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How to Turn Your Campaign into a Greek Epic!

Written by Nicholas - Published on November 28, 2009

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.

When we see images of a lone Spartan warrior spear his way through dozens of Persians, seemingly unstoppable, it speaks in a yell to our gamer geek brains. Those ideas, that feeling and tone are things almost all of us want to capture for our campaign. To really hold onto the essence of such iconic fights as the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the seige of Troy, you need to dig into the culture that spawned them. Ancient Greeks gave us these stories that have been repeated, exaggerated and reimagined for thousands of years. While it is usually better to play a game made from the ground up to capture that feel (more below), with a few attitude adjustments and house rules you can capture the feel of a Greek epic in your D&D game.

What is a Greek Hero?

A unique aspect about Greek myth is how amoral heroism is. We think of heroes people who sacrifice to do good. To the Greeks, heroes were defined by how impressing the heroes acts are, how well they are known and how much stuff they have. Single handly conquering a city, proclaiming yourself the leader and pillaging all of the riches is very heroic to the Greeks regardless of your motives. This isn’t far from the old D&D maxim of “kill them and take their stuff”.

I don’t mean to imply that all Greek heroes are selfish jerks. Some of them are quite noble, it just doesn’t factor into their heroism.

A Different Kind of Team

Greek heroes work differently together than most teams are supposed to. The Greek hero’s primarily motivating factor is his own honor. He wants to do great things, have stories told about him and collect as much treasure as he can. He does not undermine or sabotage his team mates to do so, but he’s after his own personal glory. In short, they all work towards the same goal but want to look the best in doing so.

Divine Intervention

Depending on the specific story, the gods are often very involved in the stories. Direct miraculous intervention, messages and prophesies from Olympus and even the gods walking around fighting with common mortal soldiers. D&D has been trending away from the direct divine involvement. Fight that! Gods work for and against every important hero in Greek myth. The story of the Odyssey is all about a god’s vendetta against a man!

In the Zone

You know that scene in the action movie where the hero seems unstoppable? Time slows down, his wounds no longer seem to matter, waves of men rush at him only to fall before they can land a blow. Believe it or not, you can find that all the way back in Greek myth. Today we would call it being in the zone, but the Greek’s called it aristeia. I suggest in a Greek myth D&D game you replicate it giving your players extra action points, attack and damage bonuses or letting them roll twice for attacks. You can even model it after barbarian’s rage powers, but juice it up and let the character retain his reason. It should be a very rare thing, no more than once per character per story arc but it will make a huge difference.

In Your Own Voice

If you read the Iliad you will find a ton of brutal descriptions of brain bashing and limb chopping (tucking in among the ship manifests and repetitive verse). You could mimic those in your game, but eventually you’ll get bored, struggle for ideas and no always match a player’s conception of their character. The best way is to get the player to it! Encourage your players to describe their attacks in combat, even give out small bonuses for well described actions.

Outside of combat, grant them full rights to narrate the world around them. Don’t just have them describe what happens, let them decide it! Have them tell their lies with bluff check and let them narrate what the deceived person does, what does the lie get them? If they make a history check to know about an important location, let them define the significance of it! If they pass a skill check by 3 or less, let them narrate with some DM input. Higher than that they can do it all on their own. If they fail by 3 or less, the DM narrates but with some changes from the player. Lower than that and they are at the mercy of the DM.


AreteOf course, all of these methods are just simple houserules to mimic the essence of Greek epics. They will provide some flavor, but at the end of the day you are still playing D&D. I wanted to do more than ape the tone. I wanted a game built from the ground up to be throughly Greek. I wanted a game where the players would live like Greek heroes, narrate their actions, curry favor with the gods and enter aristeia and destroy their enemies!

I wasn’t able to find a game to do all of those things, so I made one and now I’m offering it to you. Arete is the latest project coming from Expy Games. At the heart of Arete is the conflict narration system, players and the game master use skills to determine the rights to establish the details of success or crushing defeat. The end result is a shared storytelling experience that captures the feel of a Greek epic with little to no prepartion from the game master.

Arete will be released on November 29th.

Have you played games in Greek myth? Do geek out over 300 and Troy? Talk about it in the comments!

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Written by Nicholas

Nick DiPetrillo is the original author behind the games Arete and Zombie Murder Mystery available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com

Nick is no longer active with DungeonMastering.com, however he is an accomplished writer and published his first game in 2009.

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How to Turn Your Campaign into a Greek Epic!, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

Nicholas is the columnist in charge of Nerd Watching and part-time Expy wrangler. He also works as the community manager, so keep an eye out for him on RPG blogs and forums.



12 Responses to “How to Turn Your Campaign into a Greek Epic!”
  1. Bob says:

    If you’re keen for a game involving mythology then Scion from White Wolf is also a pretty excellent game.

  2. Tim says:

    Another Greek-themed adventure fantasy RPG you might want to check out is Agon, by John Harper.

  3. Swordgleam says:

    I like the name.

    If there’s an aristeia mechanic, I hope there’s also one for ate.

  4. Eoghan Fallon says:

    Cool, this gave me some great ideas – thanks!

  5. Southamerican Pathfinder says:

    I’ve DMed lots of greek campaigns, I’ve even DMed troy war as an adventure (changing the names) and it was incredible, just let everybody get a shortbow, a shortsword, and a +3-ish armor and let them wake up in a burning city full of invasion forces… epic!

  6. Great tips and congratulations on Arete!

    Mazes & Minotaurs is also a great, old school, complete, and free greek epic game too. http://mazesandminotaurs.free.fr/


  7. Yax says:

    @Tim, @Jonathan: Both Agon and Mazes and Minotaurs are mentioned by Nick in the book – you can read the reference to both games in this preview here: http://games.dungeonmastering.com/arete/#preview

  8. Swordgleam says:

    Having now read the preview… kleos and geras, awesome! It’s about time someone who has really studied Greek culture made one of these games.

  9. Nicholas says:

    @Swordgleam: Thank you! I decided against using the Greek terms just for accessibility, but it was really important that I get those authentic concepts in there. In addition to my own knowledge, I was fortunate enough to work closely with a professor of the classics to make sure everything is accurate and fun.

  10. Swordgleam says:

    @Nicholas: Yeah, I figured that’s why they were in english. Maybe in later editions, have a sidebar or two with the Greek terms, just for fun? Either way, the concepts were easy to recognize, so I think you achieved your goal.

  11. Katallos says:

    In the first long lasting D&D campaign I played in my character, Katallos, was based heavily on Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Achilles in the movie Troy with a few influences from the CG Beowulf movie. He was a true neutral fighter wo wore a breastplate and fought with shield and spear.

    Katallos cared only for his own glory and sought to not only win, but to humiliate his foes before dispatching them. He so angered the noble house Albrecht by slaying two of their sons in a tournament that they searched far and wide for a master swordsman to defeat him. Eventually Katallos was challenged by a samurai who had been summoned from far away lands.

    This was my best and favorite D&D character, eventually due to finding magic gear and such he moved away from the spear as his favored weapon.


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