of claims of visions, and these churches typically denounce so-called prophets or visionaries.
Omens are messages from the gods made manifest for all to see. An omen most often appears in physical form. In general, an omen involves a brief but unusual event laced with deeper meaning. Clerics accept the existence of omens, but they teach that all omens require proper recognition and translation; the typical laborer seeing an omen is liable to misunderstand what he sees. An omen often manifests in a form that holds significance to the local culture or faith. Omens often include elements of nature, such as birds (owls, ravens, and doves are considered most significant), storms (lightning bolts striking certain statues, places, or people), and unexpected coincidences are the most frequent omens.
A number of locations across Stormfell have become famous as oracles or sights of frequent prophecy. The Oracle of Moira the Thrice-Blessed, the Buried Temple at Ur, and the Temple of the Eye, and the Blood of the Saints are among the most famous (or infamous). Entire cults of augers, seers, and fortune-tellers form around such locations. A number of churches maintain diviners and oraculists with specialized training in recognizing and interpreting signs and portents from the gods.
When a god believes a message or event merits special attention, he may dispatch a messenger or intermediary (such as an angel) to appear before worshippers, non-believers, or the general populace. Because such intervention could easily slip into direct involvement, most deities limit their use of angels within the mortal realm whenever possible. Not surprisingly, the appearance of an angel or similar being makes everyone stand up and take notice; such a direct and blatant message is less difficult to interpret, less prone to variable interpretation, and more powerful. If an angel tells a cleric to do something, he would be a fool or insane to refuse.
Intermediaries are sent, on occasion, to test or question the god’s faithful, especially clerics. An angel or similar being may appear in disguise to a priest for the sole purpose of determining that priest’s worthiness.
Expectations for Worshippers
Without a doubt, every mortal creature should know, within reason, what his or her god demands of worshippers. Every member of a faith should understand the actions that please one’s god, and those actions liable to anger him. After all, if you don’t know the rules, you may break one of them without realizing it, and suffer a punishment or consequence you also never expected.
Ultimately, every mortal creature’s existence depends on the grace and benevolence of the gods; even creatures unwilling to or incapable of worship live at the whims of the gods. As a rule, if a worshipper pleases his god, he may receive nothing other than continued life. On the other hand, if he angers his god, he is highly likely to suffer misfortune or worse, possibly for the rest of his (somewhat shortened) life. It is within every mortal creature’s self-interest to understand what the gods want, expect, and demand of their followers.
All (or almost all) organized religions provide, to some extent, codes of conduct for their adherents. In the case of the good gods, such codes are written as church law — the dictates of the god are written for all to read, or relayed in verse for all to memorize. Smaller or less organized religions may lack written codes of conduct, but worshippers are nonetheless expected to learn what is appropriate and what is not. Even the secret religions of the darkest gods observe guidelines and expectations, ignoring them only at grave hazard. A religion without some form of rules is not a religion.
Typically, good gods expect their worshippers to work hard, contribute to their community, strive for the communal good, aid those in need, and protect the defenseless. Exact religious laws vary from religion to religion. For example, a worshipper of Bahamut is expected to obey the laws of his home unless such laws are obviously evil (e.g., legalization of ritual murder). If the worshipper discovers an unjust law, he is expected to do what he can to change or improve the law — speak to an official, join a movement opposed to the law, etc.
A number of the evil-aligned religions operate under the belief that accomplishing anything of value demands inflicting harm on others. These gods are more concerned with their worshippers fulfilling tasks or offering sacrifices (and providing entertainment). Their goals are inevitably inimical to one group or another.
Even most of the good deities frown on their worshippers asking too many questions. Breaking faith or straying outside the tenets of one’s faith may or may not bring punishment. In many cases, the offender may not experience any punishment for the rest of his life assuming his transgression was minor or an isolated incident. Worshippers who continually stray outside the faith, however, run the risk of punishment or censure, ranging from a sudden run of bad luck or failed crops to more severe signs such as sudden aging, inability to heal from injury, blindness, being struck by lightning, or spontaneously catching fire. The more drastic punishments are typically reserved for those who inflict harm against others through their faithlessness, as well as for those causing harm to the faith as a whole.
Not surprisingly, evil gods are frequently more willing (and indeed, pleased) to administer punishment to wayward worshippers. Overall, the specific expectations for any worshipper of an evil god are minimal; breaking the precepts of that faith is likely to result in swift and horrible punishment. An evil god such as Torog is known to possess a dark, cruel sense of humor in regards to punishment. The greatest rewards and punishments, regardless of the deity involved, are reserved for the clerics of the faith.
Clerics carry the heaviest burden in any faith. They operate under the highest expectations of the religion, and they operate under more scrutiny than any layperson. A cleric who succeeds in his assignments and expectations is merely performing his job, and should not expect special commendation or notice. On the other hand, a cleric who fails at his tasks or falls outside the tenets of his faith suffers harsher punishments than an ordinary worshipper. Most organized religions include a hierarchy designed to oversee the servants of the church, guide them in their work, and keep them on proper course – and administer discipline in need of it.
There are, of course, a few occasions where a cleric who performs exceptional service may be rewarded in some way, either by his church hierarchy or, more rarely, servants of his god. Many clerics, especially amongst the good gods, strive to earn their way into eternal service with their deity. The thought of spending the afterlife in service to one’s deity brings comfort to many clerics. Followers of evil gods, on the other hand, are often less interested in the afterlife and more focused on the here and now and earthly rewards.
Expectations for the Gods
For most gods and their worshippers, there exists a covenant of sorts, an agreement. Often, this agreement is spelled out, in exhausting detail in the faith’s holy canon. Not only does the church’s canon spell out what gods expect from servants, they frequently spell out, or at least suggest, what worshippers might expect from their gods.
Most religions do not promise their servants and worshippers much of anything on a day-to-day basis, and this holds true for faiths good, evil, or in between. The underlying expectation is simple: worshippers serve their god not out of expectation of earthly reward, but because such worship is appropriate and necessary. Some faiths hold out the promise of a reward in the afterlife, or a vague suggestion of unspecified rewards in life, but few promises are ever offered.
Despite this, most worshippers maintain certain expectations of their gods. This is not viewed as an exchange of services, i.e., if I worship you, then you do something for me in return. Instead, this is viewed as a benefit of membership; just by being part of the god’s faith, you receive protections as befits your god’s nature.
These expectations establish a baseline for the faithful to understand their world and their lives in it. If you know to some degree what the gods will or will not do, you can take a measure of comfort from that knowledge. Put another way, you know the rules – the do’s and the “thou shall not’s.” For example, if you take Pelor’s name in vain, you will not be burned to ash where you stand. Taking the Sun God’s name in vain is not a good idea and earns you some penance, but it does not bring down his wrath if you have a slip of the tongue. On the other hand, if you speak Torog’s name aloud, there is a chance (small though it may be) he may appear and exact a price for your impunity, and drag you away to his dungeons for an eternity of torture.
As far as the lay populace is concerned, their prayers are rarely answered in obvious ways. If you pray to Melora for rain, for example, the goddess will not send rain merely because you asked. She might, however, gently nudge a druid or cleric to the region to use his magic and create rain – or, she might ignore your request entirely and allow drought to continue. Likewise, if you pray to Bane for the death of a hated baron, he will not commit murder at your behest. Instead, he may provide you with the best possible means for committing the murder yourself; after all, the gods help those who help themselves. No one should expect the gods to do all the work for him or her.
As the saying goes, the gods do answer all prayers, but often the answer is “no.” Some gods respond to a prayer with a vision or a dream. Other gods seemingly never respond, and thus possess the reputation for being aloof or uncaring. A few gods have a tendency to answer prayers, but never in the way the requestor intended. Some gods have a sense of humor, other gods grant worshippers not what they ask for, but what their hearts truly seek. Most of the time, however, the gods expect mortals to rely on their talents to meet their needs.