I had a lot of early influences that led to my later interests. I can just barely remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in when it came out. The first birthday present I can remember is a toy Batmobile. More to the point, one of the first non-Star Wars movies I can remember seeing was Clash of the Titans. While I had already started hearing stories about King Arthur and his knights, this was something else entirely — a whole different scale. My love of mythological stories was born, as was my deep abiding affection for mechanical owls.
It’s not much of a leap for me to gravitate towards roleplaying games that allow you to build your own mythology. This led me to my current review, Part-Time Gods Second Edition.
While I’m not going to spend much time on any of it in this review, the game itself does have some instances of discussing adult professions, cannibalism, potentially compromised people put in dangerous situations, and occasional descriptions of violent acts. It isn’t constant, but each of the above pops up in a few places across the course of the text.
This review is based on the PDF of the game. The PDF is 318 pages, with a four-page index, 12 sample characters (in addition to the sample characters used in the text), two pages of Kickstarter backers, three pages of random tables, a blank territory grid, and a blank character sheet.
The cover has gorgeous full-color art, with similar black and white art in the interior. While the interior art is black and white, interior headers and borders are rendered in gold and purple, and the overall effect looks very sharp.
The introduction gives the quick pitch of the game, which is that the player characters are portraying modern-day gods that must balance their responsibilities as everyday people with the responsibilities inherent in the divine spark that they possess. Complicating this is that mortals that aren’t worshippers that get too close to the gods usually don’t have a happy ending in store.
In addition to the pitch, there are brief sections on what a roleplaying game is, what is needed to play, and the core resolution mechanic. That mechanic involves assembling a dice pool of d10s, counting 7-9s as successes, counting 10s as two successes, and counting 1s with no successes in the pool as a critical failure. This section wraps up with a glossary of terms that will be introduced in the upcoming chapter.
Between chapters, there are one-page pieces of fiction illustrating how the lives of modern gods play out.
The Descending Storm
The next section delves a bit deeper into the lore of the assumed setting. The first mortal touched by the power known as The Source spent time with other mortals, and those mortals became gods. In order to keep a tighter rein on who gets to become a god, the existing gods locked up The First Mother.
This leads to some bad consequences that result in the creation of Outsiders, mythological monsters that originally just wanted to wipe out the gods (although some of them lost this drive over time).
All of this means that modern gods are a generation of people with amazing potential but burdened with the consequences of the actions of an older generation that was unwilling to fully share their power. Why does that theme feel somewhat familiar?
In addition to the broad history lesson on the gods and their origins, there are explanations of theologies, dominions, territories, pantheons, worshippers, outsiders, and why modern gods are less overt than their predecessors.
I really enjoyed the way the history weaves in and out of matching and diverting from what might be common knowledge about different mythologies. It is a history section that hits the highlights and lets you know what happened in broad terms but doesn’t assign specific fates for all of the old gods or go into details that a GM may want to provide in their own campaigns.
Spark of Divinity
This section of the book walks the reader through creating a character. This involves the following steps:
- Occupations (what you do for a living)
- Archetype (the type of character you are)
- Dominion (what you are the god of)
- Theology (an organization that has a specific philosophy on what gods should be doing)
- Attachments (your ties to the mortal world)
- Final Touches
Each of these steps adds different ratings to a character. By combining them, you end up with what skills a character has, how much wealth and downtime they have, what their truths are (abilities that are either always true, or can be activated, but don’t involve rolls), and the people, places, and things that are important to them.
At the end of each of the Theology sections, there is a sample character sheet for a god that belongs to that Theology. After walking players through the steps of creating a character, there is a section on XP, including how it is awarded, and what can be purchased with it.
At the end of this section is a summary of character creation. I was glad this was included, as the individual items are simple enough, but they are being accumulated across a lot of different options, and it might be easy to miss something that a character should have received from some section of character creation.
While I liked some of the items that will net a player XP for their character, I have become a much bigger fan of having tailored questions that trigger XP when answered. It’s great to award XP for characters being present, having scenes with their bonds, and highlighting their curses. I feel less excited about trying to determine spotlight awards, teamwork awards, or memorable moments. I would have rather had more specific questions tailored to the different aspects of the character as chosen through character creation, as some of the triggers feel too open-ended to me.
This section engages how to use the “big picture” aspects of the rules, such as how sparks work, legendary acts, hearing prayers, the limits of immortality, how manifestations work, rituals, and other worlds.
Legendary acts are big narrative things that gods can do to make a major change, but that drain them whenever they are done. Gods have to recover after they do these, and there are mechanical penalties assessed afterward, but the legendary act itself is a narrative thing that fits within the god’s dominion.
Whenever a god does something that isn’t a “standard” thing, such as using more mundane skills, they can use their manifestation skills to attempt to do supernatural things. The further away from their dominion the manifestation is, the more a god might take a penalty to their die pool to create the manifestation. There are example costs for things like magnitude and effect which a god must spend to create the manifestation, and if used against another creature with a spark, they must spend successes to overcome that oppositions defense before they can spend for effects.
The final section of this chapter explains how a god can create their own realm away from the mortal world, as well as detailing a few previously existing supernatural realms. There are also rules for detailing what happens when gods go exploring realms beyond the mortal world.
Blessing the Dice
The next section gets more into the rules for doing more day to day actions in the game. The group has a pantheon pool of dice that can be drawn upon when the entire group agrees and invoking a character’s curse (narratively suffering the effects of that curse), adds to the pantheon pool. Blessings often involve giving a character extra dice when they attempt certain skills or in certain circumstances.
Instead of adding a skill to an attribute, as many dice pool systems do, in Part-Time Gods 2nd Edition, you explain a primary skill related to what you want to do, and then explain how a secondary skill could supplement that skill, and the number in these two skills forms the number of dice that make up the dice pool. Higher difficulties require more successes.
Tools that are high quality or especially helpful to an action add additional dice as well. Getting three more successes than needed for a given result gives a character a boost and getting a 1 on one of the dice without getting any successes creates a critical failure. There are example boosts and critical failures given in this chapter to guide what should happen when those come up.
There are derived statistics for strength and movement. This was actually a little baffling to me, because so much of the game is abstract–the territory grid, wealth, downtime. It feels odd to quantify exactly how far characters can move, or exactly how much they can lift and carry, and it feels a little at odds with the overall feel of the game.
Moving around the territory grid and entering a scene causes a character to spend downtime. Characters can go to their job to get back some wealth or downtime instead of participating in a scene, and when a character is out of downtime, they have to spend time with their bonds, or risk damaging the relationship with that bond (bonds take stress a certain number of times before being broken, and a broken bond creates new penalties for the god). Some obligations can be met by spending wealth, but not all.
This section sets up how to structure a scene when player characters are in direct conflict with NPCs. There are different, but similar, rules for Battles of Fists and Battles of Wits. Characters have both health and psyche to track how much harm has been done in these conflicts.
When entering conflict, characters roll individual initiative, and they pick a major and minor action, and when they must defend against an action, they take a minor and major defense.
In addition to taking straight damage to health or psyche, characters can opt to take on conditions, which have specific consequences, but keep a character from using up all of their resources to stay viable in the scene.
Armor and weapons are a bit more granular than the overall description of the tools in the previous chapter, although most of the interactions deal with specific instances where they are more or less effective, and ways to mitigate costs for an item.
I’m a little torn, because I really like the depth that the interaction of major and minor choices adds to the narrative but coupled with the individual initiative rolled each round of combat, it feels like this could bog down quickly. It is noted that players could roll initiative once and keep the same turn order if they like, and I’m inclined to think this is what I would do, even though I like to run systems as written first, before introducing any modifications.
At least one of the defense options had me really confused, until I reread the actions sections and realized that (I think) it chains off of a character picking a certain action on their turn, which in turn allows them to then have the option to benefit from a defensive option when they are being acted against.
This section presents statistics for noteworthy mortals, mortals touched by the gods, other gods, and outsiders. While there is plenty of room to customize these stat blocks (and the GM is encouraged to do so when a character becomes a recurring character), there is a wide enough variety to present any number of threats on the fly. In addition to the specific examples, there is a chart giving “generic” dice pools, defenses, and resistances for different threat levels, to help GMs build and improvise anything that doesn’t appear.
The outsiders are drawn from a number of different mythologies and folklore, many of which have just a slight twist on what might be expected of them. Like the section on deific history, similar monsters from different mythologies are given more of a streamlined and common origin, such as the giants all originating from Atlas.
Creating New Myths
This section includes inspirations for the game (which draws on a wide variety of media), tips on developing stories, pacing a campaign, and utilizing story tricks. In several places it addresses specific game elements, such as getting the best use out of curses in the narrative.
There is a lot of solid advice in this section, and I particularly liked the range of inspirations for the game, citing comics, television, books, and movies, some of which may be obvious, but others that clearly have a similar theme to the game as presented.
I was a little surprised that there wasn’t a dedicated safety section in a narrative-heavy game such as this one, especially with some of the topics introduced. I do not want to give the wrong impression — the text definitely talks about paying attention to what players want and do not want in a game and building the story together, but this is interspersed, rather than concentrated in a specific discussion on safety.
I was also a little sad that there wasn’t more time spent on an idea briefly touched on in this section about starting the characters as mortal for one session, then layering on their deific powers and their association with the various theologies. While I understand what was said from a mechanical standpoint, I would love to see this as an alternate path to starting the game, with an expanded exploration of what this would look like and how it should unfold.
Divine Domain Part-Time Gods Second Edition manages to ignite a spark for modern urban fantasy roleplaying, creating a nice balance of game mechanics to drive the themes of the game.
I enjoy the exact level of detail given, that manages to give a strong feel for the setting, while leaving plenty of room to expand the campaign. Wealth and free time provide a great ebb and flow for driving the kinds of plots that the game describes. There is a broad cross-section of different cultural influences to create a richer tapestry to draw from.
The more granular rules about strength and movement feel a little at odds with the more free-form aspects of the game. It feels as if there is some potential for slowed pacing with individual initiative and multiple choices for both the attacker and defender in combat. I wish there had been a little more time spent on detailing the concept of playing characters as mortals discovering their sparks, and I wish there was a little bit more of a dedicated safety section in the rules.
Recommended — If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
Part-Time Gods Second Edition manages to ignite a spark for modern urban fantasy roleplaying, creating a nice balance of game mechanics to drive the themes of the game. If you aren’t interested in urban fantasy, this may not change your mind, but it may still be worth a look just to see how the grid, wealth, and downtime are utilized.
When you want to play god, what games to you enjoy? What are your favorite urban fantasy settings, and what is compelling about them? What kinds of mechanics do you feel support the themes of a game? We want to hear from you, so please leave a comment below! We’ll be waiting for you.