The Gods II
Chapter 2: Era Null - From the Void
by Scott Martin
Last updated 10/5/97
The first era of The Gods is unique in that the players begin without characters. Instead they represent formless spirits who, by the end of the session, will become gods or celestial spirits. There is no possibility of combat or use of special abilities; this is purely a character-creation session.
The players who will become the twelve greater gods will receive sphere cards and mana which they may trade among themselves and give to other players in order to create lesser gods. All other players will receive only mana, but may become lesser gods if they are given spheres. Any players who end the session without spheres will become celestial spirits. No referees are required for this session, though if present they may prove useful answering questions and assisting the gamemaster(s).
Era Null should last two to three hours, at the discretion of the gamemasters. The last half-hour is set aside for the appointment of Council officers.
The rules given here for The Gods assume that there will be 25-40 participants in the entire game. This allows for 12 greater gods, a dozen or so lesser gods, a collection of celestial spirits, and sufficient referees to handle it all. While gamemasters should have no problems expanding the game to fit more players, special challenges await those running a game for a smaller group.
To shrink the size of the game, reduce the number of greater gods to somewhere between six and ten. The greater gods should make up about one third of the total number of participants. Each greater god receives six greater sphere cards; those left over are put in the sphere pool. The rules for archetypes and primal beings should be discarded. Change the minimum number of votes required for Council action to one more than half the number of greater gods.
Elemental Spheres are those which deal with the natural elements. They excel in the use of creation powers used to form the Earth. They are generally inimical to mortals and gain only minimal mana from the worship of mortals; most of their mana comes from the various terrains of Earth. The greater elemental spheres are: Fire & Earth, Nature, Sea, and Sky & Ice.
Spheres of Man are those which deal primarily with mortals. They excel in the use of history powers used to direct and control the peoples of Earth. They gain most of their mana from the worship and other activities of mortals on Earth. The greater spheres of man are: Cities & Wealth, Crafts & Knowledge, Love & Beauty, and War.
Spheres of Heaven are those which deal with the underlying abstract concepts of the universe which apply to both mortals and gods. They excel in the use of personal powers which affect events and gods in Heaven. They gain some mana from the worship and activities of mortals on Earth, but also gain mana from events which occur in Heaven among the gods. The greater spheres of heaven are Chaos, Death, Fate & Justice, and Light.
During Era Null, you may trade or give mana or sphere cards according to the rules listed here. Note that these rules only apply to Era Null. Completely different rules, defined in Chapter Four, apply in all of the later eras.
You may trade or give away mana to any other player. Sphere cards may only be traded or given away to other gods, unless you are a greater god creating a lesser god. Celestial spirits may not possess sphere cards. You may also trade mana or sphere cards in exchange for promises of future gifts or assistance, but any such promises are not binding. If you accept such a promise you will have to rely on the trustworthiness of the other player!
Each god must always have at least one sphere card. If you are a god, you may never trade or give away your last sphere card.
At the beginning of Era Null, distribute 20 mana to each player. (See below for tips on representing mana.)
Select twelve players who will become the greater gods. The exact selection method is left up to you, but may include random lottery, some form of bidding, or simply whichever players arrive first.
Give each of the greater gods six greater sphere cards (see below). These cards should be distributed randomly, but no player should receive any duplicates; this can best be done by preparing twelve sets in advance. As an option, you may allow each greater god player to request a set that contains one card of a sphere of her choice.
Players who do not receive sphere cards are considered celestial spirits, though they may be transformed into a lesser god by the action of a greater god (see below).
At the beginning of Era Null, you will receive 20 mana. You may freely trade or give away this mana with other players.
Because there's only room in Heaven for twelve greater gods, the gamemaster will select twelve players who will become greater gods. The exact selection method is left up to the gamemasters; if you particularly want to play a greater god, ask them how to increase your chances of doing so. Special Note: If you accept the role of a greater god, you must also accept responsibility for appearing at all future sessions of the game. If you will not be able to meet this responsibility, you should disqualify yourself from the greater god roles and plan to play either a lesser god or celestial spirit.
Mana is an abstract concept, but players require some simple way to keep track of their total mana at all times during the game sessions. Two methods are recommended:
Method #1: Represent mana with poker chips. Use one color to represent 1 mana, another color for 5 mana, and a third color for 25. Mana which is expended or lost for any reason is placed into bowls placed strategically in all rooms of the game site. Players may also make change from these bowls. Referees can pick up these excess chips at regular intervals and return them to the gamemasters for re-distribution as new mana is created. This method requires a lot of poker chips so that the gamemasters never run out.
Method #2: Each character records his current mana total on 3x5 cards or other handy pieces of paper. As the total changes, the old numbers are crossed out and replaced with the new value. This method requires a lot of pens or pencils so the players never have to hunt for one.
Gamemasters may also choose to use a combination of these two methods or some other method of their own devising. The only caveat is that the act of spending or transferring mana should be simple and quick.
Between actual game sessions, mana exists solely in the gamemasters' records. Any mana transfers or changes must be done through the gamemasters, who will change the totals of the appropriate characters.
The powers of the gods are vested primarily in their spheres. The spheres are represented in the game by cards. Each card has the name of the sphere on it. A god's powers and mana sources are defined by the sphere cards he owns.
The powers, mana sources, and general descriptions of the spheres are provided in the power lists. The spheres are divided into three general categories: Elemental Spheres, Spheres of Man, and Spheres of Heaven. Lesser spheres may belong to one or more of these categories, depending on the greater spheres from which they derive.
There are only a limited number of sphere cards in the game. There are six cards for each greater sphere, and five cards for each lesser sphere. Any sphere cards that are not owned by a character are in the sphere pool. Gods may expend mana to "purchase" cards from the sphere pool during transition phases.
Each sphere is associated with a set of powers and mana sources. The powers are divided into levels. A god with a single card in a specific sphere may use only the first level powers of that sphere. A god with two cards may use the first and second level powers, and so on up the scale. (Two or more gods may combine their sphere cards to cast certain higher level powers as defined in the rules for later eras.)
Greater sphere powers only go up to the fifth level; owning the sixth card in a greater sphere provides special powers listed below under archetypes and primal beings. Lesser spheres only go up to the fourth level of power; no individual god may possess more than four of the five cards in a lesser sphere.
Each sphere also has a set of mana sources listed. A god gains the listed amount of mana from those sources multiplied by the number of cards he has in that sphere. Thus, the more sphere cards a god has, the more mana he will tend to accumulate. Rules for mana sources are given in Chapter Four.
Though each lesser god must have a unique sphere and may not repeat a sphere already selected by another lesser god, the gamemaster may allow two or more lesser gods created at about the same time to select a closely tied group of overlapping spheres which will work together. Some examples would be: Weal and Woe; the North, South, East, and West Winds; Magic, Science, and Tools. (This last grouping is provided as an example in the standardized lesser spheres.) Such linked spheres may share a number of common powers. They may also have powers that only work in conjunction with the powers of the other linked spheres. Exactly how the linked spheres are tied together is at the discretion of the gamemasters.
What if I created a lesser god before becoming an archetype or primal being?
While unlikely, it is possible to create lesser gods before becoming an archetype or primal being. If this occurs to you:
If you are an archetype: Any lesser god created before you became an archetype remains your minion. However, he does not follow the rules for archetypal lesser gods. He may have multiple lords and may be transformed into a greater god without replacing you. He may not participate in the selection of your successor as can your archetypal minions.
If you are a primal being: Any lesser god created before you became a primal being ceases to be your minion. The ties between minion and lord are broken, and the lesser god is now free to trade or give away the greater sphere card which he originally received from you. The lesser god remains the minion of any other lord(s) he may have had.
Any players who end Era Null without sphere cards are celestial spirits. The powers of a celestial spirit are defined by two sources. First, all celestial spirits share a common set of generic powers. Second, each celestial spirit has the powers of his chosen celestial persona. The possible personae are: Archivist, Artificer, Assassin, Cup-bearer, Demon-slayer, Half-demon, Hero, Nature Spirit, Soul Guide, Traveller, Trickster, and Warrior. The generic celestial powers and celestial persona powers are described in the power lists.
If a celestial spirit character ever becomes a lesser god, all celestial powers (both generic and persona) are lost. Note that celestial spirits have few mana sources. They must generally rely on mana they receive as gifts or payment from the gods.
Celestials also have the chance to begin the game as one of the three Council officers.
At the same time that the gods turn in their mana and sphere cards to the gamemasters, players of celestial spirits must turn in their mana and select their persona.
A greater god may transform any willing player (who is not already a god) into a lesser god by giving him a single greater sphere card. Two or more greater gods may jointly create a lesser god by each contributing one greater sphere card. The new lesser god is now referred to as a minion of the greater god(s) who created him, and each greater god who contributed a sphere is a lord of the lesser god. Note that the lesser god player must be willing; the greater god(s) cannot force lesser godhood onto an unwilling celestial spirit.
If you are a brand-new lesser god, you must immediately inform the gamemaster(s) of your new position. You must also choose a new lesser sphere; note that your lord(s) do not get a say in this choice. The lesser sphere must reflect the nature of the greater sphere card(s) which your lord(s) gave to you. A selection of standardized lesser spheres is provided in the rules, but you are free to use your imagination to devise new lesser spheres in consultation with the gamemasters. The gamemasters will (before the next game session) design the powers and mana sources associated with any new spheres. You must select a unique sphere and may not repeat a sphere already chosen by a previously created lesser god.
After choosing your new lesser sphere (which must be approved by the gamemasters), you will immediately receive sufficient cards in that sphere so that you will have five cards total. If you have one lord (and thus one greater sphere card), you will receive four cards in your new lesser sphere. If you have two lords, you will receive three cards, and so on. Note that if you have five or more lords you will receive no cards in your chosen sphere! Any excess cards of your lesser sphere are placed into the sphere pool.
You may never trade or give away the original greater sphere card(s) given to you by your lord(s). You are, however, free to trade or give away any lesser sphere cards and any other greater sphere cards which you may acquire as gifts or trades.
Your lord(s) hold a number of rights over you; these are described as generic god powers in the power lists.
When a new lesser god shows up to be recorded, help him devise an interesting new lesser sphere which will belong to him. A selection of standardized lesser spheres is provided in the rules, but players are free to use their imaginations to devise new lesser spheres as long as you agree with their choices. Before the next game session you will have to create the exact powers and mana sources of this new sphere; the new sphere must have sufficient scope to provide a good selection of powers and fit into the overall balance of the game. Guidelines for designing new lesser spheres are given in the design notes. Before OK'ing a suggested sphere, be sure that you have a clear concept of what you want to do with it and are sure that it can be balanced with other lesser spheres, neither too powerful nor too weak.
When a greater god collects all six cards in a greater sphere, then that character's spheres are forever frozen and the player must choose to be either an archetype or a primal being.
If at any point in Era Null you possess all six of the cards in a greater sphere, you must immediately inform the gamemasters and choose to be either an archetype or a primal being. You may no longer trade sphere cards with other players and may never use mana to purchase new sphere cards from the sphere pool.
If you are an Archetype, you are the physical personification of a facet of the universe (ie, the greater sphere which you have monopolized). Because you have unlimited access to the power of your archetypal sphere, you may now create any number of lesser gods without actually giving away one of your six cards in the sphere. The gamemaster will provide you with a handful of extra cards in your archetypal sphere; if you run out you can always go back and get more. You may use these cards only to create new lesser gods. These extra cards do not actually count as sphere cards in your possession for purposes of gaining mana from the sphere's sources; you will always have only six cards in your archetypal sphere.
Lesser gods created with your archetypal sphere may not be "shared" with other greater gods; you must be the sole lord of that lesser god. Lesser gods created in this fashion have certain limitations and possibilities which the lesser gods of non-archetypal deities don't have. In summary, these lesser gods may not become greater gods unless they take your place, but they can do so without action by the Great Council. Details of these limits and procedures are included in Chapter Four.
If you are a Primal Being, you are not merely the personification of a sphere; you are that sphere. You must immediately return to the sphere pool any sphere cards which are not of your primal sphere.
As a primal being, you may have no lesser gods. You may use certain special powers available only to primal beings, described in the power list. If you are ever obliterated your sphere cards do not return to the sphere pool but are destroyed; that sphere no longer exists in the universe! In addition to making all of the powers of that sphere unavailable to other gods, some rather fundamental changes will happen in the universe based on which sphere no longer exists. These are detailed in the power list for primal beings.
Record the spheres of a new archetype or primal being, noting their special status. Take back any sphere cards owned by a primal being which are not one of her primal spheres. Give an archetype player a handful of cards in his archetypal sphere, cards which he can only use to create new lesser gods. He theoretically has an infinite number of these cards and may come back to you at any time to get more.
The gamemasters may allow players to select from the advantages and disadvantages described in the power lists. For every point of advantages, the character must have a point of disadvantages. The gamemasters must approve all advantage/disadvantage selections; combinations of advantages and disadvantages which cancel each other out or are clearly opposites should not be allowed.
Advantages and disadvantages may normally only be chosen at the time the character is created. However, they may also be chosen when a character is promoted (from celestial spirit to lesser god, or from lesser god to greater god). Any such changes to the character must be consistent with events in the game. Most typically, advantages can be chosen which reflect the former celestial persona of a new lesser god and should be balanced by subtracting cards from the new sphere cards gained. The gamemasters should take great care in allowing any such changes in mid-game.
One half hour before the end of Era Null, all trading in sphere cards and mana ceases. The gamemaster should announce this time as it approaches so that players are not caught unawares by the deadline. At this point, all gods are stuck with the sphere cards they have in their possession! From this point forward in the entire game, no gods may trade or give away sphere cards, except when making new lesser gods during transition phases. Thus it is impossible to become an archetype or primal being after this point.
Report to the gamemasters and turn in your sphere cards and mana totals. The gamemasters will collect the physical cards and mana markers and record the totals. If you are a celestial spirit, choose your celestial persona.
The Great Council is served by three individuals who hold Council offices: the Messenger of the Gods, the Sentinel of the Council, and the Judge of Heaven. These three have responsibility for some of the administrative and enforcement tasks associated with the Great Council and the laws of Heaven.
Before Era Null completely ends, the Great Council must meet to assign the three Council offices. Full rules for the Great Council are given in Chapter Four, but this is considered a special meeting with the sole purpose of assigning the Council positions and thus has special rules described here.
Each greater god has one vote in the Council. This meeting is chaired by whichever greater god has the most cards in the sphere of Fate and Justice. That god also has the ability to break ties (during this one meeting only). The Council must, by majority vote, assign each of the three Council offices to a celestial spirit. An individual may hold only one Council office. If there are insufficient celestial spirits to fill all three positions, then excess positions can be assigned to lesser gods. In later eras, it will be possible for the Council to appoint anyone as a Council officer, but in this initial session celestial spirits get fist priority, followed by lesser gods.
The three characters who are the Council officers have certain powers in addition to their normal celestial or sphere powers. They also have duties which they must fulfill. These powers and duties are described in the power lists.
Once the Great Council has selected the three officers (and had their decisions recorded by the gamemasters), Era Null is officially over.