Friday, November 30, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 6

This quote from the 6th Chapter of the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus demonstrates why I believe a Christian world-view works so well in the context of D&D:
what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world…The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them. The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world.
Take a look at this prayer from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:
Enable us to offer You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our own sins and the failings of Your people. Deem us worthy to find grace in Your sight, that our sacrifice may be well pleasing to You, and that the good Spirit of Your grace may rest upon us and upon these gifts presented and upon all Your people.
Note that the phrase “all Your people” does not say “all Christians.” It is intended to include everyone:
Again we offer You this spiritual worship for the whole world, for the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and for those living pure and reverent lives. For civil authorities and our armed forces, grant that they may govern in peace, Lord, so that in their tranquility we, too, may live calm and serene lives, in all piety and virtue. And remember those whom each one of us has in mind…Remember, Lord, this city in which we live, and every city and land, and the faithful who live in them. Remember, Lord, those who travel by land, sea, and air; the sick; the suffering; the captives; and their salvation. Remember those who bear fruit and do good works in Your holy churches and those who are mindful of the poor, and upon us all send forth Your mercies.
If one goes to the Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. Basil, this list is even longer and more specific.

In other words, the Divine Liturgy is not done just for the people in the pews. It is offered up for the entire world. From the perspective of spiritual warfare, Orthodox Christians (and, in particular, monastics) are front line fighters taking on the demons where they live and trying to make the world a better place through asking God to have mercy and forgive all those that we bring to mind — even those who hate us and hate God.

In context of D&D, especially when one considers such tropetastic, classic modules as B2: Keep on the Borderlands, this life style of going out to where demons reside (i.e. Chaotic monsters) and to do those things that the rest of Civilization isn’t willing to do to make Civilization a safer place is exactly what the D&D adventurer is actually doing.

The typical D&D character doesn’t quite fit into the social norms of civilized society, and may even be despised. Yet, because they are going out into the lairs of various monsters, they are keeping society safe despite themselves.

Thus, in this nascent campaign world, when charges are leveled against the Christianity/Church analogue those charges are going to be false. The Church is out to help society, to improve the lives of everyday people. They will be willing to risk their lives to do so. Thus, despite all of the risks, all of those Christians from all the various walks of life within the empire are going continue to strive in their own ways to make the world a better place.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Gosnell as Horror

Today, I am going to take a break from my series on the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus to write about one of the better American movies I have seen in a long time. Recently, I went to see Gosnell. The movie follows the detectives and prosecutors involved in the arrest and trial of one of America’s most prolific serial killers; however, let’s be upfront. Despite the protestations of several of its characters and the movie’s focus on the trial and its proceedings, Gosnell is a about abortion.

This is subtly made clear by the movie’s main character, detective James Wood. In the opening scenes he is shown three times telling people in his life, “As I see it, you have two choices…” We are never told what those two choices are; however, in context of the movie the two choices are meant to be: do you side with Gosnell or not? do you side with a legal system the enables Gosnell or not? do you side with the institutions that made Gosnell possible or not?

The purpose of this post, however, is not to go on some political screed about how awful abortion is (although, I will admit that seeing my eldest daughter dance inside the womb at 11 weeks in response to the laughter of my wife has had a major impact on my opinion on the matter). Rather, it is to meditate on how Gosnell is one of the best horror experiences I have ever had in the movie theater and how that repeated statement by detective James Wood is instrumental in making Gosnell into the masterful, if unconventional, horror movie that it is.

As I have stated in the past, I am not a huge horror movie fan. I find most of it to be excruciatingly boring. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the following reasons:
  1. I am rarely actually horrified by what I see on screen.
  2. The graphic violence shoved down my throat always pales in comparison to what my own imagination had been envisioning up until the point that the fake blood and guts started flowing.
Gosnell, on the other hand, not only succeeds in horrifying its audience, but it also trusts in the audience’s own imagination.

By framing the movie with the implied moral choice that results in Gosnell, the movie effectively implicates its audience in what is happening on screen. The audience, in part, is responsible for what happened inside Gosnell’s house of horrors. Thus, the movie effectively holds up a mirror to its audience and makes it squirm with horror at what it sees.

Gosnell also staunchly refuses to show virtually anything. Gosnell collected the feet of his victims in bottles of formaldehyde, but this is as graphic as anything shown on screen. When detective Wood finds these bottles while investigating the inside of Gosnell’s “clinic,” an abortion takes place — off screen. All we see is the blood on Gosnell’s surgical gloves. Left alone to our own imagination, the horror of what went on inside that building is amplified well beyond anything that special effects artists or CGI could ever accomplish.

This is how I run horror in my campaigns. I allow my players to have the freedom to make moral choices, to see the consequences of those choices and to leave most of the graphic stuff up to their own imaginations.

As I have said on more than one occasion, if you want to see a monster look in the mirror. Gosnell is an experience that makes you do exactly that.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 5 Part 2

In the 5th Chapter of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes attempts to describe a typical Christian:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly paradoxical method of life.
In other words, there is no real way to classify a Christian by normal, societal means. They defy the normal stratification of human society. To quote St. Paul:
Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth′ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. — Colossians 3:11

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28
For those interested in power, this is a very dangerous idea. Power is gained and maintained by pitting artificially created groups against each other.

In context of an FRPG, this suggests that Christians can be found in all walks of life, including those who walk in such circles as the imperial family. Thus, one of the first questions that I asked at the beginning of this series (Is Diognetus sympathetic to Christianity?) seems to be answered here in the affirmative.

Given the horror show I spun out of the phrase that Christians “do not cast away their fetuses,” Diognetus now appears as someone truly horrified by what he has witnessed walking through the upper echelons of society and wishes to find out more of Christianity to see if it is a more agreeable way of seeing and living in the world.

This also means that Christian NPCs can be sprinkled everywhere in the campaign, possible creating a very interesting espionage feel to the background noise of a campaign. Should PCs be Christian, they’d be constantly tested to see if they could be trusted and then secretly allowed in to various parts of society. If the PCs aren’t Christian, then they could possibly be constantly be spied upon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 5 Part 1

In the 5th Chapter of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes delineates how Christians are different in manner from other citizens of the Empire. In one of his more intriguing statements, he notes:
They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring.
The translation here is more poetic and practical than literal — “destroy their offspring” literally means “cast away fetuses.” I always find it fascinating how little human behavior changes over time. The ways in which modern Americans behave in a similar fashion to pagan Rome and the ways in which Christians criticize such behavior in both contexts never ceases to amaze me.

In context of an FRPG this little phrase opens the door to a horror element in the campaign world that suggests one of my favorite intelligent undead. In the MMI, ghouls are described as “undead” with quotes:
Ghouls are “undead,” once human creatures which feed on human and other corpses…their change from human to ghoul has deranged and destroyed their minds…
Ghasts are described:
These creatures are so like ghouls as to be completely indistinguishable from them…however…they exude a carrion stench in a 10’ radius which causes retching and nausea unless a saving throw versus poison is made.
In addition, while the stat block of ghouls indicate they have low intelligence, the ghast stat block indicates that they are very intelligent.

Imagine, for a moment, that the reason the Empire so blithely “casts away fetuses” is that not only are they considered delicacies by the aristocracy, but are an important rite of passage for the upper classes. Regular consumption of dead human flesh turns the aristocracy into “undead.” This process destroys the minds of the weak, thus culling from the aristocratic class members who cannot stoop to such debauchery.

This all suggests that the elders within aristocratic houses are all ghasts and regularly hold fetes where human fetuses are the center piece of the main course. Since ghasts exude a rancid stench of such potency as to require a saving throw, perfume would be in very high demand among the upper echelons of the imperial elite.

In fact, I could well imagine an entire adventure centered around the theft of a shipment of perfume to a ghast just ahead of having to make a public appearance…

This all implies the delicious irony that PCs who throw their lot in with one of the aristocratic houses will be working for a baby-consuming ghast. It would be very interesting to see player’s reactions when they realize the truth.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 4 Part 3

In yesterday’s post, I felt rather unsatisfied with my musings about the ways that solar cycles affect the magics of the pagan priests of the nascent campaign world that is emerging from my study of the Epistleof Mathetes to Diognetus. As a consequence, I did a bit of research about the religious cults of Rome prior to Christianity and found some very interesting tidbits.

The patron god of Rome was Mars, who was originally an agricultural deity. It wasn’t until Rome began to expand its territory by force that Mars morphed into a god of war. By the time of Christ, however, Mars had largely been supplanted by the Emperor Cult. This reinforces my instinct to use the anti-cleric as one of the pagan priest classes. Since war is a central theme within the Mars/Emperor Cult, it seems appropriate that their priests should be able to fight. The anti-cleric fits this profile nicely and also backs up the idea of an undead slave economy where priests of the Emperor Cult are called on to be the main controllers of the undead slave population.

One of the oldest cults imported by the Romans from other cultures was that of Cybele. Originally a goddess from Asia Minor, Cybele became popular during the Second Punic War when Rome narrowly defeated Carthage. While Cybele was an earth-mother goddess, she was also seen as a protector in times of war. Of interest to my current project, priests of the Cybelean Cult were eunuchs. Thus, my instinct for having low born magic-users be both male and castrated was more spot on than I thought.

This is further reinforced by the demographics of one of the most popular mystery cults in Rome, Mithraism. Cultists were exclusively male and almost universally low born. What really interests me about Mithraism, however, has to do with yesterday’s post.

In its art. the cult almost always depicted Mithras sacrificing a bull surrounded by various creatures. These were most often a dog, a scorpion and a serpent. All of these animals correspond to constellations. We don’t know a lot about the practices of the mystery cults, but there is some interesting scholarly work that hypothesizes that the emphasis on animals corresponding to constellations indicates that the cult paid attention to how the position of the sun related to each of these constellations through the course of the year.

In other words, the bonus spell available to pagan priests could be determined by which of the constellations is currently closest to the sun. I also plan to include a period of the year in which the sun is roughly equidistant from these constellations and, therefore, no bonus spells are available.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 4 Part 2

In the 4th Chapter of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes talks about the various observances of the Jews. Among them he lists the facts that they use a lunar calendar:
And as to their observing months and days, as if waiting upon the stars and the moon, and their distributing, according to their own tendencies, the appointments of God, and the vicissitudes of the seasons, some for festivities and others for mourning…
In Jewish practice (at the time of Mathetes and Diognetus), the day begins at sunset when three stars are visible in the sky.

As an aside, one of the most aesthetically pleasing games I have ever played is Dragon Pass, Avalon Hill’s reprint of Chaosium’s White Bear & Red Moon. I own a digital copy just for the sake of mining it for ideas. I have always far more enjoyed reading the background text and looking at units and maps than I ever did actually playing the game. One factor that always intrigued me was the idea that the Lunar Empire had troops whose Combat Factor was reliant on the phase of the Red Moon.

Since the religious observances of the Jews noted by Mathetes are reliant upon a lunar calendar, as opposed to the solar calendar used by the Empire, I am sore tempted to add some mechanics that suggest the arcane magic ebbs and flows according to various astrological bodies. I am further tempted to have these mechanics differ between the Vrayosi, whose magic is affected by the moon, and the arcane casters of the Empire, whose magic would be affected by the sun.

The mechanic I am most inclined to use is the concept of a bonus spell. In favorable times, the caster gets a bonus spell. If I am feeling ambitious, this spell may even be a specific spell associated with the time of the year/month. During unfavorable times, those bonus spells just aren’t there.

There are, however, other spell mechanics which might prove interesting, such as duration, range, damage, area, etc. One could go to the Metamagic Feats of 3e for ideas and inspiration.

I am also tempted to have all Vrayosi characters (dwarves, elves and halflings) be affected by the phases of the moon in one or more of the following areas:

  • Saving Throws
  • AC
  • To Hit Rolls
  • Damage Rolls
  • Surprise Rolls

At full moon they gain the equivalent of a +2. At new moon they are -2. During the 1d4+1 days prior and after that bonus/penalty is decreased by 1. I must admit that I would probably make players roll on a random table to see which effects take place.

At this point, I am thinking that the Empire version of arcane magic gets the bonus spell (at sunrise? noon? sunset?), the Vrayosi version of arcane magic gets a random metamagic feat and all Vrayosi get a bonus/penalty.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 4 Part 1

In Chapter 4 of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes continues to demonstrate practices of the Jews that differentiate them from Christians. One of the first that he mentions is their “boasting about circumcision.” At one point, Mathetes equates circumcision with the “lessening of the flesh.” This is important, because it gives me freedom to radically change the ritual practice of circumcision in a fantasy setting as long as it can be described as a “lessing of the flesh.”

At first blush, ritual scarring comes to mind. While this has a visceral quality to it, the minimalist in me is begging to take this idea in a completely different direction. I am already inclined to re-skin elves as Jews since they can use arcane magic in a way humans can’t (wearing armor) and are alien enough mechanically and physically to fill the role. The problem is that the whole arcane thing was meant to describe the priest-class, not the people as a whole. This is where my minimalism kicks in.

Let me first explain what I mean by minimalism: using the rules as is with as little mechanical fiddling as possible in order to emulate as many different campaign world concepts as possible. Since my default rule-set is B/X, this means finding roles within the campaign world that can be used to re-skin the extant classes of cleric, dwarf, elf, fighter, halfling, magic-user and thief. In this case, I believe I have a means if re-skinning all of the race-as-classes.

In the older editions of D&D, the three main demi-human races are all significantly shorter than humans. In B/X Dwarves average 4 feet, elves 5 to 5.5 feet and halflings only 3 feet. This can fit very nicely under the umbrella of “lessening of the flesh” especially if there were a religious ritual performed on an eight-day old child that would guarantee that it would grow up to be a dwarf, elf or halfling.

In Greek, the phrase “lessing of the flesh” can be roughly translated as μείωση της σάρκας which can be truncated to “meostarkas,” which will refer to the ritual which begins a baby’s journey to become a race-as-class.

Thus, I am not only re-skinning elves as Jews, but dwarves and halflings as well. Elves get to play the role of the priestly class. Dwarves get to be soldiers. Halflings get to be archers. All of the various racial abilities are no longer environmental evolutions, but rather gifts from God for His chosen people.

Since I am already skipping down the road of using Greek to find cool fantasy names for circumcision, I might as well do the same for naming the Jews as a whole and its three “tribes.”

  • Hebrew in Greek is Εβραίος. Transliterated Evrayos, this can be contracted to Vrayos; however, for reasons you will see below, I am going to go with Vrayosi.
  • Levite in Greek is λεβίτη. This can be transliterated as Leviti, but I am sore tempted to simply invert in ‘l’ and the ‘e’ to come up with Elviti, which conveniently sounds a lot like “elf.”
  • Soldier in Greek is στρατιώτης. Transliterated this is Stratiotis, which I will just contract to “Strati.”
  • Archer in Greek is τοξότης. This can be transliterated as “toxotis.” To rhyme it with “Vrayosi,” “Elviti,” and “Strati” this can be slightly contracted to Toxoti.

Thus, all demi-humans are called Vrayosi. Under this general term are three different tribes: the Elviti (elves), the Strati (Dwarves), and the Toxoti (Halflings).

Note: should a Vrayosi fail to go through the ritual of meostarkas, they will grow up to be human.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 3

In Chapter 3 of his Epistle to Diognetus, Mathetes makes the claim that the ritual practices of both Jews and the pagans are very similar:
…those who imagine that, by means of blood, and the smoke of sacrifices and burnt-offerings, they offer sacrifices [acceptable] to Him, and that by such honours they show Him respect, —these, by supposing that they can give anything to Him who stands in need of nothing, appear to me in no respect to differ from those who studiously confer the same honour on things destitute of sense, and which therefore are unable to enjoy such honours.
The only real difference that Mathetes sees is that the Jews recognize the true God and the pagans do not. In contrast, Mathetes claims that Christians do not share in these religious practices.
On the working hypothesis that elves are to stand in for the Jews in this campaign world, the similarity between pagan and Jewish rites suggests that both practice arcane magic (reinforcing the elf-as-Jew idea). It also bolsters the idea that the Christian/Church analog use a different kind of magic (divine).

Given the emphasis placed on sacrifice, this passage also suggests that material components ought to play a large role in the casting of arcane magic. In contrast, divine magic would have none, since Mathetes makes a big deal about how sacrificing things to the creator of all things makes no sense.

I must admit, however, that I have never been a big fan of material components save for the odd adventure where a specifically rare component is needed in order to accomplish a major goal in a campaign. While there are opportunities to add flavor to spell casting, it always felt more fiddly than it was worth.

Given that sacrifice in both pagan and Jewish rituals were fairly straight forward, most of the time (Christians got into trouble for not burning incense), I figure that the material components need not be all that complicated unless players want it to be. Thus, I would probably simply offer a generic pouch of spell components for a flat fee that would allow for, say, 50 spell levels worth of components. Given that magic-users don’t have a lot of stuff to spend money on at 1st level, I am thinking of setting the going rate at 1 or 2 gp per spell level. Thus, the paperwork involved in keeping track of material components is kept to a minimum and yet arcane magic gets to have that extra flavor and effort that further differentiates it from divine magic.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 2 Part 2

From an FRPG world-building perspective (especially D&D), this little tidbit from Chapter 2 of the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is pure gold:
Do ye not much more mock and insult them, when ye worship those that are made of stone and earthenware, without appointing any persons to guard them; but those made of silver and gold ye shut up by night, and appoint watchers to look after them by day, lest they be stolen?
…and there it is. Yep, it is an excuse to include dungeon-delving in the campaign setting and to use that lovely old trope of the temple, no less. Implicit in Mathetes’ accusation when placed in a world of magic and monsters is a culture that expects expeditions into temples to steal gold, treasure and even a golem or two.

I envision something akin to the shenanigans that rival colleges pull on each other during the week leading up to a football game. Fields get vandalized with the opponent's logo and mascots get stolen. In this campaign, however, it gets ramped up to a political/religious level. Imagine, for a moment, a political arena where aristocratic families vie for power and prestige through their patronage of a particular temple. The mob would be directed and influenced by a family’s ability to keep a temple flush with cash and equipped with expensive and impressive idols.

Enter the adventuring party. With the need of plausible deniability, families would farm out the job of sabotaging their rival’s temples to adventuring groups. Indeed, the family wouldn’t even really need to see a cut of the treasure, save for possibly a stolen idol or a golem.

Thus, the campaign has a built-in beginning adventure, built-in patron scheme, and a whole lot of political background noise to give players plenty of opportunity to get into all kinds of trouble.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 2 Part 1

Mathetes begins the second chapter of his Epistle to Diognetus challenging the pagan about “the substance and the form of those whom ye declare and deem to be gods”:
Is not one of them a stone similar to that on which we tread? Is not a second brass, in no way superior to those vessels which are constructed for our ordinary use? Is not a third wood, and that already rotten? Is not a fourth silver, which needs a man to watch it, lest it be stolen? Is not a fifth iron, consumed by rust? Is not a sixth earthenware, in no degree more valuable than that which is formed for the humblest purposes? Are not all these of corruptible matter? Are they not fabricated by means of iron and fire? Did not the sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth? Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the arts of these [workmen] into the shape of these [gods], each in its own way subject to change?
The most salient theological point is this last charge: if something is subject to change it has a beginning and an end. Should we place our hopes in things that end, we will literally be hoping in death and nothing. Christians believe that they are literally partaking of the God who has no beginning (and thus no end) for the purposes of receiving and sharing in God’s eternity. This is why early apologists harp on this point. Idol worship ultimately worships decay, disease and death since the are all indicators of change which is a fundamental characteristic of the nature of an idol.

These accusations take on an even harsher tone when placed into an FRPG where such things as golems exist. In other words, the fabricators of these idols would be magic-users capable of making facsimiles of gods who then can move and even speak under the command of those who either made or commissioned them.

This paints a picture of a power structure within the empire where the paganism isn’t a faith, but rather a ruse used by those in power to keep the masses in check through awe and fear. It also indicates that not only does Mathetes know of these machinations, but that those within the circles of power are also aware. Thus, the Christian/Church analogue is even more of an existential threat to the power structure of the empire.

To pick up on yesterday's post, it seems that the easiest solution to a pagan priestly class is that of magic-user, where arcane magic is a closely guarded secret of the upper classes. The Wizard’s Guild could be akin to the eunuchs of the Forbidden City in imperial China. In order for the hoi polloi to access to the secrets and powers of arcane magic, one must renounce family and the ability to reproduce. Outside of possibly the upper echelons of the aristocracy, this would mean female magic-users would be virtually nonexistent (and why female clerics may be far more prevalent within the Christianity/Church analogue than one might normally expect).

The other implication here is that stone, brass, wood, iron, clay, silver and gold (which is mentioned later in the chapter) golems not only exist, but are commonplace in temples. This would necessitate the creation of new golem types (like silver and gold) and classes of golems that would be vulnerable to certain types of attacks or magic (so that they could be reasonably dealt with by lower-level adventurers without doling out magic weapons). One possibility is to classify lesser golems as subject to a Cleric’s Turn Undead ability under the assumption that necromancy and dead body parts play a larger role in the cheaper/lower quality types of golems.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus: Chapter 1 Part 2

In his opening statement to Diognetus, Mathetes acknowledges “the most excellent Diognetus” and that he is “exceedingly desirous” to learn:
what form of religion [Christians] observe so as all to look down upon the world itself and despise death
In context of an FRPG (especially D&D), this is a very juicy quote.

From a Christian POV, death deserves to be despised because Christ overcame death by death on the Cross:
O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? —1 Cor 15:55
In a world where death can be overcome through undeath via arcane means, the despising of death comes with it a whole new set of possibilities.

Imagine, for a moment, that the slave economy found in an ancient Rome were powered, not by human labor, but by undead labor. Then imagine there arose a religion whose practitioners not only could Turn and Destroy Undead but saw undeath as heinous. Imagine that they insist that the body is an integral part of the human person and that every human person is valuable, unique and unrepeatable. This would lead to an explosive situation where the Roman Empire analogue is going to see the Christianity/Church analogue as an existential threat.

This implies that the Turn Undead mechanic is exclusive to Christian clerics. This would necessitate re-skinning other classes to be pagan and Jewish priests or the creation of two whole new classes to fill these roles.

Some initial thoughts:
  • The 5E Warlock would do nicely as a pagan priest-class.
  • One could replace the Turn Undead mechanic with a “Lay on Hands” type of ability that would siphon hp from the pagan priest to their target. This could also be used offensively to siphon hp from victims to heal the priest. This would fit with the suggested necromantic/undead theme. I would also fiddle with spell lists.
  • One could also just require that pagan priests be anti-clerics and that Turn Undead is actually Control Undead and that they have to cast all the reverse spells within the Cleric spell list.
  • Pathfinder has introduced the idea of a Sorcerer who casts divine spells. In 1E this is the Oracle and in 2E the sorcerer’s bloodline can grant access to the divine spell list. This would be an interesting way to emulate the Jewish priest class. In B/X, by trading out the use of armor and weapons and limiting the number of spells known, a divine sorcerer could have access to spells at 1st level and be more of a spell-oriented class.
  • Since I am unlikely to find any references to suggest the existence of demi-humans, it might be interesting to re-skin elves as Jews.
Finally, if necromancy is so prevalent within the Empire, would the reason that citizens worship the Emperor as a God-King is the fact that the Emperor has actually embraced undeath as a lich as has been ruling for many generations? How common would undeath be among aristocratic families?

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus: Chapter 1 Part 1

In the 1st Chapter of the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, our author seeks to distinguish Christianity from both Paganism and Judaism. From a world-building perspective this means that we have three main religions within the Empire:

  • Paganism, which is the state-sponsored religion.
  • Judaism, which is tolerated by the Empire.
  • Christianity, which is seen as a threat by both the pagans and the Jews

Historically, Rome saw their Emperors as gods and it was a civic duty to offer sacrifices (usually incense) at the idols of the emperor. This is what got so many Christians in trouble — they were accused of being traitors to the empire.

As a side-note, if one reads the hagiographies of the Great Martyrs from the first three centuries of Christianity, the most common means of death was beheading. This is significant because death by decapitation was the death of a citizen — because it was seen as swift and merciful. Thus, when a Roman official had a martyr beheaded, there was an implicit admission that the Christians were falsely accused of being traitors — they were citizens.

Judaism was tolerated by Rome because the Jews had no real political aspirations that were seen as a threat. Indeed, Jews sought to separate themselves from the general population and were happy to live out their lives with as little interference in the workings of the Empire as possible. Of note, the word “holy” literally means to set apart. So, the Jews understood their non-participation in the culture around them as an integral part of living a religious and holy life.

Christianity was a threat to the pagans not only because they refused to burn incense at the idols of the emperor, but because one of the titles of Christ is King. Thus, unlike the Jews, Christians were perceived to have political aspirations that were in direct conflict with the empire at large.

Christianity was a threat to the Jews for both political and religious reasons. Politically, the manner in which the Christians interpreted Scripture (which largely meant the O.T. during this period) threatened the power structures of Jewish society. Gone were the ritual laws that kept the priestly and political class flush with money and power. From a religious perspective, the Christians were actively seeking converts among the Gentiles. This flew in the face of the entire concept of what they understood to be holy. Additionally, should the empire ever have conflated Christianity with Judaism, the tolerance enjoyed by the Jews from the Empire could have rapidly eroded.

This opens up three distinct approaches to framing a campaign:

  • The characters are primarily pagan. One of the main background noises would be the rise of the Christianity/Church analogue. As players investigate the rumors, they come to find that the rumors are almost entirely false. I could easily foresee a moment when the party looks at themselves and asks, “Are we the baddies?”
  • The characters are primarily Jewish. This would largely involve discovering and dealing with threats to the protected status that Jews have within the empire. I could see this being a mission oriented campaign largely filled with information gathering and even some spy work.
  • The characters are primarily Christian. This campaign would turn my usual archetypal campaign structure on its ear. I normally run (Christian) Civilization vs. (Demonic) Wilderness that fits nicely into the Law vs. Chaos alignment structure of B/X. In this case it would be (Christian) Wilderness vs. (Demonic) Civilization. This could potentially see an urban environment-as-megadungeon structure with the dungeon areas (catacombs) being the safe havens.

It should be noted that while Christian characters could fit reasonable well within all three campaigns, that can’t really be said about pagan or Jewish characters.

As a final note, as I write this, I am finding the need to come up with names for the various fantasy analogs that are making up this campaign. I don’t want to do that willy, nilly, however. I would prefer to use the text of the Epistle to inspire. I’ll wait and see what the text prompts me to do.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Mathetes to Diognetus: Introduction

Before I actually dive into the actual text of The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, there is a lot of juicy information for world-building from the Introduction, which gives some historical background and context. Of interest to me is that we do not know who actually wrote this letter. The author is called “Mathetes” because he describes himself as a Disciple, which in Greek is Mathetes. For the purposes of world-building, this gives me a lot of freedom to assume the personage of the writer and to build whatever background I want for the needs of the campaign world.

Of note, though, scholars have floated the following figures as possible authors (though most have been rejected):

  • Justin Martyr: a 2nd Century Christian apologist, philosopher and teacher from Rome.
  • Clement of Rome: Bishop of Rome from A.D. 88-99 and author of several Epistles that were considered for inclusion in the N.T. but were rejected because he was too far removed from the Apostles.
  • Apollos: a Jewish Christian and co-worker of Paul mentioned several times in the N.T. who was important to the development of the churches in Ephesus and Corinth.

The most important piece of information that can be gleaned from the introduction (from a world-building perspective), however, is the hypothesis on who Diognetus is. While there seems to be some disagreement among scholars as to who the recipient of the letter is, both the original editor and the editor of the updated version (“N.B.”) seem convinced that Diognetus refers to a tutor of Marcus Aurelius, who was Emperor of Rome from A.D. 161-180. This places the letter in the first part of the 2nd Century because Diognetus was tutor of the future emperor until about A.D. 132-133. Diognetus was a master painter and encouraged Aurelius to pursue philosophy.

This tasty tidbit tells us several things about this nascent campaign-world:

  • There is an Empire.
  • The Empire is pagan.
  • Philosophy and art are important to the upper echelons of society.
  • The Christian/Church analogue is large and influential enough to garner the attention of the inner circle of the imperial family.

It also leaves me with several questions I will need to be answering as this project goes along:

  • Is the time-frame of the campaign to take place before or after the departure of Diognetus as tutor?
  • If before, is Diognetus (and therefore other members of the imperial household?) sympathetic in their interest in the Church or is there a more sinister motivation?
  • If after, is Diognetus still alive and, if so, is the reason he left the imperial household because he embraced the Church? If dead, was his interest found out and the reason for his execution?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Something Different

In the Orthodox Church, Advent begins on November 15th. While not as rigorous as Great Lent, it is still a time of fasting and prayer. (I highly recommend this approach, by the way, it radically reduces Christmas burnout and fatigue and I have found that over the years, Christmas has become one of my favorite holidays).Thus, during this period of the year, I do my best to live life a little more ascetically and spiritually. One way that I do that is to find a Church Father I have yet to read and take a deep dive.

This being the first Saturday of Advent, it occurred to me that I have not blogged in almost six months. Part of this was due to some personal health issues and the fact that I haven’t really been all that interested in or inspired to think about gaming. When I cracked open Volume 1 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, however, I had a rather interesting thought: What if I used one of the letters found within that volume as source material for an FRPG world-build?

So, for the rest of Advent, I will endeavor to extrapolate an entire campaign idea from a letter written some 1700-1800 years ago. For those interested in the actual source material I will be using, you can find it online here:

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus