Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five or So Questions with Justin Bow on Of Gods and Heroes

Justin Bow is from Green Fairy Games!

What's exciting about Of Gods & Heroes?
I talked about this in the Kickstarter description, but I can't say it enough - the game plays like an action movie. It's traditional game mechanics designed to promote creativity and strong character-centered stories with the over-the-top feel of mythology. I think one of the most important aspects of the game are Legend Points/Legendary Feats.

A lot of games have rules that let you reroll a failure, gain a one-shot bonus, or otherwise boost your chances for success. Legend Points let you do all those things, but they also let you perform Legendary Feat. Legendary Feats are myth-level abilities that each player will, on average, get to bust out once per adventure. If they're not an attack against an opponent, they automatically succeed. So you can simply hand over a Legend Point as a Fast Hero and say "I run across the water, because I'm FAST." A Tough Hero could go without food for a month or a Strong Hero could row a ship fast enough to escape a tidal wave.

Legendary Feats are also important because they're where players get to interact directly with the plot - it's a way to completely throw things off the rails in the coolest way possible. A good example from a beta playtest a few years ago had some Viking Heroes chasing another ship, which had just burned their village to the ground. They weren't making much headway (and the enemy ship was supposed to get away), until the Strong Hero said "You know what, I'm really strong. Forget this. I'm jumping over to the other ship."

And he did. Ultimately, both ships ended up sinking when one of the other players decided to ram the ships together, but that's neither here nor there...

What mythology most inspired your game?
This kind of feels like you're asking 'which is your favorite child.' OGH is pan-mythic, so it discusses a whole range of mythologies, from Aztec to Japanese to Norse and Greek. The basis for the game, though, is sea-faring mythology - your Heroes are assumed to be from a sea-faring culture and a lot of the game is about the crazy things that are beyond the Horizon. If you look at mythology, there's often this idea that, sure, there's magic and gods and stuff in day-to-day life, but the really crazy stuff is over the Horizon. Islands of dog-headed people, rocs guarding valleys full of diamonds, women who try to lure you out of your boat by singing, the edge of the world, that sort of thing.

So that's a strong theme. I'm pretty familiar with a wide range of mythology and folklore, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm most familiar with Greco-Roman and Viking mythology, so a lot of the random example names come from those myth cycles. Both the sample adventure list and the opponents draw pretty widely from a lot of different mythological inspirations - there's even a monster from Australian mythology in there (the bunyip).

I should also mention that there are guidelines for running non-sea-faring games in the Chronicler (GM) chapter. These are essentially just little tweaks that exchange the ocean for a different geographic barrier - whether that's jungle, desert, mountains or whatever. The sense that the wide world is dangerous and you're safer at home wasn't exactly rare in iron-age societies.

Tell me a little more about the basic mechanics of the game. What is the system like?
OGH uses a d6 dice pool mechanic where 5's and 6's are successes.

There are no attributes - only skills and Prowess. Prowess is, essentially, what makes your Hero a Hero. Classically, Heroes are exemplary in every way, but are far more than human in a single area – as Hercules is known for being strong and Odysseus for being cunning, every Hero has a defining capability and this is Prowess. Prowess allows a Hero to stand proudly before the gods and sometimes defy fate itself.

Most dice pools are made up of a Skill + an appropriate Prowess. Both skills and Prowesses max out at 6. Starting characters max out with 5 dice in their areas of focus.

I suggest using two visually distinct types of dice for skills and Prowess because Prowess dice explode if they come up 6 - that is, you can bank the success, reroll the die and get another success or keep rolling 6's, building successes.

The overall goal of the mechanics design was to keep things streamlined - so dice pool modifiers are only for important elements and there aren't many of them. We've found that even with people who've never played an RPG before that the system - from character creation on - is intuitive and easy to learn.

In addition to common things like social conflict, combat, and magic, there are a number of subsystems for warfare, speechifying to crowds, and ritual combat. These are kept modular so that unless you're actually, you know, going to war, you don't need to worry about those rules - but at the same time, their structure is the same as the core game systems, so you're not suddenly getting jumped by a much more complicated ruleset just because you wanted to introduce one of these story elements.

I really felt having that flexibility was important because players are going to see those rules and say "holy crap, I can start a riot!" Because the rules exist, people are more likely to put those elements in their games and tell crazier, more exciting stories.

You mentioned Tough Heroes and Strong Heroes. What's the difference? Are there other types of heroes?
I mentioned before that there are no traditional attributes in Of Gods & Heroes and talked a little bit about Prowesses. Tough and Strong are two of the 12 or so different Prowesses. A Tough Hero would be someone like Achilles whose super-mortal abilities are focused on being resistant to damage - they're also berserkers, so the more they get hurt, the better at melee combat they are. Tough Heroes mostly handle defensive roles in a group of Heroes, making sure that opponents focus on them rather than their squishier friends. Strong Heroes are pretty much what it says on the tin - strong. Think Hercules or Thor. Their job is to punch things really hard and lift heavy objects.

Some of the other Prowesses are: Cunning (liars, tricksters, geniuses - like Odysseus or Coyote), Eloquent (smooth-talkers and beautiful people, like Helen of Troy or Orpheus), Dextrous (people with exceptional agility, famous archers - like Monkey or Artemis), Wise (sages, mages, the guys who speak the language of creation - like Taliesin the Bard), or Beloved of Death (literally the child of the god/goddess of death).

Each one of these "styles" of Hero has an important role to play in an epic. Personally, I like to run/play in games with around 4-5 players, but I've had sessions where we've done a whole adventure with just an Eloquent Hero and a Strong Hero and it worked very well because they were able to cover each others' backs. I think you could successfully run a full epic with just one combat-capable character and an Eloquent, Wise or Cunning Hero.

What do you hope players get out of the game?
First, I hope that Of Gods & Heroes lets people make new myths. As a GM, I am constantly surprised by the stories this game creates. There’s real agency given to players through the Legend Points mechanic without making the game about who gets to tell the story. Every game session I walk away from the table feeling like we (myself and the players) created an interesting, exciting story. One time, I had to just end the session with “… and that’s why, to this day, all the snakes on Crete can talk.” It’s a really fun, collaborative process to get to that point. A process that involves punching a lot of things in the face.

I also hope that OGH encourages people to take another look at mythology, whether they read myths as a kid or last week. Mythology is public domain, which means there are plenty of websites that have comprehensive collections of various cultures’ myth cycles. Combined with Wikipedia, ‘researching’ a campaign setting or finding new material to inspire adventures is insanely easy. And I just think it’s cool to see how different cultures all tell similar stories and then to realize that we’re still telling those stories today, just modified to fit our culture.

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