Monday, August 1, 2011

Tommy's Take on Part-Time Gods

Part-Time Gods has been a bit of a success story for Third Eye Games, absolutely demolishing its Kickstarter goals and then some...but how does it stack up against other "God" games, or its sister games, Apocalypse Prevention Inc. and Wu Xing?

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Part-Time Gods is a completely stand-alone RPG using the Dynamic Gaming System-Lite, a more cinematic version of the same system that powers Wu Xing and Apocalypse Prevention Inc...(think Cinematic Unisystem vs Classic Unisystem). The basic mechanic is 1d20+Stat+Skill versus a Target Number. The premise is that, ages ago, beings battled The Source and harnessed its power to become Gods. Now, the Source is surging again, filling the world with mythological creatures as well as creating a slew of new gods (the PCs), who have to balance their new Godly responsibilities and powers with their old mortal responsibilities and powers.

The book itself is a 212 page RPG available in PDF for $14.99 and soon to be in print for $29.95. The book is black and white, but still the most visually impressive Third Eye Games book released thus far, showing a noticeably step-up in layout and production values.

The background chapter does a nice job laying out just how Divinity works in the Part-Time Gods universe, from the first Gods, whose hubris got the better of them, to The Source (implied to be *God*) lashing out with the Outsiders, and why Gods are now divided more along ideological lines rather than cultural lines. It also provides the rationale for Gods being less powerful (but still really powerful) and introducing a kind of Godly insanity that can be fended off only by clinging to mortality...thus making the PCs Part-Time Gods (see what they did there?).

Eight theologies are presented, with the introduction chapter noting that these are the eight most influential in the world, opening up future books to the likelihood of more theologies being included. Ascendants want to restore the Part-Time Gods to the level of the old Gods, the Cult of the Saints prostrate themselves before a Higher Power, The Drifting Kingdoms build empires and then abandon them, the Masks of Jana prevent the existence of the Part-Time Gods from being exposed - one way or another, the Order of Meskhenet are devoted to ensuring their individual lineages continue on, the Phoenix Society are completely devoted to humanity, Puck-Eaters are brutal cannibals and Warlock's Fate are the thinkers.

One of the first areas where Part-Time Gods departs from API and Wu Xing is that occupation is an important part of character creation, with several sample occupations provided which determine starting wealth, bonus points and skill modifiers. In fact, 35 occupations ranging from the likes of Blue Collar to Detective to Kid to Sex Worker and Soldier are present. Part-Time Gods also have to select their Bonds (which can be people, groups or places) as well as the strength of the bonds and how they are connected to the God (such as the God being devoted to the subject of the Bond or the Bond even being a rival). If the Bond is weakened or severed, the God takes on a Failing as they lose that link to humanity.

Character creation from there is standard Third Eye Games point buy, with Power, Agility, Vigor, Intellect, Insight and Charm attributes. Skills are mostly streamlined in regards to combat skills, like Fists being used for unarmed combat and melee weapons covered under, er, Melee.

Gifts and Drawbacks also carry over from API and Wu Xing, with a new category of each (Divine) and some very specific to the setting (like Bad Boss, which curses you with a very inflexible schedule). One new aspect unique to Part-Time Gods is Spark, which is a measure of their divine energy and can be used to heal, provide boosts and so on.

Whereas the ninjas in Wu Xing have Wushu, Part-Time Gods have Divine Powers, which come include basic abilities that all Gods have include sensing the Spark in other beings, and 100 years of immortality. In fact, a God that is "killed" becomes a ghost for three days and is vulnerable to being destroyed and absorbed by another God, which can have...disasterous effects as the two Sparks combine.

The next level of Godly powers are Entitlements, which are a step above the "basic" but still aren't the HEAVY HITTERS. A God of the Seas, for instance, would be Aquatic and wouldn't have to make any special effort in order to breath under water.

The big stuff comes in the form of Manifestations, which are dictated by their Dominions. For instance, a God of Death could use the Shaping Manifestation to Transmutate someone into appearing as a corpse. There are eight manifestation skills (Aegis, Beckon, Journey, Minion, Puppetry, Oracle, Ruin and Shaping) each with three effects, though how each effect works with each Dominion are up to the GM and players to work out, though several examples are listed.

The biggest areas affected by DGS-Lite are money and combat, with money abstracted into a Wealth score and combat doing away with the Fighting Styles of API and Wu Xing, though it is worth noting that there are a slew of combat maneuvers and modifiers, again reminding me a lot of Cinematic Unisystem and how it handled combat for Buffy and Angel.

The "bestiary" not only includes a smattering of normal animals and generic people (like cultists, gangsters, etc), but also includes God-Killers (dark Champions that kill Gods and give their Dominions over to their masters), Skin Walkers, Cloaks (agents of Death ala The Grim Reaper), elves and dwarves, minotaurs, Pucks (little Goblin-like creatures that can take on Dominions) and even Giants. Puck-Eaters can eat many of these creatures and gain special attributes and abilities, not unlike the Harrowed from Deadlands.

The Gm chapter provides a list of inspirations (notably the TV show Dead Like Me and the Percy Jackson novels, as well as American Gods by Neil Gaiman), and - thankfully - a good number of plot hooks for a wide range of themes. As well, tips on forging your own pantheon are provided, using the eight signature characters provided in the Theologies section of the book. A handful of other characters are included, based off of higher-donation Kickstarter backers.

WHAT WORKS: Again, the art and layout are a step beyond anything Third Eye Games has produced to date, and maintaining the same cover price as the previous two corebooks. The Manifestations cover a wide range of standardized effects, with details from Dominions being used to keep them from all being identical. The backstory is crazy, but cool, and does a nice job of explaining WHY the Part-Time Gods need their humanity. The Source being the fueling power behind The Outsiders also pretty much provides any excuse to use any kind of monster you want, really. Once more, Eloy Lasanta sets up a great premise without a metaplot driving it.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not a fan of the cover art. Something about the artist's style just didn't click with me. Interior stuff? Fantastic. Exterior? If I wasn't a big fan of Third Eye Games already, I'd probably overlook this just looking at the cover. Also, I'm not a fan of the "buy your way into the game" thing that's so common in Kickstarter. I get WHY it's there, but it's my least favorite part of the book, easy. Cool for the people represented in the book, I'm sure, though. None of the Theologies really "jumped" out at me the way they were presented. I don't mind the concept, but in "faction" RPGs, I can usually find something that would REALLY appeal to me as a player, and none of the eight did that.

CONCLUSION: If I had to go to a deserted island with just one Third Eye Games book, it would still be Wu Xing. That's not a knock against Part-Time Gods, that's just how awesome I think Wu Xing is. That said, Eloy's distinctive voice as an author again hits a home run, this time believably humanizing Gods in an RPG setting, and providing new mechanics that reinforce the need for the newly Divine to hold onto their mortal ties for as long as possible. He has now released a trifecta of great corebooks, each with a similar feel but still very much distinct from one another, and the streamlining of the Combat should go a long ways towards swaying some folks who found the other two games too cumbersome in combat.