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Bastards of Zeus (2) [In Development]

This is part two of Bastards of Zeus [In Development].

In part one I talked about the setting and the characters. In this part I talk more about the game itself and the rules system.

Goal of the game system

BoZ was always intended to be a light game system to model Greek myths. The characters were already special being demi-gods and so were powerful and progressed quickly.

It was a limited run campaign covering a single quest.

We actually covered a lot of ground and encounters in our sessions. Based on rough dates and the character advancements, it must have been 12 to 14 weekly sessions.


BoZ used a variant of the system I had used in an earlier game called Centrum. This itself was heavily inspired by the Mouse Guard RPG.

When a character has to complete a task, the difficulty (or obstacle score) is chosen by the gamesmaster. The player rolls a number of d6 and each one 4+ counts as a success. If the number of successes equals or exceeds the difficulty, the task is completed successfully.

The interesting variant this game used however was how the dice pool was assembled. There were six categories of dice. A player could have 0, 1 or 2 dice for each category.

The categories of dice were:
  • Base dice
  • Equipment
  • Inspiration
  • Allies
  • Tactical
  • Fortune
These categories were also used as the basis for the characters skills.

Each category of dice was assigned it's own colour. This did enable a bit of story telling we discovered. If you were defending an attack and your successes were on the allies dice, then the accompanying soldiers got the credit for diving in and blocking.

These categories also grouped together the dice for the purposes of critical hits.

Roughly base, equipment and inspiration were internal to the character. They were consistent in a battle from the start. Allies, tactics and fortune were external forces that could change frequently and often in a battle.

So the player's dice pool ranged from 1 (minimal skill of a demi-god, alone, unequipped, unfavoured) to a herculean 12 dice. So a fully skilled, magic weapon equipped, inspired by his leader, surrounded by soldiers and a god on their side. This rarely ever happened in play.

In order to play the amazing Fiasco game I bought two sets of 12 Koplow dice (16mm) in black and white. These have a great weight and roll nicely. For another game and BoZ I decided to just go all out and buy another 4 sets.

Base (White)

As with most RPGs, there is a baseline skill to measure of the character's ability to perform certain tasks. These dice were the ones you always rolled.
Base skills were Athlete, Thinker and Human.

Equipment (Black)

The type and quality of equipment meant that an extra dice were granted when better quality swords or magic shields were used in combat.

Equipment skills were Spearman, Shield Bearer and Archer.

Inspiration (Green)

One of the characters (the Prince) was the leader of the party. Before each encounter, he would make a leadership test and make a little speech. If the test was successful, then 1 or 2 morale dice were added to everyone's pool. There wasn't an official scale for the difficulty but it was slightly easier if he performed an eloquent speech.

In our play through however, Anatolis' player was very unlucky with his rolls and he just always failed to get the two or three successes needed.

Inspiration skills were Hero (Bravery), Warrior (Ability) and Healer (Selflessness).

Allies (Blue)

Just like in Jason and the Argonauts or the Odyssey there were a number of allied soldiers with the party. Brave and strong, they were not heroes themselves but assisted with tasks whenever possible.

Each was represented by a single d6. The current number of allies was split across the party, shuffling back and forth mid battle sometimes.

Allies could also be sacrificed if things went bad, perhaps jumping in front of their hero to take an arrow.

Allies skills were Orator, Manipulator and Commander.

Tactical (Red)

Some battlegrounds led themselves for the heroes to find advantageous positions, Balconies above their enemies, firing bows at ranks of troops.

Alternatively a difficult opponent may have a built in weakness. Until the weakness is discovered the opponent is more challenging but as soon as it is known then one or two dice are granted.

Tactical skills were Scout, Observer and Stalker.

Fortune (Yellow)

One of the themes I see in Greek Mythology is the influence of the gods is pretty whimsical. I wanted to include something for this as well.

An aspect of Zeus and Hades' wager was that neither of them could directly help or hinder the party. However any of the other gods were allowed to.

This manifested in play by the characters having codes and being put in situations to challenge them. If the party defiled a temple, they would have no favour. If they rescued a priestess, showed respect, won a glorious victory or anything that impressed their patron god, they received favour.

This was just 1 or 2 extra dice in their pool.

Fortune skills were Survivor, Sailor and Disciple.

Critical hits

In order to add a bit more heroism to the dice rolling if any pair of coloured dice were both sixes, then the test scored a "critical."

Since these were grouped by the categories this prevented too many criticals. If rolling 8 dice over 5 categories (3 pairs and 2 single dice) then there are three opportunities for rolling a critical, each at 1/36 (or almost 3%).

If we looked for a pair of 6s from all 8 dice, the chance is closer to 26% to score a critical.

The roll still counts up successes which were 4+ so 50% chance per dice. For 2 dice 75% percent chance of 1 or 2 successes. For 8 dice, 0.39% for no successes and normally 4.

The effect of a critical hit varied on the creature or the test. For smaller creatures, critical hits often killed outright.

So the hero could roll a good number of successes, causing wounds. A high enough number of wounds and the creature is killed. A critical bypassed wounds and was instant death.


One mechanism I frequently use in these d6 success based games is that of pair averages. In simple terms, a player may choose to trade a roll of 2d6 for a guaranteed success. Statistically 2d6 has 25% change of neither dice scoring a success (4+), 50% of only one scoring a success and 25% both score a success.

Taking an average eliminate the chance of 2 successes but remove the chance of failure. It did also take away the chance of a critical roll. 

Skills (an apology)

The skill system as used is actually a bit unclear and my poor note keeping hasn't helped.

Each character had 18 skills and 1 unique ability. Each skill had a score. The score would increase when the players spent advancements and scored criticals.

My problem is that if these skills were used as the base value, which originally was designed to be bounded by 1-2 then it would have rapidly over powered the heroes.

I do still have the character sheets for my players. Some skills are as high as 7 (for Anatolis Archery) but I never recall ever rolling 7 white dice as well as up to 10 other dice.

What I can recall and decipher, rolling a critical granted a bonus point to a skill.

There were also a number of advancements that could be taken (and the character sheets record 13-14 on them, so someone forgot to add one!).


One thing I dislike in roleplaying games is the older style adversarial dice rolling. When I'm the gamesmaster and I'm rolling for the opponent I'm pitting my luck against their decisions and the story.

Something that I've not been able to prove scientifically up to now that when I'm GM, I roll very, very, game-destroying well. In a Star Wars game I once had an Imperial Stormtrooper take a pot shot at a Jedi trying to infiltrate the base. I scored a critical, knocked the Jedi out and he fell from the platform. We may have fudged the result to not waste the rest of the day.

Fortunately there's a number of systems now that are coming up with alternative systems. Bastards of Zeus included my take on this.

It was driven by the player's actions and their rolls against the challenges I presented. Combat was just another challenge although it consisted of two phases, the heroes attacking and them defending.

A very subtle switch and I've seen people moan about such things on the internet but it gives the player two rolls for their character and the GM can concentrate on setting two difficulties. It was more of an active defence like a dodge than DnD's Armour class.

Each creature had a small table of results. When attacked how many successes caused wounds, how many were needed to kill outright and what was the result of a critical. A similar table was used for defending against the creature's attack. Although that did not have an instant kill result.

So a roll had several possible results:
  • 0 successess scored and (a failure)
  • 1+ successess scored and the effect was based on the creature
  • CR (critical) scored and the effect was based on the creature
0 successes was eventually rare so there wasn't as much a feeling for the players that they missed. They just didn't cause enough wounds in that one strike.

Wounds were handled such that they counted as guaranteed successes on an attack roll. So if a creature was wounded twice, the next attack would already be +2 to the roll. That modelled the attrition of repeated striking until a critical or a large enough, cumulative roll was made.

Criticals allowed weak spots to kill tough creatures or seriously wound large, boss creatures.

The creature's tables allowed them to have different properties by changing if and when wounds occurred. How easy they were to kill and such like.

A simple human opponent could be something like:
  • 1s: +1 wound
  • 3s / CR: killed
A Djinn sand ogre was a much tougher opponent:
  • 3s: +1 wound
  • 5s / CR: downsize (2 humanoid Djinn)
For the Djinn creatures, downsize would transform them into a number of smaller creatures. So defeating the ogre would spawn two humanoid Djinn as follows:
  • 2s: +1 wound
  • 5s / CR: downsize (3 goblinoid Djinn)
So if both were defeated, there were now 6 goblin like bundles of sand trying to kill the heroes;
  • 1s: +1 wound
  • 3s: +2 wounds
  • 5s: scattered
Missing rolls by 1 or 2 successes would still start kicking in wounds making the next rolls easier and easier. When the heroes were at higher levels, they could average their dice and still kill most human opponents.

The challenge was then making more interesting battles that tied into the preparation of the party, surprise and mixing up the challenges.

To fight the boss monster, the Guardian, took several different stages and offered a number of different hazards.

Initially the creature was resting down a tunnel. The party had to approach into the darkness with limited knowledge. Their marching order placed them in one of four bands away from the creature.

The first attack was a series of tentacles lashing out and grabbing characters. Two tentacles meant two characters had to defend attacks of difficulty 6. If they didn't, their allies or themselves were pulled into the creatures mouth and eaten or wounded.

When both tentacles were severed, the Guardian bull rushed out of the tunnel, requiring athletic tests for running or being smashed.

Outside of the tunnel, within it's temple the Guardian changed to smashing down with it's crab like arms on it's back, and spitting acidic bile, The smash attacks knocked characters over, wasting their turn whilst the acid caused wounds.

Here the creature was surrounded by impenetrable armour. Swords were useless. Bows, spears and javelins however could still be useful.

The players had to roll a number of successes on their observation skills to realise a series of dots were actually the creatures eyes. That unlocked possible attacks in this weak spot. A critical would also have revealed them.

When all 8 eyes had been destroyed, the creature went frantic, smashed the temple causing more tests to avoid the falling building. It then staggered out into softer meadow. The weight of the creature slowed it down as it crushed the dirt down into mud.

The creature flailed about without finesse causing anyone attacking unsuccessfully to take damage. A good number of successes and a weak point between the knee armour was cut caused it to drop a leg.

Before it was incapacitated, a critical was rolled, which allowed a hero to mount the creature and stab it's exposed neck, winning the battle. The killing blow was possible by taking out more legs and mounting the immobile creature's back. The critical dramatically short cut that grinding by a heroic act.

The final "battle" and the toughest creature was that of the Magistrum itself. The player had thought the Guardian was the creature but they discovered it was a simple, young girl.

The challenge had actually been set up throughout the game and certain acts had counted towards each character's "human" score. So the more heroic they had acted, the score had grown.

This set the difficulty for the final challenge. Could the party strike down an innocent to complete the wager of some gods? This challenge was made harder by the allies standing back, not wanting to assist, the gods turned their backs as well.

So the maximum dice pool dropped to 8 against the number of heroic deeds that they had built up.


This was the first In Development write up so is a bit less structured than I'd like. Also the game ran 3 years ago and I appear to have lost a set of notes connected to it. Whilst I have some design notes, character sheets and maps, a lot of details I had to hand during the game I can't find.

The system supported the setting by picking out key aspects of the genre and modelling them. That made a fast system to allow the players to enjoy heroic adventures against mythical foes.

In our play through, we had a lot of fun, which ultimately was the most important thing.

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