Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/09/27/tabletop-review-lords-of-olympus/
So I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with Greek Mythology. When I first saw God of War, I nearly jumped through the roof with excitement. Unfortunately, most RPGs I’ve seen don’t really cater to that particular interest. Sure, there’s the odd minotaur or two, but it’s mostly elves, goblins, and the like. Lords of Olympus appealed to me for this reason alone.
Also, I was intrigued by the diceless aspect of the game. I’ve played a couple of home made diceless variations, but never an actual published title. I was very interested how the rules would work for character creation, combat, and basic gameplay. Add in the fact that characters play as demi-gods right off the bat, and this is one interesting premise for a game.
Let’s start with the character creation process. At the beginning, each player is given one-hundred points. The first thing to do with these points is to bid on the game’s four primary traits. These are ego, might, fortitude, and prowess. Ego governs the use of mental powers, might is a measure of pure physical strength, fortitude determines how long you can stay in battle, and prowess is all about physical skill and cunning. When I say players bid on these traits, I mean that they bid in order to get the highest ranks. Each trait comes with three basic ranks and then some higher ones for further specialization. A mortal rank in fortitude means you’re going to die easy, while a first class rank in fortitude means you can fight for days on end with no problem.
When bidding, players submit secret ballots with their bids. The gamemaster (GM) then announces the high bid, and then plays the role of auctioneer. The books gives a very specific example where the GM riles the players up and tries to convince them to raise the bid as high as he/she can. Whoever gets the win gets the highest class, while the others rank down based on how much they’re willing to spend. So, if the top bid was ten points, that’s what it would cost to get a first class rank. If the second highest bid was six, then that would be second class. Players can buy up to a higher class, but they will end up being slightly lower ranked than someone who bought that class first.
It should be noted that this system is well designed for pitting the players against each other. The game is, in fact, designed for characters to act independently, and therefore look out solely for their own self interest. This certainly is a unique way to set things up, and it will take a special group to play this game properly. I mean, there technically are provisions to make the game a team effort, but the author clearly doesn’t want this to happen.
There are a number of powers and abilities that can be bought with extra points. Of key note here are abilities that allow you to alter probability, travel between worlds, and even create new worlds. Player characters start off incredibly powerful, as you may have gathered. They’re meant to fight supernatural creatures, deal with the politics of the gods, and stake their own legacy. It’s also worth mentioning here that there is no one setting you have to adhere to. The game uses a multiverse. Each universe has its own rules for science, magic, and the like. One minute you could be in classical Greece, and then the next you could be in a laser pistol duel in the year 3000. The Greek pantheon is what binds them all together, as they are the only true gods.
When it comes to performing tasks and fighting battles, it’s all about those traits I mentioned earlier. In a straight up fight, someone with a high prowess is going to win most of the time. In a psychic battle, the winner is the one with the best ego. However, the game is designed so that through conversation, the player can attempt to maneuver themselves into a favorable situation in the event an opponent has a higher rank than them. For example, ducking behind cover can make it hard for your opponent to hit you, or getting them to walk on a patch of ice could tip things in your favor. In this way, performing tasks requires descriptive comments from both the player and the GM. The less specific you are, the more likely that things will turn out against your favor.
Advancement is also fairly unique. The GM seems to hold onto characters sheets for the entire game, thus giving players nothing to do but roleplay. When it comes time to “level up” as it were, the GM assigns points to the players. The players than make a list of the advancements they’d like to make and rank them in terms of importance. The GM uses this list to grant them new abilities. Also of note is the fact that the GM is to hold a private meeting with the players to discuss these advancements. This furthers the idea that this game was designed to be competitive from the ground up. After all, what other reason would there be for the players to keep these things secret?
More than half of the book is dedicated to a full on encyclopedia of divine Greek figures. The Titans, Primordials, and Olympians are all accounted for. Each of these characters is given traits, personalities, allies, foes, and histories. The player characters are likely to be children of the gods, and this can come into play. For example, Hera might have something against a son of Zeus, and therefore go out of her way to make life hell for him. The list of Greek figures contains even the most obscure characters. It’s pretty darn comprehensive.
My biggest problem with the game is that it all but actively endorses cheating, bribery, and collusion among players and GMs. Additional points can be handed out to players who do something to help the game outside of the game. The book mentions a player being awarded points for bringing snacks for the group. This opens the door for a player to pay a GM off and/or blackmail them in order to get a better character. I’m sure stuff like this happens in other games, but this book seems to outright welcome it. The fact that the GM has complete control over everything in the game is pretty damning as well. The GM makes all calls as to whether a plan succeeds, what kinds of skills a character is likely to have, what a newly discovered world will hold, etc.
What this game requires is trust. The players have to trust the GM implicitly, and he/she needs to take the trust very seriously. If not, this game can disintegrate rapidly. Also, in a competitive game, there are moments when only one player will be actively roleplaying. In these times, the other players are likely going to need something to do so as to avoid boredom. They’ll likely play some other game. That’s just odd.
Overall, it’s going to take a very particular group to play this game and play it right. For those that do get into it, I’m sure the sense of freedom will be exhilarating. If you’re part of a group that’s looking to avoid a mess of stats and instead focus on playing a role, this game is worth checking out.