Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Table Top Tips - Three Greek Myths for RPG Games

  Three Greek Myths You Could Use for Table Tops

When I was at university, one of the best parts of my course studying Classical Civilization was the mythology. There is a library of stories which could be reinterpreted and lead to me writing a very odd re-imagining of Iphis and Ianthe involving hermaphrodites.  Ever since then mythology and folklore has played a massive part in my games. For a start, mythological creatures and tales have been long used in RPGs; just look at Scion or any of the monsters in Dungeons and Dragons. I love weird tales and turning myths into one-shot table tops, or entire campaigns.

These are three popular myths from Greek and Roman mythology which could be used for table top games, either using them as a one-shot themselves, for inspiration for traps or as a platform for creating magical items.

The Original "Kidnapped Princess" Cliche.

One of the famous myths involving the Greek Pantheon's God of Death and a journey into the underworld. The story goes that Hades came upon Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter and fell in love with her. He conspired with Zeus to kidnap Persephone and take her as his wife back to the underworld. Nothing screams happy marriage like a little bit of per-marital kidnapping. Demeter, mourning the loss of her daughter, requested she be allowed to live with her for six months of the year (spring and summer) and live in the underworld for six months (winter and autumn). Persephone was convinced to eat a few pomegranate seeds before she left (apparently pomegranates are irresistible when grown in the land of death and giant three headed dogs) so she was required to always return to Hades rather than escape once she was back with her mother.

This myth gives you a lot of options for a one-shot. Perhaps a similar story happens with two nameless gods, rather than the Greek Pantheon, or, perhaps you would like to keep the original names. Your player characters could assist Demeter in kidnapping her daughter back from the underworld. Throw in an encounter with Cerberus, a debate with Charon, a puzzle to cross the river Styx, and a sneak or slash through the Underworld to get to Hades and Persephone and you have a relatively well filled one-shot. There is a perfectly morbid setting to make use of; the Labyrinthine Underworld. Hades, the God of Death can waggle is fingers and throw your players into madness and torment for daring to trespass or he can turn your players against Demeter; there are a lot of options when using this myth as a basis for a game. You could flip it on its head and have Persephone sat by Hades refusing to leave and Hades praying the players get rid of her, or Hades never captured Persephone at all and Demeter is just screwing with you.

Not only can you throw in Charon and Cerberus as monsters, you could also have The Erinnyes visiting for a picnic in the underworld ready to fight or play with your players.The players may also have to avoid the temptations of Hades, which will result in them staying forever if they lose.

Another myth related to this with a similar theme of journeying into the underworld on a rescue mission is  Orpheus and Eurydice. You could include his magic flute as a magical item as a nod to the myth or other elements of to flesh out the one above. Alternatively, you could simply take elements from these myths and come up with something altogether unique. Why not go further and have Eurydice as the one needing to save Orpheus, or Persephone as the villain.


Stone eyed and constant bad hair, no wonder she's pissed.

 Perhaps one of the most known stories and one of the most utilized in fiction, Medusa is still one of my favorite myths, mainly because I sympathize a little with Medusa and her sisters, Stheno and Euryale. They are turned into monsters after Medusa claims she is more beautiful than Athena.Rather than putting this down to Medusa being a stuck-up teenager, Athena claims this a hubris and turns her and her sisters (unfortunate bystanders) into snake headed gorgons. When Medusa lays her eyes on anyone and they return the gaze, they are turned into a stone statue. Medusa and her sisters go to cry for a while on the rock as the experience of transformation into hideous beasts is quite a traumatic experience, when Perseus rides in and hacks their heads off. To add insult to injury he carries Medusa's bloody head around for a while waving it at his enemies, then Athena sticks it onto her shield (presumably with some god-like blue tack) for all to see.

Moral of the story: Don't think you're hotter than a god or this will happen.
Your story could be set in a little village where strange statues have been appearing resembling the butcher or the milkmaid. Your adventurers job is to find out why this is happening all of a sudden, hunt down the gorgons and execute them. It would be a cute little "kill the boss" scenario.

Alternatively, you meet a pompously big headed Perseus who challenges you to a gorgon hunt. You oblige and hunt the gorgons, only to discover they are the real victims of the story. Charged with magical items, the gorgons request you do them a favor to release them and the village of their curse; enter the realm of the gods and turn Athena into a statue.

Not only does this myth give you a couple of avenues to work with, whether you side with Perseus or side with Medusa, or simply use the myth to influence magical items or as part of a larger adventure.

Tantalus and Tartarus 

Don't feed people people. It doesn't end well. 

Tantalus is notorious for being the guy who decided human sacrifice by feeding his own child to the gods would get him some kind of reward.
Yum, first born, medium-rare.
Human Sacrifice and cannibalism were massive taboo's in Ancient Greece and the end result  of his weird banquet meal was his eternal torment in the hellish realm Tartarus. A curse was laid upon his house, Atreus, which lead to a spiral of other cannibalistic crimes by gran siblings and eventually a great deal of death.

Tartarus is the hellish realm deep within the underworld where wrongdoers and villains are punished.

The Greeks liked the idea of a realm being a person and a person a realm, so Tartarus is also a deity.

Overall, the location is a perfect setting for a hellish world where players can get lost in. It would be ideal for a puzzle based one-shot, moving through the location to escape or find an object of otherworldly power. The players could be related to Tantalus in some way, there to lift the curse upon their house, or perhaps they have been asked by someone to fetch him back... perhaps his resurrected son wishes to exact his own punishment on Tantalus for feeding him to the gods.

Tantalus pool, in which he is submerged in water but never able to drink, and always hungry but never able to reach the apple dangling just above his head, could be rejigged into an interesting trap for players or a puzzle. The players have to work together to feed and water Tantalus so he is finally free of the pool or perhaps a player falls in and is stuck there for all eternity.

Other myths involving the world of Tartarus could be thrown in such as the pushing of the boulder up the hill by Sisyphus or Tityos, eternally bound to a stone and his liver is pecked out by vultures, it constantly regrows and he re-heals so this continues over and over.

Overall myths are brilliant for use in games, whether as influences or in their entirety.

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