Our Pantheon - A world-building tabletop game from the perspective of gods

Hello Folks,

Over the passed year I’ve been working on a hack of a game called Dawn Of Worlds that I’m calling Our Pantheon. I just released the first playable version on itch: https://dwoboyle.itch.io/our-pantheon
It is pretty much a complete overhaul of the game it’s a hack of, modernizing the language and borrowing systems from other games like PbtA and Microscope.

In this game you play as gods creating a world from nothing. You draw the map, create the inhabitants, and influence their cultures. I say “influence” because the gods do not have complete control over mortals. Dice rolls and the Chaos phase prevent the gods from having everything go their way.

Features:

  • Free
  • GMless
  • 2~6 players
  • Great for creating a world to be used for a campaign

If you do check out please feel free to give me some feedback. I’ve only be able to do a small bit of play testing. I’d love to set up a time and date to do some official play testing if anyone is interested.

Thanks!

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Do you mind if I give design critique, or should I just keep it to the details? You say you’ve been working on it for a year, so I don’t want to come in like “I think you should change this part that has like six months of work ontop of it,” or anything, unless you’d want me to.

Yes please! It’s been on and off for a year, so it hasn’t been constant work. I’m super open to critique.

Yesterday, I did happen to have an idea that would simplify/restructure the entire Aether economy I may explore. So, I’m willing to change large parts of this game.

Okay, so let me preface this by saying I’m critiquing this from the angle of a world-building game. A lot of what I’m dubious about stops being an issue if this is being treated as a competitive game about rival gods.

Also, I’ve written quite a bit here, so I’ve broken it down into the three main topics that stood out to me. There’s a handful of smaller details I could give feedback on too, but it’s getting late here now, and I ought to sleep. Apologies for the longwindedness, hopefully it’s at least constructive though!

Dice Rolls

So the first thing that stands out to me is that when I think of modern RPGs, I don’t think of more dice and tables, but that’s something you’ve gone with here. The chaos table makes sense to me, but I’m not sure I see the reasoning in making a lot of the creation actions require dicerolls. I can see that you’re borrowing the succeed/succeed with consequences/fail mechanic from PbtA, but I’m not sure how appropriate that is here.

In PbtA, dice rolls are used to make actions risky, and to introduce jeopardy, and the consequences to failure are almost always severe enough that you can’t reattempt the action immediately, or ever.

Here, I’m not sure if risk and jeopardy actually make for a more interesting world, or even a more interesting story of its creation. Also, most of the consequences are just things that require additional actions and Aether to correct, which means a failed dice roll just means the player has to spend more time trying to get their ideas into the game, meaning they have less time for introducing new ideas.

Now, the idea of the gods making flawed creations is still interesting, don’t get me wrong, but I feel if you wanted to focus on that you could bake the flaws into the actions inherently, instead of having it rely on dice rolls. This would hopefully discourage players from feeling like their action was a failure, and encourage them to embrace the flaws (also means less dice to worry about).

Related to that, one idea I did really appreciate was involving other players in creations. Having other players introduce other traits and flaws gives them an involvement in your creations really lacking from Dawn of Worlds. Bringing this in to be a core mechanic instead of a failure state could be a real interesting change.

(As an aside, every other action requires Aether and is limited mechanically, but when the other players get involved, there is no indication on who gets authority. If one player was particularly aggressive about getting their ideas in, had a bone to pick with the player who failed, or just was a louder person, they could easily end up sidelining the other players here. Just something to consider.)

Alternatively, if you want to keep the random element, removing the ‘alter x’ actions could add some weight to the rolls. There’s a certain type of gravitas to the idea of “once you create something, it’s in the world forever” approach that would bring, but it still might seems stifling to players who just want to be creative.

Finally, since you went with the 10+/7-9/6- ranges from PbtA, all actions that require a dice roll take 1 more Aether before you get an even balance between good and bad results, and 3 more before you have a reliable chance at getting the best result. Comparing the action list to Dawn of Worlds, I can’t quite tell if you’ve accounted for this or not?

Tribute

The second thing that stands out to me is Demand Tribute action, and the bonus from Orthodoxies. There’s nothing like this in Dawn of Worlds, and it feels out of place here. Both have a mechanical bonus in a way nothing else in the game does.

Whether you’re playing Thorm, God of Order and Justice, or a nameless nature deity, you’re incentivised to create your three Orthodoxies as quickly as you can, and anyone who does not will have less of an effect on the world than those who do. This type of mechanical incentive limits the creativity of players in a way that stands against the aim of the game.

(Also the Demand Tribute action seems to be thoroughly broken in the version on your page? Unless I’m missing something, each Orthodoxy provides you with at the very minimum 5 Aether a turn, but you can reliably expect at least 15, with theoretically no upper limit?)

Inches

One major problem I ran into in my experience with Dawn of Worlds, and which made it over to your version, is the use of inches for Shape Land, Shape Climate/Alter Biome, and Catastrophe. The problem is there’s no indication on how big the map should be. If we’re using a plain old sheet of A4, that’d be 93" to work with (probably something like 60"-80" once you’ve drawn a continent with some space around it).

If you tear a piece of A3 out of a sketchbook though, to make it easier for everyone around the table to reach a piece, for instance, suddenly you’ve shot up to 186 inches. Even with an A4, with your minimum of two players, they’re gonna have trouble filling all that space even if you’re spending all your Aether throwing down landscape. With six players, that could be as little as 10 Aether each before you’re butting up on each other.

And the problem gets more even complicated playing digitally, where you don’t even have paper sizes to guide you. You’re entirely at the mercy of whoever draws the outline to guess how much space you’ll all need.

Interestingly, I notice that you abandoned inches for your chaos table, describing terrain in terms of regions. While I’m personally in favour or regions over X" of terrain, the mismatch could cause trouble with by how much regions grow or shrink, and the like.

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Awesome! This is great feedback. Let me I’ll try to explain my thought process on somethings that I don’t agree with you on, but I do think you make a lot of good points! Especially in places I hadn’t considered due to the limited amount of play testing that I’ve been able to do. (Scheduling is hard!)

I will also preface this with, the game isn’t done yet and there’s a lot more that could be added in terms of rules language, best-practices, how to approach roleplaying, constructing scenes, etc. One thing that is very clear from your feedback is that the current book lacks a lot of important framing. The current version does not have it, but I want to include something similar the GM Agenda you find in PbtA games.
It would probably be something like:

  • Make the deities powerful but distant.
  • Make mortals disposal and hard to control. (maybe “unreliable” is better?)
  • Play to find out what happens

I just haven’t come up with the correct wording yet.

Dice Rolls

With this game the thinking behind dice rolls for actions was more as a way to represent the free will of mortals. It’s not so much about failure, but more about them not listening or misinterpreting. It’s one of the reasons I used the language “Hit” and “Miss” rather than “Succeed” and “Fail.” This isn’t always the case, but even with the actions that specifically mention failure, it’s framed as the mortals or avatars messing something up rather than the deities.

“I wanted to make a civilization like this, but the people had a different idea.”

The input from other players in the lower results is intended to how the mortals are deciding to be instead. There, the other players aren’t playing as their deities in that case, but rather the mortals. This could be communicated better I feel. As it stands the following is only indication is:

Most of the time, when you choose an action, you spend the Aether cost then describe what you do. However, no matter how powerful, all knowing, and infinite a deity is dealing with mortals on their scale is difficult. Mortals do not always do what they are told. They have their own will and desires. Actions that relate to manipulating them will require you to roll some dice. These are called “Action rolls”.

This clearly need to be fleshed out, and will be in later versions.

There is some mention of stuff like this in the Other things you can do Section. Which basically amounts to “don’t be an ass”. However, there could be some changes to the language of the rolls. Instead of “Then the other players choose”, it could be “Pick a player to choose…” That let’s the player whose turn it is at least have some say in who is making the decision. The only actions that has language like that at the moment is the minor action, Influence Mortals.

Yeah, I’m fine with it. The resource economy is different. It’s part of the reason why the Command Followers and Demand Tribute actions exist. Speaking of which…

Tribute

In Our Pantheon you end up having to spend a lot more Aether than you would in Dawn of Worlds. So I wanted more ways to gain Aether.

The mechanic benefit and function of Orthodoxies is certainly something that needs refining. In the playtests, the extra 1d6 didn’t prove to be too overpowered, but no one attempted to power game for 3. I could see changing it to be a flat bonus for each orthodoxy.

For Demand Tribute, there is a risk with using it. Missing with it means you don’t get the bonus and cannot use that move again for the round. So like, you could demand a lot one round, but be kinda screwed over the next.This is also true of Command Followers.

I could see rolling Demand Tribute into Command Followers to be honest. Something like: (very rough idea)

I don’t think that’s quite there though. Now I’m wondering if I should do something that’s more like clocks mechanic you see in a lot of other games. Like Factions and Orthodoxies could have project clocks that tick up each round, via chaos tables, and/or with “divine intervention”.

Inches

So there actually is an indication of how big the map should be. However, it is tucked in the Glossary.

Unit - Some moves will say “an area about 1 inch or 1 unit”. If you’re drawing your map on a standard sheet of printer paper than a unit should be about an inch. If you are using a larger piece of paper then increase the size of a unit to something everyone can agree on. If you’re playing online via Roll20, then create a map of around 12 by 8 units. That size seems to allow a good amount of space while also letting the moves feel powerful.
The size of a unit is rough in both games however. You don’t need to be exactly an inch. It’s always an approximation. It is super easy on Roll20 though since you can just overlay a grid of some type (I bet hexes would work nicely).
I do get into this briefly in the Appendix section “Bending The Rules”, but it could be more directly explained. I could also mention in the Starting the Game section to divide up the play space into about 12 by 8 grid.

As for the term “regions” in the chaos tables. That more refers to the rough area of a civilization rather than the land mass. Unless you have a way to draw out boarders, you likely would not note much on the map. Usually just a short description is good enough. For example for shrink: “The Solar Kingdom’s grasp over the Sapphire Isle waned until they eventually only controlled the port city of Sol.” The chaos phase is meant to be more like the events and scenes from Microscope.

While I’m writing this I might as well share the idea I had for restructuring the Aether economy would work. Instead of having an Aether Roll, deities would earn 2 Aether at the start of a round. Major actions’ cost would be changed to something between 0~5 (with some rare exceptions like Great Miracle). Deities would also have a limited amount major actions a round (probably 2 to 3). It would distractedly reduce the math involved while balancing out the economy.

With regard to the weirdness of inches, would it maybe be an idea to change the area you effect with things as you go through ages? So instead of scaling up the cost on actions like Shape Land, you instead scale down the area they effect. So initially you can be raising continents, splitting them with rivers or mountain ranges, and really hashing out the broad strokes of the world. As you move into the second age your terrain effects become more limited, you’re raising forests and making lakes rather than creating world trees and oceans, or generally doing more of the Alter Biome effects rather than Shape Land. In the last age, things are mostly settled, and you can’t do much to the shape of the world without using Catastrophes - hurling meteors, setting off volcanoes or earthquakes to affect the terrain.

You could do a similar thing with adding shared authorship of mortals as a constant thing rather than rolling to avoid it. The second age is about introducing life to populate the world, so you have full control there, but in the first age the world is still changing rapidly, so someone changing the environment a thing lives in can change one of its traits. The last age is about civilisations and making the presence of the deities known, so whenever you create a lifeform, you choose someone else to assign one of its traits rather than choosing them all yourself. Maybe everyone bids Aether toward influencing civilisations or religions of lifeforms created with or gaining sapience in the third age.
Might be too much work, and it would be pulling further away from Dawn of Worlds, but I think moving in that direction might characterise the ages more vividly than flat mechanical scaling (might be something I’ll tinker with in case I can get a group together to play it).

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I’m 100% fine with pushing away from Dawn of Worlds. I think it’s general structure is really good, but it’s not quite there. I think Our Pantheon still a long way to go.

Still recovering from christmas, so haven’t been able to solidify my thoughts into a response yet, but one other thing that was bothering me today:

Replacing the term “race” was probably the most immediate change that needed to be made, but in splitting the creation of creatures from the creation of civilisations means that the worlds now get populated with ‘uncivilised’ peoples. I couldn’t see anywhere in the rules where it clarifies what this is supposed to look like, but given that creating civilisations and creating creatures are focused in different Ages, lots of species are likely to be in this state for quite some time.

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That is an interpretation I hadn’t considered. The intended separation is more about animals and peoples. Like the division between a creature’s behavior goes from instincts into culture. “I made these cool birds that like to build their nests on cliffs. They build stuff and have a sort of society, but they’re not really a civilization.” Obviously in real life there is a gradient that’s hard to capture in game.

Also perhaps this isn’t explained well in the current version, but there are (or could be) whole things that exist in the game’s world that just simply hasn’t been defined yet. Like, a creature could have a vibrant civilization that the gods just aren’t aware of yet, so it’s not “on screen” yet. This is one of the points of the chaos phase. To fill things in where the gods haven’t looked yet. When you use the action “Create Civilization” you are saying that your deity had a hand in the fundamental creation of that civilization.

I don’t think the current book indicates that well enough however.

The Will of Mortals

So, one reason I was framing dice rolls as success or failure is that the 10+ result is just more successful than the other results, you get an Orthodoxy and a Faction, and the civilisation has less Lacks, while on a 6- not only do you get less control over the results, but the civilisation gets one less specialisation.

The difference is not just a more divergent civilisation, but a less successful one. The roll can’t result in the civilisation over performing, which to me seems like a more logical point for them to be exerting their free will.

Which Player Decides

In regards to which player makes choices when called for, “don’t be an ass” is always a fundamental rule, but doesn’t cover this issue entirely. As an example, I’ll use my former d&d group:

So we’ve got Player A who loves RPing and can put on a show for the group, even if he’s new to this, Player B, who’s quiet and reserved, but does put thought into their actions, and Player C who’s silly and sometimes disruptive, but she really enjoys herself when she can manage to be earnest. And since it’s GMless, lets include me too, I’m passionate about my ideas, but like to keep to an overall tone.

In this group, even if I manage to reign in my urge to suggest something at every chance, Player B is still not gonna get much of a go. Players A and C are more likely to speak up when they have an idea they want to run with, while B generally needs some prompting. Using mechanics to even this out helps everyone be equally involved in the world.

Demand Tribute

This strikes me as strange because, by default, you only get one source of Aether each round, but as soon as you introduce Orthodoxies, not only do you get the +1d6 a round, you the bonus from Demand Tribute. (I checked on a dice calculator, and 2d6k1+4 averages to 8.47, with the odds skewing heavily towards a 10, a lot more than the evenly weighted average of 7 from the 2d6 you’re rolling by default). Being able to get the bonus at all is game changing, getting it it multiple times a round moves the Aether economy to a whole other scale.

Chaos Table

Given my confusion with the Grow and Shrink results, I feel the need to ask: does the Chaos Table only apply to civilisations? Most of the options on it seem to refer to civilisations, but based on the ages, the would should only be fully inhabited near the end of Age 3. If this is the case, when does the Chaos Table come into play?

Uncivilised Sapients

I’m still not completely clear on how this breaks down. The Create Civilsation option says to pick from an already existing species, so presumably they have to be created as a creature first. If then, say between Age 2 and 3, a player with an early civilsation moves into the territory they were placed, what should we presume happens? There doesn’t seem to be any rules for them having developed their own civilisation off screen, so I imagine most players would decide they’re still in the state they were last seen in, when they were added to the world?

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The feedback has all been really good. What my plan is with this game right now is to do a revised version of the current version for January. That version will change the way some actions work and add in clearer language.

Then work on a major overhaul of the game from the ground up. From what I’ve already outlined it’ll be a very different game. Hopefully more focused though. I think I figured out the most interesting thing is how the game portrays the relationship between deities and mortals. There still will be map making since it’s fun, but it will have rules where civilizations basically play themselves (usually to their own ruin).
I probably won’t have a playable version for at least 3 months though.

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I have posted an update for this game. Alpha v2.1

It’s a fairly minor update, but still certainly used a lot of the feedback from this thread. My plan now is to focus on a version I’m internally called the “Redux” as mentioned in my previous post. It’s coming along very nicely and is almost in a playable state, but there probably won’t be a public version for at least 6 months or so.