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    Merikka and the Cult of the Reptile God
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    GreySage

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    Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:11 pm  
    Merikka and the Cult of the Reptile God

    The Living Greyhawk Gazetteer said that Merikka was one of the nine demigods imprisoned beneath Castle Greyhawk, which would have meant she was stuck in Zagig's Godtrap from 505-570 CY, if not longer.

    Against the Cult of the Reptile God said that a temple to Merikka was built in the village of Orlane shortly after its founding, "nearly a generation ago." Assuming the adventure takes place around 576 CY, the temple would probably have been built in the late 550s, while Merikka was still imprisoned.

    While this is certainly not impossible, I think it's unsatisfying for a demigoddess' faith to go on founding large temples as if nothing had happened while the deity herself is imprisoned. For the purposes of drama and meaningfulness, imprisoning a god should have noticeable effects.

    The goddess has already been subject to one significant retcon: Erik Mona changed her alignment from chaotic good to lawful good "to reflect the much more lawful aspect of agriculture." [1] We might as well retcon the situation further, then.

    One obvious problem that Merikka's imprisonment might be indirectly responsible for is the module's titular reptile cult. In the adventure (spoiler alert!) both of Merikka's temple clerics have been charmed by a spirit naga and indoctrinated into her evil religion. The module is very charitable toward the cultists in the module, laying all the blame on the naga and assuming that everything goes back to normal when the naga is destroyed. That's very kind, but we all know that Charm spells can't force anyone to do things against their nature. Yet they fall into evil and desecrate their goddess' icons and religious texts. If Merikka has gone silent and stopped granting spells to her clerics, this might go a ways to explain their bottled-up resentment and susceptibility to the naga's dark suggestions.

    It could well be that Merikka was still imprisoned in 576 CY; perhaps she escaped shortly after the events in the adventure. She placed curses on some of her temple relics that might have gone off during the course of the adventure; this release of her power might have aided her in her escape. Her clerics Abramo and Misha Devi would likely have known nothing but silence from their goddess for their entire careers, increasingly haunted by the mocking emptiness they prayed to, aware as common citizens of the village were not that their faith was now a series of empty gestures maintained purely for tradition's sake.

    In a similar vein, the faith of Stern Alia in The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan is also said to be a charade; the upper-ranking priests of her temple in Pontylver are desperately trying to cover up the fact that they've lost access to their higher-level spells. This is explained in the adventure as the result of priests who have embraced a heresy, but if Stern Alia is imprisoned during that period it helps explain why they found heresy so tempting. It also helps explain why the followers of Hextor felt free to mostly exterminate Stern Alia's faith later on, as the Greyhawk Player's Guide said they did. The demigoddess couldn't do anything about it.

    This all sounds pretty good to me, but I'm left with one more question. Who exactly was granting the spells cast by the corrupted clerics of Merikka in the module? Surely not Merikka; even if she's capable of granting spells from within her prison, she's not likely to do so for these particular two. It's not really a problem for Misha Devi, who can only cast first and second level spells in any case (castable with faith alone according to the 1st edition Deities & Demigods). Abramo, however, can cast spells of third and fourth level; this shouldn't be possible without the aid of a deity according to the rules in effect at the time. The spirit naga, Explictica Defilus, is no true deity, so she must have some patron who has secretly "adopted" the corrupted clerics under her control.

    One possibility is Iuz. He will go on to masquerade as an imprisoned deity (Vatun) elsewhere, and he has at least one other spirit naga servant (the Falcon). He would be in a position to know that Merikka is unavailable to stop him, since he was forced to listen to her weeping about all the crops failing without her aid for 65 years, and he would have noticed, even distracted as he was, if Merikka had been set free at the same time that he was.

    When I started typing this post, I was going to suggest a lot of other possibilities (setting the adventure in 506 CY, dating the founding of Orlane before 505 CY or after 570 CY, dating the origin of the Reptile Cult to 506 CY, placing the serpentine gods Merrshaulk or Shekinester behind the Reptile Cult), but I'm pretty much satisfied with this scenario. Anyone see any major holes in it?


    Last edited by rasgon on Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:02 pm; edited 1 time in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Dec 16, 2007 8:39 pm  

    I agree that there's some sort of inconsistency at work concerning by whom the aforementioned priests' spells are granted.

    However, at the risk of starting a firestorm of religious debate, I think your assessment of the motivations of religious people is lacking. Religious people such as the priests in the Orlane module and myself do not necessarily follow our chosen deities because of what we gain in terms of spells, wealth, or other blessings. Neither do we always follow our chosen religions because of cultural or familial influences. Rather, many of us follow our chosen deities because we have a profound respect for and appreciation of the values and purposes of those deities. Further, given that in Greyhawk Merikka is someone the priests know personally (at least indirectly) rather than just someone they know about (and interpreted through the filter of my own personal religious experience), their continued worship could easily be (and to my mind most likely is) motivated by love for her as a person rather than by a selfish desire to milk her for blessings.

    In game terms, while I can see modifying things in order to correct the spell abilities of Orlane's priesthood, I don't think there's any real need to modify the timing or reasons behind the construction of Orlane's temple.


    Last edited by bubbagump on Mon Dec 17, 2007 6:40 am; edited 1 time in total
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:19 pm  

    Any imprisoned deity exudes power(even Tharizdun), and particularly those who were imprisoned by Zagyg. After all, they didn't receive the "Tharizdun treatment" or anything, but were confined well enough nonetheless. The clergy would have limited power, but not a complete absence of it.

    Such a state could result in her followers in Orlane(and elsewhere) thinking that Merrika's seeming distance from her worshippers was a result of their lapsing or weak faith, and to make up for it the followers should of course build a new temple to honor her.

    Lo and behold, her followers were not too long thereafter rewarded as the land become bountiful once again under the direction of her priests- a sure sign of the goddess' favor(i.e. she was freed and could lend a more active hand to the devout).

    Merrika couldn't have planned it better herself! :D
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    Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:31 pm  
    Re: Merikka and the Cult of the Reptile God

    rasgon wrote:


    This all sounds pretty good to me, but I'm left with one more question. Who exactly was granting the spells cast by the corrupted clerics of Merikka in the module? Surely not Merikka; even if she's capable of granting spells from within her prison, she's not likely to do so for these particular two. It's not really a problem for Misha Devi, who can only cast first and second level spells in any case (castable with faith alone according to the 1st edition Deities & Demigods). Abramo, however, can cast spells of third and fourth level; this shouldn't be possible without the aid of a deity according to the rules in effect at the time. The spirit naga, Explictica Defilus, is no true deity, so she must have some patron who has secretly "adopted" the corrupted clerics under her control.

    One possibility is Iuz. He will go on to masquerade as an imprisoned deity (Vatun) elsewhere, and he has at least one other spirit naga servant (the Phoenix). He would be in a position to know that Merikka is unavailable to stop him, since he was forced to listen to her weeping about all the crops failing without her aid for 65 years, and he would have noticed, even distracted as he was, if Merikka had been set free at the same time that he was.

    When I started typing this post, I was going to suggest a lot of other possibilities (setting the adventure in 506 CY, dating the founding of Orlane before 505 CY or after 570 CY, dating the origin of the Reptile Cult to 506 CY, placing the serpentine gods Merrshaulk or Shekinester behind the Reptile Cult), but I'm pretty much satisfied with this scenario. Anyone see any major holes in it?


    I've been thinking on this for quite some time, amd was planning on writing an article on the subject.

    The short version: IMC, Vecna grants clerical spells to both Explictica Defilus and the village priests.

    1) Vecna was said to have ruled his empire from his Rotted Tower in the Rushmoors, where Explectica Defilus also has her lair.

    2) Vecna is said to have gained many of his powers and knowledge from a being known as the Serpent. Given that, I would think that Vecna could easily have kept a few pet nagas as favoured servitors around his tower. The symbolism as well as magical penchant/aptitude of the nagas would coincide well with Vecna's own interests.

    3) Vecna's empire crumbles, but some of his naga servants escape into the swamp. There, secretly and over a span of centuries, they create the foundations for Vecna's cult, and keep worshipping their fallen master, who still manifests to some of them as a vestige. Over the centuries, the naga recruit humans, trogs, goblins (from the nearby forest) and others (willing and unwilling) into the cult. The growing base of worshippers enables Vecna to evolve, in time, from vestige into demi-god... all according to this original plan? Some of the willing human followers may include members of house Neheli, while others may include some Flan tribesmen who are resentful about having been pushed onto marginal lands by the arrogant Suloise-Oeridian settlers. Some of their grandfathers teach them the forgotten ways of the Ur-Flan and the Whispered One. Even though the Flan also suffered under Vecna's rule, time has a way of distorting history. Given Vecna's arguably Flan origin, some Flan now view him as a secret symbol of Flan strength, which is further being suppressed by the Gran March and Keoland's Suloise-Oeridian military/government (compare this with disaffected neo-Nazi youth IRW). They start their own cult in his name, and easily fall sway to Explictica's influence (who may claim to her followers that she has been granted divinity by Vecna, and therefore has the authority to be their leader, as she is the Whispered One's representative on Oerth).

    4) Explictica is even more narcissistic than the other nagas that have preserved the memory of Vecna over the centuries and birthed the cult (I don't know much about the lifespan of nagas... could she herself have been around at the time of Vecna's Oerthly rule?). In time, she insists that others worship her as a god. Some of the prayers she teaches her followers (including the spellcasters, Abramo and Misha Devi) include words from an ancient Flan dialect that they do not comprehend, but which essentially venerate Vecna (of whom they may not even be aware -- IMC, few people know that Vecna ever existed). Explictica herself prays to Vecna, and justifies her own self-deification to her god (whom she naturally fears) by claiming that it adds another layer of secrecy to his plans and eventual return. Who suspects that he still lives, much less that he is now a "demi-god" (if you use that kind of terminology in-game)? Vecna is amused by the whole thing (for the time being), but it does serve his purpose... the last thing he wants is for anyone to know that he is still around, and very close to achieving full (and perhaps even Greater) godhood.

    4) In the meantime, Vecna's cult has, over a span of generations, infiltrated various echelons of society in Gran March, Keoland and beyond, unbeknownst to their citizenry. Remember, there is a merchant from Hookhill in the module (staying at the Golden Grain Inn), and I imagine that he must have other contacts in the capital. Taking over the clergy of Orlane (whether through seduction or coercion) during the period while Merikka was imprisoned should have been especially easy, and would have occurred as the cult of Vecna was building steam. The town's location on the edge of the swamp, along a hazardous trade route in the middle of nowhere (where it is easy for people to go missing without anyone noticing) is ideal for slowly capturing victims (whether to use as sacrifices/tasty meals, to charm/convert and possibly use as spies, or to use as hostages) without drawing much attention.

    5) I'm thinking of granting Explictica a new feat that would be equivalent to some extra long lasting and powerful charm power that could enable victims to do things that would normally be against their true nature.

    Would that work?

    Although some may feel that Vecna is overused these days, I think that he is a natural fit (given the roots of his empire/cult) and a much more satisfying explanation than Iuz, or anyone else for that matter... and it offers a lot of hooks for a long term campaign based in the Sheldomar (which could lead into a modified version of WGA4). I would think of including a "hand and eye symbol" behind the golden statue of the naga in the temple in the reptile god's lair, and also in Explictica's own secret chamber.


    Hmmm... there's my article... Smile


    Last edited by TwiceBorn on Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:58 pm; edited 4 times in total
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:40 pm  

    I would also add that I don't believe that deities should be aware of the actions/transgressions of every last one of their servants, especially those lower than "name" level (by first edition standards). So Abramo and Misha Devi receiving spells from Merikka (if we go that way rather than the Vecna route) despite their evil actions and heresy still works for me. But then, my campaign may be atypical in this regard...
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:10 am  

    I used Shekinester. Explicta Defilus in this case functions as a servant of the tripartate naga goddess, granting spells on the deity's behalf. This wouldn't be the first time such a ploy was used consider Zuggtmoy and the EEG.
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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:58 am  

    For naga lifespan and feats (or class features of the Naga Overlord prestige class) consult The Serpent Kingdoms. I doubt that they have such huge lifespans though...

    Another interesting source is probably "The Ecology of the Dark Naga: Fool Me Twice." from Dragon #261.
    GreySage

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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 1:05 pm  

    bubbagump wrote:
    However, at the risk of starting a firestorm of religious debate, I think your assessment of the motivations of religious people is lacking.


    Yikes. I wasn't trying to make any blanket statements about religious motivation. I was just talking about what I thought would be most dramatic in a fictional setting.

    I agree that the followers of an imprisoned deity could build a fancy new temple in the absence of an immediate Oerthly reward for it (although one problem with spellcasting clerics is that the people of Oerth are used to getting miracles on the cheap). My primary issue was why two clerics of a good-aligned deity would start desecrating their temple and turn to evil with no more impetus than a being they're magically compelled to consider their "friend." Charm effects alone don't produce effects quite so dramatic.
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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 2:27 pm  

    rasgon wrote:
    My primary issue was why two clerics of a good-aligned deity would start desecrating their temple and turn to evil with no more impetus than a being they're magically compelled to consider their "friend." Charm effects alone don't produce effects quite so dramatic.


    In this case you are quite right. I suspect (as you do) that the clerics in question may indeed have been harboring some hidden resentment for a while. Fortunately for them, Merikka understands mercy as well as justice.
    GreySage

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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 3:45 pm  

    Thanael wrote:
    For naga lifespan and feats (or class features of the Naga Overlord prestige class) consult The Serpent Kingdoms. I doubt that they have such huge lifespans though...

    Another interesting source is probably "The Ecology of the Dark Naga: Fool Me Twice." from Dragon #261.


    I don't see anything on their lifespans in either source, but a yuan-ti abomination can live up to 6,000 years (according to "The Ecology of the Yuan-ti" in Dragon #151). Yuan-ti young gestate for five years before hatching, however, while dark nagas only take 5-6 months, so this might not be a reliable comparison. Since they gestate in a tenth of the time, they might only live for a tenth of the time.
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    Mon Dec 17, 2007 9:30 pm  

    Cebrion wrote:
    Any imprisoned deity exudes power(even Tharizdun), and particularly those who were imprisoned by Zagyg. After all, they didn't receive the "Tharizdun treatment" or anything, but were confined well enough nonetheless. The clergy would have limited power, but not a complete absence of it.


    In the case of Iuz, he gained power during his imprisonment--according to the LGG, his cult didn't really take off until he was imprisoned.
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    Tue Dec 18, 2007 7:20 am  

    rasgon wrote:
    Thanael wrote:
    For naga lifespan and feats (or class features of the Naga Overlord prestige class) consult The Serpent Kingdoms. I doubt that they have such huge lifespans though...

    Another interesting source is probably "The Ecology of the Dark Naga: Fool Me Twice." from Dragon #261.


    I don't see anything on their lifespans in either source, but a yuan-ti abomination can live up to 6,000 years (according to "The Ecology of the Yuan-ti" in Dragon #151). Yuan-ti young gestate for five years before hatching, however, while dark nagas only take 5-6 months, so this might not be a reliable comparison. Since they gestate in a tenth of the time, they might only live for a tenth of the time.


    Hmm... not even in Serpent Kingdoms? Is there a Slayer's Guide to Nagas or something similar?
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    Wed Dec 19, 2007 12:59 am  

    I favor Beory granting the spells as a N(G) greater goddess the under her aspects of Oerth Mother, Nature and her neutrality aspect to avert a crisis in the faith of a good religion due to a temporary imprisonment.

    Of course a cleric doesn't even have to believe in a god to get spells now so the temporary absence of an imprisoned power should have moderate effects IMO.
    GreySage

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    Wed Dec 19, 2007 8:30 am  

    See, that's what I mean about drama. Besides the fact that I think the events of Against the Cult of the Reptile God imply the damage to her priesthood was significant, you don't think it'd be hideously disappointing that a goddess can be imprisoned for seven decades with "moderate effects?"

    If a deity can be imprisoned for most of a century without it having any substantial effects on the campaign, it means another deity should have been imprisoned instead so that at least you can get some plot hooks out of the backstory. If Merikka's slack is automatically picked up by Beory, then I'd fill her space beneath Castle Greyhawk with another LG demigod whose imprisonment would at least be interesting. Perhaps a heroic servitor of Heironeous whose disappearance means some great evil is free to spread.

    That's also my problem with the idea that Zagig imprisoned Olman or Touv deities. Why use beings that can disappear without anyone in the Flanaess noticing? That's no fun.

    Rather than beg Mortellan to draw a cartoon on the subject, here's my take. Apologies for stealing his schtick.

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    Thu Dec 20, 2007 8:13 pm  
    Re: Merikka and the Cult of the Reptile God

    rasgon wrote:
    This all sounds pretty good to me, but I'm left with one more question. Who exactly was granting the spells cast by the corrupted clerics of Merikka in the module?


    Nyarlathotep, clearly :D
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    Sat Dec 22, 2007 2:11 am  

    Robbastard wrote:
    In the case of Iuz, he gained power during his imprisonment--according to the LGG, his cult didn't really take off until he was imprisoned.


    That's because his Mom hooked up his Soul Husk super charger thingy while he was in the hole.

    Laughing
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    Sun Dec 23, 2007 6:23 pm  

    rasgon wrote:
    My primary issue was why two clerics of a good-aligned deity would start desecrating their temple and turn to evil with no more impetus than a being they're magically compelled to consider their "friend." Charm effects alone don't produce effects quite so dramatic.

    I know the naga listing likens the ability to the charm person spell, but when the MM was written the PH was still a pile of notes, and most such references were probably based on the OD&D info. I think it would be safe to assume a naga's charm power is closer to the domination-like level of charm that monsters were described as having in the DMG.

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    Sat Jan 05, 2008 7:50 pm  

    Thank you for linking Iuz, Merikka and the cult module. Made me think about how to use it in my campaign.

    Otto Zequeira
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