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Firelord Sagaby Ville Lähde
1) Metaphysical Background: the Ascension of the Nexus
Formation of the Cult of Rathanos in Mystara
Rathanos is a major Patron of Fire, who is often symbolised by the Fiery Ankh. He was one of the deities that were worshipped in the lost Empire of Nithia. As is told later on, a powerful cult arose around 1500 - 1400 BC in the Thanegioth Archipelago, centring on the mysterious figure "Firelord". Little knowledge of this period remains, mainly in textual fragments of Rathanos followers and various fire elementalist sects. This section describes briefly the canon of Rathanos worship, little of its history, and more specifically those elements of Rathanos worship that are linked to the rise and fall of the Nithian Firelord - and the new Firelord that is the main character of this campaign scheme.
In the early years of the Nithian empire, worship of Rathanos was widespread. In addition to the sect created by the Firelord, there were the mysterious Magician Fire Worshippers, who forged various alliances with beings in the Elemental Plane of Fire. (Read the excellent article by Sharon Dornhoff on the climate of Nithia, and the rise of Fire Worship. It is highly likely that the latter were also linked to the cult of Rathanos.
The arrival of the Alphatians around 1000 BC brought new potential allies to the cult. Even though the main portion of the newcomers were Followers of the Air, some remnants of the Followers of the Fire sect slipped into Mystara, and eventually contacted the Rathanos worshippers in Nithia.
Note: It was during this time that knowledge of the Firelord and the Nexus [see below] entered the texts of the Followers of Fire. This would eventually bring them closer to the cult of Rathanos. Thus it is understandable that the new Firelord will have close ties with the underground Followers of Fire in Alphatia.
Since the fall of the Nithian empire, "the servants of the Fiery Ankh" dwindled, but the cult lingered on in the traditions of the Thothian people, the scattered Magician Fire Worshippers, the few Nithian tribes of the newly formed Alasiyan basin, and in the ranks of the Followers of Fire. Later on the arrival of the Flaems in the area now called Glantri (then named Braejr) brought potential new recruits. Of course, the wizard supremacy would later on drive the Rathanos followers of Glantri underground.
During the following centuries, the cult of Rathanos around the area of former Nithia was linked to many nationalistic or even anti-colonialist concerns. Initially the Thothian Rathanos followers harboured bitter hatred towards the Alphatian Empire, because of its colonial activities that caused a lot of suffering to their people - Later on, when Thyatis emerged, the (literal) flames of this hatred were fanned by many Alphatian-Thyatian struggles that ravaged the homelands of the Thothians.
The Nithian Rathanos followers would adopt this anti-colonial attitude during the years of colonial wars in the Alasiyan basin. And of course, the Alphatian Followers of Fire had longer roots of hatred towards the Alphatian Empire. The scattered remarks in their scriptures about the long-gone, distant Empire of the Firelord (or the Fiery Pharaoh, see Section 2) would eventually spark ideas about re-establishing a powerbase for worship of Rathanos. This is the general religious basis for this campaign scheme.
The Legend of the Nexus (or: When the Stars are right)
This campaign scheme deals with to key periods of the Rathanos worship from the Nithian times to the "present" era (around 1000 AC) - the eras of the two Firelords. The key element here is a sub-cult within the Rathanos canon. According to "the Fiery Scriptures" and "the Dogmas of Ouroboros" (the alchemistic symbol for fire), the main texts of Rathanos worship, one of the main subordinates of Rathanos is his trusted messenger and aide, who is often called "the Starfire Sphere". This deity/demigod is said to live among the stars with his strange breed of fiery vampires.
(Note: This demigod was modelled after the entity Cthuga from the corpus following the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Cthuga, a being of Fire, lives in the constellation of Fomalhaut. I think he was created by August Derleth.)
The Starfire Sphere is Rathanos' "right arm" in Mystara, when the fiery deity wishes to influence the development of this world. But the religious canon of Rathanos also holds a greater promise for the powers of Fire, in which the Starfire Sphere plays a central role. Every 2500 years or so, "the stars are right", and the Starfire Sphere has a rare chance of channelling vast powers to a single follower of Rathanos in this world.
This would make the follower into "the Nexus", a being who has powers over the element of Fire equalling those of the highest elemental rulers. Such an individual could create a lasting Empire of Fire, where Rathanos would be the most important deity. The next time of Ascension will be around 1000 AC.
In the scriptures of Rathanos worship this event is called "the Ascension of Nexus". According to legends (unconfirmed of course, since a successful Ascension hasn't taken place in Mystara yet), during the Ascension the Starfire Sphere descends from the heavens, bringing with him the constellation that is his home, and forges a new star into the constellation to symbolise the new Nexus. It is thought the every star in the constellation resembles Nexuses that have Ascended in other worlds.
(Note: IMC I added flavour to this by getting the PCs see a glimpse of the "descended" constellation of Fomalhaut before they managed to ruin the ritual, of which more below. In the centre of the stars they saw images of beings from other worlds: a human male in a strange (Victorian-style) suit, a Klingon-like warrior, a Firedrake etc...)
Notes on the Cult of the Starfire Sphere:
Essentially, the Cult of the Starfire Sphere is an apocalyptic or "millenarian" (2 1/2 millenarian, to be exact ;)) cult. During the long years between the times that "the stars are right", the cult is virtually nonexistent, if one doesn't count the occasional mad prophet, or a crazed Fire Mage/Cleric of Rathanos who tries desperately to extend his/her life in order to be alive during the next Ascension. During the final century before the time of Ascension the cult is revitalised, as powerful individuals within the cult of Rathanos start gathering followers, and try to find a good area for the Ascension Ritual. One major requirement for the Ritual is that the area where it is performed has some powerful links to the Plane of Fire - volcanic areas are often preferred. The constant volcanic activity in the largest island of the Thanegioth Archipelago must have been what drew the first Firelord there.
Note: Of course, worship of Rathanos isn't limited to the areas described above. One interesting idea that could widen the scope of the campaign: There might be two Nexus candidates, both gathering forces and building their Ritual sites. Since "there can be only one" Nexus, the years before the time of Ascension might include bitter struggles between the candidates. Actually, these struggles might lead the PCs to Thanegioth.
Note II: The earlier text suggests that there was an opportunity for Ascension around 3000 BC (depending on the origins given for Rathanos).
Was there a prehistoric Firelord during the destruction of Blackmoor? Elves in Vulcania?
To complete the Ritual of Ascension, the Nexus candidate not only needs the required area, he/she also must be either a Cleric of Rathanos or a Fire-related mage. Also, summoning the Starfire Sphere and his Constellation down from the heavens requires a lot of power, inaccessible to any single individual. Thus the candidate has to gather a large amount of Followers, both mages and clerics. This gathering of power is at the core of the Cult of the Starfire Sphere.
The Ritual of Ascension will take place in a carefully prepared location, where both natural and artificial power points of Fire should be present.
The cultists will gather in concentric circular formations described by the Fiery Scriptures, channelling power to the Nexus candidate. If some cultists cannot be present, they must be replaced with magical power beacons crafted for just this purpose. Only a certain (small) percentage of the cultists may be replaced thus, so killing enough of them beforehand will stop the Ritual. Another chance to stop the ritual is to kill enough cultists in the middle of their incantations.
In accordance with the nature of the Ritual of Ascension, the Cult will organise in hierarchical Spheres of Influence - the Nexus candidate (the Firelord) being at the centre of several concentric circles of cultists.
Depending of the cultural background of the current Firelord and the cultists, the followers are designated with symbols that show their place in the hierarchy. (IMC I took the idea of numerical designations from the TV-series "the Prisoner"... "I'm not a man, I'm a free number!"...err.) But the place in the Spheres of influence doesn't only signify the "political" power of the cultists, it also shows how far they have learned the secret crafts of the Starfire Sphere: The Cult of the Starfire Sphere has developed during its history "Secret Crafts" similar to those of the Glantrian Fire Elementalists. (You can very well use the ones in the Glantri Gazetteer, but substitute the highest craft with the ability of the Nexus candidate to try the Ascension.)
Optional: If you don't like the idea that both clerics and mages in the cult can learn these crafts, then you can make the Fire-Mages the most influential group within it. The mages would form the Spheres of Influence, being the only ones able to try the Ascension. The Clerics of Rathanos would function as a support structure, preferring "direct" worship of Rathanos. This might cause schisms within the cult. IMC I preferred this option.
The Cult often forms alliances with various fire-based creatures like the efreeti, the fire salamanders, red dragons and fire giants. Through these alliances they can gain protection and important resources required in the Ritual (rare ingredients and such). The allied fire-creatures are promised a better future within the coming Empire of Fire. But there are some beings that are bitter enemies of these traditional allies, like the Sollux who hate the efreeti. anyone opposing the Cult will find willing allies there. (IMC I had the PCs gain the help of a couple of Sollux warriors.)