Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. Gerasimus of Perm

Today is the Feast of St. Gerasimus the Bishop of Perm, which is both a city and an area in central Russia at the base of the Urals, where Asia and Europe meet. It is the traditional home of the Zyryani or Zyrian people (today, they are called Komi). St. Gerasimus was elected sometime after 1416 and was the third bishop of this newly Christianized people.

During his bishopric, he took part in local councils. One dealt with the structure of the Russian Church and one rejected union with Rome as advocated by Isidore, Metropolitan of Kiev. The villages of the Zyrian people were also frequently raided by Novgorodians (who had their own Republic at the time). These raids were primarily carried out by a pagan tribe known as the Voguls. St. Gerasimus was extremely diligent in caring for his flock, going so far as to condemn the raids and travel in Vogul territory urging them to cease their violence. He was murdered by a Vogul in 1441. Tradition holds that he was strangled with his own omophorion (part of the bishop’s vestments which go around his shoulders).

There is a meme among those of us who play fantasy RPGs which champions campaign worlds that don’t feel like traditional high fantasy and/or medieval Western Europe. Personally, I like my campaigns to be a healthy mixture of the familiar with the alien. The familiar elements help players immerse themselves in the world, while the alien elements help bring a sense of wonder and a need for exploration. The See of Greater Perm at the time of St. Gerasimus is an excellent example as source material for this kind of campaign.

While still ostensibly European in character, its proximity to Asia (especially a fantasy analog) justifies PC classes like monks and any others that one might port over from your favorite Asian-flavored rule set (mine would be Ruins & Ronin) as well as all kinds of cool monsters.

Politically, Perm is a keep on the borderland between the Far Eastern reaches of European Civilization and the Asian Wilderness. The Europeans have an ongoing political conflict between the power hungry Novgorod Republic, the more traditional power of Kiev and the upstarts of Moscow. (Given the raids by Novgorod and St. Gerasimus' rejection of the Kiev move to ally with Rome, it would seem that Perm-as-Keep on the Borderland would be a Muscovite endeavor).

The Republic is comfortable with assimilating (pagan) nomadic tribes from Asia in order to expand their territory. This could be interpreted as having a number of non-human and non-Lawful allies, which could very well complicate matters for PCs as they come into conflict with non-human adversaries.

The modern name for the Zyrian peoples is Komi, which can be translated as River People. This justifies re-skinning magic to be more water/river based. Cure Light Wounds, for example, could be understood to be the application of Holy Water to a wound.

Given that Perm is around the same Latitude as Juneau Alaska, the theme of Heat vs. Cold or Fire vs. Ice could also color the traditional Law (Civilization) vs. Chaos (Wilderness) dichotomy.

The coat of arms of Perm includes a bear, which suggests that (polar) were-bears play a large role in the campaign.

Finally, a branch of the modern Komi peoples are reindeer herders, which invites me to do the following:

Frost Elf

Prime Requisite: STR and DEX
Requirements: INT 9
Hit Dice: d6
Maximum Level: 11

Frost elves are found in arctic and subarctic forests and are often seen riding reindeer. While not as innately magical as normal elves (they cast arcane magic as a magic user of half their level), they do have the following abilities:

  • Beast Friendship: frost elves gain a +2 reaction with wild animals, may take them as henchmen and can identify flora and fauna with a roll of 1-3 on a d6.
  • Creatures of the Forest: +1 to surprise rolls when in the wilderness
  • Elf Tongues: frost elves can speak elf, gnoll, hobgoblin and orc
  • Elven Senses: frost elves can detect hidden and secret doors with a 1-2 on a d6 when actively searching and with a 1 with only a casual inspection
  • Frost Familiarity: +1 saving throw bonus versus Petrification/Paralysis; immunity to the touch of ghouls
  • Frost Missiles: frost elves can imbue any missile weapon with frost, giving them a +1 on damage. This increases by an additional +1 at 3rd, 6th and 9th level
  • Frosty Mist: frost elves can cast Obscuring Mist once every eight hours
  • Icy Grasp: at 3rd level, frost elves can cast the equivalent of Shocking Grasp once per hour
  • Ice Web: at 5th level, frost elves can cast the equivalent of Web once per 8 hours
  • Numbing Cold: at 7th level, frost elves can cast the equivalent of Slow once per day
  • Stonghold: upon reaching 9th level, all animals within 5 miles of a frost elven stronghold will be kind and helpful

Frost elves fight as fighters, may use any weapon and can wear chain or lighter armor plus shields.

XP Progression:
Level 2: 3,350
Level 3: 7,700
Level 4: 15,400
Level 5: 30,800
Level 6: 61,600
Level 7: 125,000
Level 8: 250,000
Level 9: 420,000
Level 10:590,000
Level 11: 760,000


Gordon Cooper said...

Inspiring as usual!

Unknown said...

East European History is a wonderful, underused resource for FRPGs. And, while I'm generally not fond of "yet another Elf variant," your Frost Elves are nicely different and have a mysterious feel to them. These I will gladly steal. :)

AndreasDavour said...

Strange. That sure brought out something lacking the much of the fantasy settings for most rpgs.

I played in a game, I have totally forgotten which game system, where we played in some kind of icy Russian/Central Asian setting and the feel of it have stayed with me. Thanks for reminding me of it again.

We fought a dragon made of metal, and there were singing buns in the kitchen. Yes, for real.