Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Powers That Be (A Review)

This time around, we're looking at The Powers That Be, another supplement under the Pits & Perils (P&P) OSL, published and written by Bryan Steward of Black Paperclip Games; the same folks who delivered us The Uncanny Abode and Final Resting Place.  Only now, it's the very gods themselves on offer...

The Powers That Be presents a cosmology in just 10-pages
and does so with surprising results!  A must for those who like their
games laced with some old-school fun....

At just 10-pages long, don't expect Deities & Demigods.  However, this short, smart book provides some interesting ideas and insights for referees, whether running P&P or something else entirely, so it's well worth a little read.

First, we discover that the cosmos is quite literally ruled by transcendent forces of Law, Chaos, and Neutrality.  The P&P game uses this basic alignment system (called side), but the book presents these things as palpable forces in the universe, a nod to Moorcock, but far more literally...

Among other things, we learn that the fearsome and powerful deities men worship are just "Lesser" Gods, themselves beholden to the transcendent Greater Gods described herein!  

Of course, we also have the terrifying forces of Chaos; a very Lovecraftian flourish that manages to avoid the cliches' and conventions of that genre in modern gaming.  We've absolutely nothing against that, mind you, but it's nice to see this handled in refreshingly new terms!   

The Lesser Gods are listed by name, sphere of influence, and personal (holy) symbol.  This might not seem like much to players accustomed to more, but P&P already has complete rules for the manifestation of deities in physical form, making this redundant and unnecessary.  More importantly, it speaks to a fundamental truth about religion in most old-school games:

For all their importance, it's the followers of the gods, player or non-player alike, who matter most!

Give clerics a deity to serve, a holy symbol, and a sphere of influence, and they have everything they need to be an interesting persona in a campaign.  The Powers That Be delivers a quick and convenient cosmology, complete with deities, demigods, and heroes to pluck, quickly and easily, as gods to worship or even just for name-dropping and lore-building in general.

We also discover that each god has a signature magic item they sometimes allow to "fall" into the hands of worshipers in times of need, subject to the referee.  These are statted for P&P, but certainly customizable for others systems.  Steward's customary dark humor is present at times, but only until you realize this stuff will kill you!  You've been warned...

One final point of interest is that spell-casters, and not just priests, are interested in the gods, for they tap the very power of creation to ply their trade.  In other words, this supplement provides a basic physic for magic as well, something overlooked in many other (and longer) treatments on the subject.  Accordingly, there are rules for tapping into the powers of chaos to extend one's spell-power, although this is very risky! 

VERDICT: The Powers That Be presents a cosmology, complete with gods, demigods, heroes, and mysterious artifacts that can be quickly and easily inserted into things, all backed by a philosophy for referees who just want to get on with the game.  At just 10-pages, there's some really neat stuff here for those who appreciate a universe that's occasionally humorous and always old-school, being in the tradition of Judge's Guild and Flying Buffalo.

We suggest getting this with The Uncanny Abode, also by Black Paperclip Games, as some of its gods are mentioned, being derived as it is from the same venerable campaign and serving to flesh out adventures in the Ravensreach area.  In both digital and softcover!

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