Friday, June 18, 2021

Dark Sun: The Templars


We're told in the original Dark Sun campaign setting that the Templars are "clergymen devoted to the sorcerer king of their city. Like other priests, they are granted spells in return for their worship." Also, they "dominate the king's bureaucracy." The revised box set expands on this slightly saying they serve as city guards and in the army, they oversee the city's administration, and they "maintain the illusion that the sorcerer king is a god by using their absolute power to enforce worship and homage to their ruler."

The problem with these portrayals is it seems at odds with what we are told about individual city-states and their sorcerer-kings. Some sorcerer-kings are viewed as gods, it's true, but some (we are explicitly told) just style themselves as rulers or whatever. Also, despite their name implying the existence of temples, we are not, across all the city-states, given any indication of temples' existence or what the practices within them might be. The first Dark Sun novel, Denning's The Verdant Passage supports the view of the setting material, with Kalak of Tyr viewed as a king and little evidence he is worshipped by anyone (though there is a mention of the templar's leading his "veneration.").

Without providing a unified "origin" for the templars and their role, I feel like not only should their exact nature vary from city-state to city-state, but also their name. I suppose for ease of discussing them as a class, templar serves as  well as anything, though. For most city-states I like the approach of the setting material and the novel: sorcerer-kings are venerated but not worshipped. (The distinction, may admittedly, be a fine one, but it exists.) The sorcerer-king forms the core of the city-state's civic religion: it's holidays, festivals, and foundational myths. There are no gods on Athas, but there is an afterlife, so perhaps fidelity to the sorcerer-king is tied in dogma to reward in the hereafter. The templars officiate at public observances (except when the sorcerer-king is present) and punish those who don't appear sufficiently devoted. As bureaucrats they also have a role in legal preceding that interact with the civic religion. 

Many of the city-states are probably a bit more fascistic than ancient world cities in the popular imagination. I feel like scarcity of resources would tend to push them the direction of Immortan Joe's Citadel in Mad Max: Fury Road. I could see some smaller ones having a cult (used in the modern sense) kind of character.


Dick McGee said...

I always looked at Templars as more akin to a commissar than a priest. Their demands for "veneration" of their SK feels a lot like insisting on adherence to an ideology to me. Some of them also serve as de facto secret police and informers too.

The PC templars could fit that general archetype as agents who are trusted (or sneaky) enough to get sent abroad as roaming agents serving the SK's interests beyond their territory. Bards do that sort of espionage/wetwork/black ops too, but they're more independent since they don't rely on spells and authority derived from a single SK. Easy to see the two classes working together though.

Anne said...

Your comment about civic religion for some reason got me thinking about "Thor Ragnarok", where the citizens of the Grandmaster's city hold a parade celebrating the Hulk, complete with signs, banners, papier-mache, and clouds of green Holi-style dye powder.

You can kind of imagine a parade celebrating the dragon form of the sorcerer king running through the center of the city right as they PCs enter town, them having to navigate a maze of celebrants as they try to find their way to wherever they're going. It'd be a cool one-time encounter.

Trey said...

That's a great example, Anne!