Thursday, January 19, 2012

Heroes in Age of Bronze

Age of Bronze is a game about heroes in much the same way that its parent game, King Arthur Pendragon, is about knights. That is, AoB is a genre game rather than a generic game: you play a hero of a specific type in order to better emulate a particular experience.

We bore in mind Greg Stafford's essay on Genre and Generic, one of my favorite essays on gaming ever written. Limitation as liberation, was the watchword.

But to limit things, we had to define them. What are the common threads linking the heroes of the myths? Of those common threads, what's actually fun to play? From there, we established a base on which to build a character. So what, exactly, are players roleplaying in Age of Bronze?

1) A hero has divine blood: This is true for every hero and is true for the players' heroes. Somewhat surprisingly, at least to modern notions of heredity, the distance of the divine relation has no bearing on the power of the hero. In Age of Bronze, whether you're the child, grandchild, nephew, niece, great-great-great grandchild, you have the same power relative to your quasi-divine peers.

Different divine forebears offer different bonuses, however. In most respects, who you're descended from acts just like the various homelands from KAP, though the power level is turned up. A descendant of Ares has, for example, higher Spear and Sword skills but is very Reckless, while a descendant of Apollo has high Archery and Divination with a side of Singing and First Aid.

2) A hero is urban: The semi-mortal heroes of Greece were part of a grand civilization vs nature narrative. As part of this narrative, most (but by no means all) heroes founded or ruled a city. City is relative; these were small county seats, by our standards, not Tokyo or New York. Every city of Mycenaean Greece had its founding myth about a hero (or more rarely an actual god) who tamed the surrounding lands, often symbolized by some terrible beast, and raised a city where previously there were only untamed wilds.

The player heroes are no different. One of the goals is to eventually found a city, make it prosperous, and then pass it on to your kids so they can inevitably mess it up in dramatic fashion. It's a long-term goal; your first PC starts out in relatively humble circumstances, with his or her divine blood just becoming public knowledge. As Glory increases and deeds are done, eventually its time to raise that first temple, call your admirers and carve out a slice of land to launch your own small kingdom.

3) A hero is martial: We decided to primarily model the martial hero for the basic rulebook. For one, most heroes were fighters and warband leaders. Certainly, they're the most iconic, with Herakles, Perseus, and Achilles taking pride of place. Even the less combat oriented heroes, like Orpheus, are placed in hairy situations requiring someone to swing a sword.

This is where our focus is. You can absolutely play a great musician, orator, healer, diviner, or blacksmith but, at least with the first publication, you're playing a warrior, as well. No amount of Glory will match what you get on the battlefield.

4) A hero is hubristic: Hubris has slowly become synonymous with pride but that's only telling part of the story. Its initial meaning was tied up in notions of propriety and obeisance to the universal order. It is, of course, pride but it's prideful because it exalts the self over the laws of the cosmos.

As an example, when Oedipus has relations with his mother, it's not simply a matter of violating a societal norm; Oedipus has violated an immutable law of the universe and his fate is sealed. In this sense, hubris is far broader than just pride. It's also tied up in notions of honor and loyalty. It's important to shed the modern tendency to compartmentalize religion away from society. In Age of Bronze, one doesn't exist without the other; if you violate society's norms, you're actually violating the divine order of the cosmos.

As such, just by the act of doing "normal" things that heroes do, you're being hubristic in a low grade manner. If you sit on a farm all day, you're not being hubristic but you're also not much of a hero. Being a hero inherently means that you're struggling against the divine order; you really can't help it. Toss in your flaws (very well modeled by the KAP Trait system) and you slowly gain Hubris. Yes, capitalized, because we actually track it... but that's for another post.

5) A hero will fall: Without divulging too much, we do have mechanics to model the sort of tragic end that Greek heroes meet. As your personality becomes bigger and more extreme and you build a city, kill a sacred animal, anger a god, or any number of things, you gain points of Hubris. There's no going back; you can't shed points once you get them, because the Olympians have long memories.

Even a peaceful end has some sort of irony to it. Menelaus is reminded of the Trojan War every time he looks at Helen; he dies a miserable old man bereft of love or an heir. Is it as melodramatic as Orestes or Icarus? No, but there's a certain poetry to the sort of end Menelaus reached. It's recognizable and poignant.

We don't dictate how that end is reached, though we do provide mechanics for when it happens and guidelines on how to make it fit into your hero's individual narrative. But your hero will eventually die tragically and become part of a larger story as (just as in KAP) the torch is passed on to an heir.


  1. This sounds awesome!
    Any idea when this will see the light of day? I want to buy it right now :D

  2. That's business end, which isn't my department, so I have to play deliberately coy. I'd probably be in trouble if I said "oh, totally by X date" only to have it not hit the target. :)

    Once the final rewrite's done (which should be Soon) I'll probably have something more concrete in that area.

  3. I'm fired with excitement about this project. I've been a fan of Pendragon for years now and often wondered how the mechanics would adapt to other heroic settings.

    Good luck with the process.

  4. Thanks, Ian. And i understand that giving us a "totally by (enter date here)" is not the way to go.
    But how about an "I THINK it will see the light of day in the (put number here) quarter of 2012" ? ;)
    Totally looking forward to it. I always wanted to see Pendragon adapted for something else (granted my choices would have been Star Wars or Lord of the Rings - but greek heroes is also very cool and in contrast to my wishes not unrealistic to appear :D )

  5. I honestly have no real idea. It's the day of the final rewrite + artist time + layout = release date. I'd like to say that sometime late this year is doable but, again, the part of the process once this part of the process is done is completely outside my ken.