Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Which Greece Is This?

There are a nearly limitless number of Greeces. What we know about the actual Bronze Age Greece could fit on the proverbial postal stamp. What we end up relying on is the other 3500 years of history after the close of the era to inform us of what we're trying to look at. So which slice do you pick? Homer, written during the Greek Dark Ages? The Classical historians and storytellers, with everything wrapped up in their own burgeoning philosophies? The Christians, with monotheistic morality sprinkled heavily throughout? How about Steve Reeves movies or Xena or The Odyssey mini-series?

It's not a problem, in the sense that it's difficult to overcome (it actually isn't). But it is a conundrum. There is a real world basis for the places and some of the stories, even if we don't have always have ready access to it. A lot of it we can extrapolate; we know city names and what Greece looks like, things like that. But this wasn't a literate culture, Linear B grain store records aside. Everything we have was told and retold around fires and in courts, eventually making its way into the written word.... a thousand years later.

It's not too different from what KAP was faced with when it was designed. Which Arthur is this game about? Greg decided to lean on Malory and then cooked up some mechanics to reflect some of the other Arthurs, coming up with a synthesis which reflected both the historical Arthur, the many fictional Arthurs, and something entirely his own.

We also knew that we didn't want the game to be about superheroes; other games do that, even if they're not always explicitly set in Heroic Greece. Besides, one of the cool things about KAP, and something we wanted to import into AoB, was that gritty feel a "low" power level comes with. We wanted, more than anything, to have a game which would model the real Bronze Age, with the supernatural and such lurking on the periphery... present but not always obvious. We hadn't really seen people do this with the Heroic Age, that melding of the real with the unreal, and it's that synthesis which will set AoB apart.

For those reasons, we ended up using Homer as the basis. If you read Homer, almost none of the characters are the type of superhero Herakles is. With the exception of Achilles, and arguably even there, Homeric heroes are eerily similar to Malory's Round Table knights: extremely competent, extremely flawed, extremely real. The Homeric heroes are "only" the best warriors in the world. They don't need to drink rivers in order to make them badasses; throwing a spear through a man and conquering Troy are quite enough.

There are still superheroic deeds done in Homer, but they tend to happen when the acting hero is in a state of emotional extreme. Sounds pretty familiar, if you know KAP, but we took it to an extra level by adding rules for Aristaea. The specifics will be a future post, but basically if you critically succeed on a Passion roll, you have the option of entering Aristaea: double the bonus (+40!), yes you get to do superheroic things, but you automatically take a point of Hubris. It's high risk, high reward behavior; you might single-handedly strangle a giant but you're also shortening your career as you creep ever closer to your Hubris limit.

When it came to the minutiae of everyday life, things like government, land management, or what people ate, we consulted academic texts as much as we could. This is not to say that this is an extended Master's thesis; I can't think of a single one of those texts which I read all the way through or anything. But we did try to at least get an idea of what we now think things were really like. Again, the real world with the Homeric is what we aimed for.

With the general tone and the primary source material chosen, we then had to pick a specific year. Time is just as important in AoB as it is in KAP. One adventure per year, then the Winter Phase, then you age, then you move on, eventually you die. That, for me, is the heart and soul of KAP and I saw zero reason to change the fundamentals there.

That left us with picking a specific year to start with. This was, surprisingly, not that difficult. People have been trying to put together an accurate timeline of when the myths occurred ever since the Mycenaeans disappeared. We consulted a few sources, ranging from St. Jerome to modern historical research, to establish a reasonable timeline of the real Heroic Era for us to play with.

The game starts in 1255 BCE; we stuck with the modern dating conventions for simplicity after trying and scrapping a new dating system starting with the foundation of Athens, which ended up not feeling right. So why this date? 1255 is four generations after Perseus' adventures and the first year of Herakles' Labors. It's five years before Oedipus takes the throne of Thebes and nine years before the Voyage of the Argonauts (and yes, this last thing is something I absolutely expect people to take part in).

It's an extraordinarily busy time, the most action-packed of the entire mythic cycle. We're also operating under certain assumptions carried over from KAP which should make this particular slice of time awesome. We think it's cool to have the option of hanging out with Herakles or offering hospitality to a blind Oedipus. If that's your thing, of course. The world is still wild and untamed enough that you can hightail your group to Epirus, smash some barbarians, and never deal with the canonical heroes, too. It's a big, savage world.

But most importantly, it's 73 years before the Trojan War. That event marks the end of the Heroic Age. This gives 73 years of gaming time, about what the Grand Pendragon Campaign offers. We're expecting people to make their own Grand Mycenaean Campaigns around the table, with the timeline we provide as a guide.

The synopsis version: power level at the start a bit higher than KAP, low magic with splashes of intense supernatural goings on, mostly a real world feel, and set at the height of the Heroic Age.


  1. Excellent, I'm in a Pendragon Campaign now & really enjoying it, so this looks a great addition for our group's options! Hope the schedule stays good !