Where to begin. This is an awesome book. Released in 1994 I remember browsing through it in the (extensive it must be said) RPG section of Virgin Megastore branch of Belfast around that time. I must have spent hours reading it in the store…back when I was a penniless student, before saving the cash to buy it. Worth its weight in gold. I can honestly say this is the second most important book I own, the most important (for those keeping score) being the 1st Edition AD&D Legends & Lore (initially I didn’t even have or know about the original printing Deities & Demigods with the Cthulhu and Melnibonean stuff!). Anyway back to Pantheons of the Megaverse…
Lets get something settled from the offing. I don’t play RIFTS. Never have, probably never will. I’ve had a look and I don’t really like the system at all. However, in my humble opinion the RIFTS setting is probably the best setting there is. Its basically got everything: aliens; cyborgs; demons; gods; superheroes; wizards…the lot! It was that ‘anything goes’, ‘the only limit is your imagination’ approach that really stuck in my head.
So if I don’t like the system itself, why is this book so important? In a nutshell, ideas. This book presents some mind-blowing ‘what-if’s’.
The cover is great, though not necessarily screaming ‘epic’. I always imagined the being on the cover was a sort of cosmic version of the god Thor (crossed with Darth Vader?). Its like a marriage of mythology and technology.
- The Pantheons: Listed within are: the Aztec Pantheon; the Babylonian Pantheon; the Greco-Roman Pantheon; the Indian (Hindu) Pantheon; Norse Pantheon and the Persion Pantheon. While you might think only six pantheons (compared to Deities & Demigods 17) is a bit weak, each Pantheon also includes not only the relevant monsters (as did D&Dg) but also large sections covering various imposter factions usually led by some sort of alien intelligence. Its also notable that the lines between the imposters and the gods themselves is typically blurred, with many of the pantheons progenitors (such as Apsu of the Babylonian Gods, Cronos of the Greek Pantheon or Zurvan of the Persian Gods) actually being ‘aliens’ of some description.
- Relationships: This might seem like a small thing but I found it eye-opening at the time. The book postulates how certain pantheons relate to each other, and then takes this a step further by examining how the pantheons relate to the various factions of RIFTS Earth and the major players of the universe at large. Even the way they set pantheons in conflict with one another was novel, basically that if the worshippers of two different pantheons fought a war on Earth, their pantheons would likewise be fighting their own meta-physical battle. So when Rome invaded Northern Europe, the Roman Gods fought the Norse Gods etc.
- Cross-Pollination: Unlike other pantheon books these gods don’t exist in a vacuum. While I have already spoken about the alien influence upon pantheons themselves, as well as how the pantheons relate to one another, another interesting aspect of this book is that each pantheon is designed as if part of the world. For instance a war god might possess blaster rifles purchased from Atlantis, one god has created demon-possessed robot armour. Many of the gods embrace technology of not simply the world, but also alien tech. Then they mix the whole thing with their own magic. The results really give you are far greater verisimilitude.
- Play As Gods: One of the first sections of the book not only discusses but outlines the mechanics for roleplaying as gods. While you could say that D&D already had Immortals, there are two poignant significances to this part of the book. Firstly, AD&D didn’t have rules for gods and secondly, in 1994 we were halfway through the life cycle of 2nd Edition and its ‘Angry Mothers from Heck’ stances on religion, demons and so forth. With Pantheons of the Megaverse what you had was a book for gamers, not one that prostrated itself to non-gamers.
- Art: This book has a ton of (black and white) art, most of it great. Added to which the book isn’t afraid to have artwork cover a full page (I just counted 16 interior full page illustrations) or even three-quarters or half a page. The grand scale of the art gives the characters within that much more gravitas. Whereas something like Deities & Demigods (1E) really kept its illustrations (for the most part) relatively tiny.
- RIFTS system mechanics: Not a big fan, as noted earlier, and the book is fairly crunch heavy, but even within the stat-blocks there lies interesting information like Allies & Enemies; Disposition; Description and so forth.
Anyone wanting to run an epic or immortal level game for any system should buy this book. Its got so many ideas, its a fun read, lots of art, it just is an awesome book. Its basically how you should do a Pantheon book and in my opinion its the best Pantheon book ever published, even better than the 1st Edition Deities & Demigods (though historically and certainly mechanically that book is more important to me).
Overall 10 (out of 10)…I could maybe drop it down some points for the RIFTS system, but I’m not going to because this book is so strong in execution that it transcends any single system. Big thank you to C. J. Carella and Kevin Siembieda for making this.