Yesterday, James over at Grognardia did a piece on August Derleth
and his (albiet small) contribution to the heroic aspects of the Call of Cthulu RPG. Yesterday was also the Feast of St. George the Great Martyr. These two seemingly unrelated topics are deeply connected in my mind and in the way I understand and play RPGs.
Of all the authors listed in Appendix N that we old timers like to point to as our inspiration, HPL looms very large in my own formation as a person and as a player. The images he uses to describe the nothingness that looms in the dark just beyond our awareness and the words he gives our fears about these lurking dooms are not only hauntingly beautiful, but empowering.
We live in a fallen world filled with decay, disease and death. We are all doomed to die. We can live in denial and try desperately to ignore our own mortality only to find ourselves getting closer to our inevitable end every day, despite our best efforts at holding on to our youth. Death is alway crouched just over our shoulder, ready to strike at a moment's notice. To live in this shadow is terrifying. HPL names this fear and gives it form. Thus, though we are in the midst of fighting the long defeat our own life, HPL allows us to come face to face with that defeat and march forward in spite of it.
St. George was a Roman soldier from Cappadocia in modern day Turkey. He proved to be a charismatic leader and quickly rose in rank. By his twenties he was a tribunus
and later became a comes
. Eventually, he was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Emperor Diocletian. In 303, the Emperor issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians throughout the Empire. St. George faced his own end and he bravely walked through it. Instead of participating in the persecution of his own people, he confessed to be a Christian and openly criticized the imperial desicion. Diocletion ordered his torture and execution. He was eventally beheaded in front of the defensive wall of Nicomedia on Apri 23, 303.
St. George looked at the creeping doom described so evocatively by HPL and did not flinch. He chose to do the right thing — the heroic thing — despite his full knowledge that he would not do so without suffering and dying. Of course, from a Christian perspective, death no longer has any sting because Christ has risen from the dead, trampling death by death and to those in the tombs he has granted life. That belief, however, still requires a tremendous amount of faith and courage in the face of certain toture and death. St. George had that faith and that courage and he stood up in front of the looming darkness in an effort to stop it. In the short term, he failed.
Emperor Diocletian, and Galerius after him, systematically sought out and killed Christians throughout the Empire for eight long years. The Synaxarion of the Church is littered with martyrs from this era. In the long run, however, St. George's faith, courage and sacrifice changed lives. Diocletian's own wife became a Christian as a result. She stood in the breach and gave her life as well. Others followed day after day fightng the long defeat. Except that in the larger Christian world-view, though our own battles will end in defeat, the war belongs to Christ, and He will be victorious.
In 311, Galerius gave up on his quest to purge the Empire of Christianity and issed an edict of toleration. When St. Constantine became the first Christian Emperor in 313 initiating a Christian empire that would last a thousand years, Christianity, through the martyrs like St. George, conquered the known world without lifting a sword. Armed against the slithering darkness with only the words, "I am a Christian," St. George succeeded where the Gauls, the Dacians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Egyptians and countless others failed.
Though we die, we fight the darkness with good cause knowning that our King will come again and grant us citizenship in the New Kingdom where Cthulu, Yog Sothoth and the Elder Gods will be no more.
Thus, I love to play the low level characters who are up against seemingly unconquerable evil and leap into the breach though it may very well be their end. I do it, because in a small way I can emulate St. George knowing that though I suffer this tiny defeat, I make it possible for the next character/generation to have that faith and courage to do the same.