Advanced Agon: Wrath of the Gods

“Is it pious because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it’s pious?”
— Plato

I was having brunch with Ping and John Harper, so naturally talk turned to the complicated relationships between heroes and gods.

John was saying he wanted Agon to be a game where in the long run the heroes wound up with complex, even adversarial, relationships with their gods instead of just being dependent on them. After all when you’ve got a d12 Name die, is a d12 god oath really that big a deal anymore?

Very cool stuff, but as written the Agon rules don’t do enough to support really juicy god-hero relationships. First there’s a pitfall where a hero has a particular patron god but the Antagonist has set up a quest that will clearly offend that god. What’s a young hero to do, take the quest or be faithful to their god? It’s potentially a cool point of friction, but it only works if it presents the player with interesting choices. Right now it’s either do the quest or reject it and blow a Fate — no fun.

A second problem is that a hero’s relationship with the gods doesn’t change. If you do take a quest that offends your patron nothing happens. You can hand wave the god rejecting you, but it’s all arbitrary. Angering gods is also a big part of the genre, but you have no method of tracking all the gods you cheese off along the way.

Here’s an add-on that tracks your ongoing relationship with the gods. Tick off your patron god too much and maybe you better start making sacrifices to someone else next interlude…

Optional Rule: Wrath of the Gods

A hero has a separate relationship with each god. Heroic deeds and bold words can change these relationships, provoking the anger or affection of each god.

Write down god relationships at the bottom of the Oaths section of your character sheet. Use the box to track any god oaths you have as normal, but after the god’s name write your relationship score. A positive relationship means the god likes you, a negative score means you’ve angered the god.

Pick a patron god at character creation as usual — you start with a +2 relationship with that god. You begin with a 0 relationship with the other gods, but don’t bother to write them all down until you interact with them and your relationship changes.

Serving the Gods — Whenever you complete a quest for a god improve your relationship with that god by 1.

Angering the Gods — If you do something that offends a god, like slaying their favored hero or pet monster, reduce your relationship with that god by 1. Deeds that directly attack a god or its name, like sacking a temple or impugning the love goddess’s beauty, reduce the relationship by 2. Refusing a god’s quest reduces your relationship by 1.

Changing Patrons — You can choose a different god as your patron whenever you want, so long as you make a bold pronouncement about it. Take a -1 to your relationship with your old patron. During Interludes you can only sacrifice to your (current) patron god.

Sacrifice — The only mechanical effect of your relationship is sacrifice. When you sacrifice during an Interlude, take your (relationship – 2) as a modifier to your die roll. You’ll always get your divine favor back, but you are less likely to get a god oath and escape impairment if your patron is mad at you, and more likely if your god is pleased.

Let’s say I start with Zeus as my patron god. After a few quests, the bottom of my Oaths section looks like this:

Zeus +1
Ares +2
Hera -1

Now I’m at a -1 when I sacrifice to Zeus. Hmm, I might have to start thinking of switching to Ares as my patron god.

Playing the Relationship

A bad relationship won’t prevent a god from giving you a quest, but it can and should color things. When an angry god issues the quest it might be more of a threat than a challenge — Hera descends in a thundering cloud and demands the heroes do her bidding or risk her wrath. On the other hand a good relationship means the hero is loved by the god and will be showered with affection and pride.

The Antagonist can (and should) use the evolving relationships between the heroes and the gods to guide future quests. Man those heroes have annoyed Hera again and again. Time for her to get some revenge!

For extra fun instead of just showing the total, put the total positive and negative points you’ve accumulated for the god in parenthesis. Apollo +1 tells you how the god feels towards you right now, but Apollo +1 (+7/-6) shows that your relationship with the god has been a divine roller coaster ride.

Game Balance and other minutiae

Because heroes can wind up with a net bonus for sacrifices if they please their patron they’re more likely to get god oaths. Of course the Antagonists can always throw in some quests against the wishes of their patron god to slow that down…

Heroes are free to switch patrons to take advantage of good relationships that develop but there’s a hidden cost: during character creation a player generally picks a patron god with sacrifice abilities that match their hero’s strengths, but the new god might not match up so well. What’s better, keep the god with the preferred abilities or get the bonus for the good relationship? It’s up to you.

For added zing you could also let heroes pick a second god during character creation that is hostile to them and take a -2 relationship with that god. Your father offended Artemis and you may wind up paying the price. You could also let half-divine characters start with a +4 with their patron but a mandatory -4 with an enemy god.

And yeah, it could use a better name. I would have called it “divine favor” but that was already taken…

Beyond Agon

For extra credit, take 3 minutes and think how you could use this whole thing as a plugin for any game with lots of relationships with the gods (hint: all you have to do is remove the one line about the sacrifice rules). I knew violating that shrine of Bahamut would come back to haunt me…

    Ben Robbins | July 3rd, 2008 | | hide comments
  1. #7 Lucian Smith says:

    Ah, OK, I understand the Hera challenge/quest more now. She could really make it a lose-lose if completing the quest would piss off your patron. I still think doing something mechanically with the negative end of the scale would be good, and if having a nemesis is good story-wise, the thing to do would be to let it be a bonus somewhere, possibly in addition to having a penalty elsewhere? A negative relationship with Hera gives you a bonus to your relationship with Athena, since they’re rivals, but Hera-followers get a bonus against you in conflicts, say.

    But I do like the idea of your rule, and shall have to check out Agon!

  2. #6 ben robbins says:

    Hmm, I don’t know the rules of Agon, but it seems to me that your new rule still has the problem of not mechanically affecting play as much as it cries out to be.

    First off: Go check out Agon!

    Second: You’re right — this rule is mostly for roleplaying and story continuity. The impact on the patron god is a small screw to put pressure on the heroes.

    I would lean away from making an angry god a constant penalty. Story-wise having a major nemesis god is good and interesting — you want it in the game. If the mechanics requires heroes to placate them and “keep everyone happy” you lose conflict. There’s already a mechanic in Agon that punishes you for defying a god (spending Fate to refuse a quest) so this rule isn’t intended to conflict with that. Then when the Antagonist cruelly has your nemesis god show up and command you to do something you really don’t want to do you have to decide whether to buckle or defy and take the bullet.

    And given the fiendish competitive streak Agon encourages I can already see the part where a hero _brags_ that he has Hera -11 while the guys only have Hera -7. Hera hates me the most! You can measure a man by his enemies, etc.

  3. #5 Lucian Smith says:

    Hmm, I don’t know the rules of Agon, but it seems to me that your new rule still has the problem of not mechanically affecting play as much as it cries out to be. The positive end of things looks great–there’s the interplay of making sure your current patron is pleased, and the wonder if you should switch, etc. But on the negative side, there’s no mechanical effect of having ‘Hera -4’ vs. ‘Hera -27’.

    Maybe your God-nemesis (the God you’ve ticked off the most) can interfere with your Sacrifice? Then start people off with one God at +2 and one God at -2, and instead of having the bonus be (patron – 2) you can have it be (patron – nemesis). But while you only change patrons through deliberate choice, your nemesis automatically switches to the God with the largest negative modifier.

    Then the angry-Hera quest has some mechanical as well as roleplaying weight behind it.

  4. #4 John Harper says:

    I really like this mechanic. It’s simple, but adds a lot of goodness.

  5. #3 red_herring says:

    Great, Ben. Just posted both on the Forge page. My gaming group is caught up in the 4E fervor, but I expect to be running at least two Agon sessions for the extended group at GenCon–may be a perfect time for Sack of Lemotea.

    Thanks

    -phil

  6. #2 ben robbins says:

    Fire away Phil! I’ve been meaning to post to the forum but hadn’t gotten around to it.

    Sack of Lemotea has been on the backburner for a bit, but fear not, it’ll be ready to crush heroes before too much longer.

  7. #1 red_herring says:

    Great insights that will certainly improve play. I’d love to see this and your previous article on deeper quests posted on the Agon forum on the Forge. Would you mind if I posted the link? Also, any word on getting your Sack of Lemotia adventure to playtesters?

    Thanks

    -phil

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