"Meep! Meep meep meep. Meep meep meep meep meep?"
"I can't rightly say, never having lived there, but people say life is fairly good there, all things considered. Many chances for advancement and immortality. They're quite rich, it's a little surprising they haven't invaded. When ambitious young sorts talk about the advantages they mostly seem to focus the chance for generous funding on their magical experiments."
"Around here, the law is simple. Don't do anything to piss off the guards, and they won't pick a fight with you. Mind-reading and mind-control are the sort of thing to get people after you, and I'm sure there are gods which are similarly problematic, though I don't know of any. Outsiders are normally fine, but we don't see too many around here these days. I think the Monster-Hunter's Guild has some summoned to train new members?"
The Lichocracy sounds pretty cool. Maybe not very Lawful, though? She might set up there, or she might refer them as an example when recruiting her own followers... Set a reminder to think about that more after visiting the temple of Understanding.
There's no laws here other than the guards' whim? That makes it easy.
"I am glad to have that information." She nods, and sets off to find the temple of Understanding.
Just in case the god called Understanding is actually the god of infohazards that only feel like deep insight, queue, at very low priority, reflecting on the effects that Understanding has had on her, somewhere outside the temple and away from other sources of Their influence. This is a queued thought, not a reminder with a specific trigger, to make it harder for an adversary reading her mind to predict when she'll revisit it and so put extra effort into containing her right then. Of course, if prophesy works here then she can't stop a god that wants to mess with her, but she can maybe make it a little more expensive.
Understanding will neither confirm nor deny that they are among other things, the god of infohazards. They will in fact say nothing at all.
The journey to the temple is largely uneventful, if seeing strange people on the road and passing them peacefully on the road is not considered an event. Outside the city, buildings are replaced by gardens sitting empty after harvest in chill air, and the density of people, strange or not, goes down. Replacing them are a selection of animals, both wild and tame with elementals and little fey providing colour between them, though in the hour she walks she only sees a couple of each of fey and elementals.
The temple itself is a complex of buildings on a terraced hillside, a spring diverted to provide running water and water features for every building, and every path is matched with a stream or aqueduct. It gives the entire place a pleasing background noise of running water, relaxing but not loud enough to be distracting. The main temple is an elaborate pagoda built in an open courtyard with a commanding view. Half a dozen monks are being lead in meditation by an abbot, as Kireh approaches, while two others are sweeping paths of dead leaves and other detritus.
So many pretty strange people. Interesting, that this planet has most of the Golarion breeds plus a bunch more. Maybe Golarion settled this planet a long time ago and forgot about it, and then they developed more breeds suited to the local environment? All the elementals are further evidence of prosperity, if they can afford so many calling spells and Plane Shifts. Why did they never reestablish contact with Golarion?
Queue that thought, she's at the temple now! The water features are lovely, and if this is a normal temple of Understanding, again show this planet's wealth.
Before approaching, she prays to Marra again, laying out her plans so Marra will have as much information as possible if Kireh gets eaten by an infohazard.
She enters and walks up to one of the monks sweeping the path, keeping a ten-foot distance, and readying herself to cast Haste on herself if she's attacked. "Hello. I'm not from around here. I received a minor vision telling me to consult at a temple of Understanding. So, here I am; I hope you have a protocol for what to do now. What rules are followed in your temple?"
The monk (a solidly-built hobgoblin man) seems surprised to meet such an entity, but also glad to be able to act on his actual job.
"Ah, I think I know the message you were talking about. It's theoretically set up to direct children who are receiving inaccurate or confused theological educations, but I suppose there are other circumstances it could apply in. The normal protocol is to answer your questions and, if you require it, take you as a student for some time. If you're faced with particularly knotty problems, I might send you to the abbot instead. Our temple requires only basic decency from our guests - don't attack people or break anything or so on. If you're from far enough away that your definition of politeness is radically different from ours, that might be troublesome, but I'm not sure enumerating a list of things which have caused petitioners to be expelled from the temple would be a productive use of our time. For now, we will assume you are operating in good faith, and correct you if you behave out of turn."
"I had never heard of Understanding before and did not have a precise question in mind. I just arrived here from another planet and would be very interested in learning about the local gods in general.
I'm an outsider of the newly-ascended Lawful Evil god Marra, who I think is only active on a portion of the planet Golarion - I'm not a devil; She makes her own kind of outsiders. I'm happy to pay for information or work directly for you."
The monk hesitates for a moment. "... Why do you serve a god who you would describe as evil? I am happy to lecture on the Pantheon and it's various members, and provide due explanations, but I am concerned that your grasp of the language is not as good as it might seem from your fluency. Between that, and the fact that the entity which claims to be your god is local - a trait that the gods do not possess, but which many things which would like to pretend to be gods do, suggests to me that your education in theology might have been substantially misleading in ways more fundamental than you realise."
If truespeech couldn't convey 'Evil', the monk must be completely ignorant of alignment...
"The terms Good and Evil are not my personal opinion - they're the opinions of the god Pharasma, who created the universe and built in Good and Evil, and Law and Chaos, as fundamental properties. Good is often beneficial, but not always, and not fully, and Marra is uniquely positioned to oppose the flaws of the Good ideology. Also: She offered me power that Good couldn't. She is fighting against another Lawful Evil god who is worse by almost any measure - Good agrees on that comparison. And I like Her and want to force the world to follow her principles of vanity, feudalism, paternalism, and rules. Obviously, I would be unhappy about being forced to obey a different Evil god, but that's irrelevant. Negotiating constructively with beings with different values is a matter of Law, of course, but I dislike many people's values and want them to have my values instead.
I suspect that either you have been substantially misled, or I have traveled farther than I thought. As far as I know, most gods operate throughout Pharasma's creation, but weaker ones might be limited to continents, planets, or species of followers.
A small point of evidence for this world being outside of Pharasma's creation is that Understanding sends minor visions to children merely because their education is inadequate. Where I'm from, visions are very expensive.
What kinds of entities pretend to be gods here?"
The monk will absorb this.
"... I think you need to talk to the abbott."
He does not pout, because monks do not pout. But he was enjoying doing his actual job.
She's willing to follow him in, but listens and smells and looks around carefully... Wait no, that's not the main danger here. She checks over her desires and feelings and impression of Understanding (no change). Queues thinking about how the monk is behaving and pops it from the queue (he seems fine) - her mental structures are working normally.
Indeed. Instead of mysterious cognitohazards, she is faced by a middle-aged orc with a wiry build and a kind face, and a pot of aromatic tea. The junior monk sits behind him (with his own cup of tea) to observe, and the previous stages of the conversation are summarized to the Abbot.
"So, you are from another plane, and it seems that either you, or we, are very confused as to the nature of, among other things, the creation of the universe, the nature of the gods, and the nature of good and evil."
"So it seems. What do you believe about the creation of the universe? My understanding of cosmology allows for multiple universes created by different gods, choosing Their own laws governing, for example, planets, healing spells, and afterlives. If I traveled from a different universe, neither of us must be misled. However, that leaves the question of why I recognize so many breeds of mortals here... if my recognition is correct. How many bones does an orc have? Do you know the route of the nerve to your voicebox? Can you interbreed with an elf, a goblin, or a human?"
"Our cosmology also permits the conception of existances beyond the edge of reality, but there have only been a handful of recorded instances of an entity stepping out of the void and they're collectively so weird that many scholars believe them spontaneously generated rather than from anywhere; as such. Besides, your first prediction should never be 'the veil of is and is not has been breached', it's epistemically messy."
"Our universe is some billions of years old, though the exact date is extremely unclear, and the only entity claiming to have created it - the archfey of genesis mythology - isn't particularly credible in those claims."
"It would indeed be somewhat surprising for the worlds to have the same mortal races, really. Orcs have 206 bones, as do humans and elves. I'm not well-read enough on anatomy to know about the path my nerves take, beyond the most obvious. Orcs can interbreed with elves and humans, but not with any of the of goblinoid morphs."
"Where I'm from, a typical adult orc is considered to have between 203 and 211 bones, depending on how you count them, but, in any case, more bones than humans, who have more bones than elves. Orcs can interbreed with elves, humans, and goblins, but the offspring with elves are infertile. The offspring with humans have a blend of human and orc traits, but the offspring with goblins appear to be unremarkable orcs or goblins. I've heard the theory that, for this reason, orcs should be considered to be another 'goblinoid morph'.
Consider the idea that our separate universes are independent, and I was chosen to be sent to your universe out of all the possibilities because I would find it familiar. I think that if the mortal races were exactly the same, that would mean that the multitude of universes and travelers must be larger in order to find such a close match. And since they're not the same, the set of options is smaller. But I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from that...
Another idea is that my universe is just a demiplane in yours, our Pharasma just a demigod or powerful adventurer by your standards. Of course, if Marra is not a 'true god', that doesn't change my duties to Her, but it might change my strategy.
Our universe is at least twelve thousand years old, possibly much older. I'd guess that the duration of our first 'age of creation' depended on the most efficient speed for gods to think and communicate at when there's nothing else going on, which I don't know. Pharasma's claim to have created the universe is not verifiable. She is the strongest god, but the universe is not perfect by Her standards. Perhaps this is the doing of the other gods, though, and creating Them was unavoidable for Her? There are also myths that some other gods already existed when Pharasma created our universe.
How do scholars think the entities you mention had been spontaneously generated? Why is that considered more likely than someone deliberately engineering a creature with fabricated memories?"
"How odd. Orcs and elves produce children which are clearly one or other, and either race produces hybrids with normal humans. Both races were designed from human stock by the same ancient creators (may they be reviled forever). Goblins are a completely different sort of thing."
"Your theory that you were sent here for this world's familiarity does sound plausible, if you were sent here deliberately, but if travel between worlds is possible and some worlds were created, then it seems plausible that such interworld transit is the source of such similarities. Perhaps your Pharasma was inspired by things which evolved elsewhere, or the ancient creators of our local peoples took inspiration from that which washed up from the void."
"Pharasma seems to at least have age and power on her side; The archfey of genesis is not consistent with his claims as to how the universe was made and is of only average strength for an archfey of global scope. Most people do not have perfect control over that which they create, after all."
"Positing an entity which is deliberately creating the entities which arrive from nothing would imply an entity much stronger than existing gods - since several entities which have arrived through the void are as strong as gods or other lesser imperial powers, but which has no clear agenda, since those entities are strange and not aligned with one another in nature or purpose. The proposed mechanism of generation is beyond my grasp of the theory, but I am given to understand it involves the fact that the void outside the universe lacks cause and effect, so in principle anything could occur there."
"In practice, what tests could we run, and how would the results matter? I'm not planning on returning to my universe. Either Marra will be able to choose clerics here or She won't be. My main concern, then, is the afterlives of mortal followers of Marra here.
Is there magic here that could locate Pharasma's demiplane? What's wrong with the creators of orcs and elves? Our goblins often have painfully impacted teeth, something like that?"
"It's a matter of scholarly interest. Also, you're not the only void-arrival who has had hope of reinforcement. The Gehenna war-world also claims that it is merely the beachead for a greater multiversal empire, but it's been a few millenia so people don't really believe them anymore. But yes, very hard to test. I wouldn't be expecting your goddess to intervene in your favour any time soon."
"Assuming it is in fact a demiplane and not as discussed another universe, that seems like something any arch-ritualist should in theory be able to make progress on, albiet at great expense."
The monk gives a pointed look. "They created slave-races to use as they see fit. Thier empire was a work of totalitarian cruelty the likes of which has never been seen again, now that it's last vestiges have finally fallen these past few hundred years."
"Hm, well I'm willing to trade information about my 'world'."
Sounds tyrannical. "What gods was their empire associated with? What do you mean by 'slave race' - why couldn't they have used baseline humans?"
"I'm not sure what information about your world would interest an archmage, I don't know any personally, but they do tend to like secrets about the fundamental nature of reality, you can't become an archmage if you're not willing to take insane risks for the sake of further magical knowledge."
"The gods tend to be cagy about their mortal lives, or about affiliation with states which fell millennia ago. What I can say with certainty is that the goddess Rivers, whose domains also include purity and nationalism, thinks that the remaining high elf holdouts have a good thing going and supports them regularly and that the god Death-by-Violence, who I personally hold in esteem second only to my patron, was once a slave-general in their armies, and stole godhood from them. The drow demon-goddess dead not more than two centuries ago was one of them, and her underdark empire of sadism was in many ways the last remnant of what that empire once was. One can thus suppose that her coterie - the gods Torture, Espionage, Spiders, and Yearning, were also from that empire. The Lord High Coward is the only mortal from that age still alive in any public capacity - presumably he'd know more."
"Humans are imperfect in innumerable ways, and they thought that their genetic engineering could make people better-suited for the tasks they had for them. Orcs and Elves are designed to be cheap, not requiring any more magic to grow than a human, which limited their art in many ways but also makes us the only ones who could hope to survive their downfall. Elves are beautiful, at least by the standards of the age, and they are good at work requiring finesse and detail and they can work for another four hours a day without suffering long-term consequences, making them superior servants and artists. Orcs are stronger and harder to kill, and they made us optimists - there isn't an orc alive who doesn't believe the next great victory is just over the horizon. They didn't realise that high morale would do more for the slave rebellions than it would for the loyal slaves, I think. There's a reason there are far more elves still chained by the memory of long-dead masters than there are orcs."
"Rivers cares about purity as in perfect efficient elegance which only elves are capable of? Or racial purity? I know plenty of gods that care about a particular race but none that care about purity in general... actually Nethys is in favor of cross-breeding in general, so it's not that strange.
What do you like about Death-By-Violence? How do mortals become gods?"
Presumably the Lord High Coward is a royal advisor who has to argue against everything the King proposes, or specifically against wars. Sounds easy enough to find if she wants more information later, but right now her main goal is to figure out where Marra's interests can be served and who to ally with.
"What gods are similar to Marra? Wanting people to be awesome, even if it hurts to get there, wanting people to love themselves, wanting people to follow rules over feelings?"
"To be generous, Rivers believes that people live better lives if they live among their own kind in both culture and blood in their native homeland. To be less generous, she saw the symbolism of rivers acting as geographical boundaries and purity of those rivers being of tremendous importance to the people around them and took an opportunity to enter local politics for further influence."
"Death-by-Violence relates his domain to all the consequences and causes of violence. The act is less important, in his mind, than the reasons and the consequences. His priests manage the harms of violence without attempting to unduly prevent it, which has a lot of value in a world as dangerous as this one - they do things like give advice to new adventurers or people embarking on quests for vengeance. He has also always supported my ancestors through their struggles, and will do so in future, so I have a personal fondness that goes beyond practical need."
"Mortals mostly become gods by usurping the title from an existing god. Making a new divine mantle is beyond the arts of modern archmages, but before the Fall it was more common - once there were no gods at all."
"Non-comprehensively, as well as Understanding's own quest for enlightenment, Ambition, Forge and Soil sound relevant for wanting people to be awesome even at the cost of pain - Ambition speaks to getting what you want and need at any cost, Forge to transformation and creation without hesitation or mercy, and Soil to paying down into long-term investments even if you're not sure you'll ever see the payoff. Wanting people to love themselves might be the domain of Hearth, Renewal, Void or She-is, though I must warn that the latter is considered mildly heretical due to her refusal to join the pantheon when it was formed, and does not tend to favour those who are not gnolls. Hearth cares for healing and comfort and the quiet enjoyment of home. Renewal to fixing and growing and healing re-broken bones and love in general. Void is concerned with all the problems of a broken and isolated self, among other things. Wanting people to follow rules over feelings ... I don't think you mean Physics, whose domain is those rules of reality which do not consider minds to be ontologically fundamental, like gravity or many chemical reactions, but instead something more like Civilization, who has a specific code of laws they'd like everyone to be following, or Storm, who rails against people who grow complacent in times of plenty and do not take steps for dealing with future disaster? Soil and Metal together created the Old Law that the dwarves follow, principles designed to outlive mortals and states alike. Perhaps also the Formian gods might be of interest - Worker who slaves, Warrior who guards, Taskmaster who plans, Myrmarch who exceeds, and Queen who mothers, but the Formians are in many ways alien in mindset, and their gods moreso, since they're embodiments of caste-archetypes rather than specific mortals. The worker and warrior castes aren't even sophont - which has caused problems, when the worker-god turns it's eyes to humanoids, because you can't treat a human farmer the way you'd treat something with less agency than an ox."
"So a god's domain is somewhat flexible, and They get stronger if Their domain is relevant to mortal affairs, even if They arrange that by adding a new poetic meaning to Their domain?
Is it common to have religious orders devoted to multiple gods, say Forge, Void, and Civilization? Is there organized opposition to the pantheon, or other groups of gods that work together?"
It looks like Asmodeus isn't here, at least. The orcs and elves were simply optimized for their work, and not, say, in constant emotional torment, or dependent on a food that only their masters could provide, or instinctively terrified of freedom.
"You see the sharpest changes in a domain's precise shape when a new person claims the domain - the current Death-by-Disease is pro-medicine, the last one was pro-plague. So they had very different infrastructure set up, different interpretations of and uses for the same fundamental building block of reality. But yes, domains can change over time. There's a lot of pushing and shoving over contested teritory in the long run - there are at least four gods who consider childbirth to be a thing of thiers, for example. The precise mechaisms of divine strength are largely opaque but you seem roughly correct to say that that's one factor.
Religious orders devoted to multiple gods aren't unheard of, especially when it's because they're focusing on a point of overlap rather than cherrypicking doctrine, and if the gods in question like each other. The most common example would be the dwarf worship of Soil and Metal as a pair. Apart from the 35 legitimate gods of the pantheon, the only other major groups were the drow coterie and the formian gods, and the former is largely collapsed without its leader - torture especially was not able to maintain the social dictates of his core power-base without a lot of social engineering he couldn't sustain alone."
"So it will be hard to make a cult of Marra, at least one with a comprehensive divine connection, although I suppose I could make cult of Forge that happens to have other Marran practices... Are the mortal followers of Ambition, Forge, Hearth, Void, or Civilization likely to object to new groups that worship their gods with a different focus?
If Death-by-Disease is opposed to disease, there's a lot of flexibility! Is Torture weak enough to be overthrown? A focus on torture for the purpose of making people awesome and vain and lawful would be pretty cool.
- Back up. How should I relate to the gods? In Pharasma's Creation, souls are made, live a mortal life, are judged and sent to a fitting afterlife, and become outsiders like me. Only mortals can be chosen by gods for a special connection, although some outsiders naturally have a bit of a divine connection - I don't. Should I still be considering myself as an outsider now, or simply an unusual magical creature? Would it be easier for me to usurp Torture, or for me to train a mortal to do so, or recruit this universe's equivalent of an outsider? At home, it's straightforward for outsiders to ascend to godhood, but very difficult, while mortals have risky idiosyncratic methods."