I have always had a weakness for Roleplaying Games that were in alternative settings to the typical Euro-Medieval historical fiction or fantasy. One of my favorites is the Bronze & early Iron Age. Another weakness of mine is games that allow the players to build their own communities or maintain bases of operations instead of playing the roaming band of adventurers common in long-term campaigns of D&D and the like.
Not many games combine these two attributes. Hillfolk is one that comes to mind. So imagine my joy when I saw a new game named Aegean: Mythic Roleplaying Across the Aegean Sea was going to be hitting Kickstarter. It claims to portray Classical Greek’s polis-based society in all of its glory, combining it with the Aegean’s mythological and historical Mycenaean & Minoan past. I just had to take a look at the Quick Start. The author, Stoo Goff, have made the Quick Start available for free for the duration of the Kickstarter campaign to people via the Kickstarter page.
NOTE: The following look is based on the Quick Start document pdf that is available on DriveThruRPG. This will not reflect the full features of the game as advertised in the Kickstarter campaign. Also, this is a quick look at the materials available as opposed to a full review as I have not been able to fully playtest the system. This is my own interpretation of the rules based on a through reading of the Quick Start and may be not match the writers' intent.
Finally, this quick look is not sponsored by the creator or any other partners else involved with Aegean and was undertaken on my own volition.
Aegean is a role-playing game designed to portray the heroic and mythological. This fact goes down to the very bones of the system. They attempt to simulate the characters' relationships with the Gods, Fate, and societal expectations and how these impact their performance and survival.
It should not be too hard to learn the basics of Aegean. The game utilizes a dice pool mechanic where the player rolls a number of ten-sided dice equal to one of the five Characteristics and a Skill added together (plus or minus dice depending on outside circumstances, assistance, and specializations). Any rolls of an 8 or better (30% on a single die) are considered a success, with 10s giving the player an extra success, granting a success to an ally, or other similar extra advantages.
The heroism and mythology in Aegean comes into the game with the additional elements that make it very difficult to fail unless you decide the cost of avoiding failure is too high. There are several mechanics that allow the players to make their success easier.
First, the Deities of Aegean are very real and take an active interest in the actions of our characters, just like the heroes of myth. The character can accumulate Favor or Disfavor with deities throughout their adventures, which can be called upon to assist the character in their favored skills to reroll a skill roll once a session.
Each character also as a pool of Resolve and Risk. Resolve act similar to Story Points from other games in that they can be used to make minor story modifications, trigger item abilities, or add extra successes to a roll on a 1 to 1 basis. Risk to me felt similar to Stress in Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games. This means Risk functions similar to Hit Points in that if the player takes more than their Endurance score, they become Vulnerable to getting a Wound. However, taking on Risk voluntarily can also be used to trigger special items or abilities like in a lot of PbtA games. Greek heroism comes through in the Risk system as well, as characters get a +1d10 to all skill rolls whenever they are Vulnerable to becoming Wounded. Risk can be accumulated to purchase successes on a 1 to 1 basis just like Resolve can.
Taking on too much Risk on a single roll has a cost in the form of Hubris. This is a measurement of the character acting beyond their station in life, showing contempt toward the Gods or social expectations of Hellas. Think Icarus and the Sun or Ovid's telling of Arachne the Weaver. If a character's Hubris goes above their Glory (a measurement of their achievement & status) they become Cursed, lose access to any Favors they may have won from the Gods for their past actions, and may potentially die if they are wounded enough instead of being taken out of action.
If you are familiar with the Trials of Herakles, then you probably understand that once a character gains Hubris or a Deity's disfavor it is rather difficult to atone. I previously mentioned that Hubris can be gained by taking on too much Risk to achieve success in a roll, but it can also be gained through acting against the Deities or their will, to negate the triggering of a Disfavor, ignore a Wound, or not utilize all of your Resolve in a session (AKA, not doing your Hero best; holding back)
Experience Points also encourage heroic play, granting everyone XP for participating and bonus points for having done certian things like acting to benefit your polis, sacrificing or risking much to benefit an ally or to achieve a goal, exploring new lands, or defeating or engaging enemies, or gaining hubris. This XP can be used to upgrade the character's skills or gain new talents and abilities that differ depending on their career (an element that reminds me of PbtA playbooks).
Finally, Greek Mythology is strongly connected to the idea of Fate. This is reflected in the Aegean as well, as each character has a statement of a Goal, Belief, or Passion that drives them forward and help indicate the direction the players would like the GM takes the campaign. Anyone who has taken a look at my own game Sageuk! or the Harmony Drive-based games might recognize similarities to the Aspiration/Lesson mechanic.
For example the pregen character Peleus has the Fate Goal "I will uncover why Apollo hates me." What is important to note is that this can be both a positive and negative goal depending on what Peleus does in order to achieve his ends. After all, trying to achieve a goal or prove your beliefs can lead to growth and experience, but it can also lead to bad decisions, hardship, and Hubris.
Looking Beyond the Quick-Start
Another feature I am really looking forward in this system is the simulation of the characters' polis. This is how this portion is described on the Kickstarter:
The polis—the city and its surrounding lands—is your home and where your loyalties lie. Your polis is a recently founded colony on the coasts of the Aegean Sea. The leader is called an arkhon, a democratically elected ruler after the Athenian fashion, rather than the hereditary king that many cities still use. The polis sits in a precarious position, between many similar neighbouring states who may wish to trade, ally or make war.
Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of information on how this system works that I have been able to discover yet outside of brief description above and what I could glean from the Downtime moves about earning money & replenishing supplies. I will be sure to share if I do find more either here or on a new blog post. That said, I can speculate that, aside from your polis being the place you spend your downtime and base any income-generating activities you do, it can be a strong potential adventure starter. Additionally, I suspect that you can have a stronger and stronger influence on political decisions & events in your polis as you gain in Glory, potentially taking up major offices like the arkhon or strategoi.
The kickstarter for the Aegean RPG is live now! As of the time of writing it has not hit its goal, but still has just under 3 weeks remaining in the campaign.
If you would like to try out the game with your group before checking out the Kickstarter, again the Quick-Start is already available for free via the Kickstarter page. It comes with basic descriptions of the game's workings and a starting adventure featuring a mythological boar hunt. An additional set of adventures are also available for purchase. A set of premade characters and additional information about Aegean are both available on the Aegean dedicated website.