Why Accept Evil Faiths?

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Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Xerah » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:16 pm

This is a small section from Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms book about how evil clerics are accepted. Often times, it feels like everyone gets up in arms if they see one of these evil clerics around when there is a bit more to it than that.


Good-minded individuals among the common folk usually tolerate evil clergy and their deeds and practices because they must. The servants of evil are personally strong, vicious, or well-connected enough that they are tolerated, avoided, or appeased rather than attacked.

Governments, taking a wider view, put up with evil faiths because hostility won’t get rid of them, and because they can be useful. If, for example, the church of Malar in Cormyr is permitted to breed monsters or hunt beasts only in specific border areas, the Malarites can by their very presence serve as obstacles to would-be raiders from the Stonelands, Archendale, or Tunland.

The presence of such a church would also discourage Sembians from conducting smuggling, livestock rustling, and suchlike along the Thunder Peaks, and cut down on brigands operating across the borders. Genuine marauding monster populations might also be kept in check by the church of Malar. So, the Crown of Cormyr handles the church of Malar in this way. War Wizards often covertly mind-scry Malarite priests to see what they have observed in the wilderlands and to uncover evidence (if any) of their working with foes of the realm for coin or other inducements.

In Cormyr, Malarite priests most often breed monsters for temple butchery in rituals, to sell trophy heads and other body parts, and for the feast tables of the wealthy. The latter two uses are major sources of temple revenue. Malarites also breed monsters for temple guardian roles, deploying them in areas where they can’t get out to roam greater Cormyr, confined to temple property.

Malarite monsters are also popular among nobles as quarries for the hunt. Such beasts are released by Malarites in specific locations at reported-to-the-Crown-beforehand times, for nobles to track down and slay. The Malarites must stand watch to down the beasts if they get away, and the Crown of Cormyr holds the Malarites responsible for any monster-caused deaths to persons not of the hunting party. The War Wizards also watch over all such beast releases, and it is a serious crime to perform such a release without informing them well beforehand—a crime proclaimed into law after the third instance of a Malarite priest hired by one noble family “accidentally” unleashing monsters into the estate of a rival noble family.

All monster breedings must be reported in detail to the War Wizards to prevent two practices. First, this requirement prevents the creation of secret crossbreeds, such as chimera-like beasts of which the Crown is unaware. Second, it prevents the establishment of secret-from-the-Crown armies or packs of monsters, in either temple or private hands.

Violent and evil faiths such as those of Malar and Loviatar get along with governments by worshiping largely behind closed doors and always within agreed-upon limits. A Malarite in Cormyr or any other well-ruled locale wouldn’t think of trying to kidnap innocents, citizens, or government representatives to be part of a hunt. No evil clergy anywhere in a well-ruled land or city would dare to use drugs, blackmail, or other coercion to gain converts or subjects for rituals. A masochist can volunteer to be flogged by a priestess of Loviatar, but neither she nor any lay Loviatan can try to gain any sort of hold over the person to force or strongly influence one’s agreeing to be flogged.

Like anyone else who conspires against the Crown, traitor priests are subject to Crown justice. Churches that openly defy important laws (criminal, as opposed to minor civil matters), or that openly work against the Crown by attacking or mistreating soldiers or Crown agents, are harshly dealt with.

Being holy confers no immunity, as opposed faiths will happily speak out against the “miscreant clergy,” and the Crown can always claim to be trying to be the impartial, secular central balance between various faiths, for the good of all. Only the loftiest holy rank or status wins any form of absolution or light treatment from secular authorities for major crimes—such as killing, torture, treason and sedition, kidnapping, slavery, coercion of the unwilling by force or threats, fraud, and theft.

As a result, priesthoods tend to work against governments only through means of subtle influence—unless they can become the government (at least locally).

In Sembia, for example, clergy of all faiths that are seeking to achieve something most quickly get what they want through bribery or otherwise “playing the mercantile game.” Whereas in Cormyr, the best way to get ahead is either by covert cooperation with noble families or ambitious merchants, or by quietly reaching explicit deals with the Crown and then strictly adhering to them.

“Deals with the Crown” really means with Vangerdahast from 1306 DR to 1371 DR and with Alusair thereafter until 1384 DR. In other words, very carefully following the often unofficial rules set down by the authorities and in return being allowed to do certain things while the authorities turn a blind eye.

Coming to the aid of Crown agents, sometimes militarily, when a certain summons or alarm is raised is a promise that both the churches of Loviatar and Malar have made to the War Wizards. Priests of Loviatar help maintain law and order—and apprehend certain specific individuals, when asked—in Marsember, Arabel, and Suzail, and the church of Malar does the same in rural areas. In return, the Malarites are permitted to hunt certain miscreants, some of the royal deer, specific monsters, and specific sorts of beasts—an activity to which they can invite nobles, the wealthy, and others they hope to convert if they so desire. The church of Loviatar, on the other hand, has earned the right to carry on some of its more enticing rituals for nonmembers in certain clubs and other establishments in hopes of gaining offerings or converts.

No evil church can expect to incite people against the Crown or any law, or publicly practice rituals that scare or harm people or defy the authorities, and continue to be tolerated in the land. The “heavy stuff” goes on behind firmly closed temple doors, and much secrecy and excitement is thereby attached to it.

In public, the clergy of evil deities are models of good behavior. As such, although average citizens respect or fear and avoid said clergy, they will almost always not attack, deride, or dispute with them. Everyone in the Realms believes in all the gods, and so understands and accepts the purpose and major aims of every faith. This doesn’t mean everyone necessarily agrees with or supports every religion, but that they tolerate and understand the place in society each faith occupies.

Likewise, this does not mean every devout worshiper in a faith sees eye to eye with every cleric; indeed, many faiths have bitter internal fights, schisms, and ongoing debates, and many high priests are watched very closely by lay worshipers trying to decide which temple to obey the most, and gift with the most, and which to treat with by doing the bare minimum their beliefs require.

Priests who perform willful murder in public or otherwise “charge into unlawful behavior” in a well-governed realm like Cormyr suffer consequences. Depending on the severity of the crime, they’ll wind up dead (killed by the Crown or others), delivered to the Crown for secular justice, or cast out of the church to appease the authorities. More often than the general public would be pleased to know, such miscreants are hustled covertly out of Cormyr to postings elsewhere by fellow clergy, who then tell the authorities that “internal punishments as directed by the Divine One have been enacted upon the wayward.” For more minor crimes, wayward clergy might publicly repent, and their church make redress to the Crown and wronged citizens.

There have been incidents when a priest who persists in covert self-serving dealings that give his or her church a bad name is caught by Crown agents or hired adventurers because other members of the church have tipped off the authorities as to when and where to catch the offender. Such tips usually end up in the priest being caught redhanded and therefore deserving of on-the-spot justice, particularly if he or she decides to fight.

Clergy of faiths that work against law and order, such as those of Shar and Talos, thrive in socially chaotic areas like Westgate and Sembia, where they can play one group or employer off against another. However, these priests keep a much lower profile in well-policed lands such as Cormyr—where they tend to operate a service wherein you can “pay and take part in this enticing ritual, and the deity will attempt to make your desire real, over time, in some nonspecific manner.” Most of the time, these clergy prey upon worshipers more than they really achieve anything. At least this way, they reason, they can maintain a presence in the land and wait for events to make their faith more important or attractive to factions in the realm. Only then would they dare any open defiance of the authorities.

The priests of Talos in Cormyr, for instance, work magic (in their locked temple rooms) only to add strength and destructive force to natural storms that are hammering areas of Cormyr. They never cause such storms or steer the paths storms take, because they know the War Wizards watch for that. However, if a storm should cause harm to a War Wizard, how is that their fault? (They ask this oh so innocently, after helping a storm to collapse a cottage on a wizard’s head.)

Priests and priestesses of Shar, Loviatar, and Sharess often use amorous wiles to establish personal relationships with persons in authority. Through this angle, they try to sow chaos by suggesting particular deeds, decrees, and ideas to their lovers.

Even priests of the most violently evil faiths are seldom foolish enough to draw daggers and seek to carve up soldiers or Crown agents in the streets. A dead foe is just that: dead, and soon to be replaced by another. An influenced foe, on the other hand, is well on the way to becoming an ally, increasing the sway of the deity.
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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Dr. B » Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:57 am

Thanks for posting this. A great read, and it gives me a thought: perhaps the Team could put a temple to an evil deity smack in the middle of Cordor.

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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Durvayas » Mon Aug 19, 2019 2:39 am

Some faiths are accepted as a matter of nescessity through fear. The furies are the best examples of this. Auril in cold regions. Umberlee in virtually every trade port, Beshaba and Talona all over the place. These deities are accepted and paid homage to out of fear of what would happen if they were disrespected.

It is common to pray to Auril during the winter season in cold regions, especially for safe passage through the mountains.

It is customary to pray at an umberlite shrine and/or toss an offering into the sea before a long voyage to pacify the sea bitch(umberlee).

It is common for wandering beshabites to grant blessings to ward off bad luck in return for tithes.

It is very common for priestesses of Talona to wander the countryside, collecting generous offerings for curing and warding off disease and protection from Talona's wrath.

These faiths are not particularly well liked, but they are tolerated, for woe betide a port city that refuses a shrine or temple to Umberlee. Gods save a densely populated city that blatantly disrespects the mistress of plague and poison. Mock Talos at your peril.

Sometimes fear is just as good as love, so far as the gods are concerned. Fearful tolerance is almost as good as warm acceptance.
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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Irongron » Mon Aug 19, 2019 6:28 am

Some great posts here, that reflect many conversations that have taken place among the DM team, and forum posts I have made myself in the past.. There is so much I can say here, but I'll begin with the most straightforward answer I can manage...

Yes, 'evil' faiths have a far more prominent role in the Forgotten Realms and that is not accurately depicted in the Arelith setting - either in the world or among the players themselves.

I do intend to add more visible temples of such faiths in both surface cities, just as I already replaced the Triad in Cordor, and gave NPCs in the Banite Temple a more 'intellectual' approach to the faith.

Sadly NPCs are all too often ignored, and if changes to the world do shift the attitude of players, they do so only VERY slowly.

Andunor is a great example here, as in creating it I intended to more accurately portray the cities and lore of the Upperdark, and dispel what I considered an unhealthy (and inaccurate) 'drow rules all/lloth or die' culture that bred intolerance of other concepts and stagnated the setting - precisely as can happen on the surface in regard to evil Faiths.

Even all these years later and there those who actively resist the change in the UD setting, and I believe asking surfacers to shift their attitude towards evil deities and their followers is an even bigger ask.

Why? There are a number of contributing factors that I'll likely go into later on this thread, and many of them are hardly the players' fault.

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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Aniel » Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:59 am

Fantastic read. I strongly agree with everything posted here. The 'intellectual ' approach, regardless if it's lore correct or not often ends up being more enjoyable as well I find. The sociable/interactable big bad rather than the kill bash on sight because I'm chaotic evil aligned approach. The plotting and underhanded nature that all forms of evil allow are terribly fun tools that can be used to create that interactive conflict and push narratives forward in a way that isn't always mass PvP.

In other words, nuance is fun and should be encouraged.
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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Dr. B » Mon Aug 19, 2019 1:35 pm

Irongron wrote:
Mon Aug 19, 2019 6:28 am
Sadly NPCs are all too often ignored, and if changes to the world do shift the attitude of players, they do so only VERY slowly.
Give those evil temples quarters for PCs of that faith. Problem solved!

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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Artenides » Tue Aug 20, 2019 10:13 am

Such a great read and it gave me several ideas! Thanks for sharing this Xerah!
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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Germain » Wed Aug 21, 2019 4:41 am

I really appreciate this post! Playing a cleric of an evil god can be challenging... but immensely rewarding. I think your post really helps provide some guidance and understanding of the drivers for this kind of cleric. After a bit of a hiatus (pesky real life) I've really enjoyed being back and look forward to what lies ahead.
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Re: Why Accept Evil Faiths?

Post by Grunf » Mon Oct 07, 2019 7:49 am

Great read, i had in mind Discworld(on what Cord reminds me a bit now) with many of their guilds just in our case faiths and Lord above them balancing with the city order between them. Its great there is a place for this rp, however we should remain open for opposition(of any faith aligment) to be able to counter it as that creates RP and very lively history.

I wonder when new-larger Guldorand gets in the update how much will that disperse players /factions giving them more possibilities/room for different rp.

Andunor was huge leap forward, shame Earthkin version of it didnt come true what points actually how hard is to do that on surface, but i hope that path still be open.

But aye, more player driven temples, possible in same area with their own faith-crier but one that sounds much rarely.😁

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