In the early days, Gods were unformed blobs of stuff. They bounced around the Planes. When they felt the vibrations of a believer, they latched on to the nearest small tribe and transformed into whatever God the tribe desired. If the tribe was into war, the God became a God of War. If the tribe was into spoons, the God became the God of Hastily Carved Eating Implements. The small Gods fed off the small whiffs of worship and devotion like worship leeches and survived.
As tribes succeeded, collided and grew, their Gods absorbed other local, conquered Gods. Sometimes two different Gods merged and became one God, with the larger retaining small hints of the smaller. One tribe absorbed both the local Gods of War and Spoons and morphed them into one God. The tribe forevermore went screaming to War wearing giant wooden spoon-helmets.
On the Planes, the smaller God of War ate the God of Spoons and spent a small eternity digesting him. When the God of Spoon’s name disappeared from worshiper minds, the God of War burped.
The God of Knowledge was once one of those small, tribal Gods. His tribe absorbed several smaller tribes and became one, big tribe. He gained attributes of these smaller Gods. Then, to the God’s infinite delight, his tribe settled down and formed villages. These villages attracted more people. These people began to worship Him. Then, the villagers built Shrines. Shrines! Actual Shrines! Little anchor points in the world where He could siphon constant whiffs of devotion and grow. And grow!
During this era, the God of Knowledge was a benevolent God. He had many names, gained as his tribes and villagers went out and conquered other nearby villages and stole their lesser Knowledge Gods. He created priests and clerics. He reached out through his Shrines and tapped the occasional random villager on the head. The God granted her the ability to understand the many new villagers and command them.
It was a good time. The village turned into a town. The town began to urbanize. People specialized in worship of Him and dedicated to Him their research in magic and science. The townspeople built a Temple. Then another Temple. Then a third. The people built schools of study high up in the mountains. They built hallowed halls out of paper and dedicated them in His name.
The country grew. The people conquered and built an Empire. The God of Knowledge became their primary God. The people desired a Great and Benevolent God, so He became that great and benevolent God. And He ate smaller God hors d’oeuvres.
The Empire smacked into other Empires. The people declared wars of conquest. Great armies clashed. The people demanded their God represent more than mere magic, science and learning. The God of Knowledge absorbed a stray, flailing God of War. Armies flew His banner on the killing fields. They slaughtered thousands in His name.
And then the world metastasized. Borders became set. Gods stopped snacking at easy small God buffets.
The Gods of the various Empires looked down upon their people and then looked at each other. And then, they thought: market competition.
Many old Gods were gone – swallowed and digested. The remaining Gods eyed one another. They knew, with the demands of worshipers to economize their worship and prevailing market forces, only two or three would eventually remain standing. Only so many devotional worshipers existed. This capped the liquid economy of worship available to the living. There wasn’t enough to support many Great Gods. The Gods knew some would live, some would die, and a small number – three? – would end as the available worshipable God products.
For Great Gods to become even Greater Gods, monopoly was the way to go.
The Gods pulled out all the stops trying to corner the market in devotion.
Thus began the Age of Prophets. Someone, somewhere, would hit on the perfect combination of God awesomeness, hooky stories, and worshiper persuasion to knock off the others. The remaining Great Gods reached down from the Planes and frantically bopped believers on the head. You’re a cleric! You’re a cleric! No, you’re a cleric! Everyone is a cleric! Magic for everyone! You cure some ills! And you over there, raise some dead! Call down some lightning! Get to it!
The suddenly en-Cleric’d wandered the lands preaching (somewhat dazed) the words of their respective Gods. Most didn’t get any traction. Really? You want us to jump on one foot for eternity to get infinite love? Or never bathe? Or eat bees?
The newly en-Cleric’d were largely ignored. This was a world of magic, of knowledge, of learning. Why would the elite erudite educated worshipers listen to crazy prophets – prophets who might be bards?
The marketing and ad campaigns for attracting new worshipers and stealing market share from other Gods fell flat. The Gods were going to give up on the Great Age of Prophets. But the God of Knowledge reached down and gave his Prophet Channel Divinity: Read Thoughts. And his Prophet wandered the world scanning thoughts looking for those susceptible to his Word and then whispered one word of Command: Love.
And they did.
The Prophet built a following. People fled their belief in their Gods to join the God of Knowledge. The God of Knowledge’s belief penetrated the nearby, stable Empires. When the Prophet became too powerful, and threatened the status quo, the God of Knowledge’s own people grabbed him and had him decapitated. The followers wrote it all down because if there’s one thing the followers of the Prophet of the God of Knowledge is, it’s literate. And forevermore wore little heads on platters on chains around their necks.
The God of Knowledge gave his fellow Gods two thumbs up. Who is the guy with an Empire, a martyred prophet, a story, and more believers than any of you?
This guy, right here.
And it was good. Amazing, even.
The Fall of Empire and Spread of Belief
But all good things come to an end. All Empires fall.
When the Empire fell, and it did fall in spurts of extreme violence, the people frantically grabbed books and scrolls, pressed them close to their chests, and fled the flames up to the Temples in the mountains. The clerics and worshipers closed the doors and barred them against the marauding armies. They secreted away their knowledge in underground vaults where it was cool and dry. Safe for paper.
Believer’s thoughts and minds form their Gods like mounds of clay. As the worshipers hid in the mountains and knowledge withdrew into the secret and inaccessible parts of the world, the God of Knowledge morphed. He changed. He reflected the people’s anger at the changing world. Betrayal! His people let their Empire fall! How could they do this to Him?
He promised his worshipers temporal and magical power if they brought the world’s knowledge to Him. Never again would the poor decisions of worshipers jeopardize the world’s knowledge and his place at the apex of the world. No, he would keep it.
The God of Knowledge no longer wished to share learning and knowledge with the world. He wanted learning and knowledge to come to Him.
And He wanted it all. To keep His existence. To keep it secret. To keep it safe.
The people’s Empire might fall, but their God and his Prophet would survive. When the pillars of government imploded, the pillars of belief stood. Belief endured as the Empire shattered and reverted back to regions, towns, and villages.
As people rebuilt their world, the Clerics retained the power. The Clerics built more monasteries in the God of Knowledge’s name. The rich and powerful sent their young sons and daughters to initiate in secrets to serve their families in the new world of kill or be killed. New kings plowed riches gotten from tribute into the God of Knowledge’s new Churches and Clerical networks in return for bits of lost information or the stray occasional book.
As the rich bowed their knee to this new God of Knowledge, they forced the little people to do the same.
The God of Knowledge crafted His doctrine and spoke it through his Bishops.
- Never burn paper. Never reuse paper. The written word may retain a secret and a secret lost is a heresy.
- Build libraries in His name. Vast libraries. But beneath the earth, behind locked doors, where the books are kept safe from the loose hands of the uninitiated.
- Go into the world, teach all to read, so if they learn of a secret, they bring it to Him.
- No secret is too small. Or too big. Or too profane.
- Great is His Prophet, and may His Severed Head Speak words of utter Truth.
- In Death, He will grant his people salvation in knowledge of the secrets of the cosmos. All truths shall be revealed.
And the most important tenet of faith:
One must never utter the God’s True Name, for that is the Ultimate Secret. His old names are dead. Now, His name will forever be the Unspoken.
Clerics and Clerical Spells
The Unspoken God of Knowledge’s existence has long stabilized. He is one of the Great Gods, beating out the other Gods of now long-gone Empires and surviving to take in millions of worshipers across the entire spectrum of alignments. The Unspoken God of Knowledge’s clerics are granted the standard Clerics of the Knowledge Domain spells and Class features.
Existence as a Cleric of the Unspoken God of Knowledge is a good existence – warm places to live, often coming from wealthy Temples and wealthier families, and access to knowledge their Clerical peers lack. They gate-keep on their wizarding, magic-wielding, likewise knowledge-hording peers, and often demand concessions before opening their vaults to the Wizard community. They can tap into a wide network of other Clerics of Knowledge who likewise know secrets to exchange books across Temples.
Their God makes specific demands, though:
- The Clerics of the Unspoken God of Knowledge are on a relentless search for the secrets of the cosmos… and hoard them. They want to be the sole keepers and purveyors of universal knowledge. In this, they believe their God will be greatest.
- The Cleric’s goal is not to teach or to spread knowledge, but to find the most interesting secrets and return them to the Temple – preferably intact. A tome of absolute crawling evil sits at the bottom of this dungeon? The Cleric isn’t going to destroy it. She’s going to steal it and get it back to her underground Temple library where she and her peers will properly read it and write several research papers on it. She doesn’t much care that it will release some terrible creature into the world. That’s actually a perk.
- However, one of the Cleric’s goals is to spread teaching and learning to convert more people into worshipers, or to reinforce already existing worship.
- The rich and powerful are highly motivated to give to the Temples and Monasteries land and cash. In return, they receive secrets about their temporal enemies. Of course, all the rich and powerful give to the Temples and Monasteries in return for drips and drabs of terrible truths and horrible secrets so the Temples maintain information distribution balance.
- The Clerics of the Unspoken God of Knowledge know their Temples are full of tomes of crawling, horrible, unspeakable evil and that they, too, spend all day soaking in said unspeakable evil. They believe it’s simply part of the path to full cosmic knowledge. One cannot attain godlike mastery over the secrets of the universe without encountering a few tentacles.
- Because of the past of the Prophet and the Knowledge His Head Speaks, the Clerics of the Unspoken God are into heads. They decorate all their Temples, books, and various religious accouterments with orbs, spheres, and other, easily recognized, circle-based symbols. The core symbol of the Unspoken God is a head on a platter, but the Clerics simplify to an orb attached to axes, swords, and their favorite weapons, maces.
- Those who become Paladins in the service of the Unspoken God of Knowledge take Oaths of Vengeance and purse those who steal, leak, or otherwise give away for free the secrets gathered in the Unspoken God’s service. For them, leaks are the ultimate sin. They will purse those who open the libraries and teach freely with the hunters’ instinct of a black, avenging angel. No leaks may survive.
Unspoken God in a Campaign
The Unspoken God is ready for scrape-off-the-serial-numbers use.
- Followers of the Unspoken God of Knowledge make perfectly good PCs. The quest for secrets (and hording them) gives plenty of motivation to adventure, kill things, and take their stuff. The Unspoken God is a lawful-neutral evil God, and his followers are either lawful neutral, true neutral, lawful evil or neutral evil.
- Also, ex-followers of the Unspoken God of Knowledge make perfectly good PCs backgrounds – especially if the PC is, say, a good-aligned Bard, and has dedicate her life to spreading information instead of hording it. And probably a Paladin with an Oath of Vengeance is in pursuit.
- The Temples of the Unspoken God of Knowledge make excellent platforms for adventure. No doubt the Clerics within either let something free and it is eating the countryside, or they are hording evil Cthuloid tomes that the party must destroy, or they are planning to knock over the nearby wizarding tower and take all their scrolls to secret them away.
- Make a Cleric of the Unspoken God of Knowledge a villain. Give the Cleric command, suggestion, channel divinity: read thoughts, confusion and scrying. Set him up as a cult leader in a cult compound. Let him speak the command word: worship. Let the PCs lose some wisdom rolls. Have fun!
- Another bit of adventure is going through some lost tombs and discovering artifacts or ancient Elven clerics of the Unspoken God of Knowledge when the God was good. What they do with that information – and the Elves they find – is up to them.
Author’s Note: My daughter (age 11) wanted me to take a stereotypical good god and made it evil. She picked the Knowledge Domain. In the hands of evil Clerics, granted Command and Suggestion spells are pretty much fonts of endless horrible, terrible fun for villains.
Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games – http://www.patreon.com/VanityGames