Saturday, May 19, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Patrick the Hieromartyr

Today is the feast of St. Patrick the Hieromartyr. He was Bishop of Prusa, which is a city in the region once known as Bithynia, now in the northwestern coast of modern day Turkey. In the area are some natural hot springs. The local Consul Julius attempted to persuade St. Patrick to his pagan way of thinking by pointing out that the bishop owed thanks to the gods for providing the springs for the benefit of humanity.

The hieromartyr gave an answer that is surprisingly compatible with our own scientific understanding of the phenomena. He explained that there was a fire underneath the earth that heated the water which then welled up and produced the hot springs. Since God created the earth, fire and water he owed thanks to Jesus Christ through whom all things were made, not some pagan god of the spring.

Angered by this answer, Julius had St. Patrick thrown into the boiling water of the spring. As with the youths in Babylon thrown into the furnace by order of Nebakanezer, it was those who threw St. Patrick into the water that were harmed, not the saint. Refusing to see this as a sign of the truth of the bishop’s words, the Consul had St. Patrick beheaded. This most likely happened during the reign of Diocletion (A.D.284-305).

I recently noted via Zenopus Archives that domains have, at least in part, remained a part of the next iteration of D&D. For me this is disappointing, because it means that, at some level, Julius’ world view will be hard wired into the mechanics of the game and I will have to do extra work or forego several options in order to make St. Patrick’s view compatible with the mechanics of the game.

Let me explain what I mean by using an understanding of Genesis that (while completely compatible with an Orthodox Christian understanding) does not fall under the popular literal interpretation of the creation story. Note that there are two different accounts of creation. Modern scholars place the authorship of Genesis 2 during the Babylonian exile and Genesis 1 during the period immediately after this period. Regardless of whether or not one places much validity in this time frame it does offer an interesting context with which to understand the creation accounts.

When compared to the various pagan beliefs that would have surrounded the authors of the Genesis accounts, it is very easy to see them as polemics against these very beliefs. Indeed, Genesis 1-11 seems to be imbued with imagery from Mesopotamian myths, but with the narrative purpose of crediting Elohim for creating all of these various “domains” thought by the pagans to be divine beings. In other words, there is no god of the hot springs because God created the earth, fire and water.

As an ironic aside, this understanding of creation — that plants, animals, rocks, water, etc. are mundane things created by God rather than as divine beings or things imbued with divine beings — is the only religious view of the ancient world that is not only compatible with modern science, but is the fertile soil in which modern science was able to flourish. If water is merely a mundane thing, it is possible to observe it and experiment with it rather than worship it.

The mechanical use of domains by D&D 2e+ hardwired the pagan view of creation into the game of D&D. It necessitates a view that there is no one God that created all things (and therefore all domains). Rather, there is a plethora of gods, each living in or having power over a limited scope of creation. In other words, there is no room for St. Patrick and his world view. In other bit of irony, it also limited the scope of the pastiche that is D&D and therefore limited what I feel is the reason for its long-term success.

One of the reasons I stopped playing D&D for many years was this domain mechanic. While I have created schemes to make domains compatible with my faith (using various cults of the saints instead of gods), it amounts to a level of preparation that is not only completely unnecessary in older editions of the game, but which, despite my best efforts, never quite overcame the pagan outlook of creation hardwired into the game. Thank God for the OSR.


Pool of St. Padraig

This is intended as an encounter area that can be placed inside a dungeon. This will appear as a boiling hot pool of water that radiates of magic. Anyone touching or entering the water will take 1d6 points of damage for every round of contact unless that person is currently being affected by a divine magic spell.

For the duration of the divine magic spell, the person so affected will be able to take advantage of the magic of the pool. Anyone thus entering will be affected by a Sanctuary spell. In addition, depending upon the need of the person entering the pool, one curative spell will take effect. Cure Wound spells, Cure Disease, Neutralize Poison, and even Restoration are all available. Which ever spell is most needed (or, alternatively, the highest level spell that could affect the person entering the pool) is the one spell that will take affect. These curative affects of the pool can be used once per week.


  1. I just wanted to let you know I'm enjoying your blog very much. I'm a United Methodist minister and find your approach to D&D both intellectually and spiritually refreshing.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. This is exactly why I started this blog, so that RPGs could speak to faith and faith could speak to RPGs.

  3. ... the popular literal interpretation of the creation story.

    Frankly, have those that follow that interpretation ever read that part of scripture? I find it's fairly obvious that it's two stories.

    The Pool:
    I love magic pools! Pools and fountains are things that are very important for beings living under ground, and I think thus they are key elements of the mythological landscape of underearth, infusing those elements of a real life under ground with some elements of the fantastic.

  4. Really interesting view on the divergence of AD&D 2E vs earlier D&D - I would have never perceived the domain system as the institutionalization of a pagan world view.

    I do tend to use an alternate approach, myself, from separating the church from pagan faiths, and it goes back to those AD&D guidelines on where clerical spells come from. I just shift everything down a rung, essentially promoting the creator as the only being capable of granting those 6th-7th level spells, and turning any of the pagan deities into lesser beings (akin to devils, demons, and lesser gods) that grant limited powers. It has minimal effects at low levels of play, but any spell scrolls of high level spells came from the church and not one of the pagan belief systems.