The Gods II
Chapter 1: Overview
by Scott Martin
Last updated 10/5/97
The Gods is a unique gaming system which combines aspects of role-playing games, board games, live action games, politics, and cooperative myth-making. The characters in the game play the gods of a new world. Through the course of five to seven game sessions, they will create the world and its peoples, act out the inter-personal conflicts and alliances of the gods, meddle with the affairs of mortals, and eventually compete for the position of Supreme Deity with the fate of Heaven and Earth hanging in the balance. For gamers who have always wanted to play ultra-powerful characters, here is the chance to act out your wildest dreams of hubris!
The Gods system has six different types of participants, each with their own level of involvement in the game. Each individual should carefully evaluate her own commitments and abilities to make sure that she chooses a role in the game which she is capable of fulfilling. Certain roles are crucial to the system, and if an individual fails to meet the demands of the role, the enjoyment of everyone will suffer. In summary, don't become a gamemaster or greater god unless you can commit to being at all sessions!
The participants are divided into two groups. The gamemasters and referees are the administrators and arbitrators of the game; their primary responsibility is to make the game enjoyable for the players, though they should also have fun in the process. The players (greater and lesser gods, celestial spirits, and demons) are the characters in the story and the competitors in the game; they must balance the need to properly act in character with their desire to win, a difficult balance which the rules of The Gods attempt to encourage. See below under Winning and Losing.
The gamemasters are assisted in their role by the referees. The referees have responsibility for running many of the mechanics of the game during each session, including the complex job of controlling the Earth map. Many of the character powers require the intervention of a referee, and all referees should be familiar with their responsibilities in these areas. They should also be familiar with the overall rules system in order to handle routine questions about the rules, passing difficult questions or judgement calls on to the gamemasters.
The actual number of referees needed for the game is variable and partially dependent on the physical size of the game site. In general, there should be two to three referees to run the Earth map, plus enough referees spread throughout the site so that one is always in easy earshot. Extra referees beyond this number are encouraged in order to allow breaks and provide for backups in case of absences. While each referee need not be at all game sessions, they may need to attend extra training sessions with the gamemasters in order to practice and familiarize themselves with some of the more complex game systems.
At the base of the divine hierarchy are the celestial spirits, the functionaries of Heaven. They provide the perfect role for players who wish to participate without getting involved in the cut-throat competition for becoming Supreme Deity, though they are certainly capable of joining the fray if they want to. Because they are not candidates for that ultimate reward and are immune to obliteration, players of celestial spirits can have a less intense gaming experience, concentrating less on survival or winning and more on the fulfillment of personal goals. Also, due to their peripheral nature to the central plot, a celestial spirit character is best for a player who will only be able to make one or two game sessions; the character's absence will not negatively impact the game as a whole.
Celestial spirits are also the roles given to new players who wish to join the game after the first session. After playing in at least one game session, it is possible for a celestial spirit to be made into a lesser god. This allows new players to work their way up the ladder of power, or for long-term players to switch to a more intense role if they so desire.
The demons provide a unique role in The Gods. They are the adversaries of all other players, attempting to destroy all of the gods and celestial spirits by preventing the election of a Supreme Deity! However, they are also the source of numerous powers which can be of great assistance to the gods in their war to become Supreme Deity. Their goal is inherently negative; the demons cannot win through any action of their own, but only by manipulating the gods into defeating themselves. Playing a demon is thus a difficult and extremely challenging job.
Demons are also unique in that no player starts the game in this role. Any god who is obliterated becomes a demon. The demons are thus "consolation" characters for players whose characters have been destroyed. While it is always distressing to have one's character killed in a game, it is hoped that those players will find the role of playing a demon equally challenging and just as fun. It is, after all, the perfect role for "getting back" at those who master-minded your first character's demise!
Overall organization and creative control of the game are the responsibility of the gamemasters. While it is possible for one person to run the entire game, it is recommended that there be two or three gamemasters so that one person is not overloaded with work during the game sessions, though one person may retain primary control.
Gamemasters must be fully conversant with all aspects of the rules and game system and with the abilities and goals of all players. They are responsible for compiling and distributing all necessary information to the players and referees, scheduling and planning the game sessions, developing new rules where necessary to fit the circumstances of their own game, and making judgement calls on rules interpretations and disputes. Gamemasters have complete creative control over the entire game and are free to discard, alter, or add to any of the rules described herein.
Most importantly, the gamemasters are responsible for adding the extra touches that breathe life into the game, turning a set of rules into an active, living story with dynamic characters and a sense of reality and history. By providing incentives for the players to act in character, encouraging players to expand upon the myths generated during the game sessions, and translating player actions into game reality, they help to create the fictional world in which the participants are not merely contenders in a game but characters in a living myth.
At the top of the hierarchy of players are the twelve greater gods. The greater gods are the primary moves and shakers in Heavenly politics, the chief contenders for the role of Supreme Deity. Players in these roles must commit to being present at all game sessions, as their absence will seriously impact the balance of the game. Players of greater gods should also, if possible, be experienced role-players used to balancing the conflicting demands of playing to win and playing in character. Familiarity with the intense politicking and strategizing found in politically-oriented live games is not required, but a definite advantage!
Much of the tone of the game will be set by the personalities and actions of the greater gods. A fractious group will cause the game to be filled with conflict and combat, while a group of greater gods willing to compromise will create a more pacific setting. Players of greater gods should be ready to commit large amounts of time and effort on planning strategy and making deals with other gods. This is the best role for experienced role-players ready to throw their all into a large-scale game.
Just below the level of the greater gods are the lesser gods. The precise number of lesser gods is variable, but may be up to 24 (twice the number of greater gods).
Lesser gods are the advisors, aides, agents, bodyguards, and messengers of the greater gods. Though only slightly less powerful than the greater gods, each lesser god is inherently bound to the service of one or more greater gods. This role is ideal for players who wish to participate fully in the politics and power-plays of the game but either cannot or do not wish to make the commitments necessary to be a greater god.
It should be noted that, while lesser gods are inherently inferior to greater gods, there is the possibility of promotion through the elimination of those above; a close look at the rules of The Gods will show that lesser gods have little to lose and everything to gain by knocking off greater gods! While it is possible to play a lesser god as a loyal minion of his lord(s), it is equally possible to play as an ambitious social climber who hopes to eventually become Supreme Deity.
Before getting into the rules, this section introduces some of the key concepts which underlie the rules system for The Gods. Familiarity with these concepts will make the rules much more understandable.
The sessions of The Gods are divided into four "eras". This division reflects the nature of what happens during the sessions and what rules apply. In Era Null, the players create their characters. In Era Aleph, the gods create the Earth. In Era Centrum, 16 centuries of time on Earth go by while the gods watch and intervene. And in Era Omega, the gods compete to see who will become Supreme Deity.
Eras Null, Aleph, and Omega each take one full session. Era Centrum covers two to four sessions, depending on the choice of the gamemasters in consultation with the players. As the heart of the game, this choice will strongly affect the character of the game. If Era Centrum is only two sessions, the pacing of the game will be fast and furious; each century on Earth will race by in half an hour, forcing the gods to rush to keep up with events. If Era Centrum is four sessions long, each century on Earth will last for one hour of game time; players (and referees and gamemasters) will be able to act at a much more leisurely pace, with time to contemplate and react to events. Three sessions allows an intermediate pacing, though the sessions will have to be of irregular lengths.
Overall Game Schedule
As with all role-playing games, "winning" is a rather hazy concept. The rules of The Gods provide no one definition victory or loss. As in other role-playing games, winning or losing comes down to a personal judgement by each player.
While the rules do provide a system for each player to create goals, these are strictly defined statements designed for awarding mana during the game and are far too limited to describe the long-range intentions of the rich characters which the players will hopefully create. Thus, in order to judge victory, each player creates a set of objectives.
Objectives are the player's personal guidelines for measuring success in the game. They can be specific or nebulous, easy or difficult. The game system imposes only a few objectives:
Other than that, players may choose almost any objectives they like. Some examples: Embarrass a specific rival. Destroy a certain race. Protect a well-loved ally. Be feared by all other characters. Teach astronomy to all of the mortals on Earth. Spread an ideology. Become the most popular god in Heaven. Defeat ten gods in combat. Get married. Make a specific race the most powerful on Earth. Spread happiness. Have lots of worshippers. Make life in Heaven "interesting". Get revenge for a specific act. Advance the collective interests of a group. Gain the favor of the Supreme Deity. Ensure that the Supreme Deity chooses a certain person as his enemy.
Players should submit a list of objectives to the gamemasters during the transition phase before Era Aleph. They may add new objectives during any transition phase. Players can also explicitly rank their objectives in priority order, though this is not absolutely necessary. The gamemasters will record and date the objectives, keeping them secret until the end of the game, at which time they will be revealed to all players. Everyone will have a chance to compare objectives and determine who was most successful at achieving them.
While it is obviously possible for a player to choose only simple and easily achieved objectives, the comparison is completely subjective. Most people will be able to see that success in a single extremely difficult objective chosen early in the game is "worth more" than success in a long list of trivial objectives chosen later in the game when the job was already half-way complete. Similarly, an objective which can, by definition, be met by only one character can be considered "worth more" than a common objective shared by many characters who can work as a team. As an option, the gamemasters can create some kind of scoring system based on their estimation of the value of completed objectives.
In the final analysis, it is up to each player to decide the relative importance of his own objectives, especially in relation to the various pre-set objectives. In order to help decide these issues, each player should ask himself the following questions: Should I resign myself to not becoming Supreme Deity and concentrate on other objectives? Am I willing to sacrifice myself in order to achieve a particularly important objective? Will I accept "second-place" if I can't become Supreme Deity? Or am I willing to risk the destruction of all of Heaven and Earth in pursuit of supreme power?
The Gods is a long game and cannot be played from beginning to end without a break. The game is thus divided into sessions, each session being about four hours long. The time gaps between the sessions are referred to as transition phases, during which the gamemasters and referees can update their information, players can do things like gain new powers, and new players can be introduced into the game. The scheduling of the sessions is up to the gamemasters, consulting with all of the players of the greater gods (who must be present at all sessions). They may be spaced anywhere from a few days to a few months apart, depending on the needs and availability of the many participants. A full game of The Gods lasts from five to seven sessions.
The Gods is played simultaneously on two levels. The player characters primarily interact in Heaven, the place where the gods live, represented by the game site. Heaven is divided into various locales (rooms) which affect the actions of those in them.
Earth is represented by a large map, located in one spot in Heaven. The characters can look down on the Earth to see what is happening and use their powers to instigate or alter events. Earth is important to the gods because it is the primary source of mana.
Mana is both the currency and the fuel of the gods, typically represented by poker chips. Mana must be expended to use powers and artifacts, can be used to gain more powers, and can be given to other characters as bribe, payment, or compensation.
Characters gain mana from a number of sources, including certain events in Heaven. However, most of their mana is derived from Earth, generated by the worship of mortals, the existence of certain terrain types, or various events.
The current mana total of a character is always public knowledge.
The game actions of which each character is capable are defined by that character's powers. Each character has a set of powers which define his inherent capabilities. For gods, these powers are defined by the various spheres; each god has a set of spheres which provide specific powers. Celestial spirits and demons have their own unique powers. Certain powers are also available to those who hold positions granted by the Council of greater gods. All powers are described in the power lists, and are divided into personal powers, creation powers, and history powers.
Gifts, as opposed to powers, are temporary abilities granted to a character by the powers of another character. Gifts are generally usable only once and then go away.
Finally, artifacts are items which may give a character the ability to use one or more powers or unique abilities which he would not normally have. Unlike gifts, artifacts are permanent and may be used multiple times. Artifacts are also transferable between characters.
The powers and artifacts of a character are always public knowledge. Gifts may, however, be kept secret.
The powers of the gods are classified into groups known as spheres. (There are also some generic powers available to all or some gods.) Each sphere represents a certain aspect of the Universe over which a god has control. The spheres are represented in the game by cards; the number and type of sphere cards which a player possesses will determine her powers. There are twelve greater spheres, each with six cards. These cards are initially distributed to the twelve greater gods during Era Null. In addition, each lesser god created in the game may select a unique lesser sphere, either choosing from a list of pre-written spheres or asking the gamemasters to create one. Each lesser sphere has five cards, though they may not all be possessed by characters at the beginning of the game. The exact selection of lesser spheres in any specific game will depend upon the choices of the lesser gods in that game.
Sphere cards not in the possession of a character are part of the sphere pool and may be purchased by characters with mana during the transition phases. Sphere cards also determine the mana sources of the god in both Heaven and Earth. As a character collects more cards in a specific sphere, she gains greater and more potent powers and also more mana sources.
All greater gods are automatically members of the Great Council, the "governing body" of Heaven. The Great Council has the ability to make laws, promote lesser gods to greater godhood, assign Council offices which grant special powers, and, most importantly, select the Supreme Deity.
Death is not the end of existence when you're an immortal! In The Gods, a character who "dies" merely goes to the Underworld (the afterlife, a specific place in Heaven) for 30 minutes, but then returns to play otherwise unaffected. Killing a god is relatively easy.
A character only ceases to exist when he is obliterated. Celestial spirits and demons may not be obliterated, but a god who is obliterated must give up his character and play a demon. That character is forever destroyed and has no further impact on the game. Obliterating a god is much harder than killing him.