Mythras in Review

I’m a long-time fan of Mythras. In many ways it’s the Rolls Royce of the D100 gaming world, being clean and dignified, as well as being a robust ruleset. It came from the same branch of the D100 systems tree, Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ), as my own OpenQuest (OQ) and while I cut down and rationalised the MRQ SRD, Mythras’s authors (Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash) kept the complexity added with MRQ and refined it. I’ve promised myself that I would do a quick review of Mythras and its supplements when it came out two years ago in 2016, and the current Bundle of Holding seems to be an excellent time to do that. So if you are wondering whether Mythras is for you, read on.

A Bit of History and Context

For me, Mythras is the logical inheritor of all the non-Gloranthan RuneQuest (RQ) that got played in the 80s/90s via the Avalon Hill RQ3 ruleset, which us lucky Brits got via much improved Games Workshop hardcover releases. It came via Mongoose Publishing’s efforts when they had the RQ licence in the 2000s. Mythras’ authors Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash were then Mongoose staff writers who were tasked with producing a second edition of the somewhat wobbly first edition. This they did to much acclaim, and when Mongoose lost the RQ license, they put out the version of the MRQ2 that they wanted under their Design Mechanism moniker as RQ6. Mythras is the final link in this chain of releases, highly polished, with its own name and with all the Gloranthan references removed.

Presentation

305 pages of clearly laid out text, with clear black and white line art. Very evocative of the games’ 80s/90s roots.

The Pdf is fully bookmarked, and the contents, index and in page cross-references are all fully functional hyperlinks.

I’ve got the printed version, which is a very robust and cleanly printed hardcover which I can see easily surviving many years of use/abuse.

Characters

What are characters like in Mythras?  Well, they are mythic but based on realism. So you could quickly do the heroes of Homers Iliad/Odyssey with Mythras. They have exceptional abilities, but are fragile and bleed, with even the mightiest hero being at risk of death by a well-placed lucky blow by a minor character.

The character generation system breaks down into three chapters

  • Character
  • Culture & Community
  • Careers

Each of these sections focuses on building the characters’ abilities up while putting them in context of these three areas. For example the Culture and Community chapter, gets the player to decide which culture the character comes from (Primitive, Barbarian, Nomad, Civilised – are the defaults in the core rulebook) and from that they determine what social class they are members of that culture, as well as what ties and bonds (known as Passions) they have to fellow members. The chapter ends with a Background Events table of 100 entries. I’m a big fan of these (after first coming across them in Cyberpunk 2020 in the early 90s) since they stop characters who are numerically the same being identical and give the character an excellent in-built adventure hooks.

The System

The skill system is a roll equal or under percentile system. Each character (and monster) has a set of percentile skills that when it’s not clear what is going to happen are tested using two ten-sided dice.  Extra levels of success and failure are brought in with special results. If you succeed in the lower tenth of your success range (for example if your skill is 40%, 1-4%) you Critical, conversely if you fail and roll 99-00%  you fumble.

That’s the basics of it, and there are numerous quick and easy subsystems which elaborate on what happens in certain circumstances.

Combat gets a chapter of its own. Mythras combat is the most complex of all the D100 systems but is well thought out and streamlined. If you don’t want to use all the options, such as combat effects which bring in special effects dependant on weapon type on a critical, the system is modular enough to drop these without breaking it.

Five Magic Systems

D100 fantasy lives and breathes on its magic systems which unlike D&D is flexible and based upon spells costing magic points to cast. Mythras has five magic systems, which all share common features while having their own differences and focus.

Folk Magic the most common but least potent of all the magic systems. It gives characters quickfire utility type magic , such as Bladesharp which offers extra damage points and an improved chance to hit, with low bookkeeping. It’s the type of magic that if your players want a little bit of magic to improve their characters without magic becoming their speciality or focus.

Theism is the magic provided by the gods. It’s much more powerful than folk magic but similar in complexity bookkeeping wise. While you don’t need to spend Magic points to cast spells your character does have a relationship with a deity that you need to maintain to keep on using their magic.

Animism is primitive magic from using bound spirits. It’s flavoursome and powerful but relies on the character having a good relationship with the spirit world, and the player getting their head around the concept of spirits.

Sorcery is the most flexible type of Mythras magic, and while much more straightforward and playable than its RQ 3 roots, still requires the player to want to dedicate time to working out how the Sorcerer’s spells work the best for them. i.e. it’s only really for players who want to play a magic using character.

Mystic covers those characters who use magic as an expression of their physical and mental skills and is quickly set up to do Martial Arts type characters.

Other Bits of the Framework

The book finally has three chapters which fill out the Mythras rules framework.

Cults and Brotherhoods. Cults are the mini-religions that D100 systems classically use to provide magic and skills training to characters, as well as make their lives interesting with all sorts of inter cult politics. Mythras has a good selection of pre-made examples for each of the magic approaches but also includes non-magical Brotherhoods.

Creatures. In D100 games “monsters are people too”, and Mythras continues this approach giving full stats. Skills and magic for its creature descriptions, which are more templates for the GM to create unique individuals for their games. Also where relevant extra information is given if the creature is suitable as a player character race.

Games Mastery. This GM’s advice section rounds out the whole nuggets of advice that pepper the entire rulebook , with a short, robust article which highlights the features of the game and how best to use them.

Overall Mythras is a complete standalone game, but it is missing a starter adventure – but behold there is a free pdf “Games Masters Pack” which has two introductory adventures and lots of follow up adventures/setting books (some of which are included in the Mythras Bundle of Holding).

Why you should look at this

If you are coming from D&D and are looking for an alternative to rigidly enforced class/level system, were characters organically grow through play and their in-game experiences and can try anything they want to.

Mythras is well established and has a wealth of adventures and setting books, some of which go beyond the established mythic fantasy of the core rulebook. The recently released After the Vampire Wars, explores modern day horror, while Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels, based upon the Brian Talbot graphic novels of the same name, is weird time-travelling science fiction.

It’s not for you if

You are a diehard storygamer. Mythras while being a cleaned up and up to date D100 ruleset, is still very much a traditional old-school game from the 1980/90s. It has all hallmarks of that gaming style: characteristics that map back to statistics that can be physically quantified, a clearly defined Gamesmaster/player split with well-defined roles and responsibilities, and a system that is literally peppered with modifiers and rules that simulate the gritty reality that characters find themselves in.  Mythras (and other D100 variants) does support a storytelling style of play, because of its freeform character advancement system and skill use system, but you have to engage with it and understand that to get the best out of it. It doesn’t lead you by the nose, hard coding it into lightweight rules systems like story games like Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse games do.

Coming next in Mythras Review: Mythic Rome.

Lyonesse RPG by Design Mechanism

Yesterday Lawrence Whitaker announced a new licensed Lyonnese Roleplaying game, which while being self-contained will use the Mythras system, based on Jack Vance’s novels:

We are delighted to announce the Lyonesse roleplaying game.

Jack Vance’s high fantasy masterpiece, Lyonesse, is to be brought to life in a new roleplaying game by The Design Mechanism. Licensed and approved by Spatterlight Press, Lyonesse is a standalone game based on the acclaimed Mythras system. The Lyonesse trilogy – Suldrun’s Garden, The Green Pearl, and Madouc – tells the story of the Elder Isles, and the ambitions of King Casmir of Lyonesse to bring its fractious kingdoms under his sole rule. Casmir is opposed by Aillas of Troicinet, the lover of Casmir’s daughter, Suldrun, and father of Dhrun, a child raised among the fairies of Thripsey Shee and destined to sit on the throne Evandig, which King Casmir believes to be his own destiny.

You can read the full press release here [http://thedesignmechanism.com/resources/Press_Releases/Lyonesse RPG Press Release.pdf].

Its early days in development, a 2019/2020 release date has been noted in comments by Lawrence, but the artists have been announced in the full press release, and the following teaser image was released with tannouncementent:

RuneQuest 6 preview: First impressions

Ok admissions first. I’m a huge huge RuneQuest fantatic, so much so that when I played the game solidly in the 90s I dropped everything else except Cyberpunk 2020 and casually forgot that I had ever played any D&D. In fact I was disdainful about it, in the big playground punch up that was D&D vs RQ, I would have argued that RuneQuest was superior in every way conceivable. It wasn’t an argument born out of logic, but one of pure passion. I simply love RQ and leafing through my old editions of the game still brings a shiver down my spine. I’ve got an aching summer cold and merely typing this and thinking about RQ is making me feel vastly better.

Secondly I know both authors Lawrence “Loz” Whitaker and Pete Nash from the Tavern bulletin board and the Continuum series of conventions, and I’ve a very healthy respect for both of them. Pete’s the author of the Ennie Winning Rome supplement for BRP and both of them worked on the Mongoose Runequest 2 line,as well as a number of other books for their other lines before striking out on their own as Design Mechanism to do RuneQuest 6.

So don’t expect a eye wincing critical review of RQ 6 from me 😉

I’ve got hold of the final pre-publication internals pdf from Loz and Pete, who’ve been very gracious to give me a copy.

The book is a generic implementation of RuneQuest over 456 pages. There’s an implied setting, an Ancient style Fantasy world alluded to by pictures of Greek Hopilites and ladies in long flowing linen dresses, but otherwise the book apart from the appearance of Gloranthan Runes as presentation elements and in the Rune Magic chapter is Gloranthan free. Don’t worry though armed with the requisite background material, such as the 2nd Age Glorantha books, you can run Glorantha out of the box. If you are not interested in Glorantha or find it off putting, its not there to get in the way.

Art is black and white through out, and by a small stable of artists. The impact on me personally is from Good to a bit meh (some landscape pieces). There’s an obvious play on nostalgia with all the Ancient world images, which after doing a similar thing with OpenQuest I can understand 😉 What does impress me however is the layout, which is clean and readable,scaling nicely on my IPAD. This is very important when I’m working from the pdf, and will probably pay off in spades for me when I use it in this format at the gaming table.

The core book is the complete rules, so no crafty hiving off of magic item rules in a follow up supplement for example. Three chapters detail character generation, there’s a fairly meaty chapter on combat (more on that later in a separate blog post when I look at in detail), chapters for the five magic systems(Common, Animism,Theist, Sorcery and the new Mysticism rules), monsters, equipment and a chapter on running the game. I’m sure I’ve left something out, but I’ll pick this up as I go through the book in detail in later posts. Notable exceptions are there is no dedicated setting chapter (but there’s an implied setting throughout the examples and flavour text ) or starter adventure. So you’d be expecting a dry rulesy book? Nothing could be further from the truth. The book reads smoothly,with lots of entertaining examples and rules advice throughout. Each page builds on my understanding and desire to bring these rules to the gaming table.

RQ 6 lives up to Loz’s and Pete’s promise of building on and streamlining what they wrote for Mongoose RuneQuest 2. If you are a MRQ2/Legend ref,you’ll find a much better implementation of what they actually wanted to produce. There’s lots of additional bits, Passions and Mysticism (for all those Kung Fu hero settings) for example, that makes it worth getting. It’s the Pathfinder RPG of the D100 family. The big crunch heavy sibling who carries it off with grace and style. While I still in my heart of hearts prefer my own lighter OpenQuest, I’m excited enough by RQ 6 to play it as written and have fun exploring its depths.

Next up: a detailed look at character generation.

Related Links

UPDATE!

RQ 6 now available in PDF format & Print Pre-order (with free pdf now) over at the Moon Design Publications site.