Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Joannicius the Great

Today is the Feast of Joannicius the Great. He was born in A.D. 752 in Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey) to faithful but very poor parents. Their only wealth was some cattle, which Joanicius would tend, often using it as a means of prayer and using the Sign of the Cross to ward away both beast and thief.

When emperor Leo IV came to power in A.D. 775, he instituted a draft and Joannicius was chosen from his village to serve. He did so with bravery and earned the respect of his fellow soldiers. He was rewarded more than once by both his commanders and the emperor himself for striking fear into the hearts of his enemy. He served in the military for six years, but he knew that the life of a soldier was not his calling.

When he was able to leave the imperial army he wanted to become a hermit, but at the direction of a spiritual elder, he spent a couple of years in a monastery to learn the monastic life. He then went into the wilderness to finally become a hermit. He spent time with other monastics saints, became known as a miracle worker and finally retired to Antidiev monastery were he died at the age of 94 in A.D. 846.

From the perspective of RPGs, I find the life of St. Joannicius fascinating because it demonstrates how grounded in reality the character creation system of Classic Traveller is, one of my favorite subsystems of any RPG in existence. Though he is famous for being a hermit, along the way he was, for lack of a better term, a cattle rancher, a soldier and a monk. If he were an RPG character, his character creation process would have gone through a couple of careers, garnered a wide variety of skills prior to becoming an adventurer (a hermit wandering the Wilderness).

The closest to this idea that I have ever seen in FRPGs is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game; however, the career changes happen as part of character advancement, not as a precursor to becoming an adventurer. A close second is the 0-level character concept that I first encountered in Goodman Games modules like DCC35A: Halls of the Minotaur. Neither of these, though, scratch the itch for a Classic Traveller-esque mini-game of character creation.

In the ACKS Players Companion there might just be a foundation upon which to build one for B/X. Therein is a section called Custom Classes which reverse engineered all the B/X classes to come up with a system to build campaign-specific classes with all variety of possibilities. A character gets a total of 4 points to spend on Hit Point Value, Fighting Value, Thieving Value, Divine Value and Arcane Value. Certain aspects of these can be traded in for special abilities which can further be expanded if they are delayed across levels.

Using these concepts, it might just be possible to create a series of tables to, like Classic Traveller, create a fantasy character, their life prior to becoming adventurer and the skills/abilities that they picked up along the way.

This is where I must disappoint. I don’t have the time or energy to put something like this together at the moment; however, I am going to bookmark this idea and come back to it at some point. Or, maybe someone else can have a go…


Scott Anderson said...

Father Dave, I really enjoy your stories of the saints. They have inspired me to weave my NaNoWriMo entry around the liturgical calendar.

However, my novel is set in the 11th century and the modern liturgical calendar has many saints from more modern times. Can you suggest to me some place to find an older calendar so that I can use the saints they would have venerated in those times?

FrDave said...

While it is not easy to navigate (you have to look at each day) has a nice collection of saints for every day of the year along with a short hagiography. While some saints are "modern" (by which I mean post 11th century), I think you will find a nice selection of saints from the time period you are interested in.

Scott Anderson said...

Thank you! My wife and kids are Syrian Orthodox so that's our church. The monk in the story is Catholic so I'll take care but this is such a great resource! Thank you!

Crouchback said...

Out of curiosity, does the class template system for ACKS look anything like this - It sounded very similar. Making a system similar to Traveller sounds interesting but also sounds like you'd want to create characters at mid level. Old school D&D characters are just starting out while classic Traveller characters are pretty capable and not likely to improve a lot.

FrDave said...

It is similar, but the ACKS version is more expansive. Thanks for pointing this out.

Old school D&D characters are just starting out

I disagree. All classes are better than 0-level humans and Old School level titles suggest that adventurers have been around the block a few times:

1st level Fighter = Veteran (a person who has long experience in a particular field e.g. war veteran)

1st level Magic-user = Medium (someone who has contact with the dead e.g. someone who has been around the arcane enough to see some really weird things)

1st level Cleric = Acolyte (someone who assists in a religious ceremony e.g. someone who has trained enough to know all of the particulars of a ceremony and as someone from a high liturgy church, this takes years)

All of these suggest a story wherein a 1st level character has life experience well beyond that of a normal person.

Ifryt said...

An OSR game "Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures" has quite interesting system for building 1st level characters with personal history. Each character gets a specific playbook and picks at random or chooses events from his history. They give bonuses to basic abilities (Strength, Charisma etc.), starting equipment and some special things.

In this game you don't get previous careers (everybody has only one) but I think it's really close to what you are thinking about.

You can check free playbooks for example here:

Also in the upcoming book for the D&D 5th edition "Xanathar's Guide to Everything" they say there will be some kind of generator for life events and backgrounds.

FrDave said...

Cool! Thanks for pointing this out!

Tom Hudson said...

Another possibility: Worlds Apart was an attempt to port Traveller D6 character generation & rules to fantasy seafaring. Looks like they want $5 for the PDF, although there may be an art-free or pay-what-you-want version somewhere.

You get a few background skills at level 0 depending on your home island, and bonus skills (still at level 0) from a limited list if your Education is high.

Then four-year terms, survival rolls (more often leading to injury than death), skill charts reminiscent of book 4/5/6 generation + a random table for "life events", mustering out benefits.

Careers: Drifter, Dweomercrafter, Entertainer, Merchant, Rogue, Sailor, Scholar, Scout, Soldier; Dwarf, Elf. That's a much more coarse set than Warhammer, but it makes some sense to me.