Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Consecration of Constantinople

Today the Orthodox Church commemorates the consecration of the city of Constantinople, which gives me a chance to do things a little differently this Saturday. Normally, I would go through the story of a saint’s life and pull something interesting or inspiring to apply to RPGs. This (hopefully) demonstrates how useful it is to plum the history of Christianity and how truly rich that history is.

Today, I am going start with an RPG concept and see how the story of Constantinople fits that concept. When designing an RPG environment, especially those that PCs are going to explore — the dungeon, the wilderness or a urban area — it is useful to have multiple layers of history to that area. These multiple layers give the DM/GM/Ref/Judge/LL/etc. a rich tapestry from which to improvise information about a specific area.

If I know that a particular area now occupied by orcs was once used as a temple by elves and before that was a nursery for metallic dragons, I can give a variety of interesting details that clue the PCs into the history of what this place once was:

  • Skulls of various humanoids for orcs.
  • Leaf designs and the image of a great tree (protected by a dragon?) on the stone work (possibly de-faced by orcs) for the elves.
  • A strange pattern of circles in bas relief in the floor for the dragons.

Knowing these two larger details (the elven temple and dragon nursery) lead to a far more interesting and cohesive set of smaller details, which can then spin off into adventure hooks or interesting NPCs interactions (say an elf or a dragon looking for evidence that these places still exist).

The city of Constantinople is an historical example of how to add these layers and how these layers affect what comes later:

  • Byzantium was a Greek colony founded in 657 B.C. and named after a king of great renown by the name of Byzas.
  • St. Andrew the Apostle preached in Byzantium in the first century A.D., setting up a Christian community and ordaining St. Stachys of the Seventy as bishop.
  • The city sided with Pescennius Niger, an usurper to the Roman thrown. The city was besieged by roman forces and heavily damaged in A.D. 196.
  • St. Constantine, the first Christian emperor, chose to make the city the new capital of the Christian Roman Empire, renaming it Constantinople. It was consecrated today in A.D. 330.
  • Despite many attempts, the city stood firm and ruled over the Roman Empire for 1000 years.
  • It was finally conquered by the Ottomans in A.D. 1453.
  • The city was renamed Istanbul (which is really a mutation of a Greek phrase meaning to the City).
  • Churches were subsequently taken over and turned into mosques or torn down (Hagia Sophia, for example — shown above in an image from Wikimedia Commons).
  • The term Byzantine Empire was coined by a Frenchmen in the 16th century.
  • Today, the Patriarch of Constantinople still has the title Ecumenical Patriarch due to its historic association with the capital of the Roman Empire and he traces his Apostolic Succession to St. Andrew.

Thus, in a Mutant Future campaign where modern Istanbul lays in ruins and is crawling with irradiated monsters, there is a rich tapestry of historical clues one can give PCs along with a great hook for adventures: the remnant Christian church is hoping to find relics from when the city was still occupied by humans.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You had me from the start, History-geek that I am. And I love Byzantine History and layering a campaign setting's history into games. My campaigns often feature a Byzantine/East Roman-like "remnant empire" that provides a center for high/decadent civilization and the resources of which the players might need. (Good opponents, too.) And Constantinople as a "world city" in which anything can be found is almost unsurpassed, like London in the 19th century for Gaslight games.

Good post, with nice food for thought. :)