Earlier this month, the core author and creator of this particular RPG sent me an email and asked me if I reviewed his game. I said sure and now that I’m mostly caught up with the GenCon glut of stuff that comes out every year (I just have to review The Strange and Warhammer: The End Times – Nagash) I’ve had a chance to read through and play a bit of Of Gods & Heroes and I have to say, it’s pretty good.
Like a lot of games, Of Gods & Heroes takes place during the mythological age of B.C.E. Most people will instantly go to Ancient Greece and/or Rome in their heads when they hear this, and yes, much of the games artwork and mechanics examples is from this period. However, of Gods and Heroes is more the GURPS of Myth-genre RPGs as it can be anywhere. DO you want to do a Native American setting? You can. Do you want Norse or Egyptian? The game is flexible enough for this. Do you want to play in Shinto priests in feudal Japan? You can! Of Gods and Heroes is more about the concept of a mythological setting than tying itself down to one specific pantheon. Of course that means games like Weird Wars Rome, Cthulhu Invictus and Mythic Iceland will probably be a better choice if you’re looking for a lot of depth on a specific place and time. For those who want a flexible game that can let you play a campaign in Mayan times and then the next with Innuit folklore, Of Gods & Heroes is a great choice that will only be limited by your imagination and ability to put the source material together yourself. Hey, it’s only 162 pages. You should not go into this game expecting a primer on ancient world religions. That’s just silly.
Speaking of silly, the narrative in Of Gods & Heroes is a bit light hearted compared to a lot of RPGs that can be quite dry to read. Now, this doesn’t mean Of Gods & Heroes is written like HoL, but it does mean that the book reads more like a friend explaining a game to you rather than how a core rulebook usually comes across. So you’ll see the Amazon PC example referred to with her left boob cut off instead of “breast,” NPCs and cannon fodder characters are referred to as “splats” and Thor is called “spanktacular.” This is neither bad nor good, but one of the many ways that Of Gods & Heroes stands out. If you prefer your games a little more somber or stoic, you might not enjoy the narrative style of this book. If however, you’re used to the off the cuff writing style of games like World of Darkness titles, you’ll be pretty at home with the way Of Gods & Heroes is written.
Mechanically, Of Gods & Heroes is a mix of old school Shadowrun and World of Darkness games. All you will use are six sided dice, which makes the game a bit more affordable and easier for newer/casual gamers to try. They should be two different colors though – one color for regular dice and one for prowess dice. Prowess dice come into play with your character concept. Your Prowess is your core descriptor. Hercules would be Strong and thus get Prowess dice for physical actions like wrestling or hucking things. Eagle-eye Jake would have a Prowess of Keen-Eyed, and thus would get Prowess dice for spotting hidden objects, perception, looking for traps and the like. You have a lot of options here, along with an Epithet to flesh out the concept. So Hercules’s Prowess would be Strong and his Epithet would be Mighty (Or Incredible if you are Greg Pak). So why are these dice a different color than the regular ones? Well, for a good reason. When you make a roll (Test), a success is a 5 or a 6. If a Prowess die comes up a 6, you get to roll it again. Now, if they were all the same color, you could point at the six that you rolled and say, “That was my Prowess die!” If you don’t get any successes, you fail at the action and if you get all 1s, you Botch and something bad happens. Botches are exceedingly rare as they all have to be 1s, so feel free to make them spectacular.
Although the dice rolling described above is pretty much the core of the game, there are a lot of mechanics examples with these. So the game is easy to learn, but a bit hard to master. This means GMs will be flipping back and forth through the book for some time until they feel comfortable will all the possible rules for combat, sailing, swimming, poison, starvation, social tests and more. It does feel like a lot when you read through the book for the first time, even though only thirty pages are devoted to the various mechanics in the game. Perhaps it just feels that way because the back of the book has a dozen pages of charts. The game reads a lot more mechanics heavy than it really is. Once you re-read it or play it a bit you’ll see the game is fairly intuitive and flows smoothly.
Character creation is pretty easy. Things are extremely freeform as you pick your personality, Fatal Flaw, Prowess and Epithet. Then you get 25 points to put into skills. Each level of a skill costs a single point, except Rhyme which costs two. Rhyme is one of two types of magic, along with Ritual. Both let you cast different types of spells, but Rhyme is a lot more powerful and off the cuff so it costs double.. Starting characters can only have a maximum rating of 4 in a skill, but as they advancement in-game, they can get higher than that. Finally you pick your Fate (which is essentially your character’s destiny) and you’re done. Character creation shouldn’t take very long at all unless you’re trying to Min/Max which, while possible in Of Gods & Heroes, is a bit silly.
Besides of all of Of Gods & Heroes has a nice section for GMs – which are called Chroniclers in this system. If gives some fine advice on how to gun a game, how to deal with players that go off the rails and how to design adventures. There’s also a mini Monster Menagerie featuring thirty-three different creatures to throw at your PCs. I do think this setting could have used a page or two showing GMs how to make their own creatures, especially at is does feel geared towards younger and/or newer gamers, but even a rookie GM will be able to figure out how to do that after they spend some time reading and running Of Gods & Heroes.
In all, Of Gods & Heroes is a very well made game. It tries to account for every possible situation or rule you might need, while still trying to be a more “rules-lite” style game. Character creation is easy and quick. It even includes a list of 101 story seeds to create your own adventures/epics. It does lack a full starter adventure like a lot of RPGs, which would be of help to newer gamers or those that don’t like to use homebrew adventures, but that’s okay. The $15 price tag is a bit high for a PDF in this day and age, especially when you can get more detailed game with better production values for around the same price. Still, what’s here is pretty good if you are looking for an all-encompassing or generic mythological setting RPG. As mentioned earlier, those that want a more specific and detailed look at a pantheon have several other options to choose from, but Of Gods & Heroes is more about flexibility and an easy to learn system than anything else. I’m usually not a fan of mythological setting RPGs and to be honest, Of Gods & Heroes really wasn’t on my radar before I was asked to review it. That said, mechanically and design-wise Of Gods and Heroes is a well-designed and interesting game. Sure it might not be something I’d play myself, but I can’t deny that gamers who do want to play a game where you are Grecian Demigods or African Tribal Warriors being used as pawns of the gods that you might want to pick up Of Gods & Heroes and see if it fits your needs. I definitely enjoyed it for what it is and I really hope it finds an audience, because it deserves to.