Odyssey for Larpgeist

Follows an article written for larpgeist magazine in 2011… I can’t find it on the Internet anywhere, so here it goes. Publish. It’s a bit dated, but then it was 8 years ago.

Odyssey is a live roleplaying game set in a mythical version of the classical world. Created and launched by Profound Decisions in 2010, it’s the newest large scale LRP game in Britain. The organizers have been creating LRP games with hundreds of players for over a decade, so while the game is new it draws on a wealth of practical experience.

Odyssey is different to most other LRP games run in the UK, if not in Europe and the rest of the world. The first difference is the unusual setting, moving away from traditional fantasy worlds. Instead the nations of Greece, Rome, Persia, Egypt and Carthage struggle for dominance in a setting inspired as much by films such as 300 and Gladiator as Homer and actual classical history.

The second thing that makes Odyssey unusual is the clear focus on the action of the players. The organizers specialize in producing games where the players are in control of the world. Instead of battles being set by non-player characters, games use frameworks that allow the players complete freedom to choose who to fight as they seek to conquer.

Odyssey is built around this belief that players are the focus, against a backdrop of gods, monsters, myth and magic. The stories players tell by their own actions are complemented by a strong team of writers who use all the levers of classical myth to make these stories bigger, more heroic. The goal is to make epics, to let everyone who wants to be become a hero.

At the heart of Odyssey is the “Great Game”, the struggle for dominance over the lands of the Mediterranean. Success in the Great Game involves diplomacy, allegiances and all manner of devious plotting as well as careful use of magic and consideration of the words of the gods.

The most obvious stage for the Great Game is a huge gladiatorial arena; a purpose-built construction where champions fight and the crowd cheers as the fate of nations is decided. The arena also provides an amazing location for anyone who isn’t currently busy elsewhere in the game. There’s always something going on; challenges between nations, gladiatorial bouts, monster fights or even classical plays.

In addition to the battles taking place throughout the weekend, the game features a great deal of politics as priests and warleaders plot who to attack and where, and philosophers wield the magic of the world. To support this the game also features other set locations, open only to those of the correct path. Priests are summoned to the Chamber of the Gods to explain their actions face-to-face, to explain why a city has been lost, or a report triumphant victory. Philosophers travel to the World Forge to perform powerful rituals and contest with each other for control of magic. The battles that take place in the arena are part of an interlocking system. Each element of the game affects and is affected by the others, and each character has their special place in the game.

We’re particularly proud of how good the game looks. The wooden arena seats nearly 200. There are no out-of-game tents on the field, everything that that isn’t part of the game experience has been banished from the field wherever practically possible. The eight page costume guide shows clearly what costumes are appropriate, and we’ve published guides to making those costumes on a tight budget. Everyone who plays the game makes a huge effort to outdo each other and have the best possible kit. Each nation is designed to look unique and the rules encourage everyone to dress appropriately. Romans in lorica, Greeks in breastplate, Persians in scale armour, Carthaginians in skins and Egyptians in banded leather. That said, it’s a mythic setting, and sometimes we sacrifice history for something that feels right, and makes a great look on the field.

The coins you use to sacrifice, and cover the eyes of your dead so they can pay the ferryman, are metal. Coins are always gained for in-game actions, from quests, or by victory in the arena. The careful allocation of your group’s wealth is an important part of the game, as it can be spent in sacrifices to seek the blessings of the gods or given to philosophers to create powerful enchantments.

The rules are purposely designed to be as simple as possible; global hits, no battlefield magic, only a few skills. There is a risk of death, but the game is structured to keep player versus player conflict to the arena, where it makes a real difference to the world.

Each player chooses one of 5 paths: attendant, champion, philosopher, priest or warleader. The aim is for the game to give a place for every type of player and encourage players to use the path system to let the organisers know what they want from the game. There’s politics for people who like political play, fighting for those who enjoy fighting, a world to be understood for those who enjoy an intellectual challenge, and deeply emotional moments for those who prefer it. The roles of the five paths interlock to give as many opportunities for meaningful roleplay as possible.

The attendant path is for those who low playing low-status characters, although it’s also where you find the most unique concepts; theatrical impressario, or organiser of gladiatorial entertainments. Attendants can go anywhere, accompanying any character who will take them into their special parts of the game.

Champions will fight in bloody combat in the arena. Victory in these battles confers control over the wealth and resources of lands and cities, from the temples of Greece to the desert regions of Africa. Winning in the arena gives real advantage in later games: win the battle for a rich city and next event your group will gain its tribute.

Philosophers are the world-shakers of Odyssey. They study the way the world works, and twist it to serve the ends of their nations, or their own goals. As alchemists they pursue rites, potions and preparations that can change the nature of the world; and some are physicians who seek to balance and influence the four humors of the body, healing the sick and wounded of their nation. At the Annual, great mysteries can be performed to strengthen whole nations or bring kingdoms low.

Priests mediate between mortals and the gods. The gods only rarely walk the earth themselves, instead priests are summoned to their divine presence to receive edicts and account for the behaviour of their fellow mortals. Each nation has its own pantheon of gods who fight their own battles through their mortal agents. Every pantheon has its unique character, built from the raw material of classical myth, with all the in-fighting between the gods you’d expect. Being a priest isn’t about doing what the gods tell you – it’s about balancing the conflicting dictats of an entire pantheon.

Warleaders are the politicians, the rulers. The game is designed to make them depend on their Champions, their Priests and their Philosophers. It’s a leadership role, with many conflicting requirements and objectives to balance even outside the arena.

Any character can change path every event – as your character grows, you can change career, move from warrior to priest as your story develops. There is no character advancement in the rules. However, there’s an enormous amount of progression in the system. Characters accrue exploits and legends with every event they attend, they play their part in other people’s epics, and they change the path of the game-world. This means that whilst Odyssey supports regular attendance at events, it doesn’t penalise more occasional players. Every significant action in the game happens over the weekend events – there is no downtime or actions between events to consider.

That sums up the thinking behind Odyssey. It’s a game about the stories people tell, about the characters they’ve played, and the moments they’ve experienced. It’s primarily about the story, not the rules, about immersion not character statistics. It’s a story-building machine.

We think that Odyssey has a particular appeal to our fellow LRPers from Europe. To encourage readers of LARPZEIT in Europe to come and try the game we have a special offer – 500€ for up to 5 tickets and a group tent to sleep in for each Odyssey event in 2012. We can also put you in touch with existing players and UK traders to sort out people to play the game with and kit to buy or borrow. If you’re interested in this email odyssey@profounddecisions.co.uk.

Side boxes : Here we asked a few of our players to answer some questions – these answers are in their words, we left how they were added to the article up to them.

“What The Players Say ”

How would you describe the type of game you play at Odyssey – what kind of things do you do?

“High octane, high immersion, high politics: as a priest I’m the go-between between the gods and strategoi, who don’t often see each other’s points of view. It’s our job to make them understand. Also to keep the rest of the nation involved in its religious life, I do a lot of oratory, some announcements, and if I get the time, hoping to do a bit more preaching next year!” (Player of a Greek Priest)

“After my first battle in the arena I came out with a serious buzz. I had been “doing combat”, and enjoying it more than I ever thought possible! Plus the audience added a whole extra layer of adrenaline; nothing really beats that feeling. Consequently I’m utterly hooked to the arena, even though there are lots of areas of the game that also interest me.” (Player of a Roman Warleader)

What are the highlights of your character’s story so far?

“My warleader died in my arms, whispering me secrets, in the aftermath of a successful defence of Gades, a key Carthaginian territory. It was a perfect ending for him, and a beautiful moment for my character as she finally realised she was trusted by the group.” (Player of a Carthaginian Philosopher)

“I had a pretty awesome death! Though it competes (hard!) with frantic night-time questing into the dark woods, feeling a lump in my throat at a funeral for the honoured Roman dead, meeting the Gods face-to-face (or face-to-ground in my case), and stepping into the Arena to fight for the first time.” (Player of a Roman attendant)

What do you like about Odyssey…

“Odyssey is designed to give you reasons to do the things you want to do anyway- it rewards you for trying to have fun. Simply doing what the game wants you to do will lead to creating amazing stories and a feeling of epic which comes all too rarely in games.
Odyssey for me is about playing someone who wants their name to echo down the ages. Having created a character from the humblest origins, my game is about doing everything to rise up and become a legend.” (Player of an Egyptian Champion)

“I love the Arena; whether as a participant or a spectator, it’s an amazing centrepiece for the system. It completely does away with the “Saturday afternoon lull” that sometimes affects other events – no matter what else is going on, there’s always an Arena battle no more than half an hour away. Plus the various things that go on between the scheduled battles, like contests of skill, or wrestling, all add loads to the experience.” (Player of a Persian Champion)

What kind of person do you think would especially enjoy Odyssey?

“It’s perfect for someone who’s used to the mass battles of bigger systems but who is pretty much a nameless fighter there, no matter what they do. If you’re that sort of person, you will get noticed: taking an arrow for your faction leader or leaping into the arena because someone has bad mouthed your nation’s honor. That sort of person won’t stay nameless for long.” (Player of a Carthaginian Warleader)

“Anyone who likes the idea of having a go at being a Classical hero for a few days – whatever kind of hero that is. One of the things I love about Odyssey is that it’s much easier than anywhere else I’ve found to have a nearly combat-free game if that’s what you want.

I expect Odyssey to be particularly welcoming to new LRPers – it’s got a dead simple system, “guaranteed fun” for every class, clearly scheduled events and quests, and a very low kit entry requirement. You don’t need to study pages of obscure setting material to understand the world – you already know most of it, and five bullet points will pick up whatever you’re missing. For someone who’s not sure about this elves-and-dwarves-and-complicated-calls business, throw on a sword and some sandals and get in there!” (Player of a Roman Attendant)

Side boxes 2: This is an in character story of one person’s experience of the game – again, we left how it’s added to the article up to them.

“The story of Julia Tiberilla “Ridea”, Priest of Rome, at the Second Annual.”

Box 1: FRIDAY
– second annual sets up. Some familiar faces, some unfamiliar. Feeling very nervous about this priest gig, not sure I’m up to it, and scared of messing it up and letting the crew down. Its one thing to serve in the temple back home, but here is different, here you get called to see the gods themselves.
– A messenger of the gods arrives and calls for the priests. They return with Lucius Praxis, sent back by the gods…
– Lots of discussions about strategy, how do we strike our enemies so we can get back what was ours.
– Challenges made and order of battle given. Carthage attacked on 2 sides by us and Egypt. Persia and Greece having a set to. They start that night.
– Realised this priest gig was actually not as scary as I had thought, and that all I needed to do was just get a grip on it. Still intend at re-enter arena next annual.

Box 2: SATURDAY
– News broke that Egypt was attacked in the night by Carthage, resulting in several dead, who were sent back. Carthagian gods annoyed and the warleader of the Hannan Souk (AKA the coward who rolled 5 of us with 25 men last annual) sacrificed himself. Other warleaders may
have been lost. Roman hearts fail to bleed with grief.
– Dedications in the arena during the day. First battle for Tingis was dedicated to Janus Quirinus by Hesta. I blessed a drill demonstration to Mithras. Our retake of Genoa was dedicated to Mars by me. The defense of Mutina was dedicated to Mercury by me, and the question of which praetor would officially hold the City (not that it really matters as long as it isnt barbarians) was settled in a suitable way. Not sure who dedicated Arretium to whom.

– Watched my crew in the arena. Hated not being with them. Feel every blow that lands on them. See a couple of my mates fall but don’t know one of them’s dying until Minos’s men call for people to carry out the dying. Known him for more than 25 years. Worst moment of the Annual.

– The two dead soldiers are sent back. Very pleased to see my mate again. Only until morning though, but means we’ll have a chance to say goodbye.
– Summoned by different gods at different times, and we have some very interesting conversations. The gods of Rome are pleased. Turns out all nations have the same instruction – find the Skull of Alexander, destroy it.
– Lots more diplomacy.
– Some people go through from all nations looking for the skull. Some skulls found and destroyed, not sure whose. One skull’s shards are taken by a Greek and other Greeks deal with this. Turns out not to have been *the* skull.

Box 3: SUNDAY
– Summoned by another god and make a deal which ties me to the priesthood for a time. Tell my mates I’m not going to be back in the arena with them next season. Not sure how I feel about this. Not sure how they feel about it, but know they’ll support me.

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