Archive for June, 2017

The Great and Terrible Wilderness

Thy heart be lifted up, and thou remember not the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage: And was thy leader in the great and terrible wilderness, wherein there was the serpent burning with his breath, and the scorpion and the dipsas, and no waters at all: who brought forth streams out of the hardest rock, And fed thee in the wilderness with manna which thy fathers knew not. And after he had afflicted and proved thee, at the last he had mercy on thee, Lest thou shouldst say in thy heart: My own might, and the strength of my own hand have achieved all these things for me. (Deuteronomy 8:14-16)

Fire Serpent
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 4
Attacks: Bite
Special: Breath weapon, immune to fire, poison
Move: 12
Save: 15
HDE/XP: 6/400

Fire serpents, magical beasts that hunt during the heat of the day in certain deserts, appear much like normal snakes except for their brilliant scarlet coloration and the heat shimmer that surrounds them. An adult fire serpent may reach lengths between 12 and 16 feet. A fire serpent is uncomfortably hot to the touch, but not hot enough to cause immediate damage. When startled or threatened, this creature curls into striking position and exhales a gout of flame in a line 5 feet wide and 30 feet long. The blazing heat of this breath weapon inflcits 4d6 points of damage (a successful saving throw indicates half damage). A fire serpent’s bite packs a deadly poison. Those that succumb to this toxin burn from the inside.

Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 2
Attacks: Bite (1d6-1)
Special: Induce thirst, surprise foes
Move: 9/6 (burrowing)
Save: 17
HDE/XP: 3/60

Another rarer sort of magical snake found in certain deserts is the dipsas, also known as the thirst snake. These snakes lurk near oases, waiting buried in the sand or within the spaces between rocks. A dispas surprises its prey 4 in 6 times. Its bite forces a saving throw to avoid magically induced thirst. This thirst is so powerful that the victim will ignore even attacks for 1d6 rounds in order to slake the maddening hunger for water. Dipsas prefer to attack prey gripped by overwhelming thirst.

June 19th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

Poetry Is Like a Fist

From December 2012 and posted elsewhere:

Years ago, when my children were somewhere roundabout the 1st and 2nd grades instead of the earlier years of high school, I taught 5th through 8th grade English and reading at Resurrection Catholic School out in east Houston. On the weekends during much of the year, the school’s classrooms were used by the church for the religious education of parish children. Supervision of these children on the weekend often appeared a bit lax judging by the mess left in my classroom for me to clean up many Monday mornings.

During one of these Monday morning clean-ups, I found a spiral notebook in one of the desks. Figuring it might belong to one of my 80-or-so students, I opened it up for identifying information. The name inside was a girl’s but not any of the girls enrolled at Resurrection. She was a high school religious education student. The first page in the notebook had a poem written on it. Since I’m nosy, I read the poem, and then turned the page.

More poetry, and more reading, and then on the fourth or fifth page were these words, which I still remember to this day:

“When I close my arms, I feel you not hugging me.”

I can think of no expression of loss more succinct and yet more packed with meaning than these eleven words.

Recently, I shared these words with my students as an example of what good writing can accomplish. There’s an entire story packed into that one sentence. Who is gone? Why are they gone? How long have they been gone? Was the loss the result of a death, a break-up, a divorce? Do these words not reflect the experience of anyone who has ever lost someone they’ve loved?

Not too long ago, one of the people I follow on Google+ was complaining about his daughter’s poetry homework. I understood some of his frustration since he was having to read Maya Angelou, who I am convinced is overrated as a poet. He expressed his opinion that poetry is horrible, and on this point I disagree.

Horrible poetry is horrible. Great poetry — such as what I found on that one page of that misplaced spiral notebook — is something else entirely. Great poetry opens another person’s heart and soul to the reader, and invites the reader to share in the poet’s experiences. Great poetry even demands that the reader do so. As Calvin Hernton explained, poetry can be like a fist beating against my ear.

June 14th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

The Phoenix Chasuble of Acqui Terme

Shown in the pictures above are the front and back of a beautiful chasuble made by Geneviève Gomi of Maris Stella Vestments. I read about these remarkable garments on New Liturgical Movement’s site, specifically this post right here.

A chasuble is a liturgical vestment worn over other vestments. It is something like a poncho. It’s an oval-shaped (or nearly so) piece of cloth with a round hole for the priest’s head to pass through. It tends to fall below the knees all around. It originated as a adaptation of common garb worn all over the Roman Empire in the first few centuries of Christianity. Originally, the priest at the altar would have been dressed very much the lay people in attendance at the Mass. In some way, the idea of reserving a special outer garment arose, possibly for no more reason than it was easier to keep one clean if it wasn’t worn every day like normal clothing. As you can see from the pictures, chasubles today are no longer common articles of clothing, but can be works of art embroidered with ornate designs and images symbolic of religious doctrines, such as the use of the phoenix as a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My aims here, however, are significantly more modest. I’m just using a wonderful picture as inspiration for fantasy gaming.

The Phoenix Chasuble: This remarkable relic was created for the first bishop of Acqui Terme, who wore it on certain sacred days, including the day in which the bishop faced down an army of marauders at the city gates. The bishop’s words and courage so impressed the war-like chiefs of that horde that they ordered that Acqui Terme remain unharmed. For more than the past two centuries, the Phoenix Chasuble has remained in the cathedral vestry, handed down from one bishop to the next. The full powers of the Phoenix Chasuble are perhaps unknown. The wearer gains complete immunity to fire, even magical flame. He also enjoys a +4 bonus to saving throws against magic. Once per day each, the wearer can use the following magical abilities: Continual Light, Detect Invisibility, Dispel Evil, Fireball, Fly, Protection from Evil 10-Foot Radius, and Wall of Fire. The wearer can communicate with any type of fire elemental while wearing the Phoenix Chasuble. Once per week upon command, the Phoenix Chasuble causes its wearer to burst in flames. The wearer’s melee attacks inflict an additional 1d6 points of fire damage. Any creature striking the wearer in melee combat likewise suffers 1d6 points of fire damage. Usable By: Lawful Clerics only.

June 8th, 2017  in RPG No Comments »

On Mercy & Charity

From way back in November of 2012:

This month, our focus virtue has been charity. An important precondition of charity is mercy.

Nowadays, in our do-whatever-you-please postmodern world, it seems as if many people have done mercy’s reputation some damage. Too often, mercy is mistaken for either weakness or for letting those who do wrong get away unpunished. Neither of these views is accurate. Mercy is not weakness or coddling, but instead it is the use of strength rightly ordered toward the genuine good of another.

Ancient Christian tradition speaks about works of mercy, dividing these into two categories, the corporal and the spiritual. Among the former are acts such as feeding the hungry; the latter includes my vocation, instructing the ignorant. Notice the first, feeding the hungry, is a common goal of charitable organizations today. Television commercials display wide-eyed, impoverished children while the voice-over asks us for a few dollars a day. We are assured that our charitable contributions will be used to help those children be fed, clothed, housed, et cetera. The organization intends to provoke mercy which in turn compels me to give my money to the cause.

My ability to give that money, to communicate what I’ve learned to others, or to mow a lawn for someone not fit enough to do it himself are all forms of strength. Money, knowledge, and physical health can be powerful, and all three can be used for selfish ends. I could tell my daughter Adrienne that we don’t have the money for violin lessons, and then spend that money on things I want. I can use my knowledge to manipulate others, and once upon a time I was strong enough and fast enough to use my body to intimidate, steal, or harm. Any of these activities would be a use of a strength, but in a disordered manner.

To avoid these and other abuses of my various strengths, I must ensure that my actions are rightly ordered. Mercy assists me in doing this. I recognize the weaknesses of others, such as Adrienne’s lack of an income, and I apply my strength to give the other person what they truly need. Much of the time, this means I do things that are beneficial to the other, such as paying for those violin lessons. Other times, however, mercy demands that I act in ways that may appear punitive. A student who refuses to complete his lessons rejects both my mercy and his own genuine good. If I am to be a responsible teacher, mercy and charity both demand that I devise ways to encourage the student to embrace what is truly in his best interest. Those ways may involve the temporary removal of some privilege, such as recess time, or enlisting the assistance of parental pressure. The student may not perceive these sorts of actions as merciful and charitable, but a failure of perception does not alter reality.

Merciful action is often difficult. It requires time, effort, and self-control to surrender the advantages of my strengths in order to meet the needs of others. The opposites of mercy, cruelty and neglect, do not make these sorts of demands. They are instead the easy way out, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why the world is the way it is.

At the same time, reflection on the nature of mercy and the resulting demands of charity that flow from mercy point the way to a better world. Not that any amount of mercy or charity on my part will make the world perfect or make life fair. As I’ve told my students more than once, life isn’t fair, and it’s never going to be fair, but that’s no excuse for us to not do what we can.

As Calvin Coolidge observed, “We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

June 2nd, 2017  in RPG No Comments »