Bell Digest vol06p08.txt

Subject:  Troll Drinking Belches,  Volume 6,  Number 8


First Distribution:  July 3,  1991

This issue:
	Some ideas for a Byzantine "Alternate Earth"	Patrick Waterson &
	  setting					Michael O'Brien
	Further ideas about a Byzantine "Alternate	Patrick Waterson &
	  Earth" setting				Michael O'Brien
	A Reading List for RQ -- Byzantine Pack		Michael O'Brien



Some ideas for a Byzantine "Alternate Earth" setting

by Patrick Waterson & Michael O'Brien

Copyright 1990, 1991 Patrick Waterson & Michael O'Brien, all rights
reserved.  All or part of this article may be freely copied for
non-commercial use, provided that this notice is included in said
copies and/or derivations (fixes/changes), and that proper attribution
is made.  Any other use, without written permission from the authors,
is prohibited.

This paper serves as the basis for discussion, play-testing and
development of a RQ scenario pack set in an "Alternate Earth"
Byzantine Empire setting.  It is by no means complete and is meant
merely to serve as a springboard for expansion.  Your comments are
most welcome, either through RQ Digest, or by writing to us at:

Australia: Michael O'Brien 2/33 Carween Ave Mitcham, 3132 Victoria

United Kingdom: Patrick Waterson "Innisfree" Fairly Lane, Hartley,
Longfield, Kent DA3 8DA, UK.

The basis of the system is drop virtually all "theology" and simply
work historical results into RQ game system effects.

The Byzantine "pantheon" consists of the numerous saints, each of whom
grants a specific spell or spells to a worshipper.  In addition, there
is a subcult that allows a follower to attempt to become a saint!
Two important considerations are unique to Byzantine religion: spell
gain foci and Sin Points.  Foci are required to gain, not to cast,
spells, and what constitutes a focus depends upon the belief (or
heresy) followed.  Sin points are acquired for everyday activities as
swearing, drinking, whoring, playing cards, breaking the Ten
Commandments, going to the theatre, chariot racing, not fasting at
Lent, etc. and detrimentally affect one's spell-casting chance.  The
only ways to get rid of Sin Points are to join the Saint cult or (much
more usual) be shriven by a priest.  Note that a priest cannot shrive
himself.  Byzantine-style shriving involves not confession, but being
blessed at a Sunday service in a church by a priest of one's own

Integral to the concept of Byzantine religion is that of one's actual
doctrinal persuasion, hereinafter termed PROFILE.  A character has two
beliefs: the inward or true one, and the outward or apparent one (most
Byzantine sorcerers are outwardly impeccably Orthodox.)  If one's real
belief matches one's outer (professed) belief, one is HIGH PROFILE.
Such people are passionately attached to their own sect or
understanding and will die for it, if necessary.  If the two do not
coincide, one is LOW PROFILE.  Naturally, most priests are High
profile, and most worshippers Low Profile, and every Sunday the
priests try to do something about it.

The advantage of being High Profile is that you can convert others,
which is of particular advantage if you are of a heretical faction
seeking to impose your belief as the new Orthodox religion (in RQ3
"Byz pack", the Iconoclasts are in this position).  The catch about
being High Profile is that if your faction is proscribed or loses, or
finds itself in the wrong company, you can neither lie nor recant to
save your skin.

Being Low Profile allows one to change with the times, but does not
allow one to convert others.  One can change from Low Profile to High
Profile at any time, but it is not usually possible to change back at

There is one exception to this*: anyone with "True Belief: NONE" can
be High Profile in any sect or belief he chooses, and can switch
beliefs/sects/factions readily and at will.  Many high-ranking
courtiers are of this type.  Such people may not gain Divine Magic
whatsoever, nor may they learn Spirit Magic, and in Sorcery they are
limited to being Students.

*see also "The Cult of Satan", below.

So much for the concept of Profile, integral to the "feel" of
Byzantine religion; to round off, here is a sample table for the
religious persuasion of a Byzantine citizen.  This table does not
attempt to cover heathens, western Christians

APPARENT religion of NPC	REAL NPC religion
01-25 Orthodox		01-05 	None
26-40 Iconoclast	06-07 	Manicheaen
41-00 Prevailing**	08-10 	Monophysite or Monothelite
			11-15 	Eutychian or Maronite
			16 	Hellenistic (Greek pantheon)
			17-20 	Nestorian or Jacobite
			21-22 	Diabolism*
			23 	Satan*
			24-40 	Iconoclast
			41-55 	Orthodox or Melchite
			56-95 	Prevailing **
			96-99 	Sorcery
			00 	Shamanism***

* Diabolism and "Satan" are described later in this article.

** Prevailing indicates the dominant ( or at least prevalent ) sect in
the area.  Note that those with "prevailing " in ONE category are
invariably Low Profile.

*** If Shamanism is rolled for an urban inhabitant, count instead as

Where REAL and APPARENT religions match, the NPC is High Profile and
therefore likely to try and convert, or at least argue with, Player

SIN POINTS Every time a PC (or NPC) is placed in a Temptation
situation (opportunity to steal, lie, cheat, drink, wench, gamble,
etc.) he must either decide ( of his sect believes in Freewill) or
make a Temptation Check (if his sect is set on Predestination) to see
if he commits the Sin.

A Temptation Check is a POW times 5 percentile roll, adjusted for any
accrued Sin Points.

EXAMPLE: a wench beckons to Basil, a POW 13 character with 27 accrued
Sin Points.  His Temptation Check (he is Orthodox) is 13 times 5 = 65
- 27= 38%.  He rolls a 43 and goes off with the lady to sin some more.
GENERAL RULE: every penny (Byzant) spent on Sin accrues one Sin Point
for the performer of the Sin.

Sin acts exactly as Encumbrance for the purpose of casting spells
acquired through Byzantine religion.  Serious sinners can be rendered
incapable of Spellcasting: Sin Points may be accrued beyond the point
where spellcasting is impossible.

The above considers venial sins.  Deadly sins have much steeper Sin
Point accrual rates, usually in the order of about 50-100 for Incest
and/or Murder, and about 200 for Blasphemy.  (Contradicting your own
true beliefs when High Profile constitutes Blasphemy.)

Sin Points that leave the character with a positive cast chance can be
removed by shriving- taking Bread and Wine on a Holy Day and being
Blessed by a priest.  Sin Points that leave the character with a
negative spellcasting chance (assuming no encumbrance) can only be
gotten rid of by penance.  Depending upon the severity of the negative
total, this can range from praying all night in front of a focus to
having to enter a monastery for life: usually about 3-5 years, after
which one can "begin a new life " and leave if one becomes High

EXAMPLE: the penalty for a soldier who kills an enemy in war is to be
excommunicate for three years: he can neither receive new spells nor
clear Sin Points.  For this reason, the number of Orthodox soldiers is
steadily declining, and units with many Orthodox often have poor
battlefield performance.  As a result, increasing numbers of
mercenaries are being hired.

One reason for the Byzantine preference for archery en masse is that
if an arrow slays a man, it is the will of God, and the archer is not
responsible.  To strike down a foe in hand-to-hand combat, however, is
considered by Orthodox and Iconoclast alike to be an act of murder.

There is one exception: to slay a heretic is not necessarily an act of
murder, and therefore does not count as a sin, as long as the heretic
was either personally or collectively) suitably condemned beforehand.

Unlike other RQ3 cults, Byzantine cultists need a focus to receive,
rather than to cast their spells.  Exactly what constitutes a focus is
the cause of much wrangling and dissention: to an Orthodox, an ikon is
the ONLY focus by which a worshipper may receive and cast spells.  To
an ikonoclast, this is Blasphemy: only the worshipper's church can be
used as a focus.

Certain sacred relics are usable as foci: parts and possessions of
saints are so usable but often only for spells related to those saints
(e.g. a link of chain from St. Michael's armor for Protection; a
tooth of St. George for Truesword), but a splinter of the True Cross
can be used as a focus for any spell obtainable through Byzantine or
Schismatic (Western Catholic) religion.  (In Celtic, Irish, and
Manichaean religion, the worshipper is his own focus, which causes
much hatred and jealousy among the more limited Byzantine and

Needless to say, in game terms, there will be fairly constant trouble
over uses of different foci: an Iconoclast who sees an ikon must
destroy it at the first opportunity or be guilty of Blasphemy; a
character who gains spells without attending Church or using an ikon
will be suspected of heresy, and so forth.


Sorcerers in the Byzantine Empire are usually happy, prosperous,
law-abiding citizens who keep a Low Profile and attend Church
regularly every Sunday.  They are discreet, reliable individuals,
often well known to the local Low Profile community.  They are
otherwise treated as ordinary RQ sorcerers in all respects, but
command (and seek) little, if any, political power.  Byzantine gossips
speculate that the Emperor Constantine VII Copronymus ("shit-head")
was a sorceror.


Diabolism is a practice followed by power-hungry, sado-masochistic,
partly-crazed delinquents who summon and study sorcery under demonic
masters.  They rarely reach the status of Adept, often make a nuisance
of themselves, and are despised by regular sorcerers. who sometimes go
as far as paying the local police to suppress the offending diabolists
(if the local High Profile religious types do not get there first).
This is because religious purges against diabolists have a way of
extending to normal sorcerers once a high-profile fanatic gets in the
driving seat: sorcerers prefer to nip the problem in the bud before it
comes to the attention of "the religious".


Saints belong each to their own particular cult, which acts as a sort
of subcult of associated cult for the provision of spells (or skills).
EXAMPLE: an Orthodox initiate is going on a long journey, He
donated two hundred pennies to his church, sits all night praying in
front of an ikon of St. Christopher, and by morning has a PATHWATCH
spell, St.  Christopher's speciality as the patron saint of travel.

As a general rule, any saint can be contacted at any Church that
contains an appropriate relic or ikon.  Churches thus seek out relics,
as these increase their prestige (and worshippers, and income), and
relics are largely nondenominational.  There are some sect-based
relics (from sect-based saints): these area usually well hidden, as
they are regarded as Blasphemous by sects who do not recognize the
saint in question. Saint Dismas, the patron saint of thieves, is below
even this category: he is not recognized by any Byzantine sect, nor
has he any relics.

Certain relics or ikons, such as the True Cross, the Image of Edessa
(Mandylion), or the ikon of Our Lady of Blachernae, have the power of
mass inspiration and can be used with large crowds or armies to give
the effect of a City Harmony or make the entire crowd/army present
immune to the effects of mind-influencing spells.  This requires a
Ceremony to be undertaken, usually on a lavish scale, and lasts until
sunset on the day of use.

As previously mentioned, there is also a Saint Cult, i.e. a cult whose
members can employ Divine intervention.  Saints may belong to any
faction, but all follow a common, rigorous code of conduct by which
they live in comparative poverty, dress simply, never harm another
human being, and try especially hard not to Sin, as
saints-in-the-making may not be shriven!

The prospective saint is then subjected to Temptation, rolling a
number of tests each week equal to his POW.  Every failure nets him
one Sin Point; every success gains him a Virtue Point (gainable only
by the Saint Cult: prospective entrants to this cult may gain Virtue
Points by giving away all their worldly possessions: for every 100p
worth of possessions given away, 1VP is gained.  Very rich people can
turn into very virtuous saints.

Virtue Points are the exact opposite of Sin Points in that they
enhance one's spellcasting chance; 1VP cancels 1SP and vice versa.
VP's are added to the chance of resisting temptation.

When the proto-saint's VP total reaches 100 (by which time the
prospect will have been immune to temptation for some time) he (or
she!) can get down to the really serious business of becoming a true
saint.  This is accomplished in one of the following ways:

	1) Martyrdom - go High profile in a troubled area
	2) Miracles- employ successful Divine Intervention
	3)Missionary work - go High Profile among the heathen.

Note that the three are by no means mutually exclusive. The goal of
the saint-in-the-making is to get to 1000VP, by the following methods:
	*For each heathen baptized: 	1VP
	*For each heretic converted: 	3VP
	*For each criminal reformed 	2VP
	*For each attested miracle: 	 500VP

A "miracle" is the successful use of ordinary initiate Divine
Intervention.  (This is understandably not performed very often.) If a
miracle takes EXACTLY one's POW rating to perform, then one receives
double VP's (1000) and is taken up to heaven on the spot.

The hard part about miracles is actually getting them attested, which
has to be done at a full Church Council (these are rare: two per
century on average).  If your particular sect happens to be out of
favour, you could wait a long time for recognition.  (Needless to say,
there is always a rush of miracles in the run-up to a Council.)

Martyrdom gains 500VP, but is also subject to being attested: for this
reason, most martyrs choose to die among the heathen, or at a pinch
among the lesser popular sect at the time.

If a "saint" is martyred, but returns to life through Divine
Intervention. he gets only the award for a Miracle (once attested),
but successfully converts every heathen present on the spot.  If this
occurs among heretics, only 10% are converted, and become believers
(true believers) of the saint's religion. If his miracle is not
attested at a Council (i.e. turned down) they lapse.

Conversion is the only time one's True Belief may change, and is the
only way that a High Profile Believer may change their Belief at any
time, as previously seen.  Conversion is pretty drastic, involving as
it does a radical shift in deeply-held beliefs, and can therefore
occur only under extreme duress or as the direct result of a miracle.
Player Characters can always opt NOT to convert - they can never
voluntarily, without duress - convert.

Upon reaching 1000VP's, the character becomes a Saint (even if still
alive) and can now perform miracles (if alive) or be worshipped (if
dead).  A still living saint must make an immediate POW times 5
(unmodified) Pride Check, and if he fails, he loses his POW times 5 in
VP's and is no longer a Saint. (He may carry on trying to again reach
the VP threshold.)  If he passes the Pride Check, he may use any VP
above 1000 that he gains as if they were POW for the purpose of
fulfilling miracles only.  He may use Ceremony (prayer) to increase
his chance of a successful Miracle (the d100 Divine Intervention roll
eats Ceremony bonus first before taking VP's), may Enchant relics
(VP's plus Enchant roll: may use Ceremony to enhance: each VP is used
as if it were a point of POW), and may Summon angels (Summon roll +
1VP per grade of Angel: there are nine grades.)

Note that his VP total may never dip below 1000: if he has no VP's in
excess of 1000, then he cannot perform miracles, Enchant, or Summon.
He gains VP's at the rate of POW times 1 per week, each Sunday (Holy
Day).  He is, of course, constantly sought out by people importuning
for miracles , favours, and the like.  For this reason, many Saints
prefer to retire to inaccessible places.

A constant source of annoyance to Byzantines is that Irish, Celtic and
Manichaean sects duplicate the Saint cult in almost every detail, but
seem to produce more Saints.  The reason is simple: Irish, Celtic and
Manichaean cults can continue to gain VP's by resisting Temptation
even after 100 VP's are attached and do not have to employ other
methods listed, albeit they are free to do so (except Manichaeans, who
are forbidden to make converts).  Another useful feature is that
miracles in these cults are NOT subject to attestation: they take
affect immediately.  Martyrdom is likewise on the spot to Irish and
Celtic sects: it is not granted to Manichaeans.  Manichaeans are,
however, the only sect officially allowed by its own clergy to study
sorcery, but may not progress beyond Students.


The Satan Cult consists of misguided people seduced by the Dark Side
trying to pass themselves off as saints.  The individuals concerned
fervently believe themselves to be doing good, and will not be
persuaded otherwise, They act as a parody of the Saint Cult, with the
following stipulation:

Instead of VP's, Flagellation Points are used to "cancel" Sin Points.
Each flagellation point suffered removes one Fatigue point as well as
one Sin Point.  Taking Flagellation Points equal to one's CON at a
single sitting loses the unfortunate recipient one Hit Point: it is
possible to die of exhaustion "expiating" a mortal Sin under the
auspices of this cult.  "Flagellation" is general term encompassing
all manner of harsh and painful pursuits aimed at "cancelling" sin.

Furthermore, the requirements for "Sainthood" are expressed in terms
of Penitence Points, which are earned as follows:

	*For each person converted to the Satan Cult 	2 PPs
	*For each person refusing conversion killed	5 PPs
	*For each such person upon whom FP's are
	inflicted to prior to death or conversion 	1 PP per 10
	*For martyrdom	 	1000 PPs

The Satan Cult never operates under its own banner: it always acts in
the name of the cult of apparent belief.  Its ultimate aim is to take
over all such cults and set them about each other by the ears.
All Satan Cultists are ALWAYS High Profile in their professed belief.
They do however use this belief as a cloak to spread the precepts of
the Cult of Satan, while believing that what they are doing is trying
to spread the true principles of Byzantine religion.

The Cult of Satan also stages spurious miracles, on the grounds that
any means are justified in spreading the "True Belief".  Thus,
Orthodox Satan cultists will stage spurious Orthodox miracles,
Monophysite Satan cultists will produce fake Monophysite miracles, and
from Satan Cult traders will come a steady flow of spurious relics
(including some from Satan Cult saints).

Where Satan cultists seek martyrdom they do so by stirring up
inter-sect hatred and then leading a howling, ravening mob to destroy
their sect's immediate opponents (getting 5 PP for every opponent
killed; more if the opponent is cruelly done to death), and seeking to
get killed in the performance of their "duty", thus giving their
followers and co-religionists an excuse for more violence.

Such martyrdoms are subject to being attested, and the Satan cult
usually gets such attestation in the name of the "host" cult on the
strength of inter-cult rivalry.

As will readily be surmised, the Satan cult is a vast cheat that lives
on the delusions of others, so it will come as no surprise to learn
that "saints" of the Satan cult have no power themselves, bestows no
powers on their followers, and are worshipped only because people fear
something bad will happen to them if these "saints" are not given
their proper observances.

In addition, Flagellation Points have no effect whatsoever on Sin
Points except in the Satan Cultist's imagination, so cultists of Satan
quickly lose the ability to cast spells.  They, however, tend to label
ANY person who casts spells as a sorceror and devil-worshipper, and
their strident voice is increasingly heard in Church Councils (and
from pulpits).  As a result, more and more and more people are losing
the knowledge and ability to cast spells, and miracles are becoming
rarer (and fake relics more common).

The Church leaders of the various sects feel that something is wrong,
but cannot quite put their finger on it: one reason is because they
feel (erroneously) that all the trouble is due to lack of a
homogeneous doctrine, and the solution is to pursue, stamp on, and
drive out one's opponents with more vigour.  This, of course, is
exactly what the Cult of Satan wants.

Note that Diabolism has absolutely no connection with the Cult of
Satan: it is kept alive and running partly because there are always
enough masochistic fools to believe that in bargaining with powerful
demons for trivial spells they could get for less from any sorceror,
they are being extremely clever; and partly because Satan wants
attention diverted from his real effort, and to have some excuse for
his cult to start up a reign of terror against everyone in general and
spellcasters in particular.

(Historically this position is not reached until the formulation of
the Inquisition in the early 1200's, but there are many examples of
Satan Cult behavior throughout Byzantine - and Western history, until
"the Devil deceiveth the whole world" and "men of violence shall seize
the Kingdom of Heaven by force.")


Further ideas about a Byzantine "Alternate Earth" setting

by Patrick Waterson & Michael O'Brien

)1990, 1991 Patrick Waterson & Michael O'Brien, all rights
reserved.  All or part of this article may be freely copied for
non-commercial use, provided that this notice is included in said
copies and/or derivations (fixes/changes), and that proper attribution
is made.  Any other use, without written permission from the authors,
is prohibited.

Ideas about a religious system for a Byzantine Empire "Alternate
Earth" setting were presented in an earlier issue of RQ Digest.
Further ideas are given here.  Again your comments are most welcome.
We are looking for people interested in developing a Byzantine
scenario pack.  An in-depth knowledge of the period would be helpful,
but is not necessary.  All you need is a lot of enthusiasm and good
library!  We're after a lot of helpful criticism, scenario ideas and
suitable material for inclusion in a "Byz Pack".  If you want to take
part, please contribute through RQ Digest or contact us at the
addresses at the end of the article.


Relics of dead saints have a Virtue Point (VP) value equivalent to
that of the saint at his death.  They have two major uses: spell
bestowal and (rarely) miracles.

Gaining a Divine spell from a relic uses up 1 VP (regenerable) from
the relic per point of POW sacrificed for the spell.  Gain is
automatic UNLESS one is in a state of Sin (i.e. has Sin points
accrued) in which case one must pray (Ceremony roll) successfully; the
Ceremony Roll is adversely adjusted by the amount of Sin Points

Gaining a Spirit Spell from a relic is identical, except that the
recipient expends no POW.

The relic regenerates VP's at the rate of the saint's original POW at
the time of death.  This figure is usually about 20.  If a relic is
ever drained to zero VP's , it ceases to function as a relic and may
never be restored.  Such "drained" relics are usually sold to
Schismatic (Western Catholic) churches.

The second major use of a relic is miracles: these are generally
limited to Healing and Purification, but may include Resurrection if
the relic is sufficiently powerful.  Such relics might include the
True Cross, the Crown of Thorns, the Sacred Lance, part of the Robe,
the Mandylion (Turin Shroud), etc.  Miracles work exactly as the
saints' Divine Intervention, including the possible use of Ceremony to
negate VP loss.  Any VP loss can be regenerated as above, but
too-lavish use of miracles risks draining the VP to zero.

"Purification" is a special way of getting rid of hopelessly vast Sin
Point totals.  A successful Purification miracle wipes out any and all
Sin Points accrued even if the total is an absurd figure, like Judas
iscariot's 250 000 or so for the betrayal, (plus another 500 for
committing suicide!). The recipient of Purification then must become
High Profile in the religion of the Priest who did the ceremony, and
may join the Saint Cult on the spot.  In any case, with any Miracle
from the relic, it is customary for the recipient toe give up to 90%
of his goods and moneys to the church of the Priest who performed the

Any recipient of the miracle from a relic MUST become High Profile in
the sect of the priest controlling the relic (ie. the priest who did
the Ceremony).


1. Only HIGH PROFILE sect members may gain Divine Magic.  Low Profile
members are limited to spirit magic.  Certain sects, such as the
Pelagians and Manicheans, are exceptions.  With them, as long as True
Belief is true, outward show does not matter.

2. CASTING SPELLS does not require a focus per se, but most sects need
to carry a token of some sort somewhere upon their persons (eg a
crucifix) in order to be able to remember their spells A Bible or holy
book can be used as such a token.  If the token is removed spells are
forgotten at the rate of one per hour, with Divine Magic going first.
Naturally the strongest spells are forgotten first.  Hang onto your
Sacred Books and/or crucifixes!

3.  Relics with a mass effect, like the Labarum or the ikon of Our
Lady of Blachernae do so with a successful Ceremony roll, and consume
VP's in the process.  The procedure is as for a standard miracle.  The
effect is item-specific (usually protection against mind-influencing
spells for a whole army, or Warding for a whole city, at a strength of
20 or thereabouts), and the relic regenerates VP's at about 20 per

Such relics are, of course, prone to exhaustion in sustained
campaigning.  The labarum, which gave shield 20 to its guards and
Countermagic 20 to the whole army, was exhausted in the campaigns of
Constantine I; the Image of Edessa/Mandylion/Turin Shroud, which
provided Warding-20 over a whole city or camp may have been exhausted
in the last siege of Edessa, and the Ikon of our Lady of Blachernae is
still going strong (largely because the Iconoclasts are in power and
it is hidden away unused) and (historically) will continue to do so
until exhausted in the AD 1071 Manzikert campaign.  Its power is to
add 20 Magic Points to every member of the army for the purposes of
resisting spells and boosting spell effects.  (In the hands of
Nikephorus Phokas and John Zimiskes it will help thrash the Arabs on
the battlefields with massed use of Demoralization spells).

4. PC SIN in a non-freewill sect can be readily handled by assuming
that each week the PC spends half his standard of living expenditure
on sin unless he makes a successful Temptation Check.  This saves
roleplaying pub crawls.

5. ONE THOUSAND YEARS OF EMPIRE The basic assumptions in the Religious
system are based on a date of about AD 800.  It should prove possible
to extend the system for the life of the Byzantine Empire: who would
want to miss the reign of Justinian (Belisarius, Victory Riots,
Porphyry the Whale, etc) or the final fall of Constantinople ("It
began with a Constantine and will end with a Constantine")?  If
players are introduced to a generational game they will (among other
things) have the shock of realizing that their eminently Orthodox
grandfathers are now the vilest heretics are consigned to hell; they
will see Emperors, relics, Arabs, and Schismatics come and go; they
will feel (at first) contempt, then suspicion, then fear, then hatred
for the arrogant and burgeoning Schismatics of the West, with their
crude ways and lack of ancient culture; they will cling stubbornly to
the shadow of the fading glory of the Empire that was Byzantium; and
then, in the last few generations, when the situation is obviously
beyond hope, you will allow one of the PCs to be crowned Emperor and
Autokrat of the New Rome.

We leave these thoughts for you to ponder.  So, until we hear from
you, in the name of the Emperor: farewell!

Kataphraktoi; advance!

Australia: Michael O'Brien 2/33 Carween Ave Mitcham, 3132 Victoria

United Kingdom: Patrick Waterson "Innisfree" Fairly Lane, Hartley,
Longfield, Kent DA3 8DA, UK.



By Michael O'Brien

Quite a few people have written to me saying that they would like to
participate in the creation of a RQ - Byzantium source/scenario pack,
but didn't have enough knowledge of the period.  Listed here are some
of my fave Byz books, and a brief comment about each.

My own knowledge of things Byzantine is self-taught (apart from one
semester doing "Sixth-Century Byzantine Literature" in which the
lecturer chose the driest, most unappetizing texts from an otherwise
very racy period).  I got into it after reading Robert Grave's
masterly historical novel Count Belisarius, which is set in
sixth-century Byzantium.  Then I discovered there was actually a
Byzantine emperor called Constantine V Copronymous "Constantine the
Shithead" , and another called Basil II Bulgaroctanos "Basil the
Bulgar Butcher".  By the time I discovered that the Byzantines had 33
different degrees of eunuch and 4 methods of eye-gouging, I was

But enough of my rantings!  Here's my reading list for things Byz:

First historical novels.  I've mentioned Robert Graves' COUNT
BELISARIUS.  This is probably my favorite historical novel.  Not quite
Byzantine, but another excellent novel is Gore Vidal's JULIAN.  This
is set in the mid-4th century and the hero is Julian the Apostate, the
Roman Emperor who tried (in vain) to revert the Empire back to
paganism.  A good idea for an "alternate earth" might be a world where
Julian succeeded?

Another fab novel set in the late Roman period is FAMILY FAVOURITES by
Alfred Duggan.  Read ANYTHING by Duggan: he's almost as good as
Graves, and that's saying something!  "Family Favorites" is about the
decadent emperor Heliogabalus, who exploits would have made even
Caligula blush!
More relevant to the topic is Duggan's LORD GEOFFREY'S FANCY, which is
set in the Latin Crusader states of the 13th century.  Lord Geoffrey
is the "best knight in LaMorie", according to the character who tells
the story: but, as you read it, you'll slowly realize that in actual
fact, Lord Geoffrey is a total bastard!  Two novels about the first
crusade by Duggan are KNIGHT WITH ARMOR (his first novel) and COUNT
BOHEMOND (his last, I think).  But explore similar themes, but
Knight... is written from the point of view of a simple knight,
whereas Bohemond has the son of Robert Le Guiscard as the main
An unusual "alternate earth"-type novel is AGENT OF BYZANTIUM by Harry
Turtledove.  A true Byzantine patriot, Turtledove's book is set in an
earth where Mohammed became a Christian saint rather than the founder
of Islam, and where the mighty Byzantine empire thrives rather than
declines.  There is no 1453 in his universe!

Primary sources.  There are several readable primary sources which you
might find interesting.  All are available in Penguin Classics.  I'll
go through them in chronological order.  First is Procopius's SECRET
HISTORY.  Procopius was Belisarius's personal secretary.  He was
ordered to write a laudatory account of Justinian's reign, but
Justinian didn't like it and made him write it again.  Procopius did
so, laying on the praises with a trowel.  But, in spite, he also wrote
the SECRET HISTORY, in which he exposes the hypocrisy of Justinian,
the perversity of Theodora, the adultery of Antonina, and the
pliability of Belisarius.  As the blurb on the back of the Penguin
Classics edition says, " in all, the vileness and hypocrisy of this
decadent city is exposed with a candour which is often revolting".
What better recommendation could one give?

Next in line is Psellus's "Chronographia", which in Penguin Classics
is titled FOURTEEN BYZANTINE RULERS.  Psellus was the Byzantine
world's Sir Humphrey Appleby.  As chief minister to a succession of
short-lived emperors, he can be blamed for turning a military
superpower into an effete bureaucracy.  Not that you would get any
idea of this from his book.

Another fascinating book is THE ALEXIAD by Anna Comnena.  This book is
the life of the able emperor Alexius I Comnenus, written by his
daughter.  Alexius reigned from 1071-1118, the time of the First
Crusade.  One of his most significant acts was the devaluing of the
gold Bezant, which was the most stable coin in the world, having
retained its value for over 700 years.

The CHRONICLES OF THE FOURTH CRUSADE is actually made up of two books.
By far the most interesting I found was Geoffroi de Villehardouin's
"The Conquest of Constantinople", which describes the perfidious Latin
sack of the city in 1204.  The work in this book is a "Life of St.

Secondary Sources.  If you read anything at all, read Sir Steven
Runciman's FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE 1453.  It is a superb account of the
end of the empire and Runciman's elegant writing style reads more like
a novel than a history book.  As you read it, think about the
possibilities for a RQ tournament or series of scenarios set during
this doomed siege.  Reading about the doomed defenders almost brought
tears to my eyes, and made me gulp when I read about the heroism of
the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI Dragases.  This mighty
siege would be an excellent work to base a scenario on!!

Another excellent book on the same topic is David Stacton's THE WORLD
ON THE LAST DAY.  This book is definite must if the 1453 idea is to be
pursued!  Stacton is very readable, but has less style than Runciman.
He is, however, partial to giving the reader all sorts of trivia and
minutiae about our pals the Byzantines, such as their four methods of
blinding I mentioned above, or the 33 different degrees of eunuch.
Come to think of it, I might have got the eunuch bit out of Noel
Barber's LORDS OF THE GOLDEN HORN, a similarly spicy account of the
Ottoman sultanate's splendid decline.  (The Ottoman Turks conquered
the Byzantines in 1453 and ruled over them into modern times).

Runciman's HISTORY OF THE CRUSADES is perhaps written with a western
European perspective, but does have interesting tit-bits about Byz.

BYZANTINE STYLE AND CIVILIZATION is an art book also by Runciman,
which nevertheless has interesting details about the Byz way of life.
It challenges the view that Byz art is lifeless and sterile.

If you can hack his pompous style and anti-Byzantine bias, Gibbon's
DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is worth a look-in, if only to
marvel at the way he can write 500 word sentences and get away with

Another book which traces the decline and fall of the empire is Georgi
Ostrogorsky's HISTORY OF THE BYZANTINE STATE.  It is a strictly
political history book, and does not dwell much on social or artistic

A MAP HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL EUROPE by Colin McEvedy was one of the first
books that got me into the Byz biz.  Through the sequence of maps you
can trace Byzantium's colossal fall from a superpower to a decadent
city city, dwelling on past glories.  McEvedy's commentary is droll,
sardonic and very readable.

I have read John Julius Norwich's A HISTORY OF VENICE and highly
recommend it.  His section on the "Papal Pornocracy of the tenth
century, which included "...such creatures as John X, strangled in the
castel Sant' Angelo by his mistress's daughter so that she could
install her own bastard son by a former pope in his place", is
especially entertaining.

A clear, detailed introduction to the Orthodox faith can be found in
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH by Timothy Ware (also known as the monk

Peter Van Sittart is an author that would not be everyone's cup of
tea.  I've read THREE-SIX-SEVEN and LAUNCELOT, which are set at the
time of the Roman evacuation of Britain and vividly portray the last
sputtering flicker of the Roman idea in the west.  (He'd be just the
sort of guy I'd like to see write a book about the last Western
emperor Romulus Augustolus.)

I'd like to also add one of the strangest books I've ever read: THE
KHAZAR DICTIONARY, by Milorad Pavic.  There is evidently a "male"
version and a "female" version (I've got the male).  The author claims
his dictionary is a reconstruction of a dictionary destroyed by the
Inquisition in the 1480's.  I found this a truly disturbing work, but
fascinating.  Although I have not got the slightest idea what the
author was on about, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.  "He
washed his dishes with his beard, only shat when he swam and could cut
bread with his bare feet" is a typical character description from the
book.  The man who mated with the dying so he could make "children for
the next world, not this one" is another of these weird characters.
This book has got all sorts of oblique Byz references!

The above books are simply texts I own, have read and thought
particularly enjoyable. I'm sure there are plenty of other books out
there that would also suffice.  If you are interested in a RQ Byz
pack, I really would urge you to get a hold of Runciman's FALL OF
CONSTANTINOPLE.  Even if you aren't, I would still recommend this book
because it's a bloody good read!

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