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The Evolution of Faiths and Worship in D&D Modulesby Blacky the Blackball
Basically, and you probably already know this, no-one ever actually sat down and "invented" Mystara from scratch. It slowly evolved as more and more products were published.
As far as religion, Gods and Immortals; go here's a list I put together a while ago when I discussed the issue with Frank Mentzer. If this is too long for you, just skip to the bottom where I summarise it)...
- 1978 - B1 (In Search of the Unknown) - Contains a worship area with a horned, evil-looking, idol (surrounded by runes and glyphs and with a sacrificial pit in front of it) as a "token gesture to the gods"
- 1979 - B2 (Keep on the Borderlands) - The keep has a chapel, although no details of the worship there are given; and the Caves of Chaos contain an evil temple that appears to be run by demon worshippers.
- 1981 - Moldvay Basic - Clerics are described as having "dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess". They are "granted" spells when they have "proven their devotion to their god or goddess" - it doesn't directly say that the god or goddess grants the spells, but that is the implication. There is no mention of religious structure, although clerics have level titles that mirror real-world religious titles. At this point there is no setting for the game.
- 1981 - Marsh/Cook Expert - Refers to clerics being punished by their god for behaving in a way that displeases the god, and refers to churches, temples and religious structures. It provides The Grand Duchy Of Karameikos as a "sample wilderness", but provides little to no detail of the area, in terms of culture and religion. When clerics build strongholds, half the cost is "miraculously provided by their deity" (assuming they've been faithful).
- 1981 - X1 (Isle of Dread) - Contains a lost temple, but no details of the religion involved. Also contains a map of the area around the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, with the names of countries and a paragraph about the culture of each one. Nothing about the religions of the countries is mentioned.
- 1982 - B4 (The Lost City) - Mentions that the Cynidiceans used to worship three "gods", but now mostly worship a strange monster called Zargon (which appears to be based on Lin Carter's Cthulhu Mythos creation "Zoth Ommog").
- 1982 - B5 (Horror on the Hill) - Mentions a monastary with statues of "long lost pagan gods".
- 1982 - X3 (Curse of Xanathon) - Set in Vestland (a place on the X1 map). Refers to three religions, two of which worship "gods".
- 1983 - X4-5 (Curse of the Desert Nomads & Temple of Death) - Set in the "great waste to the west of the republic"; the maps of which fit nicely onto the west of the X1 map (which makes "the republic" the Republic of Darokin). Includes a temple to a scorpion-man deity, and an abbey with generic symbols and references to "deities of law". Also includes a country run by holy men (worshipping unnamed "chaotic gods") and a "higher being" of some unnamed kind.
- 1984 - Mentzer Basic - All mention of religion is dropped completely. Clerics are now mentioned as being "dedicated to serving a great and worthy cause. This cause is usually the cleric’s Alignment; for example, a cleric may be dedicated to spreading law and order." They are said to get their spells merely from the "strength of the cleric’s beliefs", and churches and gods are no longer mentioned. Clerics now simply belong to "orders" of likeminded individuals. In fact, the game goes out of its way to stress that there is no religion involved, saying "In D&D games, as in real life, people have ethical and theological beliefs. This game does not deal with those beliefs. All characters are assumed to have them, and they do not affect the game." However, the level titles of clerics appear to have slipped through the no-religion mandate and still mirror real-world religious titles. The DM's book, however, suggests that the DM might want to add the presence of gods/religion to their campaign, but advises that if they do so then the gods should be strictly non-interventionist.
- 1984 - Mentzer Expert - Clerics are no longer threatened with punishment for behaving in a way that displeases their god. They are now threatened with being punished for going against their alignment or beliefs - and the punishment comes from their "church" (which is a bit of a slip, since the Basic book took pains to describe it as an "order" rather than a "church"!) However, there is a teasing reference to their punishment possibly coming from an unspecified "higher power". The "sample wilderness" is provided again, but with no more cultural detail - although this time a second map shows a wider area (the traditional "known world") although there's no description of any of the places on the map at all.
- 1984 - B7 (Rahasia) - Despite being set in a temple, the temple has no holy symbols or statues of gods or anything at all to indicate what sort of religion the temple's worshippers have.
- 1984 - B8 (Journey to the Rock) - Refers to its location in relation to the 1984 Expert set. No religion mentioned at all.
- 1984 - Mentzer Companion - Stronghold rules are brought up again, and the cleric is now assumed to be under the control of either a church official or a political ruler; and there is mention of the cleric rising through the ranks of the theocracy of their church; so it looks like the "no religion" is crumbling a bit. Clerics are clearly still religious figures despite the 1984 Basic set going out of its way to make them appear as secular as possible. Immortals are also mentioned for the first time, with players being told of the four paths to immortality, and a couple of spells (Contact Other Plane and Gate) dealing with Immortals. No information is given about what Immortals are, other than that they are the rulers of outer planes and they would be displeased with mortals trying to extend their life indefinitely. A map of a larger area of the Known World is provided (looking suspiciously like a distorted North America), with no countries marked on but with with unexplained shaded areas (although if you've got some of the various X and C modules, you can probably deduce that the areas are showing where the maps for those modules fit in relation to each other).
- 1985 - B9 (Castle Caldwell and Beyond) - Mentions the "Church of the Holy Sanctuary" without giving any details. Refers to a "being" called "Narmyats" which refers to itself as "the only true god" and a "monster" called "Leptar".
- 1985 - X9 (The Savage Coast) - Refers to its map in relation to the 1984 Expert set rather than to X1. The good clerics have no gods described, merely being described as being "Clerics of the Brotherhood of Light". There is a temple, but it has absolutely no description of what religion used it.
- 1985 - Mentzer Master - Immortals are mentioned in more detail, with a note that mortals "may think them to be gods". They are described as having all been once mortal. A map of the complete "Known World" is provided, but it is little more than the outlines of continents with only the names of major empires on it. It is also clearly based on Earth 135-150 million years ago.
- 1986 - Mentzer Immortals - Immortals are described in much more detail, as is to be expected. In fact, some of the material from the 1985 Master set is updated because the Immortal rules were still under development when that set was printed and they have changed. There is no mention of religion and how Immortals fit in with it, except that there are implications that beyond the Immortals there are Old Ones - who are multidimensional entities that may have made the Prime Plane. The "Known World" is stated as actually being our Earth in the past (unless the DM prefers it not to be). There is a large amount of cosmological explanation, but all from a purely physical point of view. Some "demons" are listed (including a female Demogorgon!) but are referred to as mortals who gained immortality in the Sphere of Entropy and who now prefer to use monstrous bodies, rather than coming from any kind of Hell or being connected to any kind of afterlife. There is mention that many of the "gods" (the book puts quotes round the term) of real-life mythology are actually Immortals which are much more powerful than their mythic counterparts.
- 1987 - 1991 - GAZ1 - GAZ14 - Each details the history and culture of an area of the "Known World", including details of various Immortals who have been important in that history and details of the local religions (which usually) include worship of those Immortals.
- 1987 - B1-9 (In Search of Adventure) - A condensed and updated reprint of B1 - B9. The update of B9 replaces the nebulous "Church of the Holy Sanctuary" with the "Church of Karameikos" and the "Traldaran Religion" (both from GAZ1). It also renames "Narmyats" to "Chardastes", and says that Chardastes and "Leptar" are both Immortals. Additionally, it introduces an Immortal called "Thendara" to its updated B3. It also refers to the three entities worshipped in B4 as "Immortals" rather than "gods".
- 1991 - Rules Cyclopedia - Clerics are now people who are "dedicated to serving a great and worthy cause. This cause can be an Immortal being dedicated to a specific goal or attribute; sometimes the cleric is serving only his alignment, and has no interest in immortal beings." The no-religion disclaimer is still there, but is reduced to "The D&D game does not deal with the ethical and theological beliefs of the characters in the game." Clerics are still referred to as joining "clerical orders" rather than churches, although the description of the getting their spells from the power of their belief has been dropped. Clerics still get half of their stronghold paid for, but now the language has been cleaned up and it is their "order" who pay for half, not their "church". Punishment is now referred to as being "either by his order or by the powers that grant him his spells", which is a return to the Moldvay Basic terminology of spells being "granted" rather than acquired through the strength of belief. There's still no mention of gods, though. The black and white map of the "Known World" from the previous Expert sets is reproduced, as is a set of full colour hex-maps of the area; and a full colour version of the outline world map found in the Master set (although this one only labels geographical features, not empires). There is also a full colour map of the "Hollow World", and a mention that the name of the planet containing the Known World and the Hollow World is "Mystara". Although the map still looks like Earth 135-150mya, there is no longer any mention of this.
- 1992 - Wrath of the Immortals - Immortals are described in detail again, and many of the Immortals mentioned in the various modules and gazeteers are described (including those previously described as "gods", such as those from B3). Each of them is given a small bonus that the clerics who follow them receive. Immortals have more miscellanous powers than in the Mentzer set, and one of these is the ability to spend a few points of temporary power in order to hear the prayers that their worshippers have made to them. A couple of ways are detailed in which the Immortals can be in a position where they are no longer able to grant spells to their clerics; and it is mentioned that Immortals who go for a whole year without a single worshipper will fade away and sort-of die. The complex multidimensional cosmology of the 1986 Immortals set has gone, but the Old Ones are still mentioned as possibly creating the world and the first Immortals. All Immortals are assumed to have been previously mortal.
Putting all this together, there are four basic periods:
Period Setting Name Gods? Immortals? Religion? Notes Early modules and B/X Unnamed Yes No Yes Clerics worship Gods and belong to Churches. Early sets in the BECMI series (B & E) and the modules released after them Unnamed No No No Clerics belong to secular Orders and follow "causes", not religions. Later sets in the BECMI series (C, M & I) Known World No Yes No Immortals are apparently sometimes mistaken for Gods. Clerical Orders are occasionally referred to a Churches. RC and WotI, Gazetterrs, and collected reprints of earlier modules Mystara No Yes Yes Beings formerly described as "Gods" are now ret-conned as having been Immortals all along. Clerics worship Immortals and may belong to either Churches or Orders.