Disclosure: Third Eye Games put out a call for reviewers, and I responded. Eloy Lasanta, of Third Eye Games, graciously provided me with a PDF copy of Part-Time Gods. Here is my review.
Part-Time Gods is a successfully funded Kickstart project. Completed on June 13th, 2011, there were even physical copies of Part-Time Gods being sold at GenCon 2011. I hadn’t heard of the game until GenCon, and truth be told, it slipped from my radar until Third Eye Games solicited invitations for reviews of their products.
The Kickstarter page for Part-Time Gods provides an excellent “elevator pitch”:
Players will take on the role of normal, everyday people suddenly imbued with the divine Spark of a god. They must balance their mortal lives (friend, family, loved ones) with the pursuit of their godly existence (adventure, power, legend), constantly riding the line of losing what makes them human.
Diving In&emdash;Chapter by Chapter Summary
A setting, mood, and Theologies&emdash;the secret societies of the gods&emdash;summary kicks off Part-Time Gods with promises of mystery and struggle. There is also an overview of what is a role-playing game and how to use the book followed by a quick example encounter.
The rules system is rather straight forward: Roll a d20 and add the appropriate modifiers. Compare the results against the difficulty. For each 5 points above the stated difficulty, the player receives a boost which they can use to deal additional damage, effect additional targets, provide additional information, add stylistic flair, or complete the task faster.
Most rolls are modified by a single stat, a skill rank, situational modifiers, and any spent stamina or divine sparks. Stats and skills ranks range from 1 to 10.
The Coming Storm
This chapter provides a system agnostic background for the game. The origin of godly power, named the Source, was discovered by proto-humans. The Source deified worthy and exceptional humans creating the early gods (i.e. Zeus, Coyote, Demeter, Thor, Vishnu, etc.). Eventually the gods of all the world’s pantheons imprisoned the Source.
Then came the God Wars, when the gods realized they were no longer immune to harm. Deicide became common, and over the eons, the powers of the gods waned, and the gods dwindled in number. Then, on June 13th, 2011, the world shook and new gods rose, imbued with the divine spark.
This chapter includes information on the formation of new gods, their dominion, territory, possible pantheon, theology, and worshippers.
We also see the introduction of the Outsiders – the monsters of legend (i.e. the minotaur, the gorgon, satyrs). They are also progeny of the Source, and while not gods, are imbued with the divine spark.
Theologies are secret cabals of like-minded gods. They are always on the lookout for new members, actively recruiting newly formed gods. Below is the list of Theologies and their brief descriptions from page 3 of the Introduction. Each Theology has aliases, stereotypes, history, lifestyle, roles, game system modifiers, gifts, drawbacks, and their take on the other Theologies.
- Ascendants: Gods who look to become as powerful as the old gods.
- Cult of the Saints: Gods who believe themselves to be messengers from Heaven - they hear voices.
- Drifting Kingdoms: Nomadic gods who build powerful domains, simply to leave them behind to build the next.
- Masks of Jana: Gods who hide the existence of magic from the world, hoping not to lose themselves in the process.
- Order of Meskhenet: Gods who look to the past for their power and survive through aristocratic-type families.
- Phoenix Society: Gods who guide humanity to greatness through direct and intimate interaction.
- Puck-Eaters: Gods who learn to draw power from chaos and ingesting the flesh of another.
- Warlock’s Fate: Gods who seek the answers to the universe, but rely too heavily on their Relics.
Here Part-Time Gods breaks down the components of a character and delves into the mechanics of the game:
- Occupations: Defines your characters wealth, bonus modifiers, and background points for tweaking your character.
- Bonds: How your god ties into humanity. Either with an individual, a group, or a place. More on this later.
- Attributes: Power, Agility, Vigor, Intellect, Insight, and Charm
- Skills: What is your character good at? All the standard fair for a modern setting.
- Gifts/Drawbacks: Mold your character with cerebral, physical, social, and divine gifts and/or drawbacks.
- Health: How much physical punishment they can sustain? A composite stat&emdash;Power + Vigor.
- Movement: How fast does your character move? A composite stat&emdash;Power + Agility.
- Stamina: How hard can you push your character? A composite stat&emdash;(Insight + Vigor)/2.
- Spark: How much divinity flows through your character? The higher the rating, the less human the character.
- Experience Points: Used to purchase character improvements and advance divine spark.
This chapter provides a quick outline on what being a god means. Each god:
- Can detect, at a limited range, any divinely infused creatures.
- Can expand their territory, which hinders other non-allied gods from manifesting powers.
- Can absorb another god’s essence, though not without risk.
- Gains 2 entitlements, special powers chosen at character creation (i.e. beast tongue, energy deflection, healing hands, lucky, etc.).
The Divine Powers chapter details mythical relics and how to attune to, use and created them. Relics have different power ranks associated with them. There are a couple of examples for each of the 5 ranks of relics.
The chapter includes excellent advice for defining a god’s domain, that is to say what they have power over: Bestial, Conceptual, Elemental, Emotional, Patrons, Tangible, or a Crossover domain. There is also discussion about broad domains vs. specific; Are you the God of Baking or the God of Biscuits?
Similar to mundane skills, manifestation skills define how a god manipulates the environment as it relates to their domain. The manifestation skills are: Aegis, Beckon, Journey, Minion, Puppetry, Oracle, Ruin, and Shaping. Each of these manifestation skills have different maneuvers. Wilbur the God of Horses could use his manifestation skill in Beckon to summon a horse spirit; Or Puppetry to manipulate a horse.
Gear and Combat
As is standard fare for most role-playing games, we have a list of gear – shotguns, cars, swords, etc. Money is omitted from the game, instead deferring to the wealth rating of the character’s profession.
Combat is broken down into five steps:
- Roll initiative to see who goes first
- Attacker chooses a maneuver
- Defender chooses a maneuver
- Both attacker and defender roll 1d20 + Attribute + Skill + Modifier. Highest roll wins. Tie goes to the defender.
- Apply damage.
Each turn, a character declares one attacking maneuver. The character may also respond with one reaction maneuver per turn (i.e. a defensive maneuver). There are plenty of maneuvers to choose from. The action maneuvers are: light strike, full strike, strong strike, gunshot, knockback, notch and fire a bow, pain strike, sweep, tackle, throw weapon, touch, use manifestation skill, and use standard skill.
Given that each character may only declare one reaction maneuver, battles that are two or more against one strongly favor the multitude&emdash;An attacker needs only get a modified 10 on their attack roll to get a hit on a defender who has already spent his reactive maneuver.
Characters may spend Stamina to split action in combat and gain multiple offensive actions; Each of the character’s action then gains a penalty.
The variety of maneuvers and the ability to split actions at a cost create rich tactical combat options.
A bestiary of animals, mortals, divinely touched, pucks, spirits and giants. Very helpful for providing a relative power-base of adversaries.
The chapter provides assistance for crafting scenarios, with a discussion about setting the right mood that is dramatic, comedic, and full of action.
Part-Time Gods provides a list of inspiration: “Dead Like Me”, “American God’s” (and other works by Neil Gaiman), “Percy Jackson and the Olympians”, and comics (such as Spider-Man and Superman). For me, this is a key component, to not only help in steering the game sessions, but to also highlight the intended kinds of sessions and campaigns for which the game system.
The Storytelling chapter provides advice for developing stories, grouping the story hooks into Initiations, Personal Struggles, God vs. God, and God vs. the Coming Storm. By providing this information, Part-Time Gods is staking out its territory in the types of stories it can best tell.
The GM advice section is short but packs a punch, laying out five key points for running a successful game.
- Have Fun!
- The Characters Are the Story
- Don’t Control Everything
- Involve Bonds, Involve Everyone
- Be Descriptive, Not Definitive
Regardless of system or setting, the five points of GM advice are always applicable and Part-Time Gods nails it!
If the GM isn’t having fun, no one is. By focusing on the characters, the GM is validates the participation of the players. By not controlling everything, the GM is letting the players be active participants in the emerging story. By involving a character’s bond, the GM is letting the players know that as the GM, he is listening to the players and what is important. And finally, by saying “you see a little green man with sharpened teeth” you are leaving the story open to Martians, goblins, moss-covered carnivores, or chronically queasy men with strange orthodontic rituals.
What I Liked
The rules system is very straight forward to understand. The rolls are quite simple, and a player can spend stamina or divine spark to give a boost to their endeavors.
Bonds, Passions, and Failings
I love the Bonds, Passions, and Failings sub-system. A Bond is an association with an individual, group or location. Each bond is further defined by an associated passion (e.g. approval, charity, joy, rival, etc.). A bond provides a mechanical bonus and liability for every character.
When incorporating a bond into the story, a character gains a bonus to relevant checks and may gain additional XP.
A character can also lose bonds and gain a failing (e.g. cowardice, envy, self-destruction, etc.). The game asks players to incorporate their failings into decisions, but are not mechanically required to do so. The GM can, however, compel the character to follow his failing. The compulsion can be resisted, but is harder the higher the failing’s rank.
Characters can also gain additional XP by incorporating their Failings into the session.
Stamina provides rules for allowing a player to push their character. If you want your character to dig deeper, spend stamina to do extra damage, run longer, split combat actions, resist pain, and push a skill harder.
A character’s Spark rating defines a character’s divine strength. The closer to rank 1 the more human the god, the closer to rank 10 the more powerful the god and less attached to their humanity. A god may only have 10 - Spark ranks worth of Bonds.
Similar to Stamina, Divine Spark can be spent to push a character; Either adding damage, activating entitlements, healing wounds, augmenting manifestations, adding a bonus to a skill, and most importantly resisting other god’s manifestations. In fact if a character does not have any remaining spark, they are powerless to withstand magical attacks.
I also appreciated that there were several example characters for each Theology as well as a motley of example characters in the Storytelling chapter. This not only gives a sense of how the pieces come together, but also provides some quick NPCs.
Puck-Eaters consume the essence of their foes. A Puck-Eater gains temporary bonuses from the antagonists. Each antagonist have a “Payoff” to indicate what a Puck-Eater gains when they consume the antagonist. This ranges from gaining bonuses to various skills to manifestation resistance to gaining one of the opponent’s powers. The duration of these payoffs eventually fade away. It is a gruesome reminder that which makes someone unique or divine can feed the power-hungry.
What I’m on the Fence About
There are lots of combat maneuvers to choose from. Too many decision points during combat, in my experience, inevitably slows down the combat resolution.
There are drawbacks which give additional points during character creation. Balancing drawbacks is a tricky, and again in my experience, all to problematic mechanism. Is Illiterate really a drawback? Or what about No Sense of Smell? These kinds of drawbacks are easily abused or never see the light of day.
What I Didn’t Like
I found the Introduction and The Coming Storm chapters a little difficult to work through. The ideas of these sections are great but the writing in this section is weak compared to the writing of the more mechanical sections.
There is a stated theme of “unlocking secrets”, but that theme does not appear to be part of the rules system. I suppose one could argue that using XP to advance a character’s powers could be construed as unlocking secrets.
Throughout the text there are statements that imply something is mechanically enforced, but is not necessarily the case. For example the following is from page 70:
Without strong Bonds, the character lacks goals or focus outside of hatred and fear, which can grant power at a supreme cost.
A god’s Spark rating limits the number of bonds, but there doesn’t seem to be a mechanical effect of having all of a character’s bonds reduced to 0. Yes they pick up Failings, but even those failings are mineable for XP.
Would it make sense to rule that a character with no bonds above rank 0 be removed from play? At the end of the session? Or has one more session to establish a new bond?
Would I Play Part-Time Gods?
Absolutely. The rules system is immediately accessible and the subject matter is rather interesting; Who wouldn’t want to try playing Gary the God of RPGs? Certainly the Bonds, Passions, and Failings system provides ample hooks for long-term play, arming a savvy GM with plenty of fodder for the story. This is one element of the system that I’d consider lifting and grafting onto other games.
Would I Run Part-Time Gods?
Unlikely. While I feel the system is well thought out and I enjoy the work of Neil Gaiman, I’m not as interested in running games in that vein.
Where To Buy
Third Eye Games online store: http://store.thirdeyegames.net/