Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Adventuring with Antony the Great

Thus tightening his hold upon himself, Antony departed to the tombs, which happened to be at a distance from the village; and having bid one of his acquaintances to bring him bread at intervals of many days, he entered one of the tombs, and the other having shut the door on him, he remained within alone. And when the enemy could not endure it . . . coming one night with a multitude of demons, he so cut him with stripes that he lay on the ground speechless from the excessive pain. For he affirmed that the torture had been so excessive that no blows inflicted by man could ever have caused him such torment . . . The next day his acquaintance came bringing him the loaves. And having opened the door and seeing him lying on the ground as though dead, he lifted him up and carried him to the church in the village, and laid him upon the ground. And many of his kinsfolk and the villagers sat around Antony as round a corpse. But about midnight he came to himself and arose, and when be saw them all asleep and his comrade alone watching, he motioned with his head for him to approach, and asked him to carry him again to the tombs without waking anybody.

Whenever I see this passage, I feel like I am reading a quote from some pulp story written at the beginning of the 20th century. Its descent into the tombs that lie outside a village on the edge of the wilderness and its depiction of combat against demons never fails to inspires me. It makes the inner role-player in me want to take out my OD&D books, roll up a character, hire some henchmen and go exploring underground in search of the unknown.

I am not the only one that the story of Antony as inspired. In fact, it inspired an entire generation. However, that generation lived 1700 years ago and included the likes of St. Augustine of Hippo. This account of delving inside a tomb in order to take on demons in mortal combat is the Life of St. Antony by St. Athanasius the Great. It was read all over the Christian world and was translated from its original Greek into several languages, including the Latin that Augustine read. It sparked an explosion of monastic activity in the 4th century that is still with us today. Interestingly, the work is timeless and I've seen it inspire those of the 21st century just as much as it did those in the 4th.

I wanted to share this excerpt with you to demonstrate how easily the idea of the monk going into the wilderness to combat demons translates to D&D. Anthony is engaged in an activity that many dungeon delving D&D parties have done over the years. It is why I choose the monastic in the desert as a metaphor for a D&D campaign. It is a classic struggle between the forces of Chaos and the forces of Law. It also demonstrates that the sandbox campaign can work beautifully in the context of a Christian or monotheistic backdrop.

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