Pantheon (2000)

Pantheon (2000) is one of those moments when Robin D. Laws is being sort of effortlessly brilliant and you both love him and hate him for it. Rather than just create a new storytelling RPG like every other New Style book, Laws creates a generic system supplemented by five separate games powered by that system, all in 24 pages. What a talented jerk, right?

Fresh off the keywords of Hero Wars, Pantheon is explicitly a storytelling game, with players taking turns adding a sentence of their own to the tale. There are some mechanics involving dice values and bidding with beads (and special beads with special powers) and a scoring system for the end of the game that encode a bit of competition into the collaboration, but that is essentially it. Each player adding a sentence to the story, one after the other, pushing and pulling it, until all the main characters but one are dead or otherwise defunct.

The game types are pretty varied. The first is sort of the classic Alien set-up, except underwater and not necessarily involving a monster. Second is a family at a will reading trying to take control of a company. Third sees gangsters trying to reclaim their stolen loot. Fourth is about kaiju destroying a city. And for a real small and intimate finish, the fifth one is about deities creating the universe.

All told, a real object lesson in how structure is way more important than a volume of rules and how simultaneously powerful and adaptable narrative play can be.

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