Wednesday, April 15, 2015

N is for Nuns

Note: This is strictly campaign-background info, no mechanics this post.

If it has not become clear, I like mucking around with religions in my games. I also like mucking about with laws and politics. I also like messing with people's images of canonical elements of published campaigns.  I also play with a group that includes lawyers and seminary students, who, unsurprisingly like all of the same things. This post is about killing all three birds with one stone.


Tyr has long been a cornerstone of the Forgotten Realms pantheon, despite being a interloper from the Norse pantheon. Tyr holds the portfolio of Justice, and nothing else, which is unusual for a greater power. He is even more constrained in that he is typically depicted as a god of criminal justice, worshiped by those that enforce the laws of men, with an underlying code that cleaves pretty close to 'an eye for an eye' (appropriate for a deity with the moniker "The Maimed God"). While this version of Tyr justifies the existence of bad-ass, violent paladins, it is otherwise pretty limiting, both for a greater deity, and also his worshippers.

My ongoing Forgotten Realms, play-by-email game is set in a location where, according to cannon, Tyr's is the main religion on the block. With the expectation that Tyr's religion would play a central role in the campaign (and indeed, the PC party includes 3 priests of Tyr and has sheltered in his temple on multiple occasions), I felt I needed to broaden his scope, appeal, and interest. The first step was simple, that being to make him a god of Law (as a broader concept), rather than just Justice. The rest hinges on a single phrase, "Tyr is the Law, and the Law is Tyr." So, here is a discussion of what Tyr looks like in my campaigns, as seen through the lens of actual play.


Obviously there are plenty of appellations you could apply to priests of a god of law, but when his name is Tyr, nothing is more appropriate than Tyrants (though they of course would object to that). Our first interactions with Tyr's faithful come when a party that includes a priest of the god of thieves finds a Tyrran monk beaten unconscious in the worst part of town and decide to help him.
“What should we do about this fellow?” He gestures to the unconscious monk. “I’m not a big fan of Tyrants, but having a few grateful contacts in the law is always helpful…”
-- Gendry, Minotaur Priest of Mask
“A Tyrran huh? You’re better off just turning around and putting him right back where you found him.”
-- A random guard in Phlan's slums
“Um, thanks. Sorry for the screaming. I am in your debt, Master Gendry. I hope you weren’t too harsh in your reprisal against the orcs. They were infected with ontontis, orcish leprosy. I volunteer at the soup kitchen by the market and they recognized me. They asked me to cure them and became rather emotional when I explained that removing a disease such as theirs was beyond my abili…” He falls into a coughing fit and clutches at his side harder. “I recant my previous statement. If you killed them, justice was served, and they are likely glad to be free of their suffering.”
-- Brother Rant Harmell of Tyr
Needless to say, priests of Law are not popular in those areas where the law is poorly (or non-) enforced, nor by those who make their lives as habitual lawbreakers. The first interactions with the monk gives a fairly traditional view of the Lawful Good champion: working in soup kitchens, trying to cure the sick, and wanting mercy for those that harmed him. Things get more complicated when the two opposed priests start really talking to each other.
“Well, Brother Rant, I’ve heard much from you Tyrrans about honesty and repaying debts over the years, so I trust one of your order to fulfill a life-debt. I am Gendry FitzTeldar, son of Teldar the Pirate King, and under the watchful eye of the Lord of Intrigue, I expect to be repaid.”
“I’ve heard tell that a Maskaran can turn even the best of intentions to their advantage. I guess this is my second lesson for today. I would rather die than aid a criminal, but I am alive…thanks to a pirate. I will repay my debt, Mr. Gendry, but I will not violate my oath to do so. A life is worth a life, so I must protect yours, but I cannot vouchsafe your continued freedom.”
“I’m sure you aid criminals every day at that soup kitchen of yours, Brother Rant. The poor and destitute always turn to the Shadowlord. While you might offer a meal, we offer them a way to better their situation in life. By the Shadowlord’s grace, even the lowliest guttersnipe can live like a king.” Gendry snorts. “You don’t need to turn me in for anything, Brother. For now, at least, I am here to help this city of yours. A surprisingly enlightened city, I must say. The Council of Phlan has not only overlooked my appearance, but has given me amnesty for all of my past misdeeds. So, I have no intention of ‘corrupting’ you or making you break any of your vows, but my friends and I do need all the help we can get…and you should consider yourself drafted.”
"You are not at all what I would have expected, Mr. Gendry. You are correct, there is more to Tyr’s justice than just upholding the law, and for now justice demands that I repay my debt to you and your friends. As soon as I am able, if you wish it, I will accompany you on your adventures, or provide whatever other aid is appropriate.”
Then, of course, Gendry died, and we get to learn what the Religion skill is good for:
Brother Rant sits up and looks at Lyra. “I’m sorry, miss. There is nothing we can do. His spirit has passed on to be with his god. The Bishop might be able to call him back, but is unlikely to do so for a Maskarran, even if I intervened, assuming that his lord would release his spirit into the charge of our order, which is highly unlikely.” He looks back at the corpse and grimaces. “He would probably want to be interred in the manner of his faith, which, morbid as this may sound, means that you should loot his body of all his possessions, making sure to take every last scrap, and then bury him in a shallow, unmarked grave…”
“When you say loot everything, you mean … everything everything?”
“Ummm, yes. Maskarran morticians are more properly known as rag-pickers. The more devout ones will even shave the deceased hair to be sold as wigs and pluck out their teeth to be sold for…I don’t want to speculate what. I think that, as long as you get everything that you believe would be of value, then that will be sufficient. If it will make you feel less like a grave-robber, you might try to think of it as collecting mementos to remember him by.”

Summary Justice

Sometime the Judge, Jury, and Executioner part does come into play.

Hrud marches the orc out of the building and back to the wagon. Upon seeing Rant, he says, "A group of orcs were caught raping a girl." Laying the green broadsword on the wagon by Rant. "And they had these swords. I have to help them carry stuff." Hrud says, grabbing his captive’s wrist and pressing the orc’s hand to one of the posts on the wagon. The barbarian then grabs one of his arrows and slams it into the orc’s hand, pinning him firmly to the wagon. "Stay here."
Brother Rant looks up from where he has just finished popping the girl’s hip-joint back into place. Hearing Hrud’s account and seeing the sword, he glares daggers at the orc, asks Teldicia to watch the girl, and climbs out of the wagon. "The sword is the mark of Xvim and the Church of Darkness. I did not think Mace and his crew would act so openly." He pulls the mace off of his back, then speaks loudly, drawing the attention of the passers-by.
“Orc. You have been accused of the crime of rape, both forceful and statutory, and battery against this girl, and serving the dark will of Xvim, the Son of Cruelty. By the testimony of these witnesses and the evidence seen here, you are found guilt in the eyes of the Council, of Tyr, and of the Law. As Tyr’s judge, I sentence you to immediate death. As Tyr and the Law are one, let it be so.”
He grips his mace in both hands and brings it down full-force right onto the orc’s head with a sickening crunch. “Let all who bear witness know that Tyr’s law has been done.” He breaks the arrow off, allowing the orc’s body to fall to the street.
And sometimes a bit of misogyny...
Brother Rant climbs up in the wagon with the girls. “There is no telling what sort of emotional scarring she might have from an event like this. I don’t know of any proper Psychologues in the city, but we can at least get her someplace safe and find who she belongs to.”
Lyra was practically scowling. “Belongs to?
Brother Rant looks at Lyra confusedly, “Yes, Miss Lyra, while there are a lot of lost souls in this town, most people still have someone willing to take responsibility for them—a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or even fellow adventurers. She seems a bit young to fall in that last category, but then, so do you I guess.” He smiles, “Even if she has no family, she might belong to a group like your own. We are social creatures. Everyone belongs to someone, that is just the order of things.”
Her expression softens. “Shouldn’t it be ‘belongs with’ rather than ‘belongs to’?”

Hard-Drinking Nuns

Our next significant encounter with Tyr's priesthood occurs when Lyra and Rant visit the temple, and here is starts to get more interesting.
Rant gestures to a passage on the left, “the women’s wing is down this hall. I am not allowed beyond the arch, but if you take a left at the end of the hall and go down the stairs, you will find the dormitories, where the two of you should be able to rest safely."
You come down the stairs into a long, low-ceilinged, windowless room. The walls are lined with rows of single-beds with thick, soft-looking mattresses, satin sheets, and beautifully quilted, white, down comforters, twenty to a side. Running down the center of the room are two long trestle-tables of polished, white oak. The room is lit by a trio of large candelabras sitting on the tables. Three white-robed women sit at one of the tables, throwing dice, picking at a large tray of meat and cheeses, and swearing fit to make a sailor’s ears turn red. Each has a small pile of silver coins and a goblet of dark red wine sitting in front of them.
Lyra takes in the comfortable looking beds, the dice, the swearing Sisters, and the giant plate of food. This was going to be a much less boring wait than she had anticipated. 
In contrast to the traditional, clean-nosed, Justice-focused Brother Rant, the nuns at the temple of Tyr represent the letter of the Law. And, in Phlan at least, there are no laws against comfortable beds, drinking, gambling, or swearing. Thus the nuns are very much not what Lyra would have expected. Then, of course, there is Sister Winona, who knows more about Rant than he let on.
One of the ladies at the table, seeing Amara fall asleep, sets down her cup and walks over to Lyra. . . “Oh, and it’s no shame if you like Rant. He was quite the dashing fellow when he was younger…international spy and all that.” She pats Lyra not-so-reassuringly on the knee. “And never you mind about religious vows or any nonsense like that. It would be unjust to deny someone the opportunity to love.” She winks. “People get all sorts of crazy ideas about Lord Tyr, and I don’t know where from…”
"Sister Winona"
"What was that about Brother Rant being an international spy?”
“Rant? Oh, dearie, he’s one of Those who Harp. You know, a meddler, as most of the people up here call them. . .He apparently was working with the tribes north of the mountains, trying to train them to defend themselves against the Zhentarim extremists, and got converted to the worship of Lord Grimjaws—that’s what they call Tyr up there. Quite the guy Rant, tends to throw himself headfirst into everything. He gets a lot more autonomy than many of us here—some special arrangement between the Bishop and the meddlers.” . . . "We were playing Three Man, care to join in a round?”
Then we learn that she's into diabology, and not above summoning the occasional devil for "research".
“Devils dear, not demons. Baatezu to be precise. Judging from what I’m reading, I’m amazed that the author of these was able to summon even a lemure,” she emphasizes the long ‘you’ sound. “I’d like to peruse those in detail later if you’ll let me, Diabology is a particular interest of mine." The priestess continues reading through the book, then sits bolt upright. “Tyr Almighty! Who would even think of a spell like this, let alone write it down and leave it sitting out where people could get it!” She jumps to her feet, and runs after Lyra, the book tucked under her arm. “Wait! Miss…what do you intend to do with this?!"
“Well, it will be a matter of discussion with my companions once we arrive, but my inclination was to carefully rip out and burn the worst of it."
The priestess places a hand on Lyra’s elbow and guides her out of the room. “I don’t think tearing pages out is the right way to address this kind of information. Having a window into this kind of infernal research would be very useful for my order, assuming we can keep it out of the wrong hands.”
“Immolation does solve the ‘wrong hands’ issue nicely, though. The ability to pierce protections seems rather concerning, and might be pertinent to researching stronger wards, but what value is there in the rest of it?”
“Oh, I was thinking we could gate in a handful of lemures to train the troops. A practical primer on what weapons work against fiends and how to destroy infinitely regenerating enemies.”
“What if they get loose? What if the trainees aren’t prepared? What if the spell doesn’t even work properly?”
“You’ve found more signs of fiendish activity in the area in two days than I have in all the months I’ve been here, Lyra. Let me run to the armory and get my things, then Sister Rye and I are coming with you…” She turns to the short novice, “Ready Rye?” The halfling’s eyes widen and her face goes start white.
“Oh, Sister Winona,” the small woman squeaks, “Sister Theymr said to make sure I’m back within two weeks…”
Winona sighs, “Yes Sister. We mustn’t break the rules, musn’t we?” 
and later...
Donovan continues, “It seems to me, that, if our goal is to defend a village against a horde of kobolds. The tactical application of a few of the less common spells from the Book of Finnot—opening a gate for a number of lemures into the middle of their forces for instance—might provide us with a substantial advantage…”
Winona’s eyes light up, “Fiends from the Nine Hells are fundamentally lawful entities, despite their destructive nature. So long as you are very precise in the wording of your commands and take proper precautions, they, especially the lemures called by Finnot’s spell, could certainly be used in such a manner.” She begins expounding animatedly and at length on her own reading of Finnot’s Book, the nature lesser fiends, the nature of planar gates, laws regarding the enforcement of extra-planar contracts, the history and tactics of military uses of lemures, and various rituals for defending against extra-planar threats.
Rye looks utterly terrified by the direction of the conversation. She scurries to the front of the wagon and tries not to listen to her elder sister realistically discussing the summoning and binding of devils.
AND apparently she gambles with the locals...aggressively...
“Good morrow, Mr. Cockburn. We missed you at the Goblin last night. I was hoping to have the chance to win my money back. So how’s business?”
The man behind the counter gives a level, appraising look at the priestess, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“Ian, it’s me, Winona. Remember, two nights ago at the Laughing Goblin you pulled those three aces and ran me and two of my sisters dry?” She smiles. “We want some Justice. Tonight at the Bitter Blade. Bring your cards and a fat purse.”
The grocer grins, “Justice, eh? Alright I’ll see you there.”
the next morning...
The face of the young man behind the counter goes white at the sight of the heavily armed and armored priestess. “Sisters!” he says with false cheerfulness, “What brings you in today?” He wipes his hands on his apron and starts to come around the counter, “Surely you’re not holding last night against me…”
Winona glares at him over the rim of her spectacles, “Don’t worry Ian, you won fair and square last night. We’re here to give you more money, not take it back.” 
Rye looks at him a little sideways. “I don’t know Sister Winona,” she squeaks, “I still don’t believe he just happened to pull that king…” She crosses her arms and furrows her brow, trying, quite unsuccessfully, to look intimidating instead of just cute. 

 AND doesn't respect personal boundaries much...
Winona and Rye sit down beside Lyra. Winona looks around at the various artworks, “Sunites have fine taste,” she says quietly, “but not much between the ears. Still, I bet we could get a nice glass of wine out of the deal if you asked politely and fluttered those eyelashes of yours.” She adjusts her glasses, looking her most prudish, then says in a conspiratorial whisper, “Actually, knowing Sunites, you could probably get half-again as much for those paintings if you were showing a little more leg and some cleavage…”
Sister Rye makes a sound that is half tsk and half giggle, “Sister Winona, you shouldn’t say such things.” She hops off the settee and looks around, “Everyone looks so pretty here, though. I wonder who makes their clothes?”
“Why? Are you looking to undercut the kilt market?”

AND is extremely literal when it comes to jurisdictions...
Winona rattles the flail across her back suggestively, “There are only three of them. If they cause any trouble I’m sure we can trouble them back.”
“Ummm, Sister,” Ryesha squeaks, “is getting in a fight with them really a good idea? There is a law against brawling in the streets…”
“That law ends at the gates behind us, Bunny..."
in a later encounter
Donovan raises his hand, “If it saves a village, and keeps us alive, who cares if it’s fair to the orcs.”
“I’m sorry,” Winona says, “you’re suggestion isn’t a bad one one from a practical standpoint, but, even though adventurers are given the right to meet out immediate justice in the defense of themselves and others, the law is quite clear that similar punishment be set aside for instances of false testimony. Tyr and the Council require an accurate accounting of violence that is meeted out in the service of the city.” She sighs, then adds, “And, so long as they are not actively engaged in violence against peaceful citizens of Phlan, the Xvimlar are still are provided equal protections under the law…though with a healthy dose of suspicion of prior malice.”
The old man, sitting on the lip of the pit, glares at all of you with a mixture of rage and incredulity. “What’re you all yammering on about?! There’s got t’ be at least sixty dead kobolds here. If you want to help, how ‘bout you take your murderous hobo selves and go kick the rest of ’em where they live so they’ll stop bothering my village once and for all?!”
Winona grins, “That sounds more like it. Let’s go smash some kobolds!” When Ryesha looks up at her sternly, she sputters a bit, “You know…cause they’re orchestrating raids on merchant caravans and are clearly criminals…”
Rye whispers something under her breath which sounds like, “and you’re supposed to be teaching me…”
and yet again...
Teldicia moves over and sits down by Donovan. “Rietta and I played around with ritual summoning once or twice. She was pretty into the stuff, but I could never really get past the sacrifice bit. We tried to go through a whole summoning once, but I ended up getting sick and having to bail pretty quickly when we got to the part where we had to scalp the subject and break all their limbs..."
Donovan looks at Winona, “So…How does Tyr feel about torture? I assume ritual execution for the purpose of casting spells is definitely off the table?”
Winona shrugs, “It really depends on the jurisdiction you’re in and what crime the offender committed. The Law is Tyr and Tyr is the Law, we say. The Code of New Phlan only allows for four possible modes punishment: a day in the stocks, for minor, non-violent offenses; exile by means of being thrown over the wall at night, unarmed, for most violent offenses; death by hanging for treason against the Council of Phlan; and execution, by whatever means are readily available, for violent acts committed by a monstrous native against a registered citizen of New Phlan. Hillsfar to the south has only a single mode of punishment, trial by combat in the arena, regardless of the crime. In addition, all performance of ‘Necromancy’ (which is so vaguely defined that many judges have interpreted it to mean all magic) in Hillsfar is punishable by such.”
“However…” she continues, in a fairly bored-sounding monotone, as if not particularly interested in the topic, “Melvaunt, in whose jurisdiction we are now or soon will be, allows for a wide range of punishments, including torture by means of a Catherine Wheel, as Teldicia described, as both a means of execution and post mortem punishment—both only in cases of aggravated murder, that is, murder committed while in the midst of another crime, or perpetrated against a family member of the accused. Firstly, the delinquent is to be placed belly down, on a cartwheel with their hands and feet bound, outstretched out along the spokes, and thus dragged by a horse to the place of execution. The wheel is then hammered onto a pole, which is then fastened upright in its other end in the ground and made to revolve slowly. A large hammer or an iron bar is then applied to the limb over the gap between the beams, breaking the bones. Twice times on each arm, one blow above the elbow, the other below. Then, each leg gets the same treatment, above and below the knees. The final ninth blow is given at the middle of the spine, so that it breaks. Then, the broken body of the accused is unbound and woven onto the wheel between the spokes. The criminal is then to be left dying ‘afloat’ on the wheel, and be left to rot. The broken man can last hours and even days, during which birds are invited peck at the helpless victim. Eventually, shock and dehydration cause death.”
She raises an eyebrow at Teldicia, “Melvaunt law does not make any specific prohibition on the use of magics of any kind, except when using in the committing of another crime. There is no reason, within the law, that the use of the condemned in the casting of such spells during the rightful execution of their sentence would not be permitted…” Ryesha and Rant both look at Winona with some distaste at the implication of her overly helpful and precise answer.
Donovan tentatively opens the scroll that Teldicia handed to him and reads it quietly to himself. “So…Winona…does Melvaunt have any laws for which the proper punishment would be having your eyes plucked out, then being hung upside down and bisected vertically while still alive?”
Winona shakes her head.
“Didn’t think so…”
So in sharp contrast to Brother Rant, Sister Winona leaps head-first into violence of all kinds, condones torture, summons devils, drinks heavily, gambles, curses, makes bawdy jokes...and yet worships the same god,

Because when Tyr is the Law, it's all about jurisdiction.

Not just the one...

All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify.  -- NOT something any Tyrran would ever say
Before you start thinking that Winona is an exception to the rule, perhaps you should look at what another party encountered when dealing with Tyr's priesthood.
The evening began with a friendly (though high stakes) game of cards—Markos, Porphyrys Cadorna, Werner von Urslingen, Aldron Folbre, Ulrich Eberhard, and Sister Erol (playing on behalf of the Bishop) playing, and Traithe dealing.
Porphyrys was caught cheating early on, but was sufficiently embarrassed by Melastasya spilling a tray of drinks on him that he was not ejected from the game. Traithe managed the table masterfully, arranging for Folbre and Eberhard to win the first several hands and considerably raising the stakes, such that Porphyrys was forced to wager the deed for part of his family’s lands to stay in the game, causing everyone else to offer up deeds as part of the wager as well. Traithe attempted to rig the last hand in Markos’s favor, but that plan failed when Markos, strangely, asked for a completely new draw. By shear luck, the stone-faced boy won anyways, gaining possession of . . . the priory of St. Conrath of the Woods, a Tyrran parochial holding near Melvaunt, wagered by the Bishop. The priory lands include some fairly profitable sheep farms, but the priory itself has had issues attracting new novices and had fallen into disrepair and is mostly unused.
The party continued to shmooze for some time after the game wound down. They learned that Folbre was rather openly gay and that apparently he and Markos had a thing going on occasion. From Elissa they learned that her terms for marriage basically boiled down to getting out from under Eberhard’s thumb and gaining full possession of her family’s rightful seat on the Council—a thing that would require a change of the current laws which forbid women from sitting on the council. Markos tentatively agreed, assuming they could find a way to rewrite the inheritance laws so that he would not lose his seat to his older sister.
The party began angling for how to create a voting coalition to get such a thing passed. The Council seemed pretty split, with three young ones and three old, with the Bishop holding a non-voting seat to avoid creating a tie condition (also since Tyr’s priests are supposed to enforce the laws that exist, not change them).
Grimnir rises early and heads into town to attend the closed council session. Councilman Porphyrys puts forward the Bill of Attainder, which passes four to one, with only Chief Councilman Eberhard voting against. Markos immediately puts forward the homosexual agenda, and Grimnir rushes off to make sure Elissa is present to exercise her rights to vote. The latter bill comes to a tie vote—with Eberhard, Cadorna, and Bivant voting against—pushing Bishop Braccio to make the tie-braking vote…in favor.
later still...
Kevorkian slipped out after the Councilman and took off, following the Bishop. Bishop Braccio for his part, made his way directly to his chambers in the nearby Temple of Tyr’s Waiting, poured himself a glass of brandy and collapsed onto his bed. Kevorkian noted that the Bishop looked old and worn out, clearly tired just from hauling his bulk to the Council Hall and back. A boy acolyte helped the Bishop out of his shoes and started giving him a foot message, at which point Kevorkian backed out of the door and ran.


These many in-game examples just hint at the fundamental Tyrran theology in this setting. If "Tyr is the Law and the Law is Tyr", then the laws of the church and the laws of the state are the same. Church-law, then, is completely fluid, changing from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, state to state, and time to time. Any change made to the local laws must be reflected in the priesthood. If homosexuality is made legal, then someone in the church is bound to adopt that lifestyle. If drinking is prohibited, then no Tyrran will touch alcohol. If torture is legal, then the priests and paladins of Tyr will take full advantage of that tool when hunting down evil-doers.

In places where morality is legislated, priests of Tyr will behave in a moral manner ... and in places where morality is not legislated, the Paladins are just as flawed as everyone else.