Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seven Principles of Dynamic Temples


Temples are very important in most any campaign. However, their importance and significance is often overlooked by DM's and players alike. Oftentimes in many campaigns, temples seem to fall into merely a routine, bland *Healing Station*--where the players routinely go when they need to be healed or cured of some ailment; they pay whatever gold they need to pay, smile and thank the generic robed and smiling priest or priestess--and they move on. The silhouette of the temple fades quickly into the background as the player characters mount up and ride off.

I suppose that's ok, at least sometimes. I admit--there have been times where I have caught myself seeing the party treat temples like that in my own campaigns, and I have moved through the routine exchange with hardly a blink. *I* have sometimes fallen back on treating temples as such generic, bland little boxes that it hardly seems surprising that player characters would do the same thing.

However--I have also made efforts to make temples something more, something dynamic and interesting in the campaign. In my best efforts, I am happy to say that the temples have transformed the local campaign milieu in many interesting, and dynamic ways; not just for the player characters--as important as they are--but also in important and interesting ways for various NPC's to interact with, which in turn makes them more dynamic and interesting, through leading and experiencing more richer lives, through experience of the temple. That, in turn, has a ripple-effect on the player characters, as they become involved with characters involved or inspired by the dynamic temple, and the player characters see the temple as something more interesting, intriguing, and enjoyable than they previously imagined.

That's where the best payoff is, as the DM. The dynamic temple takes on a sort of life of its own, and has interesting, and ongoing effects and importance to everyone around it--whether they are player characters, or NPC's.

In history, the ancient Greek Temple at Delphi--was very important to the entire Mediterranean World. The Temple of Delphi had the famous Oracle of Delphi, where people from around the world came to consult. They of course had to make a long, difficult pilgrimage, and had to pay the priests as Delphi to consult the Oracle there. Once payment was made, the Oracle would speak to them on the matter they consulted her with. Kings, generals, merchants, common people--people from all and every walk of life came to consult the Oracle at Delphi.

Famous Greek temples along the Anatolian coast were famous, and wealthy, for entire *centuries*. Various Pagan temples throughout the Mediterranean World provided gloriously many wondrous benefits and gifts to multitudes of people, also for centuries--What caused this great fame? I thought about my knowledge of the ancient and medieval worlds, and wrote a few things down as I thought about temples in the campaign. Why were pagan temples in Antiquity so dynamic? Occasionally, some monasteries during the Middle Ages also created some sense of dynamism, though not nearly on the same scale as the pagan temples had during the ages of Antiquity. I came up with seven main principles, as noted below, for what made temples in the ancient world so dynamic;

Seven Principles of Dynamic Temples

(1) Majestic Architecture and Beautiful Art: The beauty and majesty of their architecture and art was stunning, even in ancient times, and it was always a place to see, and be seen. People from all over took great pride in their people's skill and devotion, as well as the divine blessing and inspiration to the artists and craftsmen to make such a majestic temple to begin with. Some techniques were pioneered in the creation and inspiration for just *one* such great temple. Hundreds--even thousands--of highly talented craftsmen, smiths, sculptors, artists, engineers, architects--all worked together for *years*--sometimes even *decades* to create just one, unique, majestic, special temple in honor of some particular god or goddess. Indeed, in several different unique temples, whole breakthroughs in engineering, architecture and artistic styles were made because of the work done in the process of solving engineering, architectural, and artistic problems and challenges during the particular project to make the temple a reality.

(2) Wisdom and Skills: The wisdom and skills that the priests and priestesses possessed served the local communities well--in addition to traveling visitors and pilgrims from distant, foreign lands. The priests and priestesses were often talented as oracles, advisors, counselors, physicians, exorcists, alchemists, mathematicians, scholars, philosophers, midwives--among many other important skills, and functions.

(3) Social, Academic, Artistic Sponsorship: Temples in the ancient and medieval world also acted as sources of help for people in need--whether they were starving and needed medical attention, or counseling, social help, solving disputes, etc, the priests and priestesses often provided a large range of social and economic help along these lines. Temples often sponsored particular scholars, lawyers, inventors, craftsmen, or artists, with both resources to work on and compete projects, but also social and educational sponsorship, sending them and paying for them to receive additional academic and professional training.

(4) Special Mystical Properties: Some temples in the ancient world--as well as the medieval world--were also famous for having trees, pools, waters, etc. that were mystically important. They were more than mystically important, however, for they were also practically important, in that it was believed that such locations and resources increased healing, aided people in all kinds of soothing pleasure and help from ailments, as well as providing blessings in social relationships, finding true love, visions, allowing their children to be successfully born and to survive, foretelling the future, and so on.

(5) Spiritual Relationship: The importance of the spiritual relationship between the individual person, the family, the society, and the gods was relatively meaningful and always significant to the majority of people within the society. Prayer and mediation, sacrifice, various rituals, and having priests and priestesses cast various spells to help people were always important and meaningful to most people throughout society.

(6) Providing Space and Freedom: The ancient Pagan temples of Greece and the Mediterranean World, especially famous with temples in Alexandria, Egypt, as well as around the Mediterranean, were famous for providing space and freedom--space to live without being judged, or forced to conform; and freedom to think, feel, and be different--to imagine anything and everything in different ways. These temples often served as focus points and clearing houses of freedom and ideas, as scholars, philosophers, and thinkers from all walks of life, from different religions and philosophies and races all came and gathered together to live, and discuss, and think, and be. Much of this kind of open-mindedness, tolerance and respect would be lost for over a thousand years with the rise and dominance of Christianity.

(7) Professional Sponsorship: Many temples in the ancient and medieval worlds also sponsored specialist craftsmen, and markets, selling religious and ritual items, as well as working on products not only for the sale and use of the temple itself, but also to visiting worshippers and traveling merchants. There were some ritual items that could only be found by visiting certain merchants that worked from shops within the walls or compound of an ancient temple or medieval monastery. Certain specialized artists and craftsmen lived and worked from workshops within the temple or monastery, and people would travel for days, sometimes weeks or even months, to reach such a temple or monastery that had such specialist craftsmen and merchants.

Thusly inspired, I embraced some new ideas--from the ancient world--to make my own temples in the campaign more interesting, dynamic, and important--to both player characters, and NPC's alike.

Semper Fidelis,



  1. Another nice introductory article on the subject matter.
    --Hopefully this will stir a few GMs. :)

    To date, the Hierophantic Church has been observed in an antagonistic role on Vrun, and my players are all very down on religion in general, so this hasn't opened many opportunities to address this sort of stuff in my campaign.
    --My treatment of religious and spiritual issues is rather brief in the extant beta documents, but I hope to expand each of the entries' pertinence to the setting, as time permits.


  2. Greetings!

    Timeshadows: Yes, more depth is needed, sugar! So many possibilities, you know? As for the players...show them a character (priestess, etc) that can be useful, good, and genuinely an awesome person to know. The player's attitudes may begin to change then, at least a bit.

    Semper Fidelis,