This article originally appeared in Pyramid #27

Warrior Monks

The Military Holy Orders of the Crusades

by Salvatore T. Falco

Art by Eric Hotz

The histories of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitallers provide a wealth of material for both historical and fantasy roleplaying. These organizations sprang from humble beginnings to provide the western world some of its first disciplined armies since the legions of the Roman Empire, amassing great power and wealth in the process. A strictly historical game set during the Crusades can make good use of their histories, but fantasy games can take truly creative approaches.


In the 12th century, the new vocation of warrior monk grew out of a combination of the new demand for a more dynamic, active Christianity and the success of the first Crusade. Fighting in defense of Christianity became widely accepted as another path to spiritual salvation, paving the way for the foundation of the first military holy order: the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar.

Of all the Crusader orders, the haughty and powerful Knights Templar is most well known, yet its origin is much humbler than its eventual power and wealth might suggest. In 1118, Hugh dePayns and eight other knights took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, pledging to fight not for booty or personal glory, but for the glory of Christ. The Templars offered to protect pilgrims traveling in the holy land, a sorely needed service. Since pilgrims brought wealth to the Crusader states and the Church alike, both had a stake in protecting them from the bandits and raiders that plagued the route to Jerusalem.

King Baldwin II of Jerusalem provided the order a portion of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the supposed site of Solomon's Temple to use as a headquarters. The Church recognized the order within a decade, and the Knights Templar were born.

Unlike the well-documented rise of the Templars, little specific evidence for the origin of the Knights Hospitaller exists. The Hospital was founded sometime before the first Crusade as a refuge for the poor and sick who traveled to and in the Holy Land.

In 1113, Pope Paschal II declared the Hospital an independent order of the Church. By the middle of the 12th century, the Hospital took up arms. Fighting grew out of its mission to care for the sick and the poor; the Templars and other Crusaders could not be expected to be everywhere at once.

Within decades after their foundation, the military orders experienced explosive growth in wealth, holdings and power. Enthusiasm for the Crusades had spilled over into approval for the fledgling orders; donations poured into their coffers.

In many cases, donors needing military assistance would grant land on their borders, providing themselves with relatively cheap defense. Other donors sought to purchase prayers for themselves or their families. Eventually both orders became wealthy enough to sustain themselves and increase their power through banking. The Templars began making loans as early as 1135, and both orders soon began providing an array of financial services, building their wealth even more rapidly.

Destruction of the Templars and the Decline of the Military Orders

If the rise of the military orders had been meteoric, the fall of one, the Knights Templar, was spectacular. The story is well known: on October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France had every member of the Templar order in France arrested on charges of heresy, sodomy and idolatry. The arrests destroyed Templar power in France while the accusations destroyed any ability other European Templars might have had to ally with other Christian rulers against Philip.

The exact accusations brought against the Templars ran several pages in length. Essentially they can be summarized under three headings: various acts of heresy, idolatry and homosexuality. The most frequent charges were that the Templars forced recruits to deny some or all of the orthodox beliefs concerning the divinity and perfection of Christ. Charges of idol worship claimed that the Templars worshiped an idol of a three-faced or three-headed cat called Baphomet from which they supposedly gained magical powers. Homosexuality charges fit into two categories: outright sodomy between members, and forcing recruits at their initiation to give the Master three "obscene kisses," one each on the lips, penis and buttocks.

These charges have drawn tremendous debate, but their veracity is unlikely. No physical evidence of idol worship was ever found, and had the Templars practiced the things they were accused of they would hardly have escaped detection for so long. It was not unheard of for a brother to transfer to another order, or to leave the order to return to secular life. Given the contemporary attitudes toward breaking vows, such a man would certainly have revealed heresy to justify his departure. None did. Finally, although many Templars confessed to the charges, their confessions were extracted through torture. The confessions are contradictory, implying that the brothers were simply saying whatever the inquisitors wanted to hear in order to escape further torture.

If the Templars were innocent, what motive could Philip have had for orchestrating such an atrocity? The Crusades had drained his treasury and he owed a considerable debt to the Templars. The easiest way to shore up France's flagging financial resources would be to eliminate its debt by destroying its largest creditor and assuming control of Templar resources. Philip thus chose charges that would eliminate the Templars' secular autonomy and allow him to seize Templar property and treasuries. The charges also obligated his fellow monarchs to turn on the order as well.

That a Christian monarch could attack and destroy one of Christendom's foremost defenders shows how far the esteem of the military orders had fallen. The fall of Acre, in 1291, had served as a death blow to their already flagging reputations. Their "approval rating" had always depended on the various Crusades' successes. Now criticism reached new heights.

Frequently, the orders were criticized on the basis of their accumulated wealth. Neither Templars nor Hospitallers maintained as many knights in the Holy Land as their funds would have allowed. Many people thought that this avarice accounted for the Christian losses in the Holy Land. Another problem was the discord between the orders themselves (Templars and Hospitallers sometimes fought in the streets over issues as petty as claims to mills), which was also assumed to have contributed to Christian losses.

But the Crusading ideal was dying anyway. European nobles had run out of money for crusading and had more pressing problems closer to home. Without the Crusades, the orders had no raison d'etre. Without a mission and with donations declining, the orders faded away.

Military Orders in Roleplaying Campaigns

There are a variety of uses for military orders in roleplaying. The strictly historical game is the most obvious, and Game Masters and players alike have a wealth of source material to draw on. A more interesting approach would be to include the elements of fantasy roleplaying. How would these military orders behave in a world with non-human races, fantastic monsters and magic? It is important to keep in mind the medieval psyche, which believed in magic, fantastic creatures and the workings of unseen spirits. The witchcraft charge made against the Templars would never have been useful had not magic appeared real to the medieval mind. After all, both the Bible and Church teachings both warn against witchcraft. Why would the Word of God warn against the practice of something that didn't exist?

This is not to say, however, that a Templar or Hospitaller would be completely blasˇ in the face of sorcery or fantastic creatures. Believing in something is entirely different from coming face to face with it, and initial encounters would call for (at least) Fright Checks. First contact with non-human races could be similarly traumatic, depending on the circumstances.

Game Masters must answer some questions for a historical-fantastic campaign. Most important is how much magic will be allowed. A military order campaign would work best against a fantastic (moderate amounts of magic) rather than a mythic (high levels of magic) background. In the medieval view, magic is subtle and mysterious. Game Masters should carefully select what spells they will allow in either type of campaign. After all, the Templars were accused of trafficking with evil spirits, not tossing around fireballs!

Spells should be restricted to the less spectacular spells from the GURPS Basic Set. If spells from GURPS Magic are to be used at all, they should be limited to the subtler spells in the Body Control, Illusion and Creation, Plant, and Sound colleges. Using the spells with less obvious effects remains true to the medieval view; allowing the spells from the colleges in GURPS Magic allows a little more flexibility for both GM and players, if PCs can use magic.

The magic system in GURPS Voodoo is perfect for a dark campaign in which the accusations of idol worship and witchcraft are true. Finally, the GM might consult GURPS Arabian Nights for an extensive discussion of the nature of and attitude toward magic in Arabic cultures, if the campaign will be set in the Holy Land with frequent contact with Arabs.

More overt spell-casting presents a challenge. Assuming that he has not already been exposed to magic, how does the average warrior monk react when he sees someone cast a fireball that destroys an entire cavalry unit? At the very least, the character should have to make a Fright Check at a considerable penalty. If the character makes his Fright Check, he is likely to seek to attack and destroy the spell-caster, unless it is tactically impossible to do so. Assured of entry into Heaven in the next life, the holy warrior is not likely to fear death at the hand of violent magic.

He would, however, fear the damnation of his soul. To the medieval mind, a curse could affect anyone. A warrior monk (or any Christian, for that matter) would be unlikely to risk his soul by offending someone who might be able to damn him. Necromancers are likely to be shunned and avoided. If one must be killed, the cautious warrior would seek to do the deed while the enemy slept. Better yet, he might try to hire an assassin to do the dirty work for him.

The truly crafty GM will present the warrior monk PCs with a dilemma. What is the nature of beneficial magic, such as healing spells and the like? What does a Templar do if he awakens, magically healed after having received a mortal wound in combat? Is this a miracle or a curse? Better still, if a magic-using enemy gains the advantage on the battlefield through the use of arcane arts, what should the Christian warrior do? Pray, of course, but if that avails nothing, should he take up the enemy's tool to use it against him?

The Templars, in spite of the accusations against them, might be less willing to adopt such strategies. They were always the most resistant to change. The Knights of the Hospital, on the other hand, were a very adaptable group, as evidenced by their shift from non-military to military, their eventual transformation into a naval power and their very survival to the present day (as the Knights of Malta). They might be quick to realize the benefits of magic and adopt its use. Since typical fantasy magic has an almost scientific approach (use the proper components and say the proper incantation, you get a given result), a sorcerer might, with a good enough fast-talk, be able to convince warriors that what they think of as "magic" is simply a natural result. Perhaps an order's Grand Master would come to that conclusion by himself.

Over time, the entire order might adopt the use of magic, either for healing or for more impressive battle magic. Different orders likely would specialize in different colleges.

Magic is only part of High Fantasy roleplaying, though. Monsters and non-human races are also staples of the genre. Both could present interesting twists.

Monsters might cause fright checks as unsuspecting Crusaders come upon terrifying apparitions. They might also become the objects of quests. More significantly, their appearance might be taken as omens that could launch whole new Crusades. In Christian mythology, the appearance of a dragon signified the imminent fall of a kingdom. A dragon's sudden appearance over the skies of Jerusalem might be taken as foretelling the kingdom's fall to Moslem forces. Since dragons were identified with Satan, an appearance might also trigger a witch-hunt as Christians in the Holy Land try to discover who has summoned the forces of darkness.

The appearance of monsters would not affect the warrior's mind set or world view, though. Monsters were assumed to exist, and though they might be frightening, a medieval warrior would probably accept them as natural parts of creation (if only as something to be slain and displayed as a trophy). Far more problematic would be an encounter with a "sapient monster," or intelligent non-human race.

Some non-humans, such as Fishmen, are obviously races with which Christians of any occupation would refuse to have business. Races that preyed on humans would be viewed as abominations, and any community found would be destroyed. Some races, like Reptile Men and Insect Men, are not inherently inimical to humanity, but the medieval mind would find them abhorrent nonetheless. Their sheer strangeness would mark them a mockery of human form and thus the devil's spawn.

Other races that are staples of fantasy, however, would present more challenging problems in perception. What would medieval man have made of the typical fantasy elf, dwarf or halfling?

Most likely, these three races would simply be viewed as odd humans, unless the longevity of the former two became known. None are so odd that they couldn't pass for humans of unusual shape or size. The problem would arise not because of their appearance, but because of their beliefs. Elves and dwarves have their own religions that differ greatly from Christianity. They would not likely accept any human religion, and this would brand them as infidels. They might not be treated as poorly as Moslems, unless they held some territory that Christians wanted. Elves are the most likely to suffer a Crusade, then, living as they tend to in highly desirable forested areas. Dwarven territory would have little appeal to the average Crusader - although their mines might be very attractive prizes, indeed.

Based on their reactions to the non-Moslem natives of the Holy Land, each order might respond differently to the idea of accepting non-human races into their ranks. Here it is the Templars who would be most likely to adapt. Historically, the Templars used light horse troops called "Turkopoles" (young men whose mothers were native and fathers were European) as support units. Non-nobles sometimes joined the order as "sergeants" - lower in rank than a full brother knight, but no less valuable on the field of battle. Templars might use non-human races in a similar manner.

The Hospitallers would be less flexible here. Historically, they rarely allowed non-Europeans to join their ranks. Non-humans would be unthinkable. They might decide that the Bible speaks of salvation for humans, saying nothing of these filthy parodies of humanity. They must be from the devil. Such a difference in opinion could contribute to the split between Templars and Hospitallers.

Of course, admission to any order would require acceptance of Christianity. Congenial and more pragmatic, some halflings might actually consent to become Christians, and would be entitled to enter some orders. Only nobility could become brothers, but most orders, including the Templars and Hospitallers, accepted common fighters as sergeants or auxiliary troops. Halflings would be the most likely non-human race to assimilate with Christian culture. They might make excellent behind-the-scenes workers. Banking activities require clerks, for example, and even the most holy warrior needs someone to help him tend his mount and equipment. Goblins might also manage to gain acceptance and would make excellent shock troops (or cannon fodder).

The ability of a race to be tolerated by the orders depends on a combination of two factors. Its willingness to accept Christianity is the major one. Even if one or two members of a race convert, a massive racial resistance to the faith would cause the Church to declare the race an infidel race. At best, members of an infidel race who converted could perhaps find employment in a Christian household, but would be unlikely to be allowed to fulfill any church function. For example, a Christian elf would be an oddity, and he would not be allowed to enter the priesthood.

The second factor is the race's appearance. Those races that appear closest to the human norm would be more likely to find acceptance. Other races, such as orcs or kobolds, would be considered abominations - mockeries of humanity and therefore infernal in origins. The Church would be unlikely even to admit that these races had souls. The best they could hope to be treated would be as highly intelligent animals. More likely they would be enslaved or exterminated.

Regardless of non-humans' ultimate status, roleplaying an initial encounter could be a challenge for even the best role-players. Likewise, the addition of monsters and magic to a quasi-historical game with historically accurate Christian holy warriors could provide a fascinating campaign.

Warrior Monks for GURPS

Warrior monks are easy to build as GURPS characters. The vows and requirements of the standard Templar or Hospitaller fit well into the GURPS advantages and disadvantages. The cost is steep, however. Including disadvantages, the minimum requirements cost a whopping 99 points! The standard 100-point GURPS player-character is obviously insufficient; build a Templar or Hospitaller on a minimum of 150 points. This represents a new recruit. Veterans should be built on 200 points or more.

The character's order furnishes him with all his equipment: a full suit of chain armor; a helmet; shoes; a coat of arms to be worn over the armor; a broadsword (thrusting, for GURPS purposes); a lance; a "kite" (a triangular wooden shield, "large" in GURPS terms, covered with leather); and three knives, two for fighting and one for table use. Brother knights are also furnished with three horses and two blankets, a heavy one for winter and a light one for summer. In order to fight loaded down with close to 75 pounds of equipment, the character should have a ST of at least 13 (30 points), DX of 12 (20 points) and a HT of 11 or more (10 points).

Needless to say, the order serves as a Patron. Each chapter is a group with significant assets, supplies equipment worth more than starting wealth, and appears on a 12-. A -15 point Duty to the Order (all the time) is included and reduces the cost somewhat (25 points). A Warrior monk should have Clerical Investment (5 points). If the campaign makes magic available, the character might purchase the 10-point level of Magery. He must also purchase three levels of Status (15 points).

A member of either order has sworn to live by its Rule, with a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Obedience is covered in the Duty inherent in the Patron advantage. Chastity is a minor vow (-5) and Poverty is at the -15 point level. The character is also Intolerant towards all other religions (-10). Fanaticism would be appropriate, as would a Sense of Duty towards Christians. Alcoholism, drug dependence and social disadvantages such as Lechery and Gambling would not be appropriate.

Finally, a warrior monk must purchase certain skills. He would be proficient with a Broadsword (at least DX+2, 8 points) and Lance at the same level (8), and Knife at DX (1). He should be able to ride his horse, naturally, at DX+2 (8). Surprisingly, no Theology skill is necessary. Both orders prized combat prowess and tactical and strategic know-how more than theological sophistication.

Warrior monks for a strictly fantasy game might call for different requirements. A fantasy order, for example, might not require a Rule as strict as the Templar or Hospitaller variation on the Benedictine Rule, and would be worth less as a result. The order might not provide as much equipment or support, reducing the cost of the Patron advantage. On the other hand, a strictly fantasy game's monks might have access to clerical magic, and would therefore need to purchase Clerical Investment at the 10-point level. Other skills or advantages, such as Literacy or Theology, might be required. For a good example of this, see the Order of St. George of the Dragon in GURPS Fantasy.

Article publication date: September 1, 1997

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