Starting a multi-post deep-dive into Barovian religion with an overview of the Morninglord might have been the smart approach, but I can’t say that much planning went into deciding to write these posts. Instead, this is not part one as I already started this research with a dive into St Andral, but there will hopefully be more on the Morninglord to follow, and who am I to pass up a chance to reference Mountain Goats deep cuts?
Any Realms-savvy dungeon master or player will recognize and connect the title and symbols of the Morninglord to Lathander, the Forgotten Realms’ god of the dawn, the god of beginnings, of spring, birth, and renewal (SCAG p. 32).
We’ve already learned how the Cult of the Morninglord (CotM) supplanted the worship of Andral in Barova. Andral’s worship had died out in the 4th century, Barovian Calendar, but the CotM would not arrive for at least another century.
The worship of the morninglord came from the confused memories of an outlander (i.e not from Barovia/Ravenloft) child saved from Strahd von Zarovich by the elf vampire Jander Sunstar.
We learn from the 3.5E Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (2005) that
The Cult of the Morninglord was born late in the fifth century, after the faith’s founder claimed that when he was a young boy, the Morninglord appeared to him in physical form and protected him from the roaming menaces of the Barovian night.(p. 67)
This boy’s name and more of his history is detailed in the Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol 1.
One morning in 475 BC, a young outlander boy named Martyn Pelkar stumbled out of the Svalich Woods. Few could predict that the boy’s ramblings about his salvation at the hands of a “golden morning lord” would spawn a cult that somehow made inroads in the hearts of the naturally suspicions and cynical Baroivans.Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol I, p. 18
The story seems to go that the boy was in fact saved by Jander Sunstar, the sun elf vampire featured in Vampire of the Mists— the story is not so explicitly told in any of the source books I read, but appears to happen in that novel per a citation in the page for the Morninglord on Mistipedia, a Ravenloft Wiki.
The mantle was eventually picked up from Martyn “the Mad” Pelkar by his first acolyte, Sasha Petrovich, and they gathered a congregation at the “Sanctuary of the Blessed Succor” in the Village of Barovia (Gazetteer I, p. 24). Sasha (aka Alexi) is another character featured in Vampire of the Mists.
The Gazetteer goes on to describe how the center of worship moved to Vallaki and then to Krezk forming the cult’s largest center of worship, the Sanctuary of First Light (what would become the Abbey of St. Markovia in 5E, yet another subject for another day).
The Gazetteer gives us the greatest picture of the worship of the Morninglord, so it is disappointing to find it out of print, even on the Dungeon Master’s Guild and Drive Through RPG, where many of the older Ravenloft books (including the Sword & Sorcery 3.5E Player’s Handbook) are available as PDF and/or for print-on-demand.
It seems poor Martyn combined his Lathander catechism with the sun-elf form of Sunstar to create a sort of bastardized, Ravenloft-specific variation to the Faerun god of the dawn. The promise of a salvation and the end of the darkness became a small beacon of hope for just enough Barovians that the cult was able to establish a foothold, and ultimately enough of a following in Barovia. The Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (3.5E) touches on the “Unspoken Agreement” between deities and the Dark Powers of Ravenloft, and how the absence (or at least distance) of deities can lead to “theological shifts” and divergence in the faith and tenants of a god’s followers between the material planes and the lands within the mists (p. 64).
Out-of-game, if product licensing had been a little different for Sword & Sorcery, the Player’s Handbook and Gazetteers might have been that much more explicit about names for the Ravenloft Pantheon— instead alluding to similar symbols and epithets without name-dropping a Forgotten Realms™ name like Bane or Lathander— an interesting sidestep also seen when comparing Critical Role’s 2017 Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide to the Wizards of the Coast-published Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (2020).
There is more to the story presented in the Gazetteers that didn’t make it into Curse of Strahd that bears interest, including a “secret society” of undead hunters within the church known as The Dawnslayers, followers of Sasha Petrovich’s legacy dedicated to destroying undead, and vampires in particular (Gazetteer I, p. 24). The legacy of the Dawnslayers would make for an interesting chapter with a cleric or paladin of the Morninglord in Curse of Strahd, but I feel I may have missed the boat for that in my current campaign, as I don’t know that we will be returning to Krezk this late in the story, and I think I’d rather spent the time with the Keepers of the Feather and their worship of Andral.
I couldn’t find much more about The Morninglord (Church OR Cult) in the 2E “Red Box” source books or the later Domains of Dread, noting only that according to Domains and Denizens, “Barovians do not frequent their churches, for they feel that the gods have abandoned them” (p. 8). Both Domains of Dread and the 3.5E books also discuss the Cult of the Morninglord’s following among the Gundarakites, ethnic natives of Gundarak, a valley adjacent to Barovia that Strahd conquered following the Grand Conjunction (Domains of Dread, p. 59, Gazetteer I, p. 24). Because Gundarak, and really, any domain beyond Barovia, is excised from Curse of Strahd, that aspect of the church didn’t factor into my research, but might be an interesting thread to follow were one to expand Barovia from Curse of Strahd‘s three villages to a larger setting drawing from the previous editions.
Curse of Strahd (5E, 2016)
Domains of Dread (2E, 1997)
Domains and Denizens (“Red Box”, 2E, 1994)
Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (2020)
“The Morninglord” Mistipeida: A Ravenloft Wiki. Accessed 2020-04-21.
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide (5E, 2015)
Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol I (3.5E, 2002)
Ravenloft Player’s Handbook (3.5E, 2005)
Tal’Dorei Campaign Guide (2017)