Of Gods And Men
Because It’s Been On My Shelf For Years, And I Want To Know What’s In It
Warning! You May Need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP After Reading This!
(An amusing note: I started this in June, 2012. Then I did other stuff. Now I’m finishing it… if I can find my copy of OGAM again… ah, found it. Good.)
(Amusing note 2: It is now 2016. The last edit on this post was 2014. There’s no great special reason for this, no “This is the WORST GAME EVAR” horror. I just get distracted easily.)
Greetings, faithful reader, and welcome to another installment of “Lizard tries to pretend he provides content”. In today’s episode, we look at “Of Gods And Men”, an RPG you’ve never heard of. No, you haven’t. Don’t lie.
“Of Gods And Men” was published in 1991, and it ended up in my collection… uh… I dunno. I think I scarfed it from Gamescape in San Francisco when it drifted from the “Half Off” shelf to the “Got Wobbly Furniture? Look Here For Help!” shelf. Anyway, I happened to glance over at one of my bookcases earlier today, spotted it, and decided “What the hell? Why not?”
I mean, it’s got a picture of a guy playing “Alas, Poor Yorick!” with a fireball on the cover. What could go wrong?
We’ll find out…
In The Beginning…
We know we’re off to a good start. In LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS, under DISCLAIMERS, we are helpfully informed that THIS IS ONLY A GAME and that IF WHAT HAPPENS WHEN PLAYING OF GODS AND MEN BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT THAN REALITY, you should seek COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP. Well, that’s good to know. Thanks for that. Because, you know, it happened so often that people became obsessed with fourth-tier D&D heartbreakers and went mad. There were hundreds of cases per month, well documented, and many of the victims would have sought COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP if only the inferior games they’d played had included that helpful tip.
There’s other boilerplate disclaimers in ALL CAPS, all equally useful.
Anyway, we can now look just a page to the right and see the character sheet. Strength, Dexterity, Health, etc.. Body Points, Dodge Points, five “levels” of protection, except they’re not really levels so much as different types — shield, armor, magic rings, etc — a place for skills, and so on. Nothing self-evidently wrong with it, nothing “ZOMG I MUST PLAY THIS” about it, either. Graphically, it’s from the “Hey, Laserprinters Are Awesome!” school of early-90s layout, thankfully avoiding “Whoa, this thing’s got, like, 30 fonts! Let’s use them all!” typography. (I was guilty of that, of course, along with “Angry Fruit Salad” interfaces on my old Mac II.)
…There Was a Map….
A map without a scale, or a key. A map drawn by someone who was clearly trying to imitate Tolkien. A map featuring someone’s homework from art class when they spent a week on calligraphy. By the way, it looks like “Myrth” means “Lake” in whatever language they made up for this. “Memyrth” means “Ocean”.
…And Some Background…
Oh, boy! Black print on greyscale art! White Wolf came early this year! Blah blah golden age blah blah gods left blah blah demons blah blah army of unicorns??? blah blah some other stuff I’m not reading.
I love the army of unicorns dumped into the otherwise completely generic Tolkien-via-Black-Sabbath vibe that most 80s/90s RPGs used. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that vibe — done right, it’s awesome. See: Arduin. Done wrong, it’s… well, most games not called ‘Arduin’. Moving on…) I can see it now:
Designer: And then the NECROMANCER summoned up some DEMONS and they…
Designer’s Girlfriend: …were stopped by the beautiful, magical, sparkly, unicorns!
Designer: The what?
Designer’s Girlfriend: The unicorns. The pretty, pretty, unicorns. Or you’re not getting laid, ever again.
Designer: OK, the unicorns. Sigh.
Roll The Bones!
Time to roll ability scores, people! This is where it gets real. But not, you know, too real. Because then I’d need COMPETENT PSYCHIATRIC HELP.
I swear, I’m going to register COMPETENTPSYCHIATRICHELP.com. In all caps. Just like that. But anyway… ability scores!
So, I roll seven 10 sided dice, taking the five highest, which it says will leave me with six numbers and… huh? (Flip flip flip) Ah! OK, looking at some of the tables, it seems he means “roll seven ten-sided dice, then add the five highest for each ability”. Hm. Little bit of the ol’ lollipop guild there, know what I mean, say no more, wink wink, nudge nudge, but, then again, it might be necessary based on how the game is scaled. Of Gods And Men has a good long list of playtesters, and not all of them are also the game’s designers, after all.
Let us with the going get, eh?
(Here, by the way, is where the original 2012 text ended. Everything you read from here on in is completely new. Not fresh. Not original. Not creative. But new!)
I’m sure you’re wondering, “But, Lizard! Who has 7 ten sided dice just lying around, I mean, if they’re not some goth poseur playing WoD?” Nah, you’re not wondering that. What gamer doesn’t have 10 or more d10s, just in case? Even if they only play GURPS or Hero, you never know when a d10 will come in handy! So, I keep a few spares…
Strength: 10,1,1,10,9,5,3. So, we take the five highest, and we get 37. This gives me a +1 damage bonus and a “break chance” of +1% to +5%. I can lift 185 lbs.
Dexterity: 8,6,2,4,10,5,6: 34. There isn’t a chart for this, in particular, so I don’t know what it does. A score in the 30s means I’m on par with “the average recreational athlete”.
Health: 1,9,2,10,1,9,8: 38. Hey, you notice this system tends to put everything into the 30s? Would 30+2d6-2 not have worked about as well? Anyway, male characters weigh 6lbs per health point, so this guy (yeah, might as well make him a guy, unless I see some reason not to, later), weighs 228 lbs, and did I mention how much I hate Windows 8? I want to bring up the calculator. It’s a FULL SCREEN APP. There are few things more useless than a calculator on a computer that HIDES THE OTHER APPLICATIONS SO YOU CAN’T SEE THE NUMBERS YOU’RE TRYING TO CALCULATE!!!! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, MICROSOFT? ARE YOU HIRING LOBOTOMIZED LLAMAS TO DESIGN YOUR UI? WELL, YOU SHOULD BE, BECAUSE THEY’D DO A BETTER JOB THAN THE PEOPLE YOU’VE GOT NOW!
2016 Edit: Windows 10 is so much better. Seriously. They listened to criticism and got it right.
So, anyway, my character weighs 228 lbs. Also, he has a Dodge Recovery of 5/hour, and a Body Recovery of 1/12 hours.
Influence: This score measures how many Congressmen you own. Nah, just kidding. It’s state senators. Hah! Kidding again. Bazinga! It’s Charisma. But it’s given a different name, because, reasons. 10,4,8,8,6,1,5:37
Knowledge: 5,2,3,2,4,6,3: 21. Well, so much for my 30+2d6-2 idea. I sense a jock. Strong, healthy, charismatic, dumb as a sack of rocks.
Will: To my cousin Frank, I leave my collection of Black Sabbath albums, and… no, wait, different kind of will, and yeah, even by my standards, that was a pretty differently abled joke.5,5,9,8,6,2,4:32. This gives me an Energy Threshold of 0 and a Body Threshold of 0. BTW, those are the results for Will 30-40, which is “most of the rolls you’re going to see”. Hopefully, at some point in the rules, there will be a meaningful difference between 31 and 38.
Determine Secondary Scores
These are Body Points, Dodge Points, Energy Points, Movement Po.. er,. rate, and Encumbrance Poi…, no, Rate… no, just Encumbrance. Why not Encumbrance Capacity or Encumbrance Factor or something? Just for synergy’s sake? Son, I am disappoint.
Body points… it’s actually variable whether it’s Body Points or body points… are equal to (Strength+Health)/10. Round up, so 8. Since the range for both attributes is heavily weighted towards the 30s, this means that 8 is going to be the value for almost everyone. If you ignored the “round up” rule, you’d have a range of only 6-8.
Doge… I mean, Dodge points are Dexterity/8, round up. So, 5. Again, you end up with the same limited range. By the way, did I mention I’m using Excel as a calculator, because I can’t deal with shifting back and forth to a full-screen calculator to do basic math? I have to see if there’s a downloadable calculator that isn’t infested with malware.
DPs can’t be recovered with magic, while BPs can. This is because dodging a blow doesn’t hurt you. Actually, in context, it makes a sort of sense… BPs represent physical damage, while DPs are more of a metagame resource. Or so it looks now. You can’t heal “You’ve run out of chances to get out of the way.”
Energy is basically “fatigue”. Everything you do costs Energy Points. When you’re close to zero, you roll on the WILL THRESHOLDS TABLE (all CAPS as in ORIGINAL) and then make Will checks to keep fighting on. It’s the kind of mechanic that makes perfect sense, but ends up being tedious in play. Unlike the other calculated attributes, which have the formulas called out by the text, this one is buried in the paragraphs. It’s equal to my Health, minus my Encumbrance.
Power is what fuels magic, and its equal to your Knowledge/7. So, 3. I won’t be casting a lot of spells. If I’d had a typical Score of 35, I’d have… 5. Hm. (It’s later noted most of your PP are going to come from your skill in various magical arts — the more magic you know, the more power you have, which makes sense. Most spells have double-digit power point costs; anyone relying on their base score wouldn’t be able to do much.)
Movement: This is (Dexterity x 5)/2, or 85. I can run 85 feet in 10 seconds without spending energy.
Encumbrance: This is all on a chart, broken up into bands of 5, rather than 10! So my 37 Strength means I can carry 45lbs without penalty, 46-160 lbs with a -5 EPS, -1 DP, and -10′ Move, 161-280 with greater penalties, and 281-400 with even more penalties.
Homeland (Lip Quivering Optional)
Of Gods And Men is one of those games that hard-wires the world into the rules. So, you have to choose a native land from the world setting given. Did I mention I hate that sort of thing?
More importantly, did I mention that now that I’ve calculated my stats, my choice of homeland can alter my basic attributes, which means, recalculating everything? Might it not have made an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, bit more sense to put the “calculate stuff” section after the “adjust stuff up and down” section? Nah, that’s crazy.
Each section also has some sort of character archetypes, with skills, but we ignore them until later. We also ignore the “cross training” until later. Look, people. Basic rules design: As much as possible, introduce rules in the order they’re needed. Sometimes, this isn’t possible. It happens. But if you have to go out of your way to point out that big chunks of what someone is about to read won’t make sense until later, that’s a sign you need to rethink your organization.
Anyway, the choices are:
- Highlanders: Basically, generic fantasy barbarians.
- Pytheans: Generic fantasy civilized types
- Nilbrae: Generic fantasy jungle-dwellers, who use, and I quote “inflammable (emphasis added) spider silk to lessen the danger of forest fires”.
- Thailos: Spartan island dwellers, basically, with arenas and stuff.
- Outlands: Small nations on the borders of the Pythean Empire, sort of Northern Europe-ish. They have no ability score adjustments, so they’re the “generic people” of this setting. Since I’m lazy and don’t want to recalculate any of the things I’ve already done, I’m picking the Outlands as my homeland.
Starting skill points are Knowledge * 3, +50, or 113 for me. I can also add skill points by getting older, at a rate of 12 per year of age. I tried to find out what the penalties for aging were, but, surprisingly (that was sarcasm), there’s no index. Fortunately, it does appear in the contents! Woot! Pretty much, nothing bad happens until you’re 33. Since damn few games, in my experience, ever cover more than a few years of time, I should be able to add a decade’s worth of skills (120 points) without fear.
NOTE: It’s been two weeks (two years ago) since I wrote that last paragraph. Something doesn’t want me to finish this. It’s not even close to the worst RPG I’ve ever done, so, not sure why the procrastination. Anyway, onwards!
Base, Extra, Cost, Maximum
So, this is one of those games with math. It’s very old-school. I often find it amusing that people nowadays (Damn kids! Offa my lawn!) think “old-school” means “really simple rules that rely on imagination”, when, in reality (I was there, you damn punk kids!) it means “A mix of super-detailed rules that everyone ignores for some things, and huge gaping holes in the rules for others”.
So, for most skills, we have a Base Level, which is how good anyone is without training. Some have an Extra Cost, which is a flat fee in points you pay to even start learning. (This may be easier than the usual mechanic for skill difficulty, which is to pay a variable number of points per “unit of skill knowledge”, whatever that may be in a given system.) Lastly, there’s a Maximum Level, which is actually Maximum Starting Level, presumably to keep min-maxing at pay and prevent some munchkin from putting all his points into “Nuke The Crap Out Of Everyone”, assuming such a skill exists. Even more lastly, the skills are divided by your homeland. That’s good. At first flip-through, I thought there were over five pages of skills listed. (Not that I dislike games like that, says the GURPS and Rolemaster 2e with all Companions fan, but I want to finish this article and reading up on five pages of skills looked like it might be work.)
Oh, and weapon skills have their own slightly-variant rules. Of course they do. (To be fair, they’re just simpler — none have an Extra Cost or a Maximum Level. What is odd, though, is that they’re not limited by homeland… I don’t think. No, it’s explicit. While regular skills require “Cross Training” to learn if they’re not on your homeland list, weapons skills do not. This seems like a missed opportunity to help reinforce the cultural style and combat techniques of a given region.
Anyway, your final score is a percentage chance of success — not sure if it’s usually modified, or not, but the Maximum Starting Level varies from 30ish to 60ish.
There are no classes in Of Gods And Men, thus, you define a character by their skills. Since I suck at Knowledge (and, therefore, at everything in a sense, as Knowledge drives your skill points), I’m going to focus on combat skills. With the rest of my attributes in roughly the same zone (Base Level is usually Attribute/X or Attribute +X or (Attribute * pi)+your shoe size when you were five, and this is percentage based, so this works out to a few points in either direction, at most, there’s not a lot of guidance or inspiration. With high Strength and Health, I’m going to go for “Guy With A Big Sword”.
So, we start with Two Handed Sword. This has a base of Str/5, or 8 (round up). Once again, I have to note that the vast majority of attributes will end up between 30 and 40, so, you’re looking at a base of 7 or 8 for nearly everyone… on a percentage scale… so your attributes tend not to matter much, at least not here.
Oh, I missed a few things. First, Of Gods And Men mixes both “pay an extra cost to learn a skill” and “some skills cost more to learn per point”. Also, reading the example, it says there’s a Maximum Starting Level of 40 for weapon skill, but I don’t see this on the chart, or in the non-example text. It makes sense — you don’t want someone maxing out their combat — but either I really overlooked something (that should have been harder to overlook) or this rule is buried in an example. (Also, if you have a “pay more points to learn this skill” rule, and you don’t have some weapons require more/less training than others, that, too, seems like a missed opportunity, and an ample chance for munchkinism. What weapon does the most damage? Boom, I’ll use that. To be fair, there may be other weapons rules further on that mitigate this.) Anyway, I want to max out Big-Ass Sword, so, 32 points on top my 8 base for 40. That leaves 233-32=201.
SP Left: 201
Longbow base=Dex/6=6, plus 34=40.
That gives me a main weapon, a ranged weapon, and the ability to use a knife, which is pretty well-rounded. 🙂
Someone with a Big-Ass Sword is probably a professional soldier of some sort. Let’s go with that, and pick some skills marginally appropriate to that concept.
Riding: Base is Dexterity+5, or 39. My max is 55. We’ll go with that, for 16 more SP.
SP Left: 135.
Now, we add Leadership. This has a base of Influence/2, or 19, and throw on another 20, to bring it to 39.
SP Left: 115.
Evasion is important — it’s your “getting out of the way of shit” skill. It also costs 3/1, and starts at 0. And you can attempt up to 3 evasions per round, and each costs 3 energy, and if you roll a 96-00 you managed to “evade” yourself right into the attack for extra damage. Uhm. If I want even a 10% chance to evade a blow (assuming no other modifiers), I need to put in 30 points. Why not?
Rope Use always comes in handy, especially if one knows the “right” kind of entertainment to seek out. (Knowledge/2)+8. 11+8=19. Add 15 on that, for 34.
How about Swimming? Base=Strength+10, or 47, add 13 to get it to the maximum of 60.
Climbing is (Dexterity/2)+10=27, get that to max (50) for 23 more.
First Aid=Knowledge+10, so, 31, put 4 in to bring it to 35.
How about Boxing, so he can handle himself in a brawl? (Strength+Dexterity)/2=36, +14 to bring it to 50.
Let’s put the last in Perception, which starts as Knowledge/3 (7), +16=24.
2016: A New Dawn
And here we are, two or so years later, a new job, a new house, a whole smegload of Arduin articles written and done, and trying to finish this because I somehow feel I’ll have accomplished something by cleaning it out of my queue of unfinished articles. And the last half hour has been spent re-reading what I wrote, correcting dates (because, you know, crossing things out and writing other things is “funny”, and I try to be “funny” in these), and fixing typos and spelling errors. And now… I need to go meet family for lunch and then do grocery shopping. I hope to have afternoon time to get this done. We’ll see.
After doing a lot of rereading to figure out where I was and what I was doing, I’m not sure there’s too much left to do.
- First, I was supposed to draw three Divine Power cards from the deck that comes with the game. This would mean punching out said cards from the back of the book, and smeg that… they’d end up lost or mixed in with my Munchkin collection or something. Sheesh.
- Second, after you’re all done with character creation (working front to back), the rules offhandedly mention it’s assumed all PCs will have some kind of magical skills, or else they’re basically useless. So either I recalculate all my skill expenditures and really focus on the magic rules or…. I don’t. I think I’m going with “don’t”.
- Third, I cannot figure out how to calculate starting money. There’s the usual equipment list, and rules for spending money to train in skills, buy spells, etc., but I cannot locate the “how much gold you start with rules”.
So, smeg it.
Some final observations:
- Monsters include the Wereracoon, which is nearly as powerful as the mysterious werechicken.
- And “Llama, Imported Mexican Hooping”.
- No, really.
- And “Ferret, Killer Attack”.
- I admit to a major weak spot for “Monster Name, Adjective” style writing, due to AD&D 1e being my first RPG.
- Money comes in Silver, Gold, and Platinum, where Silver Pieces are worth 1/10th of a Gold Piece, and Platinum Pieces are worth 5 Gold Pieces.
- The “Adventuring Class”, which the rules note has its own insane economy, represents between 5% and 20% of the population(!). While few games try to quantify what percentage of the population are murderhobos, I’d generally argue that it ought to be less than 1%, with a small %age of “adventuring types” serving as powerful soldiers, guild leaders, nobles, and the like. A society of 20% adventurers doesn’t seem overly stable.
- To earn an annual salary, I’d need a weapon skill of 80, but I am maxed at 40. I guess that could lead to a high %age of adventurers, so they can raise their skill level to the point where they can earn a living at it.
- Monster intelligence is rated as “Non, Animal, Low, Average, High, Genius”. My, that sounds familiar.
- Death Hogs are cute creatures who appear as miniature purple hogs and “reek of pickles”. They also hypnotize you and eat your mind.
- If a Burmese Cat sits on you, you must make a Will Save at -30 or become contented and just let it keep sitting on you. This seems accurate to me.
- The author uses “Do” when they mean “Due”. Bad author.
- Page 264 has a picture of Donald Trump vomiting. Well, that’s what it looks like to me!
- 90 of the book’s 318 pages are taken up with spell descriptions. This is not surprising.
And in conclusion, I’m hoping to maybe get to a slightly more regular update schedule for this place in the relatively near future. How’s that for vague?