Sunday, May 17, 2009

Narthex, Defined

I love how roleplaying builds your vocabulary.

The average person on the street is unlikely to know a glaive-guisarme from a voulge. They probably don't know where one wears a periapt or how one wields a shillelagh. Not so the roleplayer. These are all tidbits that a life misspent in dungeon delving will indelibly etch upon your brain.

A quick browse of the official D&D forum shows that, by and large, the fanbase is unusually literate, especially by comparison to the trolls native to many videogaming fora.

It's not surprising. Simply looting a room will expose players to tomes and talismans, braziers and censers, phylacteries large and small, and all manner of potions, philtres and unguents contained within a plethora of vials, phials, decanters and gourds.

Here's a thing, though. You're probably familiar with magic librams from which you can learn fell dweomers. They're the type of thing you'd find in a magocracy.

Those are some great words - libram, dweomer, magocracy - but as it turns out, they're not, in the strictest sense, authentic. In fact, dweomer and magocracy in all probability trace their first uses back to the late Gary Gygax himself, in his first edition of Dungeons & Dragons (along with the term "magic-user", apparently never previously invented). Libram is a coinage of author Jack Vance. For those who doubt me or simply seek further information, Stephen Chrisomalis has a great article on this topic from which I've liberally stolen.

Today those not au fait with their religious architecture will be learning a new word. A narthex is, apparently, the entrance or lobby area of a church or temple. Here in Thunderspire's Chamber of Eyes we find that the first room of the mini-dungeon is described as the Narthex, and provides a place for players to group up and plan before engaging with the monsters now residing in the ruined shrine.

The Narthex has two critical features. One is the giant temple door (the one inexplicably decorated with a beholder). As one might expect, the hobgoblins within the temple are closely guarding the main door and won't open it unless tricked, reasoned with, or intimidated.

The other feature is the high balcony along the chamber's north wall. The module explains that in the dying days of the minotaur empire, priests of Torog would appear on this balcony to preach to pilgrims clustered on the level below. The balcony includes a door that leads into the temple, which is significantly less guarded than the main entrance.

It's a change of pace for players fresh out of Keep on the Shadowfell - this is a challenge that can't immediately be overcome with combat. To progress, they'll either have to convince the goblin guards to let them in the main entrance, or make the tricky climb to the balcony and sneak in through the balcony entrance.

It's all in vain though. The players aren't, ultimately, granting themselves a reprieve from combat. They're still going to have to fight in the next encounter. The only question is what tactical advantage they gain (or lose) while entering battle.


Kelly Davis said...

Ironically enough, I attended a funeral over the weekend and was asked to assist by handing out the programs "in the Narthex".

Greg Tannahill said...

Remember when visiting any church - remember to loot the altar for treasure. If the priest looks aghast, it's just that he doesn't want you to find his +3 lightning doublesword.

By The Sword said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
By The Sword said...

Many a priest would soil his vestments , were a bardiche-wielding myrmidon to despoil his fane.

Anonymous said...

The word Dweomer is a real one, at least -- it means "witchcraft", roughly, and derives from the norse phrase that means "dwarf-talk", or "the secrets of dwarves".

It shows up, for example, in Lord of the Rings, near the end of the first book, when Eomer is discussing the troubles with Sauruman, he says, "It is ill dealing with such a foe; he is a wizard both cunning and dwimmer-crafty..." (it's an alternate spelling of the same word.)