Monday, January 31, 2011

The Thief as a Sub-Class

I must confess that I am not a big fan of the Thief class; however, I do understand why people do and that it probably ought to be part of the game. My biggest quibble with it is the way that it tends to make Thief skills exclusive to that class. In this sense, Mr. Raggi's Specialist is probably one of the best renditions of the class (because Specialist skills are inherent to every class, but the Specialist is able to do them better). I am of the mind, however, that Thief skills ought to be supernatural in character — a flavor that is largely absent from the way the Specialist is presented.

In order to satisfy this particular itch, and to emphasize that Thief skills are, in fact, inherent to every class, I have been meditating on making the Thief a sub-class along the same lines that I proposed for the paladin.

The following base skills are true of everyone with a chance of 1 in 6:
  • Pick Locks
  • Search (Find Traps + Hear Noise)
  • Sleight of Hand (Pick Pockets + etc.)
  • Stealth (Move Silently + Hide in Shadows)
  • Climb Sheer Walls
  • Read Language (get the basic meaning if the character knows a related language)
The following (total) XP may be spent per skill in order to improve the base chance:
  • 200XP..........2 in 6
  • 1800...........3 in 6
  • 14,600.........4 in 6
  • 117,000........5 in 6
Note: any XP spent on Read Language allows for a more specific understanding of what is being read regardless of what languages the character knows.

Backstab works in a similar way. The basic "backstab" ability is the surprise attack that all players receive when they catch opponents unawares. By spending XP, the surprise attack may be amplified:
  • 200XP..........+4 to hit
  • 1800............x2 damage
  • 14,600..........x3 damage
  • 117,000.........x4 damage
Players are allowed to spend XP earned during a session on these abilities when they have fulfilled in-game requirements. Given that these are supernatural abilities, the requirements need to be in the form of serving/making contracts with/pleasing supernatural beings. These beings are often Chaotic in nature (read: demonic), but not necessarily. For example, St. Vineria of the Eyes is known to give the Search ability to those who she finds worthy. Different skills could (should?) require different sources.

Normally, all of these abilities ought to require characters using them to be unencumbered. Given the supernatural character of these abilities; however, one could wave this particular requirement or impose a penalty for various levels of encumbrance depending on the flavor of the campaign.

Hopefully, this will put a very interesting spin on what it means to be a Thief.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Ignatius the God-Bearer

Today is a secondary feast for St. Ignatius the God-Bearer, and, frankly, one of my heroes. He was the third bishop of Antioch (after Peter and Euodios) and was a disciple of both the Apostles Peter and John. At the beginning of the 2nd century, he was arrested by Roman authorities and transported all the way to Rome to be literally thrown to the lions in the arena.

The Romans figured that by making an example of St. Ignatius, they could discourage the spread of Christianity. Boy, howdy did that backfire. Instead, he got the chance to meet with, encourage and write letters to Christians all over the world. He lived his faith, which stated that if Christ came in the flesh to destroy death by death, if death has no sting, why should we be afraid to be torn apart by wild beasts? This was a guy who could not be cowed.

I say that this is a secondary feast, because today is the celebration of St. Ignatius' relics being returned to Antioch from Rome. Since death is understood to be the unnatural separation of the soul from the body, and the body is an integral part of the whole person, the various remains of a person are still that person. The saints are personally present with us through their relics. As such, ancient Christians would gather at the places where the martyrs were buried in order to pray and do various services.

When it became safe and legal for Christians to build churches, they gravitated towards those places where they naturally gathered — the tombs of the saints. This has resulted in two, now familiar, phenomena. Early churches were named for the saint whose relics they gathered around — which is why churches today are named after saints. The other is the close association of churches and graveyards, where it is not uncommon to see both on the same grounds.

Thus, in the Orthodox tradition, there are feasts which celebrate the removal, recovery and transfer of relics, because these are major events in the relationship we have with the saints.

For those of us who have ever struggled with the Paladin/Cavalier ethos of never retreat, St. Ignatius gives us a backbone for this ethos which justifies the behavior. Being afraid to die (which is at the emotional core of retreat!) is tantamount to a rejection of Christ and willingly excommunicating oneself from the Church. Thus, the next time your paladin is tempted to run away, imagine if he/she is willing to reject God in favor of living merely as a godless fighter.

The tradition of having relics closely associated with church buildings is something that I have used in my own campaign and is an interesting way to add flavor. Not only does it provide a layer of back story to the location, it also provides for an unusual NPC. Given that relics are the personal presence of a saint, those places that have them are places where saints can be personally encountered. They can provide for an interesting source of information and motivation — especially for those of us who like clerics.

However, having read enough hagiographies to know that demons will often appear in the guise of the holy, such encounters could require a good amount of discernment, depending on how much a Referee wants to mess with their players . . .

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another One Hour Dungeon

I ran across the concept of the one-hour dungeon from Dyson over at A character for every game who pointed me to the original post at Planet Algol. Since I am a bit of a map geek, this challenge is right up my alley. Since my main tool for making maps is my computer (rather than pen/pencil and paper), I set about making the following map in Illustrator. This is where I was at the 60 minute mark:

And at about the 80 minute mark:

The concept is that of a small Dwarven colony (bottom half) and an ancient alien ruin (top half) separated by a chasm. Entrances into the dungeon include stairs to Rooms 1 & 21. Areas marked 35 are bridges that cross over to the ruin. They are in an open cavern where Areas marked 36 represent the bottom of the chasm. Within these areas can be placed several cave openings which function as the lairs for flying creatures who haunt the chasm as well as a means to get to other dungeon levels. Room 45 has a shaft that goes down that serves as access to other dungeon levels as well as an extra-dimesional portal once various items scattered across the ruins are put back in their proper place. The two halves of the dungeon are also separated by secret doors because when the dwarves had to abandon the colony, they did not want others finding the evil the permeates the alien ruins.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Realms of Crawling Chaos

If you hadn't noticed, Dan Proctor announced Saturday evening the early release of Realms of Crawling Chaos (hereafter RCC). Which meant I did something I rarely do — buy something immediately after it comes out. Normally, I read reviews, think about whether I will actually use something and then I might allow myself the purchase. In this case, knowing the work of both Dan and Michael Curtis, knowing that this was going to be a typical modular Goblinoid Games design that would be fully compatible with LL and knowing that it was going to mine one of my favorite fantasy authors (HPL), I felt very comfortable taking the plunge. I was not disappointed.

In a word: brilliant. Regardless of what your own campaign might look like, there are things in here which can be dropped in to make life more interesting for your players. Some highlights for me:
  • The new PC races. I love them, especially the White Ape (which fits perfectly into my campaign). Seriously, all of them have already been placed in my campaign world — hopefully in places my players will be exploring soon.
  • The Random Artifact tables are awesome. Not only is this right up my alley (I love random tables), it makes magic items dangerous. I also got a real kick out of this aside:
This way, even if the players own a copy of this book, their characters can never be certain what the odd object’s powers and, more importantly, drawbacks are.
  • The simple take on Psionics that is completely compatible with Mutant Future.
  • A new magic spell category called Formulae which cobbles together magic and alchemy to produce substances and effects.
  • Rules on reading eldritch tomes.
What is truly marvelous is how easy all of this is to implement. Besides the races, I have already come up with several ways to immediately use all of the above in my campaign world.

However, one of the things I truly appreciated about this work is the introduction. It brilliantly summarizes HPL's "cosmicism" into six themes that characterize his work. In addition, there are suggestions on how to apply each to any given campaign.

Now, for those of you who have already read RCC and are familiar with my own campaign style with its inclusion of religious themes, you might be wondering why I would appreciate things like The Insignificance of Man, An Uncaring Natural World, and The Reality of Man as an Animal.

The reason is quite simple, actually. Cosmicism, especially as defined in RCC, perfectly expresses what is left when we get rid of God. The abject horror of a world sans God is marvelously expressed in the work of HPL, and in the themes of an RCC campaign. For me, this is a excellent foil for my own themes. It sharpens the realty of our choices and the consequences of these choices.

So, if you haven't already gone out and bought it, I highly recommend RCC.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Timothy the Apostle

Today is the feast day of St. Timothy the Apostle. A companion of St. Paul on many of his journeys around the Mediterranean, he is the recipient of the letters 1 & 2 Timothy, he became the bishop of Ephesus and he was eventually martyred for proclaiming the Gospel.

Personally, I very much identify with Timothy. Whereas Peter et. al. walked with Christ when He was on earth and Paul was visited by the Risen Lord, Timothy is part of the second generation of Christians (having received the faith from his grandmother Eunice and his mother Lois, cf. 2 Tim 1:5). In other words, he represents all of us who first encountered Christ through the faith of others. This faith was powerful enough that he left his home, his family and his country for the sake of Christ and His Gospel (cf. Matthew 19:29). He received this faith, he protected this faith and he passed it on to the next generation which through almost two thousand years has been passed on to us.

Not to place RPGs on the same level as the Gospel (not even close), but in a sense, I am also of Timothy's generation in terms of this hobby we love so much — I was taught via the Holmes edition of D&D. Just as when the first generation of Christians began to disappear and the four Evangelists wrote down the Gospels, when Gary Gygax died, many of us pulled out our old gaming materials trying to hold on to and rediscover what it was that brought us into the hobby in the first place. One of the fruits of this process has been the OSR, for which I am truly grateful.

In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul exhorts him to "continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it" (3:14). If there is anything I have learned about our hobby is that it is all about doing. The OSR has reminded me of this beautiful reality. Though there are as many rulesets out there as there are tables, we all have a shared experience. Though many of us homebrew our settings (or DIY places like Greyhawk or the Wilderlands to the point they barely resemble the originals) it does little to damage that shared experience.

As I've repeatedly stated in this blog, one of the tenets of Christianity that I value and promote is that of human freedom. The OSR is an example of the wonderful, beautiful mess that freedom brings. As far as I am concerned, the more the merrier. Thus, when BHP announced its own in-house rule set, I was really pleased. It is another opportunity for me as a player to frankenstein my own game. Even though I use LL as the main ruleset at my own table, there are house rules we use that have been shamelessly stolen from virtually every iteration of the game.

From what has been passed down to me, this is exactly how it should be — because it's fun. I plan on having this fun, and sharing it with others for as long as I can. Hopefully, this thing will continue to have legs long after I am gone.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why A Sense of Loss?

During my last Lost Colonies Session, one of my players (seeing the endemic desecration and corruption throughout St. Urheim's Monastery) asked this very astute question: How is it possible that such a holy place could become so evil?

This plays right into one of the themes of my campaign: the recovery and restoration of lost religious sites. Awhile ago Roger over at Roles, Rules, and Rolls made a list of real cities that have real dungeons beneath them. As this list indicates an historic reason for the theme of dungeons in fantasy RPGs, there is also an historic reason for my own theme of loss.

I greatly sympathize with Tolkien's concept of the "long defeat," because as an Orthodox Christian I am filled with a profound sense of loss and of how precarious our world really is. Here are just a few examples of things that have been lost:
  • The four ancient patriarchates of Eastern Christendom are under occupation by non-Christians and suffer persecution: Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), Antioch (now in Syria), Alexandria (in Egypt) and Jerusalem.
  • Many treasures of the ancient church were destroyed during the period of iconoclasm. Countless icons from antiquity were burned and broken when the Emperor Leo III sparked a tumultuous 112-year conflict after deciding that icons were a form of idolatry.
  • One of the most influential churches in the history of Christendom — Hagia Sophia in Constantinople — was first made into a mosque and now is merely a museum. It is illegal for Christians to worship there. This fate is shared by countless church buildings across the Middle East.
  • Today in Turkey about 0.2% of the population is non-Muslim, meaning that Christians number less than 140,000 (Orthodox Christians hoover around 4000) in a country of 72.5 million. Lest we forget, prior to the 1920s, the number of Christians in Turkey numbered in the millions. Today's tiny population holds on despite mass deportations and a forgotten genocide.
  • We also tend to forget that Turkey is one of the birth-places of Christianity. The Apostle Paul, the Apostle Timothy, St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus), Polycarp, Irenaeus, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian were all from the region of modern Turkey. The place where believers first were called Christians — Antioch (Antakya) — is in Turkey. Paul's letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Colossians, Timothy and Philemon were written to people living in what is now Turkey. All seven Ecumenical Councils recognized by the Orthodox Church took place in what is now Turkey.

And I haven't even begun to speak about the fracture of Christendom into 30,000+ denominations or the brutality that Christians suffered under the Communists in the 20th century...So, yes, loss is an historic reality.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Meditating on Sub-Classes

On Tuesday, I mentioned that Hamlen's player surprised me by making an oath and playing through the struggles of keeping it — and keep it he did. In some of our post-session banter, we began to discuss paladins. Hamlen behaved very much like a paladin without actually being one. In contrast, every one of us has seen people play paladins in very un-paladin ways.

Given James's recent question about the number of classes we use in our games, his treatment of Druids and my recent perusing of Adventures Dark & Deep has got me thinking about sub-classes.

To my mind, Hamlin's paladinesque behavior proves my own axiom that What makes a Fighting Man a Barbarian, a Knight, or a Gladiator is the way it is played, not the mechanics behind it. However, in playing the game in a world where 3.5 exists with a bunch of guys who cut their teeth on 3.5, my players chomp at the bit over having only the three core classes. For myself, I have been gravitating more and more to that personal proto-version of the game I used to play that exists somewhere between Holmes, Moldvay and AD&D. This version includes some great experiences playing paladins and illusionists.

Ironically, I've been turning to 3.5 in my attempts to reconcile these two divergent impulses in the form of the prestige classes. Like most things about 3.5, I have a love/hate response to this mechanic. I love the idea of being able to grow a character into something that isn't available at character creation and that isn't hardwired into the core classes. I despise the way 3.5 handles this, however. In making skills and feats the primary way to qualify for prestige classes, it actually shackles players instead of freeing them with more options for their characters. It forces players to ignore the natural progression of their characters as they interact with the world in which they exist in favor of an arbitrary sequence of necessary mechanics. In other words, 3.5 punishes creativity and rewards homogenization (despite the appearance of the opposite).

The basic idea, though, has a lot of merit. In thinking about this, I have been playing with the idea of making sub-classes actual sub-classes. Rather than making them available at character creation as wholly formed classes, have them be a sub-set of class abilities available to players when their characters fulfill a set of requirements during play. These requirements need not be set in stone, but could be adjusted to fit the needs of each individual Referee and their world. Upon fulfilling the necessary requirements in game, the player would then be allowed to put XP towards obtaining this sub-set of character abilities.

For example, Hamlen took an oath, accepted a holy quest and managed to fulfill both. As such, when I award XP for the session, I can inform Hamlen's player that he would be allowed to set aside some of his XP for the purpose of advancing in the paladin sub-class set of abilities. Each ability could require the following (total) amount of experience (based on the difference between Fighter and Paladin XP requirements in AEC):
1st 350XP
2nd 700
3rd 1400
4th 2900
5th 4000
6th 10,000
7th 25,000
8th 50,000
9th 100,000, etc.
The following abilities are available:
  • Lay on Hands: heal 2hp per character level
  • Cure Disease: once per day for every 5 character levels
  • Immunity to disease
  • Detect Evil: 60' as per the spell when concentrating
  • Protection from Evil: as per the spell, radiating 10' r. at all times
  • +2 to all saving throws.
Once two abilities have been gained, the following becomes available:
  • Turn Undead as a cleric 2 level lower than the current character level.
Once three abilities have been gained, the following becomes available:
  • Summon a special warhorse (AC 5, HD 5+5, MV 180).
Once eight abilities have been gained the following becomes available:
  • Gain the ability to cast Cleric spells.
Note: character level indicates the class level, and is not tied to the number of sub-class abilities.

I could see Bards, Berserkers, Illusionists, Rangers, Seers, etc. and even Thieves getting this kind of treatment. What I really like about this is its flexibility. One need not necessarily be a Fighter to qualify for obtaining Paladin sub-class abilities. I could very easily see a Cleric spend the XP to get some of these. It also empowers the Referee to control how much these sub-class abilities get used by determining whether or not XP rewards can be used based on play. Finally (and in a way, most importantly) it encourages and rewards player interaction with the world that the Referee brings to the table.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lost Colonies Session 31

One of the things I have been experimenting with as a Referee is minimalism. What I mean is that in terms of preparation, I try to keep things to a minimum. I go in with some notes, a couple of ideas and a general knowledge of what each area of the world/dungeon is all about and then fly by the seat of my pants once I'm at the table. This style really suits me for a couple of reasons. From a practical point of view, it plays into my own idiosyncrasies. I love to make maps, but I don't necessarily enjoy keying them. This style allows me to make maps, jot down general ideas, key one or two important rooms (if that) and then move on to more maps. Secondly, and to my mind more importantly, it allows for me to be spontaneously creative at the table. This not only is a marvelous challenge, it also leaves room for me to be truly surprised.

This session was one of those evenings where this particular experiment in Refereeing really paid off because I was really quite surprised by my own dungeon and I had a lot of fun. My first surprise of the evening was that my players have become unexpectedly drawn to the abandoned monastery, which now has a name. One of the keys to succeeding with this style is allowing for the players to influence my decisions as a Referee. This makes the creative process interactive and it helps the world make sense to the players. So, when I recycled the name Urheim for the saint whose relics they found over the course of methodically mapping out the catacombs underneath the monastery proper (more on that later), the monastery is now St. Urheim's. The players' logic flowed from an early answer I had to the name of the monastery (which until last session had no name). I informed my players that monasteries are generally named after their founder. When I described an icon of St. Urheim holding a building that looked like the monastery proper, they concluded that this must be St. Urheim's Monastery.

During the party's explorations of the catacombs, they found evidence of defilement, vandalism and a general decay of what once must have been the burial grounds for hundreds of monks. In process they encountered a number of powerful undead. Both Hamlen and Dn. Goram suffered level losses from a combat against some wights and Ahkmed nearly died when a coffer corpse reanimated after "dying" and managed to get a choke hold on the Dwarf as the rest of the party fled in fear after failing their saving throws.

There were two exceptions to this general malaise. The first was a result of a random roll. One of the random treasures I rolled up indicated jewelry and a magic war hammer. Thus, the party found an undisturbed sarcophagus with the body of a priest wearing a bejeweled holy symbol and holding the warhammer.

The party was divided about what to do with this treasure. Ahkmed displayed the most greed, while Dn. Goram insisted that it be left alone. Finally Hamlen did something rather unexpected — he made an oath to Isten that he would use this warhammer, and only this warhammer, to cleanse the catacombs of evil. In turn he exchanged one of his magic items (a periapt of wound closing) for the magic weapon. Dn. Goram spent the rest of the evening reminding his brother of the oath he made (and which was not always to the party's advantage).

The second was a remote area of the catacombs that the undead had yet to penetrate. In addition to a couple of rooms filled with skulls inscribed with holy symbols, they found a secret door that led to a reliquary that held the uncorrupt body of St. Urheim. They immediately sealed themselves in and used the room for a place of rest. Dn. Goram stood vigil and prayed to the saint all evening. In return, Hamlen was given a vision.

Noting that Hamlen was having a difficult time with his oath, St. Urheim suggested that if Hamlen succeeded in purging the Saint's Spring, which lies below the catacombs, the saint would see if he couldn't restore the levels lost during the fight against the wights.

Having found stairs that went down after their battle with mummies from last session, they descended in hopes of completing Hamlen's new quest. A good use of an augury spell allowed them to bypass several rooms and head in the right direction. They found evidence of serious corruption, including some fey who appeared to be possessed by some kind of animate black liquid. When they came to the Saint's Spring, they found it full of this black liquid which seemed to be 'bleeding' out of a tree which was growing from its center.

What followed was a harrowing battle with several corrupted fey, the animate black liquid and a night hag roosted in the tree. The night hag proceeded to enfeeble all the front line fighters and use her magic missiles to disable the archers (killing Fedorsha the NPC thief). The battle got particularly bleak when Hamlen charged the tree and did maximum damage, which immediately reflected right back to him. Convinced that they had to destroy the tree, several players were confronted with the real possibility that they might have to sacrifice themselves in order to come out victorious.

Fortunately, a well timed use of Light and Levitate spells resulted in the night hag's demise. As she let out her last, a heart-sized gem was expelled from a knot in the tree. The party quickly smashed the thing (ignoring Ahkmed's protests) and the tree immediately began to heal and the black liquid ceased to flow.

Returning to the secret reliquary, the session ended as Hamlen presented the corpse of Fedorsha to the saint. Given the choice between resorting his lost level or bringing his henchman back to life, he chose the latter and was rewarded for his sacrifice by receiving both.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. John the Cave Dweller and St. Peter's Chains

Today is the feast of St. John the Cave Dweller and tomorrow is an interesting feast — the Veneration of St. Peter's Precious Chains. St. John was a hermit from Constantinople who forsook his parent's wealth to become a monk. The chains are those worn by Peter when he was freed from jail by an angel (Acts 12:1-19). What I found inspiring about St. John was the imagery found in the following hymn:
Denying the world and the things thereof, O righteous Father, you took hold of the Gospel and followed it in accordance with the Gospel's precepts. Living in your cave as it were mystically in Paradise, you slew the man-slaying dragon by your hard life of privation of all fleshly comfort. Wherefore, as you dwell now in the Heavens, O blessed John, pray that we be granted great mercy.
In a fantasy setting where sin is personified, an analogue for St. John slays an actual dragon and St. Peter's Chains can become a magic relic. Thus inspired, I came up with the following:

The Cave of St. Ion

This map is meant to be either placed in the wilderness or in a remote part of a dungeon. It was once the dwelling place for the hermit St. Ion. At one time this was a place of pilgrimage, but has long since been forgotten and lost.

  1. Cave Entrance. The opening of this cave looks like the maw of a great beast. Indeed, the legend surrounding St. Ion states that he defeated a great dragon and then spent the rest of his life living either inside the dragon's lair and in some versions, the dragon itself. All the shaded areas of the map are covered in calcified scales — as if this cavern complex might be a mold that would create a very large statue of a dragon lying on its stomach. Each of these scales has either an icon, letter or word carved into them. When read top to bottom, these scales are full of holy writings and poetry.
  2. Guard Dog. Chained at the location marked 'A' is a Dire Wolf (AC: 6, HD 4+1, hp: 23, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 150(50), S: F2, M:8). The chain is 20' long. When the party enters into this room, the Dire Wolf will attempt to attack, growling, whimpering and barking in frustration if the party stands out of the range of its jaws. This is done on purpose as a distraction. The bugbears that now make these caves their lair will ambush those that are occupied by the Dire Wolf. Should the party be distracted by the wolf, the bugbears will get an additional +1 to their surprise roll (1-4 on a d6).
  3. Dog Pen. This cavern has been converted by the bugbears into a kennel. Currently there is a female Dire Wolf (AC: 6, HD 4+1, hp: 23, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 150(50), S: F2, M:8) with 3 nursing pups (AC: 7, HD 1+1, hp: 8, 8, 5, ATT: 1d4, Mv: 120(40), S: F1, M:8) behind a makeshift locked gate guarded by the "dog trainer" (bugbear AC: 5, HD 3+1, hp: 12, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 120(30), S: F3, M:9)
  4. Stockade. There are several shackles and chains drilled into the floor for the purpose of keeping prisoners and punishing any disobedient bugbears. The proximity of the Dire Wolf in room 2 and the fear that the bugbears have for what lies in room 9 helps make life miserable for those forced to sleep here. Currently, there are two prisoners. One is a recalcitrant bugbear (AC: 5, HD 3+1, hp: 12, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 120(30), S: F3, M:9) who has killed the second prisoner (a dwarf) for food.
  5. Failed escape. This part of the cave is very low and narrow and cannot be reached by the bugbears. In an attempt to escape his captors, a gnome crawled here in hopes of sneaking out when the bugbears were off on one of their raids. Unfortunately, he died of his wounds before he had a chance to make good his escape. An 800 gp gem can be found hidden on his corpse.
  6. Guard Post. There are always two bugbears (AC: 5, HD 3+1, hp: 21, 20, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 120(30), S: F3, M:9) who stand guard here, keeping watch on room 1 through the narrow cavern that connects to the two rooms. They will not immediately attack, preferring to warn the rest of the bugbears and then lie in ambush.
  7. Main Sleeping Area. This cave is full of dirty animal skins and discarded bones and smells strongly of goblinoid. At any one time there will be 5-8 bugbears here (AC: 5, HD 3+1, hp: 13, 16, 23, 8, 15, 13, 16, 15, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 120(30), S: F3, M:9).
  8. Big Boss. This cave has been claimed by the bugbear leader (AC: 3, HD 4, hp: 30, ATT: 2d4+2, Mv: 120(30), S: F4, M:9). He has made a make-shift throne out of bones (close examination will indicated Ogre or Hill Giant). He will be here along with his lieutenants (AC: 5, HD 3+1, hp: 25, 23, ATT: 2d4, Mv: 120(30), S: F3, M:9). In three trapped chests (poisoned needle) are 3000 cp, 3000 sp, and 3000 gp.
  9. Resting Place of the Saint. This small cavern is covered in religious iconography. Anyone of either Neutral or Chaotic alignment entering into this space will be confronted by a ghostly figure. Those who fail their save versus spells (Chaotic creatures save at -4) will run in terror as if affected by the spell Scare. The secret door marked on the map is a reliquary containing a bronzed skull with a holy symbol carved into its forehead. The skull cannot be moved. Should anyone with a Lawful alignment try to move the skull, they will hear a voice saying, "I do not wished to be moved. I belong here. So, I will stay." Should the appropriate holy symbol be placed into the carving on the skull, the secret door will open.
  10. The Chains of St. Amethor. This hidden cavern is also covered in religious icons, depicting the imprisonment of St. Amethor as well as his emancipation by an angelic figure. The southern tunnel is blocked by a cave-in. It will require 48 man hours to clear. At the center of the room is another reliquary which contains a single set of shackles and chains. They radiate of magic. If worn, they act as a Ring of Free Action. There are seemingly random letters carved into the links of the chain. If arranged in an 'S' pattern, these letters read top to bottom form a religious poem. When said out loud while wearing the chains, the wearer is able to cast Dimension Door once per week.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Druids as Anti-Clerics

James over at Grognardia is doing something very interesting with Druids for his Dwimmermount campaign — something similar to what I've been contemplating for my own campaign. Using the obscure note from the LBBs that Clerics can only be Lawful or Chaotic at 7th level or higher, James is equating Druids with Clerics who apostasize from their original faith and turn into nature cultists. For my own part, I am beginning to like the idea of equating Druids with Anti-Clerics.

During this past season of Christmas and Epiphany (which doesn't wrap up until this Friday) I have been struck by the abundance of anthropomorphic language used by the Orthodox Church when describing the reaction of nature to these two great events. I realize that the following quote is quite long, but, not only is the imagery really beautiful, but I also want to demonstrate that this is a major theme that runs through the hymnody of the Orthodox Church:

What shall we offer You, O Christ? for You have appeared on earth as man for our sakes. Of all creatures made by You, each offers You thanksgiving. The Angles offer you the hymn; the Heavens the star . . . the earth her cave; the wilderness the manger — Vespers of the Nativity of Christ

The rivers have lifted up, O Lord, the rivers have lifted up their voices. — from the Second Troparion of the Prophecies, Vespers of the Nativity of Christ; Vespers of Epiphany

River Jordan, what have you beheld that you are sore amazed? "He whom none can see, I saw Him naked, and I feared. How should I not be afraid before Him and turn back?" The Angels, seeing Him, trembled with fear and awe; Heaven was amazed; the earth with quaking shook; the sea drew back in dread with all things both visible and invisible. Christ has appeared in the Jordan River, to sanctify the waters. — Matins of Epiphany

Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing waters by the presence of the Lord.

Today the bitter water, which was in the time of Moses, is changed into sweetness for the people by the presence of the Lord.

Today all creation is made bright from on high.

Today earth and sea share between them the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness.

Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped, looking upon God in the flesh; and the clouds gave forth their voice, marveling at Him Who is come, Light of Light, true God of true God, seeing the festival of the Master today in the Jordan, and Him Who Himself plunged into the depths of the Jordan the death of disobedience, and the sting of error, and the bonds of Hades, and has granted the Baptism of salvation unto the world. — from the Prayer of St. Sophronius during the Great Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany

There are two ideas being demonstrated here. First and foremost, Christ came in order to save all of creation, not just human beings. Nature is saved by being properly oriented to God. The second is that this orientation happens through human beings. The Jordan River cannot speak. The earth cannot offer a cave. Mountains cannot skip. We can. It is through us that creation is able to have a voice, is able to worship God and be properly oriented towards Him. This is made manifest by the Great Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany.

Given the pseudo-Christian flavor of the Cleric class in OD&D, the nature loving divine spell caster ought to be the Cleric, not the Druid. So what, exactly, does that leave the Druid to do/be? The answer lies in the idea of the Anti-Cleric.

If we were to diagram the means by which creation is saved (as suggested by the hymns above) it might look like this:
God --> Humanity --> Creation
God saves by restoring humanity to its proper role as the royal priesthood. In turn, fulfilling its role, humanity sanctifies creation through proper use of creation.

If we carry out the mechanical logic of the Anti-Cleric (where Cure Light Wounds turns into Cause Light Wounds; Bless turns into Curse; Raise Dead turns into Finger of Death, etc.) and apply it to the diagram above we would get this:
Creation --> Humanity --> (no)God
In other words, Druids become the Chaotic monster who is perfectly willing to sacrifice humanity and civilization in order to save a worm because nature is more important and has more value than any human being. Since God has been taken out of the equation it is possible to see humanity and civilization as being outside of creation and antithetical to it.

The result is a wonderfully frightening (and seductive) version of the Anti-Cleric which puts a whole new spin on the Temple of Elemental Evil. I am looking forward to finding a way to place them in my own campaign.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. George the Chezobite

Today is the feast of St. George the Chezobite. He was a Cypriote by birth who lived at the beginning of the ninth century. When his parents died when he was young, he travelled to the Holy Land and became a monk. He was an extreme ascetic. He would go days without food and would stand in prayer for hours. One of the more interesting stories about him involves a fellow monk who struck St. George in anger. The offending hand immediately shriveled into a useless stump. After begging for forgiveness, the hand was healed.

As fantastic as this story may be, it is not the most inspiring aspect of St. George's life. From the perspective of an RPG, the most significant part of St. George's story is the monastery he joined and eventually became the abbot of — Hozeva, which was built inside a huge ravine between Jericho and Jerusalem:

It is places like these that reminds me that I don't need to look much farther than the real world to find some truly fantastic places to use for location based adventures. Beautiful, isn't it?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Religion Art Right Here

JB of B/X Blackrazor asked a very interesting question (to me, at any rate) in his recent post "Religion Where Art Thou?" Given my own proclivities toward the subject, I thought I'd take a moment to demonstrate several easy ways that religion (a psuedo-Christianity) can be injected into a campaign to add that little bit of depth that only a religious world-view can bring to the table.
  • In my own games, I tend to follow in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis, who uses Aslan as an analogue for Christ. I've done this before, but for my Lost Colonies campaign, the fictional Christ-figure is called Isten.
  • Symbols have power, especially when they convey a story. There are three holy symbols available to those who follow Isten:

Wolf Hook: This symbolizes suffering. Isten was hung upon a mountain-side by a pair of wolf hooks jammed through his shoulders.

Blood Eagle: This symbolizes both sacrifice and the single person of the God-man. When the wolf-hooks did not kill Isten, he was subjected to the blood-eagle — two slits made in the back through which the lungs are pulled out like wings. The holy symbol always features a two-headed eagle, representing both Isten's natures (God and man) in one person.

Blood Drop: This symbolizes sanctification. Through Isten's suffering and sacrifice, which resulted in his blood being shed, the world is sanctified and made new in him. [This, by the way, is the favorite holy symbol among my players].
  • I use bishops and priests as patrons. This is built into the way I use the Cleric class. All adventuring Clerics are deacons and are attached to a bishop. This serves to feed adventure seeds to players as well as put a religious spin on adventuring.
  • I use saints...a lot. Every church and temple is dedicated to a different saint. Divine magic items are associated with/named after various saints. Religious relics behave like magic items. Characters will be visited by visions of saints and every now and then by the saints themselves. This adds a nice level of detail to the world and elevates humdrum everyday magic items into religious relics with their own unique back story.
  • A major theme of the campaign is the recovery and restoration of lost religious sites. The tent-pole megadungeon is an abandoned monastery. There are lots of religious iconography, symbols, vestments, etc. that have been desecrated/left to rot. This place isn't simply a place where monsters live. It is a place which was lost.
  • On the flip side, the major villains of the campaign represent and embody the seven deadly sins. Thus, these aren't just monsters the players are fighting against.
  • Bonus spells for Clerics are determined randomly. This provides for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Isten gives his clerics these spells because he knows they will need them. The players want to cast them (especially utility spells that never seem to have a use) so they can get another spell. Therefore they are always looking for (and finding) a creative way to cast them — proving that they needed the spell.
  • Any time my players do something religious or something out of faith, I reward them. These rewards are not mechanical — I don't roll a die or add a bonus. They are story-driven. A classic example is my players encountered a pool of acid that a chaotic tribe of humans was using to dissolve their sacrifices to a demonic image (as a rite of passage, they would cut off their own arms, which they would then replace by grafting on giant insect limbs/claws etc.). One of the clerics cast a Purify Food/Water spell (one of those bonus spells) on the acid and another non-cleric player decided to throw his holy symbol into the pool. This bit of religious action was rewarded by the pool being destroyed — it cracked and the acid drained out. Not only that, but it won over a hostile NPC who still loyally adventures with the group.
  • Finally, I don't try to re-invent the wheel. Scripture uses metaphor all the time and Christ spoke in parables. In other words, these stories are applicable no matter what the context. As long as the metaphor remains the same, you can easily substitute names, items, etc. for virtually every story in the bible to make it relevant to any campaign world.
Most of these things are done passively with very little effort on my part. Yet, my reward for that small effort is a group of players who see religion and religious action as central parts of their characters — even those who aren't clerics. It makes for a very rich campaign world without having to write up a detailed history of everything.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Meditations on Alignment

In my last entry for Saintly Saturdays I argued for an alignment dynamic of Law = Christian civilization and Chaos = demonic wilderness. Since then, I have been meditating on how to bring more nuance and depth to this basic system by attaching various theologies (mostly heretical) to the alignment system, keeping in mind the traditional D&D axes of Law/Chaos and Good/Evil.

This process could very easily get messy very quickly. There are a plethora of heretical movements throughout the nearly two thousand year history of Christianity. Enumerating them all not only would be an arduous task, but I believe it would also be unnecessarily complex and rigid. If one doesn't mind a bit of oversimplification, it is possible, however, to boil down all heresies into one of two categories.

Law vs. Chaos

Christian dogma is always about God and Salvation. It answers the fundamental question, "Who is God and how does He save us?" Central to this is the person of Jesus Christ. The orthodox dogma insists that Christ is perfect God and perfect man. Heresies can therefore be categorized into those that overemphasize Christ's divinity and those that overemphasize Christ's humanity (or created-ness).

When Christ's divinity is overemphasized, created matter and its role in salvation is de-emphasized, denied or even seen as evil. Some historic examples include:
  • Monophysitism — the belief that Christ's humanity was absorbed into the divinity of Christ, much like a sugar cube dissolves in water. Thus, the role of humanity and human nature in salvation is minimal.
  • Sabellianism — the belief that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are different modes of one God instead of three distinct persons. This denies personhood within the Godhead, therefore within the image and likeness of God in human beings. Our individual personhood, therefore, plays no role in salvation.
  • Gnosticism — the belief that the creator God (often called the Demiurge) is actually the devil. Thus all created matter is evil and salvation can only happen through knowledge of the true God.
When Christ's humanity is overemphasized, God's direct participation in salvation is minimized. What is left, then, is moral and ethical systems. Salvation is measured by how closely one adheres to these systems. Some historic examples:
  • Donatism — the belief that lapsed Christians (those who had sacrificed to the statue of the emperor during the persecutions of Diocletian and thus set free) could not be received back into the Church through repentance. Further, any sacrament performed by clergy who were not "pure" was not valid.
  • Nestorianism — the belief that Christ's divinity and Christ's humanity are two separate persons, where the divinity came only into contact with the humanity (in some variations, this contact happens at the baptism of Christ). An interesting consequence of this is compartmentalization. It is possible to justify two entirely different sets of behavior depending on circumstance. As long as one set is in contact God, all the others are saved, regardless of how heinous they may be.
  • Arianism — the belief that there was a time when the Son was not. In other words, Christ is part of creation and only united to God in will, not being. Thus, aligning oneself through will (and thus, those in power who represent God's will) is the only means of salvation.
In terms of the Law vs. Chaos alignment system, those heresies that over-emphasize the divinity of Christ fall under Chaos and those that over-emphasize the humanity of Christ fall under Law. The former because matter and civilization (or the lack thereof) is irrelevant (or even hostile) to salvation. The latter because the power structure of civilization is necessary to protect and/or impose ethical and moral codes.

Good vs. Evil

In classic Christian theology, evil is the absence of God and those things that separate us from God. This understanding, however, is not of much use in terms of alignment, because, technically, all heresies would be evil because they separate us from God.

Rather, I think a more useful understanding of Good vs. Evil is the value one places on the individual person. Good sees every individual as valuable, no matter who they are. Evil sees either no value in individuals or places the collective above the individual.


I am not a big fan of neutrality in the alignment system. True Neutrality is nothing more than a dressed up version of nihilism, which is actually Chaotic Evil. In terms of Law (civilization) vs. Chaos (wilderness), neutrality really means apathy — not something that adventuring PCs could be accused of.

In terms of Good vs. Evil, as I've proposed it, one might argue that Neutrality represents placing value on certain individuals — as in nationalism, for example. This, however, means that it would be possible to make the uncomfortable argument that Nazi Germany was a Lawful Neutral country.

The way around this would be to define neutrality in terms of positive action — the willingness to act to protect/save a certain type of individual persons but not others. When this positive action proactively seeks to destroy or oppress other types of individual persons, then this dips into the Evil category.


This, then, allows for an interesting take on a seven-alignment system:
Lawful Good (orthodox Christianity)
Lawful Neutral
Lawful Evil
Neutral (Apathy)
Chaotic Evil
Chaotic Neutral
Chaotic Good
What I find interesting about this is the depth it adds to the traditional demi-human/human dynamics. Elves, being Chaotic Good, would make for mysterious and potentially dangerous allies. Whereas they would place a high value on someone's soul, they would place little value on their body. In addition, they would see no problem with meddling with demonic forces if they thought it would help save one of those souls (and demonstrates the path eventually taken by Dark Elves).

In contrast, Dwarves, being Lawful Good, would be much more stalwart (and Christian!) allies and their relationship with Elves would be justifiably shaky, at best.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lost Colonies Session 30

This relatively short session was primarily a lot of interaction with various NPCs. Having obtained quite a bit of information about the abandoned monastery last session, the party decided to see what else they could find out from NPCs using their new information as a starting point.

They began with Fr. Valinor in Headwaters. He informed the players that one of the monks (a Dn. Beynar) mentioned in the page fragment they found in the vampire lair was the founder of Headwaters. Specifically, he built the watchtower. Fr. Valinor also knew of the Two Swords. Most likely, they were lost somewhere beneath the monastery; however, they might have been given to the dwarves of the Molting Mountains for safe keeping because, according to the records of the Keep, it was these dwarves who helped build the tower.

The party then went to Alton the Warder who commands the Keep and Tower of Headwaters. He informed the party that, indeed, Dn. Beynar had built the tower. In fact, they still maintained his monastic cell within the tower where he spent the end of his life in fasting and vigil asking forgiveness for his failure to destroy the Well of Chaos. When Alton found out Dn. Goram's intention of not only finding the Two Swords but of restoring the abandoned monastery, he assigned the Keeper Orysus as Dn. Goram's shield bearer. The party then asked if Alton knew of any vampire activity in the area. It was at this point I learned something new about my campaign setting.

When players ask questions of NPCs that I am not expecting, I generally roll a die to see how much that NPC might know about the subject. The more likely that the character might know something, the smaller the die I will use. The lower the result, the more information that NPC has. When asked about vampires, I picked up a d20 and promptly rolled a '1.' I was thus compelled to make something up on the spot. Evidently, when the Thassalonian Empire first set foot on these shores, they found that what one might call the nobility of the local population were vampires.

As a result, when Dn. Goram asked to spend a night in prayer in Dn. Beynar's old monastic cell, Dn. Goram was given a vision. Although the party had successfully freed Fr. Raphel from his fleshly undead prison when they slew the vampire, as long as the vampire who gave him unlife still walked the earth, Fr. Raphel's soul was still bound.

The party then went to Trisagia in order to spend money, train and level up. In process, they found out that Fedorcia, the one-legged prostitute (and now 4th level NPC Thief) still had various contacts in the City, including a good fence. This increased the chances of the party finding some items that might not have otherwise been available. Dn. Goram then sought an audience with Bishop Iova. The old man was very pleased to see his adventuring deacon and was quite moved by the willingness of Dn. Goram to take on such arduous tasks. They went into the reliquary of the cathedral and they proceeded to have a conversation with one of the bishops buried there. It was revealed that some believe that it was through the influence of the Well of Chaos that the Thassalonian Empire fell.

The session ended with a short foray into the abandoned monastery. The party discovered that the main temple once had been dedicated to St. Vineria but had long since been desecrated. They then discovered some catacombs beneath the temple that were crawling with rather powerful undead. We ended the evening with a running fight with some mummies, after which the party headed back to Headwaters.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Meditating on Greyhawk

I have a bit of a confession to make. I have never played in a Greyhawk campaign. In fact, it wasn't until well into the 90s that I even read any material about the Greyhawk campaign world. Certainly, I have played with modules written for Greyhawk, but they either were one-offs or removed from their original background in order to be reset into our home-brew campaign worlds.

Recently, I have come to really enjoy much of the research done by folks in the OSR about Greyhawk, Castle Greyhawk, etc. However, this hasn't affected the fact that I have never really had any desire to play in a Greyhawk Campaign or to go explore the Mad Archmage's Castle. Personally, I am more of a Judges Guild type of guy, because it has always seemed to me that the Wilderlands invited and encouraged a DIY attitude, whereas Greyhawk always felt like someone else's property. In fact, all of the attempts at finding a mythically historic version of Castle Greyhawk demonstrates that I am not the only one who feels this way.

Something funny happened on the way to the gaming table, however. After playing Labyrinth Lord for a year and a half while listening to me wax poetic about the old days of the hobby, some of my players have gone out and found old copies of modules, maps and rules. Not only that, but they have voiced a real desire to play them. As a result, I am faced with the very real possibility of running my very first Greyhawk campaign whether I like it or not.

To that end, I have been doing some thinking about how I could make a campaign set in Greyhawk interesting for me to play as a Referee. In other words, give it the same kind of treatment I feel entirely justified doing to my own version of the Wilderlands.

Source Material

Greyhawk 1st edition only. I don't much care for the later editions because they go into too much fiddly stuff and take the world in a direction I am not much interested in. The 1st edition is wonderfully short on detail, but overflowing with things that inspire. In other words, I can much more easily tailor the world to my liking and still stay true to the original material.

As far as maps go, I plan on using only this:

As much as it pains me to ignore so much of a beautiful map, limiting the campaign area greatly reduces the amount of information I have to process and be responsible for. It also places the Free City of Greyhawk in a backwater at the edge of the wilderness instead of being smack-dab in the middle of civilization. This allows me to have much greater freedom in representing what is off map. The corrupt Great Kingdom and the mysterious Scarlet Brotherhood can exert a much greater influence on the region because the geography need no longer get in the way.

Due to the reality that I don't want to spend an extraordinary amount of time on this project, I don't plan on using much in the way of home-brew adventures. In addition, this whole effort comes out of my players' desire to play through some of the original modules (specifically A1-A4). Thus, I plan to lean heavily on this material. Of course, one glaring hole in this plan is Castle Greyhawk. Though there are plenty of resources out there to emulate what the famous castle may have been, I'm not particularly interested.

I plan on taking a very different tack. The Mad Archmage will still be part of the world. He still built Castle Greyhawk only to disappear, and his influence can be felt far and wide, but the reasons the ruins of his castle are a magnet for adventuring types has very little to do with his original creation. Rather, at the height of the corrupt power of the Great Kingdom, the Overking used the ruins of Castle Greyhawk as a prison. While there are some who remember its original name and its original purpose, most now know Castle Greyhawk as Stonehell.


For reasons that will become obvious, I would use Labyrinth Lord as my ruleset. Not only because I have become a big fan, but also because I want to take full advantage of LL's modularity. This will be specifically manifest in the available character classes and races:

  • Elves use the OEC rules.
  • Dwarves, Halflings, and Magic Users use LL core rules.
  • Clerics, Fighters, Illusionists, Monks, Rangers and Thieves use the AEC rules.
  • Gnomes, Half-Elves and Half-Orcs will also be available as characters races using the AEC rules.
  • In addition (as a way to allow the Mad Archmage to affect the campaign world), Replicants as found in Section 9 of Mutant Future will be available as a character class.
  • Assassins and Druids are definite NPC classes only, because they both essentially function as monsters. As far as Paladins go, I am of the opinion that Clerics are Paladins and having a separate class just confuses the issue.

I have become a big fan of race-as-class. I didn't use to be until I started playing with it. I have come to really appreciate how it mechanically expresses the alienness of the non-human races. This has a way of sneaking into the way my players play them. I have become particularly interested in seeing how Elves from the OEC play.

Gnomes, Half-Elves and Half-orcs don't come with a race-as-class, however. Since the latter two are half-human, this can simply be explained by their humanness. Given this explanation, Gnomes can be understood as Dwarves who have come under undue influence of humans (dare I credit the Mad Archmage with creating a kind of Half-Dwarf?).

Magic Users begin with the LL core rules because I want to differentiate between the LL and AEC spell lists. The former will be more common spells, with the latter being much more rare, expensive to get a hold of and difficult to find.

Replicants are the result of one of the many bizarre experiments made by the Mad Archmage. Little is known as to who the original human being was that became the template for an entire race. Over time, however, as the Replicants continue to procreate, their ability to produce exact copies has deteriorated to the point where strange mutations have been popping up in recent generations. The closer one gets to the original, the more stable and mutation free one gets. Of note, though, Replicants have became fashionable bodyguards and soldiers among the elite within The Free City. Given the overall same-ness of the Replicants, they have a tendency to use tattoos as a means to express their individuality. Often, this takes the form of some kind of symbol tattooed on the face — this makes for easy identification.

Shape of the Campaign

The Free City has an economy entirely based around mercenaries and adventurers. It functions as the place where civilization and the Wild Coast meet to do business. The city works very hard at making an environment where outside feuds and conflicts are not welcome — they are bad for business. As a result, several mercenary companies have their headquarters inside the city and those interested in hiring them travel from all over the world to do business. This has resulted in a thriving economy based on accommodating nobility, merchants and travelers of all kinds.

Stonehell/Castle Greyhawk functions as a proving ground. Individuals who wish to join a mercenary company, adventuring guild or attract a patron are encouraged/expected to venture into the dungeon in order to demonstrate their worth. As a result, there is little interest in clearing out the dungeon or in finding out why it seems to be in constant flux and perpetually full of monsters. In fact, having it continually fester is good for business.

Slavery and the slave trade will be part of the background noise. While there is no slave market in the Free City, many of those who do business there own slaves.

Thus the basic trajectory of the campaign might very well be the party spending time in Stonehell in order to gain enough notoriety to gain a patron. Available patrons would be those that aggressively oppose slavery or have had family members kidnapped by slavers. The party will then be sent on a mission which will result in pulling out A1-A4.


The one thing that I do truly appreciate about the Greyhawk world is the Scarlett Brotherhood. Any group that has racial supremacy as a central tenet makes for great villains. Nationalism is so very seductive and sexy. It also has the tendency to corrupt and turn very ugly. Thus, those who adhere to it can justify all kinds of heinous acts because they are the hero of their own story. In other words, every member of the Scarlett Brotherhood has a very real motivation that makes for great villainy. There is no doubt that I will take full advantage of this.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Basil the Great

Today is the feast of one of my favorite saints — St. Basil the Great. He is one of those few people in the history of the world where the monicker "Great" doesn't do the man justice. He was extremely well-educated, having studied at Athens — one of the great centers of learning in the ancient world. I think a lot of so-called intellectuals today would be surprised at how well-educated and intelligent St. Basil is, especially given our culture's current assumption that being religious is equivalent to being ignorant. St. Basil used all of his education and talent to come to a very reasoned belief in Christ.

One of my favorite stories about St. Basil demonstrates how he personifies what a bishop should be:

St. Basil was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. During the latter part of the 4th century, Emperor Valens was putting pressure on church hierarchs to accept Arianism — one of the great Christian heresies. He sent the prefect Modestus to threaten the bishop. St. Basil's response is wonderful:
If you take away my possessions, you will not enrich yourself, nor will you make me a pauper. You have no need of my old worn-out clothing, nor of my few books, of which the entirety of my wealth is comprised. Exile means nothing to me, since I am bound to no particular place. This place in which I now dwell is not mine, and any place you send me shall not be mine. Better to say: every place is God's. Where would I be neither a stranger and sojourner? Who can torture me? I am so weak, that the very first blow would render me insensible. Death would be a kindness to me, for it will bring me all the sooner to God, for Whom I live and labor, and to Whom I hasten.
When the stunned Modestus replied that no one had ever spoken to him with such audacity, St. Basil informed him:
Perhaps, that is because you've never spoken to a bishop before. In all else we are meek, the most humble of all. But when it concerns God, and people rise up against Him, then we, counting everything else as naught, look to Him alone. Then fire, sword, wild beasts and iron rods that rend the body, serve to fill us with joy, rather than fear.
Emperor Valens left him alone.

One of my goals in starting this blog was to demonstrate that religion and RPGs can not only coexist but speak to and bolster each other. I am not sure why, but largely absent from our hobby is an understanding that religious belief can be a very rich source for adventure, conflict and character motivation. The life of St. Basil is a prime example. He was caught in the middle of the theological storm of Arianism in the tumultuous fourth century. People suffered and died over the issue.

What I find ironic is that we have played D&D for decades with belief systems hard-wired into the game. Yet it still escapes us that alignments represent the historic reality exemplified by the life of St. Basil that beliefs matter. In fact, many of us have been actively trying to get rid of the alignment system for years.

I, myself, have struggled with alignment and am no fan of the AD&D alignment system; however, if we took the time to hardwire religious theology into the alignment system it could not only answer my own (and others) long-standing conundrum of what to do with D&D's systemic reliance on alignment (cf. Protection from Evil), but add a layer of realistic flavor to our gaming experience.

Instead of the secular understanding of Law vs. Chaos as found in the DMG (which I have always found lacking), we can add a level of meaty realism with the very basic assumption that Law = Christian civilization and Chaos = demonic wilderness. From here we can further add to the realism by breaking down Law and Chaos into various assumed theologies.

Gnosticism, for example, would be a Chaotic alignment because it sees created matter as demonic. Salvation cannot come through society, civilization or the taming of the wilderness. It only comes through knowledge. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for NPCs (mad wizards), monster races (illithids) and the adventures that could surround them.

To take an example directly from the life of St. Basil, Arianism would be a Lawful alignment, because it firmly upheld the belief in Empire. Since Christ is not of one essence with God the Father, but only of one will, salvation is not found in God's being, but rather in subjecting oneself to the will of God. Thus, it is a faith that easily supports authoritarian states, where salvation is found in doing the will of those in positions of power and who represent the will of God. Again, this breathes life into entire civilizations, let alone NPCs.

What I really like about this idea is that understanding alignment in context of theology actually gives players a lot of wiggle room — it isn't nearly as restrictive as the AD&D alignment system. Concepts like salvation through knowledge, will and being allow for a much broader range of behavior. This kind of freedom not only allows for a much meatier campaign world, but also usually means more fun.