Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saintly Saturday: St. Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles of Kiev

Today is the Feast of St. Vladimir of Kiev who is given the moniker Equal-to-the-Apostles, which is given to those saints that aren’t normally seen as apostles (such as monarchs and women), but whose life declared the Gospel of Christ in such a way that led many to baptism. In the case of St. Vladimir, the Rus followed their monarch to Christianity.

Born Volodimir and a pagan, St. Vladimir was not unfamiliar with Christianity as the grandson of St. Olga. Nevertheless, there are many histories of how brutal Volodimir was. For nine years he reigned in Kiev before he got involved in a civil war within the Byzantine Empire. He came out of that experience as a baptized Christian, with a marriage to the Emperor’s Daughter Anna and with the title Tsar (meaning Caesar).

Nonetheless, he diligently spread the Christian faith and ordered idols (which he had made of the pagan gods he once worshipped) scourged, dragged through the city and thrown into the Dnieper River. The history of the Russian people as Orthodox Christians in many ways begins with St. Vladimir. He died from illness in A.D. 1015.

One of the primary gods that Volodimir famously made an idol of silver and gold for (one which he shortly thereafter destroyed) depicted what could crudely be described as the Slavic version of Thor — Perun. As the highest god in the Slavic pantheon, Perun was understood to be the god of thunder and lightening. Unlike Thor, however, he did not have a slavic version of Mjolnir. Rather, he had a bow with which he shot “thunderbolt stones” which could be found buried in the earth. Weapons and devices made of these thunderbolt stones were believed to provide protection from various calamities such as bad luck, evil magic, disease and (of course) lightening.

Accepting the premise that Perun was, in fact, just an idol made by human beings to explain natural phenomena, these “thunderbolt stones” must have a different origin. Indeed, according to modern science, they are fulgurites and belemnites. In context of a FRPG, this opens up the door to some good old fashioned science fiction/fantasy mash-up world-building. In ancient times, for example, there could have been a massive war between aliens and what are popularly known as “the ancients.” Artifacts from this era litter the land. One could even tie in the existence of magic to this event: thunderbolt stones are the source of all arcane magic in the world.

This, of course, leads to the possibility of introducing things like “Thunderbolt Guns” into the game. As I have mused in the past, D&D doesn’t do firearms very well. This is because its combat premise (better armor makes you harder “to hit”) does not reflect what happened historically once firearms are introduced. The logic of D&D would assume that plate mail would still be a viable option for soldiers on the battlefield because they wouldn’t get hit as often with bullets as someone who was simply wearing combat fatigues.

I have yet to see any house rule that allows for guns that completely satisfies me. I did play test the Leather = DR1, Chain = DR2 and Plate = DR3 where guns get to ignore the DR. It just didn’t flow like I hoped it would. The implied tactical choice wasn’t as interesting as I hoped and in the end the extra mechanic just slowed things down enough that I am not really interested in playing with that house rule any more.

Thus, I am still interested to see if there is a simple system that can help introduce guns into D&D that can easily emulate the tactical realities of the 18th century when armor had mostly disappeared from the battlefield because firearms happened.

The idea of Thunderbolt Stones being the source of arcane magic in a FRPG world, the old musings of Aos at The Metal Earth as well as my recent delving into the world of Swords & Wizardry Light got me thinking on a completely different tangent: why not treat firearms like fireballs?

Armor in all its forms is ineffectual against guns. Thus, on average, someone using a gun only needs to hit an AC 9 to hit your average guy clad in plate mail; however, just like when that same plate mail-clad guy gets hit with a fireball or dragon’s breath or a charm person spell, he gets a saving throw. Depending upon the type, range and caliber of the weapon this save could be for half-damage or no damage at all. For example, due to the inaccuracy of muzzle-loaded firearms, anything beyond point blank range might be a save for no damage, but anything close-up would at least do half.

I think this ticks all the boxes for me: it doesn’t radically mess with the D&D combat system, it uses extant mechanics everyone is familiar with, it doesn’t over power guns and yet emulates why on a field full of guns no one bothers to wear any armor.


  1. That's bloody genius. I think you just fixed the "guns in fantasy" problem.

  2. Fr. Dave,

    I would like to send you a message privately. If this is okay with you, please contact me at belthilglingal {at} gmail {dot} com. Thanks.