OSR: Religion in Elderstone

I haven't decided what to call my setting. The people in it call it Creation, but that's not too useful for online reference purposes. For now, let's call it Elderstone. It's a bit like calling the earth Boston, but it will do.

My players asked for a "generic D&D setting". I can't, therefore, make my setting too innovative or weird or interestingly flavoured. Here is a meat-and-potatoes divinity for a meat-and-potatoes game. I'm fairly sure the word "god" doesn't appear once in OD&D, but if it did, it might be something like this.

Paolo Girardi

Gods and Mortals

No one knows who created everything, but the Authority* created the world. The Authority's power lies in organization and separation. Before Creation, everything was mixed together. Stone had the properties of water, water had the properties of light, light had the properties of writing. Everything was formless and ever-changing.  The Authority created the Laws that separated one thing from another, and defined its shape and place in Creation. The Authority created the sun and the moon. He defined the seasons. He gave elementals their shape and nature. He created Beasts and People, and defined their orders and hierarchies: kings above lords, lords above knights, knights above serfs, serfs above slaves.

As long as every part of Creation obeys its designated purpose, the world will be full of righteousness, peace, and justice. But because People are willful, ignorant, or corrupted by the forces of the Adversary**, the world is... the way it is. The Authority is not unmerciful. Try your best, and your soul may be taken into Heaven. There are many rules for correct living. The Church is your guide. This world is a transient place, a preparation for the better world to follow.

In order to reserve some goodness, joy, and love for Heaven, the Authority put the greater part of the Evil things of Creation into the Hells in the centre of the world. The duty of the Adversary is to keep unworthy souls out of the world, and to torment them according to their sins, and to test the faith of the living. The devout have little to fear from the Adversary and her legions.

The Authority filled the world with many things, some known, some mysterious. Many things that are not understood are worshipped by heathens as gods. Their willful blindness condemns them to the Hells. The worship of false gods offends the Authority.

*Doctrine states that the Authority is male because obviously He mumble mumble mumble Kings mumble mumble organization of life mumble mumble...
**Doctrine states that the Adversary is female because obviously She mumble mumble mumble mumble oh look at the time...

The Observant, Harrower

The Truth

is, of course, more complicated. The outline given above is dogmatic truth, and therfore, quite important. It is not nessesarily accurate.

In an ideal world, every village has a wise and literate priest, a noble and caring lord and his true and honourable knights, and well-fed serfs. But Elderstone has a great deal in common with 14th century Europe, including untrained and venal clergy, warring lords, fear, plague, doubt, greed, and foolishness. Brigands roam the land. Lords tax their serfs unjustly. Wizards and Merchants have no place in the "orderly" creation described earlier, yet they are increasingly common.

Nevertheless, the Church binds Creation together. The triangles of the Authority hang in every home in Elderstone. Official Church doctrine is remarkably harsh towards women, "perversions" of the natural order (from murder to wearing silk robes), unbelievers, and the insufficiently devout. In practice, intolerance varies widely. The Church has only a few pages of core doctrine. The rest is regional variance and ad-hoc justification for actions taken centuries ago.

A few decades ago a terrible plague swept through Creation. A third of all People died. Communities turned against each other. Whole cities vanished. It was - and is - commonly believed that the Authority saw the wickedness of the People and wished to harm them, as a warning against future wickedness. People being what they are, lawlessness, warfare, and corruption have only increased since the plague. There is a pervasive but mostly unspoken sense that Creation may be collapsing into anarchy.

Servants of the Authority

The Authority organized Creation through words, but His voice is too powerful for most of Creation to endure. He therefore sends divine messengers to correct or influence Creation. The Authority has goals and plans for all of Creation but cannot predict the future. He does have complete knowledge of the past and present, and can attempt to steer Creation according to His vision.

Angels, or "divinity elementals", are spirits specially chosen to assist the Authority, just as demons are spirits specially chosen to assist the Adversary. They appear in thousands of forms, though they favour light and fire. The guard the sacred places of Creation.

Paladins of the Word choose to give up their voice to speak for the Authority. They also chose to give up a portion of their free will. They go where they are commanded to go without ever knowing why. While only men are permitted to enter the priesthood, anyone can become a Paladin, a fact which the Church takes great care to ignore.

Roma Kupriyanov

The Church

Every priest of the Authority can perform a minor miracle, known as the Separation. During a service they mix water and some other substance: blood, wine, filth, sand, poison, etc. They then pass their hand over the mixture and invoke the Authority's name. The mixture separates into pure water and other substances. The faithful then drink the pure water.

Priests lose this power if they break any of the core tenets of their faith, or if they displease the Authority in some other way. A fallen priest can use suspiciously clear "poison" or other tricks to maintain their position, but, in theory, will eventually be found out and punished. Many priests leave the "venal" business of collecting fees and donations and managing land to their deacons. The priest can remain "pure" provided they feign total ignorance of the origin of their luxuries and funds. In the years after the plague, good, literate, and kind priests are hard to find.

Churches across Creation all pay reverence to the Two Archpriests, the dual high priests of the Church. One is a living man, elected by a convoluted and wholly political process. The other is a carved statue, ancient and glowering. This is Memnock the Ancient, a powerful stone elemental who was elected Archpriest of the Elemental Spirits in some long-forgotten era. He is decidedly less active.

The Church maintains society's order. It counsels serfs to remain serfs, captives to endure their captivity, lords to act nobly, and knights to act valiantly. It maintains that women should not hold positions of leadership or real responsibility, at home, at court, or at war. In practice, the Church is widely ignored. Serfs rebel. Knights raid innocent or allied villages. Lords feud and bicker and plot no matter how wisely they are counseled. And women, despite restrictive laws and customs, still inherit land, rule castles and domains, become merchants, wizards, guild masters, and in rare cases soldiers without the Authority striking them down. 

The Great Day of His Wrath,  John Martin

Heresies, Lies, and Rumours

It is said that worship of the Authority is recent, perhaps as recent as 50 generations. Any priest will tell you that this is a vile lie, for while the Church has changed somewhat over the centuries, it has always existed.

It is said that in heathen lands, the Authority is worshiped under other names, and in other forms. The Intercessors maintain that the heathens are deceived. There is only one Church.

It is said that women can, if instructed, perform the ritual of Separation as well as any male priest. Rumours of female priests haunt the Church. 

It is said that there were once many gods, and that they ruled over their appointed aspects of Creation, but the Authority, in His jealousy, consumed them.

It is said that the Intercessor is a wholly corrupt and secular lord, and that his predecessor was no better, and that the corruption of the Church spreads from the highest ranks.


  1. If you've read this and said "Well, that's a very generic fantasy Catholic pseudo-medieval religion", then I've succeeded, in a way. The goal was to make the most generic and least new-school setting. Tons of people out there in the OSR-verse are making neat religions, but you really have to work at it to make a dull one. Theology wise, this doesn't have a leg to stand on. It's some sort of weird gnostic Calvinism, mixed with Primus (god of Modrons) and the slowly collapsing church of 14th century France and Italy.

  2. As the creator of a generic fantasy Catholic pseudo-medieval religion myself, I salute this!

    The next question being, to what extent is monasticism prevalent and/or relevant?