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Old 03-13-2006, 07:58 AM   #1
Mercator
 
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Default Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Hi everybody!

This is my first post in the forums. I am a complete newbie to GURPS (though not to RPGs; I have been playing for over 15 years); I have the Basic Set, but I haven't had a chance to run a game with it yet. Recently I bought GURPS Greece because I was interested in building a non-medieval, non-Tolkien fantasy setting and ancient Greece looked promising. After going over the book, I thought that the material was too good not to do something with it, so I came up with this:

My fantasy world is set in Classical Greece, 50 years after the Return of the Gods. In the year 480 BC, when the massive Persian armies of Xerxes are about to invade Greece, Zeus appears in the sky over the Thermopylae, and thanks to his thunderbolts 300 Spartan warriors can defeat the Persians and save Hellenic civilization. Shortly after that, the Greek myths begin to come to life: prayers to the gods are heard; blessings and curses become effective; oracles and diviners *do* predict the future; strange creatures from the writings of Homer and Hesiod are sighted all over Hellas... All of Greece and the Aegean Sea, and parts of southern Italy and Asia Minor become magical (normal mana) and are covered by Zeus's Aegis, a powerful protective spell that marks the boundaries of the Gods' realm and keeps foreign invaders at bay. Outside of the Aegis, the world continues its natural course; inside, the land slowly begins to revert to its Bronze Age state: large tracts of arable land are lost to unnaturally fast-growing woods, and creatures from legend begin to breed and occupy formerly human lands...

Now it is the year 430 BC, two generations after the Return. The Gods have not been seen since that fateful day, but their presence is felt everywhere, every time. The landscape of Greece has changed, but people have accepted their fate. After the disasters of the first years, they have learned to adapt to the new state of things while keeping most of their precious Hellenic culture and social order relatively intact.

The Olympic Gods are not the only ones to return; the Titans and Giants, their mortal enemies, have also come to life. Defeated by Zeus in the Titanomachia (War of the Titans) ages ago, they were banished and cast into the bottomless pit of Tartarus, far below the Land of the Dead. The Titans wish nothing but take their revenge and overthrow the Olympians; althought they can not directly influence the real world outside of Tartarus, they can communicate with their worshippers by means of visions and dreams, and grant them magical powers if it serves their purposes. The Titans, however, are far, far older and more alien than the Olympians; dealing with them is even more dangerous and can have consequences worse than death...
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Last edited by Mercator; 03-15-2006 at 01:57 AM. Reason: Split single large post in two for readability
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Old 03-13-2006, 08:01 AM   #2
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

I want this to be a dark, realistic fantasy setting with horror elements. After the initial shock of seeing the Gods For Real, people should be able to gradually adapt to the new situation and maintain the social order. Nonhuman creatures should be relatively rare; there will not be hordes of centaurs and harpies assaulting Athens every Monday, but their presence wil be felt: certain mountain passes will be off-limits because of Centaur presence; sirens will make certain sea trade routes hazardous; or nobody will dare settle too close to a newly grown forest out of of fear of what's living in it. Think Ars Magica. Similarly, magic should either be low-key and subtle (divination, curses, prayers to the gods, etc) or have serious consequences (angering the gods, driving you insane...), closer to Call of Cthulhu than to D&D. I guess that starting characters should have 100-150 points.

The main themes would be confrontation and change, the old vs. the new. The myths have come true; how do people cope with that? In what ways does society change? Also, the appearance of magical nonhuman creatures (some of them intelligent) and the physical transformation of the land present their own challenges: how do these creatures adapt? What ecological niches they occupy? How they interact with the human inhabitants of the Greek polis?

This is both my first homegrown setting and my first GURPS experience, so I want to know your opinion: What do you people think of all this? Does it sound interesting? What would you do differently? Is this whole thing viable at all, or should I just drop it and go play Dunge... er, Banestorm ;-)?

I'm specially interested in your ideas about magic in this period: how would you model divine interventions, God-granted spells, etc. with just the GURPS 4 Basic Set (I'm getting Powers soon, but for the moment I'd want to rely on just the Basic set in play)? Just choosing spell lists as with magic and calling them "Divine Gifts" as a special effect? Reaction rolls for the relevant God, so if you get a good reaction, you get a skill bonus? (e.g. You pray and sacrifice to Ares before a battle, and if successfull you get a +2 to weapon skills for a day).

Well, I hope that you got the idea. Sorry for the length of the post; new ideas kept coming while I was typing, and I couldn't resist. Next time I will be more concise, I promise!

M.
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Old 03-13-2006, 08:16 AM   #3
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

I think it sounds interesting. Isn't the Peleponnesian war going on at this time? What do the gods think of the democracy/aristocracy debate that raged in Greece at this time? Are there gods in other places as well?

I think it can be totally playable.

For magic and so on: You really want to get Fantasy - it's a great world-building book. Magic is IMO less essential. Remember that the gods didn't really intervene very much in old Greece, except when there were young maidens to pursue... :)
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Old 03-13-2006, 08:51 AM   #4
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asta Kask
I think it sounds interesting. Isn't the Peleponnesian war going on at this time?
That's something I left out of my post because it was getting already too long ;-). I am not sure about the course of Greek history after the Return. If the gods exist and are active, I don't think they would allow the Peloponessian War to happen (as the author of GURPS Greece points out, they have worshippers on both sides!). I think that, if anything, the greek polis would stop fighting among themselves and turn their attention to the outside, perhaps unified under a strong leader (Sparta?). That could lead to a war of world conquest by a God-supported pan-Hellenic army; I don't want that to happen, because the setting world would change beyond recognition. It wouldn't be the Classical Greece we know and can relate to.

A solution is to substitute the all-out Peloponnesian Wars with a constant low-level warfare: each god patronizes a different city, which leads to constant rivality between them: sabotage, spionage, cattle raids, the ocasional skirmish between small units... something to keep tension high (and add to the bleak atmosphere of the setting), but nothing like the real-history events.

As an aside, I can imagine that the Spartans, after having become the Saviors of Civilization and Instruments of Zeus, become even more arrogant and obnoxious than in real life.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asta Kask
What do the gods think of the democracy/aristocracy debate that raged in Greece at this time?
Excellent question. To keep the setting close to historical Greece, I decided that the gods would mostly tolerate the new order as long as the proper sacrifices and ceremonies are performed in their honor (which they already are anyway) and people adequately faithful. The main difference is that failing to properly worship the gods will have consequences...
Also, blasphemy becomes a high-risk practice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asta Kask
Are there gods in other places as well?
That's one of my main concerns. If the Greek Gods come back, why shouldn't the Persian, Phoenician (Moloch! I want Moloch!), Egyptian... gods return too? For the moment, I want to keep the game more local and centered in Greece; that's why I came up with Zeus' Aegis. Within it, the gods affect the world and magic works. Outside, it doesn't happen (it also reflects the likely view of the time that nothing interesting happened outside of Greece...;-)). If my players like the idea enough to keep playing, I could make the other pantheons begin to appear over time. That would make an interesting investigation campaign: what is making the gods become real? Hmmm...



Quote:
Originally Posted by Asta Kask
For magic and so on: You really want to get Fantasy - it's a great world-building book. Magic is IMO less essential. Remember that the gods didn't really intervene very much in old Greece, except when there were young maidens to pursue... :)
I do indeed want to get Fantasy; unfortunately, my short-term gaming budget has been sucked up by Powers and Transhuman Space, but Fantasy is my next target (GURPS Space? What's that? ;-))

Thanks very much for your comments!
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Conversion of the supernatural skills in the Basic Set to Powers.

Last edited by Mercator; 03-13-2006 at 09:12 AM. Reason: Minor clarifications and spelling corrections
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Old 03-13-2006, 09:08 AM   #5
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mercator
That's something I left out of my post because it was getting already too long ;-). I am not sure about the course of Greek history after the Return. If the gods exist and are active, I don't think they would allow the Peloponessian War to happen (as the author of GURPS Greece points out, they have worshippers on both sides!). I think that, if anything, the greek polis would stop fighting among themselves and turn their attention to the outside, perhaps unified under a strong leader (Sparta?). That could lead to a war of world conquest by a God-supported pan-Hellenic army; I don't want that to happen, because the setting world would change beyond recognition. It wouldn't be the Classical Greece we know and can relate to.
Or you could go the Troyan route and have gods on both sides. Athena would support Athens of course, which means that Ares would almost certainly side with the Spartans. Poseidon would also be against Athens (since they spurned his gift) - this would cause trouble for the Athenians and their trading empire. Zeus will be neutral, of course, as would the Cthonian gods (except possibly Hades who was also the god of wealth - Athenian trade again). I can easily picture Apollo being on the side of the art-loving Athenians, possibly bringing Artemis with him. Etc, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mercator
I do indeed want to get Fantasy; unfortunately, my gaming budget has been sucked up by Powers and Transhuman Space, but Fantasy is my next target (GURPS Space? What's that? ;-))
If you have Powers, then I'd do them as Powers. Ares could grant increased Striking ST, Zeus would grant Charisma, Apollo would grant Healing powers. The Fickle limitation seems to suit the Greece gods well.
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Old 03-13-2006, 09:17 AM   #6
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

This does sound like a lot of fun.

Regarding your question about god-granted magic, I've tended to follow the advice that you create a list of spells for each god out of the regular spell lists, and then followers can take any of these without need for pre-requisites, which is balanced by only being able to take spells that are on the short-list.

I've been doing similar things in my own fantasy Europe; for the time being, my campaign is focused in Viking Scandinavia, but I'm slowly building the background info on Anglo-Saxon England, Carolingian Frankia, Republican Rome, Classical Greece, pre-Ptolemaic Egypt, and an Arabian-Nights-esque Persian Middle East, for when my PC's start roaming further afield.

In my campaign, there is no return of the gods and magic, as they've been there all along. This means I have to do a lot more re-writing of history than you, as I have to consider the influences and effects of magic and gods from the get-go, instead of just from a specific change-point, but it wouldn't be any fun without a challenge, right? :-)

For me, the overt presence of gods in society is happening in Republican Rome, where worship and respect for gods declined along with the Republic, until Julius, in his role as pontifex maximus, struck a deal with the gods as part of reshaping the Republic as he wanted it to be, in which they made all of the Italian peninsula (at this point Julius had swung citizenship for all Italians, but no-one else) a low-mana, but high-sanctity (for Roman gods) area. Roman magi lost a lot of their power within the borders of Rome, and very few would wish to sacrifice being Roman for having their full magical powers. The priesthoods and the military grew in power, and Rome as a whole turned inward and focused on the transition to nation-hood.

In my Greece, on the other hand, the priesthoods have generally focused on serving the gods and left mortal matters to others, and the gods have (for the most part) stuck to godly affairs and had a pretty laissez-faire attitude to anything outside of Olympus, as the amount and quality of worshipping has been maintained at an acceptable level. Meanwhile, this thaumaturge/philosopher by the name of Aristocles (appearing a lot earlier in my history, back near the beginnings of Greek civilisation) had these ideas about the ideal society and, with the power of magic to back him up (which ability is quite rare among the Greeks), and showing the proper respect for the gods at all times, managed to institute it as a model of rulership in his native Athens, from where it eventually spread throughout the Hellenic world (from Macedonia and Thrace down to Sparta, most of the larger Mediterranean islands, and making gradual inroads on Asia Minor). So, in the current time of the game, Greece is a thaumarchy, with a thaumaturge as the leader of each polis, and all of them together ruling as a council over all the greek city-states, and each polis organised roughly according to Plato's Republic, with thaumaturges in the place of philosophers.

Hope you find this ramble interesting, and possibly of some help in your own world.
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Old 03-13-2006, 09:27 AM   #7
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asta Kask
Or you could go the Troyan route and have gods on both sides.[...]
(Frantically copy-pasting everything to his Campaign_Notes.txt file) That is *excellent*. Not only makes a lot of internal sense, it will help players get a "feeling" for each Greek city by associating it with a god.
However, do you think the polis would be interested in waging war with all that is happening around them? Perhaps Sparta wants to capitalize on their overnight glory as Saviors of Greece that they begin campaigning (in the military sense) for Greek unification under their lead. Athens does not quite agree and gathers its armies... makes sense.

Quote:
If you have Powers, then I'd do them as Powers. Ares could grant increased Striking ST, Zeus would grant Charisma, Apollo would grant Healing powers. The Fickle limitation seems to suit the Greece gods well.
...which has the added benefit of making PCs think twice before praying for their bonus-of-the-day before each fight. Great!

Another thing that bugs me: the Titans. I want them to be able to grant powers to people as part of their plans. So far, I haven't found a source that assigns precise areas of influence to Chronos, Rhea, Hyperion, etc. Do you know of any such source?

M.
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Old 03-13-2006, 09:50 AM   #8
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Quote:
Originally Posted by joncarryer
Regarding your question about god-granted magic, I've tended to follow the advice that you create a list of spells for each god out of the regular spell lists, and then followers can take any of these without need for pre-requisites, which is balanced by only being able to take spells that are on the short-list.
Plus the spells can be revoked, inverted, boosted or manipulated at any time by the GM, because, as Asta Kask mentioned, the Gods are fickle (ask around in the Trojan battlefield and you'll see...). I like it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joncarryer
I've been doing similar things in my own fantasy Europe; for the time being, my campaign is focused in Viking Scandinavia, but I'm slowly building the background info on Anglo-Saxon England, Carolingian Frankia, Republican Rome, Classical Greece, pre-Ptolemaic Egypt, and an Arabian-Nights-esque Persian Middle East, for when my PC's start roaming further afield.
Your project looks much more ambitious than mine. Since this is the first contact with GURPS both for me and my player group, I want to start simple and expand it later if the players want to go on.

Quote:
Originally Posted by joncarryer
In my Greece, on the other hand, the priesthoods have generally focused on serving the gods and left mortal matters to others[...]

Hope you find this ramble interesting, and possibly of some help in your own world.
(Copy-paste, copy-paste) I definitely found it very interesting. I have to think about how to integrate all this with my ideas: I had also thought about incorporating Mr. Aristocles to the mix as a powerful magician/priest, so I will definitely incorporate your post in that regard. Consider your ideas stolen and moved to my Quality File ;-).
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Old 03-13-2006, 10:32 AM   #9
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Very cool setting, Mercator! I thought I had one concern, but then I realized that you only meant the land to return to its Bronze-Age state. I would have found the loss of Iron-Age technology difficult to swallow.

I wonder how Athens will react to there being so much wood in mainland Greece for fleet-building? Where did the Athenians get most of the wood for their fleets anyways? The Pentakontietia is just ending, so perhaps a dispute over lumbering rights somewhere will replace Athenian intervention on the side of two minor poloi as the trigger for war.
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Old 03-13-2006, 10:45 AM   #10
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Default Re: Homegrown fantasy setting in classical Greece

Chello!

Nice first post, and welcome to the forums!

I agree with the earlier posters--the gods would choose sides based on city-states. Whether or not open warfare would break out is one thing or another.

As to the other gods...I can definitely see shadowy Egypt with her gods.

Another thought...what about Rome? In 430 BC, Rome is a young republic (509 is the date of the ending of the Kingdom). Are the Roman gods the same gods or not? Does the Aegis that extends over "southern Italy" include Rome?

Tony
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