In the provinces, the local spirits are often placated by offerings at shrines built outside the walls of the palisade. There are some individuals supernaturally gifted in the way of natural things, and they are considered the tenders of these shrines, infrequently seen but always felt in the care they provide. Wood witch is a name given to them by people of the Old City, but the folk whose crops and fauna these benefactors aid speak of them only obliquely, and in gentle terms.
Little is known of the wandering souls who visit the shrines in the provinces, but one familiar with lore of the woods knows that each is unlike any other. It is said, though only through second hand accounts, that from time to time they meet at hallowed places in the deep dark of the Blood Wood.
The settlers of Vindulan brought many gods with them, but the dominant religion is represented by those who worship the Three. Many claim to feel the influence of the gods in their lives, but those who worship some aspect of the Three can back their words up with the evidence of the gods' power. The Church of the Three has a strong following both in Vindulan and in the freeholds, and its clergy perform many public ritual functions and ceremonies. They are the chief agent of humanity's salvation, some say, for the Mother, Father, and Child chose a blessed few to heal them and make them whole in their darkest hour, when the encroaching lizardfolk threatened the very existence of the much smaller and younger settlement.
There is very little hierarchy--administrative offices exist, but there is no formal rank or seniority. Clergyfolk are, instead, called by an aspect of the Three, and upon manifestation of the gods' blessing, a clerk customarily undergoes ordination and takes up a five-year tour of service throughout Vindulan and outside the wall, after which they conduct various services as their calling, situation, and station demand. Aspects of the Three, as the ordained are known, know one another by their cloaks of office, and typically regard other as fellow travelers on the path. Not all, however, enter the path of ordination; those who are called among the freeholds, particularly, have been known to explore their faith in less formal ways. Aspects of the Three do not look down upon them as subordinates strictly speaking, but certainly take a patronizing attitude in practice.
Concerning its prevalence among the settlements, the church's efforts are non-proselytizing, but there is a distinct outreach effort on the Norside where the Cincture (and consequently the Beacon) does not go. Monasteries serve as islands of peace amidst the chaos of the Blood Wood, as well as botanical and medical research sites. The clerks and monks who dedicate their lives to study and healing are supported by local settlements in the way of physical labor and resources, who in turn depend on the monasteries for succor and shelter in the face of Fartheen attacks. The monasteries of the southern provinces are more akin to watchtowers for the Beacon, which uses them as waystations to deploy in aid of the farmholds against marauding hill orcs. In either case, locals are drawn to them in the name of service for the benefit of all, providing a way of life and furthering the spread of humanity in a world seemingly inimical to it.
A note about the Church, and Aspects in particular: truly gifted (i.e., cleric with spellcasting) individuals are fairly rare. The bulk of the clergy is involved with relief and humanitarian work, or in researching mundane (physiological/pharmacological) cures. There are exceptional individuals who have been blessed at critical moments in history, but even the most renowned, such as Boddigan the Servant, have never brought someone back from death by their powers.
Clerics of the Three choose one aspect of the Three, and select their domains from the list. The domains and gods (and their aspects) are listed below. The list of domains is drawn from the Players Handbook, but others are available to be chosen or created with DM guidance.
The Three and their Aspects
- The Architect
- The Lover
- The Teacher
- The Builder
- The Servant
- The Traveler
- One Who Plays
- One In Need
- One Who Learns
The Dark One**
- The Thief
- The Shadow
- The Bold
* The practice and study of magic is highly regulated in Vindulan, and unsanctioned use of magic is punishable by exile with extreme prejudice.
** Study of any Aspect of the Dark One, and even belief in the unity of the Dark One with the other aspects of the gods, is considered heresy.
Cults to various beings (mortal and supernatural) emerge now and again, even in the Old City where they are proscribed on pain of exile. Adherents to these cults typically reject the establishment, favoring the primacy (or working to advance the primacy) of their chosen idol. The inner workings and rites of these organizations are kept a mystery, even to low-ranking adherents, but they present no threat to the power of the Three in Vindulan, and so they are left alone by the Beacon outside the Old City.
From the perspective of a cleric of the Three, other religious practices run a range from innocuous and compatible to anathemic and intolerable.
The most frequently used term in reference to wood witches is Servant of the Wood, but some call them forest children, even in advanced old age. Their unseen presence is accepted as a normal, and even healthy, part of provincial life; a clerk or Aspect of the Three often incorporates animistic elements and considerations into his own approach to supporting the community. A quiet undercurrent of distrust manifests in the clergy in the Old City, however; newly-ordained clerks from Vindulan anticipate their time spent in the provinces with trepidation.
Cults are viewed either as benignly wrong-headed or a genuine threat to the order provided by the Beacon. In the Old City and within the wall, an arm of the Church aligns with the Beacon to stamp out cults wherever they arise, due to the threat posed by their lack of allegiance to the Cincture and the unknown source of the powers a cult warlock manifests. Outside the wall, a cleric has greater concerns, but a latent hostility is nevertheless present.