As well as the main family of deities, the world of Shail is home to divine beings who walk on the surface inside the Gloom Barrier, or sometimes show themselves as shadowy spirits before they succumb to Shail’s enchantment. Even the True Gods must lose their immortality if they descend, so when they walk on Shail they possess mortals or inhabit avatars.
Divine spellcasters on Shail fall into one of two major traditions: The worshippers of the True Gods, represented by organized clergy and churches; and the shamans of the Million Gods who propitiate countless spirits and ghosts. Shail’s Druids, the followers of the Gods on Earth and the philosophers comprise other minor traditions.
Clerics of the True Gods are commonplace in every culture, though some gods are more important than others to each of the peoples. These clerics manifest divine magic, as do the tribal shamans and witch-doctors who conjure the millions of spirit beings. Some heretical scholars even believe that divine power comes from within, and that the god or spirit is merely a necessary catalyst. After all, the flickering ghost of a bone-waving shaman’s father seems to grant the shaman as much power as mighty Khiro gives to his sun-priests. Whatever the case, the common people recognize the power of the servants of the gods, and treat them with respect.
THE GODS ON EARTH
HALAHNA (Neutral Good) Halahna is the Lady of Mercy, the goddess of healing, life and compassion. Her bird was the crane but is no longer. She was created by Shail from earth and the blood of all mortal peoples, and this bond with the mortals was to prove her undoing. During the catastrophe, Halahna was so distressed by the plight of humanity that she passed through the Gloom Barrier in all of her glory to aid them personally. Stripped of her divine powers and unable to pass through the barrier again, Halahna now wanders the surface of Shail as one of the Gods on Earth. She is of course a supremely powerful and ageless being, still able to apparently grant miracles to her few remaining faithful, but she is now mortal and theoretically can be slain.
Domains: Healing, Good, Protection
MANALAUN (Neutral Evil) Manalaun was a mighty human wizard a thousand years ago who was obsessed with uncovering the secret of immortality. In a famous story told across the world, he used magic to trick Luna, herself the goddess of magic, into revealing to him a means to transcend his mortal form. Once Manalaun gained immortality people discovered that if they prayed to him miracles were granted, and a priesthood was formed, the Cryptika. It is a strange organization, more a circle of wandering agents seeking forbidden knowledge, with Manalaun himself as first among equals. All Cryptiks (as they are known) are charged first with discovering a way to aid Manalaun to pierce the Gloom Barrier.
Domains: Knowledge, Divination, Trickery
THE EXILE (Chaotic Good) The Exile is a spirit of the Elves, a being made up, it is said, of their hope to one day return to their home world. He has grown in power as the Elves degenerated from their original form, and his ascension to godhood tragically happened around the time the last known void craft was destroyed by Orcs. He shows himself to Elvish tribes in times of great need, where they must escape from overwhelming danger. The Exile is not a warrior so much as a saviour – he leads the Elves to safety when they need him the most, sowing discord among enemies and confounding their path. His clergy are known as Callers. They lead and defend tribes devoted to The Exile and call on him for aid when all seems lost.
Domains: Travel, Luck, Knowledge
THE GOD OF GHOULS (Chaotic Evil) The last of the Gods on Earth is the God of Ghouls, a hideous being who rose to immortality amid the fear and chaos of the Bone Circle’s failed rite in Felor. He lurks at the heart of that shattered nation, served by the dead, and his motives are unfathomable. All who live in Felor or travel through that cursed place are at risk of being taken before him as a sacrifice. It is said he is grotesquely fat and depraved in the extreme, though since none have seen him and lived this seems to be little more than conjecture.
Domains: Evil, Death, Destruction
THE MILLION GODS
Shail’s world is home to a vast array of spirits. Ghosts, ancestors and nature spirits all receive worship from humans and non-humans alike, and their priests are not lacking in miraculous power by any measure. It is unknown whether these beings are born from worship, awoken by it, or have always existed somehow.
The Gloom Barrier acts as a filter preventing non-native gods and arch-outsiders from manifesting upon Shail in any real way. Thus many of the mighty gods of the humanoids such as Gruumsh and Corellon Larethian are mere house-spirits on Shail, always seeking more worshippers to allow them to pierce the Barrier. Some unscrupulous folk deal also with demons, devils and even the strange beings of the Outer Realms, temporarily finding ways (typically arcane) to pierce the Gloom Barrier and allow these hideous things to manifest for a time. Shail and Avrantos’s enchantment is strong however, and as yet no major incursions have taken place.
Before the catastrophe the Empire of Khiroa was home to a vibrant and flourishing community of philosophers; seekers of wisdom and reason in the natural world. There were many schools of philosophy, each one founded by a brilliant philosopher and engaged in constant debate with the other schools and with the servants of the True Gods. The intensity of this debate ranged from cheerful arguments on street corners, to formal public contests, to the discrediting of opponents and sometimes even assassination. Some of these schools, though shattered, are still active, such as the Thalamites who teach that all the Gods are only metaphors and that divine power comes from within, or the Physics, who claim that miracles are possible if one has a thorough understanding of the natural principles of the universe.
Many philosophers are able to perform feats normally deemed miraculous, and the greatest among them can rival an Arch-Priest of the True Gods in power. In the heady days before the catastrophe new schools of philosophy flourished and imploded every day in Khi City, but now human philosophers are rare. Without the urban infrastructure to attract pupils the majority of them can easily be mistaken for mad hermits.
Philosophers among the non-human races are generally regarded as strange or blasphemous by their fellows, though the Dwarves have strong philosophical communities – the children of Shotek have always been curious folk. Likewise, the clever Gnomes and Goblins throw up their share of philosophical minds. The Elves are generally uninterested in philosophy, and any Orc who denies the existence of the Dread Mother is destined for an unhappy end. The servants of the Gods (of all stripes) universally regard philosophers with fear and disdain, as they are living proof that the Gods are not the only means to divine power. Despite this general antipathy, some followers of Shotek and Luna come perilously close to philosophy in their musings.
The Khi Philosopher Balti the Unhinged was the only mortal ever to approach the truth about divine power: He posited that the world itself was infused with the divine spark of Shail, and that while the Gods could channel the spark to their followers at will, any mortal born on Shail actually had the capacity to channel this power themselves. Unfortunately Balti attracted no disciples, and was poisoned by a rival a year before the catastrophe. His writings were lost.
The Gods on Earth provide ready-made super-powerful villains or allies for the campaign, as well as going some way to reinforce the somewhat dark flavour of the world: the goddess of healing is no longer a goddess, and selfish beings of vast power lurk on Shail. I probably got the whole Halahna story from the Forgotten Realms Time of Troubles, although gods becoming mortal are hardly rare (*cough* Jesus).
The Million Gods are essentially a license for players who want to invent their PC’s own deity, and for GM-invented cults that can’t be predicted by the players! Plus I like the shamanic concept.
I got the idea for the philosophers from Gore Vidal’s historical novel Julian, about the neo-platonist Roman emperor Julian. In that book various Greek philosophers demonstrated divine power, despite the fact that they claimed the gods were metaphorical. One particularly memorable mention was of an Etruscan who could shatter stone with a blow from his hand. It gave me the idea of atheist miracle workers. This is a great novel if you’re interested in ancient religion.
Right, so that’s more than enough for now about gods, mythology and religion. I think it’s time to move on to recent history, so I can lay the foundation for describing the races, factions and magic of Shail in detail.
There have been a few historical hints so far, so I think it’s time to make it all clear.