Philosophy

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Dungeons & Deities (or Deities for short) was born out of the desire to have the simplest gaming system necessary to structure a game with nearly limitless creativity. As gods, players don't have to worry about character death or many of the other fundamental but restricting aspects of a traditional tabletop role-playing game. Instead, they can focus on exploring philosophical, scientific, fantastic, or otherwise unusual ideas through a shared story.

This article discusses the philosophical basis of the game. For a brief discussion of the specific implementation, and for links to more detailed information, see the Overview page.

Contents

Background

The philosophical underpinnings for the structure of Deities comes from a variety of sources. The major sources are Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology with a heavy helping of the Gods of Arr-Kelaan webcomic, from which we got the original idea. Most of the structure of the system was decided at the table for Game:Alpha without effectively discussing the philosophy of the game. This led to frequent changes, most of which were reflected inadequately on this wiki over time. Eventually this led to the point of a total restructuring of the game and the website.

Big Picture

There are many ways to play Deities, but there are a few points that underlie the nature of the game. First, not only can player characters not die, but since they are immune to damage, poisons, and toxins and since they are eternally youthful, they do not degrade either. Characters can only change and grow, not diminish.

Second, as gods, player characters are among the most powerful beings in existence. There is nothing stronger than a god. So even if player characters start out as the mud of a pantheon, they always have the ability to progress up the ranks to become the leaders among gods, placing them above all else.

With those two things in mind, what are the challenges that player characters must overcome? These facts shape any game such that the only real conflict takes the form of internal dilemmas and external social pressures from other gods. Ultimately, any facet of reality can be shaped by any god if only he invests the time into its change. The final challenges are shaping reality to what the god desires, making sure its stable enough not to collapse under its own weight, and keeping the other gods from interfering with the god's vision.

Story Style

Given the overarching points in the big picture, there are many variations to choose from for the major theme of a game. This is exemplified by the numerous sources of "real-world mythology," such as Greek, Norse, Slavic, Japanese, etc., and mythology created for works of fiction. The choice of theme is an important part of the game creation process and should be decided upon before any other major aspects of the game come into discussion.

One theme from history is that of many individual patron gods of ancient city-states who merge into a unified pantheon as the city-states merge into a diverse but unified cultural state. This is seen best from the history of the Greek world. Initially, the separate city-states worshiped many "minor gods" who would be classed by today's fiction as spirits. These were many different animist gods whose domains extended over some partially-abstracted immediate area, such as over a particular forest or river. As the influence of these cities began to extend beyond their physical borders, the mythologies of other cities began to filter in. Because these groups were polytheistic, these other gods were not rejected but absorbed into the city's local mythology, and that city's mythology was absorbed into that of its neighbors. This continued until the entire Greek world respected a shared mythology. On top of the local gods there was a distinct leader, such as Poseidon as the final god over all oceans, seas, and waterways. The lesser gods were eventually relegated to sub-divine status by mythological rewrites of poets such as the Theogeny by Hesiod.

A game modeled using this theme would see all gods arise more or less simultaneously. They would reign over their minor domains in a local geographic setting, and as their mortal culture grew and expanded (under the god's guidance and influence, of course), the god would also grow in power and expand in dominion. Over the development of the game, gods would slowly meet and form pantheons. They would rewrite their followers' religions and mythologies whenever needed by the sociopolitical dictates of their interactions with other gods. One potential long-term state of such a game is one in which the player characters form the pantheon of a major geographic region, and NPC gods rule over the other regions.

The theme from the Gods of Arr-Kelaan is that of people taken from another world, given divine powers, and eventually adopting domains that are natural extensions of their personalities. They were chosen specifically because their personalities naturally led them to fulfilling the needs of the world. A game modeled on this theme would require players to choose their gods' personalities to match their domains closely.

Another theme, partially explored in Game:Alpha, is that of modern people flung from another world and given divine powers. There personalities were not carefully selected; rather, they were selected by happenstance. In a game using this theme, the gods may spend much of their time trying to find their footing, or they could move between domains fairly frequently over the millennia.

Balance

When creating any game system, tabletop or otherwise, a primary and ongoing concern is the question of balance. And while balance is important, to maintain balance involves, more often than not, adding additional structure to any game. On the other hand, in some special cases, designers can ensure balance without adding additional structure by utilizing knowledge of the intended players and their desires, and the eventual modes of play.

In the specific context of a game of gods, this takes the form of social contract. Because no god can threaten the existence of another god, each must accept, to some degree, that the others will take actions, some of which will not be hindered. By not having an absolute guarantee regarding anything related to the actions of a god, it becomes very fruitful for a character to make agreements with and allies of the other gods. This social structure provides a soft assurance that the gods will get equal say in the goings-on of the universe. Thus, this activity provides a soft constraint on the activities of gods outside of the hard constraints of the rules of the system.

The reliance on PC-PC interaction and PC-NPC interaction to provide constraints in Deities where other games utilize hard rules underscores two important functional conclusions about such a god game. First, Deities is not a game for beginners. If anyone in your group is learning tabletop games for the first time, you should start with a more constrained system. Our favorites are the old World of Darkness games (Mage: The Ascension, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Vampire: The Masquerade, etc.) and Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition. Second, Deities is not a game for power-gamers. If you enjoy spec'ing out a character to push the limits of the game, you are better off in another system. Deities stresses role-playing and the story above everything else, and, frankly, a system that uses social contract as a primary constraint is too easy to break by min-maxing.

Character Conflict

In a Deities game, PC-PC conflict must be handled very carefully. As social contract forms a major part of the constraints of such a game, when the contract fails and conflict arises, things can get messy. True, unbound war between gods leaves few in the mortal world unaffected. Because it is far easier to destroy than to create, if such a battle ever were to erupt, you can effectively say goodbye to the existing world.

Consequently, before peace talks inside of a game break down, players and the MD need to have some serious discussions. Everyone needs to agree that such a path is the natural direction for the story, and that all parties are perfectly content with all possible ramifications of their characters' actions. Breakdown of in-game peace should NEVER be a spill-over of out-of-game friction between players or between a player and the Meta-Deity. Very quickly gods in any game style recognize that, if the gloves come off, entire civilizations may vanish beneath the rubble. They will typically exhaust all other forms of interaction before resorting to force, and if a rogue deity decides to exert force before it is due, the others will band together to restrain him.

With this is in mind, such hostile divine actions can make for an epic story shift. Many "real-world" mythologies show the results of extreme divine intervention, such as the flood of the epic of Gilgamesh, so including this activity would not necessarily break the flow of a game attempting to emulate historical mythologies in its style.

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