First in an irregular series looking at religion, gods, and clerics in Wampus Country.
Wampus Country is home to a hundred tiny faiths, some particular to a town or family line. For most people, religion is not something which is practiced - in the sense of visiting a church, offering regular prayer, or seeking out a priest for advice. Wampus Country is a land of ill-maintained roadside shrines, luck medallions bought in the marketplace, and small cults which often fade away within a generation. If acquiring religious market-share is the clerics' game, then the Scorpion Cult has been winning for a number of years now - but even they have only a few avowed worshippers (as compared to people who will buy talismans from them or pay for auguries before important decisions and life events).
SOME WELL-KNOWN CULTS
Scorpion Cult (Lawful) - The cult of the Scorpion is on the rise in Wampus Country, gaining new believers and sympathizers each year. Lay devotees often wear a silver medallion with an image of the god, and there are plenty of casual believers who will rub a scorpion talisman or coin for luck or protection. Although the Scorpion-Priests are relatively few in number, their ‘concern’ - the cult-owned businesses throughout the land - continue to prosper. Some are known - like the Silver Scorpion Casino in River-Town, which attracts the rich and famous with its gambling-tables, or the various merchant and mining concerns in which they have majority control ; others are obscure, including innumerable ranches and farms and at least one school for orphan girls (actually a training-ground for holy assassins - but that is a tale for another day).
The Scorpion God, who has many names (some known only to his priests), favors patience, truth (when it’s convenient), order, investment, enterprise, and binding contracts. Priests of this deity are often called upon to witness business deals, legal testimony (although there isn’t much law in Wampus Country), and deal with probate issues. They are also known to place great faith in astrology, and read the stars regularly. There is something definitely corporate or mafia-like about the Scorpion cult; they do not dabble in organized crime (outside of a crooked house at the Casino), but their fingers seem to be in everything, their cultists are ridiculously loyal, and they sponsor enterprising youths (such as adventurers) when the investment makes sense.
“Hush, now. Quiet and still. Feel the earth’s vibrations. Past, Present, Future - a concordance, a vitasphere, a road-map. Time crawls forward slowly, the stars wheel and dance. When opportunity arises, we strike with vigor.” - Trask Vergin, Scorpion-Priest
Web of Darkness (Chaotic) - Whether the Web truly exists is a matter for some debate. According to those who believe the Scorpion Priests (and, in truth, the clerics of several different lesser-known gods), the Web of Darkness is an association of foul persons and creatures who salute and worship a handful of evil forces - possibly evil godlings, demon princes, lying-devils, etc. The Web of Darkness is characterized as influencing much of the ‘evil’ which goes on in Wampus Country - stirring up the barbarians, pushing the rapacious giants closer to civilized territory, and always searching for ancient artifacts which would grant the cult more sorcerous power. Although surrounded by a nimbus of rumor, the Web does indeed exist - their symbol is a spider or stylized cobweb, and their influence is as broad as that of the rival Scorpion Cult. The Web works with organized (and disorganized) crime, bandit kings, fringe death cults, and several subhuman tribes.
“Each murder victim collapsing in the bloody dirt makes a sound like gold coins on a saloon bar to the inhuman ears of our masters. Let us deafen them, and be rewarded handsomely.” - Zargor the Half-Mad, dark cleric and advisor to the Throatcutter bandit corps
SOME LESS FAMOUS GODLINGS
Gloriana, Queen of Mystery (Neutral) - Resplendent in her gown of stars, the Queen of Mystery inculcates in her followers a pragmatic self-interest and love of material comfort. To a Mysterian, the world is full of things just waiting to be taken - treasure, knowledge, land; but the cultist of Gloriana avoids sullying himself with base thievery in populated areas; such anti-social behavior is a demonstration of laziness and cowardice. Why steal from your neighbor when you could ride into the wilds and take anything you needed from the land itself? Gloriana represents the world’s plenty, and those bright enough to appreciate it. Mysterians have a tendency to carry a lot of extraneous gear - just in case - and sometimes exhibit strange kleptomaniac tendencies, feeling that they have to take something with them from everywhere they go, whether it’s a napkin, pretty rock, or handful of dirt.
“I don’t care how heavy it is, we need to figure out how to get this back to town and sell it.” - Roland, Mysterian priest
Taronja the Eternal (Neutral) - It is said that Taronja was once a legendary hero - or a legendary rogue. So clever was Taronja that he found a means to immortality, and stepped out of time, projecting himself to the beginning and end of the universe and becoming a true god. Taronja’s clerics advocate a form of balance which unifies opposites; their scriptures suggest an emotional distance from the material world and the constant application of pragmatic principles. This faith is among the most philosophical of those known in Wampus Country, which makes it more academic than the average cow-puncher is willing to swallow. However, devotees believe that they are an elite few, who may acquire their own form of immortality in time.
“Sure, we let the last one live, but maybe we should kill this one.” - Quincy the Arbitrary, cleric of Taronja
Weeweauk, the White Mouse (Lawful) - Strangely, the human followers of Weeweauk believe that their deity - depicted as a huge white mouse in a tuxedo - is also the god worshipped by actual mice. Given that, their faith has certain taboos regarding the treatment of mice (brotherhood), rats (rivalry), and cats (hatred). Mouse cultists - usually underdogs even before their conversion - are generally resoundingly mocked, but that oppression merely redoubles their faith.
“Laugh all you want, you bully. We’ll see who survives in the long run.” - ‘Cat-Skinner’ Henson
The Horned Baron (Chaotic) - Represented as a goat or horned gentleman or noble, the Horned Baron is the patron of hedonists, thieves, and liars. The Baron is portrayed as not so much evil as self-centered and mischievous - but willing to assist his followers, especially if there’s a clever trick involved. For that reason, a number of enterprising young men and women of Wampus Country - you and I might call them thieves - call upon the Horned Baron with regularity.
“The guard-post is marked on the map with a ‘X’, here. I reckon if we time it just right, we can -- dammit, wench, we need another round of beer here!” - Arnulf the Fatal Prankster