Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Eupsychios the Martyr

Today is the feast day of St. Eupsychios the Martyr. Considering the recent flap about a pastor burning a Koran down in Florida, St. Eupsychios is an extraordinarily politically-incorrect saint to be celebrating. He lived during the reign of Julian the Apostate (331/332-June of 36). The title Apostate refers to someone who renounces a religion. In his short reign, Julian tried to re-impose a systematized paganism over and against the Christianity that had taken hold of the Roman Empire. Whether he himself was once a Christian or he simply represented the renunciation of Christianity in the office of the Emperor, I cannot say for certain.

St. Eupsychios was on his way to getting married when he and others saw a sacrifice being offered at the pagan temple to Fortuna (a cult beloved of the Emperor). Seeing this, the groom-to-be led a group that destroyed the temple. Enraged, not only did Julian have Eupsychios tortured and beheaded, but he gathered an army to raze the city (Caesaria in Cappadocia) on his way to fight the Persians. He was diverted from this task by the bishop of Caesaria (St. Basil the Great) and subsequently died in battle from a stray spear. Legend has it that the spear was thrown by St. Mercurius (a Cappadocian martyr from a century before).

Setting aside the real-world merits and consequences of St. Eupsychios' zealotry, I can't help but meditate on one of the most beloved of Gygax's modules (and one of my all-time favorites) — T1 The Village of Hommlet.

We are told at the beginning of the module of a battle to destroy the Temple of Elemental Evil:
So great was the slaughter, so complete the victory of good, that the walled stronghold of the Temple of Elemental Evil fell within a fortnight, despite the aid of a terrible demon.
Interesting parallel, is it not? When one re-reads T1, there are those who go to the newly established Church dedicated to St. Cuthbert and those who cling to the Old Faith (along with a local Druid). If one recasts this module in terms of paganism vs. Christianity, the questions posed about Hommlet by Gygax for the players in his introduction are given added depth:
Will outsiders be shunned? Are reports of the whole community engaging in evil practices true? Are the folk here bumpkins, easily duped? Does a curse lay upon those who dare to venture into the lands which were once the Temple's?
Imagine, for a moment, if the open worship of St. Cuthbert's God is a recent phenomenon made possible by the conversion of those in political power. What if we recast the Viscount of Verbobonc in the role of Julian the Apostate? What if he were were either openly or secretly funding the renewal of the Temple?

Suddenly, Hommlet is transformed into a hotbed of political intrigue where every person in town who clings to the Old Faith is a potential spy for the Viscount and therefore the Temple. If the module (and implied campaign) goes ahead as written, the players will play the role of St. Eupsychios and risk the wrath of the Viscount, inviting an exciting end-game.


The Spear of St. Bywarian

This item, though it will radiate magic if detected, appears to be a rusted spearpoint upon a broken shaft. Its efficacy as a weapon depends upon the alignment of the target. Against Lawful creatures, it will function as a Staff of Healing. Against Neutral creatures, it will function as a normal spear. Against Chaotic creatures it will function as a +1 magic weapon and do double damage if the "to hit" roll is 5 or higher than the target number. For example, if the target number is 14 and the roll is 19 or 20, than the damage will be doubled.


scottsz said...

Excellent post. Definitely an interesting set of influences for T1.

Russ said...

Believe it or not, I've wondered for a long time who St. Eupsychios is. Now I know. Thanks. :-)