Silver Longsword & Sprig of Belladonna superimposed on an Alabaster Kite Shield
|Alignment||Lawful Neutral (Home Faith), Lawful Good (Pure Hearts), True Neutral (Erudites), Lawful Evil (Zealots)|
|Divine Rank||Unknown, possibly nonexistent|
|Portfolio||Protection, Mortals, Light, Compassion, Battling Evil|
|Domains||Mists, Destruction, Healing, Law, Protection, Curse|
|Home Plane||The Mists (Demiplane of Dread)|
|Worshippers||Humans, Monster Hunters|
|Favoured Weapon||Ezra's Blade (Longsword)|
The largest and most powerful faith in the entirety of the Demiplane of Dread, the Church of Ezra is devoted to the worship of Ezra, a benevolent female deity who seeks to protect humanity from the forces of darkness. Originating out of Borca, the Church has undergone three major schisms since its founding, resulting in four different established sects of the Church that might almost be different faiths entirely; the Home Faith of Borca, the Pure Hearts of Mordent, the Erudites of Dementlieu, and the Zealots of Darkon. All share the common belief that Ezra is the only benevolent god in the misty realm and that she seeks to protect humanity from the legions of darkness, but how they interpret this common base belief is what defines the different sects.
The Ezran church is the closest thing in the Ravenloft setting to a "Christian" religion, although The Morninglord faith also has some similarities.
The Church of Ezra, faith is a classic case of garbled and confusing, if not contradictory, information.
Perhaps the first depiction of the Church of Ezra is in "Domains of Dread", the original Ravenloft campaign setting book for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Here, it is presented in minimalistic detail, noting mostly that the church worships a female deity called Ezra, that the faithful are called upon to protect, aid and comfort others, and that the church is divided between four major sects, covering the three Lawful alignments and True Neutral. It also presented the Anchorite, the Cleric of Ezra, as its own unique class.
This would be expanded upon in "Van Richten's Guide to Witches", which was only published as part of "Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium Volume III". Here, it's noted that the Ezra faith calls upon its followers to battle evil and that they are very aggressive in their proselytizing, seeking to become the dominant religion of the demiplane.
Perhaps the clearest example of Ezra information first appeared in the fan-written netbook "The Book of Secrets". Here, fans were presented with an entire history of the church, as well as a detailed outline of its various tenets, how the differing branches of the faith interpret these tenets, how the church keeps from schisming even further, and a full writeup of the major players and locations of the church.
This article, "Anchors of Faith", was hugely influential for 3rd edition. Whilst the information on the Church of Ezra beyond the bare-bones outline presented in the 3e Ravenloft Campaign Setting (and its 3.5 update, "The Ravenloft Player's Guide") was spread across three different sourcebooks (Ravenloft Gazetteers #2-#4), it ultimately boiled down to a condensed version of the same fluff established for the Book of Secrets.
Other major sourcebooks connected to the Ezra faith consist of "The Book of Sacrifices", which presents a Ravenloft villain seeking to destroy the church in the form of Valeri Antonin, and "Heroes of Light", which presents both two Prestige Classes associated with the Church and a benevolent secret organization that stems from it; the Mordentish Blessed Army of Ezra.
The religion originated through the prophecies of one man, Yakov Dilisnya. At the age of 25 a horseback riding accident left him delirious for five days, at the end of which he recovered and penned the First Book of Ezra. Over the next few years he displayed increasingly miraculous powers, but gained few followers until he left his native Mordent for the newly formed Borca. There he convinced his young half-sister Camille (the Darklord of Borca) to help finance the construction of the Great Cathedral, and set about making many more converts.
When one of Camille's fits of paranoia led to Yakov's death, it led to a schism in the church. Camille's fear of fanatic reprisal led to an apology in the form of a statue of Yakov for the cathedral, but she privately demanded that the church avoid fomenting rebellion. The question as to whether the Church ought to accept demands from an earthly ruler--and a corrupt one at that--caused Felix Wachter to separate himself with a small group of like-minded faithful and return to Mordent. There he penned the Second Book of Ezra.
The rift between the two sects eventually healed, but when wandering anchorite Joan Secousse entered the new domain of Dementlieu, another rift occured, eventually leading to another book. Secousse had discovered Ste. Mere des Larmes, an abandoned cathedral dedicated to Ezra that nevertheless predated the entire church to date. Secousse penned the revelations she received from her study of the cathedral, and a new sect was born.
Years later, in the wake of the Grand Conjunction, a Darkonese anchorite named Teodorus Raines had a series of apocalyptic revelations about a Time of Unparallelled Darkness, and the desperate state of the faithful beset on all sides by the duplicitous Legions of the Night. Raines penned the Fourth Book of Ezra, passed the Rite of Revelation, and created the fourth sect.
The tenets of the Ezra faith are... confusing, to put it mildly. Each of the four sects interprets Ezra's doctrines in its own way, and this, aided by the fact that, in a stunning display of incompetence, the 3e books can't even be bothered to overtly lay out just what Ezra's core doctrines are!
The only official Dogma write-ups that exist for the faith are those belonging to the Erudites and the Zealots, both of whom are... quite unique in their interpretation. Those wanting to stick closer to the purer interpretations of the Home Faith & Pure Hearts have to read between the lines or look back to the fan-written "Anchors of Faith" for any guidance. Even the Church of Ezra writeup in the 3rd Ravenloft Gazetter is barely any more informative than the brief paragraph-sized blurb given in the Ravenloft corebooks when it comes to informing a player what their Ezra-worshipping PC should actually believe.
At its core, the Church of Ezra is a henotheistic faith; it worships the protector-goddess Ezra as the only deity interested in the fates, comforts and protection of mortal beings. Her faithful are charged with emulating her protective role, serving as healers and guardians to the faithful and opposing the Legions of the Night (aka, the various forces of evil that stalk the Demiplane of Dread). Whether anchorite or layperson, a follower of Ezra should protect the weak, care for the sick, and seek the betterment of the human condition.
At the same time, Ezra herself is part of "The Grand Scheme", a great cosmic plan that will eventually unfold itself and reveal the true purpose of all reality. This gives the Ezra faith as a whole a strong belief in fate and predestination, although their interpretation of these beliefs is, again, based on the general slant of the sect.
By extension, and understandably given the faith's history, Ezra's faithful believe strongly in divination, with great credence placed on the phenomena of omens, prophetic dreams, and holy visions.
Another key aspect of Ezra's faith is the concept of "salvation", which covers both physical and spiritual protection. Again, this is shaped by the greater beliefs of the sect, but the general viewpoint that anchorites take is that only Ezra can provide salvation.
Mechanically, this diffuse relationship has been reflected through the Shield of Ezra, a protective aura of divine magic that all anchorites can call upon, which is why anchorites were their own unique class in AD&D.
In AD&D, this was an ability that an anchorite could use 3/day, taking 1 round to activate and lasting for a number of rounds equal to half the anchorite's experience level. The precise effect of the Shield of Ezra depended on the anchorite's sect - and, because of Domains of Dread's insistence that PCs in Ravenloft could not be evil, mechanics for Zealot anchorites were presented only in "Anchors of Faith".
In 3rd edition, the Shield of Ezra is instead the Domain Power of the Mists Cleric Domain. It can be used 1/day for 1 round per cleric level and, again, the precise powers of the Shield depend on which sect your cleric belongs to.
The sect's beliefs also influence what spells the anchorite can cast. In AD&D, all sects shared the Spheres of All, Charm, Divination, Guardian, Healing, Law, Protection, and Wards. However, which Spheres were Major and which were Minor depended on your sect. Additionally, they also had a sect-unique Minor Sphere. In 3rd edition, sect merely influences which secondary domain from the list that an anchorite chooses to take.
The Home Faith
The Home Faith of Borca has been shaped indispuitably by the political realities of the realm in which it grew. Needing to walk the thin line between appealing to the masses and angering the nobility, the Home Faith is the most cynical sect.
The Home Faith has a strong predeterminist slant to its beliefs in the Grand Scheme; all beings are born to an assigned role and cannot deviate from that position. This means they are distinctly not interested in rocking the political boat, which strengthens their appeal to the nobility of Borca and keeps them from being eliminated as a threat.
Likewise, they are a highly insular faith; in their worldview, the faithful and the fallen are clearly seperated, and there is little need to intervene in the fallen, as they cannot hope to change their lot. Consequently, the Home Faith focuses its ministrations on the faithful; most would not turn down a plea from someone who is not part of the faithful, but they would give strong preferential treatment to the faithful, and are not above blackmailing others with conversion in exchange for favors, viewing this as "Ezra's will".
It hasn't escaped critics' notice that the Home Faith's predeterministic theology comes very close to depicting Ezra as serving the role of healer and protector out of duty rather than devotion.
Likewise, the Home Faith is the least interested in opposing the Legions of the Night; after all, they too are merely following their divine script. So long as they are not preying on the faithful of Ezra, then it is of little concern to the Home Faith.
In AD&D, a Home Faith anchorite's Shield of Ezra immune to any physical attack not delivered by a +1 or better weapon, or by a creature with 4+1 or greater Hit Dice.
Likewise, its Major Spheres are All, Charm, Divination and Law, whilst its Minor Spheres are Guardian, Protection and Wards. Its unique Minor Sphere is Weather.
In 3rd edition, a Home Faith Anchorite's Shield of Ezra grants Damage Reduction 15/Magic against all physical attacks. Its favored secondary domain is Law.
The Pure Hearts
Though it was the second sect to be founded, one could argue that the Pure Hearts sect is actually the "true" Ezra doctrine: Yakov Dilisnya was born in Mordent, after all, and the teachings of the Pure Hearts are, theoretically, closer to Yakov's original preachings in his home country before he turned to spreading the word in Borca.
The Pure Hearts sect, in contrast to the politically-minded Home Faith, places much more importance on ground-level compassion. Their doctrine of the Grand Scheme is deterministic - all beings ultimately play their part in the Grand Scheme, but what part they play is their choice. Even the Legions of the Night can seek redemption, and should be offered the chance (although they must still be punished if they choose to cling to wickedness). Furthermore, they are an inclusionary faith, preaching that any can find salvation if they are willing to accept Ezra as their god.
Because of their emphasis on compassion, a Pure Heart anchorite is the most likely to immediately leap to somebody's aid, whethere they belong to the Church of Ezra or not. That said, they do have one tiny flaw...
See, even Pure Hearts still believe that Ezra is the only true goddess worth worshipping, and that those who don't embrace her are doomed to suffer upon their deaths. As such, motivated by their compassion, they actively proselytize, and can get rather annoying in their constant attempts to sway people to worship Ezra. Clerics of other faiths in particular tend to find the Pure Hearts the most annoying of the anchorites, for obvious reasons.
In AD&D, a Pure Hearts anchorite's Shield of Ezra renders them immune to all attacks by weapons from one chosen category (swords, axes, polearms, etc), so long as the attacking weapon is made of metal.
Likewise, its Major Spheres are All, Charm, Divination, Healing and Law, whilst its Minor Spheres are Guardian, Protection and Wards. Its unique Minor Sphere is Sun.
In 3rd edition, a Pure Heart Anchorite's Shield of Ezra grants them Damage Reduction 25/Magic against metal weapons. Its favored secondary domain is Healing.
The most unusual of the Ezra sects, the Erudites are a faith of philosopher-mystics, whose theology emphasizes the idea that the Grand Scheme is not yet known to mortals and that their Ezra-appointed duty is to try and understand it better.
This is only the start of their differences; like the Home Faith, they have no real interest in proselytizing, but this is because they believe salvation is a spiritual affair and not directly connected to Ezra's worship.
They even disagree on one of the few shared beliefs of the other sects, claiming that Ezra is not a mortal who ascended to divinity, as the other sects do, but rather that she was a goddess all along, and she is merely the goddess who is most interested in mortals.
For this reason, they were one of the only two sects to get a proper dogma writeup in the 3rd Ravenloft Gazetteer, which neatly summarizes just what they believe and how they should act:
"Ezra was a goddess who saw that the gods had abandoned the Hollow, a place hidden by mists and burdened by suffering. She beseeched the gods to tend to these people, but they refused. She left the realm of the gods and gave herself to the Mists in order to watch over the mortals within the Hollow. Other faiths simply worship other aspects of Ezra. The Grand Scheme has not yet been revealed to mortals, and thus study must be devoted to Ezra's other aspects. Ezra waits for us at the end of our life, on the other side of the Mists of Death, to take us to our final reward."
In AD&D, an Erudite anchorite's Shield of Ezra shields them from magic; spells that ordinarily allow now save against their damage now can be saved against to halve the damage, and spells that allow saves inflict no damage if the anchorite saves and only half damage if the anchorite fails its save.
Likewise, its Major Spheres are All, Charm, Divination, Guardian and Healing, whilst its Minor Spheres are Law, Protection and Wards. Its unique Minor Sphere is Chaos.
In 3rd edition, an Erudite Anchorite's Shield of Ezra grants them a +10 bonus to all Fortitude and Reflex saves made against damaging spells. Its favored secondary domain is Protection.
The youngest of the sects, the Zealots were not taken seriously at first; an apocalyptic and militant interpretation of Ezra's faith, their founder was seen as a doomsaying crackpot - until the destruction of Il Aluk in the Requiem. Then people began to take him more seriously.
The Zealots are defined by this apocalyptic belief - they've actually absorbed more than a little dogma from The Eternal Order, their primary rival faith in Darkon. They are obssed with destroying evil and saving souls, not helped by their inherited predeterminism from the Home Faith. To this end, they conduct torturous investigations and dissections of captured monsters, and have the absolute worst relationships with other faiths, whom they see as agents of evil striving to lure souls into damnation by turning them against Ezra.
For this reason, they were one of the only two sects to get a proper dogma writeup in the 3rd Ravenloft Gazetteer, which neatly summarizes just what they believe and how they should act:
"The mortal Ezra was a healer and guardian who faithfully defended her people from the the monstrous Legions of the Night that taint this world. Unable to find a worthy successor, Ezra merged with the Mists of Death to watch over her faithful. In the First Epiphany, she sappeared to Yakov Dilisnya, the first anchorite, and bid him to spread her word. The Mists greatly Ezra's power, however, so she cannot protect those who do not open their hearts to her message. The Great Upheaval was an unsuccessful attempt by the Mists of Death to expel Ezra from their ranks, the first omen of a coming time when Legions of the Night will overrun the land. Disgusted by the flood of corruption, the Mists of Death will scour the world clean. This Time of Unparalleled Darkness will come in less than 20 years, yet all is not lost. Ezra will save her truly faithful, but in the end days the jealous Legions of the Night will seek to drag down her chosen people. To protect Ezra's innocent flock, the Legions of the Night - be they monster or mere temper - must be ruthlessly destroyed."
In AD&D, a Zealot anchorite's Shield of Ezra grants total immunity to all mind-affecting magic.
Likewise, its Major Spheres are All, Charm, Divination, Guardian and Healing, whilst its Minor Spheres are Law, Protection and Wards. Its unique Minor Sphere is Combat.
In 3rd edition, a Zealot Anchorite's Shield of Ezra grants them a +10 to all Will saves against mind-affecting spells and effects. Its favored secondary domain is Destruction.
Splinter-Sects & Heresies
Needless to say, a church as fractured as the Church of Ezra is going to continue splintering, especially given its history is built on "prophets" and "holy visions". So, whilst the four sects above are the officially recognized churches, there are various splinters, offshoots and outright heresies.
In fact, the church's own theology features the legend of the Final Sect, a belief that, as 5 is Ezra's holy number, a fifth and final sect will ultimately be founded that will prompt the full revelation and/or fruition of the Grand Scheme.
The Rite of Revelation
In fact, there are so many would-be sects demanding recognition that the church has created its own ritual to sort out the heretics, power-seekers, false prophets and other loonies from the genuine article: the Rite of Revelation. Only an aspiring sect that completes all three steps will be recognized as a formal new sect of the Church of Ezra.
So, what do you do if you step up as a supplicant for the Rite of Revelation?
Step 1: Write your own holy book, which codifies your relationship to Ezra and documents the new aspect of the Grand Scheme which she has revealed to you. Most aspiring sects only get this far, and the Great Cathedral has a huge library of these failed texts, most of which are deranged, nonsensical, heresy, or some combination thereof.
Step 2: Demonstrate that you have Ezra's blessing by showing that you can manifest the Shield of Ezra with powers unique to you. If you can manifest such a Shield, then the Church recognizes you do indeed serve her plans. If your Shield matches one of the existing sects, then your visions have not revealed a sufficiently distinct aspect of the Grand Scheme to warrant establishing a new sect. If you can't manifest a Shield at all, you're obviously a liar and will be unceremoniously shown the door.
Step 3: Present at least five acolytes of your sect, all of whom must be able to manifest the same Shield of Ezra as you. This is irrefutable proof that Ezra wishes the Church to spread this new aspect of her teachings. Whilst a handful of supplicants have managed to pass the second step, nobody's completed this one since the founding of the Darkonese sect.
The Échansons Heresy
Appearing in the 3rd Ravenloft Gazetteer, the Échansons Heresy, informally known as the Cupbearers, is a heretical offshoot of the Ezra faith native to Richemuloise.
In a nutshell, the Cupbearers derived their faith from the base roots of the Erudites, believing Ezra to be a goddess from amongst the Mists - but, when she descended, it was not to merge with the Mists, but to be incarnated as a mortal in the Hollow. More specifically, she incarnated as a mortal to have children. Her bloodline continues to this day, creating divinely touched heroes who serve the world by protecting it against the Legions of the Night.
The Cupbearers believe that Ezra's descendants, the Prodigals, will eventually be brought together to create a benevolent theocracy that will unite all the kingdoms of the Demiplane of Dread and lead them to a great and glorious future. To this end, they tirelessly pour over their holy text, the Vessels of Mercy, in an effort to decipher its cryptic references and ciphers, and seek clues amongst obscure documents and references to various numerological and symbolic landmarks. All in hopes of finding the Prodigals and bringing them to their destiny.
The mainstream Church of Ezra soundly rejects the Cupbearers, pointing out that they chose to run to Richemulot rather than undertake the Rite of Revelation. Mind you, the Cupbearers reject them right back, claiming the Church has falsified its doctrine and covered up the truth to pursue selfish political power.
The Blessed Army of Ezra
The Blessed Army is a secret splinter-sect of the Mordentish sect, growing in power amongst the low-ranking anchorites of Mordent.
Its core belief is that the Darkonese sect in Nevuchar Springs has been infiltrated by a powerful, insidious and utterly evil creature, one that would ultimately trurn the Ezrans to evil and send them marching out to war against the other Ezran sects under their belief of misguided salvation, whilst in reality feeding the dark creature secretly behind them.
Thusly, the Blessed Army is training its members in martial skills, hoping to stand against the Darkonese sect when it launches its unholy crusade.
The Blessed Army is covered in the 3e sourcebook "Heroes of Light", where it is presented as the kind of secret organization that the players could join.
Valeri Antonin & The Rhiannon Heresy
Introduced in The Book of Sacrifices, Valeri Antonin is a vengeful odem who has dedicated his unlife to the destruction of the Ezran faith, founding the Rhiannon Heresy to carry out his goals.
In life, Valeri Antonin was born the son of a minor noble family in Borca, some 40 years before the Great Cathedral of Ezra was completed. Born a singing prodigy, he fell under the attention of an ambitious anchorite named Sergei Kristovich, who coaxed Valeri's parents into allowing him to join the Ezran choir, which attracted much-needed funds.
However, this wasn't enough for Sergei; he wanted to keep Valeri and his beautiful sporano voice to glorify Ezra forever. And having visited Lamordia, he knew there was a way to preserve Valeri against the effects of puberty: by bribing Valeri's parents, and playing on the youth's devout faith in Ezra, he convinced the lad to become a castratti.
For several years, Valeri brought fame and fortune to the church with his wonderful musical prayers, becoming an anchorite himself and writing his own musical compositions. But, the fame his voice earned did not bring with it respect. Within the church, he was mocked and sneered at for his gelding, with some even denouncing him as an atrocity who had no place in Ezra's church. Sergei was his only friend. In the end, at the age of 23, he ws found mysteriously dead in his sleep, canonized as St. Valeri and the date of his burial marked as a religious holiday.
Unbeknownst to the faithful, Valeri had actually been killed by accident by Sergei, when the two fought one night over Valeri's feelings of betrayal and having been cheated of a normal life. Even as his body was enshrined in a monument before the Great Cathedral, his spirit rose as an odem. Driven for revenge, he used his possession abilities to follow Sergei, who had left for Port-a-Lucine in Dementlieu. But, rather than take his revenge quickly, he possessed his treacherous ex-friend, spending six years secretly riding in his mind and absorbing as much information as he could. Then, he began the first phase of his revenge, seizing control of Sergei's body and writing a confession of Sergei's true role in Valeri's death before devouring his life.
After this, he struck out, ready to enact the second phase of his plan. Firstly, he possessed a Richemulot dandy named Arsene Montcalme, for the man was strong, healthy, pale of complexion, dark of hair and bright of eyes; physical characteristics important to his plan. Next, he sought out a dark haired, bright-eyed, radiantly beautiful woman with a beautiful, serene voice, finding what he sought in Melodie Elysia. Wooing her, he impregnated her, then abandoned Arsene's body for hers, setting fire to her former house before fleeing for Kartakass.
There, he settled into a trapper's cottage, murdering the original owner, and waited until his host gave birth; not just to the daughter he needed, but to an unexpected bounty in the form of a twin brother. In the deep woods, Valeri-as-Melodie reared the two as the instruments of his vengeance, teaching them that they were an immaculate conception gifted to her by Ezra herself, with the daughter - Rhiannon - being the mortal incarnation of Ezra and the son, Andreas, being Ezra's sworn protector. Finally, when he deemed them ready at the age of 11, he disposed of Melodie and visited them, claiming to be the voice of Ezra herself.
For years more, he trained the two, instructing them in a heretical envisioning of Ezran doctrine that he had created, teaching them the arts of combat, and tutoring the ecclesiastical knowledge and rituals they would need in order to "prove" their claim as Ezra's mortal incarnations. Finally, he deemed them ready and set them out into the world, hoping to bring the Church of Ezra crashing down around its ears.
|The Deities & Religions of Ravenloft|
|Good|| Brigantia - Ezra (Pure Hearts)
The Overseer - Ra
| Andral - Belenus
Diancecht - Osiris
| Daghda |
|Neutral|| Divinity of Mankind
Manannan mac Lir
Ezra (Home Faith) - Yutow
| Ezra (Erudites) - Hala
The Ancestral Choir
|Lugh - Mytteri|
|Evil|| Ezra (Zealots) - Math Mathonwy
The Lawgiver - Set - Zhakata
|Arawn - The Eternal Order|| Cat Lord - Erlin |
Kali - Morrigan
The Spider Queen
The Wolf God