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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Lords of Olympus: Khaos and Order

In the Lords of Olympus game, if you’re playing it true to the classical mold, chaos (or Khaos, if you prefer) and order should be a major theme.  The ancients viewed the universe as emerging out of Khaos, which was a literal entity, a primordial deity: inhuman, uncontrollable, ever-changing.  But from this Khaos structure came to exist, and demarcation lines created that allowed order to establish itself (starting with Phanes, and moving on from there).

Most of the story of humanity is about creating order from chaos: the family, the tribe, the city-state, all of these were steps in a progressive building-up of order, where beyond the limits of that order there was savage chaos, and where the risk of collapse of these man-made structures and institutions was a risk of being flung into a wildness that is fundamentally inimical to mankind.

Even the gods in the Lords of Olympus universe are largely about that same kind of progression: the Primordials start with Khaos, and then move towards those entities that are the very first semblances of a kind of order-in-nature (the night sky, the day, the stars, etc), but they are all still largely chaotic in their nature; there’s nothing very civilized about them. Even those primordials which embody human concepts (like Nemesis, Hypnos, Momus, or Eris) are all still representative of the most primal and uncontrolled parts of the human psyche (revenge, sleep, mockery, discord) that are threatening to civilization.

The Titans were a step toward a  more civilized nature, but they are largely the gods of a barbarian state; they are clearly not inhuman the way the primordials mostly are, but they are still far more rough-around-the-edges than what would come after them.  Uranus, the divine King of the primordial era, despised the order that he saw as weakness in his Titan children; he was deposed by Cronus, who created a new kind of order, but it was the order of a barbarian king; he refused to share his rule.
The Olympians represent the order of the city-state; a more civilized very human kind of order.  While Zeus is still despotic by modern standards, he has willingly shared his power with his brothers Poseidon and Hades, and has set up rules for the gods and their conduct. Olympians and their power, unlike those of the Primordials or the Titans, is based on the building up of structures, rather than violence or the tearing down of reality.

In a campaign, these themes can be addressed in a number of ways: certainly, the struggles with Primordial forces or the Titans (or their remnants) can be a common theme.  Monstrosities (like many of the children of Gaia) represent a chaos that threatens the stability of realms.  There is also the danger of chaos within the ranks of the Olympians, of the sophisticated structures and balance of power being upset by some event that threatens in turn the stability of creation itself.

Finally, you also have Dionysus; the God Who Comes, the prophesied future ruler of creation.  But what kind of god will he be? In one sense, he seems to represent a return toward chaos; he spends his time in decadent orgiastic ecstasy; his closest ally is the savage god Pan.  But it is also not quite that simple, because the anarchy of Dionysus may also be in fact another level of order: the freedom of an evolved creation, able to govern itself; he may yet be the god of Liberty; and what he might sweep aside is the brutality or despotism that remains in the Olympian court.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H’s Beverwyck

(Originally posted May 24, 2013; on the old blog)

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