In Darkest Days: Mage-Hunt in Ansalon

The Lost Battles and the Priests of the Moons

The following manuscript, written in the first century after the Cataclysm, was brought to me in 361AC by a traveler who recovered it from the ruins of Daltigoth. I purchased it from her in the city of Haven during my visit to the fall harvest festival of that year. It details one of the most turbulent times in the history of the Conclave, and it includes some rare information about our accusers, the Priests of the Moons. The work, translated from Low Ergothian, is incomplete, consisting of excerpts of only a few chapters, but its title Hystoirum Penitatus im Deios Lunae is known both to me and to my colleagues at the Great Library of Palanthas. I hope it will provide those of our order who have a curiosity about our history with some thought-provoking reading on the nature of society and of our order itself. Only when we hold ourselves up to the harsh light of scrutiny can we truly see our flaws.
-Syrrhinus the White, of Kalaman
Head Librarian of the Tower of Wayreth
Spring 363AC

Chapter 1: The Origins and History of the Priesthood of the Moons

In the seventy-sixth year before the Cataclysm, a rift developed within the Wizard’s Conclave. This division over doctrine set the stage for one of the darkest periods in the history of Ansalon and magic itself. The disagreements, philosophical at first, were based on the purpose of magic’s existence in the world. Some members of the Order of High Sorcery felt that the power should be a tool for the gods of the moons. The majority of the members, however, retained the traditional belief that the magic of the moons was at the disposal of the wielder, who may have answered to a particular deity, but was in no way a servant of that god. The controversy began when a young mage named Muscyndis Alipha, an Ergothian, published a treatise at the tower of Daltigoth. Alipha is an interesting character in the history of magic. Initially, he aspired to become a priest, but he failed in this task when his latent talents in the arts of wizardly magic displayed themselves. Distraught over his own sense of impiety and failure, he wandered for months, crossing the continent in his journeys. This sojourn affected him deeply, according to his memoirs, for he saw the poverty and squalor that many lived in, and believed that he had the power to change it.

Finally accepting that he in fact had been gifted and not cursed with his abilities, he sought out the Wizard’s Conclave and joined it. The years that followed are not well detailed, but it is known that he became a mage of some renown, particularly in his service to the communities to which he traveled. His experiences in the seminaries of Kalaman, where he studied for the priesthood, however, had changed him. He retained the deep faith of his youth, and he eventually published a paper that combined his faith with his ideas about magic. He discussed new roles for mages and a brighter future in which they lived in the open. The ideals struck a chord with members of all three Orders and in dining halls of all the towers, debates occurred. The discussions were amicable at first, but over the months some wizards grew more forceful in their views, and tempers flared.

In 73PC, apprentices at the Tower of Daltigoth, led by Alipha himself, began openly practicing their beliefs and converting others. They declared that they were no longer mages, but priests, who honored their gods through service, not selfishness. The Priesthood of the Moons was born.

Branded as renegades by the Conclave, the Priests of the Moons fled Daltigoth and the other towers and sought refuge in the fold of the Kingpriest of Istar. The clergy welcomed them with open arms, even allowing these wayward sons and daughters who had returned to true faith to build their great temple in the city of Calah. Though the Priests of the Moons were few in number when they arrived, the Kingpriest, Eusymmachus III, and his advisors knew that a strong priesthood devoted to the gods of magic could one day become a powerful ally. To this end, they were patient and allowed the fledgling order to grow in safety.

His patience was rewarded in the decades that followed, as the Priesthood of the Moons swelled to include hundreds of members. It had not yet begun to build temples across Ansalon, but its members traveled widely, preaching and working with the people, gaining much sympathy as they did. Their doctrine of servitude made them popular with the citizens and the new Kingpriest.

When Eusymmachus IV looked at the Priests of the Moon, he saw an order that would well suit his plans. Manipulative advisors had made many of the Kingpriests fearful and paranoid about the power and wealth of the Conclave, and the presence of a popular order that already had tense relations with the Conclave proved too tempting a tool to waste. After several prominent members of the Priesthood of the Moons, including Alipha, were murdered, and the Conclave was implicated, the Kingpriest and his close advisors found it easy to make the public dislike of the Conclave turn to zealous hatred. With the gracious aid of the Kingpriest, the priesthood launched a massive investigation to find the culprits. Initially created to seek justice, it soon became an arena for the trial and execution of mages. The Lost Battles were about to begin.

Skillful manipulation of the population fanned the embers of mistrust into the flames of hate, and within weeks, wizards were being burned at the stake. Tribunals sprang up across Ansalon, led by Priests of the Moons and made up of Knights of Solamnia and a new militant order devoted to Kiri-Jolith, the Divine Hammer. Local magistrates and constabularies became involved, but it was mainly the continent-spanning institutions that controlled the trials. From Tarsis to Palanthas, Karthay to Daltigoth, wizards found themselves hunted down and put on trial.

The persecution of the Conclave lasted for years, and in that time the Priests of the Moons created an internal order whose primary goal focused on hunting mages. Skilled in both spell-use and martial combat, these individuals led parties of Knights and warrior-priests throughout the land in search of hidden magic-wielders. In the trials, they also acted as accusers, questioners, and final arbiters. Five years after they began, the mage-hunt reached its climax. No longer content to ferret out evil individuals, the Priests of the Moons turned their righteous might on the towers themselves, the sanctuaries of the Conclave.

Peasant levies were raised across the breadth of Ansalon in preparation for the attacks on the wizards’ strongholds. Joining again with the Knights of Solamnia and the Order of the Divine Hammer, the Moon Priests prepared to lay siege. On the eve of the first attack, the wizards struck first. The archmages of the Towers of Daltigoth and Losarcum destroyed their towers, using potent magics to level the buildings. The show of force by the Conclave was very effective, for Beldinas, the Kingpriest himself, decreed that the attacks would halt. (The Kingpriest’s hold over the populace, though never officially political, was incredibly strong; he had installed sympathizers and puppets to positions high in the Istaran Senate.)

At his command, the armies stayed their hands and allowed the wizards to retreat to Wayreth, per the Kingpriest’s agreement with Fistandantilus. The people believed that the Kingpriest was concerned with public safety in the towers’ cities, but the true reason for the pause in the battle was much less noble. The Kingpriest and his advisors sought not to save lives, but to secure the artifacts secreted within the towers. If the remaining towers were destroyed, these items would be lost, thus the wizards were allowed safe passage. Again, the machinations of the Kingpriest were thwarted, for though he gained the tower of Istar, he lost the Tower of Palanthas. As is well known, a member of the Order of the Black Robes threw himself from the parapet, barring the entry to all save the “Master of Past and Present.” In the end, the Lost Battles, as they came to be known, were a pyrrhic victory for the Kingpriest, for he gained only one of the five towers he sought to claim.

The entry of the Kingpriest into the halls of Istar’s tower is one of the grimmest days of the Conclave, for it marks the first and only time an unworthy has controlled a citadel of magic. Little is known of the events of this turbulent period, for there are no surviving records of the Kingpriest’s time in the tower. What is certain is that at the same time he took up residence there, the Kingpriest also took the wizard Fistandantilus as an advisor. Though claimed to be a meeting of the minds to establish a lasting peace between clergy and Conclave, it is more likely that a bargain was struck. Fistandantilus never again left Istar. Instead, he remained ensconced at the Kingpriest’s side. The gods alone know what the evil archmage whispered to the holy man, but it could be nothing good.

With two towers in ruins, one occupied, and one blocked by a curse, the Conclave faced its darkest hour. Safely hidden in their tower in the magical forest of Wayreth, the Conclave retired from the world and watched as the fanaticism of the Kingpriest’s minions expanded and accelerated.

Though the wizards had fled from society, the persecutions continued. In most cases, as before, those tried and put to death were innocent. In truth, toward the end, the accusations had little to do with the Conclave, or with magic at all. They were instead directed at the deformed, the poor, strangers, or the unpopular–everyone society deemed undesirable. If a neighbor experienced good fortune, it was because he used magic. Conversely, if someone experienced ill fortune, it was because someone used malevolent magic against her. Thus, many innocent people became the victim of class and social hatreds now expressible through legal means.

Little has survived to document the last days of the Moon Priests before the Cataclysm, but it is known that the priests, along with much of the existing clergy, were recalled to Istar by the Kingpriest or the heads of their orders. Some chose to go, while others went to Calah, where their great temple had been built. When the true priests left Krynn before the Cataclysm, the true Priests of the Moons were among them. Days later, the Cataclysm struck. Those Moon Priests who survived shared the beliefs of their brethren, but were wicked and corrupt, like much of Krynn’s populace.

Within the Conclave, sympathies existed for the Moon Priests, and in the decades after the destruction of the fiery mountain, the priesthood reappeared. Though evidence of the gods was gone from Krynn, few could dispute the presence of the moons above it. Zealous burnings of Knights and witches worried the mages, and fearful of history repeating itself, the Conclave took action. As the wizards saw it, the Priests of the Moons were not evil unto themselves. Rather, they were devoted people who had been manipulated by the clergy into serving the corrupt ends of the Kingpriest. In their pious brethren, the ranking members saw both a useful tool and a deadly enemy. Choosing to look past the differences in beliefs, the Conclave summoned the believers to Wayreth, welcomed the priests back to the Order, and gave them a role: renegade hunters. They could have their freedom of beliefs, but they must serve the Conclave and be subject to its laws.

In an effort to escape being hunted by the people of Ansalon, many of whom held them to blame for the Cataclysm, the priests agreed to work with the Conclave. They saw that, though the Conclave members were selfish in their use of power, they at least policed themselves. Renegades did not. They followed no code of conduct save whatever served their own ends — they were the true manifestation of the selfish use of magical power. Setting aside a portion of the Tower of Wayreth as a temple and quarters for the priests, the Conclave let them practice their skills of investigation and interrogation. Their safe existence had a price, though: They could not build temples to the Moon Gods, nor could they preach against the Conclave. Thus, they were allowed to exist, but only in small numbers.

(The manuscript fragment was smeared here, obscuring the words.)

The common question asked about the Lost Battles is why the wizards did not fight back. At the time, the Conclave had relatively few members. Indeed, total membership may have been under one thousand, with the majority of these being untested students or those having only recently passed the Test of High Sorcery. The road to becoming a powerful mage is a long one, which can take decades to complete, if ever. Thus, most wizards are of low to moderate power, with archmages being extremely rare individuals. It is also important to note that these individuals were scattered between towers, colleges, and hermitages across a continent. In the end, all wizards, regardless of power, must rest, a luxury in short supply during a siege. A war with the populace could not be won, for the Conclave’s resources and members were simply spread too thin. Even mercenaries, who rarely question a source of pay, did not wish to fight against all of society.

(Another smear obscured the text here.)

The Priests of the Moons have proven remarkably skilled in dealing with renegades, using their martial and holy abilities to their fullest extent. In some cases investigation is all that is required, in others apprehension, and in some unfortunate instances, assassinations are deemed necessary. By allowing the priesthood to flourish under their watchful eye, the Conclave can prevent future persecutions and, more importantly, deal with renegades using agents who lack a wizard’s vulnerabilities.

Novice mages often ask why the gods allowed the persecutions to happen. Unfortunately, no firm answer to this question exists. Holy scriptures of all the gods tell of the All-Saints War, which is a time before the beginning of creation when the gods themselves warred for control of the souls waiting to be born. The planet itself was ravaged in the conflict, and at the end of the war, the gods all swore an oath that no one of them would ever make war upon Krynn again. They must let the inhabitants of this fledgling world choose their fates. They could be directed, and manipulated, but the gods themselves could not fight each other on the world of mortals. Thus, some say that the mistakes during the time of the Kingpriest could not be prevented and that they resulted from mortal folly that the gods could not act to stop.

However, others say differently. They believe the gods of the moons were among the weakest deities, because their believers, the wizards, were so few in number. When the Priesthood of the Moons arose, the moon gods let them fight the mages so that the stronger would survive. If the wizards prevailed, nothing would change, but it the Moon Priests were victorious, a more socially acceptable veneration of the moon gods could take hold on Krynn. No one can answer this save the three gods, and if there is one thing all deities do well, it is keep secrets from their followers.

(Manuscript fragment ends)

Chapter 4: The Structure of the Priesthood of the Moons

At its inception, the inquisition initially sought to find the murderers of Alipha and his disciples. Small and inexperienced as the priesthood was, it could not administer such a task on its own. Again, the Kingpriest offered aid. Othniel Belshasyr, a high-ranking Revered Son of Paladine, acted as liaison between the Kingpriest and the new church. In time, he became a trusted advisor to the Council of Abbots, which ran the Priesthood of the Moons. Of course, a fledgling priesthood needs resources to mount such a monumental investigation, and again, the Kingpriest offered help. Belshasyr controlled the flow of money into the Priesthood of the Moons coffers, and soon the inquisition itself, though he never did so openly.

The Church of the Moons was never very elaborate in its structure. It was still a young institution at the time of the Cataclysm, and bureaucracy of the kind in the Priesthood of Paladine can take millennia to develop. Each temple is controlled by an Abbot, and the size of a given temple usually indicates that individual’s level of influence. The Council of Abbots, made up of nine members — three devoted to each moon god — is chosen from among these priests. The sequence of progression is as follows:

Novitia: Novitia are the lowest ranking members of the Priesthood of the Moons. They are not yet ordained, and they typically spend five years studying to advance. Duties of a Novitia include day-to-day tasks in the temples, though they are not permitted into those rituals beyond the first circle.

Initiata: Initiata is the second step of progression. These individuals can gain entry to all holy services, but only as observers. They hold responsibility for administrative tasks at the temples. Members remain at this level for three or four years before advancing.

Acolycia: Acolycia can take part in all rituals but are not yet permitted to lead or perform such tasks. Aspirants at this level remain here for an indeterminate time until they are ordained. In the final phase of this level, the individuals undertake missionary work or a preaching journey, during which they must travel to a distant land and spread the word of the Moon Priests.

Ordinata: The title of Ordinata is granted after Ordination. Ordained priests may lead rituals, and they must spend one year of every three traveling and preaching. The majority of members of the Clergy of the Moons rise no further than this.

Prioria: The title of Prioria is granted only rarely, and only after decades of service to the gods. At the time of the Cataclysm, less than forty Prioria existed. They are capable of ordaining and of accepting hopefuls into the faith as Novitia.

Abbot: An Abbot rules the church of a given city or region, using the temple as an administrative seat. Abbots are chosen by the Abbots of the Council and hold the title for life.

Abbot of the Council: Nine individuals control the doctrine and direction of the Priesthood of the Moons. Alipha set nine as the number of Council members so that no one person could control the church, believing that the group would balance itself out in decrees and reign in temperance.

(Manuscript fragment ends)

Chapter 11: The Persecutions

The Priests of the Moons were already popular public figures, and when some of their most prominent members were murdered in quick succession, the public willingly granted them the leeway needed to see justice done. As noted, they initially set out to find the responsible party, but at the urgings of Belshasyr, they quickly came to believe that the Conclave itself would not rest until its competition, the Priesthood of the Moons, was eradicated. Advisors of the Kingpriest lent their views, and soon the Council of Abbots saw conspiracies all around them. They decided to root out those hidden magic-users and hold them accountable for their schemes. The people of Ansalon, long jealous of the mages, were eager to see the Conclave get what they felt it deserved. To this end, the priests created manuals based on their beliefs and doctrine that would aid them in finding and questioning suspects. The first of these tomes, the Persuum Hereticus, was written by Daviel Erastus with the aid of Belshasyr. Its key points were posted in cities across the continent, and with its aid, the populace could easily identify magic-users in their midst. When one of the many traveling Moon Priests arrived with a caravan to dispense justice and cleanse the land, the populace had already whipped itself into a fervor and had both suspects and evidence ready for the priests’ perusal.

The Litigatum Hereticus, used only in tribunals, consisted of detailed instructions on how to question and prove one’s accusations, as well as how to resist the sorcery suspects were likely to employ against foes. This book was written by Belshasyr and Ennemoser Sartorio, the foremost of the earliest Moon Priest inquisitors. Few copies of these books have survived, but those who have read them speak with great worry that something as tragic could happen to us again. The wording, they say, is such that there is no escape once accused, save to admit guilt and be granted a mercifully quick execution. To protest one’s guilt, it seems, is to invite torture, public humiliation, and, eventually, residence in an unmarked grave.

Sequence of Events in a Trial

What follows here is a brief synopsis of the events that transpire in a typical trial sequence, from suspicion at the beginning to pronouncement of punishment at the end.

1. The people of a town or village begin to voice suspicions about a person, and this talk intensifies when witnesses to unspeakable acts of witchery are found. If not imprisoned until the arrival of an accuser, the suspect is placed under house arrest or closely watched by neighbors. Once a priest arrives, he or she listens to accounts of the accused as well as statements from witnesses.

2. A traveling Moon Priest accuses the suspected magic-user. These mage-hunters travel with entourage caravans so that heretics can be tested and given a hearing immediately upon reading of charges and, if required, be transported to a tribunal. Professional advocates also travel with this entourage so that they can give the defendants a proper representation.

3. When a suspect is found and accused, the individual often has to undergo tests of piety and purity prior to being formally charged with practicing heretical magic. Subjects who do not survive the tests are publicly proclaimed innocent, and the process ends. If they survive these tests, formal charges are laid.

4. The suspect is formally charged and brought before a tribunal. In the presence of overwhelming evidence, the Moon Priest acts as magistrate and can make a ruling. If there is sufficient evidence for a trial, the suspect is transported to the nearest Temple of the Moons and incarcerated in its Inquisitorial Hall.

5. At a trial, a prior or prioress questions the accused according to methods and procedures set out in the Litigatum Hereticus. An advocate from within the Priesthood of the Moons may defend the accused, or the accused may defend him- or herself.

6. A Holy Magistrate, the highest-ranking clergyperson of the local temple, makes a ruling based on the defendant’s repentance, confession, or denial of charges, and the evidence present. In some cases, these rulings are made by juries of local ranking Knights of Solamnia, Members of the Divine Hammer, and the Priesthood of the Moons.

7. When the defendant is found guilty, the punishment is determined based on the nature of the charges.

The Mage-Hunters

Priests of the Moons who take up the glorious mantle of mage-hunter are highly respected by their brethren. Only the most pious and courageous of the Order are invited to join, and even then, only three in five aspirants survive the rigorous training. When they emerge from their training after a full year away from the rest of the priesthood, these individuals, already powerful priests, have great combat, investigative, and oratory skills.

They wear little armor, retaining the simple robes of their chosen order within priesthood. However, across their backs are slung scimitars of the highest quality. Jewelry, from rings and circlets to earrings and bracelets, covers the hunter. Crafters within the Moon Priesthood create items that repel the malevolent magics of a mage resisting arrest and gift the mage-hunter with them upon ascension to the rank. Though all mage-hunters carry the scimitar, some higher ranking hunters also wield the Garafa — a short staff with a crescent-shaped blade at its head. These symbols of power and rank are bestowed upon the mage-hunters by the Council of Abbots.

(Manuscript fragment ends)

Epilogue: Afterword and Adventure Seeds

Translator’s Afterword

The persecution of magic-users was indeed one of the darkest times in the art’s history. So too was it a dark time for the rest of the population, for it was only a symptom of the plagues killing the civilization of Ansalon from within. No one was safe from accusation. Anyone — man or woman, adult or child — could be accused and put to death. The pendulum of our civilization swung toward darkness and was held there by the will of the powerful in Istar, which is something that we must never allow again! The past can be mourned, but we, as mages, must keep a watchful eye on society to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. Truly the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
–Syrrhinus the White

Adventure Seeds

A roleplaying campaign set during this time period can have many possibilities. Here are some examples:

  • A player character or important NPC could be accused of magecraft, leaving it to the other members of the party to rescue him or her.
  • The PCs could try to find the true murderers of Alipha and his cohorts — murderers within the Kingpriest’s own court.
  • For a twist, the PCs could be thrust into the role of advocates, or even accusers, in the persecutions.
  • As Priests of the Moons, the PCs could be sent on missions to capture and return a ranking Conclave member for trial, or perhaps to retrieve an artifact of renown “stolen” by the Conclave.
  • Similar to the above, priest characters may be sent on missions across the continent to bring the word of their gods to the people there. They may encounter any manner of danger or intrigue along the way.

Bibliography

  • Ardener, Edwin. “Witchcraft, Economics, and the Continuity of Belief.” In Witchcraft Confessions & Accusations, edited by Mary Douglas. London: Tavistock Publications Ltd., 1970.
  • Boyer, Paul and Stephen Nissenbaum. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.
  • Evans-Pritchard, E.E. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.
  • Hunter Wilson, Monica. “Witch-Beliefs and Social Structure.” Reproduced in Witchcraft and Sorcery: Selected Readings (2nd ed.), edited by Max Marwick. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1986 (1951)
  • Johnson, Harold et al., Tales of the Lance. Lake Geneva, WI; TSR, Inc., 1992.
  • Kirchoff, Mary. The Medusa Plague. Defenders of Magic Trilogy, Volume 2. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc., 1994.
  • Marwick, Max. “Introduction.” In Witchcraft and Sorcery: Selected Readings (2nd ed.), edited by Max Marwick. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1986.
  • Marwick, Max. “Witchcraft as a Social Strain Gauge.” Reproduced in Witchcraft and Sorcery: Selected Readings (2nd ed.), edited by Max Marwick. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1986 (1964).

For more information about Moon Priests, be sure to check out the Mage Hunter prestige class.

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