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Action Scenes!

Action Scene: Going to Church

by Dan Bayn
Apr 05,2005


Action Scene: Going to Church

Once the Blind Man had connected the murders to this lonely town, the source of the evil became self-apparent. Something otherworldly twists the old church's feng shui. To his preternatural senses, it's like looking through a kaleidoscope. You know, a kaleidoscope of evil.

He creeps in through the vestibule, but the priest at the altar is instantly aware of him. "There is a heathen in our midst," he preaches, "a blasphemer who means us harm." He raises his hands and the church's big, oak doors slam shut behind the Blind Man. "We must baptize him in blood..."

Churches can be sights of great good or great evil. In the first case, they are hallowed ground where unholy creatures cannot tread; they are safe haven against such specters as demons, Dracula, and the Headless Horseman. However, vile cults sometimes adopt the appearance of hallowed ground to better disguise their activities; these "churches" are dens of evil, home to whatever demonic, cthulhian, or alien menace your heros happen to be hunting. All of these possibilities make a common demand on GMs... be ready for a fight!

The main event will probably take place in the sanctuary (that's the big room with all the pews). Large churches may have a whole amphitheater with seating arranged in a hemisphere around the altar, but most will have the traditional rows and columns arrangement. Typically, the altar is raised above the main floor, but modern architects often choose to do the opposite, raising the pews to offer the audience a better view of the proceedings. In the vast majority of cases, the back wall will be adorned with the largest crucifix that can fit within the building's confines.

This is a great place for two kinds of fights: gunfights and supers smack downs. Gunfighters will be able to dive behind the pews or altar for cover, shatter stained glass windows with stray bullets, and stir up billowing clouds of wood and plaster debris. Most churches will have at least one balcony for snipers to exploit, not to mention high ceilings with exposed rafters.

Super-powered types will want to take advantage of all the open spaces and heavy things. Statues and giant crucifixes can be torn off the walls and used as clubs. So can pews, but the first thing you should do with those is throw someone through them, thus creating an aesthetically pleasing wave of destruction. After that, you can use the wreckage as clubs, shields, and wooden stakes to your heart's content. As usual with supers, the walls and windows are also fair game for your smashing pleasure.

Now, let's talk improv weapons. As mentioned above, crucifixes make excellent bludgeons and they'll be absolutely everywhere. However, you should take a moment to consider the sheer variety of crosses at your disposal. In addition to the monolithic one(s) above the altar, you should be able to find a few small crosses tucked away in the back, medium-sized crosses on free-standing poles, and maybe a few assorted crosses adorning the walls. There's more than enough cruciform mayhem to go around!

But the fun doesn't stop there. Look around the altar for such holy weapons as the communion chalice, the censer (looks like a mace; used to sprinkle holy water on the congregation), a hefty bible, and a tabernacle (the ornate box in which communion wafers are kept). Hell, there's probably be a hand-sized cross lying around there, too (for blessing things).

Down on the main floor, you'll have to make due with less holy implements. Most churches have collection baskets with long handles that would make serviceable quarterstaves. Many like to hang banners around on special occasions; tear one down for use as a whip, a net, or a rope. The pews should be well-stocked with prayer books and hymnals you can use to block and catch an enemy's weapon, or just to throw around like an angry monkey. Finally, you'll find holy water at all the main entrances, if that's relevant to your particular breed of bad guy.

As long as you're near the exits, consider taking the fight outside. Few churches stand truly alone; out-buildings might include a rectory (where the priest/pastor/whatever lives), a school, and administrative building, a community center, and a graveyard shouldn't be too far off. You can also fight on the church's roof, a literal playground of steep slopes and ornate stonework! It's often accessible via a bell tower, but you'll probably have more fun climbing up the walls. (See also, Clinging to the Side of a Building.)

Weddings, funerals, and holy days can add yet another layer of complexity to a church fight. Coffins, cakes, palm fronds, christmas decorations, and free-standing floral arrangements all make entertaining props, as do innocent bystanders in formal wear. For yet another wrinkle, make it a police funeral or a mafia wedding! The more, the merrier.

The Genre Mash

Unlike most buildings, churches have tended to get smaller since the middle ages. Fantasy games should supplement their small town chapels with the occasional sprawling cathedral, complete with gargoyles and flying buttresses! (Yeah, that's gothic, I know. This ain't History of Architecture.) These gargantuan structures will have all the great features and props described above, just more of them and at far grander scales. The bigger they are, the harder they fall on top of your enemies!

Hostile Tactics

What better place for miracles than a church? The bible is full of great spell ideas from pillars of fire to swarms of locusts. That nearby graveyard (or underground catacomb) hosts an army of henchmen just waitin' to be raised. Even the more benign miracles (stigmata, turning water to blood, levitation, etc.) can be used to incite the faithful against your heros.

If your villains can't get inside the church (on account of being unholy), things are a little different. They'll have to smoke their prey out before they can sink their teeth in. Fire works great; torches, flaming arrows, and molotov cocktails will get the job done right quick. Those of a subterranean bent (elementals, cthonians, etc.) could try to borrow under the foundation and bring their sanctuary down around the heros' ears. Finally, I have to mention an inspired trick from Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow:" tie something pointy to the end of a rope, spear yourself a victim, and drag 'em out to the unprotected perimeter!

Lights, Camera...

Still disoriented by the church's twisted chi, the Blind Man lets a pair of ushers get the drop on him. As he draws his signature Wakizashi and Desert Eagle, they enter the vestibule on his flanks. They scoop up his weapons in their long-handed collection baskets and toss them into opposite corners of the anteroom.

The Blind Man lunges towards the one on the left, getting inside his guard before he can bring his weapon back around. The goon struggles feebly as our hero puts him in a painful arm lock and forces him to parry his fellow usher's attacks. In one motion, the Blind Man spins around and flips his hostage over, using the momentum to pull himself into a cartwheel kick that sends the second mook flying! Sensing things more clearly now, he plucks the kicked guy's collection basket out of the air while he rips floor guy's out of his prostrate grasp.

The congregation has already risen from their pews like an army of zombies rising from the grave. Realizing that the priest is his real enemy, the Blind Man charges down the center aisle in long, low strides. The collection baskets whirl around him, thwacking legs and faces in a 180 degree arc pain. The mooks part before him like the Red Sea, crashing through each other in waves that break against the pews. He clears the sanctuary moments later, drops his collection baskets (they weren't made to take that kind of abuse), and leaps up onto the altar.

The priest produces a spike-covered censer and swings it savagely at the Blind Man's knees. He flips over the priest's head, lands behind him, and snatches up a cross on a pole just in time to block his back swing. The censer's chain snakes around the crucifix and snags. They struggle over it a long second before the Blind Man yanks back hard and brings the base of his cross/pole up into the priest's chest. He pushes the unholy man backwards, trying to pin him, but he rolls over the altar like a circus monkey!

When he regains his feet on the other side, there's a metal cross in his grip. He hurls it with a terrible fury, but the Blind Man catches the projectile with ease. "He has defiled the sanctuary!" screams the priest as the mob surges up around the altar. He vanishes into it, chanting "Kill Him! KILL HIM!!!"

Longing for proper weapons, our hero decides to return to the vestibule, but first he needs to buy some time. He hooks the cross/stand on a rack of devotional candles and pulls them down between him and the mob. The old carpet smolders and ignites, raising a wall of fire around altar. The Blind Man sticks the smaller cross in his belt and jumps up onto the large crucifix that adorns the back wall. From a perch high atop Christ's crown of thorns, he leaps to a banner hanging from the rafters and through the sanctuary, right over the rabid throng!

He slides across the vestibule floor and slams into the double doors... but they don't budge an inch. He can sense the dark chi holding them fast. "There is no escape, blasphemer!" Turning to pursue, the mob has receded away from the priest, who now preaches with a wall of hungry flames as his backdrop. The Blind Man takes three spinning steps towards the sanctuary and launches the small cross into the air! It flies over the cultists' heads and strikes the priest like a thunderbolt... right between the eyes!

As he loses consciousness, falling backwards into the fire, the dark chi evaporates and the doors swing open. The Blind Man rushes back and forth across the vestibule, collecting his weapons and sucker punching any cultists who cross his path. Then, he bolts out into the street and disappears into the alleys on the other side. When he stops to catch his breath, he can see flames licking their way up the church's bell tower.

Next Month: Action Scenes goes on hiatus to bring you a new project... Sanctum!

Loath Your Fellow Man

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