PAX 2016: Of Fallen Gods and Game Designers

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

  There are certain things I look forward to each year when PAX rolls around. The presence of friends from out of town, getting to see and demo new games, but more than anything else, I look forward to getting to chat with the people who make the games I love to play.
I had one such experience when I swung by the Monte Cook Games booth at PAX Prime this year to discover that one of my favorite game designers and long time industry veteran Sean K. Reynolds was manning the booth. I'd like to say I did a pretty good job of suppressing the fanboy in me and had serious, intelligent conversations about the various projects Sean and Monte Cook Games were working on, but if I'm being totally honest I was there for like 4 hours and at least some portion of that probably had to involve me sitting there staring in awe while Sean helped an actual customer. It's true what they say, you should never meet your heroes, though in this instance that phrase doesn't imply a failure on Sean's fault, but more mine for being a little too impressed and a little too burned out from the day and a half of PAX activities I already had under my belt.

 Sean and I got to talk about a lot of the new projects that Monte Cook Games has been working on and I ended up being introduced to (and purchasing) a copy of their new book Gods of the Fall. Made for the Cypher System TTRPG rules set, Gods of the Fall is a campaign setting built around what is for me a very unique and new concept. The world presented in Gods of the Fall is, in most ways, a fairly traditional fantasy world, with the significant hook that 42 years ago heaven fell out of the sky like a dinosaur-slaying meteor and killed all the gods, along with a not insignificant portion of their worshippers and a few ecosystems. Now that 42 years have passed, the gods are trying to be reborn into the world, but many members of humanity still haven't forgiven them for heaven's catastrophic fall and seek to slay or enslave them before they can restore heaven to its proper place and reclaim their celestial thrones. The players each play one of these fallen gods, gaining powers tied to their domains like Rain, Fire, and War.

Gods of the Fall is gorgeous, like all Cypher System books I've seen so far, though in a few ways I found myself wishing for more from it. While the premise, artwork, and game play are all absolutely beautiful, the book leans heavily on the Cypher System Core Rulebook, and unlike other Cypher System settings like The Strange and Numenera, Gods of the Fall is not playable as a stand-alone book. In fact, it's almost impossible to build a character without having to jump back and forth between Gods of the Fall and the Cypher System Core Rulebook, so Cypher System's normally fluid and intuitive character creation system of composing a sentence that both describes your character and informs the mechanics behind it ends up being much more clunky for players than I've come to expect from the Monte Cook Games releases.
Despite that flaw, which I consider relatively minor but still relevant given that it will be something a character will need to deal with both during character creation and whenever their Tier increases (i.e. whenever they "level up"), this is an awesome campaign setting for one of my favorite RPGs. Gods of the Fall has incredible artwork, easily meeting and in some instances exceeding the already high standards set by other books in the system like Numenera, uses Cypher's simple and intuitive rules, and builds upon a unique, interesting, and powerful premise capable of delivering literally endless hours of gameplay. This is a book that I don't just admire once a week when my group gets together to play, this is a book that I pull off the shelf from time to time just to admire its art and craftsmanship. While not perfect, I consider Gods of the Fall to be a must-have for fans of the Cypher System RPG.