The Empire of Auresh has exported its gods and goddesses, along with its people, to many lands. The Celestial Court is really an artificial grouping; the Aureshan Empire is religiously diverse, and most people choose one or two deities to whom they offer devotions, generally on the basis of their personal and professional interests. There are no priests or temples of the pantheon as a whole, and in essence the Celestial Court is simply a term used to discuss, as a collective body, the deities worshipped within the boundaries of the Empire.
The following are some of the most important deities counted in the "pantheon."
Titles: Celestial Judge, the Blind
Portfolio: Boundaries, government, justice, law
Domains: Law, Destruction, Protection, War
Holy Symbol: A sword inscribed on a shield
Favored Weapon: Longsword
Agon (AH-gohn) is lord of laws and boundaries and patron of those who enforce them among mortals. For this reason he is favored as a god of diligent rulers and government officials who shape their policies for the public good rather than for personal gain. His concern with boundaries also grants him currency with soldiers who fight to defend the Aureshan Empire and its colonies from incursions by its neighbors. Within the Aureshan Empire, his clergy have a quasi-governmental standing, serving as legal arbitrators and providing oversight to the Imperial government.
Clerics of Agon frequently are members of the upper classes. A relative handful of Agon's clergy adventure to bring justice to the downtrodden and oppressed, or simply to expose and punish corrupt noblemen, bureaucrats, and trade officials. This branch of the church is led by a core of reputedly incorruptible paladins who comprise the Imperial Order of Agon.
Agon's temples usually are set near the gates of a city, and are often large, impressive buildings that double as courthouses. In rural areas, temples give way to small shrines at the edge of town, which often provide shelter to travelers in addition to providing as places to publish local law and news. Many adventurers gain notice of new employment opportunities through notices placed in these shrines; locals often keep track of land sales and other such information through notes tacked to their walls.
The Church of Agon is hierarchical, with a multitude of different ranks and titles that denote specific offices within it. Sadly, the organizational structure of the church is so byzantine that it defies ready summary. Training usually occurs in a seminary if the province is large enough to support one. Otherwise, it is generally obtained by serving as an acolyte in one of Agon's temples.
Titles: Godson, Remaker
Portfolio: Change, fire, metalworking, renewal, revolutionaries
Domains: Chaos, Fire, Good, Healing
Holy Symbol: A flame over an anvil
Favored Weapon: Warhammer
Purportedly the son of Oceus by a mortal woman, Corones (koh-ROH-nays) is said to have burned his mortality away in his own forge, escaping the clutches of a tyrannical king who imprisoned him and demanded he use his most important discovery, steel, to produce miraculous weapons for a war of conquest. The Godson's ascension to divine rank saw the consumption of his tormentor's palace in flames, and the beginning of a power vacuum that was to be filled by the first ruling dynasty of the Aureshan Empire.
Despite his theogony, the church of Corones is viewed with some suspicion by most of the Aureshan Empire's aristocrats, including the Imperial government. There is justification for this, since the clergy and lay worshippers of Corones have a deserved reputation for stirring up trouble when they feel as if the common folk are being abused. Coronar priests and laypeople are often the spearhead of social reform movements—when a local nobleman begins to adopt tyrannical administrative policies, it's a sure bet that the local cleric of Corones will begin to stockpile weapons and supplies for use in a confrontation between the noble's household guards and a militia of local peasants. For this reason, clerics of Corones are often circumspect about advertising their identities to the community at large, and all of the god's most important shrines and temples are hidden or secret.
In public, Corones is worshipped primarily as a god of fire and craftsmanship (especially metalworking), but the aspects of his faith which embrace change as a means of healing and renewal are still a powerful secondary message in the church's teachings. Clerics of Corones are not always accomplished metalworkers, but all are interested in any kind of technology which might improve the lives of the people in the communities they serve. Although many care for temples and shrines, that's usually a secondary occupation—most operate businesses as craftsmen or merchants, and conduct their priestly duties as a sideline. This is usually a simple matter, since the day-to-day responsibilities of a priest or priestess of Corones involve dispensing good advice to people who ask for it. Priests of Corones usually screen their apprentices carefully, and indoctrinate only those who seem trustworthy and interested. In essence the church of Corones is a cult, in the sense that it is a hidden organization which reveals its truths only through mysteries understood by its initiates, who are known to each other through a selection of mundane symbols and gestures with mystical significance.
Little is known to outsiders regarding the structure of the Church of Corones. The few priests of Corones who advertise their membership in his clergy refer to themselves as "speculative" smiths, distinguishing themselves from "operative" smiths who actually forge metal.
Titles: Lady Moon, Watcher in the Night
Portfolio: Guardians, the moon, righteous wars
Domains: Good, Law, Protection, War
Holy Symbol: A silver disc
Favored Weapon: Falchion
Patroness of those who keep watch against darkness, Derena (day-RAY-nah) is considered Oceus's maiden sister. She is the nemesis of Welerus. Small children wear a silver medallion (or one of white-painted clay or wood, if their parents can't afford silver) to invoke her protection, and her temples operate orphanages, shelters for battered women and children, and way-stations to shelter travelers in dangerous country.
Derena's clergy often pursue their faith through a ministry of works, serving as members of a town or city watch, sometimes multiclassing as fighters or rogues, or patrolling the wilderness against incursions by monsters and evil humanoids, often multiclassing as rangers. They are disproportionately likely to become adventurers compared to the priests and priestesses of other deities because looking after Derena's interests requires them to be proactive in a manner which few except for adventurers can do. The church's administrative and charitable concerns function primarily as retirement posts for those clerics who survive years of adventuring or police action against criminals, monsters, and hordes of ravening barbarians.
The church of Derena also sponsors several orders of paladins, some of which act as templars to defend important strongholds entrusted to the church's keeping, and some of which function as knights-errant who hunt down and destroy evil lycanthropes, monsters, and bandits. All such errant knights wear distinctive silver or white tabards which serve to identify them to friend and foe alike, and can expect to be greeted most warmly by those in need.
Increasingly, Derena has also become the focus of devotion for good-aligned lycanthropes that see her connection with the moon and protection as a sign of her favor and friendship. The kindly forester who contracts lycanthropy as a werebear, if he lives in an area where Derena's worship is known, is likely to take his affliction as a call to her service, and subsequently will make nights of the full moon extremely dangerous for evildoers.
Derena's clergy are hierarchical, although they do not take it as far as the clerics of Agon. The major ranks in the church of Derena are as follows:
Brothers and Sisters of the church are vowed clergy who see to its the day-to-day business. They are by far the most numerous, and serve as acolytes in the church's temples, shrines, shelters, schools and charities while they complete their training as Moonguards. After they make their final vows, Moonguards serve as itinerant holy warriors, sometimes under the leadership of an Acolyte Guardian. The Templar Guardian is an equivalent rank to the Acolyte Guardian, permanently stationed at a fortified shrine and charged with the protection of travelers, often with the support of Brothers and Sisters. Templars Guardian are the lowest of the "retirement" ranks in the Church.
Most Templars Militant are former Acolyte Guardians who retire into an administrative role over their former colleagues. Their areas of concern are specifically to do with the administration and oversight of the church's active works, so they supervise Acolyte Guardians and Moonguards operating near their stations and have little day-to-day concern with the operations of the Church's charities and shrines. It is more accurate to think of them as military senior officers. As a rule, Templars Militant are stationed at large temples, reporting directly to a Temple-Warden who serves as the high priest and oversees the activities of the Church of Derena within the province. The Templar Vigilant is an equivalent rank charged with the maintenance of a small temple or other stronghold under the care of the church. Although Templars Vigilant are the equals in authority of Templars Militant, their duties are less specialized, and there is greater cachet associated with the rank.
Temple-Wardens usually are elevated from the ranks of the Templars Vigilant for this reason, since they are more likely to have administrative experience that is applicable to the non-military, non-adventuring aspects of their profession. The exception to this trend is in provinces where the church's overall scope of activity is most closely aligned to its role as guardians against monsters and barbaric tribes, since the additional focus on military command is helpful to such postings. Temple-Wardens are elected from the ranks of the Templars Vigilant and Militant. All Acolyte Guardians, Templars Guardian, Templars Militant, and Templars Vigilant residing in good standing within the vacant province are allowed to vote in the event of an election.
The Templar Primate is the mortal head of the church. Only one Templar Primate exists at a time, and the office is held for life. Although the majority of the faith's Templars Primate have been elected from the ranks of the Temple-Wardens, any cleric of Derena can become Templar Primate by being elected for life by the Temple-Wardens.
Paladins of Derena fall into a different ranking structure, depending on the order to which they belong, but most are equivalent in rank to a Brother or Sister, a Moonguard, or an Acolyte Guardian. The head of an order usually is considered the peer of a Templar Militant, and in some provinces the duties of Templar Militant are executed by a high-ranking paladin. With the exceptions of paladins who are assigned to the function of Templar Militant for a province, the members of paladin orders in the Church of Derena are answerable to the heads of their orders, who in turn are under the direct authority of the Templar Primate.
Training as a priest of Derena is usually the result of time as an acolyte in a temple or shrine.
Titles: Father of Evil, Lord of Monsters, Master of Secrets, Twister of Flesh
Portfolio: Disease, evil magic, forbidden knowledge, monsters, secrets
Domains: Blight*, Evil, Knowledge, Magic
Unholy Symbol: A black disc inscribed with a silver spiral
Favored Weapon: Quarterstaff
* new domain
To the people of the Empire, Ekar (AY-kar) is the embodiment of all evil. He is the Lord of Monsters, since legend has it that his rape of Merthia spawned Welerus the Eater of Light, along with many of the aberrations that inhabit the dark places of the world. He is the first being to turn magic to dark uses, twisting many of the humanoid races into monstrous parodies of themselves, and he is counted the patron of secrets and forbidden knowledge, earning him the devotion of many dark necromancers and others who lust to know what mortals should not. It is said that his touch on the world is responsible for disease and decay.
Ekar's church seldom makes its existence obvious, but symbols of the faith make it relatively easy for knowledgeable individuals to pick out architectural features and other hidden icons which identify meeting places and other locations of importance. Initiates of the faith likewise share recognition phrases and gestures which allow them to make contacts. Despite this, most of the faithful of Ekar are paranoid and secretive, which typically causes them to operate only in small cells in which every member can keep track of what the others do, and thereby watch for betrayal.
In the Aureshan Empire, Ekar is also worshipped by many monstrous humanoids and other uncivilized but intelligent beings. Among these societies, Ekar is noted more for his association with transformation and disease than for his mastery of secrets. Monster-led cults of Ekar are frequently violent and expansionist, as their members seek to destroy the Empire's farmsteads and clear the way for their own settlements.
Training to become a priest of Ekar is usually handled through apprenticeship. Much like the church of Corones, the Church of Ekar is structured as a cult, and its ranking clergy recruit from their circles of acquaintance after vetting prospective acolytes for suitability. Monstrous congregations in the Chruch of Ekar, by contrast, often operate in the open, and this frequently leads would-be priests to volunteer themselves for training in the mysteries of the Twister of Flesh.
Titles: The Mariner
Portfolio: Astrologers, death, navigators, seafarers, stars
Domains: Death, Knowledge, Travel, Water
Holy Symbol: A compass and sextant
Favored Weapon: Shuriken
The Mariner, Herenus (HAY-ray-noos), is the ultimate guide—he is never lost, and through the stars he gives direction to those who pray to him in the night. For this reason seers, astrologers, and all those who foretell the future revere him, as do seafarers. His protection during nighttime journeys also is expressed in his role as psychopomp—whatever the ultimate fate of the dead, he (or his servants) is believed to pilot the ship which brings the souls of the departed to their final resting place.
Despite his role as a god of death, few but sailors and seers receive funeral rites at the hands of one of Herenus's clergy, since few other professions invite regular contact with the Mariner's clergy. Funeral services for any devotee of the Aureshan pantheon usually involve a general prayer to all the gods, which can be said over the corpse by anyone, even a layperson. A copper coin is left under the tongue of a dead body to pay the deceased's fare aboard Herenus's ship, and salt water is sprinkled on the corpse to symbolize ocean spray. Thereafter, the corpse is usually interred in the ground. This said, people who live in the vicinity of one of Herenus's few sedentary priests or priestesses may prefer to have them officiate at funerals.
The clergy of Herenus is almost entirely composed of itinerant priests and priestesses who serve as guides and protectors to travelers and sailing vessels. Very elderly clerics who are no longer capable of travel often settle as the caretakers of important wayside shrines which double as hostels for travelers, or take up positions as lighthouse keepers, harbormasters, and similar support staff for seafaring operations.
The church of Herenus is only loosely organized. A priest of Herenus's standing with his or her brethren is based partly upon seniority and partly on reputation. Training to become a priest is handled through apprenticeships.
Titles: Dragon Lady, Golden Harlot, Mistress of Coins
Portfolio: Contracts, fraud, gambling, illicit wealth, trade
Domains: Evil, Law, Luck, Trickery
Unholy Symbol: A stylized golden scale
Favored Weapon: Dire flail
Lereina (LAY-ray-EE-nah) is patroness of all those who manipulate the letter of the law to their advantage, or who use deception or trickery to acquire an unfair advantage. Swindlers, crooked gamblers, and organized criminals are among her most devoted followers, but her concern with the disciplined use of manipulation and deceit makes her an attractive figure for anyone who plots in the shadows. Corrupt politicians and other folk who make a living by the exchange of illegal favors also seek her favor.
The Dragon Lady also is a popular patron for doppelgangers, wererats, and other creatures which rely on deception and stealth to survive and prosper. Her church is surprisingly strong in the Mereflow Valley, and many members of the criminal organization called the Velvet Purse choose to send their devotions to the Mistress of Coins.
Most shrines to the Golden Harlot are small, private affairs within the residences of her clergy. Services are usually held here, with the faithful gaining entrance under the guise of dinner guests in order to help maintain secrecy. The clergy of Lereina are highly social, and most write correspondence to their colleagues in neighboring cities, employing ciphers and codes to hide messages within the text of otherwise ordinary-looking letters.
Despite the rigidly hierarchical outlook of its adherents, the Church of Lereina is, organizationally, very fluid. A given priest or priestess of Lereina amasses followers, trains them, bestows rank and duty as he or she sees fit, and exercises such control over them as he or she is able to impose by cunning, intimidation, bribery and force of personality. The result is that Lereinan congregations vary greatly in size, effectiveness and structure even though they are all parts of the same overall organization. It is normal for the clergy of these congregations to be ignorant of the identities of all but their immediate superiors, inferiors, and peers within the larger organization.
Titles: Creatrix, Earth Mother
Portfolio: Crops, earth, fertility, herding
Domains: Animal, Earth, Good, Plant
Holy Symbol: A sprouting seed
Favored Weapon: Sickle
Merthia (MAIR-thee-ah) the Earth Mother is likely the most commonly worshipped deity in the Aureshan Empire, since she receives devotions from almost everyone who makes a living through the fertility of the soil. At the most basic and sincere level, this covers farmers and herdsmen whose crops and livestock depend upon the earth for sustenance. But even powerful nobles pay their respects to Merthia, especially during times of famine and drought.
Most clergy of Merthia are responsible for the maintenance of her thousands of shrines and temples, or itinerant preachers who walk from one farming settlement to the next and provide their help with planting and harvest. The smallest portion of her clergy are adventuring priests who search out and destroy sources of supernatural disease, the undead, and various aberrations that threaten the natural order. Because of their work helping the common folk of the Aureshan Empire to prosper, Merthia's clergy is much beloved by the common populace, who know that the grain they tithe to the church will be held in safekeeping in its great temple-granaries as insurance against famine.
Merthian priests and priestesses have a complicated relationship with druids, who are simultaneously allies (against supernatural disease and other unnatural afflictions on the land) and adversaries (as most druidic orders seek to limit the spread of civilization, intensive agriculture, and logging or mining).
The Church of Merthia is loosely organized, with few differences of rank between the clergy. Most priests and priestesses of the faith are trained in seminaries, after which time they are ordained and find a niche that suits their particular talents and the church's mission. The faith is governed by regular meetings of the clergy of a locality, who elect delegates to a Merthian Convention that handles the affairs of a larger province (for example, the Mereflow Merthian Convention is the meeting of the delegates from local Merthian churches in the Mereflow Valley). In rare cases, a Grand Convention may be called to decide matters which affect several Merthian Conventions, but these are rare enough that generations can go by without such an event.
Titles: All-Seeing, Charioteer of the Sun, Sky Lord
Portfolio: Storms, the sun, travel, vision, weather
Domains: Air, Knowledge, Sun, Travel
Holy Symbol: A starburst inscribed in a circle
Favored Weapon: Longbow
As overseer of daylight and weather, Oceus (oh-KAY-oos) is one of the most popular and important deities of the Celestial Court. As Charioteer of the Sun, he is believed to look down upon the world and take note of the doings of mortals, making him an important god of knowledge, and his eternal journey across the sky, as well as his mastery of weather, makes him an important force in the lives of those who travel upon shore or sea. Similarly, he is much worshipped by those who work the land, since his power over storms, rain, and snow make him a force to be reckoned with if one's livelihood depends on the proper weather for good grazing or harvests.
Despite the Sky Lord's association with travel, his priests are not required to live an itinerant existence. Most clerics are assigned to the care of his shrines and temples, of which there are many throughout the Aureshan Empire and its neighbors. Those who are not so assigned are usually adventurers, often choosing to hunt undead creatures. Owing to his association with the sun, no cleric of Oceus, even evil-aligned ones, can choose to rebuke or command undead. The church of Oceus is nearly as hierarchical as that of Agon, and like Agon's church, its organization is complicated enough to confuse non-clergy. Most clergy of Oceus are trained as acolytes in a local temple or shrine, ordained, and then apply for additional training if they wish to pursue a specialized ministry as an adventurer or rise in the church's hierarchy to become administrators.
A few theologians believe that Oceus is one aspect of a double god whose other persona is known as Herenus the Mariner. These theorists point to both deities' concern with knowledge, travel, and the sky as evidence to support this conjecture. Most disagree, and count Herenus as the brother of Oceus; this is the official stance of the churches of the All-Knowing and the Mariner both. Oceus's priests maintain that at night, Herenus's ship ferries the solar chariot and its driver back to the east to begin a new day, ferrying the souls of the dead to their final rest in the process. Some theologians consider Oceus the husband of Merthia, although others call him merely her lover. According to myth, winter comes when they inevitably quarrel.
Titles: The Mad Witch, the Fickle One
Portfolio: Chaos, luck, madness, magic
Domains: Chaos, Luck, Magic, Protection
Holy Symbol: An eight-pointed star
Favored Weapon: Heavy mace
Few except wizards, sorcerers, and madmen worship Vella (VAY-lah). Superstition suggests that she pays more attention to mortal affairs than the other gods, and that her questionable sanity makes her as dangerous as any force of nature. The Fickle One is as feared as any evil god or goddess, and with reason—those who worship her dread that she will decide to answer a carelessly-phrased prayer literally instead of in keeping with the devotee's intentions. As a result, those who dare address her in prayer often draft their requests beforehand, devoting to their churchgoing habits the same degree of preparation that a barrister might in preparing to appear before a judge in court.
This careful preparation before requesting favors from Vella sparks debate amongst theologians and scholars; one side holds that the exactitude of the Mad Witch's priests is evidence that her devotions were the precursor of arcane magic. Another school of thought suggests that the Mad Witch is really a personification of humanoid ideas about how magic works, and that the structures of prayer common in her church duplicate the rigorous procedural nature of arcane spells. Her priests have been observed to take both sides in this debate. Sometimes the same priest has even been recorded as arguing in favor one viewpoint, only to reverse himself or herself and argue the opposite on another occasion.
Regardless of which side is correct, Vella's church is small, and her clerics are relatively uncommon. Most work as one sort or another of sage or spellcaster for hire. Her lay followers are usually wizards or sorcerers, but among mundane dwellers of the Aureshan Empire and the Mereflow Valley, it has become a tradition to look upon her also as the patroness and protector of fools and madmen as well as arcane spellcasters.
One becomes a priest of Vella by apprenticeship with a priest of Vella.
Titles: Devourer, Eater of Light, Worm of Hatred
Portfolio: Destruction, hatred, rage
Domains: Chaos, Destruction, Evil, Strength
Unholy Symbol: A black serpent
Favored Weapon: Morningstar
With a list of titles including Eater of Light, Devourer, and Worm of Hatred, it is no surprise that Welerus (WAY-lay-roos) is the embodiment of unreasoning, destructive evil. He alone in the Celestial Court is never represented in artwork as a human, and is seldom afforded true worship except by those overcome by insanity or a thirst for vengeance. The hunger of the Devourer does not discriminate; he represents a force of elemental evil, and his goal is to consume all of existence.
True devotees of Welerus are rare, and this especially includes his clerics—the insane and the suicidally vengeful are among the few mortals who are inclined to pay homage to a power concerned with unmitigated destruction and cruelty. Clerics of the Eater of Light usually lead solitary, wandering lives, and many hire themselves out as murderers or mercenaries, or establish themselves as purveyors in curses and other magical retribution for hire. A few attract cults of like-minded adherents and take to banditry and raiding, or else establish secretive guilds of assassins. These organizations seldom last very long, owing to the bloodthirsty, chaotic natures of most of their members.
Because the clergy and devotees of Welerus are so rare, most acts of homage to him are propitiatory in nature. It is common for those entering into an important contract to mingle a few drops of blood upon the ground as an offering to the Worm of Hatred, in hopes that this token bloodshed will appease him and turn his attention away from the contracted parties. The practice is believed to help guarantee that businessmen and government officials will remain faithful to their obligations.
Open temples to Welerus are so rare as to be unheard of; even his secret temples are few and far between, and most begin as temples to some other deity and are re-consecrated to the Devourer after a particularly strong or ruthless cleric butchers their previous inhabitants.
Priests of Welerus usually are apostates, driven to his worship by madness or a lust for destruction but trained as the priests of some other faith. Rarely, a priest of Welerus has enough self-control to attract and train a disciple.