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New Religious Order: The Druid-Priests of Yavannahby John Polacek
This small religious order resides in a small but thick deeply-wooded forest south of the Alfheim town of Shieldtree just a few miles away from the Alfheim border. These descendants of the Nithian Traldar settled there many centuries ago (circa 800 BC), following their religious leader Yavannah on what has come to be known as the Great Pilgrimage. A devout pacifist, Yavannah sought refuge from the gnollish invasions and Hutaakan domination. Seeking to live a quiet life, he embarked on a spiritual journey, leading a number of Traldar north to the unsettled area which has come to be the Republic of Darokin. Said to have been guided by a higher power, Yavannah and his followers persevered through a very long and difficult journey. Often forced to defend themselves against roaming bands of orcs and other hostile humanoids spread throughout the region, Yavannah and his faithful called upon the forces of nature to defend themselves.
The Great Pilgrimage ended when Yavannah led his group into a thickly wooded forest and came upon a beautiful grove inhabited by a Treant named Et'teriyas. Though initially distrustful of the humans, the Treant came to admire Yavannah's bravery and devotion to peace and the sanctity of nature. The humans were allowed to settle in the forest and became close allies of the Treant and others of his kind spread throughout the forest. The druid-priests of Yavannah also formed ties with the elves and were even allowed to participate in the elven ceremonies of weather-change, and are among the only humans who are able to experience the good magic point of Dreamland, which is a mere thirty-some miles from their forest home. In addition, the druid-priests were often called to aid the elves against the twisted magic of Dragontree, and Yavannah himself is said to have put to rest many of the undead who were threatening to overrun the forest.
Throughout his life, Yavannah drew great strength from the forces of nature and his lifespan was far longer than that of normal men. Towards the end of his life, Yavannah embarked on one last final pilgrimage to an unknown destination. It is said that he sought to unlock the ultimate secrets of nature, and that he journeyed to the Elemental Plane of Earth itself where he became an immortal of the Sphere of Matter.
This faith is little-known to those outside of Alfheim, as it is not widely practised in the realm. The tale of Yavannah is not one of a great epic battle or glorious quest for fame, but rather a spiritual journey that resulted in becoming at peace with nature and achieving a higher state of consciousness through understanding the order of life. It is a quiet religion that prefers the isolation of forest and has little need for interaction with modern civilisation. Allied with the powerful treants, their groves are rarely threatened by outsiders. Occasionally, a druid-priest will journey forth from the forest on a holy mission or perhaps just to spread the word of Yavannah.
It is not generally known that this small sect is one of the few traces of the Nithian empire left on Mystara. In fact, even in their own history, little is mentioned of the times before the Great Pilgrimage. History is remembered in verbal tradition and there is a passing mention of the Hutaakans, who are referred to as the "ancient invaders" and Traldar, known as "war-like ancestors" in their tales. The times of the Traldaran dark ages and the gnollish invasion of Traldar are the catalyst for Yavannah's Great Pilgrimage, but the primary emphasis of the druid-priests' history is placed on the pilgrimage itself and the subsequent meeting of Yavannah and Et'teriyas.
Those who have heard of the druidic priests of Yavannah know that above all, these priests believe in the sanctity of life, and are pacifists by nature. Though these clerics are not especially formidable in battle, they draw great strength from their convictions and from their devotion to Yavannah. Though sometimes naïve in the face of the outside world away from their quiet groves, are among wisest in the land and can be formidable when faced with a challenge due to their abilities to draw on the power of the earth. Nature is a druid-priests greatest ally, and though they are not confrontational, when given no choice but to fight, an elder cleric of this faith can be a dangerous opponent, indeed.
Obviously, at the very least, clerics of this faith have a large emphasis on nature-related spells. Under AD&D rules, they may even be played as druids. However, the concept behind the creation of the druid-priest is that it is a hybrid class. While still having the devotion to nature that druids have, followers of Yavannah are of lawful alignment, actively supporting the cause of good, though preferably through peaceful means. This contradicts the AD&D character class of druids who are universally true neutral. Yavannah's alignment was lawful-good (or lawful under OD&D rules) and therefore falls outside the norm of the druid character class.
Instead of being strictly druidic, priests of Yavannah are simply clerics who worship nature. They have the same granted powers of druids and follow the same level advancement rules, but their overall philosophy is not one of neutrality, but of pacifism and opposition to the forces of chaos and entropy. As such, unlike druids, druid-priests are able to turn undead.