When the Roman senator Adrian became governor of the Phoenician district, he was given full power to hunt down Christians in order to force them to worship the Roman gods or face torture and death. When he found out about St. Leontios convincing folks to stop sacrificing to idols, he sent the tribune Hypatios to Tripoli to arrest him. On the way, he fell seriously ill. In a dream, he saw the vision of an angel who told him that if he wished to get well, he should cry out three times: "God of Leontius, help me!"
When he woke, he told his friends among the soldiers in his command what had happened and they prayed to the God of Leontius. Hypatios was immediately healed. Among these friends was Theodulus who was filled with the need to take Hypatios with him as they raced ahead of the other soldiers in order to find St. Leontius.
Arriving in the city, they were welcomed by a kind stranger who invited them to his house. When this stranger turned out to be St. Leontius, they begged him to teach them about the his God. Having been baptized by the time the other soldiers arrived in the city, now led by Adrian, all three were arrested. Refusing to sacrifice to the idols, they were tortured and then martyred.
Given the centrality of the angelic vision granted to Hypatios in the story of these three martyrs, I thought I'd write about visions as I use them in my campaign worlds — and I tend to use them quite a bit. When used well, they can add a lot of gravitas and mystery to the game world.
There are several keys to an entertaining vision. First and foremost, it must allow for player choice. This is most easily accomplished by giving the player enough information to peak their interest without giving too much information. It also helps to have something to reveal. Personally, when I create a world I always try to have a skeleton of a backstory that can be revealed over time as the players interact with the world. This backstory need not be The Silmarillion nor even the appendices to The Return of the King. In my own Lost Colonies campaign, the back story can be explained in no more than a few sentences, but it is enough to drop tantalizing hints all over the place.
In order to create a vision one must first decide what time frame it is referring to. There are three basic choices: Past, Present and Future. Then one must decide what the vision is to be about. Depending on the time frame, there are two good choices:
- Past — Something was done; something was not done
- Present — Something must be done now; something must not happen now
- Future — Something should be done; something must not be done
This message is then delivered either verbally and/or visually. Here are some examples from the OT (a great source for all kinds of visions):
A man of God has just come to me, who looked like the Angel of God, so majestic was he…Now as the flame rose heavenwards from the altar, the Angel of the Lord ascended in this flame. — Judges 13:6, 20
The cherubim appeared to have the form of a human hand under their wings. And as for their appearance, the four looked alike, something like a wheel. Their entire body, their rims, their spokes, their wings, and the wheels-- the wheels of the four of them-- were full of eyes all around. — Ezekiel 10:8, 10, 12
- The Dead
You are cast out, away from your grave, like loathsome carrion, clothed with the dead, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the Pit, like a corpse trampled underfoot. — Isaiah 14:19
Suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. — Ezekiel 37:7
- A Voice from Heaven
A voice came from heaven: "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! — Daniel 4:31
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and it said to Balaam, "What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?" — Numbers 22:28
Another beast appeared, a second one, that looked like a bear. It was raised up on one side, had three tusks in its mouth among its teeth and was told, "Arise, devour many bodies!" — Daniel 7:5
- The Natural World
The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. — Genesis 7:19
The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. — Job 38:30It is then up to the player to interpret what they have seen. In my own personal experience, they sometimes come up with a much cooler explanation than what I had in mind. When this happens, I usually run with it, because the vision then becomes personal. In turn, so does the campaign world.