Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saintly Saturday: The Saturday before Epiphany

Today is the Saturday before Epiphany, which in Orthodox Christian practice has its own assigned hymns, readings and prayers in anticipation of the celebration of Christ’s baptism. In some ways, Epiphany is actually a bigger feast in Orthodox Christianity than is Christmas (which originated in the West). In the East, the Nativity was commemorated as part of the feast of Epiphany and wasn’t celebrated as a separate feast until the end of the 4th century in most places, and not until the 6th century in others.

The reason for this import can be seen in another term Orthodox Christianity uses for the feast — Theophany. The word epiphany means revelation. The word theophany means a revelation about God. The revelation implied by the term is articulated in the Apolytikia (a type of hymn for a feast):
When You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest.
The baptism of Christ is the first time in Scripture where God explicitly reveals Himself to be Trinity — the voice of the Father, the Son in the Jordan being baptized and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove.

I am intrigued how these two words might apply to RPGs.

Epiphany, of course, is easier to apply since any kind of revelation is applicable. Revealing the true identity of an NPC nemesis, a continuing backstory of a dungeon or any other mystery of a campaign world would be fitting. For my own purposes and interests, this is particularly useful in designing and running megadungeons. One thing that keeps bringing players back is a continuous trickle of information about the history and use of the dungeon.

Personally, I try to make sure this backstory has multiple levels. I prefer to use three: 1) original builders/occupants, 2) those that either conquered the original occupants or took over after they disappeared, and 3) those that currently occupy the dungeon. I usually seed this information not just throughout the dungeon itself, but throughout the campaign world. Indeed, my player’s recent excursion across dimensions had a major reveal about the megadungeon (of course, it is still to be determined as to whether or not the players put all the pieces together…)

Theophany is a more difficult proposition, but is really the one I am more interested in. Since the advent of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes in 1978, divine beings have been at the very least peripherally part of the game. The question is how much and in what form? When I first encountered Deities & Demigods, my friends and I merely saw it as an interesting extension of the Monster Manual and set about seeing which entry would be the easiest/most entertaining to take on in combat. Indeed, the first (brief) campaign I ever ran using Deities & Demigods had as its goal a final confrontation with our choice (one of the babylonian/sumerian entries if I remember right).

As offensive or entertaining such an encounter might be, I would argue it would not be a theophany — given the way we used Deities & Demigods it was merely another (albeit really powerful) monster encounter (a use, by the way, that as a Christian I am very comfortable with).

Though I make liberal use of angels and saints in my own games, I am not really sure that I have made use of any kind of theophany — I really haven’t revealed anything about God or God Himself. Of course, I run a campaign with a Christian analog where much of the nature of God is already implied and the players (being at least familiar with Christianity) understand the basic assumptions. If I were ever to run a campaign based on my meditations on prophets as clerics, theophanies might play a larger role in the campaign. It might also be interesting to see how theophanies would play out in a far distant future campaign where Christianity only survives in tiny remnants.

So, I am curious: How often to you use theophanies in your campaigns?


Roger G-S said...

I am hoping eventually to work some kind of revelation about the ultimate nature of things into my campaign(s). But it is not a thing that can be hurried. More on this as I write on megadungeons on my blog ...

Alex Osias said...

Never really ran a game with it, but came close to it in my Fading Suns game where the pilgrimage storyline would have revealed something about the nature of divinity in that setting.

In my current work in Enigmundia, I'm grappling again with theophanies that are meaningful, rather than just a clue to another powerful relic.