Call of Chicago: 13 Olympikons

Next, glad-hearted Hermes dragged the rich meats he had prepared and put them on a smooth, at stone, and divided them into twelve portions distributed by lot, making each portion wholly honorable.
— Homeric Hymn to Hermes
The Twelve Olympians receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

The Twelve Olympians Receive Psyche, by Raphael. Pictured: Twenty Olympians

That, you will be gobsmacked (or perhaps even godsmacked) to know, is the earliest reference known to the Twelve Olympians, and it’s not that early: the “Homeric” hymns are usually dated to around 600 BCE, which is about 75 years before the tyrant Peisistratos sets up the first known altar to the Twelve, in Athens. (A cult of the Twelve in Olympia, appropriately enough, likely dates to about the same time.) Where the Greeks got the idea remains mysterious: from the twelve Babylonian months, perhaps via a grouping of 12 gods found in Hittite rituals (and in a 13th-century BCE hall of statuary at Yazilikaya) and from thence to the Greek coasts of Asia Minor.

Why, you may well ask, am I improving our minds with Classical study at this late juncture? Because in my home game, my newest campaign is a 13th Age campaign I call Poikila Hellenistika, or “The Brightly-Colored Hellenistic Age.” It’s set in a big-eyes-and-archaic-smile anime-influenced version of the Hellenistic era, specifically in Syracuse in Sicily (for now) in 273 BCE. (More information here, should you wish it.) And that means I needed to redefine the 13 Icons as, of course, the 12 Olympian gods, because hey, Alexander the Great won. And indeed, erected “altars to the Twelve Gods” on the banks of the Hyphasis River, the eastern edge of his empire.

So my Icons are Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaistos, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, and Dionysos. So who’s the Thirteenth God, then? Who isn’t? Dionysos famously replaced Hestia (goddess of the hearth) on Olympus; by the Hellenistic era, Heracles was much more worshipped than Ares. Hades is often considered the (unlucky) Thirteenth God, and Alexander the Great allegedly demanded the Greek cities recognize him as the Thirteenth Olympian. Olympia itself doesn’t help: its Twelve Gods swap in the Three Graces (as a unit), the River Alpheios, and the fallen gods Kronos and Rhea. Other common Hellenistic interlopers include Hekate, Asklepios, Pan, and Persephone. Given that one of my player characters is the Occultist from 13 True Ways, that means the Three Fates are likely an Icon, too. In practice, I’m letting the players pick their Icons and (much like the Greeks) not sweating the specific membership list.

The 13 Olympikons In Play

So leaving aside the question of “Who?” we get to the question of “What?” What do the Olympikons do in my game that the Icons don’t, and vice versa? Let’s start with the common factors: like the Dragon-Imperial Icons, the Olympian Ikons have a wide network of worshipers, priests, and other agents from the Seleukid dynasty claiming descent from Apollo to the various cults, mysteries, and temples all over the Mediterranean and points east. Most cities have at least one patron god (Syracuse’s are Athena and Apollo, plus there’s a big temple of Zeus just south of the city), so the Ikons have even more helpers in the shape of city governments and armies. It’s even more fun than it sounds, because the Olympians wound up with so many weird responsibilities in their portfolio: Poseidon is not just the god of the sea, but of horses, earthquakes, epilepsy, watchfulness, and even (as Poseidon Phytalmios) gardening. (For everything you could ever want to know about any figure of Greek myth, hie thee to theoi.com.)

Another thing that’s cropped up in play is the very Greek notion of the gods speaking and working through the players: we’ve already had Apollo justify a player’s 6 on the relationship die by inspiring his tongue to talk down a Spaniard. Greek gods loved to appear in dreams and oracles, so I can always drop one in if I like. Even then, given the sheer number of Ikonic interventions needed with six players (even on an average roll, that’s two or three interventions in one session, and my players do not roll average dice) we’re also adopting a house rule: if the player or the GM can’t think of something cool (or hasn’t yet) for your 6 to do during the game, you can take a +2 to something your Ikon plausibly might help you with. For clerics, that’s likely just casting a spell, but the Amazon might turn her 6 on the Artemis relationship die into a +2 to hit with a spear or bow. So far, a 5 likely gives you a +1 in similar fashion, although I’ll probably put a twist in the tail of a roll like that.

Some potential Ikons just flow together: Asklepios is the son of Apollo, so he becomes a major agent of the Ikon Apollo; Pan and Dionysos have that wild-man feel and patronage of satyrs in common, so they’re both aspects of the same Ikon. The campaign world is pretty human-centric, so the explicitly inhuman Icons like the Orc Lord wind up as aspects of godly humanist Olympians (the Orc Lord sounds pretty Ares-ish to me, although the Romans did explicitly identify Hades with their deity Orcus). Again, we’re letting that stuff emerge in play — we’ve decided that the Apollonian royalty of Hyperborea make pretty good elves, for example, at least on a mechanical basis, so the Elf Queen is likely an aspect of either Apollo or his woodsy sister Artemis.

In my game, if Alexander conquered you, your gods got subsumed into Olympian Ikon-hood: Melqart of Tyre becomes Heracles, for example, and Isis becomes Demeter. (Herodotos identified her as such; he also equated Osiris with Dionysos, Horus with Apollo, Amon with Zeus, and Bast with Artemis, among others.) That does leave a number of grumbly foreign gods: so far, I can reveal that Moloch (aka Baal-Hammon) of Carthage and Saturnus in Rome have not at all accepted their demotion. In our history, Zeus and his ilk eventually collaborated with the Romans and got subsumed in their turn into Jupiter, etc., but that’s 150 years away in my game and may not happen, depending on just how epic our epic tier gets. But that, as they say, is in the lap of the Ikons.

2 Responses to “Call of Chicago: 13 Olympikons”

  1. Lex says:

    I adore this concept, and feel financially obligated to say I’d gladly buy a KWAS-style supplement on this.

  2. ruemere says:

    I think that Prometheus deserves to become an icon, too, for the virtue of stealing the fire (revolution, martyrdom, conspiracy, gentle defiance, etc).

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