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Hermits With Style and Purpose in Your Game

Charles A White A-Musing History Leave a Comment

The Hermit Was More Than You Thought

Pixabay HermitYour party is traveling along a cracked cobblestone road choked with weeds when you come upon the ruins of a small town. From first glance, it appears to be quite old and the victim of a violent death. As you get closer, you see a man sitting atop an ornate pillar near the edge of the town. The column looks to have once been part of a temple or a government building.

It is difficult to tell how old the man is. His weathered, wrinkled skin is the color of caramel, and his long, white bead hangs over the edge of his perch. Atop his pillar sits a small basket and a waterskin, each with a rope attached. Presumably, this is what he uses to bring up food and water supplied by travelers or local villagers. As the man spots you, he licks cracked lips and opens his mouth to speak.

 

Hermits Explained

This man is a Stylite. If you were in the eastern part of the Roman Empire around the middle to end of the 4th century, you might spot some of these ascetic holy men. A Stylite is just one type of ascetic that we commonly refer to as hermits. These historical hermits are great models for GMs to use whether your game is more historical or fantasy based. Hermits can be a great way to deliver wisdom, spiritual and magical teachings, and adventure threads to your party.

So, what led men and women to leave their friends and family and become hermits?

For centuries, Christianity was met with suspicion and persecution by the Roman Empire. Often, Christians were forced to practice their religion in catacombs and other secret locations so they wouldn’t be caught by authorities. However, this all changed In 313. This was the year the Edict of Milan was issued. This decree, issued both in the Eastern and Western Roman Empires, gave Christians the freedom to practice their religion in the open. The result was the steady movement from Christianity as a small fringe sect of Judaism to a powerful religion known throughout the world.

As Christianity gained acceptance, it grew. However, not everyone was happy about this. Some Christians felt that with mainstream acceptance came a watering down of what it meant to be a Christian. It was too easy, too comfortable to be a Christian since the danger was gone. Therefore, some Christians retreated from society in order to live a more ascetic lifestyle. They wanted to escape the superficial Christianity they felt was permeating their world and live a more pure form of their faith.

To do this, hermits removed themselves from society in a very literal sense. Hermits retreated to strange, remote places to live a life of solemn contemplation. This is where our friend, the Stylite, finds himself. However, hermits didn’t just live on top of pillars. Another type of hermit was the Dendrite. Like Stylites, Dendrites also desired to retreat from society so they could become better connected with God. However, Dendrites chose to live in trees instead of on pillars. Some would literally live in a tree, while others would live inside the trunk of a large tree.

What if you just couldn’t leave the city behind and live on a pillar or in a tree, but you still wanted a measure of solitude? You might consider becoming an Anchorite. Anchorites were men and women who lived alone in a tiny structure typically built on church grounds. This small building, also called a cell, only contained a small window through which they could get food, remove waste, and talk with visitors. In essence, this was a prison of their own making. Unlike Dendrites and Stylites, these hermits needed the Church’s permission and support to undertake this type of hermitage.

The last and most famous type of hermit that I want to touch on were the cave dwelling hermits. When most of us think of hermits, this is what we think of. Like their Dendrite and Stylite cousins, hermits also lived outside of cities, in caves. Since caves were plentiful and more akin to a traditional structure than a pillar or tree, this form of hermitic life was the most popular. More and more hermits chose this lifestyle over the other three types of ascetic lifestyles that I mentioned earlier.

While some of these cave dwelling hermits chose to live in isolation, some chose to gather together in a community of their own and became known as Cenobites. This communal gathering formed the roots of monastic life. Cenobites gathered together to share their spiritual struggles and support each other while still maintaining their own private spiritual journey.

 

Hermits in Your Game

It would be easy to see a Dendrite or Stylite making an appearance in a typical fantasy game without much change. Perhaps the Dendrite inhabits the ruins of an elven tree complex whereas the Stylite sits atop a pillar in the ruins of a long forgotten city. These hermits could share with passing adventurers legends and bits of information about the ruins where they reside. Their tantalizing nuggets of information might tempt heroes to explore a long forgotten place in search of treasure and magical wonders.

An Anchorite is a great hermit for an urban campaign, especially since there are several examples of these types of ascetics who were also mystics. Since they did have human contact and weren’t found in remote locations, this type of hermit would be a great way for the GM to share prophetic messages with urban adventures. These prophetic messages could reveal a single quest or serve as the basis for an entire campaign. Also, Anchorites could serve as great teachers for clerics who need divine wisdom to order to gain new powers or spells.

In a fantasy setting, a Cenobitic community could be where a priest goes to atone for their sins, to unlock the mysteries of their faith through prayer and meditation, and thereby gain another experience level or to seek divine guidance with a problem. A Cenobitic community could house someone who could help a group decipher a prophetic riddle or offer wisdom when their quest seems without direction.

Ultimately, how you use these hermits is up to you. Whether the party has a chance encounter with one of these holy ascetics during the course of their journeys or purposely seek out these individuals for wisdom and guidance, hermits have the ability to help the GM place the party on the intended path. (Or at least introduce some adventure seeds without simply dropping them into a freight car and railroading them toward a destination of your choosing.)


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Hermit image provided by Pixabay.

I am the co-founder of Fabled Environments. We are a Savage Worlds Licensee that publishes modern floor plans and various Savage Worlds products. I have written several gaming adventures and worked on other projects for Savage Worlds including Olympus Inc and Buccaneer: Through Hell and High Water.I hold a Master of Arts in Religion with a focus on Church History as well as an advanced masters (Master of Sacred Theology) focused on American Religion and Culture. I am also hold certification from AATB (American Association of Tissue Banks).

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