On Becoming A God: Part-Time Gods 2E

By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico,  31 October 2018
If you read my post about Scion: Origin two weeks ago, then you’ll already know why I like the idea of playing a human thrust into the world of myths in which the gods walk among the mortal populace, with hijinks ensuing as your own character slowly becomes a god. So what happens in a game where you are a god, with your own powers, a domain of your own to rule and protect…and still needing to be sure that the rent is paid on time. Part-Time Gods Second Edition (abbreviated as PTG2E) brings this very concept to light, but does it have the spotlight of the divine with the heavenly music, or is it just the light from the cracks of the world above it’s prison?

Writer’s Note: The review presenter here is for the backer preview of the book. It is still missing finishing touches (final characters, removing placeholders, clearing markup, etc), but is being offered for review while waiting on the final copy. Concerns regarding typos and the like may not be necessary in the final version. This review was written to fullfill a request from a Patreon backer.

==The Pitch==

You are a god. Sure, you’re still stuck working your day job, and you have obligations like family and followers, but at the end of the day, you’re a god. And it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. PTG2E gives you the unique experience of playing a god, gifted with a “spark” that grants power over a specific facet of reality. Your god will need to form a “pantheon” by banding together with other gods as you deal with the mess left by the old gods (the ones from our mythologies) that are long dead due to violence and old age. These threats range from God Killers, who are mortals and other gods that wish to take your power for their own, to Outsiders, beings that the gods of old inadvertently created when they imprisoned their progenitor. This becomes a bit more complicated, as your divine essence alters the world around you, making your territory more like the power you possess. And, of course, your boss is going to give you hell if you’re late again, or your niece will be rather upset if you can’t make it to her recital… PTG2E offers the unique experience to be both divine and mundane, of saving your part of the world from unknown horrors while still maintaining a nine-to-five.
And sometimes, that 9-5 requires some…overtime.

==What You Get==

PTG2E weighs in at 312 pages, including character sheets, pre-generated characters, and index. The artwork is black and white, but there are various color accents (purple and gold) to make things pop and break things up. The game offers a d10 dice-pool mechanic, utilizing a Skill + Skill + Mods approach. You can read up on how the dice mechanic works within my review of the quickstart. Within these pages, you will find everything you need to make and play your character: mundane professions, godly abilities, and monstrous opposition. It is a complete game in one book, with planned supplements to expand further with additional options and setting.

==The Good==

I personally like how the game tracks your path from godling to full divinity. Not only does it track your power, but also shows how you lose more of your mortality as you gain in power via the loss of bonds (and the immediate power upgrade you gain from it). It’s a much different approach than we see in Scion or related games, and I find it to be rather intriguing from the roleplaying perspective. Speaking of divinity: you pick what you are the god of. Literally. The metaplot and cosmology for the setting (which is a ton of fun, in my opinion) allows your character to pick something as their domain that they have power over. You could be a God of War, sure, but then you get to choose what aspect of War. You can be the Patron God of Fencers, or the Goddess of Coyotes, or even the Deity of Diodes if that was your whim. This helps you determine your personality (as your Domain is often, but not always, related to your personality), as well as your capabilities, and gives much more leeway than Scion (which requires you to be a child of a specific deity). Speaking of the setting: like Scion, the setting promotes a multitude of myths, but unlike Scion, the old gods are dead (even by old age!). The story revolves around a group of young godlings with their Divine Spark, working with other gods that share similar views and goals to protect their own corner of reality, with the oldest gods being just a hundred or so years old. The setting provides opposition in the form of monsters, other gods (mad or otherwise), those with a hint of power, and even just mundane mortals.
Some allies, foes, and items have more power than others…
Mechanically speaking, the game is easy to grasp. As mentioned in the review of the quickstart, the game utilizes a simple d10 dice pool that counts up successes. Unlike other games that utilize this mechanic, you choose two skills (instead of Stat+Skill) that are relevant to the task and roll them together, count up your successes, and move along. Even character creation gets this simplified touch. Character creation is lifepath-esque: pick your career and archetype, note down what you get from each, choose what you are a god of, assign finishing touches, then you’re ready to play! The game also has a reliable combat mechanic, including a mechanic for social combat, as well as functional extended tasks and the like. From a writing perspective, I have to give praise to the number of examples presented here, which is why so much of the mechanics actually work. Each power has a note about ways it could be used to fit a character, character creation has an interesting (and different) kind of character being built, and the examples are all easy to follow. This makes PTG2E a relatively user-friendly game to get into, which is worth quite a bit for new players. I also would be remiss if I didn’t mention the setting material again. The game is set up in such a way to allow your godlings to properly take the spotlight. You aren’t going to need to worry about being outclassed by Zeus (at least not as you know him), but rather you can focus on how your own story unfolds. There are nods to all myths so you can cherry pick what you want to use, while the setting is still neutral enough to allow anything you want to allow. A setting that offers depth while not being inundated by a canon metaplot is a rare find, and PTG2E does this in a fantastic way. Oh, and the nods to marginalized communities done up in ways that pay respect and acknowledge their validity? Top notch. No lie, fans of other franchises will feel right at home here and may even have ways to hack this game a bit. For example, the mechanics for stealing the power of other gods reminds me of Highlander, the impact of doing so reminds me of the Diablerie of Vampire: The Masquerade, and the various ways that your powers can warp you makes me think of The Dresden Files. This is just scratching the surface, and there’s a ton of other ideas you can play with here.

==The Bad==

I’m going to start this off with a rather big note: I’m not terribly sold on the layout and design of the book. For starters, the art quality rotates from highly detailed and wonderful bits of art to things I’d expect in an early 90’s White Wolf supplement. All of the art we have here is in black and white, some are sketch-like and others are shaded, with images tending to be half-page at most, so the book relies on small bits to do the job.
Some of it just doesn’t work as well, in my opinion.
This is also an issue with the layout as a whole: it’s all single column with columns shifting around images that take up an odd portion of the page. It’s a little disorienting with a PDF when you are used to reading two-column books, as an art bit in the top left part of the page will make it look like it should be two columns; I found myself going to the bottom of the page before realizing what I was doing. The book in its “penultimate edition” has some odd typos and placeholders, so it’s still not quite complete. It’s much like Scion: Origin in that the book could use another good edit, but outside of the page number placeholders, you won’t be catching too many issues as you move along unless you are really out there looking for them. Mechanically, I still have a few concerns. As mentioned in the quickstart rule review, resources can be a bit difficult/a burden to track, both amounts and uses. The number of resources and their effects also make it more board-game like (“Free time” is spent to move, for example), especially when mixed with the Territory Grid. While they open the door to some great roleplaying and storytelling potential (like taking care of your followers or familial obligations), it does carry a board game feel of “If you want to do <thing>, you need <resource> for it,” which I am not a fan of. As a refresher: on top of two forms of health, players need to track their Bonds (and their related stress), Fragments, Free Time, Wealth, and Pantheon Dice, the latter three being easily represented with physical objects. Each of these gets used as the game progresses, each with their own use, and some of these uses feel rather arbitrary (like how much Wealth is takes to heal, based on whether or not your character has health insurance). I don’t know about you, but I play RPGs to have SOME escape from reality… I’m also on the fence about how crunchy the game can get, and I’m leaning toward “bad.” While the game uses a simple d10 mechanic, it still carries the baggage of needing multiple successes to succeed while also maintaining the “lose dice for harder tasks.” I’ve always felt this is a slippery slope, as a new (or vindictive) GM can both dial up the difficulty and give reasons for you to lose dice, and then mix that with how margin of success is factored in (multiple successes needed for extra effect), it becomes a bit crunchier than I’d like. Again, this is more personal preference that other GMs and players may not have an issue with, but it is an issue I’ve faced far too many times in my days as a World of Darkness player. I love how Bonds are a useful resource (for Territory, Wealth, info, etc) with limits, and how they promote some great storytelling (and said storytelling is rewarded by the RAW), but again, it feels like another thing to keep track of resource-wise. While it is valid for storytelling, there’s an inherent “downtime” that can happen because of it to enforce that the resource is kept (i.e. you’re out of Free Time, so you need to spend a scene with an Attachment, but your Pantheon needs you to bring this relic to the location RIGHT NOW; you just harmed your Bond and, in turn, yourself, especially if you’ve had to do this a few times). I also feel that taking care of your Bonds in the middle of a scene can suddenly (and drastically) shift the tone of the session a bit too far, leaving players feeling off as a side-issue is resolved. Again, while this can lead to some amazing roleplaying, you do need to have the right GM and the right players to make this work out correctly and not drag down the game in the process.
Because going from “Epic Battle Of The Gods” to “Appeasing Mortal Ties” can be a problem for some inexperienced groups.
In some ways, the game is really about loss, and not all of it can be recovered. If you had a high-ranking Bond (say a favorite coffee shop), neglecting it when you are needed can drop the rating, which requires XP to bring it back. While you are given a small reward if you lose it due to growing in power, any other loss leads to a loss of that XP. This is also not entirely consistent. While any upgrades you purchased regarding Wealth or Free time with your Occupation are lost if you leave the job, other perks (like what was spent on the Blessing or Curse) are returned. In some ways, PTG2E can be forgiving with loss, but other times, it’s not.

==The Middle==

Like the quickstart version, I feel as though we need a “middle” category. While some parts are great, they also carry some inherent flaws that I’m not too keen on (and I am sure many will argue in similar fashions). Progression is pretty straightforward, but I’m not entirely sold on it. There’s a limit to what players can do for XP, earning a max of 7 XP per game if they do everything. I think most players will end up averaging somewhere around 3XP per game, meaning an average player will be waiting 3-5 game sessions before seeing a single upgrade on their character (unless they buy a new Specialty or consume one of their fellow gods). I like that it’s straightforward, as level only matters for one particular upgrade or when getting any upgrade to level five, but the progression could be a bit stilted for some gamers that are not used to the idea of a long-term campaign with slower character advancement. Some like to see something change (or at least potentially change) every game or two, but considering the max XP earnable per session (7 XP) and the most expensive upgrade (New Dominion at 25 XP), with a mathematical average of about 10 XP for an upgrade (when averaging everything), you will find that becoming a god can be a longer-than-expected process. There are notes on how to speed it up (as well as house rules), but at the end of the day, the rules as written show a slow progress. As before, I am waffling on the Territory Grid. On one hand, it is an extraordinarily useful tool. While it is primarily designed to represent a city/town, it is generally summed up as “the area where the characters choose to live and protect.” I spoke with Eloy about this in the past, and this could easily cover areas like a county, and as PTG2E is a game that revolves around “home”, I wouldn’t suggest going any larger than that. That said, the Grid allows players to become invested in the setting, as they choose what goes where (via random rolls and some decisions), where their own influence lies, and where some of their opposition rests. These aren’t always just buildings; you can set where your partner works (to represent your partner), your favorite coffee shop (the actual building), or a place you know where you will always find your favorite follower (to represent the follower). It’s a degree of worldbuilding that I really enjoy, and I love how it is utilized as a part of character creation. It’s also nice that being within the vicinity of your “territory” actually grants bonuses, and while it gets a bit crunchy, it is interesting how the “home team advantage” is implemented. On the other hand, it is a bit of tedious bookkeeping. While the actual upkeep for such a map is its own process (as players expand their territory, make changes, and The Big Bad starts causing issues), that’s something I consider “normal” for a game. No, the issue is tracking and balancing all of the costs to navigate the map. Moving around is hampered by Free Time, as you get 4 spaces for free and another 4 spaces for each point of Free Time. Considering it’s a 10×10 grid with no diagonal movement (unless you are part of a specific Theology), an unlucky situation (like being in one corner and needing to get to the other, requiring 18 spaces) can require a large chunk of resources to pull it off (4 Free Time, or 2 Free Time and 1 Wealth). Considering that it costs Free Time to end a scene, that other tasks use up both Free Time and Wealth, and being out of either can require you to skip a scene or suffer consequences, I’m not that fond of it. Granted, this is a worst-case scenario, but even in the best case, I feel it adds a board game feel that I’m not too keen on having at my table (but others may like it!). Finally, as much as I like the idea of how open-ended this game is (even if we don’t have rules to build a Touched or other type of Supernatural character…yet), I fear that some players may face decision paralysis. For example, choosing a Domain is probably the biggest challenge for a new player (or for someone who is generally bad at making final decisions), but the way Manifestations are written may cause further difficulties for players that don’t have a background in games like Mage: The Ascension or some of the stranger Fate offshoots. Manifestations come off as a rather freeform set of powers regarding what they can really do, and I know my own local group struggles with every game I drop on them with this kind of mechanic. Eloy has worked to offer a number of suggestions and words of advice to help with this, but I have found that players do struggle with this from time to time.
And sometimes, it is quite the struggle.
There is also the note that you choose which two Skills are linked for an action, and even with the examples, you as a player can still pitch the idea of mixing two skills of your choosing together for the task. While this opens up the doors for some interesting descriptions (like using Stealth+Fighting for a “Death From Above” attack), the possibilities here could cause some players to freeze (due to trying to find the right combos), some to sit with their favorite pairing, and others that will want to function within the confines (and limitations) of what is written in the book. Sure, you can just play off from the specific examples, of which there are plenty (there are TEN standard attack actions and FOUR standard defense actions), but considering the rest of the text, that feels like you’ll be missing a great deal of what this game can offer…as well as being limited by the exact ruling for these actions (which can be a headache in social combat as, by RAW, they need to be announced when the attack is announced, but the one reply requires twisting logic back at them). Freedom comes at a price, apparently.

==The Verdict==

Even with the flaws and the areas I’m waffling on, I will have to give Part-Time Gods Second Edition a supernaturally enhanced 3.5 Buns.
The game does a number of things right by giving a plethora of open-ended options with an equal number of examples to alleviate decision paralysis, while providing an easy to grasp mechanic equipped with a vast amount of narrative flexibility. If anything, it does a number of things right that Scion did wrong, especially with regards to being a fully prepared, ready-to-run game out of the box. Even so, the game still has inherent flaws, such as the resource management, the issues of decision paralysis, and in some ways it’s too crunchy while being too lenient with rules. Like the characters you are playing, Part-Time Gods is riding a line between two worlds, and sometimes can’t quite reach far enough into either of them. If you enjoy telling stories of your own epic heroes, don’t want to be saddled down solely by the known myths, and want a game that’s ready to go out of the box, Part-Time Gods Second Edition is a wonderful game to consider picking up. If you’re tired of all of the super-powered games, dislike stories focusing in one place, or just have a dislike for d10 systems, you’ll want to give this a pass. Part-Time Gods Second Edition is created by Eloy Lasanta and published by Third Eye Games. The book is still available to pre-order from the Backerkit page, allowing you to net the physical copy with PDF for $50. The physical books should be available on the Third Eye Games webstore once they are available As of this writing, the PDF is available on DriveThruRPG for $20, and for $17.99 at the Third Eye Games store.
Anthony, better known as LibrariaNPC, wears many hats: librarian, gamemaster, playtester, NPC, and our Editor-In-Chief. You can support his work on Patreon, his tip jar, or via Ko-Fi.