Based on several inebriated conversations I’ve had over the last couple of months I would like to propose a model for a ‘reverse’ DnD or ‘Anti-DnD’ if you will. This is not to say I desire to place my well-made clogs in the reeking giant footsteps of luminairies like John Wick but a different sort of reverse DnD, one based around a single reversal. In anti-DnD, you level down!
I discussed this with some of my players, and the first response was essentially: But that sucks! As you play longer you get shittier and everything gets harder. That is not fun! And thus began the great mental tinkering until it finally clicked in my brain and everything suddenly made sense.
The premise is as follows: The Demiurge that holds sway over all of creation has been laid low by some foul pestilence That Should Not Be and now drifts rotting within the interplanar void! The players and their NPC companions are all members of the various pantheons that exert their dominion over the multiverse, which has begun to decay as a result. Unfortunately for everyone involved, this includes their abilities.
The Divine Fire at the heart of creation needs itself some serious rekindling as a result of it’s chief administrator now being dead, and as a nice bonus anyone who does so gets to remake it in his image.
Since most if not all deities are, by and large, murderous and backstabbing jerks, a divine free for all is about to go down as everyone makes alliances, connives, backstabs and hunts for a way to locate and rekindle the fire at the heart of creation. Victory is not quite a zero-sum game, it is possible for two or even three gods to rekindle the fire together, merging to become the new supreme being. Make yourself a Rotting God!
A Rotting God is a fucked up take on a classic deity from greek, mesopotamian, Norse, Aztec, Indian or even christian mythology. A Cannibal Thor. A blood-sacrifice stag-horned Jesus. A flayed Aphrodite garbed in the skins of the peoples she has laid low by her charms. A Toth that bears the head of the last creature it has outwitted so it may consume their knowledge. All of them pictures of hideous decaying grandeur, with the personalities of Emperor Palpaltine, Hannibal Lecter, Kaiser Soze or Alexander the Great on a nine week pcp-bender. Conniving, ruthless, violent, avaricious and so on, but still somewhat capable of qualities like love, respect, familial fealty, bizarre honour and even the occasional bout of kindness (these would be your WoD type character flaws and vulnerabilities). Everyone gets a point-buy system to arm his or her respective aspiring demiurge with neccesary divine armaments and abilities. The twist is that all of these abilities are finite and will weaken and eventually break down with repeated use, or even over time. Time is ticking bitches!
Fortunately there is a way of temporarily halting this decay, in the form of holy Deicide and subsequent wrenching what few remaining embers of the divine fire from the opened chests of your fellow godlings. Ideally the game is set up so co-operation is required for at least one challenge (i.e finding the Heart of Creation for example), and probably advisable if one goes up against some of the more powerful rivals.
To add more suck and to prevent annoying stalemates or cheap tactics like camping behind one’s typically impregnable divine fortress walls until the gods have been thinned out sufficiently for one to take the field safely with abilities still mostly intact, there are two elements that require one to take initiative at times. One is entirely negative; the Disease that Should Not Be is consuming the body of the prior Demiurge and the many-faced horrors that emerge cavorting and laughing from its decaying flesh sense the impending doom of creation and intend to feast upon it, and that includes our deity friends. One may look upon them as Maggots in the dying body of the multiverse, if one is poetically inclined. Alone they are a poor match for a god, but over time the gods weaken and they grow stronger and more numerous. They alone are always hostile and cannot under any circumstances be bargained with.
To add a little risk/reward to the divine arms-race, the multiverse is (of course) riddled with vaults, caverns, prisons and relinquaries containing all manner of Stuff that Was Kept Hidden. While looting the bodies of your fellow deities can be a very lucrative endaevour, ideally one wants to get one’s grubby god-paws of one of the primordial living war-machines used to overthrow the Old Ones who came before the current pantheon, harvest a vial of venom from the Emperor of Serpents, or perhaps strike a deal with one of the imprisoned Old Ones.
The Mortal realms themselves should ideally play a role, mostly as battlefields (take out the worshippers and the pantheon will suffer), source of allies (a great mortal hero alone is no match for a deity in his prime, but a Stormbringer-wielding Achilles can probably wreak havoc on a tired and spent Zeus) or refuge to sit out the worst of the fighting if one is a little sissy-boy. If the mortal realms start paying homage to the Carrion Things you should probably stop them by performing a miracle that restores their faith or ideally a plague that wipes out the buggers. The death of all mortals naturally means that most of the gods are powerless. Most of them but not all of them, take note if you want to get rid of those pesky mortals and are willing to sink the points to get yourself an independent source of divine power.
This shit can be hard to run so I conceive of it as several (2-6) pantheons between 10 -50 members in size being confined to their own celestial domains at the advent of the game, and the players taking the roles of members of a single pantheon, with the actions of NPC pantheons being decided by random tables and the arbitration of the merciful and kind GM. Sample locations are as follows (one should make at least one divine realm per pantheon also, and be sure to make it really fucked up):
* Sithrix-Kaied: Part Illium, Part Jerusalem, Part Tenochtitlan and Part Sodom & Gamorra, The mortal city of Sithrix-Kaied is constantly contested by mortal men and their divine patrons. Whomever holds it gains the favour of millions. The sacking of Sithrix-Kaied will cripple the pantheon that currently holds it. It is not hard to join the buried hundreds of thousands in the drenched sand of Kaied.
* The body of the demiurge: Some secrets are hard to find, and what is a more entertaining way to find them then landing on the giant corpse of a dead overgod, fighting the hordes of monsters that spawn from its flesh and wresting the secret of the Divine Fire from its decaying brain. Careful of betrayal from one’s fellow gods.
* The Lower Heavens: Every mythology needs its angels, nymphs and giants as well as its gods. The Spider-Women of mount Abatthor, the deformed Tree of Serpents, the formless Charragh-Hai and the enslaved servants of the Old Ones can be potent allies in the ensuing struggle, if one is weary and willing to pay their price.
* The Fractal Pits: Part prison and part cosmic garbage dump, nothing says adventure like a little jailbreaking of the Primordial God variety. One should be careful since most of the things that have been cast here over the various iterations of the multiverse have been cast there for a very good reason. The reality-consuming Thought that Thinks Itself, the deadly Paradox of Lum-Kei and the Oriachulum Hosts of the Stillborn King are but a sample of the “treasures” one can find within. The Angular Legions and their commander, The Hourglass of Klein, have traditionally kept anything from escaping but fortunately for you the current status quo means that they will be civil warring soon.
* The Crucible: Once a verdant paradise where the current brood of deities was spawned and raised, now a de facto neutral ground where various deities may meet, cavort, couple and connive at will. Picture the garden of Eden as conceived by H.R Geiger and Hieronymous Bosch. Breaking the peace gets you the enmity of its caretaker, the Many-Handed One, but it might be worth it.
* The Divine Fire: Knowledge of where it is is in short supply but should one find it, it goes without saying that many trials await one before one may reach it properly. A cold and dark place, where divine powers do not function, it is said that one Gate may only be reached if it is consecrated with the blood of a willing sacrifice of divine blood, which might prove tricky. Its guardian is a composite creature, a chimeria of the corpses of prior Demiurges. It is quite mad.
* The Peripheral Realms: There is only so much room in creation and a new demiurge generally means that the old stuff gets replaced with the new stuff. This process is not perfect and thus if one travels far, to the mouldering nooks and crannies of the multiverse, it is possible to find pieces of prior Creation, all of it incomprehensible, wrong, disturbing and horrifying. The fragment of the Battle of Izen-tsir, where two legions of identical twins emerge from the ground to strike eachother down and crawl into the wombs of their eyeless mother-goddesses with lethal wounds so they may finally die and be born anew, all so that the hideous Moon-God that watches over them all will finally cease to torment them with its piercing shrikes is a good example of the peripheral realms.
As an added bonus, one deity, possibly one of the players, is responsible for poisoning the Demiurge and is thus exempt from the wrath of the Spawn that Should Not Be. Where did he get it? Why did he do it?
Mechanically, shit should be simple (that sounds amazingly conceited and easier said then done but seriously). Avoid Book of Immortal’s esque wagonloads of abilities and HUGE numbers. Tailor the game to a divine scale and work your way up from there. Abilities should be abstract and generalised, rather then specific and focused. Experience is easy to keep track off in the sense that you do not have it, and only sweet Deicide allows you to temporarily augment your abilities (that is, until they break).
As for inspiration, I’d recommend a mixture of ancient mythology, Illium/Olympos by Dan Simmons, Zelazny’s Lord of Light, various marvel comics (the Infinity Saga and the Thanos Imperative being good places to start), the Vertigo comics titles Sandman and Lucifer, copious amounts of playtime in the Dark Souls and God of War video game series and finally some Lovecraft, C.A Smith and similar weird fiction to get a good grip of the feel.
Edit: I have left out Atomika: God is Red, the pantheon of Leiber and Moorcock’s Lords of Chaos and Foie-Myore as sources of inspiration for appropriate deities and Carrion Things.