Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Missing Chapter: How to Level Up

So you’ve noticed, you have, that this one little bit of information was missing.  Here you have your guide to being a Christian Cleric, filled with spells and the wisdom of our Order. I’d promised, I had, that I would tell you how to level up.

I didn’t.

That little detail is missing.

How does the whole “advancement” thing work?  How do you go from being an acolyte, as wet and fragile and helpless as a newly hatched golden dragon, to being the Clerical equivalent of mighty Bahamut himself?  How do you know you’ve notched it up a bit?  How can you tell when you’ve advanced?  

How do you make that happen?

The answer, of course, is experience.

We advance in the Order when we do the things that the Teacher taught.  It is as simple and as basic as that.  It has to do with our actions, our deeds, the particular ways we embody and live out the Way.  It must be this, because the only way we serve our Teacher is by spending our lives doing exactly what he told us to do.

We are terrible at this.

Oh, we think we’re not.  We see signs that we’re changing, and we work under the assumption that we’ve cued in to what it means to move ahead.  We’re sure we’re leveling up.  We get more and more focused on taking out those heretics within our Order who’ve betrayed our Teacher, either with their regressive ignorance or their drifting apostasy.  We spend every day focused on going after them, casting our spells against them, spinning out shared dreams in the ethereal realm, speaking out loudly and confidently in earnest gatherings of like-minded clerics.

That path can lead to fame and fortune, glory and power.  But it’s also not the path of the cleric.  Sure, you’re leveling up and gathering henchmen and hirelings by the hundreds.  
But you’re leveling up as a fighter, not a cleric.

Or we can cast our Chant spells by the dozens, weaving out a spell of seduction and charm to the gathered throngs.  Be here and prosper, we coo.  Give, and give abundantly, and abundance shall be yours!  Look at how I prosper, we say, as our glistening palace and shining carriage stand as evidence of our blessedness.

And they will, come, by the hundreds, filled with hope and hunger, to hear the promises we whisper into their desperate ears.  They will give us all they have, each gold piece a downpayment on a magical blessing that we have no power to bring about.  We do these things, and we feel that we must surely be leveling up.  Look at all of the blessity-blessings we’ve been blessed with!  Our large oaken treasure-chests runneth over!

Sure, you’ve been leveling up.  As a thief.

To level up as a cleric following the Way of the Teacher, you must repeatedly act as he would have you act towards those around you.  That means showing love.  That means going full-throttle support class for everyone around you, with no thought given to your own reward.

Whatever spells you know, whatever abilities you have, whatever your ability scores, that truth remains the same.  Do what you’ve been taught.

Note what I did not say.  I did not say: believe what you’ve been taught.  I did not say: have a solid conceptual grasp of what you’ve been taught.

Those things do not hurt, of course.  If you believe, you are more likely to do, as our beliefs guide our actions.  If you understand deeply, you are likely to do effectively and skillfully.  But it is simply not enough to have the idea of what needs to be done in your head.  It is not enough to talk about it, or to write about it, or to hold long earnest conclaves about it.

Some will say that our actions do not matter.  They will justify this by pointing to the truth that our intentions are known to the Maker.  We must have right intentions, they say, and they are not wrong.  It is faith that matters, they say, not our actions.  There is truth in that.  But it is not the fullness of the Way, because the Way is everything that we are.

The Teacher once told a story, if I am remembering it correctly, about two dwarvish brothers.  Their father, Thane of the Dwarfhold, called them before the Council.  There, he asked them both to journey to a deep and long abandoned mine.  Word had come from a nearby tribe of wood elves that two of their children had gone missing, and it was thought that perhaps they had become lost in the rocky, labyrinthine depths.

The elder brother, knowing his position and right as Thane-First, knelt and honored his father with his words.  He spoke fiercely of the honor of the Hold, of the might of the Thane’s Hammer, of the practical wisdom of his teachings.  

“This shall be done, O my Thane, O my father!”  But the elder brother was also proud of his warrior nature.  He was Thane-First, heir to the hammer of his father.  He was in no rush to go play hide and seek with some woodland snickerers.  He would do it.  Just in his own time, when it felt right to him.  He returned to the meadhall, where he sang rousing songs of the Honor of the Hold.

The younger brother was dour and darkbearded, and a dwarf of few words.  He was skilled with his axe, and known for his ferocity in battle.  The Thane’s Hammer was forever beyond him, and he did not aspire to it.  He did not care for it.  “Why would we waste our time on these stupid elflings,” he mumbled under his beard.  “Stupid, lost, frail elflings, with their stupid songs and empty heads.”

And yet that very hour, he set out to obey the words of his Thane-Father.  He journeyed to the mine, set into the heart of the forest.  From the yawning mouth of that hewn pit came the smell of smoke, and the smell of goblin.  

In he went, axe in hand.

An hour later, out he came.  With him, the two elvish children, bruised but alive.  On his axe, the dark blood of a dozen goblins, who’d been at the moment of slaughtering the elves for their evening meal when he roared into the cavern.

“Which of these dwarves,” the Teacher asks us, “did the will of his Thane-Father?”

The answer is simple.  The one who did it.

It must be done.

If it is not done, it is not real.  If it is not real, it cannot manifest the Deep Real into this branch of the Material Plane.  If it does not manifest, then it does not count as experience.

So it is not enough for you to consider the implications of casting a Blessing on that orcish child.  You must do it.  It is not enough for you to reflect on the ramifications of Removing Fear from that disgraced merchant who comes to you--desperate and alone and in fear for his life--because he has been cast out of the guildhall for his dishonesty.  You must do it.

If the world does not experience your commitment to the Teacher’s path, you will not ever level up.

But if you learn to pattern your days so that your every action is mercy and justice, so that your words are grace and forgiveness?  Then things will change for you.

Not that you’ll be richer, or more powerful.  That’s not what we’re about, remember?  But you will change, and your effect on the world around you will be felt.

Each day, in every action, you’ll find yourself in a new place on the path.  And in every new place, you will find a new opportunity to grow and to serve the Way.

That’s what it means to level up.

Let that be so, for you, and for me.