Literal masks

  Phidas priests and core worshipers are nicknamed “Masks” because Phidas wears a mask and his followers wear masks. Very simple, but there is a lot of variation inthis practice.   Some of Phidas’ faithful literally never take their masks off in the presence of others while others only wear their ceremonial masks at extremely formal events. Sometimes the ceremonial masks are very small and just ring the eyes, and sometimes the masks obscure every single facial feature. When you get an outsider Mask among humans they will often make jokes. If a temple has fourteen humans and one tengku, if anything the mask makes the outsider stand out more. A lot of them take a mask of a different color so they can make the joke "If you have trouble spotting me, I'm the one in the green mask."   In most cases Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are superior to Tim Burton’s Batman movies, but one thing Nolan did bothered me. They said outright that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is his true face. Tim Burton only implied it. There was a big masquerade party and the only people there not wearing masks were Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle.   The Masks of Phidas have a lot of undercover operatives. In most places wearing a silver mask will make one stand out, so most undercover Masks are ironically not wearing masks. Most of Phidas’ best covert agents never take off their mask in or near the temple, and take on an assumed name, so their natural faces are unknown to as many people as possible.   Most masks worn by the Masks are silver but special reverence is given to red masks. Red masks are “oath masks.” “Until I accomplish ______, I swear by Phidas’ holy name, I will not remove this mask.”     Phidas and Geo-Politics   Most feudalistic human nations have priests of Phidas, Khemra and Hallisan jockeying for influence. More often than not, Phidas is out of favor, at least compared to Khemra and Hallisan.   There are apocryphal stories about Masks of Phidas offering kings a large quantity of gold or a powerful magical item in exchange for a small favor. The small favor creates huge unforeseen problems for the king which the Mask will help him solve in return for another favor. And so on forth until the king is a helpless puppet of the Masks.   These stories are so well known that most princes and potentates work very hard to keep the Masks at arms’ length. If a prince needs something from the Mask it’s wise to arrange payment up front as opposed to some vague terms about debt. One thing that Masks can do to earn the trust of reluctant people is to spell out what they want and what they will do exactly and swear on Phidas name. Breaking an oath made in Phidas’ name is dangerous, especially for a mask.   King Henryk of Fumaya makes a big show of Phidas support during his annual festival and largely pays the Masks no heed the rest of the year. Henryk will politely listen to what the Masks have to recommend, but he usually doesn’t follow their advice. This is all too common in many human nations as well as Meckelorn and the Elven Empire. The Masks are kept tantalizing close to the levers of power but they cannot operate the levers themselves.   The Masks are tenacious. If they cannot win the favor of the king or queen, they will try to win over the dukes and duchesses. If they cannot win over the dukes they will turn to licking the boots of the counts and barons. The Masks are also generally in tight with the wealthy merchants and others who have great wealth but little formal political power.   Phidas is not very popular with the peasants and the Masks generally do not try very hard to win over the peasantry. Sometimes they will heal peasants for good publicity or pittance donations of copper pieces, but this is done more for the realm than for the peasants. Healthy peasants are better workers after all. While the Masks do not care if the peasants love them, they usually follow Machiavelli’s advice and try to make sure the peasants don’t hate them.     Phidas is the state patron of Uskala. King Drosst is easily cunning and ruthless enough to get in bed with the Masks and not be entrapped by waves of debt and intrigue. If anything, Drosst is manipulating the Masks. The Masks provide King Drosst with divine magic aid when he needs it and giant of quantities of gold. In exchange, the Masks get to have a say in most government appointments too lowly for Drosst to care about. The peasants hate the Masks in Uskala. When Drosst needs to do tyrannical things, he usually uses the Masks as his agents. King Drosst rarely pays the Masks for their services, instead he gives the Mask's legal authority to fleece the populace.     Apart from Uskala, Phidas is not the state patron of any powerful nations, but a lot of petty kings and independent counts and barons have Phidas as their state patron. Usually this occurs when a powerful warlord rises to top of the heap, but cannot play politics of peace time. Many of these warlords end up puppets of the Masks and another apocryphal warning story is born.     Phidas is fairly powerful in Kahdisteria. Greymoria is the state patron but the local Masks have managed to outmaneuver the other priesthoods to eke out a solid number two spot among the dark elves. Kahdisteria is built on Greymoria worship, so the Masks are content with being Number Two. If they try to reach higher they will assuredly be crushed.     Phidas is the second most powerful priesthood in the dwarf nation of Stahlheim. They got this power by ingratiating themselves to the guilds. The king has to keep the guilds’ wants and needs in mind when making policy decision and now the guilds have to keep the Masks’ in wants and needs when making decisions. It’s indirect, but it works. The Masks hope to slowly displace the Guardians from the Number One spiritual spot in Stahlheim within two dwarf generations.     Phidas worship is basically illegal in any nation where the Lanterns are powerful. Most Zarthus friendly nations don’t last for long but the half-elf nation of Apseldia has infuriated the Masks by celebrating their bicentennial recently. Phidas is not officially restricted but it is very unpopular among most wood elves. The Masks are generally unwelcome in places where the Tenders are unusually politically powerful such as Mondert or anywhere controlled by the Paladins.     Very few barbarian people, either human, demihuman or monstrous worship Phidas. It’s not that they are hostile to Phidas, they just view Phidas as being unimportant to their lives. Unless the barbarian tribe is pro-Zarthus in which case they are anti-Phidas by default.    

The Clergy

  Phidas’ priesthood actively recruits new members. The Masks generally prefer to induct recruits as children rather than adults unless an adult is a self-taught theurgist or has other special skills.   You can gauge the influence of the local Masks by looking at where they are recruiting from. If the Masks are doing well, most of their recruits are the non-inheriting sons and daughters of nobles. In most places, the bulk of the Mask’s new recruits are the non-inheriting sons and daughters of wealthy merchants. If the Masks have been sidelined, most of the Mask’s new recruits are the children of very ambitious peasants. Some high ranking Masks say that all temples should aim to recruit new members from all levels of society, noting that lowborn Masks are often very tenacious and fanatical.   Phidas worship is fairly common in human, dwarf, and elf lands, so there lots of human, dwarf, and elf Masks. Gnome masks are not common, but gnomes are shrewd negotiators known for their silver tongues, so gnomish Masks are often disproportionately represented in higher ranks. A common saying is “Beware the gnome whose silver tongue is forked.” dwarves' and elves' long life spans give them patience. They prefer the slow and steady method of accruing of rank and status. tengku and human Masks tend to favor high risk/high reward plots. gnomes sort of split the difference.   Roughly a third of Phidas’ priests and support staff are theurgists. Very few theurgists are divine bards. Divine bards of Phidas only show up once or twice in a generation purely by accident when the Masks recruit a musical prodigy without realizing it. Roughly three out of five Masks are male. Very few Masks are arcane mages. If the Masks want arcane magic, they generally broker a deal with Greymoria’s Children.   theurgists are considerably more likely to be promoted to high ranks than non-spell casters. Highborn Masks are slightly more likely to be promoted to high ranks than lowborn.    

The Masks' Material Needs

  The Masks have broad political influence but they do not get nearly as many donations as they would like. At best, Phidas is in the middle of the pack among the Nine for both casual worshipers and fervent worshipers.   The Masks will sometimes provide spiritual and magical services for free if they can do it loudly and publicly, but most interactions between Masks and the masses are transactional.   The Masks’ theurgists have a general aptitude for the domain of Crafts, so the Masks commonly produce potions, scrolls, and assorted permanent magical items (especially armor) for sale. Sometimes they will even sell Golems, but they usually prefer to keep their Golems for themselves. They might not be able to craft magical items quite as well as the Guardians but with their extensive merchant networks, the Masks can get their wares to where customers want them (and can afford them) easier. Also, given that they have generally good relations with Greymoria's Children they can buy and sell arcane magic items pretty easily along their same trade networks     Most nations don’t have a secular bank, they have the Church of Phidas. Phidas’ temples often double as institutions of lending for burghers and nobles a like. A lot of the Mask’s operating funds come from charging interest.   While it’s not as big of a cash cow as lending, the Masks have very secure vaults. Sometimes nobles and rich merchants pay the Masks a small fee to store their treasures in Mask guarded facilities. Sometimes the Masks are contracted to put magical protection (or simply supply guards) to defend the local armory or other stores of lesser valuables, but they have to compete with the Guardians for this privilege.   It’s uncommon, but the Masks are often intertwined with organized crime, especially in areas where the Masks are not welcome in respectable society. In some places this pits Mask against Mask as some of Phidas' faithful are working for the mafia dons and some are working for law enforcement.    

Factions, Schisms, and Heresies

  Phidas’ followers try to maintain a global hierarchy. There are four official Orders within Phidas’ greater priesthood and there is a fifth informal order that some are hoping to promote to a full Order status.   Officially, loyalty to the priestly hierarchy is supposed to be absolute and all Masks are expected to work together for Phidas’ greater mission. Unofficially, the Masks believe that fierce competition within the ranks makes the group stronger on the whole, the only rule to cheating is “don’t get caught.”   The Order of Phidas' Mask was named before “Mask” became the slang term for all of Phidas’ priests and they have not changed the name since, so on some level they are the Mask’s Masks or the "Order of Phidas' Redundancy". The Mask’s Masks are the public face of Phidas’ priesthood. They conduct most weddings, funerals, and basic worship services as well as try to publicly do good works in Phidas’ name to improve Phidas’ image overall.   The Order of Phidas' Shield is the military wing of the priesthood. In addition to providing guards and soldiers they also perform a lot of quiet tasks that temples need that are often taken for granted. Phidas’ Shield often serve as quartermasters for instance. They are the Mask’s first line of defense against The Void, and Order of Phidas' Shield is authorized a lot of resources towards this task, and they are happy to use third parties. Some adventurers are shocked when the miserly Phidas priests suddenly start providing magical assistance to them for free just because they happened to fight some demons on their last adventure.   The Order of Phidas' Stewardship is where most ambitious Masks hope to get transferred to, at least until they learn how many high born boots they have to lick. This Order is responsible for helping the secular authorities run their realms smoothly and the Order tries to ingratiate themselves to every monarch and every lord in the area.   Officially the Order of Phidas' Dagger does not exist. The Masks do not even tell their own people the Order exists until they reach the middle ranks. Order of Phidas' Dagger is where most of Phidas’ spies, assassins, inquisitors, and other cloak and dagger experts work to further Phidas’ noble vision behind the scenes by any means necessary. Unfortunately for the Order, their existance is not nearly as secret as they would like. The Lanterns of Zarthus have found out about them and they blabbed about it to everyone who would listen. However, very few outsiders know how many are in this Order, what they do exactly, or where they are based. The only widely known fact is that the Order of Phidas' Dagger.   Phidas' Bankers are the unofficial fifth order in Phidas’ priesthood that oversees the Masks’ lucrative lending business and magical item trade. At this point the Bankers are made up of members of all four official Orders and all four Orders are trying to make sure they reap all the benefits of this commerce while trying to give the other three Orders the grunt work associated with commerce. There is vigorous debate within the greater priesthood if consolidating all commerce tasks within a separate Order would reduce infighting or increase it.    

The Pontiffs

  At the top of Phidas’ hierarchy are three Pontiffs. If there is a vacancy, every Pontiff of the second highest rank can volunteer to try to fill the vacancy (and most do volunteer). The Pontiff candidates all face a battery of difficult tests by Phidas’ most powerful questing spirits to determine who gets the promotion.   The three Pontiffs are expected to work together but in reality this is not practical. The Pontiffs are too far removed geographically to communicate regularly. Also, anyone who clawed their way to the top of the Mask’s pyramid are going to be very ambitious and not likely to trust rivals.   One Pontiff is in charge of all Phidas temples in West Colassia. In reality, the dwarf Masks are loathe to take direction from a human Pontiff, but they will at least pretend to listen. They are hoping to see a dwarf Pontiff eventually.   One Pontiff is in charge of all Phidas Temples in Umera and the Elven Empire, but the elf Masks are loathe to follow a human. There was an elf Pontiff once but the Umeran humans are generally prejudiced against elves (all the wars their ancestors fought), so they were even less unified under an elf Pontiff.   The Third Pontiff is in charge of all Phidas Temples in Penarchia and East Colassia on paper, but in reality the Third Pontiff is the Pontiff on Penarchia and that’s it. East Colassia does not have a lot of Masks and these Masks do not cooperate ever because the East Colassian masks are split between the dark elves of Kahdisteria and the humans of the Colassian Confederacy, mortal enemies. East Colassian Masks generally ignore all directives from the Pontiff because both the Confederate Masks and Dark Elf Masks believe the Pontiff is a pawn of the other side. Political rivalry beats religious unity in East Colassia every time.    

The Promised One Heresy

  Phidas has never had a favored soul. Phidas’ priests officially teach that Phidas never empowered a favored soul because Phidas never needed a favored soul. Other priesthoods derisively say that Phidas is not powerful enough to empower a favored soul because of the injuries Turoch inflicted on him.   Very few theologians know or suspect that favored souls are capable of rebelling against their divine patrons and still retain their full powers. Those in the know speculate that Phidas is such a control freak that he doesn’t want to risk the slightest possibility that one of his favored souls could go astray, so he doesn't empower any.   Phidas’ priesthood has a persistent heretical offshoot that claims that someday Phidas will empower a favored soul (or several). He/she is referred to as the Promised One (or Ones if it’s a small group). When the Promised One emerges, he/she/they will usher in a golden age of growth for Phidas’ power and prestige.   The Tiamalan kobolds believe that their race will never be fully purified until they win the favor of all the Nine. The Tiamalans have given birth to multiple favored souls of every other one of the Nine. They believe that a kobold favored soul of Phidas will usher in a golden age for kobolds. A few farsighted priests of Phidas have pushed to induct kobold clerics to influence the Tiamalans just in case they are right.   The Tiamalan clans will always follow the lead of a favored soul born to their clan. Even after the favored souls dies, they will usually follow the god or goddess who empowered the favored soul if there is no successor. If a Tiamalan clan goes for a long time without a favored soul, they will try to honor the ways of Phidas to the best of their understanding. Recently, human Phidas priests have begun training a small number of Tiamalans as Masks of Phidas. This training is very truncated and unorthodox compared to the training Masks normally received, and the kobold Masks have a lot more autonomy than human Masks of the same rank receive, but the heterodoxy is viewed as acceptable if it leads to expanding Phidas' influence to a new frontier.

Articles under Masks

Cover image: Symbol of the Nine by Pendrake


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