Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Kynthiad: Solo adventures in the world of ancient Greek mythology

I have been a fan of Greek mythology since early childhood. I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology before the end of elementary school and Bulfinch's Age of Fable during high school, and took a Classical Mythology class early in my college career. Between that and my passion for game mastering RPGs, it was inevitable that I would eventually run a campaign based on these myths. The surprising part is that I didn't start planning such a game in earnest until my 30s.

In the early 2000s, I mentioned to some of my gaming buddies that I wanted to run a mythology-based game. At the time, GURPS was my system of choice for anything that wasn't D&D, so I started working on ideas using those rules, and my wife Erika and another friend even started working out character concepts. However, that campaign never happened, in part because I couldn't settle on a coherent focus or frame for the story. (Classical mythology covers a vast body of texts, many of them blatantly contradictory!) 

A few years later, Erika and I became parents, and having two small children greatly curtailed our gaming schedule. Erika requested that I run some kind of solo game for her, so that she could get her RPG fix more often. I realized that this would be an excellent opportunity for me to finally run a Greek myth game, without any of the potential headaches of scheduling a full-sized group and balancing spotlight time for multiple PCs. 

We decided against GURPS as being too crunchy, and chose Big Eyes Small Mouth instead. BESM was designed as a rules-light system allowing play in any genre of anime, which means that it also works well for most genres of non-anime gaming, too. A few years before, I had run a successful medieval fantasy mini-campaign using BESM Second Edition, and now (in 2007) wanted to try out the newly-released Third Edition. 

The campaign was set in the Bronze Age Greek world, circa 1200 BC, during the first couple years of the Trojan War. Kynthia began play as an acolyte in a temple of Artemis in Colophon, one of the many smaller cities along the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. This city appears in the Iliad as one of many cities sacked by the Achilles to collect supplies for the siege of Troy and weaken any potential allies to that city. During the first session, a group of Greek ships attacked the city, and Kynthia joined the defense of the goddess's temple. She experienced intense headaches just before the raid, which only grew as the Greeks broke into the sanctuary itself. Kynthia prayed to the goddess for protection--and the ground shook, dropping pieces of the roof upon the intruders and frightening away any Greeks who were not instantly killed. The priestesses were saved, and the city was spared a full sacking. 

Up to now, Kynthia had been an indifferent acolyte--one of many who assumed their parents would find them a wealthy husband before taking their final vows--but this miracle demonstrated that Artemis had other ideas for her life. And so began "The Nine Journeys of Kynthia," AKA The Kynthiad. Our heroine would go on to become a world-traveling seeress and champion for the goddess, and--after performing her first few quests--formally becoming Her priestess. 

We've had a few hiatuses along the way--the longest being prompted by our cross-country move a couple years ago--but the game is still going strong many years later. In fact, one week from today will be the 8th anniversary of our very first session--and we've just recently passed the 200 mark. 

Emmy Rossum, cast as our heroine, Kynthia of Colophon
Now that I've posted this introduction, I intend to write more about this campaign in future columns. This campaign has far too much history to try to chronicle it all here, but it does provide plenty of material for discussing various challenges and decisions I faced in preparing and running the game. Some of the topics I plan to touch on include:
  • Combining mythology with real-world history to create a consistent and authentic-feeling fantasy world.
  • Portraying the gods, who interfere constantly in the myths--and deciding how many of them to use, in a world with many different cultures and pantheons.
  • Reference works and other inspiration for background, characters, and plots.
  • Casting characters using real actors, to provide a convenient photo reference. 

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