The Gods II

Design Notes

by Scott Martin

Last updated 11/4/97


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This section is basically a semi-random collection of working notes and essays that explain some of the rationale behind different parts of Gods II. Players really don't need to read this, but any gamemaster planning to run their own version of the Gods should look them over carefully!


Terrain Creation Power Costs

The number of squares (600) is a given. I divided up the world into the six basic terrains based on what I thought it should look like in the beginning, as follows:

Then I made the decision to start the game with no initial ice, so that terrain was converted to plains in the initial set.

I then decided that if the gods of each elemental sphere spent 50 mana changing base terrains, they should be able to increase "their" terrain by 50%. The amount of 50 mana was derived by assuming that each sphere had the equivalent of 1 greater god and 1 lesser god working on it, and that each had received 5 mana for myths and other player contributions. It further assumes that those players would spend all of their mana on making terrain, which is of course ludicrous. But players are extremely good at finding more resources or stretching resources beyond expectations, so as a rule of thumb I always overestimate the players' resourcefulness.

Using these numbers I calculated the mana costs for the basic terrain-making powers. (For example, if 50 mana is spent on Create Water we should end up with 150 more water squares, giving a cost of 0.33 per square.) Presumably if the gods of each sphere spent the same amount of mana, then the ratios would all end up the same. However, some terrains are easier to override than others and will tend to be replaced more easily, so based on Jeff's projections of what the map would look like if the spheres each spent various amounts of mana, I rounded the costs upward or downward to reflect these changes. Plains were made relatively cheap, but only for the spheres which gain no benefit from them, and they can be overriden by all other terrains; plains are meant to be a sort of "default" terrain from the point of view of the elemental gods, though of course they are the most preferred by the gods of man.

Ice represented a special concern, since it has no free starting terrain. If gods of Sky & Ice spend 50 mana, they will actually reach 100% more than the "assumed" numbers, but this is fair because they don't have the option of spending nothing to remain at equilibrium. Sky & Ice also has the unique power of Glacial Ice Pack, which allows ice to grow during Era Centrum; in the long run this is a cheaper way to create ice, though it means the gods miss out on the initial mana gained at the end of Era Aleph. (The Fire & Ice power Spreading Desert appears equivalent, but is not nearly as useful because the return is much lower.)

Terrain Mana Sources

Next I decided that I wanted each elemental sphere to get back about 100 mana at the end of each era from this process. Dividing this by six cards, I got a return of 16.6 mana per card. This was rounded up to 20 for the spheres of Fire & Earth, Sky & Ice, and Nature since their terrain amounts will certainly drop (often drastically) during Era Centrum as their squares become inhabited or changed. (Forests are especially vulnerable due to the effects of the Engineering knowledge, which is balanced by the fact that Nature is the only sphere which has a relatively cheap mid-level history power for creating its preferred terrain.)

So, knowing how much of each terrain there was on the Earth and how much mana I wanted each card to receive, the terrain mana sources for the four elemental spheres were calculated. For each sphere, I put about half of its mana return into terrain types with no reference to population and the other half into terrain types that referred to certain population limitations. (Sea is the exception, since all water squares are low population -- I only bothered to list that qualification just in case I later invent some lesser sphere that somehow grants the ability to let non-amphibious races live in water terrain.)

In general, fractions beyond the first significant decimal place were rounded down, though once again they were sometimes rounded up if the terrain source were exceptionally likely to drop in later eras.

Similar calculations were performed for lesser elemental spheres, always assuming a 16.6 mana return per card, or 20 when it had significant population qualifiers. If the lesser sphere was only half elemental, I used 6 as the base expected return -- this is less than half because I think doubling the worship mana multiplier will provide more than just double the mana because the god will be far more likely to have and take care of followers, while the terrain sources are generally static and take care of themselves once created.

Worship Mana Sources

The first step I had to do here was estimate how much population will be on the Earth over the entirety of Era Centrum. I estimated first that Earth has a maximum population of 1200 (4 population units per land square, assuming that all races were civilized, had transformed lots of terrain into plains, and knew Fishing in order to get the extra population on rivers and coasts.) Assuming that Earth will have this maximum population in the last century, will increase in steady increments to this point, and starts at a population of 0, I got an average population in each century of 600 and a total century-population count of 9600.

Note that this doesn't take into account cities and multipliers from Holy Race and other such, but then it will actually be pretty hard to reach that maximum. Give a race a starting population of 5, the standard 25% growth rate and 16 centuries, and they'll only reach a population of 177, assuming they take no losses along the way. Of course, the gods have powers to increase the growth rates. What I actually think will happen is that the total world population will be fairly close to the maximum for the last few centuries, but well below the incremental projection during the early centuries. As we saw in the last game, in the early centuries the races are extremely vulnerable, but once they reach a certain plateau of population and knowledges, and their gods have enough mana to protect them, they start to really shoot up.

I next made the assumption that half of the worship would go to the spheres of man, giving them 4800 worshippers (over time), or 1200 per sphere of man.

Based on the terrain numbers above, each elemental sphere will produce 300 terrain mana over the game (16.6 times 6 cards times 3 eras). Thus, each sphere of man should produce 300 worship mana, or 50 per card, over the 16 centuries. However, that would work only if there were only greater gods. Since terrain mana sources can be "shared", the total amount of mana produced by terrain is likely to be twice as much overall, while greater gods of man will have to "split" their sources with their leseser gods. So, the return per card is increased to 100 (or, more accurately, the number of worshippers per sphere is halved to 600).

In order to get 100 mana out of 1200 century-worshippers, each worshipper is worth 0.08333 mana which I rounded up to 0.09 for ease of calculation. (The rounding up can also be justified in that the elemental gods are actually still getting some mana from worship, though not much.) Spheres of heaven get 0.06, elemental spheres get 0.03.

Other Century-end Mana Sources and Event Mana Sources

For elemental spheres and spheres of man these are supposed to be relatively minor sources. The numbers were generally chosen so that they could typically gain about 1 mana profit per card per game session (four centuries) during during Era Centrum. They're mainly meant to encourage certain types of "characteristic" behavior by providing minor rewards. Event sources are generally rounded upward, since they're one shots, while others are rounded down, since an initial investment can produce a continuing input. Some examples:

The city destruction sources were generally pegged at 0.25. While taking out four cities in four centuries is pretty simple, the god would certainly have to expend significant mana to do so. This will make a profit (for the gods of a sphere overall) only if they can get the cost for destroying a city below 1.5 mana, otherwise it just defrays the costs.

Similarly, winning a combat was pegged at 0.5. While this is easy to do, it only makes a profit, assuming the god has 6 cards in the War sphere, if he can win a combat for less than 3 mana -- difficult, but possible given a good artifact.

The "racial type" sources (eg. Just populations, Advanced populations) were generally pegged at x0.001. A very difficult goal to meet would be to make half the world's population while it's at half the norm (ie, 300 population) fit the criteria; this would give 0.3 mana per century or 1.2 per game session. The multiplier number was modified up or down if the criteria were especially easy or difficult.

Spheres of Heaven Mana Sources

Spheres of heaven vary widely in their mana sources and were each done on a sort of ad hoc basis. Light and Chaos each have "terrain" mana sources, while Death has a unique century-end source. All are supposed to gain significant amounts of mana from events in heaven, and have relatively high multipliers for event sources. This is especially true of Fate & Justice, who has no other mana sources like the others.

In general, I assumed that they should also generate about 60 mana per card over the course of the game (the 50 mana other spheres got from either worship or terrain plus the little extras). Half of this would come from worship (just an assumption) and the rest I tried to get out of the other sources. Most of the numbers were completely subjective guesses, without any real math behind them. The few exceptions:

The mana for the Sun was based on the terrain concept of getting a 200% per era return on the investment, rounded up significantly because Chaos can easily steal it and the source is not actually shared by its lesser spheres (at least any I've created so far) so they're less likely to kick in mana.

The mana for dying mortals was based on the following nebulous mathwork: Using the population growth assumptions used for worship mana, in the middle of Era Centrum there will be 600 population units on Earth. Give that the normal 25% population growth rate and we get 150 new people. But the incremental growth assumption would put that at only 75 new people, so 75 of them have to die somewhere. By my more intuitive assumption this won't happen until much later in the era, so I halved that number and came up with an average of 37 deaths per century. (As a backup, I got similar numbers by doing some other rough estimates based on different methods.)

Designing the Greater Spheres

A huge amount of work went into the greater spheres, and I can't even begin to summarize the discussions and thoughts that went into the design of almost every single power. However, some general concepts did exist.

Each sphere has 19 powers. (Certain powers did not count toward this limit, such as the initial terrain powers and some minor powers put in mainly for balance.)

Each sphere category has certain strengths and weaknesses, reflected in the number of powers in each category. A "weak" category has only five powers, one in each slot, though the powers themselves are not necessarily weaker. A "strong" category gets a dispoportionate share of powers and, furthermore, all mana costs are reduced by a third from the "norm".

Elemental spheres are strong in creation powers and weak in personal powers. The mana cost discount on creation powers for elemental spheres is actually somewhat more than 33% because creation powers are the most limited, being usable only in one era of the entire game. Their personal powers tend to emphasize combat, but are rarely combat-duel powers. They have no persuasion or artifact powers.

Spheres of man are strong in history powers and weak in creation powers. Their personal powers emphasize persuasion, but when they do have combat powers they are likely to be combat-duel powers. Each has one mid-level artifact power. The costs for knowledge powers do not necessarily reflect the actual advantages gained from them. "High-level" knowledges, with many prerequisites, get more and more expensive as you go along to keep pace with mana inflaction during Era Centrum and also to reflect the fact that their effects will be magnified by the higher populations of the races later in the era.

Spheres of heaven are strong in personal powers and weak in both creation and history powers. Each sphere also has at least one personal power that generates mana for the caster and one mid to high-level artifact power.

Within the elemental and heaven spheres, certain oppositions were also built into the spheres which will tend to encourage conflict among them. Fire & Earth is opposed to both Sea and Sky & Ice. Chaos is opposed to both Fate & Justice and Light. In each case the sphere with the two opponents was given a very slight overall edge in their powers to reflect the fact that they will tend to have more opponents. Except for the slight opposition of Love & Beauty (in its peace aspect) with War, there are no real oppositions in the spheres of man, which basically can't function without working together.

In general, I tried to give each greater sphere a "MAD" (mutually assured destruction) attribute, some power or combination of powers which allows that sphere to really screw over everyone else if it so chooses.

For the elemental spheres, these are their fifth-level global disaster powers. Nature doesn't have one of those, but instead has a monopoly on Agriculture, a knowledge without which the gods of man can't operate, and near invulnerability in the Primeval Wilds.

Among the spheres of man, Cities & Wealth and Crafts & Knowledge have high-level knowledge powers which allow races to become extremely powerful and provide great benefit to their deities. Love & Beauty has the insidious Fertility Cult power, and War simply has the best overall set of combat powers in the game.

The spheres of heaven have their supremacy in their high-level personal powers. Chaos has the deadly set of Trickster and Control Demon. Death has the ultimate weapon, the ability to obliterate at a touch. Fate & Justice is more subtle, but has a combination of powers which can effectively dominate the actions of the Great Council. Light can simply drain all of the mana from its enemies.

More detailed notes on how power costs were derived can be found in the section on calculating power costs.

Creating New Lesser Spheres

Creating new lesser spheres is one of the most challenging functions of the gamemaster. It requires both creativity and an in-depth familiarity with the rules. Gamemasters should feel free to abolish this option all together if they don't want to deal with it. However, here are the guidelines I used for creating powers. (See above for guidelines on mana sources.)

1. The powers of lesser spheres should be equivalent to the powers of greater spheres at the same levels. The only disadvantage of a lesser sphere is the smaller number of total powers and the lack of fifth level powers.

2. Each lesser sphere should have ten powers, broken down as follows based on the greater spheres from which they derive. The powers of lesser spheres derived from multiple greater spheres should fall somewhere between these numbers, but still total ten powers. These parameters can, of course, be changed when required.

3. Powers should be spread equally throughout the four levels, with a slight concentration toward the lower levels. Avoid having two or more blank spots in the first two levels.

4. Unless there is some reason not to do so, try to include at least one combat-related power in the first two levels of the personal powers.

5. Where possible, borrow powers from other spheres. Powers which are actually more apporpriate to the new sphere than to the old can be provided at lower levels.

6. Powers borrowed from other spheres may be changed in level. If raised to a higher level, decrease the cost and/or increase the effects. If dropped to a lower level, raise the cost and/or decrease the effects.

7. Be extremely careful when assigning mana sources. Use existing spheres as a guideline. Few things will more rapidly unbalance your game than unbalanced mana sources.

8. Lesser spheres should not be able to duplicate the effects of the greater spheres' major fifth-level powers. Only when it wouldn't make sense to leave it out should a lesser sphere have access to this level of power, and then always at a greatly increased cost. Once exception to this is when creating joined spheres, which may jointly create a fifth level effect. Even this, however, should involve the fourth level powers of the lesser spheres and have an overall mana cost greater than the cost of the greater sphere's power.

Power Cost Calculations

As a general rule, mana costs should be two-thirds the normal cost in the sphere's primary area of emphasis (Spheres of Heaven: personal power, Elemental Spheres: creation powers, Spheres of Man: history powers).

Celestial spirit powers should cost about one-half to one-third the cost for a similar god power.

Unless otherwise noted, all sample costs are given for first or second level powers. As the level of a power goes up, the cost should decrease.

Powers which work only under certain circumstances should have their costs lowered to reflect lack of versatility. A single power which combines many effects together should cost more (or be much higher level) than a combination of powers which produce the same effect.

Some effects which have "standard" costs:

Combat Powers

As a rule of thumb, a combat power should provide as many elements (tricks, blocks, etc) as the level of the power plus 1; add or subtract 10-20% for each level of variance from this norm.

Miscellaneous Personal Powers

History Powers

Knowledge Powers

Knowledges generally fell into a spectrum from early to late, based on when in the era they would be taught. Early knowledges, with few prerequisites, are very underpriced -- things like Agriculture, Civilization, and Professional Military give a huge bang for the buck. This allows the gods, with their limited mana supplies early in the era, to still get these basic knowledges out to most races. Late knowledges went the other way. A good example: Siege Warfare (cost 17) is not three times more useful than Professional Military (cost 5). Part of this is due to simulation: some knowledges are more "advanced" and shouldn't occur until later in history. In game terms, however, this also reflects the fact that the effects of a power are magnified later in the era by the typical size of races: giving +1 Military to a race with Population 100 will save more of your worshippers (and kill more of the enemy's) than giving the same bonus to a race with Population 10. The prices also reflect mana inflation, which will necessarily be occuring at this point.

Elemental Gods versus Gods of Man

The Gods is set up with a fundamental dichotomy between the four elemental spheres and the four spheres of man. Though it's quite possible for individual gods to have a mixture of the two, it's likely that most gods will lean more toward one side or the other. In general, gods of man will be trying to increase the populations and powers of the mortals on Earth, allowing them to multiply and dominate the world, while elemental gods will be trying to maintain large areas of the Earth in a "pristine" condition with few or no mortals living there.

While the two sides are generally balanced, players will almost certainly note that at the beginning of Era Centrum the elemental gods have a huge advantage. At this time they will have far more mana than all of the other gods, while the mortals on Earth will be at their most vulnerable. Without much effort, the elemental gods can reduce the mortal populations to minimal levels and keep them there indefinitely, depriving the gods of man of their primary mana source.

This seeming imbalance is actually an intended feature of the game. The two sides are actually more balanced than one might think, but at this crucial time the gods of man must be extremely careful or forever lose any hope of restoring the balance between the two sides. Thus, here are some tips for the gods of man on how they can weather this trying period.

* Make allies. Remember that there is a third group of gods out there, the gods of heaven. At this stage of the game they are your natural allies, since they also gain much of their mana from mortals and none from terrain. Get them to help you protect the mortal races.

* Use the Council. With the gods of heaven on your side you should be able to outvote the elemental gods on the Great Council. Use this opportunity to pass laws protecting your races. And make sure that the gods of Fate & Justice are ready to enforce them!

* Persuade. With the exception of War, the spheres of man are generally less combat effective than the elemental spheres. However, they are the masters of persuasion powers. Use these abilities wisely to control or neutralize your opponents.

* Incite discord. Except for their common liking of "mortal-free" terrain, the four elemental spheres actually have little in common and are often opposed to one enother. Exploit these differences to prevent the elemental gods from acting as a team.

* Protect the Window on the World. The elemental gods can do nothing on Earth if they don't have access to the Window on the World. Do everything in your power to keep them away, while allowing your own side to beef up the mortals with knowledges and other powers. Distract them with business elsewhere in Heaven, trick them into getting lost in the Void, place militant characters in the Window to attack them if they show up, even kill them off so they remain stuck in the Underworld.

* Compromise. Finally, you can always make deals. Agree to leave certain areas of the Earth unpopulated if they leave your races alone. Co-opt some gods by giving them shares in your pantheons.

Unless the elemental gods are particularly clever (or the gods of man particularly inept), as the centuries pass the balance will inevitably shift in favor of the gods of man as they slowly accumulate more mana while the elemental gods' resources are used up. The key for either side is to either delay or accelerate this inherent transition.


Demons play an interesting role in the Gods. While it is possible for the demons to win, this really isn't expected to happen. This game is about the gods, not the demons. However, the demons do serve three very crucial roles.

The most obvious is something for players to do after their character gets wiped out. As I mentioned, the systems isn't really set up to give them an even chance of winning, but they do have a chance nevertheless. The job of universal antagonist should also hopefully be fun for the player; as mentioned in the rules, it allows a measure of revenge against those who killed your character without actually compromising the story.

Second, the existence of demons serves as a check on obliteration. Players should think twice about knocking off an enemy, knowing that that player will come back as an opponent who is possibly just as bad. This is less important as Era Omega comes along, as the "new" opponent will have less time to make and execute plans. In my opinion, a good game should discourage character deaths in the beginning, but slowly remove those disadvantages as the game reaches conclusion.

Finally, the demon players and the demonic hordes provide a built-in climax for the end of the game. Again, this is a game design element I try to include in most live games, a plot-internal deadline of cataclysmic import. This serves to spur player activity, leading up to a fast-paced and sometimes frantic endgame. It also works to offset the effect I've noticed in many games in which role-playing suffers when an artificial ending of the game has no corresponding internal plot element. Players sometimes perform actions simply because "The game's about to end anyway, so why not? I won't have to deal with the consequences." The built-in climax doesn't actually prevent this attitude, but provides a game-internal rationale for the characters to act that way.

The Toll

The toll is, in my opinion, probably the biggest change between Gods I and Gods II. Though straightforward, it has numerous subtle effects.

The most important is that it encourages characters to develop their own powers and mana sources rather than relying on the mercenary activity of selling services for mana. While the latter is definitely an important aspect of the game, if overused it tends to cheapen one's powers and turn the game into a contest of who has the most mana. The toll encourages bartering of services and favors over simple "monetary" payments, a situation which encourages more role-playing.

The toll also encourages more diversity among races. It is more expensive to teach knowledges you don't actually possess. Races will tend to learn mostly the knowledges available from the gods they worship. Pantheons will also be more flexible, as "paying" someone a share in the pantheon is now generally a more cost-effective solution than a cash outlay.

The toll should also help to curb mana inflaction. As mana increases in the game, it also tends to get traded and transferred more, thus increasing the amount of mana lost to the toll.

The toll also allows prevents characters from "banking" their mana with other characters in order to avoid mana penalties or possible drains from an enemy and then getting it back later, as such a practice would essentially reduce one's mana by 75%. It also encourages greater gods not to use their minions as "mana batteries"; though definitely still an option, it's more efficient for the mana to be used by the lesser god than to take it from her.

The Four "Elemental Races"

Even casual examination will reveal that there is a common theme running through the 4th level racial attribute powers in each of the elemental spheres. All create races with some powerful starting advantages: increased population limits in certain terrains, military bonuses, and resistances. They also have disadvantages which will, in the long run, limit their capabilities: reduced population growth and inaccessible knowledges. Most importantly, each attribute allows that race to dwell in that sphere's "favored" terrain without affecting the sphere's mana sources.

In game terms, these attribute powers allow gods with elemental spheres to participate in the creation and nurture of races, without being completely inimical to all mortals. These races can usually out-compete their "non-elemental" counterparts in the early parts of Era Centrum. However, over the course of the era they will tend to lose this advantage as the other races outstrip their population and gain access to the powerful high level knowledges. Perhaps the greatest limit on these races is that none of them can transcend; their knowledge restrictions are set up so that they can never have the prerequisites necessary to learn Transcendence.

On a more narrative level, these powers allow players to duplicate the "elder races" so common in much fantasy literature, such as elves and dwarves. They have certain mystical ties to the land and can dominate the Earth in the early ages, but will eventually be surpassed by the numbers and technology of the "younger races".