Cooperative Rules for

Pantheon and Other Roleplaying Games is a daring, original take on roleplaying game design. If you like to try new ideas, it's completely worth buying.

Pantheon features the insight and creativity of the inimitable Robin D. Laws. Pantheon comprises five independent games, or scenarios, most based on different movie genres. In each scenario, Laws presents the starting point, and the challenge is to use your storytelling abilities to work through the plot. You score points for getting things right. In the example of play, the genre is slasher and a player narrates their character trying, and failing, to contact help. Since slasher movies typically establish that the characters can't just summon help on the phone, the player scores points for that scene. Robin is uniquely qualified to have designed a game like Pantheon, which requires astute insight into cinema conventions. With RPGs such as Feng Shui and Dying Earth, Robin has shown that he can present what is unique and special about a genre or style, and Pantheon shows off this facility in a pure form.

Unfortunately, the game's competitive, bid-based mechanic actually rewards players for ruining the story for each other. Players can use their narrating power to prevent other players from narrating in-genre actions. So here are my unofficial, unauthorized, alternative rules for playing Pantheon. My hope is that they lead to players creating better stories because they remove the incentive that players have to screw up the story for each other.

Do the setup just like normal, and follow the storytelling rules (such as how many characters you can talk about at a time). Instead of working against each other, however, you're working together. Your goal is to maximize points for the whole group. Forget everything about beads, bidding, challenging, and so on.

Play through the story, and when you're done, review the points schedule at the end. Instead of scoring points per player, score them for the group as a whole. See how many points you can get. Chide yourselves over the easy points you let slip through your fingers because you weren't cool enough to get the shot. Glory in the scenes where you nailed it.

I've only played "Grave and Watery." There may be other games in the collection for which this cooperative system doesn't work. Even so, "Grave and Watery" by itself is worth the cover price to anyone serious about innovative RPG design. Also, I've never playtested this version of the rules, so if you try it, let me know how it turns out.

Pantheon, released in 2000, was one of the New Style games published by Hogshead when it was run by James Wallis. The New Style line in general is worth looking at for the variety of game styles that explored. Some copies of Pantheon are in stock at the new Hogshead.

December 2003