roleplaying games

Mythras: for my consideration

I caved and bought Mythras over the long weekend. While my book is tied up in warehousing logistics, I’ve already had a chance to give the PDF a quick read. As Mythras is both a) the most recent iteration of a long-running game system and b) pretty universally praised, I’m not really going to review it. Instead, I’m going to consider how it would fit with my planned post-apocalyptic fantasy game.

First off, I like character creation and the Passions system. One critique of the GURPS advantage/disadvantage system that I’ve taken to heart recently is that a lot of disadvantages really aren’t…enemies, loyalty pacts, and other “restrictions” of that nature serve to give the character more screen time and don’t necessarily hinder the player in any way. The Passions system acknowledges this, and gives a backstory element that’s also mechanically engaged with the system. Some of the rolls, like social class, I’d likely eliminate, though part of that has to do with my intended scenario rather than complaints with the system. That said, randomly rolling for starting wealth is irksome, especially when there’s such a gulf between slavery at one end and nobility at the other.

The combat system, at first glance, both reminds me that I haven’t run crunchy combat recently, and also makes the game look very old-school. There’s a sidebar about balancing combat styles (and how the system doesn’t intrinsically do this), but there’s nothing stopping a GM from, say, writing an obviously superior combat style and locking it to a cult. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but considering it’s mostly incumbent on the GM, I’m not worried about it, per se. I like the special effects, but that’s a long list of things to reference.

Speaking of cults…I like these rules. They aren’t as robust or detailed as what’s in Reign, but they have more PC-facing detail. I think I’d likely port over some of the Reign organization rules…inter-cult conflict and the potential of PCs starting a cult, brotherhood, or guild need to be fleshed out for my intended game.

The magic rules are just what I was looking for. Sorcery as-written is too D&D-ish, but I can take it out. My setting would likely use folk magic, mysticism, and animism…the fact that mysticism and animism can be gated using the cult mechanics is fantastic, and exactly what I want for this setting. Folk magic as the only ungated magical art, paired with a relatively low power regeneration rate, should give the feel I want. Add to that the class-less character builds and I can limit magic without feeling bad about character balance. Also worth noting, magical healing is gritty as hell in this system…it’s beautiful, really.

The issues I’m going to have with this game involve the amount of prep I’m going to have to do. I don’t mind prep, but it’s going to take some effort to give this campaign its sandbox feel. The bestiary in the game is a bit small, and design shortcuts available are in the GURPS school of “just don’t stat everything”, the Savage Worlds school of “difficulty can be eyeballed by comparing skill levels”, and the D&D school of “just use the average stat-block over and over”. Some of this is crunch-shock…I’ve been making do with the Powered by the Apocalypse “never roll, all NPCs have 4 harm or so” mode of encounter creation for a while, so going back to something this detailed is very different.

At the same time, I’m not allergic to prep. If I’m going to do this bottom-up, I’m still going to be writing tables and generators to spit out a world in the parameters I want. I may have been hoping for settlement rules, but those aren’t common in any RPG, really, and I already own a game that has a very serviceable set of settlement/organization rules that should synergize with the organization rules in Mythras. And at the end of the day, even if my “bottom-up” game still has a ton of front-loaded writing, I’m pretty sure it’ll be easier in Mythras than in GURPS.

With Mythras I can start to see the path I have to walk to make my campaign vision a reality. The system has a lot of things I’d need to fill in, but these tend to be things I understand how to write and things where I know what I can pull from. In comparison…

  • Torchbearer has the right feel but the entire town-cycle mechanic doesn’t fit with the setting.
  • Reign would require me to write an entire grimoire, likely from the ground up.
  • GURPS would require me to select a grimoire, write a bestiary, and gatekeep the entire advantage/disadvantage section, while reading and incorporating at least one full supplement (Low-Tech)
  • Any edition of D&D would require me to rebalance/rewrite the wizard, cleric, paladin, druid, sorcerer, etc…

In Mythras, I’ll need to write/modify hexcrawling mechanics (needed for all the games save maybe D&D), adapt the hex generation tables from Welsh Piper (needed for every system), adapt and expand organization and settlement rules (needed for every game, a bit less intensive for Reign), and select and expand a bestiary (needed for every game, though D&D has enough already written). It’s a fair amount of work, but definitely doable, especially as this is the campaign after next for me.

So now, after several blog posts worth of wavering and wondering, I sucked it up, bought the game, and found it to be worthy. The next step is actually writing!

Addendum: Mythras and Runequest have, from what I have found, much better cross-edition compatibility than, say, D&D (especially 3e and onward). So now I’m looking at Runequest: Monsters and Runequest: Empire from the Mongoose edition of the game to port into my campaign. Find a wilderness guide and I’m more than hooked in.

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