(An outline for a CoaEG-style campaign)
Last summer I posted about a “campaign core” idea based on player characters gaining power, not through traditional blood-and-gold leveling, but through stealing the essence of “legendary entities.” Recently I rediscovered the post and have been turning it over in my head. The original post doesn’t go beyond a vague outline for designing a campaign, but there’s a huge leap from that sort of kernel to an actual playable game. Well, maybe it’s time to take that leap. Or the first couple of steps of the leap. So to speak.
System. If I were to produce this commercially I’d want to provide rule-sets for common systems such as Pathfinder and assorted flavors of D&D, but for now I’ll base things on YAOSC because that’s mine and why not.
Setting. Despite the above, I probably won’t go with my “Four Realms” setting. Nor am I interested in using a modern or sci-fi setting, nor a bog-standard Tolkien-pastiche RPG fantasy world. Probably something more distinctly Mononoke-Hime-ish: all player characters are human; humans live in little enclaves; the wilds are not just natural but supernatural; the world is peppered with spirits, sentient beasts, and gods. Given the main thrust of play, probably something a little dark – not despairing, but not free of blood and grit either.
Entities. There is no “spirit world.” Spirits live in our own world, albeit invisible and intangible (except when they aren’t). Some of these spirits are powerful enough to be called gods, but most of the world’s gods are not spirits. Instead, some of them are earthly beasts or ex-humans of supernatural stature, while others are Cthulhu-style invaders from the stars. Humans worship some of the gods, and probably even house a few of them in villages and towns and temples as patrons. These deity/worshiper relationships can range from abusive gods playing petty tyrant over a flock, to desperate cults keeping an erratic deity’s rage and whimsy at bay, to genuine mutually-beneficial symbioses. The gods definitely should have vastly different levels of power and kinds of ability, so that players will have to gather and consider information while making their plans. The gods have territories, ranging in size from a single forgotten sealed room in a basement somewhere to an entire city or swath of wilderness; some of these are well-known and documented, while others are less so. Some of the gods are on their own, while others have human cults and/or servitor creatures.
Mechanics. Each character gets made normally, but is secretly assigned a “Humanity” score. I’m quite sure yet how high it should be at the start – maybe have players go so far as to fill out a little personality quiz for their characters? At first, play progresses normally – the players know that they’re expected to hunt down and defeat gods, and that they won’t advance in levels in a traditional way. Finally, they manage to defeat one of the gods. Perhaps one will come to them and force their hand early on, allowing the GM to subtly steer the party’s initial encounter with CoaEG mechanics.
Each god has an aspect corresponding to certain character stats, and has some special powers and attributes that give it “deity” status. These are reflected in three “tiers” of powers that become available to players who are involved in defeating it.
* Helping to defeat a god, or perhaps merely being present at its defeat, allows a character to absorb some of its energy. This is reflected in a +1 boost at least one character stat: life meter or health meter, an attribute or save tied to the god’s aspect, or a few extra skill points in relevant skills.
* After defeating each god, the characters will feel an impulsive desire to consume it in some way. Those who do gain access to the god’s tier 1 power – they literally contain some of that god within themselves; it marks them and empowers them.
* Some time later, each character will get the option to either embrace that god’s essence within themselves, or keep it at a distance. Those who accept it gain access to the god’s tier 2 power (which should be a step above what tier 1 grants) but they also lose a point of Humanity permanently, and the way they are “marked” becomes outwardly apparent, at least while their powers are in active use.
* Reaching certain levels of Humanity on the count down to zero – certain benchmarks of loss-of-humanity – grants access to more powers. Perhaps some benchmarks give generic abilities common to all “god eaters,” while others grant god-specific tier 3 powers. (These should probably be less mighty, but more pervasive and more blatant, than the first two tiers.)
* At times during play, when certain conditions are met, the GM should call for a check from the players. (This is a Humanity check, rolled like any other check, although at least at first the reason for the check should be kept secret!) Those who pass the check continue playing as they want. Those who fail have an action chosen by the GM which their character must perform, giving in to the alien urges they feel bubbling up from the supernatural essence they contain. For example, characters who have slain a god may feel compelled to consume it (raw) on the spot in an atavistic blood-frenzy. A character who enters a moon-lit glade may feel compelled to dance. The difficulty of these Humanity checks should vary from trivial to near-impossible.
* If/when a character’s humanity reaches zero, they’re irrevocably on the track to apotheosis. They continue to grow in power and start attracting worshipers of their own, but also gain new strictures and taboos… and new foes. Ironically, apotheosis technically puts them in danger of being cannibalized by their fellows, but let’s not think about that too hard.
* “Defeat” need not necessarily mean killing, and “consuming” need not necessarily mean physically eating and drinking the materials that made up a god’s physical form. Clever players should be able to find other ways to accomplish these tasks, at least in some cases.
* Offers of tier 2 power can come in dreams, or in moments of danger when the GM asks “You feel a new power welling up from the essence of [one of the gods] in your moment of need; do you use it?” Some may be triggered by deliberate acts, such as performing a ritual or putting on the right mask in the right place at the right time.
* If the game runs well, players should feel a tension between pursuing power and maintaining control over their characters. Too far in one direction and it’s just a quest for power… not inherently bad, but not what I’m aiming for, either. Too far in the other direction, and you get upset players who feel too much stress or loss of agency to want to play any more. The goal is a narrative in which different characters approach the overall quest with attitudes that differ from each other and that change over time based on the events of an organically-developing story.