Here's a brief overview of Agon, a competitive RPG.
Agon is a game where you play ancient Greek heroes completing quests given to them by the gods. You’re working together, but also competing in order to be the Best Hero ™ and ensure that your name echoes down the ages.
Agon translates as ‘struggle’ and this is reflected in the game mechanics – anything significant the heroes wish to achieve will require a die roll. Even resting requires a contest between the heroes to get full benefit.
Character creation starts with your hero’s name – both their personal one, and their lineage. You may choose to be the child of a god, in which case your Name die (which is included in every roll) is larger, but your fate track starts half filled.
Next you pick your Heroic Trait – are you Wise-Eyed? Perhaps Fleet-footed? Or known as a Monster or Man slayer?
Then it’s time to assign scores to the 16 abilities; each starts with a d6, and you can raise one in a category to a d8 by reducing another in the same category to a d4. You also get two free dice to assign as you wish. No ability can start with a rating greater than 10.
Once your ability scores are decided it’s time to decide which god your character reveres above the rest; it is to this god that your character will dedicate sacrifices. Each god favours three Abilities, and it is these which are used when performing a sacrifice, so it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of them highly rated.
Then decide on your armour and weapons; you may have a Javelin or a Bow, pick three out of Sword, Shield, and Spear, and finally decide which (if any) items you want out of Helmet, Breastplate, and Greaves – each increases your armour die by a level, but inflicts a minor penalty on a type of Battle roll; e.g. Greaves cause a -1 penalty on positioning.
The final part of character creation are your Achievements; little vignettes that show off an instant in your heroes life and build up a starting web of Oaths with the other heroes.
Adventure creation and GM support
Agon quests are presented in blocks of three; the characters make landfall on an island, three gods make their wishes known. At the top level these quests take the form of $God requires you to do $action to $subject, for instance, Lord Hades requires you to save the Bronze Bull.
The primary objective of each quest will be solved by a Battle, but first the GM has to create some secondary objectives and their associated challenges for the characters to face. The expected outcome is that most if not all of the secondary objectives must be completed before the characters can face the primary challenge.
To aid the GM there are tables to provide an overview of the inhabitants of the island, what’s happening when the characters arrive, and what the gods want.
Once the quest is outlined, the GM builds any NPCs and obstacles using a pool of Strife, the amount of which is determined by the number of heroes and the number of secondary objectives in their quest. The GM gets additional strife points during play when the heroes stop to rest or suffer a significant setback. The advice is to spend half your strife on pre-game prep, and the other half during the game to create or toughen obstacles on the fly.
The basic roll in Agon is your Name die plus an ability die; the highest number rolled is the final result. If you want extra dice you can add other skills to the dice pool, which are then Impaired (reduced down a die-size) regardless of the result of the test, or you can call in Oaths for assistance. Divine Favour can also be spent to change the behaviour of the dice – adding more dice, allowing dice to explode, or allowing re-rolls.
One of the key mechanics and meta-game currency of Agon is the Oath – a favour owed to a hero by another, or by an NPC (mortal or God). You gain an oath from someone by assisting them un-asked, or by bargaining with them – the examples given mirror the actions that Oaths can be spent on, but more or less any agreed on action could be cause for the collection of an Oath. Oaths are spent to gain helping dice, make another hero heal you during an Interlude, or follow your instructions during the positioning phase of battle.
The other three meta currencies are Glory – experience; which is both experience and a measure of how remembered they are when they finally meet their fate; Fate – used to avoid damage and restore Impairment of abilities, Fate also ticks up automatically when you complete quests, get defeated or attempt to challenge the will of the Gods. The final meta-currency is Divine favour, which can be spent for varieties of rerolls, bonus dice, or having the gods bless your weapon.
Glory is gained by being Best Hero ™ - winning contests, dealing the largest wound to an enemy, defeating minions, and so on. Fate as mentioned ticks up automatically as the game progresses, and Divine Favour improves as you complete tasks for the gods.
The GM (Antagonist) has their own meta-currency, Strife, which is used to build hostile NPCs and challenges. The initial amount is set by the number of Heroes and subtasks in the quest they're doing, with more becoming available when the heroes rest or fail at contests.
Contests and Battles
Contests come in two forms; the simple Contest, which is resolved by a simple opposed die roll and the Battle, which is resolved on a round by round basis. The Battle doesn’t have to be violent in nature; a contest of poetry can be resolved just as easily as a clash of spears. Once a simple contest has been rolled, any player may invoke Hubris and turn it into a battle instead; the losing side will start the battle having already taken a wound each.
By default the GM rolls 2d6 for Contests, but may buy them up with Strife. The GM can also declare a challenge to be Harmful – the characters will take Wounds rather than simply suffering an Impairment, or that it’s an Obstacle which means that even if the characters fail, they move on past it, just battered and bruised, and without having gained any advantages or additional knowledge.
A contest is a high-level overview of an attempted action; in contrast, a battle zooms in to the action, covering each exchange of blows (or words, or stages in a race – as noted above, a battle doesn’t have to be physical)
In a physical battle, the characters weapons provide dice for them to use, which are split into left and right hand dice; the Name die and one weapon ability die are added to these pools. E.g. A character with a spear and a shield would put 1d8 (the shield) into their left hand, and 1d8 + 1d6 into their right hand. Into either of these they add their name die and the ability die from Spear or Shield.
The first stage of a battle is positioning; order is determined by the results of a Name + Athletics roll, when it’s your turn to position yourself, you can either move yourself on the range strip, or anyone who has not positioned themselves yet. Once positioning is completed, attacks happen; the order is based on your weapon used and the range you’ll be fighting at; Swords go first, and in that group the Swords who’re at range 1 go first, followed by those at range 2 and so-on.
There are a few special manoeuvres that you take in place of an attack; most of these apply a penalty to the next roll by the targeted enemy, but you may also attempt a disarm or to make an attack with your left-handed weapon.
In a non-physical battle each side picks an Ability appropriate to the contest from the list of Sports and Craft abilities. For example, when trying to persuade an NPC to allow you access to a sacred grove, your Hero may pick the Orate ability, and the NPC the Lore. Each Craft or Sport ability lists a pair of Arete abilities as weapons for attack and defence, and a different ability in its own category as armour; Lore uses Insight for attack, Spirit for defence and Music as armour.
A sample of the book which includes positioning and battle examples can be downloaded from the game’s website at http://www.agon-rpg.com/resources.html
Create a character
We’ll be creating three characters in order to build up a network of Oaths around them.
Damia the Monster-Slayer, daughter of Ares
Far-Reaching Nikaie, daughter of Scylax
Fleet-footed Maeon, son of Arion
Damia the Monster-Slayer
With Damia we’ve put our two free dice into the combat abilities, and lowered Aim too, which allows us to have a Spear rating of 1d10 to start with. We’ve also boosted Athletics at the cost of Wrestling to help her with positioning in Battles.
Heroic trait bonus
+1 damage to monsters, +2 positioning when fighting monsters
Insight d6, Grace d6, Might d8, Spirit d4
Heal d6, Lore d6, Music d6, Orate d6
Athletics d8, Hunt d6, Cunning d6, Wrestle d4
Aim d4, Spear d10, Shield d8, Sword d6
Athena – at no point does it say that a child of a god has to favour that god
Insight, Lore and Spear
Shield (1d8), Spear (2,1d8+1d4), Sword (1,2d6)
d8 – Greaves (-1 positioning), Helmet (-1 missile attack), Brestplate (-1 melee)
Far-Reaching Nikaie, daughter of Scylax
We haven’t double dipped the free dice and the weapon bonuses with Nikaie, and two of her d8 skill match those of her god, which gives her slightly broader options for when she wants to perform a sacrifice.
Heroic trait bonus
+1 range for melee weapons, +2 positioning when fighting inside
Insight d4, Grace d8, Might d6, Spirit d6
Heal d6, Lore d8, Music d6, Orate d4
Athletics d6, Hunt d6, Cunning d8, Wrestle d6
Aim d4, Spear d6, Shield d8, Sword d8
Hermes – Athletics, Grace, and Sword
Shield (1d8), Sword (1-2,2d6), Sword (1-2,2d6)
D6 – Greaves (-1 positioning), Helmet (-1 missile attack)
Fleet-footed Maeon, son of Arion
We’ve been liberal with the d8s again, with both the free ones going into Craft; both Music and Heal are useful during Interludes, and should be good for building up a few oaths from the others.
Heroic trait bonus
+2 to athletics, +2 to positioning when fighting outside
Insight d4, Grace d6, Might d6, Spirit d8
Heal d8, Lore d6, Music d8, Orate d6
Athletics d6, Hunt d4, Cunning d8, Wrestle d6
Aim d8, Spear d6, Shield d6, Sword d4
Hera – Cunning, Spirit, Aim
Shield (1d8), Spear (2, 1d8+1d4), Bow (5-6, 1d8+1)
D6 – Greaves (-1 positioning), Breastplate (-1 melee attack)
With the characters created, we need to see who owes whom.
Featured Hero: Damia
Scene: Maeon is about to meet his end under the claws of the Silver Lion of Kyra
Backed up against a cliff, Maeon braces for a last pounce by the mighty Silver Lion. A pounce that never lands as Damia interposes herself between the Lion and Maeon, spearing it through the throat.
Featured Hero: Damia
Scene: Damia is climbing down a cliff to steal a harpy’s eggs
So intent is Damia on her prize that she's oblivious of the harpies preparing to strike. It is Nikaie who distracts the murderous creatures with well thrown rocks, allowing Damia to steal the egg.
The same process is repeated with Nikaie and Maeon challenging each other, with the following results
Nikaie vs. Maeon, Grace: Victory Maeon
Nikaie vs. Damia, Lore: Victory Nikae
Maeon vs. Damia, Spirit: Victory Damia
Maeon vs. Nikaie, Aim: Victory Nikae
Maeon’s attempt to be clever and target abilities where the others only had d4s has backfired somewhat due to bad luck on the dice.
Once all the Achievements are rolled and described the final starting Oaths look like this
Nikaie 0, Maeon 2
Damia 2, Maeon 1
Damia 0, Nikae 1
Create an Island
The book provides a list of fairly simple tables to roll on for inspiration and a large list of names. Each island should have at least one human community on it, and will have the attention of three gods, each of which will assign the heroes a quest when they make landfall.
We will be creating the Island of Saria
Terrain: Scrub-brush plains and dusty plateaus
Settlement: Prosperous trading port - a mix of many cultures, and a small fishing village
Event: The port is constructing a great monument, whilst the fishing village is celebrating a harvest (fishing?) festival
Gods: Dionysus, Apollo, and Athena
Dionysus wants the heroes to destroy the River Dancers, a mysterious magical sect, Apollo tasks them with stealing the Silver Horse of Saria, and finally Athena wants them to restore the war gear of Aktor
Three of our interesting things have been decided by the quests, but let’s add another two or three to give the heroes more things to play with.
The plains of Saria are home to Copper Beetles, whilst the plateaus host a large flock of Harpies. On the far side of the island, the Hundred Swords, a mercenary army have made camp.
I haven't yet had a chance to run this in person (my group voted for Owl Hoot Trail when I offered a one shot game), but it seems solid enough. I'll be taking the three characters above through the quest to Steal the Silver Horse.
It isn't quite a Zero-prep game as you'll need to at least have your quests outlined, and whilst NPC creation is pretty quick, it would probably be best to have the final challenge stated out before you start so that you don't go over your strife budge in the lead up to the final confrontation.