Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saintly Saturday: the Holy Martyrs Anthony, John and Eustathius of Lithuania

Today is the feast of the Holy Martyrs Anthony, John and Eustathius of Lithuania. During the reign of Prince Olgerd, these brothers became Orthodox Christians due to the influence of Princess Maria Yaroslavna, Oglerd’s wife. After her death, however, Olgerd turned toward paganism and persecuted the Christians. Imprisoned and tortured, they were all hung from an oak considered sacred by the pagans. Later, the Christians built a church at the site and the stump of the tree became the altar.

This all took place during what can called the Northern Crusades, a fascinating and criminally ignored history. Beginning in the 13th century, Bishop Albert of Riga founded a military order called the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (sometimes referred to as the Sword Brethren). Sanctioned by Pope Innocent III, this group of German warrior-monks were established to aid in the Christianization of the pagans in what today is Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Politically, they were there to aid Albert carve out a fiefdom granted to him by Philip of Swabia who laid claim to be Emperor of the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Empire.

In the end, they suffered high casualties and were absorbed into the Teutonic Order as an autonomous branch called the Livonian Order. It was this order which clashed with the Alexander Nevsky-led Novgorod forces at the Battle on the Ice — so-called because in the swampy environs of the Baltics, winter was campaign season because the frozen ground was the best time to move troops. Lake Peipus was frozen over and was perfect for a calvary charge.

In terms of influential movies on me, Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky has a pull than is even stronger than Star Wars. I saw both in my youth and both have lasting visual, emotional and musical impressions that still resonate will me today. I don’t think I would have been as enthusiastic a D&D player as I still am today without Alexander Nevsky.

This time period is ripe for using as campaign fodder. Take a look at this map:

You have competing bishops, competing denominations of Christianity, you have militaristic monastic order, pagans and lurking off the map the Golden Horde ready to wreck havoc. I would love to see the chaos caused by a group of players in a political situation like this.

As an aside, for those who argue there are no historical examples of the D&D cleric, look no further than this period of history where the concept of the “battle bishop” is not very far from the truth.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rings Journal Part 4

Thirdday, 7 Februa

O God, help me! Penael is dead.

Fourthday, 8 Februa

It always surprises me at how cathartic a funeral is, especially the one we had for Panael. Rufus specifically thanked me for taking such good care of Panael’s body. Given the fate he faced had the Thanati worm taken hold, things could have been much worse. I prevented more pain. That these people have suffered so much to take comfort in death is amazing.

Now that I am past self-pity, I have begun to realize that Panael sacrificed himself that I might live and that as such, I owe him and his people my life and all that I am. Through him, Isten has finally made me comfortable about this calling for this city and these people.

We can no longer call where the hobgoblins and spiders are a “lair,” there is a far larger complex below than we ever imagined. When we followed what Cuinn called “heavy traffic,” we found a huge room with what amounts to river running through it. There was a bridge crossing the flowing water in the middle of the space and on the other side was an encampment of hobgoblins.

Morivam promised that he could incapacitate several of their number with a spell, so we decided to charge. Unfortunately, these hobgoblins were combat veterans and organized themselves quickly. Panael took a spear meant for me and as a consequence opened himself up to another. Despite Panael’s sacrifice, Morivam’s spell was too much for them and the few that remained fled.

We tried to to pursue, but the passage they retreated down proved to be a maze of natural caverns and any chase through them was deemed too dangerous. While I chopped off Panael’s head with his own sword to prevent the Thanati worm from taking hold of him, the rest of our party took stock of what the Hobgoblins had managed to smuggle beneath the city.

There were enough weapons to arm a large raid including saddles and horse tack branded with the sign of a wolf howling at the moon. There was even a long dead corpse armed with a falchion and suited in a bronze breastplate. I surmise that these items may very well have been booty from a raid either from some other group inside the city, or perhaps from before the hobgoblins slinked into Redwraith.

Given the wounds and casualties we suffered, it was decided that we retreat for now.

Fifthday, 9 Februa

The others have continued their raid into the complex. Given the loss of Panael, I could not bring myself to join them. At the moment, I am the only real protection the faithful have here in Redwraith. We decided to take the hobgoblin’s equipment and use it as an emergency stash for the church itself. Blaise and Mirela helped me to secure a large number of bricks and mortar. I have spent large amounts of my time, with intermittent help of various members of the church, to start building walls around the sunken courtyard in front of the church proper. At the very least, we will have a better defensive position and someplace to retreat to in an emergency.

I must admit, however, that I find such simple work to be restful for my spirit, if not my body.

Sixthday, 10 Februa

I am beginning to worry. No one has returned from the raid on the spiders and the hobgoblins. I did give Cuinn one my healing potions in case someone got hurt since I would not be there to minister any wounds. Still, what is taking so long?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SWCL Adventure Module: The Burnt Village of the Restless Dead

I have slowly been working on my own version of The Temple of Elemental Evil for use with SWCL. Rather than releasing it all at once, I have created the moniker Adventure Tools. This allows me to release each finished section as its own adventure that can be modularly added on to any campaign or any megadungeon. The first release can be found here.

This release is a bit unusual in that it is a surface encounter area that leads to a dungeon rather than a part of the dungeon itself. I will be interested to see if and how this gets used.

As is normal for me, this comes with the disclaimer that I am a hobbyist and have edited this as best as I am able, but there will be mistakes. Please consider the comment section a thread for any typos etc. that you catch. Thank you!

The module can be found here.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Christ is Risen!

Be illumined, illumined, O New Jerusalem; for the glory of the Lord has arisen over you. Dance now for joy, O Zion, and exult. And you be merry, O pure Theotokos, at the arising of the One you bore. — Ode IX of the Canon of Pascha

Monday, April 2, 2018

A Quick Update

I had a few people reach out to me to see if I am okay, especially since I was quiet on Easter.

Firstly, I am fine, just insanely busy. What time I have had for gaming has been dedicated to actual play and trying to get the second installment of Adventure Tools finished. Thus, the blog has been neglected. Hopefully this will change in the near future.

Secondly, for those who are not aware, this past Sunday was Palm Sunday for me and mine. Orthodox Christianity uses a different calendar than Western Christendom and the Sundays we celebrate what we call Pascha can very wildly. This year we are one week later. Thus, for those looking for the "Christ is Risen!" post, that will be posted this coming Sunday.

Finally, thanks for the concern. It means a lot.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Monk Redux (Saintly Saturday)

Today is the Feast of St. Quadratus of Nicomedia. He was from a rich family and spared no expense helping fellow Christians imprisoned for their faith during the reign of Emperor Decius (A.D. 249-251). When Decius sent his proconsul Perennius to persecute the Christians in Nicomedia, Quadrates voluntarily appeared before him. The saint wanted to encourage those in prison by demonstrating his courage in the face of certain torture and death.

These, of course, followed. In the end, a fire was lit under an iron grate in order to burn Quadratus to death. After the iron was red hot, the saint voluntarily laid down as if he were crawling into bed, unharmed by the heat and fire. Out of sheer frustration, the proconsul had the saint beheaded.

This past week I posted about a possible “Western” version of the monk for my Holmes + Cook thought experiment using the Turning mechanic as a means of fitting the concept into the idea of a cleric subclass. It produced some really interesting comments.

One theme was to make the monk a “buffing” class and the bard was cited as an example. While I think this is quite an excellent idea, my Holmes + Cook thought experiment already has a buff-type class. My suggested version of the Paladin is as a leader-type that has a floating bonus that can be added to various party members. Thus, to have the monk do the same through Turning would be to blur the lines between the two.

That being said, the story of St. Quadratus is a clear example of the type of miracles that inspired the cleric spell Resist Fire and suggests that JB’s idea that the monk be an “inward channeling” character might be a very interesting way to go. In other words, instead of buffing others (like my Holmesian Paladin), the monk uses faith to push himself beyond normal physical boundaries.

Here is a list of cleric spells from Cook that could possibly fit the bill:

  • Cure Light Wounds (1st level)
  • Remove Fear (1st level)
  • Resist Cold (1st level)
  • Resist Fire (2nd level)
  • Silence 15’r (2nd level) — in a nod to the idea of Cadfael and Friar Tuck having thief skills
  • Cure Disease (3rd level)
  • Remove Curse (3rd level)
  • Striking (3rd level)

As I have pointed out before, both Holmes and Cook have eight different types of targets for a cleric’s Turn Undead ability. Above is a list of eight special effects. The question is, what order of difficulty should each of these effects have in terms of the Turning mechanic?

If one were to duplicate the Turn Table exactly as it appears in Cook and replace each undead type with a spell effect from the above list, I would propose the following (from easiest to most difficult):

  1. Remove Fear
  2. Resist Cold
  3. Cure Light Wounds
  4. Silence
  5. Resist Fire
  6. Striking
  7. Cure Disease
  8. Remove Curse

This way all the first level spell effects are available immediately, with the most useful/powerful (Cure Light Wounds) being the hardest to accomplish. The most powerful 3rd level spell (Remove Curse, in my opinion) would be available at 5th level (approximately when 3rd and 4th level spells become available to a cleric at 6th level).

I would place some kind of limit on how many times each of these abilities can to used over the course of an adventure. Once per encounter? A set number of times per day/ per adventure?
Otherwise, a monk at 11+ level would be able to do all of these abilities at will and that seems way too much to me.

Since these Turning abilities are spell-like abilities, I would remove the spell-casting abilities of the monk, but leave their fighting ability alone.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Monk

The last subclass that I have to muse about in my Holmes & Cook thought experiment is the monk. Holmes categorizes the monk as a subclass of the cleric. Given my reasoning behind using the Turning mechanism to re-skin the druid, this leads me down the path of trying to marry the mechanic with the concept of “monk.”

This is where I will be departing quite radically from the traditional view of the monk as wuxia in D&D. When one uses the word monk, there are two archetypes that stand above all others: Shaolin and Benedictine. Understandably, D&D opted for the former because the latter, being a non-martial contemplative, doesn’t really fit with the whole dungeon delving schtick of Dungeons and Dragons. While it isn’t a perfect fit, at least a Shaolin is trained to fight.

Given my own proclivities, however, and the concept of the cleric being so heavily influenced by Christian archetypes in earlier versions of D&D such as Holmes, I have a hard time seeing a Shaolin monk as a subclass of the Christian-influenced cleric. Indeed, when AD&D was published, the monk was completely divorced from the cleric class. My friends and I always classified it as a subclass of the thief. Thus, I am much more inclined to lean toward a fantasy version of the Benedictine.

The first thing to decide is what effect a western-style monk might have access to. If one breaks down the Benedictine Rule to its fundamentals they are work and pray. The first deals with the mundane while the second asks for the miraculous. One thing I know that monks are praying for all the time is health. Therefore, I am going to explore the possibility of healing as the basis of a monk' s Turning mechanic.

In Cook there are six healing-type spells: Cure Light Wounds, Cure Disease, Remove Curse, Cure Serious Wounds, Neutralize Poison and Raise Dead. Since tying healing to Turning is going to be quite powerful, I am willing to eliminate Raise Dead with the justification that a monk’s Turning ability only works on the living. This leaves us with five special effects.

Both Holmes and Cook have eight target types in their Turn Tables. Thus, there needs to be an additional three healing effects. Since Cure Light Wounds uses a d8, the three other categories can use small die types: d2, d4 and d6.

Thus the Turning categories of the monk might look like this:

  • Cure 1d2 hp
  • Cure 1d4 hp
  • Cure 1d6 hp
  • Cure 1d8 hp
  • Cure Disease
  • Remove Curse
  • Cure 2d8
  • Neutralize Poison

Once per encounter, a monk could attempt to effect 2d6 targets with a Turn. A success means affecting all targets with the effect. A ’T’ means an automatic success and a ‘D’ means a maximum effect.

As I stated before, this is quite powerful, much more so than being able to Turn undead. Thus, a monk would have to give up some other mechanic(s) to balance out the class. There are two that are obviously available: combat ability and spell-casting.

Thus, we have four options:

  1. Monks fight as Magic-users (no armor, limited weapons)
  2. Monks cast as fighters (no spell casting)
  3. Monks fight as thieves (leather armor and limited weapons) AND cast as fighters
  4. Monks fight as Magic-users AND cast as fighters

I think Option 4 would make this class largely unplayable. Basically, the class would be a heal-bot that could offer nothing much else during an adventure, especially during combat. Option 1 would blur the line between magic-user and cleric in an interesting way, but I think it would be too powerful. This leaves us with deciding on the fighting ability of the monk: fight like a cleric or like a thief.

I am sore tempted to go with Option 2 for playability reasons. With no spells, the monk becomes a glorified medic. Limiting their ability to jump into combat in a meaningful way would make me think twice about playing it, whereas being a legitimate second-line fighter that allows clerics to freely use utility spells without worrying about healing sounds like a lot of fun.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Holmesian Druid Revisited

My last post on a Holmesian Druid got some very interesting responses that I have been meaning to respond to, but I have been laid up in bed for the last several days feeling rather awful and was in no shape to either write or even think straight enough to give a decent response.

Since I want to address several points from those comments and since I have ignored my blog for the last several days, I thought that the discussion deserved its own post.

Firstly, whenever I post stuff with the Holmes+Cook tag I am continuing a long standing thought experiment about what my version of D&D would have looked like if the only sources I had were Holmes and Cook where Holmes had precedence over Cook (in a reversal of what it says in Cook). Therefore, when I try and figure out how to do a subclass in this context, I am largely confining myself to these two rulesets as written and my own proclivities.

Secondly, I am an old-school Champions player. I actually played editions 1-3, still own editions 2 & 3 and, in general, it is the RPG system I have played more than any other outside of all the various versions of D&D. One of the basic (and brilliant) assumptions of Champions is that the powers of superheroes are too numerous to try and make an RPG work. Therefore, all powers are described strictly as mechanics. This leaves players the freedom to skin those mechanics however they want. An 8d6 energy blast can be a ray gun, a sonic blast, dragon breath or whatever you fancy. Therefore, when I look at RPGs, I tend to disassociate mechanics from their descriptors.

Thirdly, I am a Christian. In Holmes, there are several implicit Christian ideas. This encourages me to do what I already love to do: look at RPGs through the lens of Christianity and to use both Scripture and the history of the Church to find ideas that can be applied to RPGs.

When I look at the mechanics of the four classes in D&D here is what I find:

  • Fighters are good at combat. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain aspects of combat at the cost of other aspects of combat.
  • Magic-users are good at spell-casting. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain types of magics at the cost of being good at other types of magic.
  • Thieves are good at mundane aspects of the game. They get extra chances at surprise and opening doors, for example. Therefore, subclasses ought to specialize in certain aspects of the mundane at the cost of others.
  • Clerics are mechanically the most complex of the classes because they are okay at combat and okay at spell casting. The one mechanic that differentiates them from any other class is Turning. Therefore, subclasses ought be able to use the Turning mechanic for different special effects at the cost of affecting the undead.

Thus, the idea that a cleric channels the divine, life-giving force of God to repel and dispel the undead is a special effect — a way to skin the mechanic of Turning. The mechanic itself merely suggests that the cleric can affect 2d6 creatures of a certain type.

Thus, when I look at the druid, I do not see a paleolithic pagan that had some import in the pre-Roman Celtic world. I see someone like Daniel, several of the martyrs or the likes of St. Francis of Assisi who could look in face of fierce animals and either make friendly, have them go on their way or even become life-long companions. The mechanic of Turning is a great way to express this, because not all Christians who went into the arena avoided death by lion, etc.

St. Ignatius the God-bearer
depicted getting mauled by lions in his icon

As Scott Anderson suggested, the special effect could involve being able to have a conversation with the animals where the level of success could indicate how involved or detailed that conversation could get up to where ‘D’ indicates that the animal could function as a henchman.

In other words, the mechanic of Turning allows for cleric subclasses to express a plethora of special effects that emulate various miracles of the saints. We just have to decide which miracles are appropriate and which types of targets are applicable.

I will add that, like many of the commenters on my last post, I don’t have a lot of love for the druid class as presented in D&D in all of its forms. I have played a druid exactly once and I just remember being frustrated at every turn. Thus, one of the things that I keep in mind when I create or re-skin a character class is whether or not I would want to play one. A druid that uses the Turning mechanic to interact with animals is a druid I would play.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Druid

Since I am in the frame of mind to do so, I have been meditating upon how to fulfill the promise of this paragraph from Holmes:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
The most challenging of these (given my own prejudices and predilections) is the druid. Traditionally, the druid forgoes the cleric Turning ability and heavier armor in order to excel at nature-based skills and magic. Given that my only source material for creating a druid class for my version of Holmes & Cook is, well, Holmes and Cook, that approach really doesn’t lead me anywhere. There are no real mechanics about nature skills nor are there that many spells that could be described as nature magic.

This leaves me with an extant mechanic that normally is never associated with druids: Turning.

While this may seem odd, given the context of Holmes, where the druid is clearly labelled as a type of cleric and Turning is clearly a cleric-based mechanic, it actually make more sense in my head to go down this path rather than the one historically taken by D&D.

Therefore, the question becomes what exactly will the Turning ability represent in the case of a druid?

Given the whole nature schtick that is normally associated with the class, it occurred to me that the Turning ability of a druid could be associated with animals in the same way that it is associated with the undead with clerics.

Thus, a druid could use the Turning table to represent their ability to scare off or make friends with animals of various HD. A result of ‘D’ could then indicate the ability to take on an animal as a henchmen, rather than just being friendly.

Otherwise they function exactly like clerics.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Holmes & Cook: Illusionist (Saintly Saturday)

Today is the feast of the Martyrs Eutropius and Cleonicus who were betrayed to the Governor Asclepiodotus of Amasia (northern Turkey) during the reign of Diocletian (A.D. 284-305). They were tortured and crucified. Both of them were kinsmen of the Great Martyr Theodore the Recruit who had been martyred under the previous governor.

This last fascinating piece of information has me meditating on such things as legacies, mantels and traditions of what has come before. In context of RPGs, my first was Holmes Basic D&D. Recently, this reality has hit home because I’ve been watching Matt Finch run Swords & Wizardry Complete on YouTube. 


One interesting quirk about the Complete edition of S&W is that it offers up several different ways to do initiative, one of which emulates Holmes. Fascinatingly, it is this version that Matt uses when running his games. I’ve always wanted to try it out, and I’ve got to admit that it is a lot more elegant that I ever imaged.

This got me reminiscing about my own meditations on Holmes and the thought experiment I had about using it in conjunction with Cook’s Expert D&D. Specifically, this quote:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).
I’ve postulated an Assassin class (which still needs work), a Paladin class, a Ranger class and a Witch class (reskinned as an Alchemist). Since my last post reskinned magic in terms of language I decided to see what would happen if I used some of the principles I postulated there to come up with a spell list for a Holmesian Illusionist class.

The principles I used look like this:

  • All the spells come from either Holmes or Cook no new spells
  • I took all the spells (from both the magic-user and cleric lists) that could be understood as illusion magic and moved them one spell level down. For example, Mirror Image (a 2nd level magic-user spell) becomes a 1st level Illusionist spell.
  • I then filled out the rest of the spell list with mostly utility spells, moving most to be one spell level higher. For example, Floating Disc (a 1st level magic-user spell) becomes a 2nd level Illusionist spell.
  • I went half-way in-between clerics (8 spells per spell level) and magic-users (12 spells per spell level) to give the illusionist spell list 10 spells per spell level.

Finally, there weren’t enough spells to justify a 6th level spell list, so I limited the Illusionist to 5 spell levels:

1st Level

  1. Audible Glamer
  2. Charm Person
  3. Dancing Lights
  4. Detect Illusion
  5. Invisibility
  6. Light
  7. Magic Mouth
  8. Mirror Image
  9. Phantasmal Force
  10. Read Magic

2nd Level

  1. Cause Fear
  2. Dispel Illusion
  3. Floating Disc
  4. Hold Portal
  5. Invisible 10’r.
  6. Shield
  7. Silence 15’r.
  8. Sleep
  9. Snake Charm
  10. Suggestion

3rd Level

  1. Charm Monster
  2. Confusion
  3. Continual Light
  4. Detect Illusion
  5. ESP
  6. Hallucinatory Terrain
  7. Invisibility 10’r.
  8. Levitate
  9. Massmorph
  10. Wizard Lock

4th Level

  1. Clairvoyance
  2. Dispel Magic
  3. Feeblemind
  4. Fly
  5. Haste
  6. Hold Person
  7. Infravision
  8. Magic Jar
  9. Protection from Normal Missiles
  10. Water Breathing

5th Level

  1. Cloudkill
  2. Dimension Door
  3. Geas
  4. Hold Monster
  5. Invisible Stalker
  6. Projected Image
  7. Remove Curse
  8. Telekinesis
  9. Teleport
  10. Wizard Eye
Spell progression would look like this:
Level…Spells Slots per Spell Level
Otherwise, they function as magic-users.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Cumine the White

Today is the Feast of St. Cumine the White, abbot of Iona. Not much is known of this monastic saint. He was the seventh abbot of Iona, the monastic community on one of the Hebrides — a series of islands off the west coast of Scotland. He was nephew to Segenius who was the fifth abbot of Iona.

During his tenure, he visited Ireland about A.D. 661, the Synod of Whitby took place, which declared that Northumbria would follow the practices of Rome when it came to tonsuring and the calculation of when to celebrate Easter, and the Book of Durrow was completed.

The Book of Durrow is the oldest extant insular illuminated gospel, over a century older than the Book of Kells. While there is much academic debate over where this text was created, one of the contenders is the Iona of St. Cumine.

He also wrote the Life of St. Colum Cille.

He died in A.D. 665 after being abbot for 8 years.

The opening verses of
the Gospel of St. Mark
from the Book of Durrow

Despite the fact the St. Cumine’s hagiography is so thin on details, I find it so inspiring that I am actually going to have to limit myself. I could wax poetic on how the moniker “the White” sounds very Tolkien or how awesome something similar to the Synod of Whitby would be as background noise for a campaign.

Rather, I want to focus on the Book of Durrow and the power of language. In Scripture, words have immense creative power. God creates by speaking: “Let there be light.” God also asked Adam to be a co-creator with him by allowing Adam to name all the animals. When Moses asked for God’s name at the burning bush, it was an audacious act, so God gave him a name that cannot be contained by language: I AM — a sentence that is both complete and yet incomplete (I am….righteous, merciful, love, etc.). Several people throughout the Old and New Testament are renamed by God:

  • Abram becomes Abraham
  • Jacob becomes Israel
  • Saul becomes Paul
  • Simon becomes Peter

In addition, different languages bring different aspects to revelation. For example, in Genesis 3:15 God tells the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel.
This particular translation reflects the Greek version of this verse, because it differs from both the Hebrew and the Latin. The “he” and “his” in the second half of the verse appear as “it” and "its” in Hebrew and “her” and “her” in Latin. All three are correct:

  • The Hebrew reflects the eternal enmity between humanity and the devil.
  • The Latin is a prophecy of the Virgin Mary.
  • The Greek is a prophecy of Christ.

This all inspires me to re-skin the Vancian magic of D&D with two additional ideas in mind:

The retro-clone Delving Deeper has clerics memorize spells the same way magic-users do and I have always wanted the spell Read Magic to be something far more important than merely a spell every magic-user has because it uselessly is a prerequisite for writing spells into a spell book.

In this re-skinning, the difference between “divine” magic and “arcane” magic is not the source of the magic, but rather the language. In the same way that the Hebrew, Latin and Greek bring out different aspects of Genesis 3:15, the language used to do magic brings out a different “type” of magic. Arcane magic uses a complex language that is both difficult to learn and results in powerful magics. Its practitioners spend so much time learning the language that they don’t have the time to train with armor or most weapons. Divine magic uses a far more intuitive language that, while easier to master, does not produce the powerful magics the arcane language can. As a consequence divine magic practitioners do have the time to train with armor and (some) weapons. One could even extend this out to other various spell-casters like druids and illusionists.

Since the mechanism of all magic is the same — language written in spell books — this gives us the opportunity to give Read Magic a really interesting twist. Rather than simply being a spell that every magic-user has and is the mechanism for writing spells down in a spell book, it is a spell that can allow a practitioner of one type of magic to memorize a spell from another language — another spell list.

Due to the fact that this spell is being memorized via a spell rather than by actually knowing the language, the spell takes a spell slot one level higher than normal. For example, if a magic-user wanted to memorize Cure Light Wounds it would count as a 2nd level spell.

This, in part, explains why certain spells that appear on more than one list are different levels depending on the caster. For example, Hold Person is a 2nd level cleric spell but a 3rd level magic-user spell. In other words, this spell was originally in the language of divine magic, but was well known enough by arcane users to be translated into the arcane language — as a 3rd level spell.

Thus, Read Magic becomes a really important spell that every one will want rather than the spell that simply takes up space and no one bothers to ever memorize.

This re-skinning also offers all kinds of interesting possibilities in terms of how magic interacts with a campaign world. Rather than having different schools of arcane magic-users, the different schools teach different languages and therefore result in different classes. Each type of magic might bring with it a different culture. One could go so far as to have entire nation-states based upon a different type of language and thus a different type of magic.

Thus, a wizard with the name and moniker Cumine the White might be a magic-user, a cleric, a druid or an illusionist depending on the language he uses to study magic.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prepping an Adventure vs. Writing an Adventure

Recently, I have gotten a couple of compliments for stuff I’ve done in the hobby. Firstly, one of my friends sent me an email thanking me for getting him back to the gaming table and for doing all the prep work necessary for running a game. Secondly, Ifryt, who writes Miasto ze Spizu, a Polish-language RPG blog, recently ran my adventure The Hermit Caves and wrote up a nice little review. I had to run it through Google Translate, but he liked the module for all the reasons I wrote it, which thrills me to no end.

While I am tooting my own horn here a little bit, I find the juxtaposition of these two comments actually really interesting because of the rather large difference between how I write an adventure to publish and how I prep to run an adventure. While my writing and layout style is quite different from the traditional module, I am nonetheless heavily influenced by the way modules have traditionally been presented. Part of me wonders if Referees, when prepping their own adventures, feel obligated to (at least in part) duplicate what has been published throughout the years.

Since I run a sandbox-style game and my schedule is filled with family, job, church, etc. I long ago realized that I cannot prep my adventures like a regular module. I don’t have time and my players may never actually go where I do all that hard work. Therefore, I have developed a shorthand of adventure prep and have a copious collection of random tables.

Here is an example of how I would come into a gaming session with Dyson Logos’ map The Liar’s Cave:

Note: I typed this out so you could read it (my handwriting is awful).

To explain: I take the back story presented by Dyson, added six monsters (stats on the side) and then rolled for each room using Moldvay’s table from his edition of Basic D&D:

  • E= Empty
  • ET = Empty with Treasure
  • T = Trap
  • TT = Trap with Treasure
  • S = Special
  • M = Monster
  • MT = Monster with Treasure

One thing that I believe gets overlooked in Moldvay’s Basic is that he provides an average value to Treasure Types A-M. This gives me the freedom to arbitrarily assign treasure based on average value rather than rolling on the treasure table. It also allows me to use resources like The Mother of All Treasure Tables (MoaTT), originally published by Necromancer Games, which provides various treasure troves valued at 10 gp all the way to 50,000gp.

Thus, I have noted at each room with treasure a roll on the tables in MoaTT.

Now all I have to do is ask various questions on the day:

  • Why are the monsters in this room?
  • Why is the treasure in this room?
  • What do they think of the party?
  • Why a trap here? What trap is appropriate?
  • What weird thing am I in the mood to have be a Special?
  • Etc...

This is really all the information I need to run a successful dungeon delve that brings with it surprises for both my players and myself. In a way, I am exploring the dungeon with my players since much of the information that might have appeared in a grey box in a module of old, I am making up on the spot by answering questions either my players ask or I ask of myself.

In other words, the amount of work I put into prepping an adventure into The Liar’s Cave pales in comparison to the work I put into The Hermit Caves, yet both can (and have) produce(d) great gaming sessions.

So, to all those yet-to-be Referees (and maybe to those who already are): you don’t need to go to the lengths of a written module to produce great adventures of your own. You don’t need to feel intimidated by all that flavor text and all that background information and all the crunch. If you are willing to be creative, accept the surprises and seemingly nonsensical results that random tables can provide and be comfortable with the reality that if it makes sense to you in the moment, it will most likely make sense to your players, you can jump into the world of Refereeing with as little as a piece of paper with a rough map, a few monster stats and some random tables and still be just as effective as if you’d written everything from scratch.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Theodore the Recruit

This year, in the Orthodox Church, an unusual occurrence happens. We get to celebrate The Great Martyr St. Theodore the Recruit (sometimes rendered “Soldier”) two Saturdays in a row. February 17th is the Feast of St. Theodore and we also always celebrate him on the first Saturday of Lent (of which I write about here) which falls on February 24th this year.

St. Theodore was a soldier in the Pontine district of Asia Minor (northeast Turkey along the Black Sea). When his commander ordered him to sacrifice to idols, he refused. The saint was given several days to reconsider, during which time he set fire to a temple dedicated to Cybele, “the mother of the gods.” For this he was tortured and sentence to burn to death. He boldly stepped into the fire, and though he gave up his sprint, his flesh was not burned.

There is another St. Theodore who is also a Great Martyr and who also is a soldier. Thus, each is given a different moniker to differentiate the two. Today’s Theodore is called “the Recruit” and the other is called “the Commander” because of the different ranks they held as soldiers.

There is a bit of confusion, however, when it comes to the moniker “The Recruit.” In the Greek it is “Tyronos” which comes from the Latin “tiro” meaning “recruit.” In Greek, when one reads the Feast of the Day, the name of the saint of always in genitive — the 17th is the feast of  Theodore the Recruit. Therefore, the “the” in “the Recruit” is also in genitive. Since “tyronos” is Latin, not Greek, is sometimes mistakenly understood to be a place: St. Theodore ofTyronos. Of course, there is no such place (at least that I or Google Maps are aware of). There is, however, the city of Tyre in modern-day Lebanon. In the genitive is is rendered in Greek “Tyrou” — close enough that might the two might be conflated.

This is a reminder that names and language are important tools in our tool belt as RPGers, designers and players. It also puts a nice spin on a troptastic campaign idea:

There are plenty of examples of folks out there that have posited re-skinning the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, The Tomb of Horrors and other classic modules as the end-goal of a campaign-long quest (especially if the said dungeon holds within it a critical magic artifact that several different factions want to get their hands on).

Imagine if there existed a map or a legend or a song that was believed to be the key to finding said quest-ending dungeon. Here is where language becomes very important: as with St. Theodore’s moniker having multiple meanings depending upon grammar and language, this map/legend/song would have a different meaning depending upon which language thought to be its origin.

Thus, depending upon whether or not the party has access to Dwarfish, Elvish, Orcish, etc. the map/legend/song points in a very different direction.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Rinn's Journal Part 3

Firstday, 5 Februa

The others left me to pray today. They go to scout out the area they think the spiders are with the intent that we will raid their lair. We hope to rescue Holton before they carry out their threat to eat him (if, indeed, they haven’t already). Besides which, Morivam's curiosity has him suspecting everyone in the bishop’s murder and he figures that I should get to know “my future flock” (as Cuinn smilingly calls them).

I must admit, it has been so long since I have had the time to just sit and pray to my heart's content. At times like these, one remembers how important prayer actually is. My calling is here. Now. I reminded myself that letters still needed to be sent to Fr. Valinor and the Bishop of Trisagia. While I may very well end up being asked to minister to these people, that decision is not mine to make. In the terrors of yesterday I had placed that burden entirely on my own shoulders. In prayer, Isten has graciously lifted that burden onto Himself. Thanks be to God.

After gathering myself (or, rather Isten picking me up off the floor, if I am honest), I spent time talking with Panael and meeting what remains of the Church here in Redwraith. Panael is indeed a paladin, tasked with assisting and guarding the bishop. He is carrying a lot of guilt for “allowing” the bishop to be murdered. When he explained what happened in the aftermath of the battle, I understand now how an opportunity arose for those that wanted the bishop dead.

Under the necromancers, every citizen of Redwraith went through a rite of passage in which they receive what is called a “Thanati Worm.” It is a painful experience, I understand, as the necromantic creature buries itself into the base of the neck. Once there, it is impossible to remove without killing its host. While it does feed from those who receive the worm, recipients heal much faster than normal; however, they are immune to magical healing and magical damage takes more time to heal. Once a person infected by these vile creatures dies, they rise as undead unquestionably dedicated to the defense of the city.

Panael explained to me that most of the older generation of Istinites who converted (like himself) went through this rite and in order to avoid becoming undead, it is the practice of the local Istinites to chop off the heads of their dead (killing the worm before it gets a chance to works its heinous magics). In the aftermath of the battle, this task was left to Panael. It was while he was making sure his Istinite friends did not become undead that the bishop was killed.

There is also a younger generation of Istinites that have been hidden away from the Necromancers and thus do not have the worm.

It begins to make sense why the Church is so hated in the city. What might be understood to be a civic duty — taking the worm and allowing the worm to turn you into a bulwark against the city’s enemies — are eschewed by Istinism. At least now, with the death of the necromancers, our young no longer have to fear being discovered.
Speaking of which, this is all that remains of the Church in Redwraith:

  • Panael the Paladin
  • Grik the Apothecary who runs the Sick House
  • Rufus our oldest member who cleans the temple
  • Phaedra a mother of two whose husband died in the battle
  • Harpax and Isidore Phaedra’s children
  • Fides a widow who grew up in Headwaters and her daughter Aisle
  • Tancorix a young man who works as a message runner
  • Alasdair an orphan who never new his parents and adopted by the bishop
  • Blaise a peddler in trinkets, and husband to Mirela

I don’t see why any of these lovely and hurting people would ever contemplate murder.

Secondday, 6 Februa

Holton lives! We raided the hobgoblin and spider lair in the wee hours of morning and managed to get one of the vile creatures to lead us to where Holton was chained to the wall guarded by some kind of ape. The creature also led us to believe that there is an unnatural breeding program going on underneath the city and we mean to stamp it out. First, I must attend to not only Holton’s wounds, but our own. Most of us are recovering from the strange venom of the spiders, which brings with it spams and paralysis. Fortunately, its effects are temporary. Isten, give us strength to rid this city of this evil!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Guns & SWCL (St. Haralmbos the Hieromartyr)

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Haralambos, also known as the man who would not die. He was a 3rd century priest when he was arrested at the age of 103 or 113 depending on the source. He was subjected to multiple tortures: flesh stripped from his skin, dragged by horses, iron spikes driven into his flesh, flames, etc. He not only endured it all, but miracles poured forth from him convincing many who witnessed these things to become Christian. Admittedly, I struggled to find a way to apply St. Haralambos’ story to RPGs.

Yesterday was also a very busy day for me, so in the end a gave up and let my Saintly Saturday post pass. Then, as I was going to sleep, a thought came to me about Damage Resistance. This then led me to think about my own attempts to use it (despite my negative experiences with it while playing 3.5) in an attempt to remedy D&D’s weakness for simulating why armor disappeared from the battlefield once guns were introduced. I playtested DR and guns and it was not fun.

The impetus for this is a campaign that keeps boiling up every now and then as a consequence of meditating upon the lives of the saints: a fantasy version of Alaska.

As folks who have been reading this blog for the past several months know, my Gamer ADD has been surprisingly focused upon SWCL its possibilities. I have been pleasantly surprised by how forcing oneself into the minimalism of SWCL how easy it is to express really complicated ideas and worlds.

So, my tired, Haralambos-addled brain started to wonder what would happen if I were to apply SWCL’s minimalism to guns in an attempt to emulate the transition away from armor that happened when guns became prevalent?

The problem is Armor Class. D&D’s combat is all about over-coming armor and guns made armor largely irrelevant. Thus, there has to be a minimalist way that guns can ignore AC. As far as I am concerned, the simplest mechanic to use would be the Save.

In other words, guns would operate much in the same way that a Magic Wand works in SWCL:
Magic Wand: cast one 1st level magic-user spell (chosen by referee), 3 times per day.
The one 1st level spell that does damage is Magic Missile:
Magic Missile:
Range: 250 Duration: Instant.
A magic dart unerringly strikes a single target for 1d6 damage.
This, of course, bears little resemblance to a muzzleloader: the range is off as well as the accuracy; however, this allows for some fiddling to make this "Magic Wand" function more like an 18th century musket or pistol.

SWCL gives bows a Range of 100 ft. Of course, this seems historically inaccurate. An English Longbow probably had a range of around 400 yards. Two things to remember, however:

  • Bowmen did not fire at individual targets in battle, they fired at an area in volleys.
  • The Range given in SWCL can be interpreted to be either short range or point blank range and therefore its effective ability to target individuals could be increased to upwards of 300 ft. which seems reasonable given combat conditions.

Napoleonic era tactics had 100 yards as the outside effective range for a volley of musket fire. This would place an effective SWCL range for targeting individuals at 25ft. Given the classic image of the 18th century duel, this sounds fairly reasonable.

Muzzleloaders are infamously inaccurate, so targets should be able to make a Save in order to avoid damage.

In terms of frequency (given the short range and the Save) and given the time to reload, it could be ruled that a gun may be used once per combat.

Thus, what we are left with is the following:
Range: 25 Duration: Instant.
A gun that may be fired once per combat. Target must make a Save or take 1d6 damage.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Meditating on Altered Carbon

As I have stated in the past, I am not a huge fan of modern science fiction. That doesn’t mean I don’t hope that there might still appear on the horizon a good or even great modern sci-fi tale worth taking in. Thus, I occasionally dip my toe in the water to see if anybody comes close. Altered Carbon happens to be one of those tales that does get close.

For those who have not yet taken a look at the new Netflix sci-fi show, it is based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan about what might today be called a transhumanist culture where people’s consciousness is recorded into what are called “stacks” and inserted into different bodies. Originally intended to be a means of space exploration (transfer your consciousness to a body light years away without having to physically cross space), it ends up being used to create a man-made version of immortality.

To its credit, Altered Carbon does a very good job of depicting what a world without God looks like: it is hedonistic, brutal and miserable even for those who hold all the wealth and power. It is the Marque de Sade writ large. It also acknowledges that Christianity (in this case the “Neo-Catholics”) would stand in opposition to the idea of stacking.

Unfortunately, like much of entertainment today, the mouthpieces for what passes for a theological discussion are cookie-cutter, inflexible, intolerant and have the rhetorical skills of a piece of cardboard. This show could have been great had it taken this aspect of the story more seriously, because it is a fascinating exploration of what is the soul, what does it mean to be human and where does God fit in to all of this.

To that end, I would like to present the case historical Christianity would actually make should such a technology ever be made available (and Note to Sci-Fi authors: the Church will survive all the philosophical crap thrown its way despite the existence or non-existence of aliens or fantastic technology so you don’t need to cheapen your stories by coming up with crap names like “Neo-Catholics”):

Christianity has long maintained that the body is an integral part of the human person, Christ became incarnate in order to save us, after all. Thus, from very early on, people have been asking the question where in the body does the soul reside, because one doesn’t want to go around getting manicures if the soul happens to reside in the fingernails.

St. Athanasius the Great actually tackled this question in a way that directly speaks to the story presented in Altered Carbon. He understood that the soul would not reside in a part of the body that the body could survive without. Thus, it is not in hair or the fingernails, or limbs or eyes or even things like the kidney or the frontal lobe of the brain. Human beings can survive without all of these things (maybe not well or for very long, but life would continue). He posited three areas of the body that life cannot do without:

  • Arteries (destroy an artery and the human body bleeds out very quickly and dies)
  • Heart (pretty self-explanatory)
  • Back of the Head (the place where the Medulla Oblongata is, that part of the brain that controls involuntary functions like the heart beating, etc.)

This last observation is the most intriguing in terms of Altered Carbon because that is where the “stacks” are placed inside the body. Therefore, it could be argued that they contain a human soul based on the part of the body they function in. A conversation could be had about whether or not the whole soul was contained therein (having left behind both the heart and the arteries) but the Church has long been comfortable with organ transplants. The first recorded transplant was done by Sts. Cosmos and Damianos (a leg) some sixteen hundred years ago.

Due to the fact that a donor is preserving life, there has been no serious objections, even to heart transplants other than the admonition that the recipient is now responsible for not only their own soul, but for that of the person who saved their life.

Thus, from a practical and theological point of view the objections that the Neo-Catholics have for the “stacking” technology bear little resemblance to historic Christianity. That doesn’t mean the Church wouldn’t have objections to the society depicted in Altered Carbon and the way it uses stacks.

As I stated above, the human body is an integral part of the human person. Preserving one’s consciousness or even one’s soul does not mean that the human person is being preserved. More critically, however, is the use of clones by the uber-rich to emulate immortality and the treatment of human bodies in general (they are derogatorily called “sleeves” as if they are clothing rather than people).

Despite the fact that cloning technologies are popularly associated with science fiction, clones already exist among us: they are normal called identical twins, triplets, etc. I have been blessed to know several pairs of identical twins in my life. While it is almost spooky how similar twins are in their likes and dislikes, etc. there is no question that each one of them is a unique and unrepeatable human person. It would be considered unconscionable for the eldest twin to “own” their sibling because they came from the same genetic code or for one twin to harvest the organs of a living twin because those organs “belong” to them.

In other words, when we gain the ability to make clones of ourselves, each and every one of those clones will be a unique and unrepeatable human person in the same way identical twins are. To treat them as property to be used to emulate immortality would do so on the back of slaves. Actually, they would be worse than slaves, because even their basic humanity would be denied them. They are just “sleeves” that aren’t even allowed the freedom to consciously be forced to serve their masters.

At the core of the story told by Altered Carbon is the question: What does it mean to be human? Specifically, is death part of what makes us human? A society that has replaced God with demigods who fake their immortality through technology is depicted as vile, violent, stagnant and bored. It is even hypothesized that they have ceased to be human.

Had this show bothered to have more than a cardboard caricature of Christianity (and a fundamental misunderstanding of it to boot), this show could have plumbed the depths of the questions it asks in a far more interesting and, dare I say, entertaining way. It could even have been one of those great science fiction tales.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rinn's Journal Part 2

Fifthday, 2 Februa

What a vile and horrible place Redwraith is! I desperately want to go home and just spend my days mixing ingredients to make salves and medicines. Why I am here I do not know.

I will admit that, while I was terrified as we approached the city, some of my fears gave way to awe when we came upon the main gate of Redwraith. We had heard rumors that a giant beast had attacked the city, but I had no idea how huge the thing was until we saw the skeletal remains still poised to break down the walls of the city.

Its mouth is now used as the main gate and a horse drawn wagon can easily fit through. The bones of the creature now provide some shade and shelter to a tent city filled with merchants shouting out to customers and trying to sell them all sorts of things I had never imagined, let alone set eyes on.

Morivam inquired one such merchant about a dagger he had squirreled away in the back of his tent. I was quite taken aback when I saw that the weapon was forged steel. The man rightly had an asking price of 100 gold coins for such a fine and rare weapon.

Once, when I was a child, a friendly dwarf traveling through Headwaters on his way to the Bronze Citadel was kind enough to show me a small ingot of steel. He intended to make enough money off it to “make his son,” what ever that means. Since that day, this dagger is only steel I have ever had the privilege to see.

Of interest (to me at any rate), the merchant tried to convince Morivam to purchase the weapon before the Dwarves did, because they were buying up all the steel they could afford. How on earth did so much steel suddenly show up in Redwraith?

I was so intrigued and, dare I say, excited that I completely failed to notice that some of the City Guard watching the gate were actually undead. It wasn’t until we found the Lost Wyvern Inn (evidently the only Inn in town that survived the battle) that I realized the true horror of this place. The Inn actually had raw brains on the menu for its undead clientele and my meal was served to me by an animated skeleton. No wonder the citizenry of this place didn’t think it macabre to sell its wares in the shadow of a dead thing.

Lord, please tell me why Fr. Valinor insisted on me coming to this horrid place. I really just want to go home.

Sixthday, 3 Februa

This trip has been very revealing about my companions. Morivam is insatiably curious. Now that we have arrived in town, he is constantly asking questions and getting into conversations with complete strangers. He even insisted on getting a room so that he could study some of the items we found in the gnoll camp without interruption.

I have known Cuinn since I was a child. He always seemed to be a gruff sort of person that you would want on this sort of venture, but not really someone you would sit down and eat dinner with; however, he is a surprisingly gentle soul. He was the first of us to realize the extent of the danger I was in as an Instenite cleric in a town filled with undead and he made sure that not only if I was okay but that he had my back, as it were.

Tenel took one look at the food and service of the Lost Wyvern and noted that there was a serious business opportunity here in town. He figures that some good old fashioned halfling food and hospitality could radically change the way these people look at food and service.

I am afraid that my first impression of Holton may very well have proven correct. He has disappeared on us. He probably lost himself in the crowds and is gone forever.

While Morivam studied and Tenel kept watch, Cuinn and I decided to chase down a piece of information the yellow mage picked up in one of his conversations: there is a sick house possibly run by Istenites. We are looking for a person named Penael.

The northern part of the city is in ruin. Evidently, that was the only flank that the invading army had any kind of success. I must say I almost felt sorry for these people. The Sick House was cobbled together from one of the buildings that still had most of its wall intact. A make shift roof of oiled canvas sheltered those within.

Inside we found a number of beds occupied by people struck by disease or recovering from what looked to be magical wounds. Both Cuinn and I have skills at healing and we very quickly offered our assistance. There was a young man by the name of Grick who seemed to run the place and he was grateful to have another pair of hands.

Cuinn and I spent the day giving comfort. On one of the more severe cases, a young girl who had burns on much her body, I tried to use my healing magics. They did not work, but Grik took notice and scribbled a note which he secreted to me while clandestinely showing me that he wore an Istinite Wolfhook. Had we found the Church? Could we finally get in touch with the Bishop so that I can go home?

Seventhday, 4 Februa

Lord, will the horrors of this place never cease? Why do you try me so? Is this why you called me to this place? To be surrounded by this savagery everyday the rest of my life? Why me, O Lord? Why me?

I must make apologies to Holton. I thought basely of him. When we made to follow the map Grick had given me to find the Church here in Redwraith, we were put upon by those same talking spiders that we encountered on our way here. They informed us that we had two days to bring them an elf otherwise they would eat “our Elfsie spy.” The poor soul must had been abducted the moment he went wandering alone. To boot, Cuinn has informed us that he believes hobgoblins have infiltrated the city and he thinks he knows one of the places they are hiding. But, Lord have mercy, this is not the worst of it.

The bishop is dead. Murdered in his own chamber.

The Church has been decimated. Only a dozen of them survived the battle. Like everyone else in the city, they manned the walls. Unfortunately, the Istinites were largely on the northern wall. So many were killed on the day of the battle. Have they even had a chance to properly bury their dead?

Penael, a paladin it seems, was left as the defacto head of the Church and when he learned of me, he praised God that a cleric was sent to the Church in Redwraith to lead them into the future. Cuinn actually smiled at that and whispered in my ear “This is what we call a field promotion.”

Truly God, how can going from happily taking care of the sick in Headwaters to living in constant terror be a promotion? Why me?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

SWCL Adventure Module: The Hermit Caves

I've been slowly grinding away at my own version of The Temple of Elemental Evil, and I have finished the first section: The Hermit Caves. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am releasing this SWCL megadungeon piecemeal. In this way, I can get the parts of this project I've finished out more quickly (as opposed to waiting until the whole project is done), but I also get to experiment with the design goal of flexibility. This module can be run as-is, easily attached to an existing dungeon or be used in conjunction with my other MyToEE adventures.

As per usual, this comes with the disclaimer that I am a hobbyist and have edited this as best as I am able, but there will be mistakes. Please consider the comment section a thread for any typos etc. that you catch. Thank you!

The file can be found here.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Saintly Saturday: The Righteous Simeon

Today is the Feast of The Righteous Simeon the God-Receiver. Simeon appears in the Gospel According to Luke when Mary and Joseph, according to the Law, appear at the Temple 40 days after the birth of Christ to present Him and the proper sacrifice (two turtledoves or two pigeons). Simeon sees them, takes the child into his arms and cries out:

Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel!

In other words, Simeon is asking God to allow him to die just as God promised him. On its face, this seems like an odd thing to say. That is, however, until you read about his life. According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, Simeon was around 360 years old when he met Christ at the Temple.

He was on of the Seventy Jewish Scholars that answered the call of Ptolemy II, Pharaoh of Egypt, to translate the Old Testament into Greek so that it could be included in the Great Library of Alexandria. Initially, the plan was for all seventy scholars to independently translate the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) and then gather together to see what the differences were and argue from there. When they gathered together again, all seventy translations were identical. It was therefore accepted as a divinely inspired translation.

What eventually came out of that work is today called the Septuagint (coming from the word for “seventy”). When we read the New Testament (written in Greek) all of the quotes of the Old Testament come from the Septuagint. Interestingly, the Septuagint is the oldest version of the OT that we have. The Hebrew version of the OT we have today (called the Mesoretic Text) is itself a translation made by Jews who wished to get rid of all the Hellenic influence out of Judaism after the fall of Jerusalem in the 1st century A.D. It is considered a translation because the original Hebrew did not have vowels. Thus, it was possible to make several different readings out of the same passage by inserting different vowels. The earliest Mesoretic Text we have dates from the 9th century A.D. Today’s English OT translations are based on the Mesoretic, not the Septuagint which explains why there can be such variance in the quotations the NT makes of the OT.

Simeon was translating Isaiah when he came across Isaiah 7:14
Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son
He didn’t think the word “virgin” should be used and went to change it, but an angel appeared before him and stayed his hand. He was told:
You shall see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold Christ the Lord born of a pure and spotless Virgin.
Thus, Simeon lived in anticipation of being able to die for almost four centuries.

I am fascinated by this story because it subverts expectations. How many people throughout time have fantasized (and even sought) a way to cheat death? The whole vampire phenomenon is rooted in this primal desire. Yet, here is Simeon hoping to die and even asking God Himself to allow him to taste death.

It also reminds me of one of my absolute favorite characters in all of fantasy fiction: the Yellow King from Lawrence Watt-Evans’ The Seven Altars of Dusarra. In context of an RPG, he plays the role of patron. He is the one who sends the main character on his quests. What makes the Yellow King stand out, however, is that his goal is not money or power but rather, much like Simeon, he is an immortal looking for something that will kill him.

This, of course, is an awesome template for an NPC in any RPG, let alone a FRPG: the patron that pulls strings behind the scenes and helps out the PCs but whose real agenda is actually totally against all expectations.

As I have often repeated on this blog, one of the best things about RPGs is its ability to surprise. An NPC who appears to do one thing that narratively makes sense, but is actually doing something completely different is one of the most entertaining surprises we have available to us.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Saintly Saturday: The Transfer of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom

Today is the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of St. John Chrysostom. Thirty years after St. John's death in exile, St. Proclus, Patriarch of Constantinople, persuaded the Emperor Theodosius II (A.D. 408-450) to allow the relics of St. John to return to Constantinople. The emperor’s mother, Empress Eudoxia, had sent St. John into exile because he, as the Patriarch of Constantinople, openly criticized her vices. Theodosius issued an edict for the return of St. John’s relics; however, those sent to retrieve could not lift his reliquary. It was not until the emperor wrote a letter of apology and humbly asked the saint to return that the reliquary was able to be moved.

The moniker “Chrysostom” means Golden-mouthed because St. John was a gifted homilist. Fortunately for us, St. John is one of the most well-documented saints in the history of the early Church. We have more of his writing than just about any other saint, including his analysis of the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. John as well as the Letters of St. Paul.

There is a story of St. John from the time when he was writing on St. Paul that a man who had come to see the saint was turned away because St. John was seen to be meeting with someone at his writing desk who was leaning over and whispering into the saint’s ear. This went on for three days. When St. John openly wondered at what had happened to the man, who he had arranged to meet, those around him became aware of the icon of St. Paul hanging over St. John’s desk and realized that the person they saw whispering in St. John’s ear was St. Paul himself. To this day, that ear remains incorrupt (and I can attest to that because I have seen it myself).

St. John looms very large in the life of the Orthodox Church, because the liturgy we do most of the year is attributed to St. John. Indeed, because of the large number of surviving writings by St. John, modern textual analysis confirms that the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysystom was indeed written by St. John himself. It is a rather humbling and awesome thing to pray his words knowing that 1600 years of Christians before me have prayed the very same thing.

It is a reminder that in our present age, we delusionally believe we have progressed beyond our forbears. While we may have some pretty amazing technology at our fingertips, human beings knew just as much (if not more) about being human hundreds and even thousands of years ago. St. John’s writing is as relevant today as it was in the 4th century. My daughter recently had to read Thucydides for school. I challenge anyone to read that with “United States” in the place of Athens and “Soviet Union” or “China” or “North Korea” in the place of Sparta and be able to tell me that (beyond the technology involved) that the conflict was any different.

We doom ourselves by ignoring the wisdom of those who came before.

In a way, this is why the OSR has been so important for this hobby. We refuse to ignore the past. Indeed, some of us insist that past versions of D&D are better than what came after. I count myself among them. I recently got back together again with some high school buddies of mine to play. Despite a lot of talk about how good 3.5 is and how we all should give 5e a go, we ended up going back to B/X because the wisdom there just cannot be ignored.

I pray we all apply this axiom beyond the gaming table. Pick up a classic and realize that humanity has always been human (both wise and foolish) and that we have a lot to learn from those who came before.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Rinn's Journal Part 1

Fifthday, 25 Janus 1143

Today the initiates were very excited when news came from town that a yellow robed mage was visiting Headwaters. I must confess that I was rather giddy myself. My own interest in alchemy always had me curious as to the differences between my hobby and the arcane. Had I lived closer to the influence of the Mage’s Guild I might have chosen a different vocation.

Imagine everyone’s surprise and delight when the mage himself showed up at the monastery with a letter of introduction asking for an audience with Fr. Valinor. Lord forgive me, but my curiosity got the better of me and I went to see the man himself as he waited on our kindly village priest.

Despite being travel-worn, he seemed a rather respectable fellow whose ruffled appearance could not hide what many would consider to be a handsome countenance. The most striking thing about the man, however, was the owl that so calmly sat upon his shoulder. There was a majesty and intelligence behind those eyes I had never seen in an animal. It made me wonder if the rumors of mages having magical animal servants were true.

Lord, forgive me for eavesdropping, but I managed to overhear Fr. Valinor exclaim something about his friend Tarlo as he was glancing at the letter and leading the yellow mage into his chambers.

In our excitement at such an event, many of the initiates (including myself, I am afraid to say) were speculating why Fr. Valinor had chosen Cuinn to be the yellow mage’s chaperon. The half-elf had long abandoned the path of an initiate to help the Rangers of the Order of the Archangels patrol the area for any humanoid incursions. Were they planning some kind of expedition?

Why, Lord, couldn’t I have been chosen?

Sixthday, 26 Janus 1143

Why, Lord, did you have to listen to my prayer?

I have been asked by Fr. Valinor to accompany Cuinn and the yellow mage to Redwraith on a fact-finding mission. There was a great battle there a few months ago and no one knows what is happening now. When I protested, Fr. Valinor insisted that it was time for me to get out and see the wider-world before I settled down into my lab and take my vows. When I insisted that I was still needed because of the disease that still afflicted the camel herds, he reminded me that we had plenty of my elixirs in storage. He even insisted that I take one with me!

O Lord, please let me see beloved lab again. I promise I will watch my tongue and not let gossipy excitement get the better of me ever again…

Seventhday, Janus 27 1143

The monastery is abuzz getting our supplies ready for the journey. We must carry all of our own equipment and food, since the camels are not healthy. This doesn’t seem to bother either Cuinn or the yellow mage, whose name I have discovered is Morivam. He hails from Trisagia and has the habit of finishing my sentences, as if he knows what I am about to say. It might seem rude, but he has never misconstrued any of my intentions.

Our band of explorers has picked up two additions. Tenel of the Delver Clan will add his sword and halfling expertise with a sling to our endeavor (which makes me feel slightly less anxious about the coming days); however, I cannot say that I am happy about a mysterious fellow who only showed up in town recently. His name is Holton and despite having a chronic cough, boasts that he know the wilderness area around Headwaters well.

Lord, forgive me for being suspicious, but I have heard rumor that a bandit crew was recently put down by the Paladins of the Order but one or two managed to escape. I wonder if that is not the real story behind this fellow.

We leave tomorrow early. I must admit, the part of me that isn’t terrified is rather excited.

Thirdday, Janus 30 1143

Oh, what a terrifying and exhausting three days this has been! After an feet-stinging first day of trudging through the hill country north of Headwaters, Cuinn asked me to take the second watch, considering I was used to getting up in the middle of the night to pray. Not long after wiping the sleep from my eyes, I realized that there was movement all around the camp, beyond my ability to see clearly. I woke Cuinn, knowing that his elven blood allowed him to see more clearly at night than I. He quickly roused everyone from sleep and insisted that we retreat post-haste.

Just as I began to realize that we were in danger, arrows came raining in from the sky, and we heard a battlecry and the sounds of metal on metal. It took me several moments to realize that two of the arrows had hit their mark, both into the back of poor Tenel. Thank Isten he was still breathing, but he was in no shape to move. If he were to survive, we had to make a stand, at least long enough for me to use my magical healing.

I did not see what happened next, but when I had done my work on Tenel and he was back from the brink of death, there were several sleeping goblins around us and I heard the sound of several more retreating into the dark.

Unsurprisingly, Holton was ready to slit the creatures throats when Cuinn and (surprisingly) Morivam stayed his hand. It was decided that we would disarm the goblins and then put as much distance between us and them during the rest of the night.

When the sun rose, it revealed to us a camp of gnolls punishing a group of goblins (were they the same that attacked us the previous night?) They did not spy us, so it was our turn to rain missile fire. One was felled, and the goblins turned tail. As the gnolls charged, Holton appeared behind one and managed to kill it with one well-placed thrust of his blade. Their charge thus blunted, the rest fell easily to our own blades.

Realizing we were still not safe from the roving band of humanoids, we wandered far and wide looking for a defensible piece of ground we could use as a camp and some much needed rest. Cuinn reported that he had found something suitable, but it was already occupied (something about leaving a hippogriff mother alone being the better part of valor).

Now, finally, three days on we are weary but watchful in a rocky recess of a hill overlooking a small valley. Lord, I have never been so tired in my whole life. Thanks be to Isten that we all live to tell this tale…

Fourthday, 1 Februa

Lord, give me strength! If I thought the last several days were frightening, I was sorely mistaken. Cuinn noticed movement ahead of us today, which turned out to be three giant spiders. This was a strange sight. Not that no one hadn’t heard of the existence of such creatures. On the contrary, they are quite common in the jungles south of Headwaters. Seeing them out in the open, so far north concerned us all. The half-elf warned us that these creatures were known to be surprisingly intelligent, so when they split off in three directions, Cuinn was not only not surprised, but surmised that they might be circling around to flank us. We decided to follow the trail of one that veered of to the East.

We came upon the creature clinging to a rock face. I was not prepared for its size: the abdomen was likely five feet long, but then it began to speak! It accused us of spying on them for the elves, noting that he could smell Cuinn’s elven blood. Fortunately, it seemed uninterested in a fight unless we insisted on one. We were able to convince it we were not the spies it suspected us to be.

None of us were prepared for the realization that these creatures were intelligent enough to have language. Knowing that they also appeared to be going toward Redwraith has us all worried about what exactly we are heading into.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Euthymius the Great

Today is the Feast of St. Euthymius the Great who was born in Melitene in Armenia to faithful parents about the year A.D. 377. His parents were older and barren. They received a vision and conceived in their old age. His parents died shortly after he was born and he was taken in by the bishop of Melitene. He was tonsured as a monk and ordained as a priest. In this role, the bishop placed him charge of all the monasteries in the city.

St. Euthymius, however, yearned for the life of a hermit and left for the wilderness. What follows is a typical pattern of great monastic saints: they go out into the wilderness, attract the attention of the faithful through their piety and the miracles performed through them, a community with a monastery at its center forms and the saint goes off to the wilderness and the pattern repeats itself.

One of the monasteries that St. Euthymius founded in this way was in a cave situated on a cliff overlooking a gorge in the desert of Coutila. Despite its terrifying location (one, BTW, that would make a very interesting encounter area for a campaign), it became the location of a monastery and was very popular with the villages in the surrounding area.

He converted a tribe of Arabs. Their leader was ordained and became known as the Bishop of Tents (an interest FRPG title, if I’ve ever heard of one).

There are several great saints that were taught and/or influenced by St. Euthymius including St. Theoctistus (Sept. 3), Symeon the Stylite (Sept. 1) and St. Sabbas the Sanctified (Dec. 5).

He foresaw his death at the age of 82 and passed on January 20, A.D. 473.

The lives of monastic saints like St. Euthymius are, in many ways, one of the reasons I believe the framework of D&D works so well within a Christian context. The monastic is the adventurer who goes out into the Wilderness (Chaos) to make it safe for Civilization (Law).

The basis for my understanding comes from Scripture. If we look at the geography of Genesis, we have three areas:

  • Eden (which is most likely some kind of plain because the name originally meant “open wastes”)
  • The Garden (which is in Eden and has as its center the Tree of Life a.k.a The Cross whose fruit is Christ Himself)
  • The Land of Nod (which is “across” from Eden and means “a place of restlessness or wandering” — wilderness)

In Leviticus, Aaron is commanded to cast lots on two goats. One is sacrificed as a sin offering, the other is presented alive for the atonement of sins and sent away into the wilderness of Azazel. The name Azazel literally means “rugged of God” which emphasizes “wilderness.” According to the Book of Enoch, Azazel is a fallen angel and leader of the Watchers — he is a demon. Thus, the wilderness of Azazel is a demonic wilderness. This is the origin of the word “scapegoat” — the sins of the people are placed upon the goat and sent into the Demonic Wilderness to feed the demons  in place of people. Thus, especially since Cain is exiled there, the Land of Nod is the place where demons live.

The first great wave of monastics went into the deserts of Egypt — the wilderness where demons reside — in order to fight the enemy in their own territory. Again, this is the model for the classic D&D campaign: the adventurers go into the wilderness full of monsters and humanoids in order to fight the enemy were they live. Upon clearing the wilderness of theses monsters, they build a Stronghold and thus make it safe for Civilization. Then the pattern repeats itself again and again.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saintly Saturday: St. Hilary of Poitiers

Today is the Feast of St. Hilary of Poitiers. Born in the 4th century A.D. of pagan parents in Gaul (modern day France), he was trained in philosophy and rhetoric. In his adult life, he saw the weaknesses of a pagan world-view and embraced Christianity. In A.D. 350 he was elected bishop of Poitier were, along with St. Athanasius the Great (who was his contemporary), defended the Orthodox Faith in a sea of Arianism. In other words, most of Christendom under the leadership of the Arian Emperor Constantius believed that Christ not only did not share the same nature as the Father but that there was a time when the Son was not. In contrast, St. Hilary insisted that the three persons of the Holy Trinity were of one nature.

In A.D. 355, the Emperor required all of the bishops to sign a letter condemning St. Athanasius. St. Hilary refused and was sent into exile in Phrygia, which is in west-central modern-day Turkey. It was there that St. Hilary wrote his seminal work On the Trinity. The Emperor soon found that having St. Hilary in such close proximity to the capital was actually causing more trouble than it was worth and St. Hilary was returned to his see in A.D. 360 where he served until his death in A.D. 368. St. Martin of Tours was his protege and after founding a monastery near Poitiers continued St. Hilary’s legacy when elected to be bishop of Tours in A.D. 370.

We are also in the season of Epiphany, which for the Orthodox Church is a celebration of the Trinity:
As You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, then the worship of the Trinity became manifest, for the voice of the Father bore witness to You, naming You the Beloved Son; and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ God, who appeared and illumined the world, glory to You. — Apolytikion of the Feast of Epiphany [emphasis mine]
Many years ago now, JB of B/X Blackrazor asked the question Wherefore Art Thou Religion? In response, I declared Religion Art Right Here where I detailed some of the default fantasy analog for Christianity I use in a lot of my campaigns. This post, however, does not explain the Trinitarian nature of the Istinite God. I delve into my thinking on this with this Saintly Saturday post on St. Athansius himself.

This is all a prelude to adding to this tapestry of a fantasy analog of Christianity by taking an early Christian hymn attributed to St. Hilary and passing it through the metaphoric engine I proposed based on the paradigmata of St. Athansius the Great.

First, lets look at the Hymn Gone are the Shades of Night by St. Hilary:
Gone are the shades of night,
The hours of rest are o'er;
New beauties sparkle bright,
And heaven is light once more.
To Thee our prayers shall speed,
O Lord of light Divine;
Come to our utmost need,
And in our darkness shine.
Spirit of love and light,
May we Thine image know,
And in Thy glory bright,
To full perfection grow.
Hear us, O Father blest,
Save us, O Christ the Son;
Thou Comforter the best,
Lead us till life is done.
Note that the metaphoric theme here is Light vs. Dark. The metaphor I use to describe the fantasy analog of the Trinity for my campaign world is borrowed from D&D: Law vs. Chaos or Civilization vs. the Wilderness:
Nomos (which roughly translates as Law)
Isten (which roughly translates as Crown or King)
Thikeosyni (which roughly translates as Citizenship or Righteousness)
Thus, in order to make this hymn an analog, it is necessary to shift the metaphor and images from Light vs. Dark to Law vs. Chaos.
Gone are the designs of the demonic wilderness
The hours of fear have passed
Remade are the citizens of our metropolis
The people of the New Kingdom are massed
To You our prayers shall speed
O King of the City Divine
Come to our utmost need
In the Chaos it is your rule for which we pine
Citizenship of all that is good and right
May we Your crown know
And in your reign of might
To full perfection grow
Hear us, O Law most blest,
Save us, O Isten the King,
You Righteousness best,
Lead us to life everlasting.
And thus, an analog hymn for my fantasy analog for Christianity based on the work of St. Hilary of Poitiers is born.