Sunday, December 31, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Anysia the Virgin Martyr of Thessalonica

(Yesterday was) the Feast of the Virginmartyr Anysia of Thessalonica. Although I had every intention of writing about this yesterday, life got in the way of me having the time, so I am up early today to get these thoughts down.

Anysia lived during the reign of Maximian (A.D. 286-305). She was raised in a pious Christian home and dedicated her life to strict fasting, vigil and prayer after the death of her parents. During the persecution of Christians under Maximian, it was decreed that anyone had the right to kill Christians with no consequences. During this period, Anysia was on her way to church when she was stopped by a pagan soldier. He demanded that she accompany him to a sun festival and offer sacrifice. When she demurely declined, he began to be aggressive. She then spit in his face and declared that, “My Lord Jesus Christ forbids you!” He immediately drew his sword and ran her through.

Christians secretly gathered up her remains and buried her near the city gates. Eventually, a chapel was built over her grave.

There are a couple of FRPG tropes that come to mind when I read the life of St. Anysia: Murder Hobos and Temple Street. Interestingly, her story offers a way of dealing with the first and a refutation of the latter.

Way back when I first starting DMing my group of friends in Jr. High, our very first session was very short. The TPK happened as the PCs were gathering info about the adventures in the area when the thief decided to be a pick pocket. He failed miserably. The City Guard showed up and the party decided that they could fight their way out of the problem. Didn’t happen. My friends were upset, until I explained why their characters couldn’t behave that way and we rolled up a new party which went on to adventure for several years.

The story of Anysia reminds of that, but offers a rather dark twist to the tale as well as a very interesting challenge. Long-time readers know that I love Arneson’s 1 xp = 1 gp of treasure spent. This necessitates players to interact with the world in ways that would not normally happen because they need to creatively get rid of their treasure in order to advance in levels. What if, however, the town or city that was most readily available declared that certain PC classes or races were illegal and could be killed on site? On the one hand, it would offer Murder Hobos all the excuse they need to go on a killing spree, but to what end? All the gold they might get from such an endeavor would be useless. On the other hand, threat of immediate death coupled with the need to get rid of gold to get higher levels might just prove to create a whole new level of creativity as players figure out ways to game the system.

As a kid I never really read any of the popular fantasy stuff that everyone else did. As the guy who usually had to be DM, I liked to go to books that no one had read so that I could have a unique source of ideas that players could be surprised by, rather than having full knowledge of the source material and ruining some of the surprises. One of my favorite of these books was The Seven Altars of Dusarra by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It played hard to the fantasy trope of Temple Street, where our hero, Garth of Ordunin, had to steal objects from the altars of each of the seven temples in the city of Dusarra.

This is great stuff, if you are aping the classic tales of REH, CAS, etc. While one might find such a situation in places like medieval India, there are very few historical examples of Temple Street in the medieval world that is suggested by most FRPGs. The reality is far more likely to be like the story of St. Anysia where Christians found an out of the way place and worshiped in relative secrecy. The medieval world is dominated by monotheistic (or singular) religions and adherents of other faiths live their religious lives quietly and out of the way.

While this may not be as exciting as Temple Street, it does give opportunities for adventure. Adventure locations can be built around different eras of different dominant faiths and the treasure or location the party is after could be a grave hidden near a gate by a religious group now out of favor by the powers that be.

No comments: