Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Nicetas the Great Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Nicetas the Great Martyr. He was a Gothic Christian who was captured, tortured and thrown into fire by the pagan usurper Athanaric in A.D. 372.

Normally, I would now go into more details about St. Nicetas’ life, however, yesterday I was struck by one of the hymns the Orthodox Church sang during the feast of The Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross, which we are still celebrating today:
O Cross of Christ, the hope of Christians, the guide of the wayward, the haven of the storm-tossed, the victory in wartime, the security of the civilized world, for the sick a physician, for the dead resurrection, have mercy on us. [emphasis mine]
The feast commemorates St. Helen (mother of St. Constantine the first Christian Roman emperor) finding the True Cross in Jerusalem after the Edict of Milan, when Christianity was officially tolerated within the empire. When she had found three crosses lying next to each beneath a pagan temple, the bishop, St. Macarius, had a woman who was greatly ill touch the crosses. When she drew near the True Cross, she was healed.

Thus, the hymnody of the feast tacitly equates Civilization with Christian civilization. This, of course, is one of the assumptions that I make with my own use of the three-tier alignment system in D&D and its derivatives: Law = (Christian) Civilization.

The life of St. Nicetus, therefore, takes place in context of the expanding influence of Civilization in the form of the Christian Roman Empire. It also mirrors many tropes of the classic D&D sandbox campaign:

  • His life took place in the lands of the Goths — at the edge of civilization. He spent it spreading the Gospel. His analog is a PC adventuring in the Wilderness, where Chaos = paganism.
  • St. Nicetas was baptized by the Gothic Bishop Theophilus, who participated in the First Ecumenical Council. His analog is the former PC who has set up a stronghold and attracted followers, which then go on to be the next generation of PC adventurers.
  • The area in which Nicetas operated was liberated by Fritigern, who led an army against the pagan Athanaric. Fritigern’s analog would be a fellow party member with Theophilus.
  • The successor to Theophilus is the Arian Bishop Ulfilas. His analog is the NPC complication at the home base creating difficult choices for the PCs. While technically on the PCs side and able to help and supply them, this help comes with a price.
  • Finally, the usurper Athanaric (who captures, tortures and martyrs St. Nicetus) has an analog in the lurking Chaos that the former party beat back, but failed to completely destroy. It is this threat that the current PC party must investigate and defeat.

For those interested, these tropes can be found in Gygax’s classic T1: The Village of Hommlet. Additionally, take a gander at Erin Smale’s The Bastard’s Blade. He doesn’t post there very often, but what he does have fits the life of St. Nicetas very nicely (and maybe some extra traffic will inspire him to write more often…)

1 comment:

Anthony said...

I didn't see T1 in this until you mentioned it --odd, since it's one of my favorite modules-- but what occurred to me while you were listing the tropes is that this also fits very well with B1, "In search of the unknown." The missing owners of the fortress, Rogahn and Zelligar, fill the roles of Fritigern and Bishop Theophilus, respectively. Only, with their disappearance, it's as Chaos is pushing back against the expansion of civilization. A long-term goal for the PCs could be to reverse the reversal and redeem Rogahn and Zelligar's work.

Nice way to give meaning to an old module. :)

"...the security of the civilized world..."

Given events of late, this certainly hit home.