The name’s Davenport. I review games.
So the other day a gamer walks into my office. Heavy guy, big beard, arms fulla books, the works.
“So what,” you say. “A gamer in a game reviewer office,” right?
Well, this fella claims to be the God of Gamers.
So anyway, instead of just handin’ over a review copy like any sane person would, he whips out this big-ass glowing d20, yells “Daddy needs new shoes!!”, and rolls it across my desk at me. It comes to a stop, vanishes in a puff of gamerstench, and whaddya know, there’s a book called Part-Time Gods sittin’ there in its place.
Seems the game’s all about ordinary folks becomin’ the God of This and That. Like the God of Gamers, fer instance.
Only it’s not all fun and games. He says that these gods aren’t really immortal, and they’ve got all kinds of monsters and other gods tryin’ to do’em in. Hell, even a human with a gun ain’t nuthin’ to sneeze at, he says.
“Still,” I says, “it sounds like a pretty swell gig. I’ll bet the benefits are great!”
“Nah, I don’t get any benefits at all,” he says.
“Dude,” he says, “I told you: I’m part-time.”
Chapter 1: The Coming Storm
Part-Time Gods presents a drastically different take on godhood. Yes, at one time, gods were immortal beings living on high with the power to smite entire armies. Now, however, they’re finite beings hiding in plain sight amongst humanity, doing what they can to make ends meet while wielding power about sufficient to give the X-Men a good tussle. This chapter explains that status quo.
Chapter 2: Theologies
The Reader’s Digest version is that a mysterious -- possibly even Lovecraftian -- entity known only as the Source created the gods known to us through mythology by gifting humans with a divine “Spark”. These gods eventually decided that they would be better off without the Source and managed to seal it away. In doing so, however, they inadvertently limited their power and lost their precious immortality. The God Wars followed, with god preying on god to steal their power and stave off their inevitable demise from old age. Meanwhile, the Source stirred in its cage, giving life to the monsters of myth known as Outsiders -- many of which existed for the sole purpose of killing the gods.
The last straw in the god’s decline came from the death of Zeus at the hands of a rival god’s mortal worshippers. At this shocking turn of events, the God Wars ceased, and the much-diminished gods began living alongside, and forming bonds with, humanity, carrying out their divine duties in secret and living double lives.
But now the Source is stirring again. New gods are appearing at a remarkable rate, and the Outsiders are on the rise around the globe. The gods fear what they’ve come to call the Coming Storm and are preparing for the struggle to come.
The chapter goes on to describe the various aspects of the divine status quo.
First up is the rather important issue of how one becomes a god. The chapter describes three methods: a ritual that transfers the divine Spark from one god to the next, a spontaneous attainment of a Dominion based upon an individual’s embodiment of that aspect of reality, or a completely random ascension to godhood -- either through an eruption of the Source’s power or a loose Spark from a nearby god’s death. I really like this degree of flexibility, as it allows someone to become, say, the God of Plumbers by having the old God of Plumbers pass along his Spark, by being a damned good plumber, or just by being a Wall Street executive strolling down the right street when the God of Plumbers bites the dust. In short, new gods may be anything from the epitome of their Dominions to their antithesis, the latter in particular leading to some great roleplaying opportunities.
In addition to touching on the Theologies described in more detail in the following chapter, this chapter also describes such key setting concepts as Dominions (the aspects of reality controlled by a given god), territory (the god’s physical area of influence), and pantheon (a group of gods sharing a territory).
The roles of worshippers, Outsiders, and divine realms come next, but perhaps the most key to the setting is the description of what it means to stay human. Basically, the more power a god attains (in the form of increased Spark), the more humanity he loses -- the end result being an amoral entity that is nothing more than the embodiment of its Dominion(s). This conundrum keeps the game from being just another supernatural superhero game and provides a built-in source of “mundane” drama as gods struggle to hold onto what makes them human.
Overall, I like the premise very much, although I imagine that it will be jarring to buyers who don’t read up on the setting beforehand. This isn’t a setting in which you hobnob with the gods of yore (because they’re dead) or angst over being immortal (because you’re not). It’s very much its own thing.
Theologies are societies formed around various views on what it means to be divine, especially given the limitations described in the previous chapter.
Chapter 3: Building Blocks
- Ascendants: Gods dedicated to becoming paragons of their kind, even at the expense of their own humanity.
- Cult of the Saints: Gods believing themselves to be not gods, but rather instruments of a Higher Power.
- Drifting Kingdoms: Gods forever building up divine territories, only to abandon them and move on.
- Masks of Jana: Gods dedicated to keeping the secrets of the divine from humanity at all costs.
- Order of Meskhenet: Aristocratic gods who trace their origins back to the original holders of their Dominions.
- Phoenix Society: The antithesis of the Ascendants, these gods look to their human side as the source of true power.
- Puck-Eaters: Horrific gods who literally feed on humans, gods, and Outsiders alike as a source of power.
- Warlock’s Fate: Wizard-like gods dedicated to obtaining knowledge and overly reliant upon their magical relics.
I’m not big on automatic groupings of supernaturals, as it feels like a legacy of the World of Darkness clans, which in turn feel like an echo of D&D classes. Thankfully, that’s not really the case here. Mechanically, the main draws of a given Theology are the free Manifestations it provides -- a fairly big deal, granted, but nothing that makes the various Theologies scream “fighter,” “rogue,” or (Warlock’s Fate notwithstanding) “wizard.”
That said, I do find the Puck-Eaters to be rather odd, given that they are based around a special power. I would have preferred that their feeding habits be something that all gods can do but that the Puck-Eaters choose to do rather than having the feeding-for-power be the Puck-Eaters’ exclusive domain. That, I think, would have kept them more in line with the other Theologies as a being based around a belief system rather than an ability.
In keeping with the humanocentric theme of the game, character creation starts not with divine powers, but rather with what the character is like as a human: ethnicity, demeanor, appearance, and so on. The mechanics first kick in with the selection of an occupation, which provides starting Bonus Points (to purchase Gifts and raise Attributes and Skills), Wealth, and Modifiers (which, oddly, are bonuses to rolls using relevant skills rather than bonuses to the skills themselves). In classic Peter Parker/Spider-man fashion, occupations also determine how much free time the character is going to have -- the game isn’t called Full-Time Gods, after all.
Chapter 4: Divine Powers
Characters get 6 points to spend on Bonds -- their ties to humanity in the forms of individuals, groups, or places -- with each Bond being rated from 1-5 and with each connected to a Passion explaining how the Bond influences the character’s life. (For example, a character might be devoted to protecting a neighborhood, gain joy from his lover, and seek the approval of a professional organization.) This section also goes into the benefits of Bonds as well as the impacts of losing them through neglect or the attainment of higher levels of Spark. Basically, characters can earn Experience Points by having their Bonds come up in play in cool ways
and pick up Failings -- negative character aspects reflecting a reduced connection to humanity -- by having Bonds reduced to zero.
Attributes are Power (strength), Agility, Vigor (toughness/constitution), Intelligence, Insight (willpower), and Charm, all on a 1-10 scale, 3 being the human average. I’m fine with the division of stats but find the scale irritating. On the one hand, we’re told that it’s a hard universal scale, which I never like -- especially in a game dealing with gods, of all things. On the other hand, it’s possible to have bonuses that exceed the scale; e.g., being able to lift more weight than your Power level should allow. On the other other hand, it’s also possible to exceed the scale through Entitlements (see below). For myself, I’d prefer to simply leave the scale open and keep the system consistent.
Skills also fall into a closed 1-10 scale. This turns out to be the reason that Occupations provide bonuses to rolls rather than to Skill levels: It’s not possible to have a skill above 10, period, but it is possible to have bonuses to a roll that exceed 10.
Speaking of which, it’s here that the book covers the game’s core mechanic: a very conventional roll of 1d20 + Attribute + Skill in an attempt to beat a difficulty chosen by the GM. For every factor of 5 by which the total beats the difficulty, the character gets a Boost, which can take the form of more info, bonus damage, additional targets hit, reduced time for the attempt, or simply a more stylish action. I always prefer systems that give bonus damage based upon degree of success, and I love the fact that this system extends that concept to non-combat actions in a codified manner. (On the other hand, the system also uses a flat auto-failure and auto-success on a roll of 1 or 20, respectively, which always bugs me a bit.)
Getting back to skills: there are 24 of them, all fairly broad; for example, Athletics includes climbing, throwing, jumping, and running. However, at skill levels 5 and 10, characters can pick up a speciality that gives them a +2 to relevant rolls. I’m all in favor of broad skills with specialties, but this is a personal preference, not an observation on game mechanics quality.
Gifts and Drawbacks follow a fairly standard “Ad/Disad” form -- characters can purchase Gifts using the Bonus Points from their occupations and may gain additional Bonus Points by taking Drawbacks. Making this step particularly noteworthy is the fact that in addition to Cerebral, Physical, and Social Gifts and Drawbacks, Divine Gifts and Drawbacks are available as well -- the first touch of the Divine to show up in character creation.
Among the mechanics I particularly like are Stamina points, determined by (Insight + Vigor)/2. In addition to spending Stamina for the obvious reason -- namely, physical exertion -- characters can spend Stamina on what in other games would fall under the auspices of Fate/Drama/Hero points: increasing damage dealt, improving initiative, pulling off certain combat maneuvers, soaking non-lethal damage, and temporarily ignoring the effects of pain, poisons, and the like. The reason I like this mechanic is the way in which it ties these game effects directly to the capabilities of the character rather than to an abstraction like “Luck”. I have nothing against “Luck” mechanics, mind you, but I do find this approach refreshing.
I like the way in which the Spark rules simulate the price of godly power. PCs start with a Spark of level 1, which can be increased as high as 10; however, the Spark level acts as a cap on total Bond points. Furthermore, at Spark 10, the god loses all humanity and goes off to be one of those sociopaths who go around raping women while in animal form and what not.
For each level of Spark, the god gets 3 Spark Points. These function like a combination of what would be Drama Points and Magic Points in other games, performing such feats as skill and damage bonuses and instant healing and powering certain Entitlements. Significantly, resisting a magical attack also requires a Spark point, which means that in this setting, mundane beings are helpless against magical attack.
Gods regain Spark points at the relatively rapid rate of (Spark level x 2) per day, with worshippers providing more points and sanctuaries speeding recovery.
And now we get to the good stuff: the powers of the gods. These powers come in three varieties: Entitlements, Relics, and Manifestations.
Chapter 5: Gear & Combat
Entitlements are something akin to superpowers that may or may not be related to the god’s Dominion. An example given in the text is Zeus’s shapeshifting power, which has nothing to do with his status as the god of lightning. This is where you’ll find such things as super-strength, super-speed, beast speech, natural weaponry, telepathy, regeneration, and even multiple arms. Some of these powers are Passive, and hence “always on,” others are Active, requiring an expenditure of Spark points.
Relics are ancient artifacts of the gods that can no longer be created and that must be attuned to their prospective wielders, the difficulty based on the power of the Relic in question. (Characters who spend the required points to start the game with a Relic are assumed to have already been attuned to it.) A short selection of sample Relics of various power levels is included, featuring such legendary items as winged sandals, lightning javelins, and Thor’s hammer (of which there were quite a few, it turns out). The section also offers a simple but effective method for Relic creation.
Manifestations are the powers directly related to a god’s Dominion -- what the god is all about. Dominions can be as broad or specific as the player likes; however, the broader the Dominion, the more difficult it will be to create specialized effects. The God of Animals and the God of Bears could both summon a bear, for example, but the God of Bears will have a much easier time of it. I appreciate the author anticipating that issue and dealing with it so effectively.
The Manifestations themselves fall into 8 broad skills: Aegis, Beckon, Journey, Minion, Puppetry, Oracle, Ruin, and Shaping. Each comes with a list of 3 sample powers; however, these abilities are freeform within the context of the god’s Dominion. I should also mention that some uses of certain Manifestations aren’t immediately obvious, which makes me especially thankful for the examples given. Creating an illusion, for example, falls under Beckon, the logic being that the god is “Beckoning” the subject of his Dominion to form the illusion.
As an aside, the “Blast” effect under Ruin seems really underpowered to me -- as in, it’s not much more powerful than a slingshot. The author’s argument is that it comes in handy when the god is unarmed. Granted, but since we are talking about a god here, I think you should be able to make with some serious smiting action.
I’m not quite sure why gear and combat belong in the same chapter... but as that’s more of a “Style” thing, I’ll roll with it for the moment.
Chapter 6: Antagonists
PTG uses an abstract “Wealth” score to manage funds. I’m not sure I care for that thematically in a game dedicated to the nitty-gritty aspects of life as contrasted with godhood, but it does manage to reduce bookkeeping. Basically, if your Wealth score is high enough to purchase something, you can buy it with no problem; otherwise, it’s haggling time.
The list of “generic” gear is pretty small and definitely adventure-oriented -- stuff like camouflage gear, first-aid kids, nightvision goggles, and scuba equipment (for the non-oceanic gods out there). The section also includes a brief discussion of vehicle stats and vehicle chases, which I think is sufficient. I only regret that the vehicle system factors in speed and size, but not maneuverability.
Weapon stats follow, which are highly generalized: one set of stats for all assault rifles, heavy revolvers, shotguns, and so on. That’s perfectly fine with me. This isn’t a tactical wargame, after all.
And then it’s on to combat.
Battles start with initiative rolls, which I was happy to see factors in both Agility and IQ. I’m always mildly annoyed by systems that factor in speed but not mental quickness or vice versa. It’s not a big deal to me, mind you, but I like how PTG handles the matter.
Interestingly, both offensive and defensive moves are broken down into specific maneuvers with their own modifiers to difficulty and damage; for example, in PTG, you don’t just “swing” -- you choose from a light, full, or strong strike, each more difficult and more damaging than the last. I don’t care for the fact that these actions use strength rather than agility to determine success, but the fact that other maneuvers, such as “pain strike” and “sweep,” do use agility helps mitigate the issue for me.
Lethal and nonlethal damage are tracked separately, and armor has two ratings, one for the amount by which it reduces each sort of damage.
As a lot of you probably know by now, I’m a sucker for a good bestiary, and PTG does an admirable job indeed:
Chapter 7: Storytelling
- Birds of Prey
- Large Cats
- Average People
- Police Officers
- Skin Walkers
- Flying Foxes
- Hell Hounds
- Animals (totems)
- Fire Giants
- Frost Giants
- Mountain Giants
- Storm Giants
I love the inclusion of creatures from a variety of cultures, and I’m overjoyed that good ol’ elves and dwarves made the cut.
Note that the game uses abbreviated stats for these entries. Specifically, the entries have no attributes listed -- only total skill values. This isn’t a huge problem unless you need to know how much a giant can lift, for example. Personally, I prefer to have full stats, for comparison’s sake if for no other reason, but if doing it this way let the author squeeze in more creatures, I’m all for it.
This is the GM advice chapter, and it’s a very good one, emphasizing the aspects and themes of the game in a clear and concise manner.
One good point the chapter makes is that yes, this is indeed much like a supernatural soap opera due to the Bonds at play and the nature of godhood. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but then, I enjoy a good drama.
Speaking of which, ordinarily, I prefer to find a full introductory adventure included, but I don’t think that would have worked here, as personal as this game is. And besides, the story hooks offered are quite good.
I also appreciate the examples of how the various Dominions of a Pantheon can affect their shared territory. A Pantheon including a god of fire, for example, may result in an area prone to arson.
Finally, the chapter concludes with a selection of fully-statted gods with Domains ranging from Bone to Gaming to Screen Printing.
The writing remains clear and straightforward throughout, never giving in to the pretension a setting like this could invite. No typos stuck out to me.
The art quality varies. The sample character portraits are quite good, but some of the illustrations are a bit too cartoonish for the subject matter.
The layout is quite attractive, plenty of white space, and a frequent use of thematic fonts to go with various sections.
Finally, while the game lacks a table of contents, it does include both a glossary and a decent index.
I really dig this game. The trick for any GM, I think, will be finding the right group to play it. I mean, sure, you could just go to town fighting hydras and giants, but that would be missing the point of the game by a mile. What you need are players eager to explore what it means to be an individual with one foot in the mortal world and one in the realm of the gods.
That’s not a criticism in the least, however. The game succeeds at what it sets out to do, and it does so with style and a generous amount of content. Two thumbs way up on this one, folks.