Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ages of Lingusia: Guilds, Cults and Societies in the Empire Era

Note: some of this material appeared in detail in Keepers of Lingusia; below is the modified entry, to reflect the earlier timeline.

   Many of the organizations of the old era are gone, eliminated forever due to the circumstances of war, the Plague of Unarak and the long dark ages. In their place are a handful of organizations and cults which now play an important role in the politics and schemes of 3500. There are a number of such groups not listed here that are particular to each region of the Middle Kingdoms; see the Gazetteer for more details on those regional orders (and variants of those below). The following groups have influence felt throughout the Middle Kingdoms, and may serve as suitable orders of membership for characters in some cases, as well.

The Esoteric Order of Nistur
   Also known as the Order of the White Robes, this esteemed but reclusive organization is comprised entirely of scholars and priests who follow Nistur, the god of knowledge, a deity who reveres knowledge and history above all else. It is primarly thanks to this order that any of the ancient history and texts of the world have been preserved, including the sacred Idean Codices.
   The Esoteric Order has three major bases of operation, including the Temple of Nistur in Hyrkan’ien, a Monastery outside the walls of Octzel’s Capitol city, and a prominent temple in the port city of Yllmar.
   The Esoteric Order spends a great deal of time trying to gather lost lore, as well as using its scholar-agents to uncover ancient mysteries. They are very concerned with the manifestation of chaos in all its forms, a directive the order believes has been handed down from Nistur himself, who was a benevolent agent of Order long before he ascended to divinity. Because of this, the order is known to employ dedicated and trustworthy mercenaries and adventurers, sending them out to regions where Chaos seems to manifest, in an effort to purge the region of whatever is causing the outbreak.
   Adventurers who become affiliated with the Esoteric Order will usually gain a sponsor, who will seek to establish their level of skill and send them out on tasks suited to their abilities. If the group consists primarily of noncombatants he will send them off to engage in the pursuit of lore and lost history. If they appear to be competent or martially inclined, he will be more likely to send them to seek out locations where outbreaks of Chaos are rumored. Such adventurers are expected to find the beast(s), temple(s) or artifact(s) that are causing the wellspring of Chaos and destroy or subdue them as necessary.  
   Many wizards study under one of the temples or halls of study dedicated to Nistur, and receive tutelage from the order. The cost of membership is steep, but the order will make concessions to young entrants who display a keen talent for sorcery.

The Fire Knives
   The Fire Knives have long served as the secret assassins and cultists of Haro, the ancient assassin god, and have remained so to this date. Their cult is indomitable and persevering, surviving even the grand purge of 1110, during which the Emperor Edelaird of Hyrkania sought to destroy the cult but was unsuccessful, for the Fire Knives simply disappeared for a time, only to resurface when once again their dark deeds would prove most nefarious and profitable.
   Among the sundry cults and guilds of assassins spread throughout the world, the Fire Knives have remained the most secretive and formidable. Steeped in an ancient tradition of lawless honor, shadow sorcery, and an unyielding dedication to the dreadful mercenary god Haro, the Fire Knives have existed for at least as long Hyrkania has been known by such a name. The origins of the cult are shrouded in mystery and only the eldest, most vile members of the cult are privy to the unwritten tales of their sordid past. To be a Flame Knife is to embrace evil, and to take sides only with your self. Even one’s own allies are considered fodder for the ultimate goal of seeking the divine favor and ascension promised by Haro.
   Those who have investigated this cult know some facts, and most successful entry level members of the Fire Knives also know such facts. It is known that the Fire Knives have hidden guilds within several major cities of the Middle Kingdoms (Capitol Octzel, Eastonia, Hyrkan’ien, Naminthia, Starthias and Hyrendan) as well as open recognition and acceptance in other lands such as Galonia. It is known that the Fire Knives are affiliated, at least peripherally, with similar Eastern cults from as far away as Al’jhira, based on the similarities of their prayers, rituals, and mantras to such other groups.
   The Fire Knives revere Haro with a fanaticism that precludes meaning in their own existence, but among the fodder a select few seem to be granted visions, in which it is made clear that their true purpose is mercenary, self-serving, and that they are to be the true guiding minions of Haro's will.
   Fire Knives are all about the conquest and subjugation of the world through fear, murder, and raw, unchecked capitalism. Many Fire Knives are mercenaries, merchants, and con men of a wide variety. A smaller number are mages, professional assassins, and some even rank among nobility. All believe unerringly in the cause of their illuminated assault on the world, and the secret propagation of fear and chaos as the true means of control in society. All of them selfishly believe that they and they alone, will ultimately be granted favor from Haro and elevated to the rank of spiritual soldier or even avatar at his side. This is a cult of evil, and should be exterminated by all who oppose such malevolence.
   The Fire Knives have an ancient symbol, which varies only slightly from one region to the next. It is always of a shield, upon which is depicted a starscape showing the chief constellations of the Huntsman and the Wolf in highlights. Crossing the shield are a flaming bow and dagger with jagged edges. If the symbol is to be seen as a warning or threat, then the weapons are placed in front of the shield. If it is used as a secret sign or reflects safety, then they are placed behind the shield. All Fire Knives learn a kind of Thieve's Cant, which is comprised of sign language and a sort of colloquial half-speak intermixed with a clever use of odd kennings to communicate with one another.
   Fire Knives come from all wakes of life. Disciples of the cultic guilds are necessarily drawn from all strata of life, but only practiced, skilled professionals with a cunning and will to use it are granted entry into the inner sanctum. A Fire Knife can be granted such status from a patron of the guild, but it is also possible for a Fire Knife to prove himself so resolutely that he is granted divine inspiration from Haro, and asserts himself over time and often against the will of competitors. Once in the Inner Circle, rivals who seek his status, or wish to take control of the schemes and plans of another will eventually challenge the Fire Knife. The infighting is constant, and only he who surrounds himself with the best lackeys and defenses is likely to make it to the top. No one knows who the ten members of the Elders are, called the Ten Who Rule, and the leader of the Flame Knives remains a whispered mystery to this day.
   Player characters who seek to join this order often do so at the risk of earning the ire of their compatriots should they be discovered, and areoften sworn to secrecy from revealing such membership by the order, even to those allies.

The Silver Hand
   The servants of the Silver Hand are ostensibly a society of magicians who study the Mysteries, founded by the legendary sorcerer Hodon Systalien. The Silver Hand’s temple is a spired tower off the Rift of Tragonor, where it is said they keep a complete record of all scientific, historical and secret documents, as well as a complete collection of the Idean Codexes.
   The Silver Hand is considered by many outsiders to be a cult dedicated to Huuarl, the god of time. Although it is true that the order is built around the principles of Huuarl’s teaching and does contain priests dedicated to the god, it is not in fact a temple or even a principle place of worship for Huuarl. Most of the dedicated priests of Huuarl are teachers, and wander the land offering their skills to the poor and uneducated. Many also seek out small towns or cities where a common school house is missing and set up shop there, working within the community to earn goodwill and coin necessary to build a school house and begn teaching. The lore of Huuarl is considered the sacred knowledge of time, and only through the act of imparting knowledge of the world to others is Huuarl satisfied, according to his priests. In this sense they overlap with the Esoteric Order of Nistur, which is itself obsessed with the teaching of history, but unlike the Esoteric Order, the priests of Huuarl also seek to teach knowledge of the physical world, and are dedicated to the unique belief that if one were to master the alchemical principles of the universe then Order would grow stronger and Chaos would wane. 
   In many ways the Silver Hand is the first strong step forward in the world of Lingusia toward an order of scholars who seek to develop a “unified theory” of the world. They do not believe that the gods and their kind are truly divine beings who exist outside of the natural world, and they believe that there is a strong hidden sense of Order to all of existence, which can only be revealed through the study and ultimate mastery of the power of time. They do firmly believe that the agents of Chaos are part of that same order, but that the insidious nature of their destructive power stems from some sort of devious “parallel existence” that is somehow symbiotically linked to the natural world.
   Of all the orders of the Middle Kingdoms that dabble in secret lore, the Silver Hand is most familiar with the terrifying threat of the Skaeddrath. As recently as a decade ago a company of dedicated soldiers and heroes under the leadership of Lord Tarnas Gaen, agent of the order and Emerald Knight of Hyrkania, penetrated deep in to Mitra’s Woods where they found the lost entrance to the Catacombs of Old Chegga. There they attempted to slay the drowsing Skaeddrath known as The Kraken, but were slain almost to a man. Only Gaen escaped, scarred and crippled by the experience, and he is unable to speak of what happened there without falling in to babbling madness. Gaen now resides as a permanent member of the Tower of Hodon and teaches new young members of the order about his experiences with fighting the agents of Chaos.

The Order of the Blackened Fist
   This malicious cult follows the madness taught by Belphegor, the degenerate demon god which has cultists throughout Amech, and has spread his blackened tendrils deep in to Karaktu and beyond. The intentions of this cult are simple: spread the faith of their dark god, and ready all for his arrival as supreme overlord of creation. They seek to subvert other cults and temples, and to conquer the weak.

Knights of the Ebon Ankh          
   The Inquisitors of Naril are a small, secretive branch of the church, dedicated to insuring that heresy and chaos never find a foothold in the inner workings of Naril's order. The Inquisitors have, at various times in history, had more power, but the order has been on the wane in recent years.
   While most of the Inquisitors are drawn from the ranks of the ecclesiastics of the temples of Naril, a handful of the order are specially trained knights, who have chosen to pursue a different, harder path, one of judge, jury, and executioner. These are the Knights of the Ebon Ankh, Inquisitors without par, willing to root out corruption both in the church and Hyrkanian society, to destroy chaos willingly and without remorse. They are far and away the most frightening members of Naril’s flock.
   The Knights of the Ebon Ankh are often drawn from members of the church, but also drawn from reformed servants who once did evil before being redeemed. Occasionally, a member of this order might never have belonged to the order, but instead have received a vision from Naril, which compelled him to follow this path. All members of the order are dedicated to their cause, but find it a difficult road, as the fall from grace is even easier than usual. Subterfuge is a regular weapon of the order, a deception considered necessary but almost outside of the realm of Naril. Nonetheless, it is understood that to combat Naril’s foes, some difficult duties must be met, and those who serve the Knights of the Ebon Ankh understand better then most.
   Because the Knights often perform difficult moral duties, the restrictions on race are not as strict. Elves, dwarves, and other species sometimes join on special occasions, usually by invite.
   Members of the order must be invited or experience a vision from Naril, usually exposing a corruption of chaos in the ranks which they uncover.

The Protectorate
   The elves of the world are ancient, and a handful are so dedicated to the preservation of the natural world and so hold the Mortal World dear, that they seek to preserve and influence it while thwarting those who would harm or destroy all. The Protectorate is one of the more effective and ancient orders of the Silver Elves, and continue to function to this day, although few suspect it has more than a few dozen members.

The Walkers of Final Night
   The ancient order of Death continue to struggle against the undead and chaos, in the service of the Nameless One. In this time, the Walkers are a fairly small cult no more than a few hundred strong across the Middle Kingdoms, for they have not had an avatar of the god manifest in many centuries.

The Kom’Huandyr
   The ancient order of the Ranger-Knights of Niras are steeped in folklore and mystery. Founded by the ancient Hyrkanian House Huandyr, the Servants of Huandyr were once the liege knights of this entrepreneurial family. The Huandyr clan united the barbaric Narilian people, and brought a unity to the forestlands previously unheard of. With them came the advanced culture, language, and customs of the Hyrkanian Empire. The old world druidism of the local people intermixed with Hyrkanian settlers, creating, eventually, the unique mix of paganism and modern culture in the region today.
   The Kom’Huandyr originated when the first alliance between the greatest of the pagan tribes and the House of Huandyr was consecrated, and the first of the pagan knights were allowed to serve the Hyrkanian lords. With this infusion of regional warriors into the elite fold of the mounted warriors, a new breed of pagan knight arose, armed and armored as a true Hyrkanian knight, but dedicated to the animism of Naril, and seeking the counsel of the druids of Niras rather than the priests of Naril.
   In the 1400’s aw, there was a terrible period of war in which the region was invaded by the Thargonid trolls, seeping from cavernous depths in to the ancient, forgotten strong holds of the lost empire within the Thargonid Mountains (the trolls were so named after the mountains). The previous dwellers of the mountains, many fae raced and goblinoids, were driven out in a great surge as they sought to escape death or slavery. This exodus led to terrible conflict as the goblin kings sought to carve out new lands in the Niras Forests, and the dozens of small baronies were forced to seek unity amongst one another to quell the horde. The many bickering lords were eventually brought together by the might of the most famous of the old order of knights of Huandyr, a man named Tevel Elas Draelon. Draelon and his rangers led the lords of the forest into a concerted effort against the goblinoids, and crushed the goblin kings.  Thereafter, the knights were formally called the Kom’Huandyr, and were charged with the perpetual service of the protection of the Lands of Niras, the forests of the realm and beyond.
   Today, the Kom’Huandyr rangers are an elite, near-secretive order, which, while low in number, are still highly respected. One joins the order by proving his or herself in an exalted and heroic deed that is considered both holy and generous in the eyes of Niras. Some members will choose an apprentice, to serve as their squire and learn of the order, too, if the one in question is young and pure of heart. The Kom’Huandyr continue to work closely with the Druids of Niras, and serve the king of Niras’ien at least nominally, although the order considers itself to answer, ultimately, only to Niras. There are believed to be no more than two hundred Kom’Huandyr in the woods.
   The Kom’Huandyr are allies of the lords of Niras, and of the Druids of the woods. They are well-received by any druid enclave, be it in the forests of Niras or in as distant a land as Caelern'in. They are respected and usually recognized throughout Hyrkania, but are considered honorable rivals of the warrior cults of Amech. The Kom’Huandyr are unknown in the Eastern Kingdoms, and considered suspect enemies among the Octzellan and Western Territories of the Middle Kingdoms. Kom’Huandyr have long been allied with the sylvan elves, and many Kom’Huandyr are elvish or half elvish. An occasional sylenic (halfling) Kom’Huandyr is not unknown. It might be possible to meet a half-orc ranger, but the strictures against the goblinkin as enemies prevent such a ranger from ever joining the ranks of the knighthood.

The Selenic Order
   A small but devoted order to Selene are the militant servants of the moon goddess, the Selenic Knights. Amongst their ranks are a handful of devout elvish warrior-maidens and a handful of other kin who have felt the touching siren call of the moon goddess. Selenic  Knights are purveyors of justice, defenders of women, healers, diviners, and a small but noteworthy sect dedicated to the cause of order.
   A character seeking to join this elite group must first prove her faith to Selene through dedicated worship, and must have made clear and determined efforts to support her portfolio of interest. She must then seek out an existing member of the order  to become her patron, and seek to prove herself worthy to that member. If the member, satisfied, vouches for her, then she will be presented to the ruling queen of Sylvias or the land in which she is located (the Queen of Cretea or the ruler of Il’Madhar, for example) and be knighted in a holy ceremony under the light of the full moon. The members of the order will anoint the new Selenic knight in enchanted holy water and take her to a chosen place, secluded and mystical, where she may commune with Selene for four days. During this time, she may receive a divine vision from Selene and may come down from the point of seclusion. If she fails the vision quest, then she must go on a quest to perform a new deed considered worthy, and when done, she must again submit herself to the vision quest. If she fails a second time, she is expelled from the order.
   Selenic Knights must be dedicated or converted to Selene for prior to joining the order, and must be women. Men who follow Selene can only ever be Paladins.

The Solarian Order
   The Order of the Solarian Knight is a powerful fist for both the Church of Naril and the Emerald Throne of Hyrkania. A Solarian Knight serves Naril first, as a guardian of purity, goodness, order, and righteousness. He follows a close second in his service to the Throne of Hyrkania, the Emperor, and the ideal of law of the land.
   The Order is about two thousand strong, but only a few make it to the senior ranks. Most Solarian Knights are traditional paladins or militant clerics, struggling to persevere to the extreme ideal of Naril’s dictates. A precious few become senior members of the order, and go through a ritual of initiation to become true Solarians.
   The Solarians have military enclaves, monasteries of war and temples of worship, throughout Hyrkania. In the Eastron realms of Zued, they are called Sun Riders and have but one monastery, in the Capitol city of Zued, Tell Hyskovis. The center of the order is in Hyrkan’ien, which is where initiation ceremonies for young knights are performed to send them on their errant quests, or senior knights commit to their ultimate vows and join the top ranks. A member of this prestige class is considered a senior member.
   Solarian Knights quest everywhere, looking to carry out the will of Naril as needed, both in Hyrkania and in foreign lands. They see Naril's law as the true law of all, and often have at least a marginal disrespect for those kingdoms and realms that do not even worship Naril.
   Because of this dedication, the only nonhumans who can join the order are possibly half-elves, and then only if a senior member sponsors them. Solarian Knights venerate the fact the Naril created humankind, and seek to maintain racial purity among their ranks in accordance with Naril’s will.
   To initially join the order, a warrior or priest must have had an epiphany, usually in battle, in which Naril appears in a vision before him. He must then seek the order of the Solarians and request entry. Paladins and Clerics are rife within the order, but the true Solarians described below are rarely seen, exceptional paladins of amazing skill in combat and magic. Alternatively, a young man or woman of sufficient strength and character might be chosen as a paladin’s squire, and is thus raised in the order from youth.
   Solarian Knights must be lawful, and dallying with a different set of actions (another alignment) can lead to expulsion from the order. A character must be human or half elf (if a sponsor is available), as Narilis the god of men, and so requires the worship of those who have human blood. This technically means half-orcs with human blood could join, though none are known to have done so (or been allowed to).

Vow of the Order: A Solarian Knight is dedicated the cause of Naril, and must follow a strict set of rules. If the rules are broken three times in a row, or within a year’s period, then the Solarian Knight may be stripped of his status and becomes and Ex-Solarian Knight. These rules include:
Chastity and Celibacy; he shall not marry, nor take a woman to bed. Many paladins feel is is okay to be chaste but not celibate, however; no repercussions seem to follow this course of action, unless their womanizing deeds become to well-known. Some see it as almost a requirement that they have unrequited love in their life, to reflect the mythic legend of Naril and his own unrequited love for Selene, the moon goddess.
Dedication to the cause; He shall not let a foe of evil or chaos go unpunished, so long as it is within his power to administer justice.
Vow of Poverty; The Solarian Knight shall never own more than he can carry; he must will his estates to his closest kin, and he keeps only what is necessary for his cause, and the maintenance of his arms and armor. He does not seek excessive glory through wealth, nor does he spend out of hand; no money on a fancy suit of armor, when an orphanage or temple could benefit from that money. Gifts are respected, if they meet the needs of his duties, but are donated if they do not. Some knights of the order have families, and these families must be cared for, but he almost always appoints his eldest child or a trusted relative as the executor of the estate, and partakes in none of the family’s earnings or success.

All text Copyright 2011 by Nicholas Torbin Bergquist, all rights reserved

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