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Author Topic: Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow  (Read 7383 times)

Headless

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This is a review of the Diceless role playing games Lords of Gossamer & Shadow by Jason Dural and Lords of Olympus by The RPGPundit.  Both games are powered by Erick Wujick’s Diceless Role-Playing system designed for Amber Diceless Role Playing Game first published in 1991. Amber Diceless is based on the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny.  As could be expected in any review of 2 books simultaneously there will be a certain amount of compare and contrast between them as well as reference to the original.  

Both books are full color soft cover.  Gossamer & Shadow has 161 pages Olympus has 231.  Most if not all of the difference in page count comes from the truly massive list of deities and immortals in Lords of Olympus. Olympus has a Diety index with just under a hundred characters on it.  Gossamer & Shadow doesn’t have a NPC index and they only have maybe a dozen pre-generated NPC’s.  

Both books are well laid out and easy to use.  Both use the same intuitive progression for organizing material, with some minor variation.  Both have a table of Contents at the front and references at the back.  Gossamer & Shadow has references for powers and abilities, the rules and engine of the game, Olympus has references for the NPC’s, the gods. Gossamer also has an index, Olympus just has a Deity index.  Olympus has the quick reference charts for the rules at the end of each section.  
Both books are clear well written and enjoyable to read.

Now to the meat.  

In all three books you play lesser immortals.  Stronger faster better than normal beings.  Able to win any contest, dominate mortal minds, grab hold of the very fabric of reality and twist it to your will or even rip it apart if you wish.  They all also are based on the Idea of infinite worlds.  And the players are able to travel among them at will.  In Amber Diceless the original game you travel between worlds by mastery of a power called Pattern.  It’s a cool power but idiosyncratic to Zelazny’s Amber setting.  Without his setting Pattern doesn’t quite make sense any more.  A new setting requires a new way of traveling between worlds.  Gossamer and Shadow is a setting based on the Grand Stair an infinite staircase with doors opening to all worlds.  This Idea has been around for a while, sometimes called the Hall of Worlds, as in Ramond Fiests, Midkemia books.  The advantage of this setting is it’s generic and can fit into any setting.  The disadvantage is it’s generic and doesn’t really add a sense of place to the game.  Olympus uses Roads there are 3 roads each governed by a different deity. Zeus grants the power to walk between worlds under the open sky, Poseidon can travel on water.  Hades lets you crawl between worlds through tunnels and sewers and caverns.  

   That brings us to the powers.  I’ll deal with the Auction after powers, which is a bit atypical of the Diceless system.  Olympus does a better job with powers.  Both in terms of presentation clarity guidelines and overall design.  In all 3 games you have 100 points to build your character with.  It’s a lot of points but you have a lot to spend it on.  For instance, in the original game you can by “Pattern” for 50 points.  It’s a huge chunk of points but it’s also a Huge chunk of power.  It’s your immortality, your world walking, your reality altering, probability affecting bit.  It’s the thing that makes you a god, instead of someone who is just phenomenally good with a sword.  Olympus splits that up, you can buy (or be given as a freebie to all players) immortally for 10 points.  The power to walk 1 Road is 20, Olympian magic is 20 points so for 50 points you can put together the set of powers you get from Pattern, but since they are separate you don’t have to buy the whole thing, which allows more flexibility in character design.  Gossamer and Shadow replaces Pattern with a matched pair of Order and Chaos called Eidolon and Umbra, each for 50 points, (Olympus also has a Primordial magic representing chaos to pair with the Olympian magic representing order) they are interesting and well developed but a little generic.  The Olympus powers have more personality.  The other thing that Olympus does that is very helpful is provide clear and specific guidelines on how much you can get out of powers depending on your rank in various attributes (usually Ego).  I found that helpful, though I did resent it as restrictive originally.  

   Each game has a few lesser powers. Olympus does a slightly better job here, though Gossamer has a power called Invocation which is power over creature’s based on knowing their True Name.  It’s a cool Idea that I think fits well with the conceits of the system.  
   Then you can buy extras, Magic weapons, magic horses, a Daemon servant.  Gossamer has a very powerful, very flexible system for building this kind of extra gear. It’s ported over from Amber Diceless without major alterations, but I think described better in the newer book.  I found Olympus’s section on extra’s to be week and not well explained.  I don’t know if that is a criticism though, I think it’s a choice the author made.  Focusing on powers and character instead of magic swords.

Finally the Auction.  All dice, are replaced by the Auction.  There are 4 attributes, each player bids on them in a competitive auction to see where they Rank.  If you win one of these Attributes, you are highest Rank, and everyone know it.  If you win strength for example you win all wrestling, hand to hand fighting, tug of war, every contest of strength.  You know it, the DM knows it all the other players know it.  But you may not necessarily win sword fights, sword fights are governed by Warfare (called prowess in Olympus).  Weather it’s a contest of Strength or Warfare is determined by role playing, strategy and ultimately the DM’s judgment.  I won’t spend any more time describing these Attributes or the Auction, it’s done very well in all the other review of any of these books.  

   Each book has a well written section on Game Mastering.  Gossamer and Olympus have mildly different philosophies on this. At least thats how they feel to me. Gossamer seems to take the position that DM has a plan and should keep things moving in accordance with the plan.  I might be reading a bit in to the book.  If I am it’s because Gossamer reminds me of 90s Vampire: the Masquerade.  I don’t know why it does, part of it is the art, a little bit is the character sketches but it gives me that feel, and the notes on running an adventure give me that feel as well.  I am willing to allow that, that is my completely idiosyncratic take on the book though.  Also that’s not a criticism, I liked playing Vampire in the 90s, just an observation.  Olympus takes the position that, the DM doesn’t have a plan and shouldn’t fuck with the players, But he should play NPCs, gods, that have plans and fuck with the players.  

   The one place I was disappointed in both books was in the section on examples of character creation.  Amber Diceless has a great section here, a full example of an Attribute auction all 4 Attributes, then character generation for 8 characters.  It is one of my favorite parts of the original book, it’s also one of the most engaging and easiest to read.  And absolutely essential for new players.  Each of the successor books give an example of the Auction for only 1 attribute and only 1 example of character creation.  I think this is a big loss.  For 2 reasons.  First because it was so well done in the original book all they had to do was follow that example.  And second, this is a niche system.  No one plays this, which means no one knows how to build characters.  And you can be ANYTHING.  The scope and freedom is completely overwhelming for most new players.  I could never get my first game off the ground because, the freedom was paralyzing for the players.  A well-developed diverse section of examples can help.  

   A few notes on play.  I ran a small group, 5 players, none of whom had ever played before.  All but one were experienced playing other various role-playing games.  The least experienced player managed to win first in both Strength and Warfare.  Without crippling herself in any way. So clearly the system can be understood by first time players.  It took 3 hours to build 5 characters but that includes, late arrivals, late start, Auction, supper and a one on one short meeting with each player to buy powers, finalize the character, hear what they thought about their guy, and assign them parents.  It felt like a long time to me but the players have told me that that was fast for making characters.  Then we had a 5 hour romp through shadow where the players all co-operated, planned well together, and generally clobbered everything I threw at them.  None of them broke faith.  None of them wanted to be king.  They all said they wanted to be knig maker but they didn't bite on any of those hooks I dangled for them.  

I'm not sure we actully played Amber, or Lords of Gossamer or Lords Of Olympus.  Those are built assuming and encouraging a certain amount of pvp.  We didn't get that far.  In a 4 X game the first 2 Xs are exploration and expansion.  I feel thats what we did.  We didn't get to the extermination part.  

This beings me to my final point.  This game depends on a cental SHARED experience.  With out a shared understanding of the stakes I don't know that it can be played.  Amber did it with 2 sets of 5 books, written by a great author.  They were widely read.  They were good and short. Any player who hadn't read all of it could be given a copy of 9 Princes in Amber and be reasonably expected to read it in a week.  It was only 200 pages or so.  Those books provided a set of shared factions, prizes and stakes.  

Gossamer doesn't have that at all.  Olympus has what ever bits of Greek myth we remember from highschool.  Olympus has the advantage of a movie, the DM can say "we're playing Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief except not YA."  But I don't want to play Percy Jackson, and I don't think I would want to run a game for people expecting Percy Jackson.  With out that center, you have to establish it on your own, which is easy to do, you just play.  But it does mean they game doesn't start until you are 8 hours into it.  

All in all I am happy with both books, I am glad I have both, I think a gaming group should have at least two books any way.  I will say only the wizard chracter spent any time reading during play, and he was completly non-disruptive, which is unusual for a wisard tup charcter. If you only get 1 book get Olympus.  Better powers, more NPCs and more of a Centre.  Unless Greek Myth actively turns you off, or you want to build Gear, magic swords, a litter of psychic, shapeshifting kittens, deamon skate boards.  Gossamer has a better section on gear.  But In most other sections Olympus has just a little bit more.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 09:02:40 AM by Headless »

brettmb

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2017, 11:04:33 AM »
Thanks for the side by side comparison. One note though - if you put an extra line between each paragraph, it will be easier to read. :)

Headless

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2017, 08:14:26 AM »
I did in the original document.  Formatting changed when I pasted it into the fourms.  

Thanks for the comment.

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2017, 06:10:35 PM »
I have to say, this is an absolutely fantastic review.  Not just in the sense that it was positive, but in terms of the detail and analysis. Thank you!
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daniel_ream

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2017, 07:39:50 PM »
A good review, now that the paragraph breaks are added.

Quote
Those books provided a set of shared factions, prizes and stakes.

Gossamer doesn't have that at all. Olympus has what ever bits of Greek myth we remember from highschool.

Some games are so tightly integrated with the source material that I literally can't fathom using them in any other setting, and ADRPG is one of them.  The Rank system and the Attribute Auction simply make no sense in a setting where all the players aren't the most powerful beings in the setting and constantly at each others throats over status and bragging rights.

I Kickstarted LoGaS and I own LoO, and I don't think I'd ever play either of them, any more than I'd use DCC to play a game about Renaissance ducal court politics.
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CRKrueger

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2017, 03:44:06 AM »
Quote from: daniel_ream;969470
all the players aren't the most powerful beings in the setting and constantly at each others throats over status and bragging rights.


Yeah but, in Lords of Olympus aren't all the PCs the most powerful beings in the setting and constantly at each others throats over status and bragging rights? :D
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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2017, 06:40:52 PM »
Quote from: CRKrueger;969769
Yeah but, in Lords of Olympus aren't all the PCs the most powerful beings in the setting and constantly at each others throats over status and bragging rights? :D

EXACTLY.  That's why I went that route.  Because the key element of Amber is not the dimension travel or the immortality or magic, it's that the Amberites are one huge totally dysfunctional family in a soap opera of epic proportions.

Which, frankly, is also what the Greek Gods are.
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daniel_ream

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2017, 01:11:01 AM »
Quote from: CRKrueger;969769
Yeah but, in Lords of Olympus aren't all the PCs the most powerful beings in the setting and constantly at each others throats over status and bragging rights? :D

In Lords of Olympus they might be, but that certainly isn't how the Greek gods of myth behaved.  Much like insisting that group superhero books totally depend on an intricately detailed city sandbox, it's an attempt to awkwardly retrofit a common RPG structure to a literary genre where it's at best orthogonal and at worst entirely contradictory.
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CRKrueger

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2017, 03:08:47 AM »
Quote from: daniel_ream;970019
In Lords of Olympus they might be, but that certainly isn't how the Greek gods of myth behaved.  Much like insisting that group superhero books totally depend on an intricately detailed city sandbox, it's an attempt to awkwardly retrofit a common RPG structure to a literary genre where it's at best orthogonal and at worst entirely contradictory.

That's an awfully broad body of Myth to not be contradictory about nearly anything.  Hell, just going by the Iliad alone (which by itself should be justification for an interpretation), you have enough evidence to view the Olympian Mythos through an "amberite lens".
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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2017, 10:38:46 PM »
Quote from: daniel_ream;970019
In Lords of Olympus they might be, but that certainly isn't how the Greek gods of myth behaved.  Much like insisting that group superhero books totally depend on an intricately detailed city sandbox, it's an attempt to awkwardly retrofit a common RPG structure to a literary genre where it's at best orthogonal and at worst entirely contradictory.


You clearly haven't read a lot of Greek Myth.
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Headless

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2017, 04:41:18 AM »
Quote from: RPGPundit;971540
You clearly haven't read a lot of Greek Myth.

Unfortunately thats probably the case.  Not many people have read much Greek mythology.  Not primary source.  We've read derivatives, percy jackson, Gods behaving badly, American gods.  But not too much of the actual myths.  

Speeking for my self and the readers I know.

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #11 on: July 03, 2017, 12:00:25 AM »
So I read the review up top, but I still have no idea: what do your characters do in these games? I've never read any Zelazny but I've read a good deal of Greek (and other) mythology but I'm having a hard time seeing what I would do with these games. Anybody care to provide examples?

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2017, 12:57:42 PM »
Try to be king.  

Fight bicker and back stab with brothers and sisters.  Pay back petty slights?

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #13 on: July 04, 2017, 04:54:03 PM »
Quote from: Dumarest;972719
So I read the review up top, but I still have no idea: what do your characters do in these games? I've never read any Zelazny but I've read a good deal of Greek (and other) mythology but I'm having a hard time seeing what I would do with these games. Anybody care to provide examples?

There are several different types of campaigns suggested in Lords of Olympus.  You can do a "percy jackson" type of thing that starts with the PCs as thinking they're mortals only to learn that they are the children of greek gods. You can do a campaign where the PCs are all working together, agents of one major god. You can have the most classic "Amber" scenario, where the PCs actually fight amongst themselves; each having different divine parents, they get caught up in the conflicts and fights between their larger family, and have to decide if they want to escape the family dysfunction or chase after power, and if they will throw in their lot loyally behind their parent, ally with the enemies of their parent because of daddy/mommy issues, or seek to make their own place in the multiverse with their own alliances.

There's also a number of 'external events' that could be incorporated into a game:  First, there's the Titans. They were defeated, but most of them still live, trapped in the underworld.  If they escaped, there would be another war.

Second, there's the Hera/Zeus thing.  Hera basically wants to murder any child Zeus has that wasn't hers too. That has all kinds of possibilities.

Third, the prophecy of the future: Dionysus is destined to overthrow Zeus. Only a tiny handful of people know this. Dionysus himself seems dangerous and crazy.  He seems to want to create nothing but a world of chaos and debauchery. But others see him as a liberator.  There could be a whole new war in heaven, this time of the Olympians against the Dionysians. Which side would the young god PCs be on?

Finally, some outside force: primordials gone insane threatening to destroy the universe, some mortals who have somehow gained great power (magic or technological) to the point that they threaten the status quo, a whole different pantheon from another multiverse (say, the Romans, or the Norse gods, or the Aztecs) break through into this one and shit happens, etc.

In my case, when I run it, it actually turns out to be lots of scenic roleplay and talking and arguing and intrigues, highlighted with sharp short intense moments of crazy action.  It feels a little bit like a Wes Anderson movie in terms of style.
LION & DRAGON: Medieval-Authentic OSR Roleplaying is available now! You only THINK you've played 'medieval fantasy' until you play L&D.


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Dark Albion: The Rose War! The OSR fantasy setting of the history that inspired Shakespeare and Martin alike.
Also available in Variant Cover form!
Also, now with the CULTS OF CHAOS cult-generation sourcebook

ARROWS OF INDRA
Arrows of Indra: The Old-School Epic Indian RPG!
NOW AVAILABLE: AoI in print form

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The new Diceless RPG of multiversal power, adventure and intrigue, now available.

Dumarest

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Review and Comparison Lords of Olympus & Lords or Gossamer and Shadow
« Reply #14 on: July 04, 2017, 05:11:52 PM »
Thank you.