Alm was a human, and the first Paladin. Some say he went by a different name, and that Alm is simply short for “Almighty”. Whatever the case, Alm is worshipped as Scardova’s single deity, and is represented by a Shield, for Alm is the protector. The saying “Alm protects” is popular and is heard several times throughout a typical day. The teachings of Alm are thus: protect those who cannot protect themselves, aid those in need, and put others’ needs before your own. Alm taught that this was simply the right thing to do. He was also leery of power and its ability to corrupt, and so sought to invest communities with the power to rule, instead of one single individual or social group. Above all, Alm wanted to ensure that the lessons gleaned from the Magi were well-learned, and their mistakes would not be repeated.
Other Gods, usually referred to as the “Old Ones” are still remembered in Scardova, and at times these racial Gods are paid homage, but Alm is the only officially recognized God. Dwarves still pray to Moradin, Elves still remember Melora, and the Dragonborn still worship Bahamut, but these Old Ones are taught within each racial group only. The Church of Alm does not consider these Old Ones heretical, but also do not go out of their way to teach about them either. Many races also recognize what they call Paragons, which are people of exceptional character who achieved great deeds during their lifetimes. The Church officially recognizes Paragons, and dedicates a hall in Wintersholm to their memory. Families receive quite a bit of prestige if they can trace their bloodlines to a Paragon. While most achieve Paragon status post-mordem, some receive the status while still living. Anyone can petition the Church for someone to receive Paragon status, and the Church votes on such matters by committee once every 4 years (if there are petitions to consider). Few receive this high honor, and such matters are supposed to be decided by a person’s deeds or merits, but votes often become political.
The Church of Alm operates from Wintersholm, the first settlement of Alm following downfall of the lands of Magi. It is from here the leader of the Clergy, called the High Bastion, oversees the goings-on of the institution’s many affairs. The Church is structured militarily, with a pyramidal structure with various rank designations as personnel advance. It is by far the single, largest institution in Scardova.
The Church is divided into four branches: the Clergy, the Guardians, the Keepers, and the Inquisition.
The Clergy are the priests of Alm who tend to the spiritual well-being of their congregations. They conduct weekly mass, oversee rituals, and coordinate community efforts to tend to the poor and destitute. The highest ranking member of the church is the High Bastion.
The Guardians are the protectors of the realm. The Guardians are typically comprised of small groups of typically 3-6 men and women, tasked with a wide variety of activities throughout the nation. They keep roads and trails clear, provide protection for travelers and merchants, deliver mail, hunt predators, and rescue those in need. They are the Church’s general troubleshooters, and consist of citizens from all walks of life with a variety of skills and abilities. One has to be invited into the Guardians, and serve as a probationary member until one’s mentor determines that s/he is ready for initiation. It is a mark of prestige to be a Guardian, serving the will of Alm to protect others. The Guardians have been traditionally lead by a Matriarch, with each choosing her successor upon retirement. The Matriarch is also tasked with the safety of Wintersholm.
The Keepers is the recordkeeping branch of the church, filled with learned men and women who keep track of laws, Church history, Rituals, and other important lore. To enter this branch one must score higher than one’s competition on standardized tests administered by the Church, and the same is true to rise in station within the bureaucracy. The higher ranks of the Keepers are considered the brightest and most learned in the land and enjoy quite a bit of prestige. The Keepers also run the only University in Scardova, called the Lyceum, located in Winterholm. Here scholarly Masters teach the basics such as grammar and mathmatics, as well as advanced studies such as Alchemy and Medicine. It is also the only institution in Scardova where magic is taught, although very few are allowed into the halls of The Praetorium Venenatus. Entry into the Lyceum is dependent upon having a sponsor, and the cost of each term’s tuition is based on each student’s financial situation, as well as his/her performance on final exams.
The final branch of the Church, the Inquisition, is the most secretive. Very little is known about this group, and rumors insist that they have eyes and ears everywhere, searching for evidence of heretical arcane activity. What is generally known is that Inquisitors have ultimate authority anywhere, and near limitless resources. The mere whisper of an Inquisitor’s presence is enough to strike fear into most of the citizenry. There are few who operate in the open, and as such no one knows how many Inquisitors there actually are. Those that are known work with others in a coterie of sorts, although an Inquisitor could conceivably have a vast array of spies and contacts. The Inquisition does have its headquarters in Wintersholm, but very few have seen the inside of this intimidating structure (or would want to).