Monday, March 7, 2016

After actually reading The Name of God

After enough people asked how exactly The Name of God worked, I wrote to Alessandro Piroddi to get permission to get the PDF of the first edition early and review it before the end of the Kickstarter campaign.

He said yes, so here we go! (Thanks Alessandro!)

In The Name of God, you are a small god who has fallen from power. You are trapped in a mortal body without your name or even money or shelter. You are a homeless outcast in the city. But you have a hope of regaining your divinity. But, of course, there's going to be a cost.

The Name of God is a GM-free system. It's a role playing game that doesn't require any prior set up and everyone has an equal part in running it. The rules take up four cards, unless you double side them. In the original edition, which is what I'm looking at, the rest of the game consists of the four fetish cards. (The second edition will have more than twice times that number of fetish cards, by the way.)

At the start of the game, everyone will take a fetish card. They've got three parts. The name, which is something cool like the Wyrm or the Shadow, that gives an idea for that fetish's theme. Some questions that will help you define your character. And, finally, the ritual action. That is the big deal, how you try and manifest your forgotten divine presence.

On a turn, one player will be the active player. Their lost god/homeless madman will be the main character for that scene. After they describe what urban wasteland they are at, the other players fill in key details. Who else is there? What is bizarre or wrong? What is dangerous?

You then play out the scene, with the other players taking the roles of the other people and the environment. Effectively, everyone but the active player collectively is the GM or the stage manager, if you like the Our Town analogy. (I love it, which is why I drag it out on a regular basis. Hate the play, though)

The scene keeps going until an action is taken that is either difficult OR perilous OR difficult and perilous. One player must call it out and another player describes the consequences of that action.

The active player can either accept those consequences or they can perform their ritual action. The other players tell them what they must do to perform the ritual action, who gets hurt and other details. The active player must then decide if they are willing to pay that cost.

No matter what, after the action is resolved, ritual action or no, the scene ends and the next player becomes the active player.

An individual character journey will end in one of two ways. They will successfully perform their ritual action three times and regain their divine nature and power. Or they'll die. The game ends when everyone finds their final destiny.

Now, let me say I have played a number of GM-free systems over the years. And I have to say that they actually work. Looking over The Name of God, I'd honestly say that it shouldn't just work but it'll be harder to mess up than others I've seen or played.

Part of that is because what everyone has to do is pretty straight forward. The other part is because the concept and setting, which has been used in works like American Gods is both real enough for people to understand and fantastic enough to be safe.

(The concept does remind me of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, while being completely different in tone and setting. At the same time, I can imagine playing a stray dog or an alley cat who is secretly a god)

Of course, there are still going to be speed bumps for getting into this game. You have to go in with the goal of telling a good story, not to win. The better story might to be to reject the price of divinity and die, unknown and unloved in a filthy alleyway. If you can get into that, awesome!

I thought the idea of the Name of God made it worth backing. Now that I have seen the actual Core System, I'm pretty excited to get the expanded game.

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