As we all know, the Lunar Empire tries to suppress certain cults when possible. The top of the list is of course Orlanth, but also cults also officially disfavored include Storm Bull, Eurmal, Mastakos, Himile, Inora, Valind, and Zorak Zoran. Some hostile cults are tolerated by the Empire, including Oslira (who must be approached indirectly through Yelm thanks to Lunar crimes against the river inhabitants).
But what does that mean? In the Lunar Heartlands, we know that the Orlanth cult manages to survive in Sylila and the West Reaches. Roving bands of Storm Bull cultists can be found in Doblian and the West Reaches, and the Yolp Mountains are a center of the Zorak Zoran cult. In the Lunar Provinces, between 10 and 25% of the population are still devoted to Orlanth (depending on the province) and Aggar is a center of Orlanth cult activities, despite being a Lunar province for over a century. How can this be?
Couple of answers. First, the Lunars don’t go around killing Orlanth cultists on sight. In fact, they rarely go out of their way to do much about the cult except in occupied rebellious areas (such as Sartar). Lunar satraps and governors often quietly tolerate the cult as long is it remains quiet and does not stir up trouble or rebellion. This is why in New Pavis, the Air Temple remained open and active within spitting distance of the Seven Mothers temple (at least during Sor-eel’s administration).
Second, Orlanth often has some pretty important friends. In the Lunar Provinces, the Ernalda cult is between 10 and 25% of the population, and that cult is closely associated with Orlanth. Other Lightbringers associated with the cult are another 6 to 15% of the local population. Those cults are officially permitted, and sometimes even promoted by the local rulers – and taking a strong measures against the Orlanth cult could easily trigger a rebellion from its allies. Lunar military and magical resources are limited, and there are always higher priorities – such as the wars in Dragon Pass and beyond, or in the Redlands.
Instead, Lunar hostility towards those cults is usually through legal hostility and discrimination. Extra taxes, exclusion from certain occupations, and occasional mob violence (particularly in the Sairdite cities). So for example, in much of the Lunar provinces, the Orlanth cult is not permitted to build new temples (and often lose temples over time), at least in areas under the control of the Provincial Administration. Members of the Orlanth cult are always going to be held in suspicion by Lunar authorities. Old tribal structures dominated by Orlanth Rex have been replaced by Lunar provincial rulers. And so on. The hope is for the Orlanth cult to just whither away through discrimination and persecution.
Now in Dragon Pass things are a bit different. Orlanth is the ruling god and the patron of the Sartar dynasty. Dragon Pass is a battlefield in the magical conflict between Orlanth and the Red Goddess, and defeat of the god itself is the goal. Magical challenges might taken on military aspects, and military campaigns might be driven by magical goals. The Orlanth cult of course was caught up in this – but what drove this was largely magical concerns. In some cases, the Lunars might disrupt rural ceremonies or desecrate great temples, while ignoring similar rituals or holy places under their nose.
For the last dozen or so years, this was largely driven by Tatius the Bright, the Dean of the Lunar Field School of Magic. As we all know, Tatius was a leading member of the powerful Assiday clan of the Imperial nobility, a Yelm priest and Red Goddess initiate. He enjoyed the favor of the Red Emperor and was even appointed Lunar governor of Dragon Pass in order to carry out the final stages of this battle. But even Tatius largely ignored the local Orlanth cults, except where action was necessary to carry out his own plans.
Tatius’ plan required the fall of Whitewall, where Tatius hoped to destroy the nexus of Orlanth cultic activity, thereby defeating the god and forcing the stubborn Rebel God to submit to the Red Goddess and her son. This turned out to be only a temporary victory (with significant unexpected secondary consequences). Military reversals had magical consequences and the attempt to extend the Glowline to cover all of Dragon Pass failed with the Dragonrise.
Many Gloranthan conflicts often have a ritual feeling to them. Cult enemies often appear before the most powerful magics are to be called upon or hero quests can begin.. Many temples and cults simply do not have the resources to defend against this, and so do not attempt it in the first place.
The Green Rock scenario in The Smoking Ruins is a good example of this. When the elves do their ritual, the players need to defend the grove against the cult enemies that have been “summoned” by the ritual. Of course those trolls or dwarfs do not believe that they have been summoned – they likely planned all along to attack the grove during the elves’ holy day!
And of course this is often true with the Lunar-Orlanth conflict. During the Occupation it was dangerous to call deeply on Orlanth’s magic as that also attracted Orlanth’s enemies. The reverse is true in liberated Sartar – one likely does not draw too deeply on the Red Moon in post-Dragonrise Boldhome!