Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saintly Saturday: St. James the Confessor

Today is the Feast of St. James the Confessor. He entered the monastic life at a young age, living at the Studite monastery in Constantinople. He was then made bishop of Catania in Sicily. His bishopric took place during the first wave of Iconoclasm in the middle of the 8th century. While emperor Constantine V Copronymos (A.D. 741-775) was on the thrown, St. James was imprisoned for venerating the icons. Thus, he received the title Confessor. Eventually, his tormentors gave up trying to get St. James to abandon his defense of the icons and sent him into exile where he died.

Whereas I have reflected quite a lot on heresies, iconoclasm and confessors I don’t think I’ve ever talked about exile. One of the interesting practices of the Roman Empire (by which I mean the one with Constantinople as its capital) was the use of exile. Both heterodox and orthodox emperors would send their religious opponents into exile either on the fringes of empire or out into barbarian lands. This seems to suggest a really interesting twist on the classic Keep on the Borderland trope.

Part of the makeup of the Keep is this concept of exile, which can take any number of forms:

  • The PCs belong to an exiled group (whether political, racial or religious). The powers that control the Keep represent those who exiled the PCs. They are free to venture into the wilderness, but not go back to civilization. This would put some serious dampers on help at a party’s home base. It would also begin to get dangerous once they started accumulating wealth and magic items.
  • The entire Keep is controlled by an exiled group of which the PCs may or may not be. This variation would play close to the typical trope, except that higher-priced items would be more rare and their would be even more emphasis on clearing new land. The big change would be the end-game, where the powers that exiled those at the Keep would be more likely to meddle in the affairs of players once they started building strongholds.
  • One of the patrons of the PCs is in exile. This could either be open knowledge, done in secret or kept secret from the players. The patron is trying to accumulate enough power in order to return home. This could get complicated in the same way the first two options do. This option offers another hitch if the players do not realize that the guy they have been helping is actually a secret go-between and they are now accomplices in helping a traitor/heretic/poltical troublemaker start up another civil war, etc.
  • The PCs are part of a group whose mission is to inform on a group of exiles. Thus, they are set-up as adventurers for hire in an area dominated by an exiled power. They are then to get info from their employers and report back to the powers that be. My favorite twist on this set-up is when the PCs realize that those they have been sent to spy on are really the good guys.

One of my favorite treasures of all-time that a character of mine ever came across was a history book that detailed the royal lineage of an empire within the campaign world. My character’s desire to use that information to start a civil war never materialized (my character was a former slave in that empire, but my GM and fellow players weren’t ready to go there), but this is the kind of treasure that could be the centerpiece of a Keep-on the-Borderland-in-Exile. The information contained therein could inspire all kinds of mischief by players, whatever variation the “exiled” part of the trope is extant in the campaign.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Speaking as someone who a) loves to insert "high politics" in my games and b) also loves Greco-Roman/Byzantine History, I'm shocked the idea of exile never occurred to me. What a rich field for plots and counter-plots! This actually gets me interested in "Keep on the Borderlands" again.

"One of the patrons of the PCs is in exile. This could either be open knowledge, done in secret or kept secret from the players."

A good model for this would be the career of Emperor Justinian II, who was deposed and exiled, only to return ten years later at the head of an army of orcs and Bulgars and Slavs. To add an element of the grotesque, the rebels sliced off Justinian's nose when he was deposed the first time (on the theory that no one physically maimed could be emperor). Justinian then had it replaced with a solid gold nose. it could even be rumored to be magic. (Hand of Vecna, Nose of Justinian... ;) )

Great post.