Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saintly Saturday: The Saturday before Epiphany

Today is the Saturday before Epiphany, which in Orthodox Christian practice has its own assigned hymns, readings and prayers in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s baptism. In some ways, Epiphany is actually a bigger feast in Orthodox Christianity than is Christmas (which originated in the West). In the East, the Nativity was commemorated as part of the feast of Epiphany and wasn’t celebrated as a separate feast until the end of the 4th century in most places, and not until the 6th century in others.

The reason for this import can be seen in another term Orthodox Christianity uses for the feast — Theophany. The word epiphany means revelation. The word theophany means a revelation about God. The revelation implied by the term is articulated in the Apolytikia (a type of hymn for a feast):
When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
The baptism of Christ is the first time in Scripture where God explicitly reveals Himself to be Trinity — the voice of the Father, the Son in the Jordan being baptized and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove.

I am intrigued how these two words might apply to RPGs.

Epiphany, of course, is easier to apply since any kind of revelation is applicable. Revealing the true identity of an NPC nemesis, a continuing backstory of a dungeon or any other mystery of a campaign world would be fitting. For my own purposes and interests, this is particularly useful in designing and running megadungeons. One thing that keeps bringing players back is a continuous trickle of information about the history and use of the dungeon.

Personally, I try to make sure this backstory has multiple levels. I prefer to use three: 1) original builders/occupants, 2) those that either conquered the original occupants or took over after they disappeared, and 3) those that currently occupy the dungeon. I usually seed this information not just throughout the dungeon itself, but throughout the campaign world. Indeed, my player’s recent excursion across dimensions had a major reveal about the megadungeon (of course, it is still to be determined as to whether or not the players put all the pieces together…)

Theophany is a more difficult proposition, but is really the one I am more interested in. Since the advent of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes in 1978, divine beings have been at the very least peripherally part of the game. The question is how much and in what form? When I first encountered Deities & Demigods, my friends and I merely saw it as an interesting extension of the Monster Manual and set about seeing which entry would be the easiest/most entertaining to take on in combat. Indeed, the first (brief) campaign I ever ran using Deities & Demigods had as its goal a final confrontation with our choice (one of the babylonian/sumerian entries if I remember right).

As offensive or entertaining such an encounter might be, I would argue it would not be a theophany — given the way we used Deities & Demigods it was merely another (albeit really powerful) monster encounter (a use, by the way, that as a Christian I am very comfortable with).

Though I make liberal use of angels and saints in my own games, I am not really sure that I have made use of any kind of theophany — I really haven’t revealed anything about God or God Himself. Of course, I run a campaign with a Christian analog where much of the nature of God is already implied and the players (being at least familiar with Christianity) understand the basic assumptions. If I were ever to run a campaign based on my meditations on prophets as clerics, theophanies might play a larger role in the campaign. It might also be interesting to see how theophanies would play out in a far distant future campaign where Christianity only survives in tiny remnants.

So, I am curious: How often to you use theophanies in your campaigns?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ripping Apart Time and Space

One of the things that I have been doing to entertain myself this past month is watching the BBC series Primeval. Though there are several moments over the course of the series that make it very difficult to suspend my disbelief, I very much enjoy the show because it has such a fascinating set-up.

Particularly interesting is its implicit admission that Darwinism cannot explain why the world was what it was and became what it is. Despite an overwhelming attempt by the popular culture (and scientists dependent upon secular and government money), Darwin’s mechanism for explaining evolution doesn’t work. As the show points out, there are things in the world and in the fossil record that just cannot be explained by our standard, assumed understanding of evolution.

However, the show does not take any kind of religious tack (it is the BBC, after all). Rather, they come up with an ingenious way of explaining how evolution does funny things. In essence, there are several holes in time and space that flash in and out of existence. Called (in a very Star Trek-esque manner) anomalies, they allow for creatures from very different epochs to cross over into different time periods — thus having drastic affects upon the evolutionary order.

One of the things that challenges the suspension of disbelief is that all of these anomalies seem to be centered around Britain, and that the government is perfectly capable of keeping it quiet that there are incursions by prehistoric monsters into our time on a fairly regular basis.

This got me thinking: why Britain? Why not the U.S. or South Africa or India? Given that Britain is the location of Stone Henge (and all of the weirdness associated with it), what if the anomalies were a long-term consequence of using arcane magic? Obviously, I am now fully going into FRPG inspiration mode, (because this blog is primarily about RPGs). Here is also where I get to sneak in some Christian dogma.

God created the world from nothing. When humanity knew evil (the absence of God), we knew a world of disease, decay and death — these are all symptoms of creation returning to the nothing from which it came. In context of a fantasy world where arcane magic exists and is practiced, this decay could take on a very interesting form. The use of arcane magic (which is, in essence an embrace of Adam’s Fall because most magic users attempt to be God sans God) could tear tiny holes in space and time. Over the long term, this results in anomalies — a symptom of space and time collapsing in on themselves as they return to nothing.

One of the more interesting ideas from the series is that most, if not all, mythological beasts have their origin as creatures from a distant past or future making an incursion into a different time. Thus, dragons might be dinosaurs. A dire boar might be an entelodont. A Lycanthrope or a vampire might be a wolf or a bat from some far distant future where these creatures have evolved some kind of intelligence (in fact, one of the recurring creatures in Primeval is a super-evolved bat).

There are three fundamental reasons why I am so intrigued by this concept:

Firstly, having portals opening up intermittently to other times can justify just about any weird creature you can think of — just call it a creature from the distant past or future. It also explains why dinosaurs of all different epochs could be roaming around a fantasy world.

Secondly, it allows just enough weirdness into a campaign world without going gonzo — how cool would it be to have a party of PCs jump through a portal into the distant past or future? The possibilities are endless.

Finally, and to my mind most importantly, it plays into the post-apocalyptic reality that is D&D — especially in a Homlesian kind of way. The ancient civilization hinted at in the Holmes edition of Basic D&D and how it came crashing down now come into sharp focus — all that powerful arcane magic tore enough holes in time and space that some serious nastiness crawled through to bring the civilization crashing to a halt. In addition, it suggests the very interesting possibility that divine magic (which develops later in the suggested D&D landscape of Holmes) heals these tears in time and space.

For my own purposes, it  also helps explain why the concept of time is so non-linear within the confines of the Chateau des Faussesflammes...

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Meditating on Random Encounter Tables

Before I go any farther, let me apologize for the dearth of posts around here lately. Though I should know better, lenten seasons (as in the 40 days prior to Christmas) and their immediate aftermath always demand more of my time than I ever expect. In addition, most of the time I have recently spent on gaming has been of the order of getting small details done for a couple projects that I have left fallow for awhile. Thus, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to post, and what I could be posting about hasn’t been all that exciting.

And here comes the However: I have been slogging through making Random Wilderness Encounter Tables for my version of Averoigne. Due to the fact that I like the mechanical feel of their structure, I have been using the same tables from S&W Complete as a model. And yet, one thing bothered me about them — dragons.

Depending on terrain type, there is about a 10% chance of having a random encounter with a dragon using the S&W Complete tables. Now, there are simple ways to radically reduce this chance — but this isn’t what bothered me. Rather, it was the very idea that I had to have a world where enough dragons were running around to justify a 10% chance of running into one.

This notion continued to grow as I found myself repeatedly placing things that the source material suggests like vampires, lamias and lycanthropes all over my encounter tables. Looking at my tables, I couldn’t help but think that my version of Averoigne must be crawling with hundreds of these nasty creatures in order to justify their presence in these tables.

As I doggedly moved forward and started to use these tables in order to come up with wilderness encounter areas, I realized something really interesting — while vampires, lamias and lycanthropes are all over my random tables, there is in actuality only one vampire, one lamia and a handful of lycanthropes (and no dragons) that currently live in Averoigne.

In other words, Random Encounter Tables do not represent what is, rather what might be and only if the PCs go exploring in the wilderness. Though dragons show up on my tables, they don’t exist until they do. Therefore, my world doesn’t have to be a world where dragons exist until they do.

This may seem to be an odd statement, but to my mind it is significant. A world crawling with vampires, lamias, lycanthropes and dragons would look and behave much differently than a world with one vampire, one lamia, a couple of lycanthropes and no dragons. The former is one where paranoia runs rampant, trade would be virtually non-existent and nearly all resources would be used to merely survive. The latter looks much more like a typical medieval society with normal superstitions and fears.

This distinction allows random encounters to impact the game world in a far more interesting and organic way. Dragons don’t exist in Averoigne. No one has ever seen one. Therefore, when the fumbling around of the PCs results in a dragon showing up in Averoigne, it is going to be a major event worthy of an adventure.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ is Born!

Mary, why are you amazed and awed by what was done in you? And she answers, “For in time I have brought forth a timeless Son. But I have no understanding of His conception. Husbandless am I: how can I bear a son? Who has ever seen seedless childbirth? But where God wills, the order found in nature is overcome, as it is written.” So Christ was born from the Virgin Maiden, in Bethlehem of Judea. — Kathisma of the Nativity
He whom nothing can contain has been contained in a womb. He is in the Father’s bosom and His Mother’s embrace. How can this be, but as He knows and willed and was well pleased. Fleshless as He was, He willingly took flesh. And He Who Is became what He was not, for us. And while departing not from His own nature, He shared in our nature’s substance. So Christ was born with dual natures, wishing to replenish the world on high. — Kathisma of the Nativity
Here is to hoping and praying that this Christmas brings everyone many, many blessings. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Eugenia of Rome

Christmas Eve is the Feast day of St. Eugenia the Nun-martyr of Rome. Though born in Rome, St. Eugenia actually grew up in Alexandria because her father was sent there to be the Prefect of Egypt by Emperor Commodus (A.D. 180-192).

During a period when Christians were banned from the city, she encountered the Epistles of St. Paul. This made her wish with all her heart to become a Christian — something she kept secret from her parents. Under the pretense of enjoying the countryside at a family estate outside the city, she arranged to be taken to a monastery to learn more about Christianity.

There she was baptized by the Bishop Elias who learned of her coming through a vision. He then blessed her to pursue asceticism at the monastery disguised as the monk Eugene.

Having a gift for healing, she garnered the attention of a rich young woman named Melanthia. Wishing to lure what she thought was a young monk away from the ascetic life, she threw herself at the saint. When spurned, she accused St. Eugenia of rape. The trial went before her father, the Prefect, where she was forced to reveal her true identity.

Eventually, the rest of her family came to believe in Christ and her father (as Prefect) was shortly thereafter martyred. The family then moved back to Rome, where St. Eugenia was eventually arrested and martyred herself.

Personally, this is one of my favorite stories among the lives of the saints. I think it has to do with the fact that I have a soft spot for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and stories like it. I love the drama created by mistaken identity — especially when that mistaken identity is one that is chosen rather than forced. As I have been meditating upon this story this week, it occurs to me that this is one of the reasons why I also have a soft-spot for half-orcs — the demi-human race I prefer over all others.

I have to admit, though, that I am not overly fond of the various iterations of half-orc that came out after 1ed AD&D. The reason I like this version better than all others can be found in the description of half-orcs in the PH:
Orcs are fecund and create many cross-breeds, most of the offspring of such being typically orcish. However, some one-tenth of orc-human mongrels ore sufficiently non-orcish to pass for human.
Furthermore, because of this affinity towards humanity, half-orc player characters are able to be all of these various classes. The implication is that the other 90% of half-orcs are functionally orcs — 1 HD monsters.

Thus, half-orcs (if played according to their description) do not go around proudly declaring their orcish heritage, but rather hide it choosing, rather, to disguise themselves as humans so as to blend into a society in which they believe they can eek out a better life. This could also be true of half-elves (those that choose to live in human society — which brings up the very interesting question as why they chose human over elvish society).

Unfortunately, our tendency as role-players is to play half-orcs and half-elves as full-blooded orcs or elves with a different set of mechanical advantages (I am guilty as the next guy). This can be seen in the fact that 3ed half-orcs look and play like orcs in virtually everything except name. Personally, I think the source of this tendency is the Racial Preferences Table, which all but declares that half-orcs despise just about everybody, lending credence to the idea that they are open about being an orc.

How much more interesting would it be, though, if all of that antipathy were kept secret? What if there was a real incentive to pretending to be human and avoid detection as a half-orc (or half-elf)? This is when stories of mistaken identity of our own creation can become part of play — where we can make our own Eugenias and Violas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Daniel the Prophet

Today is the Feast of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Holy Youths (also known as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago). They were part of the generation that were taken into Babylon as captives around 599 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar. All four, being of the princely lineage of Judah, were subsequently singled out to be taken into the royal court to be trained as pages. It was there that Daniel showed himself more wise than all the Chaldean sages, the Three Youths were thrown into the fire for refusing to worship idols and Daniel received his visions.

While there are plenty of fantastic images and creatures that can be found within the visions seen by Daniel, today I am rather going to concentrate on a portion of the Book of Daniel many folks may not be aware of. The textual witness for the Book of Daniel is rather complicated. Portions appear to have been written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. There are also two very different versions of Greek.

When the Masoretes began to compile the Hebrew Bible after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70., they rejected those texts that had been written in Greek. Thus, the Mesoretic Text of the OT (which forms the basis of most translations of the Bible in English) does not contain certain parts of the Book of Daniel which were written in Greek. One such section is an entertaining little story popularly known as Bel and the Dragon.

Ostensibly a polemic against idol worship, the story has Daniel convincing his friend King Cyrus of Persia that he shouldn’t waste his time with idolatry. The story is called Bel and the Dragon because the story revolves around the destruction of the idols of Bel (another name for the Babylonian god Marduk) and a dragon.

The fun comes from the descriptions of these conflicts and how they might inspire adventures and even a dungeon, of sorts. The priests of Bel claim that their God ate twelve bushels of flour, forty sheep and six measures of wine every day. This was seen to be true because all that food would disappear every day — “eaten” by Bel. In reality, the seventy priests and their families snuck into the sanctuary every night through a secret door in the floor to eat the food themselves. Daniel exposed their ruse by spreading a thin layer of flour on the floor which revealed the foot prints of the real culprits.

Daniel then destroys the dragon (which also “ate” sacrifices) by shoving balls of boiled pitch, fat and hair down the its throat. As a result, it burst.

There are several interesting possibilities here. The temple of Bel could in reality be a den of thieves who are pulling the wool over the eyes of the locals. It could also be an abandoned temple (formerly occupied by thieves and con-men?) with undiscovered secret entrances to dungeons below. In addition, while the story implies that the dragon destroyed by Daniel is a statue, the language used could be loosely interpreted to indicate an actual dragon. Taken together, these two episodes imply a city-state dominated by two cults. One is a sham put on by the local thieves’ guild and the other is led by an actual dragon.

In order to get everyone’s creative juices flowing, I offer up the following cross-section of the temple of Bel:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Demonspore (and a Challenge for the OSR)

The short: Demonspore by Matt Finch is the best module produced by the OSR to date. Period. Full stop.

The long: Potential module designers of all stripes pay attention.

There are other modules that look better (see anything by Paizo which probably has the highest production values in the industry). There are other modules which are far more clever and weird (Matt Finch’s own The Spire of Iron and Crystal is better). There are other modules that have a better and more thought out back story (though the idea of growing your own god is awfully cool, I think the background for James Boney’s The Chasm of the Damned has a lot more potential and Michael Curtis has done a more thorough job with Stonehell).

The reason why I love this module so much can be summed up in Matt’s own words:
If the Referee has a different sort of sinister enemy in mind rather than toadstool-creatures, it is certainly not required to use Stone Cyst of the Shroom Priests as the sequel. Other than the fact the the insidious corruptors of the Toad-Men have some skills in alchemy, no facts about these deceivers are revealed by the material in this module.
Demonspore is actually two separate modules that are connected, but as can be seen above they need not be. Coupled with the fact that Matt has given us three different ways to connect the first part of Demonspore to any extant dungeon/ruin/whatever that happens to be in our own campaign world means that this module wasn’t designed to have a high production value, to be clever and weird or to have an incredible back story. Rather IT WAS DESIGNED TO BE USED.

To me, this is by far the most valuable asset of any module I purchase. While the other three are valuable (and, trust me Demonspore has them in spades) they are rendered meaningless if I can’t actually use the adventure. As a testament to how easy it is to use Demonspore, the very same afternoon that I had skimmed my copy I had seamlessly integrated the entire module into the tentpole megadungeon for my Lost Colonies campaign and it made my own megadungeon better. My players may be exploring Matt’s creation as soon as our next session.

Whether he knows it or not, Matt has stumbled upon the best way for our community to publish a megadungeon. Matt dispenses with any information about where this module is located, other than the fact it is part of a dungeon. He provides several ways that his module connects to the rest of this dungeon. The rest he trusts us with.

Now, imagine if we had available a dozen or so modules written by any number of designers who shared this same format. We, the end users, would then be free to piece them together however we wish in order to form our own unique megadungeon. How much of this megadungeon is our own homebrew and what is published is entirely up to us. The result, I believe, would not only give our generation of gamers the common cultural experience of gaming with broadly used modules, but also allow all of us to have that experience be truly unique to each campaign because of the freedom we would have to use them to construct our own unique megadungeon.

Therefore, I would like to throw down a gauntlet and challenge all of the would-be designers of the OSR to do just this: use the format of Demonspore and produce good quality modular adventures that I guarantee will get used because at least this gamer will gleefully attach them to an existing megadungeon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saintly Saturday: Sts. Menas, Hermogenes, & Eugraphos

Today is the Feast of Sts. Menas, Hermogenes, & Eugraphos, Martyrs of Alexandria. Menas was a soldier and a skilled orator, which is why he sometimes called “Most Eloquent.” As such, he was sent from his native Athens to Alexandria to suppress riots that had arisen out of conflicts between pagans and Christians. Not only did St. Menas quiet the conflict, but openly preached the Gospel and converted many of the pagans to Christianity.

Having heard of this development, the Emperor Maximian (A.D. 235-238) sent Hermogenes to purge the city of Christians. In turn, he became a Christian once he saw that the wounds he was inflicting upon Menas miraculously healed.

Then Emperor himself then came to Alexandria; however, he refused to be mollified by either the stoic endurance of Menas and Hermogenes or by the miracles which attended their struggles. Rather, this all made him all the more angry. After personally stabbing to death St. Eugraphos, the personal secretary to St. Menas, he ordered Sts. Menas and Hermogenes to be beheaded. Their decapitated heads, along with that of Eugraphos, were then put into an iron chest and thrown into the sea. Subsequently, these relics were recovered and brought to Constantinople in the ninth century.

For me, the most intriguing part of the this story is the disposal of the saints’ decapitated heads and their subsequent recovery. Can anyone say undersea adventure?

The scenario that immediately leaps to mind is to place a ruin off the coast (possibly hinted at in a treasure map). This ruin is the lair of a Water Naga. She is possession of an iron chest that she is willing to barter for the return of a magical item stolen from her by a group of sahaugin (or some other group of undersea denizens).

I realize this is derivative of something that I did in my Lost Colonies campaign, but I really like the potential of a party either going to the trouble of retrieving said magic device or defeating the naga for the iron chest only to find in contains three skulls. The irony, of course, being that these three skulls, as religious relics, are possibly far more valuable than whatever treasure stolen from the naga in the first place.

Here are some possible powers that the three skulls could give to those who know what they are:

  • Heal as per a Staff of Healing only up to three times per day per target depending on how many skulls the user has in their possession.
  • Increase the effective Charisma of the possessor by one degree per skull. Thus, if the user has a 10 Charisma, one skull would result in a 13, two skulls 16 and three skulls 18. The number of followers attracted by those of level 9+ are doubled for one who posses two skulls and tripled for one who has all three.
  • A spell similar to Comprehend Languages that allows reading, writing and speaking for a duration of 1 turn. This can be cast once per day per skull the user possesses.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meditating on Ability Bonuses

Awhile ago, I wrote a post about Charisma and Wisdom. In it I challenged the basic assumptions of both ability scores in an attempt to return to the symmetry of Prime Requisites vs. Combat Abilities found in OD&D with later versions of the game that include the Thief as a core class. While thought provoking, I am not sure I was entirely successful.

Recently, James over at Grognardia also wrote about Charisma in a very similar vein to what I was trying to get at in my own, earlier, post. This prompted a brief discussion of ability scores and bonuses that ended up admitting that while the balance found in OD&D is intellectually awesome, in practice it is hard to image a fighter with an 18 Strength not getting some kind of combat bonus since that is how we have played the game for 30+ years.

Yesterday, Jeff of Jeff's Gameblog posted this little gem. At first, I dismissed it out of hand because it made no real sense to me — why would a dumb fighter advance faster than a smart one? Why would a weak MU do any better than a strong one? It then hit me: a dumb fighter would rely more on his fighting ability than would a smarter fighter; a weak MU would rely more on their arcane magic than would a stronger MU.

Imagine for a moment a MU had to move a couch. With a STR of 10+ that couch is going to be lifted/dragged to where it needs to be. With a STR of 8 or less (especially 3!) it is more likely that a spell like Floating Disc is going to be cast in order to move that couch. Who is more likely to be more skilled, faster over time: the MU who uses arcane magic for everything or the one who can rely on other skills to do everyday mundane things? I am beginning to see that it is very plausible to argue the MU with a 3 STR would.

Using my previous re-tooling of Charisma and Wisdom, here are my own initial thoughts about XP bonuses:
Low Strength = Magic-User bonus
Low Dexterity = Cleric Bonus
Low Constitution = Thief Bonus
Low Intelligence = Fighter/Dwarf
Low Awareness = Halfling
Low Charisma = Elf
Here are my explanations:

  • Magic Users — see above.
  • Clerics are more likely to solve problems face-to-face therefore discouraging missile combat as a way to solve problems.
  • Thieves that have lower hit points are much more likely to solve problems by avoiding combat and being sneaky.
  • Fighters and Dwarves that are intelligent (able to form strategy and planning) are less likely to rely on their sword/axe arm.
  • Halflings (Hobbits) are naturally inclined to live happily in their own little bubble without much awareness of the outside world. Those who are aware just aren't natural hobbits.
  • Elves, being long-lived and the one race inclined to being two classes at once, represent the impulse to do everything sans divine help. The less in tune with God, the more likely the elf will succeed doing what elves do. This also gives elves a nice, sinister spin.

This all got me thinking about the inherent symmetry of OD&D vs. combat bonuses built into Prime Requisites and how I can have my cake and eat it, too. With XP bonuses divorced from Prime Requisites, it is possible to give every ability score a combat bonus/penalty.

Using my previous re-tooling of Charisma and Wisdom, here are my initial thoughts:
Strength = to hit bonus melee
Dexterity = to hit bonus ranged
Constitution = hit points bonus
Intelligence = henchmen number & loyalty
Awareness = damage bonus
Charisma = armor class bonus
The first three are pretty standard and therefore don't need much explanation. The last three, however, break the mold.

  • Intelligence — This requires a bit of reverse engineering. If a fighter is more fighter-like by relying on their sword, than the opposite of that would be a fighter who relies on planning — leading a number of henchmen. In addition, which class is most likely to take advantage of henchmen — the Magic-User!
  • Awareness — This represents the ability to be aware of weaknesses in an opponent's defenses.
  • Charisma — Someone who has divine protection is going to be harder to hit.

It should be noted, that there are some editions of D&D where certain combat bonuses are only available to fighters. There are a couple of ways to simulate this. The first is to have additional bonuses associated with Prime Requisites that are only available to the given class. Here are some initial thoughts (some of which already duplicate some existing rules):
Strength = Fighters and Dwarves get a bonus to encumbrance (they are trained to move in armor). If that doesn't float your boat, how about DR when armor is worn?
Dexterity = Elves get a bonus to saving throws involving balance (death/breath)
Constitution = Halflings get a bonus to saving throws involving durability (poison/spells)
Intelligence = Magic-Users get to know more spells/get bonus spells
Awareness = Thieves get bonuses to Thief Skills
Charisma = Clerics gets bonus spells
Secondly, rather than getting all the the various combat bonuses, characters would only get the bonus associated with their class plus one other of their choice (thus giving classes a bit of diversity).


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Zephaniah the Prophet

Today is the feast of St. Zephaniah the Prophet. The textual witness of the book named after him indicates that Zephaniah was a contemporary of King Josiah and took part in the religious reform the king championed once he reached adulthood. This places the prophet in context of 2 Kings 22-23 (or 4 Kings by LXX reckoning). His prophecy was most likely written at the time of Josiah’s minority (the king was crowned at the age of eight).

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that prophets make very good clerics. Indeed, Roger of Roles, Rules & Rolls took this idea and ran with it . . . to very good effect. The more I meditate upon this idea, the more I like it. This is only reinforced by reading the Prophecy of Zephaniah and 2 Kings. Here are some highlights:

  • The Temple is in serious disrepair (which can easily be interpreted to be ruins). King Josiah sends Hilkiah the high priest to gather all the silver inside the Temple in order to melt it down to pay for repairs. While inside searching for treasure, Hilkiah finds a book (some biblical scholars identify this as Deuteronomy). The discovery of this book leads to the religious reform that marks the reign of King Josiah. This story is very much suggestive of an expedition into a dungeon sponsored by a local ruler. The coolest part is that the dungeon is in the middle of the city.
  • Once the book is found, King Josiah seeks out the counsel of God. The high priest Hilkiah and his companions Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan and Asaiah go to find the Prophetess Huldah. She then gives them a prophecy. There are three things I find very compelling about this:
  1. The very fact that Huldah is a woman speaks to the freedom with which players could play female clerics.
  2. Hilkiah, as high priest, needs to go to a prophetess. This clearly differentiates the abilities of a priest (non-spell caster?) and a prophet (cleric).
  3. Finally, this can be interpreted as the adventuring group that delved into the temple ruins who are now going on a wilderness adventure to find Huldah.
  • Zephaniah gives us several landmarks found within the city:
  1. The Fish Gate
  2. The New Quarter
  3. The Hallows
  4. The Temple, which one must go up a stairway to arrive at
  5. Hills, which seem to be inside the city according to the context
  6. Some kind of merchant sector (unnamed)
  • Zephaniah also bears witness to three cults that exist within the city:
  1. Baal — of interest, the word “priesthood” used in context of Baal is a different word than is used to describe the Levite priesthood. The word used for Baal connotes the worship of idols. I would interpret that the priests of Baal, therefore, are probably magic-users whose spells are reskinned to simulate blood-magic.
  2. Milcom — a deity worshipped by the Ammonites associated with child sacrifice.
  3. An astrological religion where practitioners prostrate themselves on roof tops to the stars. This, again, lends itself well to the idea of a priesthood made up of magic-users.
All of this suggest a very interesting urban campaign where the tentpole megadungeon is a ruined temple, cults that wield arcane magic and sacrifice children (do they steal them?) vie for influence and the power of the government is weak because there is a child on the thrown. In addition, from the historical point of view, the neighboring Assyrians, who have controlled territories once under the rule of the king, are also weakened — thus creating a marvelous backdrop for all kinds of player character shenanigans.