Sunday, March 18, 2018

Godless: The World of Fire and Blood (review)

GODLESS: The World of Fire and Blood

This is the Shadow of the Demon Lord system with a post-apocalyptic setting bolted on and man, oh man, does it work better than I expected. There’s not a ton of alteration to the stuff from the base SotDL game, the ancestries get a post-apocalyptic background, the Clockworks become Transcendent, more cyborg than steeampunk. All the fey ancestries lose iron vulnerability and a few other things are tweaked, but for the most part it just adds the post-apocalyptic stuff. This does mean that you need a full copy of Shadow of the Demon Lord to play Godless, but you went out and picked that up right after my initial review on my recommendation, right?

It’s got all the strengths of SotDL: the stripped down, mostly intuitive, easy to run rules. The excellent path mechanic for advancement are kept, with a few new post-apocalyptic paths provided like Grease Monkey and Road Warrior. The specificity of the tables from SotDL, the interesting things that gave the game so much flavor are just as perfectly seasoned for a post-apocalypse in Godless; take this sample pair of interesting things: “A self-help book written by Tony Robbins” and “A bag of plastic toys made to look like food.” It sands off a little of the unevenness of SotDL as well, by leaving the setting largely unspecified, instead just providing suggestions for how to “Destroy Your World” to generate a post-apocalyptic Earth.

So what’s new? First, and one of the things I like best, are stories. Stories are a bit of character creation business in Godless, a more robust background mechanic than the core book. Which could be kind of confusing but look at it like this, the ancestry backgrounds are interesting, dangling hooks, a sentence or two, like this human background from Godless “An overprotective mother kept you locked in a cellar for your entire childhood. You escaped after she died.” Just a bit of strange character development meant to jolt a player’s imagination. The stories however, well, I’ll let Godless explain it “Characters in the World of Fire and Blood have endured much hardship and struggle before the game even begins. The stories of their past inform how they fit into the present and give guidance about how they might develop as the campaign unfolds.” Unlike the backgrounds which might give an interesting thing or a bit of corruption or insanity, each Story gives professions and a mix of benefits and hindrances. Take the Deluded story, for example…


A rash of new religions appeared following the Cataclysm. Dismayed by the false promises in their holy books, people invented their own faiths—some new interpretations of the old, others invented from whole cloth. You follow one of these new religions and are called deluded because you cling to your faith in the face of the indifference of the cosmos.
  • Professions: Gain one profession from the Fanatic table and one random profession.
  • Strong Beliefs: When you would make a challenge roll, you can choose to make that roll with 3 boons. Once you do so, you cannot use this talent again until you complete a rest.
  • Righteous: Your faith guides you through a world of unrest and uncertainty. After you complete a rest, you must spend 1 hour in prayer. Until you do so, you are impaired.

Brief, but flavorful, beneficial but not too constraining. A PC with the Deluded story could go on to take the Priest novice path, but it would work just as well for a Rogue, Warrior or Magician path. But tucked away there, where you might almost miss it there’s a little hint for the player for how their PC will interact with the world: “You follow one of these new religions and are called deluded because you cling to your faith in the face of the indifference of the cosmos.” The other nine stories are equally as good, providing both a launching pad for a PC and a sense of a character arc or direction for the player to keep in mind.

I didn’t get a chance to test out the Vehicle rules, but they look to straddle that sweet spot of providing enough options to have a really good car chase seen and not so many fiddly bits that it’s a massive pain to run. The new spells, creatures and items are all excellently suited to the post-apocalyptic feel and include things like explosives, zip-ties, spells to process fuel, tolerate radiation and the Inheritors (sentient man-sized cockroaches).

While there are only three adventures for Godless (as of March 2018), they are every bit as well-crafted and easy to run as the Shadow of the Demon Lord scenarios. I ran two of them, In a Pig’s Eye and Dancing in the Ruins.


“In a Pig’s Eye” is a wonderful little starting adventure, set in the buried ruins of a high-school and a bit of collapsed suburb. While it does start with that classically infuriating “the pcs begin as prisoners” bit, it does at least make it easy for the players to engineer their character’s escape from a truly grotesque and fascinating NPC, the semi-titular “Hog”. By adding an Inheritor invasion of Hog’s little domain, it provides the PCs with events they can use to explore the ruins, make their escape, join or fight Hog and his hoglings and more. The adventure setting of the school and small run down houses is grounded and familiar enough for most players that it’s easy for them to come up with salvage to look for or things to take advantage of. Clocking in at four and a half pages, the adventure makes great use of its brevity and provides four sample endings to give the GM some ideas on how to build it. Plus, there is something poetically perverse about an adventure starting with the characters hanging on meathooks…

“Dancing in the Ruins” might just be my favorite short adventure that I’ve run recently and it's easily in my top 10 list overall … A novice adventure, which could be run after In a Pig’s Ear, it centers around a strange mystery… Well, I’ll let the adventurer’s intro text set the mood…
The Grand Fleet of the Party King has come to town, promising a life of plenty and unlimited pleasures for those permitted to join. But of all the desperate petitioners, the Party King takes only a lucky few. And even these soon find that life in the Grand Fleet holds more terror than pleasure, as plenty in post-Cataclysm comes at a high price. Dancing in the Ruins is an adventure for novice characters. In it, they seek to unravel the mystery of the Grand Fleet after the Party King’s ship breaks down. The group completes the adventure after they bring answers back to the waiting masses.
PCs will quickly discover more and more suspicious things about the Grand Fleet of the Party King, free, addictive food, outhouses on the shore with nearly spotless tunnels leading back to the Party King’s lead ship, fleet members being limited to a year with the fleet. And there are plenty of NPCs to provide color, red herrings and hooks. It took my players about 15 minutes to decide that there was something nefarious going on, but right up until they discovered the answer to the central mystery they couldn’t put their fingers on just what exactly the sinister plot was. I don’t want to spoil the central conceit of the adventure, as it is truly beautiful, but I found it to be just ridiculous enough that it kept my players guessing for hours what the Grand Fleet and the Party King were truly up to and once they knew there was a joyous disbelief as it was both simple and disgusting in its truth in ways that they would never have guessed.

I haven’t run the third adventure, Last One Standing, but the premise is fantastic and it uses the same location of Isolon as Dancing in the Ruins. Reading through it, it manages a fully living city for the players to be thrust into a three way power struggle with well-fleshed out factions and a half-dozen unaffiliated NPCs. There’s even a wonderful trust mechanic that works for a GM to quickly track where the party stands with a faction, jobs for the PCs to complete from each faction and more, all in just eight short pages…

You can find all three adventures here at Schwalb Entertainment.

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