Review of AGON

Review Summary
Comped Capsule Review
Written Review

July 23, 2007

by: Christopher W. Richeson

Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

Greek heroes quest for the gods, fight strange monsters, and create legends that will last forever in this competitive RPG.

Christopher W. Richeson has written 252 reviews, with average style of 3.75 and average substance of 3.74 The reviewer's previous review was of Legends of Alyria.

This review has been read 12424 times.

Product Summary
Name: AGON
Publisher: design
Line: AGON
Author: John Harper
Category: RPG

Cost: $20.00
Pages: 120
Year: 2006

Review of AGON

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In Short

In AGON the players take on the role of Greek heroes in service to the gods who must slay monsters, recover artifacts, and do the bidding of their patrons in an island filled world of classical adventure. While they adventure as a group each hero is in it for themselves, trying to outdo his friends and compatriots at whatever task the gods have set. When the battles are fought and the heroes are put to rest, whose legend will survive to inspire future generations of heroes?

The Good: The product absolutely screams Greek adventure at every turn, both through the mechanics, the artwork, and the supporting material. Character creation and combat both look fun and easy, resulting in a game that takes little setup. Clever mechanics encourage friendly competition between characters in the form of footraces, speeches, and all manner of activity. The positioning system is innovative and gives characters bonuses for smart planning before battle.

The Bad: This is a rules lighter game and those who want extensive character customization will be disappointed. Combat rules include classic weapons Ė sword, spear, javelin, bow Ė only.

The Physical Thing

This 120 page black and white softcover showcases average production values for its $20 price tag. With a non-standard 9x7 size, extensive white space, and an at times dry presentation of the rules AGON at first glance might seem substandard. However, this is more than made up for with excellent use of artwork and formatting to reinforce the mood and theme of AGON. Every page makes me think of Greek adventure, and to top it off the author even includes a very helpful table of names, a good index, and several rules summaries. With many examples to illustrate the rules AGON immediately clears up any confusion its mechanics create.

Under the Cover

Part One Introduction - 12 pages.

AGON is focused around the idea that goals are set, dice are rolled, and then the dice partially narrate the outcome. Seeking to capture the feel of such works as the Odyssey and Sinbad, AGON casts the characters as the great heroes of their Age. Serving the Greek Gods, these powerful mortals (and half-gods) take on the most challenging of tasks in the hope that they might win a legend for themselves that will last forever.

Making use of multiple d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12, AGON is largely focused on combat in the form of fighting great monsters, defeating cultists and soldiers, and generally taking on all comers. Contests great and small, from arm wrestling to long distance races, provide a break from the action.

Part Two Hero Creation - 13 pages.

Character creation begins by choosing a name and a Heroic Trait. AGON provides a lengthy list of Greek names in the back to help with this, which is a wonderful bit of support. Heroic Traits provide two bonuses that typically include a +2 on certain types of die rolls or a +1 to Range or Damage (both bonuses are very useful).

Example: Iím playing Endymion, a follower of Hades who long ago struck a bargain with the god of death. If he can deliver a thousand worthy souls for Hadesí pleasure his murdered daughter will be restored to him. Looking over the Traits I choose Man-Killer. It provides me with a +1 bonus to all damage against humans and a +2 bonus to positioning rolls against humans. Effectively, this makes him better at out maneuvering and then killing people than other heroes. While Iím at it I decide that not only is he beholden to Hades, but heís Hadesí son and thatís why he has been offered a bargain unknown to other grieving heroes. I incorporate this into his full name, which is Endymion, The Man Killer, son of Hades.

The name of a character has a die associated with it. For mortals itís a d6, but for half-gods (like Endymion) itís a d8. Half-gods also begin play with a Fate of 8 (itís 0 for mortals). Fate determines how near the character is to the end of his story. In play this results in half-gods being retired more quickly than mortal heroes, but it also means they start out with a slight edge from their experience or divine heritage.

Next, players rate 16 different Abilities from d4 to d10. Every Ability has an effect on gameplay and is worth having. The Abilities are grouped into four broad categories including Arete (Insight, Grace, Might, Spirit), Craft (Heal, Lore, Music, Orate), Sport (Athletics, Cunning, Hunt, Wrestle), and Battle (Aim, Shield, Spear, Sword). Everything starts at a d6, and players have two free die increases to place where they wish. They may also decrease one Ability in a category to raise another Ability in a category.

Example: I choose to decrease Grace to a d4 in order to increase Might to a d8. I drop Spear and Aim both to d4 to increase Sword to d10. Music and Orate are decreased to a d4 while Lore and Heal are increased to d8s. Finally, I spend my two points to increase Lore to a d10 and Might to a d10. Note that this character probably isnít an optimal build Ė heís a little too imbalanced. But he fits my idea of Ďa hardened killer who will do anything to deliver souls to Hadesí very well.

Players then choose a patron god for their character. This god has a list of three Abilities which may come into play when the character wishes to make a Sacrifice to the god in order to curry favor.

Example: No surprise here, I choose Hades. His associated Abilities are Lore, Might, and Sword Ė all things Endymion happens to excel at.

Finally, players choose weapons and armor for their character. A character may have a bow or javelins, three picks among shield, spear, and sword, and helmet, breastplate, and greaves if the player wishes (armor reduces certain rolls but often saves a character from injury).

Example: I take a bow because it has better distance than the javelins, and I intend to have Endymion be very aggressive with his swordplay once an opponent is in range. I take three swords as my weapon picks Ė two in sheaths on his sides and another strapped to his back. A more balanced character with shield, sword, and spear will almost certainly have more interesting (and powerful) tactical options available. As it happens Endymion fights with a sword in either hand and carries the third as a backup Ė itís all he needs. Endymion wears a helmet (which reduces his accuracy with the bow and other missile weapons) but otherwise avoids armor because it slows him down too much.

Character creation wraps up with Achievements. At this stage each player takes turns picking another playerís character to challenge. The Antagonist (GM) describes a scene from the heroesí past and the two roll. The victor receives an Oath from the loser and the scene is narrated such that the victor aided the loser in that situation and so the loser owes them a debt of gratitude. The goal here is to create a web of friendships and favors among the characters, and I think itís a fantastic idea.

Part Three Contests - 11 pages.

Contests come in two varieties Ė simple and battle. A simple contest involves all participants rolling dice for a given Ability, usually Name + Ability. Every participant takes the highest result, adds any applicable modifiers, and then checks to see if they won. If your result is higher than your opponentís you win, and sometimes multiple player characters will win at the same time (perhaps in a foot race they all run faster than their enemy). All winners receive Glory (basically XP) and the person who does the very best gets extra Glory. Sound simple? It is. This is meant to quickly resolve a situation and move on.

Battles are a little more complex, but be aware that simple contests often occur right before a battle. They may be used to gain higher ground or ambush an enemy, and the winners will gain a significant bonus to their dice pools as they move into the battle stage. Being clever is definitely rewarded here.

Part Four Battle - 20 pages.

A battle is any detailed conflict. While itís most often a fight, it could also be a lecture or a poetry contest. All the discussion of physical combat that follows may also apply to mental and social conflicts, with some slight variations. Battle uses a ďRange StripĒ to handle a lot of the tactics. Imagine a column in a database, or railroad tracks, itís like that Ė a long line with lines that represent distance. Depending on the environment (cramped interior, rugged exterior at night, etc.) the protagonists and antagonists start at different ranges from one another. Then all participants make a Position roll (Name + Athletics) and act in order from lowest roll to highest. On your action you may move any unit one range increment. This reflects the constant jockeying for position and movement in battle and adds a significant amount of strategy to the game. You may want to move your character closer to all the enemies in order to quickly get in sword range, or you may want to move an enemy backwards so theyíre in ideal bow range. Maybe you even want to mess with your friends a bit and move the enemy out of their weapons range so you can get the last shot in and win the lionís share of the Glory for yourself. AGON is a competitive RPG at all stages.

Before all that happens, though, the characters arm themselves. Dice go into your left hand and right hand, with the left representing defense and the right representing offense. Where a character wields two weapons, one in each hand, then the dice in the left hand may further be split into attack and defense dice (and the character gains a second left handed attack with those dice at a -2). Dice are gained from the weapon used, by the relevant Ability, and from a characterís Name.

Example: Endymion is entering a battle. A sword is rated 2d6, and I have a sword in either hand. His Name is a d8, which I place in my left hand. His Sword Ability is a d10, which I place in my right hand. Of my left hand dice I will roll 1d8 on defense and 2d6 on attack. So Endymion ends up like this: 1d10 2d6 rolled on attack with right hand (take the highest number), 2d6 (-2) rolled on attack with left hand (take the highest number then subtract 2), and 1d8 rolled for defense with the left hand (perhaps a parry or dodge). Endymion is built to kill quickly, but he canít take a lot of punishment.

Every weapon has its own optimal range, but may be used at any range up to 2 increments greater or lesser than optimal. Swords, for example, are best at Range 1 but may also be used at Range 2 to lesser effect. This results in a lot of positional jockeying to keep an enemy in optimal range while avoiding it yourself. It may also lead to a lot of strategy where groups of characters are using a variety of weapons.

So, combat involves putting dice in each hand for attack and defense. Then rolling for Position and taking turns moving units. Then attacks and defenses are rolled. If your hero is hit he will take a Wound based on the degree the attack beat his defense. The Wound Track, which has six levels, pushes injuries down the line so even a lot of small injuries will eventually take a hero out of the fight. Where a hero is wearing armor he may roll an armor die to try and negate the hit. If he rolls a 4 or higher he is successful, but that decreases the effectiveness of the armor until it can be repaired. A short but fun list of ways to use other Abilities in battle, such as war shouts, is provided and it allows characters to draw on more than just their sword arm to beat their foe.

On the whole I find this combat system to be fun and Iíd love to play it. This may be the first game Iíve encountered where I could just fight monsters with a group of friends all the time and have a great time doing it.

Part Five Abilities, Advancement, Fate, Oaths, Divine Favor, & Interludes - 12 pages.

As it happens thereís more to AGON than just killing monsters. Quests from the gods often start out vague and require some research to learn where a monster is or what its weakness is. This is one of several places where other Abilities come into play. Lore is great for learning a critterís weakness, Music may be used to soothe beasts and gain the advantage on them in battle, and Hunt is a fine choice for the group that needs to track down the Five Eyed Wolf of Tineros. Character advancement, healing, oaths, and other rules are all presented here. The highlights are that Glory is spent on character advancement, increasing his Legend. Fate, however, accrues over time and represents the hero drawing closer to his end. The more Glory a character has when his Fate increases to the very end the greater the mark he ultimately leaves on the world. Very, very cool.

In addition to all the other mechanics supporting a Greek mindset, Interludes really stood out for me. Interludes occur between stages of quests and are used to rest and recover. Each hero has the chance to issue a challenge for an Ability and all participating heroes may recover somewhat and the winner may even earn some Glory. This strongly encourages arm wrestling contests, foot races, and other activities that work to develop a character and build his Legend. Characters may also make sacrifices to the gods, receiving Divine Favor (a powerful mechanic that manipulates die rolls) in return.

Oh, and those Oaths Iíve been mentioning? They can be called upon for assistance, healing, or tactical support in a battle. Theyíre awesome currency to have in a competitive RPG.

Part Six Running the Game - 25 pages.

The core mechanic here is Strife. The Adversary (GM) has a pool of Strife tokens that may be spent to create and enhance challenges. The more Strife spent on an encounter the tougher it is but also the more Glory it gives to the victor. Monsters may have deadlier attacks, magic powers, or immunities to all but the rarest of elements. Itís an easy to use mechanic that may create all manner of monsters on the fly while ensuring a certain amount of game balance. Like the rest of the game, I like it quite a bit.

Rules for Minions, or groups of less important enemies, are also provided. These Minions donít appear to be pushovers, however, and may begin a fight as a serious threat. As more and more are slain their individual power diminishes until the last few are easily picked off.

Otherwise this chapter provides a robust collection of tools for the GM. Example monsters, example quests, quest generation tables, naming tables, lists of names, rules summaries, adversary worksheets, and even more resources. AGON is built to remove the need for game prep and keep the focus on the action and adventure, and all of these excellent resources definitely help.

My Take

I love this game and I want to play it right now. After I was done reading AGON I kept thinking ďThis canít be a 5/5, can it?Ē I went back through and was looking hard for faults or places where I thought it just didnít work. The worst I can say for AGON is that on your first read through you may scratch your head at a few mechanics as theyíre introduced Ė but then the examples come through and clear everything up. Seriously, this game is everything I want out of a $20 indie RPG. The mechanics are fresh and exciting, it does an excellent job of conveying a Greek mood and theme, itís full of illustrative examples, and most importantly it makes me want to go play a game as soon as I can.

Just keep in mind the target audience here. This is a game that encourages healthy competition between players and that stresses quest based monster hunting. If that doesnít sound like what you want in your RPG then this may not be the game for you. However, if you like the idea of picking up your swords and going on a bloody quest for Hades, then pick this one up today.

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