A Compendium of Weird and Minor Godlings
The briefly petty but largely noble history of the Petty Gods old school roleplaying supplement.
Role-playing games don’t get a lot of coverage on the EOG; unfortunately I rarely have the time these days to run or participate in campaigns. But it was role-playing that got me into this whole game thing, way back when I was 12 and first stumbled across a game called Empire of the Petal Throne, a role-playing game set in the Professor M. A. R. Barker’s world of Tékumel.
As detailed elsewhere, many people of my particular vintage who grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons in the late 70s and 80s have gone back to their roots and participated in the growth of a movement called the OSR (‘Old School Renaissance’ is just one of the translations for this anocrym). (Large) part nostalgia trip, part rediscovery of what could be called the unbounded creativity of the original roleplayers and their pulp fiction literary roots, the OSR has led to an explosion of fan-produced RPG material. There may be a somewhat clichéd obsession with exactly reproducing the style of the TSR dungeon modules of old (even down to the over-use of that most ugly of typefaces, Avante Garde), but there’s no denying the talent, creativity and enthusiasm on display across scores of blogs and cheaply available publications.
A perfect example of this is a thing called Petty Gods. This began several years ago as a project by James Maliszewski, then a guiding light of the OSR, inspired by a post by a Vancouver gamer called Blair Fitzpatrick on his blog Planet Agol. The plan was to have writers and illustrators in the OSR community contribute a selection of ‘small-time’ godlings into what would be a free publication, something to ‘give back’ to the community, and in homage to a 1980 Judges Guild supplement called Unknown Gods (and the old AD&D hardback book Deities and Demigods). A lot of people got very enthusiastic, and under Maliszewski’s hand it began to take shape in November 2010.
It’s an almost-400 page book that looks stunning and is bursting with creative ideas from a huge number of old school fans
Two years later, it was still taking shape. Somewhat late to the whole OSR party, I stumbled across Maliszewski’s blog Grognardia and was going through the back posts when I read that he was looking for a designer to create the layout. Inspired by the ambition of the project—and I fit perfectly into the target demographic after all—I offered my services, little realising what a huge job it would be. 150 pages of layout and a constantly shifting roster of submissions meant weeks of work. But eventually, the project was almost ready for publication.
And then Maliszewski disappeared, around December 2012. Struck by some personal events, he closed down all contact; not only with me, but with his partners and all the backers of a Kickstarter campaign for an old school megadungeon that raised almost $49,000 (it took a couple more years, but that product was finally shipped to backers by others). It seemed that Petty Gods was going nowhere, until in March 2013 I was reading a blog called Gorgonmilk, and discovered that Greg Gorgonmilk was rebooting the project from scratch (without the help of Maliszewski). I contacted him about this, a bit frustrated that all my hard work would never be seen, but he turned out to be a very nice guy with the right intentions, and with no idea that the book had almost been finished. Since he was hard at work making a greatly expanded version of the book that he intended to lay out himself, he suggested he release the existing 150-page work as Original Petty Gods, with his version to later follow as Expanded Petty Gods. It was nice to at last have the opportunity to get my original layout design out there. But first I had to polish it up a bit and do a bit of editing throughout.
On the 1st April 2013 (I was amused by the propitious date, considering the debacle so far) the ‘original’ version of Petty Gods was released on the Gorgonmilk website, and I finally considered the project finished and over with.
Greg continued to work on the expanded version for about a year and a half, amassing a huge amount of new material but never quite making it to the finish line. Finally, in November 2014, Richard LeBlanc at New Big Dragon stepped in on his own initiative to take over. He immediately contacted me to ask me to send him all the original text and artwork, which I did, amazed that the project was still continuing. And then I bowed out for good.
The other day, I happened to notice that Revised & Expanded Petty Gods is finally a reality– and a damn impressive reality at that. Richard has managed to pull together an almost-400 page book that looks stunning and is bursting with ideas from a huge number of old school fans, all of whom donated their creativity, time and effort for free. It’s an impressive achievement, and I assure you I can certainly understand the astonishing effort it must have taken to finally finish this beast.
Inside this huge tome you’ll find scores of unique and highly detailed creations to use in a fantasy roleplaying game campaign, notes on how to use them, minions, knights and servitors, divine items, spells and supplementary information. There’s so much good stuff inside the covers it’s almost hard to believe. And you’ll also find a reprint of the late Professor Barker’s fascinating article Create a Religion in Your Spare Time for Fun and Profit and a forward by James M. Ward (author of seminal scifi roleplaying game Metamorphosis Alpha). The printed book even has an orange spine so it will match your classic AD&D hardbacks on the shelf.
You’d think Richard would deserve some reward for his time and trouble wouldn’t you? Well, instead he has released the book under a new licence, or manifesto if you will, the ORC. The book, and others to follow under the same logo, is not about profit, but about contributing back to the OSR community as a whole. Not only can you download the entire work for free as a PDF, but you can buy a softback or hardback edition from Lulu at cost.
Perfectly in keeping with the community spirit that began this entire endeavour almost five years ago, the Revised & Expanded Petty Gods book is now, finally, available to all. It’s a book (hardback version of course) that I will be very proud to have on my gaming shelf, and I highly recommend you get yourself a copy if you have any interest at all in fantasy roleplaying or, indeed, just enjoy a fascinating read that explores mythology and our human propensity for anthropomorphising the world around us.
Update: Just got my hardback in the mail and it is stunning. If you have any interest at all in old school roleplaying, grab yourself a copy, you’ll be proud to have it on your gaming shelf. Gotta love that orange spine.