A Penny for Your Thoughts

Before the Flood

the roleplaying game of the gods

Creating the Gods

You'll need a stack of 3x5 cards, 8 or 10 per player. At this point, the GM is a player too, so I mean all of you. You're going to make the Gods.

Look to the sidebar on this page for the list of the Gods' Domains. Divide those Domains up among you, however seems best. You might read them out, waiting for a player to claim one before you read the next. You might begin on your left and have each player choose one, going around the circle again until you've chosen them all. You might draw them from a hat or deal them out like cards. It makes no difference.

If you like, go ahead and invent a Domain or two for your god that's not from the list. (An interesting way to go with this is to take small Domains within or between the Domains of other gods - you might be the God of Money, for instance, when another is the God of The Market, or you might be the God of Death In War when others are the God of Battle and the God of Death. Be sure to clear it with the other players and carefully work out your relationships.)

Keep your first 3x5 card blank, and list your Domains on the second.

You are the god of all the Domains in your list. It's a lot for one god, so group the Domains conceptually, however seems to make sense. You might group Beauty and The Body, for an easy instance, or maybe Husbandry and The Wilds for an animal-ish thing, or Death, Knowledge and Deceit, if you want a kind of grim tomb-and-forbidden-rites feel. Some of your Domains may not fit into any groups; that's fine too, leave them on their own. Write each group (or individual Domain) onto its own 3x5 card. Those cards are your Aspects.

Associations are unifying themes that cross your Aspects and draw them together. Choose one from the second sidebar on this page, or invent one along the same lines, and spend a minute working out how each of your Aspects relates to it. What does The Sun have to do with Love, with Death, with War and Youth? This is an important step, giving your god much of Her or His character. Check with the other players. If you have two Sun Gods, for instance, you'll want to work out their relationship pretty concretely.

Leave space on your first 3x5 card for your name and then write "Goddess of The Sun" or "Queen of Black Crows" or "God of The Wind" or whatever you choose.

When you interact with your fellow gods or with mortals, you must have some form. Now, being a god, you can naturally take any form you want, changing it at will (with one small exception I'll explain in time). That's fine, but most gods nevertheless have some recognizable form to which they often return.

YourDivine Guise is, in some sense, your truest form. It's the form you (usually) take when you meet with the other gods, or when you want to reveal yourself to a mortal in your glory. A winged bull with the face of a wise sage, a tall spare woman with the head of a leopard, a red-bearded giant with hands of beaten silver and eyes of black volcanic glass, things like that.

YourMortal Guise is the form you take when you want to interact with mortals as a mortal. An old woman in gray with a crown of wild flowers, a young soldier in a red coat, a child in silk and pearls with bare feet, that sort of thing.

You might have other Guises as well. Animal Guises are common, as are Guises of natural phenomena like the wind or stones and even Guises of unnatural phenomena like showers of golden coins.

You don't need to define your Guises before play begins. If you want, you can simply wait until you choose to appear - and even then, you only have to describe your appearance at that moment, you don't need to commit to it as a Guise. Some of you might find this appealing.

If you do want to develop your Guises up front, then go ahead and on your first 3x5 card, write "In my Divine Guise I appear as..." and "In my Mortal Guise I appear as..." On the 3x5 cards for your Aspects, describe how your Guises set that Aspect apart from your others. For instance, you might write that in your Aspect as the Goddess of War, your hair is braided up and you wear a veil over your lower face made of ringing chains of arrowheads.

If your Guises are very similar across your Aspects, mortals and the other gods may have trouble discerning which Aspect you're taking. If your Guises are very different across your Aspects, mortals may not even know that you're one god, but may worship you as several. Either is fine.

Every God has a Home. Since your home is under your complete control, and since there are no limits to your power there, you may make it be whatever you want. It may be concrete, homey, Earthly, like a cottage under the roots of a great oak, full of things and smells and the soft noises of the tree growing. It may be abstract and rarified, like a vast expanse of silver blue light with dwellings like the vibrations of harpstrings. It may align with your Domains or complement them: the God of Death may live in a great mausoleum, silent and cold, or in a wealthy kingdom full of fat happy peasants and barking pups. You may also have servants, guards, librarians, slaves, porters, dressers, retainers, soldiers-at-arms, angelic messengers, demons - whatever you like, or none at all.

Again, you may set aside describing your Home until someone visits it, or you may go ahead and describe it on that first 3x5 card as well. Go onto the back if you want.

Love - Death - Battle - Youth - Old Age - Knowledge - The Body - Sports - Music - Language - Magic - Weather - Soldiers - The Market - Childbirth - Healing - Numbers - Husbandry - Beauty - Travel - Gambling - Tools - Deceit - Planting - The Harvest - Families - The Hearth - The Wilds - Hunting - The Senses - Building - Art - Brewing - Law

The Earth - The Sun - The Moon - The Sea - The Stars - Fire - Wind - Storms - Stone - Owls - Leopards - Deer - Dogs - Green Plants - Flowers - Insects - Spiders - Caves - Metal - et cetera

Alazne, Goddess of Fire
In her various Aspects Alazne is the Goddess of Youth and Sports, of Weather, Travel and the Wilds, of Art, of Planting, and of Healing. And fire: I imagine the energy and flame of youth, the Olympic torch, a caravan's cookfire, the light of inspiration, and the slow burning of seeds under the earth and the blood in the body. That's pretty good.

I could stop now, if I chose to. Already I have plenty to begin play. Instead I'll think about her Guises. In her Human Guise, Alazne is an athletic girl with a bright, open face. She has greenery in her hair - as Goddess of the Travel and the Wilds, it's green leaves and wild herbs; as Goddess of Sports it's a crown of flowers. As Goddess of Planting it's seedlings, of course. She has topaz jewels on her rings and in her navel, for fire. In her divine guize, her hair is the greenery, and (harmless) flames dance constantly around her hands and feet. Her eyes are topaz, then, and have a flickering inner light, quite literally, as though there were a bright candle inside her head.

I'll leave Her Home for later, thinking meanwhile, tentatively, of a wild, overgrown garden.


Here are questions for many of the gods. Look them over, feel free to answer them on your 3x5 cards or not. Really, the most important thing to realize is that you are the gods. The world is yours.

Every God
- What things do you consider sins, and what things do you consider virtues?
- What do you require of your human priests or prophets? Do you even have any?
- How do your worshippers communicate with you? How do you communicate with them?
- What is in your temples, and how are they arranged?
- What ceremonies do your worshippers perform in your honor?
- How do you rank romance, marriage, sex, and familial love?
- Do you make people fall in love, or do they come into your Domain on their own or through Fate?
- Are there good deaths and bad deaths, or are all deaths equal?
- Do you rule the dead? Do you judge them? Do you serve them?
- Do you prefer the victorious, the brave, the cunning, the powerful, or the honorable?
- Are there proper ways and inproper ways to conduct war?
- Do you try to create wars, or do you just preside over them?
- What are proper things for the young to do, and what are improper?
Old Age
- What are proper things for the old to do, and what are improper?
- Is there good knowledge and bad knowledge? Is truth good, or is truth simply truth, and neutral?
- Are there proper ways and improper ways to learn?
- Is some knowledge hidden, secret, sacred, or forbidden?
The Body
- How do you rank strength, grace, endurance, health, and beauty?
- Is nakedness shameful? What must a person wear to be decently clothed?
- Which bodily functions are noble, and which are shameful?
- Do you prefer individual atheletes or teams?
- Who is the best: the strongest, the swiftest, the most cunning, the most enduring, the best sport, the boldest, or the winner?
- Are some subjects proper for music and some improper?
- Do you prefer any forms of music over any others?
- Why are there so many languages, or is there only one?
- What powers do you give to the literate, if any?
- Do the gods speak the same language as human beings?
- Are there wizards, people you've given to command magic without your direct intervention, or is every act of magic your own?
- Is there good magic? Is there bad magic? Is there magic which is neither?
- What structure does magic have, if any? For instance, are there certain spells that always or usually have the same effect, or is every act of magic improvised?
- What behavior is proper for a soldier, in and out of battle? What behavior is improper?
The Market
- Under what conditions is it acceptible to charge more or pay less for something than it's worth?
- Whose responsibility is it to verify the quality of sold goods?
- Do you choose who gets pregnant, or does Fate?
- Do you choose the baby's sex, health, and identity, does the baby choose, or does Fate?
- Is a virtuous person more likely to heal than an unvirtuous one?
- What purpose does beauty serve?
- Do you favor the cautious, the bold, the lucky, or the canny?
- On what may a person rightly gamble? What is inappropriate?
- What possessions might a person rightly stake?
- To whom may a person rightly lie? Under what conditions can a lie be the correct action?
- How do hunters acknowledge the sacrifice of their prey?
The Senses
- What place do people with impaired senses hold?
- What factors make a good building, and what factors make a bad one? Sturdiness? Alignment with natural features? Alignment with flowing energy? Specific features of decor?
- What subjects are appropriate for artisitic representation? What subjects are inappropriate?
- Are you more a muse, a patron, or an audience?
- What uses are appropriate for alcohol? Are any inappropriate?
- What is your stance toward drunkards?
- Are there right and wrong laws, or are all laws good?
- What qualities does a good judge possess?

Creating the World

Naturally the earth has been around much longer than you gods have. Probably it's however many billions of years old, and four hundred thousand years ago the ancestors of modern mortals ate shellfish and built log structures and chipped flint with their backs to the fire on the French Riviera. It is, after all, still the earth.

But now it is the dawn of civilization. The first words have just been written, the first cities built, the first kings made to rule. Mathematics is still magic, laws are still divine, and the body is not yet a machine. As old as the earth is, the World is very young.

The Gods' First Council
I've chosen a world a little like Ancient Babylon and Persia, inspired and informed more by Tanith Lee's Flat Earth than by any research I've done myself. Sometimes I think of it as Before the Flood, and I try to evoke the mystery and decadence of a civilization that later gods would claim to have destroyed. But that's just me. Base your world on Egypt, India, Greece, Rome, the Celtic world, the Norse, any - this is the first subject for the first real council of the gods.

Who are your people? What is their land like, and what are its seasons? How is their society structured? Soon you'll be making characters who are members of that society, better to know something about it.

As you discuss the world, remember your Domains. You are the authority there. It's your privelege and responsibility to define them. Let me comment on a few in particular:

As the God of Tools, you give mortals the technology they use. You shouldn't just decide arbitrarily, however. Work with the other gods, especially the Gods of Planting, The Harvest, The Hearth, Husbandry, and War, to create a (reasonably) consistent and functional material culture.

As the God of Magic, it's your responsibility to describe the wizards of your world. You should certainly feel free to discuss the matter with the other gods, but ultimately you are the source of magic and the decision is yours. It's very important that everyone understand your positions on the subject - soon you'll be making mortal characters, and everyone should know what wizards are and what they do.

The Afterlife
The afterlife isn't the responsibility of the God of Death, not in the same way. If you want, you can claim it, making all the souls of the dead your subjects, in which case you do have the final say. Otherwise, open the afterlife to discussion. Do dead warriors serve the God of Battle? Do souls reincarnate? Is there a paradise and an eternal torment, or just unending limbo? Do even the gods know the answers?

Where The Gods Meet
When you meet in council as the gods, where is it? A grove of olive trees in the desert? The highest peak of the highest mountain? A hidden palace? One of your Homes?

Before the Flood
The people live in independent cities and the countryside surrounding them. The kings of the cities are generally allied with one another, but squabble constantly over small matters. The kings are all priests. The God of Law chooses the kings from among the priest caste (usually favoring Her own priests, naturally). All priests are rich and powerful; most of the PCs will be priests.

It's a pretty straightforward bronze-age near-eastern culture. There's beer and beekeeping, lots of pottery, bricks, camels, and goats. Horses are used but they aren't really tame, they're regarded as fearsome things, noble and wild, and they're the subject of much superstition. War is fought by lancers on foot and skirmishers with slings, and archers in chariots, and isn't well organized at all.

Wizards negotiate each spell with the God of Magic's demonic underlings. A wizard, then, is one to whom the God of Magic has given knowledge of the rites and ceremonies necessary to summon demons.

The God of Death judges the souls of the dead and then sends them on to one of seven afterlives. The highest is for priests alone.

The gods meet in the Home of the God of Law.

Creating Life

Now it's time to make your mortal characters. Find one of those 3x5 cards left over from creating the gods.

Yours By Right
Write down three things that are true of your character and are yours by right: I'm tall, I'm beautiful, I'm rich, I'm a skilled hunter, I'm a leader in my community, I have many lovers, like so. Very straightforward. Play these first three conservative: they should describe your character's body, experience, social class, possessions, skills, talents. Don't choose magical gifts, vast holdings, kingship, familiar demons, anything like that. Plenty of opportunity for that in a moment. For now, restraint.

Now, choose any god. Approach that god respectfully, in character, and ask for a gift. Don't specify which Aspect of the god you're asking and don't ask for something particular, just for a gift. The god will give you one. Write it on your 3x5 card.

Gods: each PC is entitled to one gift from a god of her choice. Choose something good within one of your Domains but don't give away too much.

Now, choose a few (or many) more things you'd like to have. Here's where you can have magical swords, the strength of a hundred, the ability to change into a leopard, true love, a host of unseen servants - even the sky is no limit (what would you do if you owned the sky?).

For each of these, go to the appropriate god and ask for it. The god will grant it and give you an Obligation in return. Write both the granted gift and the Obligation on your 3x5 card.

The god must give you what you ask for, and you must accept the Obligation the god gives you in return.

Gods: you must say yes. In return you may give the mortal any Obligation you like. This is where you most define your personality and this is your best opportunity to introduce your agenda into the world. Look to the sidebar on this page for some advice about Obligations.

Since the PCs can't refuse your Obligations, you can warn them off from requests that you consider too much. "God of Death, I'd like to be immortal." "Are you sure? The price will be terrible to bear." You can give them a chance to back out, if you want to. Otherwise do your worst.

Feel free to coordinate the Obligations you give with the other gods, as well. This is where gameplay gets its structure. Approach it consciously.

That's it. You'll begin play with your debts outstanding.

Oh, and it's tacky to have your own god give your own mortal all kinds of stuff. Don't.

There are two kinds of Obligations you can impose: Finite and Ongoing.

Finite Obligations have clear conditions under which they'll be fulfilled. Sacrifice a hundred bulls, kill the three-headed crocodile, sing praises to each full moon for a year. They're the simpler.

Ongoing Obligations are open-ended. Genuflect each time you look in a mirror, never cut your hair, sacrifice a hundred bulls each year on My day. There are two things you have to consider when you impose an Ongoing Obligation: 1. it can never be fulfilled, and 2. the mortal might fail. Both of these have important in-game ramifications; see page 7 for more. (But not yet, as that bit isn't really written.)

Until you've had a chance to develop your own approach, consider imposing Finite Obligations in return for modest gifts, and reserving Ongoing Obligations for more extreme requests.

Playing the Game

First, and I can't make this too clear, this is not a game about the gods. You'll play your god character, you'll play Her a lot, but the game isn't about Her. It's especially not about the gods' differences, affairs, and petty squabbles (though it'll be hard to tell sometimes). I recommend beginning each game session with a very brief gods' council. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, meet as the gods in the appointed place, and anything that you don't resolve in those fifteen minutes doesn't get resolved period. Once those fifteen minutes are up, if you want to play your god, you'll have to introduce Her into the game world in person. Which you may certainly do, but it's naturally a bit more complicated.

The Mechanics
If a mortal does something that falls into one of your god's Domains, your god gets to decide the outcome and you get to narrate what happens. Base your decision on the mortal's character sheet or your own divine whim. If you don't feel like deciding yourslef, you may hand the matter over to Fate - choose one of the methods from the sidebar on this page, or another of your own if you prefer, and narrate accordingly.

If a mortal does something that falls into one of your god's Domains and also the Domain of another god or other gods, that's more complicated:

First, you may have your gods simply agree what happens, and narrate accordingly.
Failing that, you may have your gods agree to hand the matter over to Fate. You must agree to the method and interpretation of its result.
Failing that as well, you must choose one of your gods to decide, as though the matter were Hers alone. Elect one or let Fate choose. If it takes more than a minute or two, any other god may step in and make the decision, and you can't bring it up again until the gods' council at the beginning of the next session.

A very reasonable house rule has it that when your own mortal character does something that falls into one of the Domains of your own god, you must turn it over to Fate.

Entreating The Gods
If you think it might help, feel free to have your mortal character offer prayers, hymns, sacrifices, vows, or anything else to the appropriate god or gods before she does something. Many gods will look kindly on such things.

The Combat System
I mention it at all only to be very clear. When you fight with someone, the God of Battle decides what happens. If you're badly hurt, the God of Death decides whether you live or die. If you live, the God of Healing decides how well and how quickly you recover.

Fulfilling Your Obligations
Once you've fulfilled all your Obligations to a god, you may again ask that god for a new gift, and again the god must give it to you with a new Obligation, just as during character creation. You should ask in character. Go to the god's temple, offer a hundred bulls and pay the god's priests a double handful of pearls to intercede on your behalf, breathe in the sacred incense and fall into the ecstatic trance, fast for eleven days on fruit juice and salt, whatever the god calls for.

Gods In One Anothers' Domains
Sometimes your god will want to do something that falls into the Domain of another god. To do it, you must get that god's permission. It's as easy as that: with permission, you can't fail, and without permission, you can't even try.

This is the sole exception to your power to take any form you like. If you want to take another god's Guise, to appear to be that god, you must first get the permission of the God of Deceit.

If a god is abusing Her power, in the opinion of the other gods, if they're a. in council and b. unanimous, they can limit Her power. Usually this means that one of them, elected or chosen by Fate, temporarily takes on the relevant Domain of the offending god. Whatever the punishment, it must be renewed by the same unanimity at each gods' council, or it ends at once.

Leaving it to Fate

Yea or Nay
Choose four possible outcomes: a very good one, a mixed but good one, a mixed but bad one, and a bad one. Be sure to take the characters' attributes into account. Flip two different coins, say a quarter and a nickel.

If both come up heads, the very good outcome.

If the quarter comes up heads and the nickel tails, the mixed good outcome.

If the quarter comes up tails and the nickel heads, the mixed bad outcome.

If both come up tails, the bad outcome.

The ancient Hebrews called this process "consulting the Urim and Thummim," for the letters they marked on the coins.

Casting Lots
Look at the attributes of every involved character. Choose any that might apply, include some for features of the environment or circumstances that might pertain, and write each on a card or scrap of paper. Put the lot in a hat. Draw one out. That's the attribute or circumstance that decides the matter.