What is the deal with my cleric’s religion?
— Question #1 from Jeff’s 20 quick questions for your campaign setting.
|Image from Dark Classics|
Clerics are members of an ancient order of holy warriors dedicated to the power of law. In legend, the order originated as the elite judicial and martial arm of a mighty and just empire. They were betrayed by a wicked emperor who was jealous of the order’s influence. The clerics survived underground, passing the Mysteries of Light down from teacher to student throughout the ages. The empire which birthed the order has long since been lost beneath the waves or smashed by mountains that fell from the sky (accounts differ), but the clerics believe in a prophecy that the True Empire will rise again, ruled by just High Priests.
Now, however, clerics are rare, and as self-appointed guardians of the law are often persecuted. Because of their tendency to oppose corrupt potentates, a cleric’s relationship with secular authority is often problematic. In these degenerate times, rulers are rarely better than brutal warlords concerned only with strength of arms, or sorcerer kings that use black magic and dark pacts to rule briefly before losing control of the power they have harnessed. Thus, the remaining clerics tend to be itinerant traveling demon hunters, though there do exist strongholds ruled by High Priests of the Light which claim the authority of the True Holy Empire. Like wandering marshals in the wild west, clerics can sometimes be found traveling the borderlands, offering their services as judge and exorcist to the fragile outposts of civilization. Clerics are often welcomed by the people of such frontier towns.
As clerics belong to an order of mysteries, they must be initiated. This can be done by apprenticeship to a wandering cleric, joining the order at a High Priest’s stronghold, or (more rarely) by discovery of Holy Scriptures of the Light (sometimes on the person of a fallen cleric or overgrown shrine). As the order is handed down by lineage, from teacher to student, it is considered a great tragedy when a particular cleric’s lineage ends with no new initiates. Thus, people sympathetic to the faith but not initiated may feel a duty to continue a dead lineage if a fallen cleric is discovered. Such self-initiates are often distrusted by more established clerics until they prove themselves.
The mysteries must never be disclosed to outsiders, and the true source of holy power is a secret. Clerics powerful enough to fully comprehend the mysteries may no longer even exist. Many outsiders believe that clerics worship a sun god, and much of their iconography does include symbols having to do with light and the sun, though sages have pointed out that the sun is also a potent weapon against many powers of chaos (especially the vampire, a traditional foe of the order).
To increase in level, a cleric must consult with a higher level member of the order. Often, at least for the first few levels, this will be the cleric’s initiator, though if the cleric was self-initiated, or high level, this may require a more extensive pilgrimage. This requirement can also be satisfied by venerating a shrine of the appropriate level (this is based on the level of the entombed cleric). The low level scriptures are written in vernacular language, but the more puissant and subtle are written in a hidden language which only initiates of the light may read or speak. Clerics gain greater fluency in this hidden language as they rise in level. It is common superstition that reading hidden scriptures will drive the impure mad.
In addition to the standard draws of adventure, clerics have several other objectives. Many ancient shrines of the order have been defiled by the powers of chaos, usurped by the vanity of petty gods, or destroyed by jealous black magicians. Clerics gain acclaim by purging such shrines of evil and reconsecrating them in the name of the light. Clerics also value recovering scriptures (written in the secret language of law) or holy relics (the remains of fallen clerics). The shadowy underworld and gloomy forests are littered with the remains of brave champions of the light. Accumulating treasure is also just as important to the cleric as it is to other adventurers, as wealth is required for building a stronghold and raising armies against the powers of chaos.
Clerics believe that worldly power is fully legitimate only as the True Empire, though they will often happily work with other rulers for the sake of expediency. Thus, for most the highest calling is to build a stronghold, especially if by doing so they manage to reclaim some of the chaotic wilderness for civilization. Not all clerics choose to follow this route, though, and instead wander the wilderness unceasingly, offering their services to a world still smothering in darkness and sorcery.
Cults and worshipers of other powers exist, but such priests and cultists are not available as PC classes by default. They may be discovered through play though (and will certainly use different rules than the cleric class).