The Greyhawk Travel Guide, Part IV
Date: Fri, August 27, 2004
Topic: Peoples & Culture
How are magic, religion and technology dealt with in the Flanaess? Read on and find out!
The Greyhawk Travel Guide, Part IV
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Magic and Technology
Wizards and clerics and their relationships with the common folk
When most people see the abilities of people who can use arcane or divine magic, they tend to react with superstition, awe or fear depending on the situation. However, they all treat everyone so blessed with great respect-the way any sensible person would act towards someone who could turn them into a toad with a single gesture. Most people have no idea how wizards and clerics can do what they do, and neither they nor the bards and sorcerers who can also wield magic usually have any interest in explaining their powers to outsiders.
Clerics are the wielders of magic most people deal with on a daily business. Clerics provide spiritual guidance and comfort for their worshippers whenever needed. They can aid members of their temple out with beneficial cures of wounds and diseases, the purifying of food and water, etc. Along with barbers and midwives, clerics also serve as doctors in performing surgery and assisting mothers in giving birth to children.
They also act as tutors to the young, perform marriage ceremonies and funerals, give sermons to their followers, and so forth. In social and political life, clerics can use their teachings to serve as moral compasses for the community; protesting the violations of civil rights or immoral acts by the government, or collecting donations of food, money and clothes from well-off citizens for the benefit of the poor. Ironically, many good clerics can be protected by evil thieves and assassins they fed and treated as children. Young children aided by churches often grow up as converts to the faith, or may be raised by the church itself if the child’s families are unable to provide for them.
Clerics are accused of often being more concerned with converts than helping people. This is only partially true-clerics of all types generally insist on some sort of donation or conversion to help prosperous people not of their faith, such as adventurers. However, most goodly clerics will not turn away beggars or orphans seeking alms, regardless of their faith, though in some cases these will then attempt to gently nudge the penitent in the direction of their faith.
Conversion is not necessarily done with a malevolent purpose; many clerics view themselves as genuinely helping those they give their spell powers to by bringing them into the faith. As well, it is commonly accepted that this is fair payment for services, especially if the person who requests aid is not in immediate danger of dying or starving and is capable of paying. Donations and quests are also commonly accepted forms of payment.
As mentioned before, evil clerics in goodly regions and goodly clerics in evil regions can pay taxes and provide some of the same social services stated above to those of their own alignment. However, these exceptions to the rule are much more likely to insist on heavy donations and/or conversions if the people they help are not of their faith. People might also donate to these deities to either gain their favor or avoid their wrath, depending on the god’s alignment. Not all clerics are engaged in dark schemes or heroic deeds-some simply wish to carry out quieter work on a smaller scale, with a less overt demonstration of their god’s concerns and spheres of influence.
As for wizards, most common folk treat them with great respect and caution, until they get to know the wizard and how often he uses his powers. Other people hate and fear wizards, driving them off and in some rare cases even forming mobs to burn them. In either case, people fear earning the wizard’s wrath, and instinctively run for cover when a wizard begins casting, fearing fireballs or worse.
Governments at all levels fear the dangers of unrestrained spellcasting as well. While most temples can be counted on to restrain their priests under government pressure, wizards are a entirely different story. Every sane ruler will put restrictions on what kind of spells can be cast in public-most invocation spells such as magic missiles and fireballs are illegal at all times. Enchantment and illusion spells that can be used for mind control or disguise are also heavily restricted. Non-lethal spells used to incapacitate attackers, such as sleeping or holding spells, are permitted only by law enforcement or in dire self-defense.
Violations of these laws usually results in harsh repercussions by whichever wizardly guild the government is allied with. Local wizard guilds are often a law unto themselves when dealing with one of their fellows who has gone rogue; they generally have authority under such circumstances to cast spells as they will, although they may not do this in their everyday life. Even the most powerful independent mage usually thinks twice about causing trouble in large cities, good or evil-those guilds opposing him or her support the government, and have legal permission to use their own spells when they need to enforce the law.
Apart from this, wizards can open schools or become sages as described above. Some parents may pester these wizards to take their apprentices on as apprentices, although such people are better advised to take their youngsters to actual magical universities. Many independent wizards hate teaching, as it takes time away from research and other activities. Others may be infirm, senile, or simply not very good at it. In almost every case, however, wizards are a respected and sometimes feared member of whatever community they join.
How common is magic?
In the seats and corridors of power, wizards and magic-users of great ability are not so rare, although they will rarely be interested in adventuring. There are generally six to ten powerful wizards of the thirteenth rank or above in any given state, with perhaps a score of wizards of the eighth to tenth rank below them. Adventurers and independents are, of course, not counted in these surveys.
Most people, while treating mages with respect and sometimes fear, also may simply be dumbfounded when they witness the conjuring of illusions or the mystical sending of someone to sleep. Local hedge wizards and clerics may know cantrips or petty spells to assist in the community’s daily life, but a wizard of any sort of power, even a minor one, is always a sight to behold. Many people will never see feats of magic for themselves in their lifetime. As such, they will treat spellcasters with respect and also may ask them to demonstrate their powers.
Magical items are another matter. To own as many as six or seven items with permanent enchantments is a staggering possibility unthinkable to many adventurers, who often must content themselves with but three or four of these items. It is quite common for a fighter to become a mighty warrior and never once get to wield a magical sword; or for a wizard to never acquire a ring or cloak that would offer magical protection. Permanent items are often cherished treasures-to find one is often a cause for celebration in and of itself.
Non-permanent items such as potions, scrolls and wands are rather more common. They are much easier to craft and do not require the grueling hours of spellcasting that permanent items demand. Most adventurers who live long enough will surely come across some of these sooner or later.
As a rule of thumb, forty percent of all those adventurers and characters encountered will have no magic whatsoever, thirty-five percent will only have non-permanent items, and only one out of every four will have a magical shield, a crystal ball, or some other item of a permanent dweomer. Most of these will of course be high-powered people in seats of power.
The limits of technology: What can and cannot be done
Many hapless scientists have attempted to further the technological evolution of the Flanaess with harebrained inventions that no serious gnome would ever conceive: the “steam engine”, the “gun”, and the “production line”, to quote some of the more famous and bizarre devices various inventors have tried to create over the centuries.
What these people forget is that the Flanaess is a magical, and not technological world. Lightning bolts are the stuff of sorcery, and cannot be expected to power a machine. Oil acts very well in burning trolls and cleaning weapons, but it cannot be used to power an “engine” of any sort. Regrettably, the only source of energy to power those devices that do work is kinetic energy-in other words, they must generally be done by hand.
Human, dwarf, and especially gnome inventors have created various things that do not rely on any internal power source to run. The most famous among these are hoists, cranes, drills, and other such tools that can assist with construction or in siege warfare. They must be powered by hand and the principles of leverage; but they are an invaluable aid in construction, mining, and so forth. A few enterprising gnomes have also constructed such things as printing presses, clocks that must periodically be wound, and more sophisticated machinery for jail cells and traps. They have also designed sophisticated plumbing systems relying on water pressure.
Humans can craft and use such technological devices with difficulty, although they are costly and time-consuming to construct. Common farmers must often make do with whatever collars or wagons they can craft or purchase themselves, and only wealthy architects and mine owners are likely to have the machines needed for large-scale building projects.
Dwarves are innately better engineers than humans, and as such use them on greater occasions and for more reasons. The greatest of all smiths, the construction of their machine parts are often without peer, and the very best technology the world has to offer is that crafted by dwarves.
The best technology in the world is crafted by dwarves, but designed and engineered by gnomes. Unlike the bumbling and inept tinker gnomes of Krynn, the gnomes of Oerth are tireless, dedicated, and skilled engineers and master designers. While the racial magic of dwarves results from their intimate connection with stone and oerth, gnomes are concerned with illusions of the mind and physical technology.
Technology is, in a sense, gnomish magic; gnomes are superior craftsmen and miners to humans, and are in their turn bettered by dwarves. However, no man, no dwarf can rival a gnome’s skill with technology. These other races have adapted some gnomish technology for their own, such as the clock, plumbing and the various types of tools, but the most sophisticated devices can only be built and operated by gnomes. For some strange reason, a printing press just does not work well when designed or built by a human. Yet when a gnome operates it, it can work amazingly well. Humans who steal a gnome invention find that it almost never works well for them.
Given these facts, it seems that only gnomes will be able to use the most unusual technology they develop, if it ever succeeds. Humans and other races can and do develop the technology originally made by gnomes, but their advancement in these fields is painfully slow. Technological development, even for the gnomish race, is a long and difficult thing, and takes place in a matter of centuries as opposed to a matter of years.
The futility of firearms
The legends of weapons powered by explosive gunpowder hurling projectiles that can blast through even the heaviest plate armor and the strongest magical barriers are just that: legends. The hero-god Murlynd, considered insane as his alien dress and the manifestations of his magic are thought by most to be the result of a diseased mind, is the only being who has ever managed to get “guns” to work properly. Many other peoples have tried to create powder-powered weapons over the years; the Aerdi, the Nyrondese, the Keoish, the Urnstmen, the Furyonds, the gnomes, the dwarves, the Onnwalians, the Kettites, the Zeifians, and even the people of the ancient Sueloise and Baklunish Empires, have all failed.
The reason that every one of these peoples or nations has failed in their efforts is simple; they are attempting the impossible. The formula exists, and can be found in most tomes of alchemy, but every time someone has tried to create some of this vile stuff, it most often comes out as inert dust that does not so much as glimmer when a match is put to it. The rest of the time, it creates a colossal explosion of such magnitude that a small pinch of the powder can devastate an area the size of a large mansion.
Gunpowder has proven to be incredibly dangerous and difficult to work with; and literally tens of thousands of lives have been lost in the process of trying to create it. Most of these, sadly enough, were innocents unlucky enough to be in the proximity of some crazed alchemist who thought he could actually get the cursed material to work. The resulting explosions have, on some occasions, leveled small cities…As one can expect, the carnage was horrific.
Now, almost every country in the Flanaess, good and evil alike, has banned the development of and experimenting with gunpowder. Harsh punishments are in store for the unlucky alchemist who is caught with it-he is executed in a most unpleasant manner, which usually involves being impaled, boiled alive, or drawn and quartered. Gunpowder and firearms are universally reviled as the tools of evil and unfettered destruction, even by the forces of evil themselves.
One thing must be made clear above all else here; sorcery, not science, is the greater of the two in the world of Oerth. The very gods themselves take it upon themselves to prevent such unfettered technology from ever being created. EVER. The very magical ether of the Oerth itself interferes with such things as “gunpowder” and “steam engines”, preventing them from ever being developed with any success. Thus, it can plainly be seen why no “industrial revolution” will ever occur on our beloved Oerth.
Agriculture and industry
Many people all across the Flanaess are involved in that perennial source of food and civilization-farming. Farmers are often the backbone of the economy wherever they live; people use swords to defend themselves, but they cannot swing these swords, or even forge them in the first place, without food. Thus, vast fields of corn, meal, grain, and wheat are grown for sustenance and for sale. Ranchers and herdsmen also raise cows, chickens, pigs, geese, ducks, and other livestock for the same purposes.
The value of this agriculture is immediately obvious, as people who live off the land can take their food directly from it. They also sell their excess produce and goods in the markets in cities for money which they use to pay for their property and the tools and seeds they need to make their living. Farmers may sell their goods themselves, taking up stalls in market squares once a week. They may also band together in guilds to sell their goods commonly, or have merchants do it on their behalf.
In some cases, the lords whose land the farmers live on may give him their excess produce as taxes in lieu of hard coin. Whether the farmers get any new money or tools from the lords in return is another matter entirely.
Farming and threshing are usually done by hand, with water being diverted from streams through irrigation techniques to water the crops. Those communities that can afford it may have sophisticated sprinkler and plumbing systems, often of gnomish design, that simply require hand pumping to spread the water from a stream over a larger field of crops, saving both time and stamina. Every farmer will have tools such as scythes, shovels, and hoes to help in the digging, planting, raising, and harvesting of crops.
Planting is usually done in the spring once the snow melts, and the crops are tended to all through summer. In autumn or late summer, the crops are cut down and taken in to be processed, as people begin storing food for the winter. In the winter-time, farmers usually take the time to catch up on repairs, prepare their taxes, and do other preparatory work for next year’s farming season.
Ranchers progress in the same way, driving their herds out to graze during the day, and then returning them to the barns for food and sleep. Cows, goats and deer are milked every morning, and the fields and stables are cleaned up of dung or other such messes at around the same time. This herding takes place through the spring and summer, with slaughtering and the storing of hay and wheat being done in the autumn. Herds are kept inside during the winter, and then let out again next summer.
Ranchers use staves to protect and guide their stock, buckets to hold the milk, and tools such as pitchforks and wagons to haul around hay and clean up the messes left by their charges. Both ranchers and farmers also have carpenters’ tools when necessary to repair their harnesses and barns, or anything else of theirs that breaks down.
With the exception of some clever tools and implements (which are still usually powered by hand or some other sort of kinetic energy, such as waterwheels or windmills), all the grueling work is done by hand. As such, most agricultural folk tend to be in good physical condition. Disease, malnourishment and outside assaults all take their toll, but in general farm folk are hale and hearty, as they need to be to perform their grueling jobs year after year.
Industry is itself also done by hand, and centers around both muscle power and the treasures of the oerth. Lumberjacks and miners gather up wood and oil, iron, coal, and other such products that can be used for manufacturing purposes. These are generally done with such tools as axes, hammers and picks, but sophisticated rock drills, two-man hacksaws, circular saws, or other devices can all help lighten the load of the workers at least somewhat. Special wagons are often rigged for the transport of these goods from their area of origin to the cities and other places where they are processed.
Individual craftspeople or their guilds will purchase these materials, and then use them in the manufacture of everything from coins to swords to tables to pipes and everything in between. The people who build these items often sell their works themselves, or have their guild do so on their behalf. The actual construction is generally done by hand, although certain machines and tools such as bellows, forges, clamps, hammers, and nails all play important parts.
Many industries work with each other in such a manner; metalworkers will process the iron brought in by miners, creating steel. This steel is then sold to a sword-smith or his guild, and he uses it to forge swords, which are then purchased for use. Other craftsmen may manufacture tools which are sold back to miners. The finished goods woodworkers, stonemasons and metal smiths manufacture are in demand by everyone, regardless of their vocation. Guilds often oversee these operations, controlling the prices and production quotas of their members. Some workers, especially in isolated areas, may not work for a guild, instead operating independently.
Needless to say, merchants are involved in the sale and transport of raw materials and finished goods. While often resented by workers for their greed and slippery accounting practices, merchants nonetheless remain essential to the flow of trade and coin across the Flanaess, especially after the Greyhawk Wars.
Religion and Spirituality
The granting of priestly spells
As mentioned, the deities are very much alive on Oerth, and do indeed give their servants divine magic the servants can cast in their name. The priests, shamans, paladins, witches, and other figures who revere the gods in this way often adhere to teachings and dogma that they say their deities offer, and must behave accordingly or be punished by being stripped of god-given abilities or being removed from the priesthood altogether.
However, one should note that the teachings and beliefs of each god can often vary widely, with different branches of a church having different beliefs indeed. Other mysterious planar creatures with no organized church may be worshipped, such as the Earth Dragon or the nightmarish Elder Elemental God. Many isolated priests, wise men, druids, and others claim no divine entity at all, but merely worship abstract natural things such as the sun, the moons, very old trees, a particular constellation of stars in the night sky, certain mountains or rivers, and so forth. They do indeed have divine powers-often very strange ones-but there is seemingly no deity to grant them.
The explanation may be that the gods are indeed very real and have a vested interest in the working of Oerth and its struggles of good and evil, but are distantly removed from their mortal worshippers. The gods often seem to have broad teachings, beliefs and codes of behavior, which can be interpreted through various shades and particulars of dogma or practice. This would account for the non-malevolent priests of evil gods operating in goodly realms, and goodly priests who dwell in evil kingdoms.
Each god grants spells to each section of their church according to the beliefs of that particular sect; a priest who professes to follow the One True Path, but acts more like a priest of the Blinding Light is likely to be denied spells by Pholtus, unless he actually converts to the Blinding Light. A priest of the Dark Light who converts to another sect of the Pholtan church must behave according to the tenets of his new order, or face the consequences. The belief system in effect creates the connection between the deity and whoever he or she gives spells, and if this is upset or disrupted in any way, such as the divine spellcaster acting out of line with their beliefs, the spellcaster cannot receive their powers.
This also explains why isolated spellcasters who worship such creatures as demon lords, non-divine entities on other planes, natural phenomena, or simple codes of belief are able to receive spells; the connection is established with genuine religious feeling, allowing powerful but mortal beings to grants spells.
Thus we can see why “hero-gods” such as Zagyg, Kelanen and Heward, or the fell lords of the lower planes such as Orcus, Asmodeus and Demogorgon can grant spells to worshippers. In the case of abstract belief systems or natural phenomena, they may be simple connections to the Outer Planes or to the Oerth itself. Someone who has their own particular beliefs that act towards law and good may have a personal connection with the Seven Heavens; while those who might worship the sun could have tapped into the innate power of that celestial being, forming their own personal bonds with it.
All mortal beings die. This is the way it has always been, and the way it always will be. But, where do they go? While the sages of Abeir-Toril have described their afterlife quite well, no such explanations has been given to those souls who pass from the Oerth to the next life. The processes described below are the best I have been able to glean from my own researches:
As one can expect, those actually serving a true god as divine spellcasters will pass to the domain of their deity when they die, serving for the rest of eternity. They may become creatures such as devas, planetars and moon dogs, or demons and devils, depending on their alignment. The greatest servants of each god will, of course, have the appropriate status given to them in service to their deity.
As for those who are not divine spellcasters, chances are they will be judged according to their deeds in their oerthly life and sent to whatever plane most suited them. Those who were lawful and good, for instance, would go to the Seven Heavens, while those who served chaos and evil would go to the Abyss. Beings who held patron gods and always adhered to that god’s teachings would also travel to the domain of their god, receiving an appropriate reward. Those who merely gave lip service all their lives, or who in fact chose to deny any god or other such being, are merely judged according to their own deeds as normal.
The souls of the dead may life their life in endless balmy splendor or as the mindless servants of evil monsters for the rest of their lives, but for some death is not the end of their road. The spirits of evil, especially, are often seized on by hags, imps and quasits to be used as bargaining chips in their dealings with the masters of the lower outer planes. Creatures such as manes, larvae and nupperibos can be eaten by demons or devils, totally destroying them.
But those creatures whose evil was great enough in life may rise to become full-fledged devils, demons or daemons in their own right, or become some other extraplanar evil creature. The most enterprising souls can work their way up the ladder to become pit fiends, balors or mariliths, or even in the rarest of cases demon lords and arch-devils themselves. Evil mortals who were divine servants of a god may immediately become devils, demons, or some other type of infernal minion, serving their god directly. The divine servants of good deities may become devas, moon dogs, foo creatures, baku, planetars, or even solars in the rarest of cases.
Gods and the Oerth
Iuz, as everyone knows, commands (or commanded, as the case may be) a vast empire that he rules directly as a god made flesh. Fharlanghn is said to travel the many wild roads and trails of the Flanaess, while Obad-Hai dwells in the deepest forests. Ehlonna travels the woods of elf and fairy, while Wastri oozes in the Vast Swamp in the company of man and toad.
Other gods, even such mighty deities as Pelor, Nerull and Istus, may not appear on Oerth directly whenever they wish. The gods restrict their own movements and appearances on Oerth very carefully, not wanting to upset the experiment they themselves have created. As a result, divine interference in the outcomes of the struggles and stories in the Flanaess is rare indeed, unless channeled through some mortal vessel such as a priest or an artifact.
This applies just as much to those gods dwelling directly on the Prime Material Plane itself as it does to any of the others. They may not intervene directly in the actions of their followers except in self-defense, as unprovoked action could lead to other deities coming to Oerth, others coming in response to them, and so forth. This resulting chain reaction, unless it was checked, could destroy the very world itself. Thus, Iuz could not materialize in Chendl with a horde of demons and begin destroying his enemies at will, nor could Wastri use his powers to lead an attack against the demihumans of Sunndi. St. Cuthbert could not attack Dorakaa, and Hieroneous could not strike down Rauxes.
Divine contact, when it takes place, must be of a very limited nature or through some proxy. Thus, Fharlanghn might stop at a farmstead for the evening, offering some small reward to those who treat him kindly, but he could not use his full power to burn down a village that runs him out of town. Rao could not materialize on the Prime Material Plane and banish all the demons summoned during the Greyhawk Wars by his will, but his mortal servants can do so by channeling his power through themselves and one of his holy artifacts.
To put it another way, gods can manifest in small ways that cause no great harm or effect large-scale change. They can act in the latter way when their mortal agents have made it possible for them to do so without inviting retaliation from another deity, typically by fulfilling some special quest. They can also manifest within their temples and when attending to matters related strictly to their own priesthoods, but not when dealing with lay worshippers or battle their priests’ enemies.
Apart from all these considerations, however, all the gods of Oerth share one thing in common regardless of their alignment: They want their mortal charges to grow and develop in their own ways, without always needing the deities to take them by the hand and guide them along a pre-set path. If the gods are always materializing to protect the mortals of the Oerth, how will they ever grow and develop, or overcome adversity? This is one thing that all gods want their followers to be able to do, regardless of their identity or alignment.