Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker’s1 Mythras is a Basic-Roleplaying-derived table-top simulationist fantasy roleplaying game.
In the beginning there was Chaosium’s RuneQuest and Greg Stafford saw that it was good. Fast forward three decades…
After developments too complex to get into here2, Design Mechanism produced the … 9th? 10th? version of RuneQuest, which for reasons of clarity was titled RuneQuest 6th Edition. Rightsholder Chaosium took back the rights to the Glorantha setting to create the 10th? 11th? version of RuneQuest, which for reasons of clarity was titled RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, reviewed here. While The Design Mechanism no longer had the rights to the RuneQuest title or the Glorantha setting, they still owned RQ6’s perfectly functional game engine. Extensively rewritten and retitled Mythras, it was released in 2016.
My copies of Mythras include a sturdy hardcover. Only time will tell if it is as durable as other RPG manuals (ask me again in 2062), but there is no reason to think it is not. The cover is eye-catching, some of the internal art less so (in particular, there is an illustration on page 99 that I had to examine for a while to work out what was happening). Hyperlinked PDF editions are also available. Oddly, I found the PDF harder to read than the manual; contrast is lower in the PDF than in the hard copy.
Mythras shares with its Basic Roleplaying kin some essential details. There are no character classes; given the proper circumstances and training any character can try their hand at anything. Balancing this: characters are comparatively fragile, something from which experience will not liberate them. If high-level D&D characters are human-shaped slabs of dense teak, BRP characters are human-shaped assemblies of meat, bones, and internal organs that greatly resent having sharp metal objects thrust through them.
By necessity, Mythras’ potential scope is far more expansive than setting-specific Basic Roleplaying games such as RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. The designers have done their best to present a modular, flexible framework suitable for roleplaying games set in a diverse array of settings3. Flexibility comes with complexity. Gamemasters can finetune options that are open to players in order to suit the needs of the campaign. The catch is that gamemasters (and to lesser degree players) must spend a fair bit of time mastering the full rules before deciding which subset are in play4. The result will be worth the time spent.
Mythras is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), here (DriveThru), and here (Lulu). I did not find it at Book Depository. An abundance of free downloadable game aids can be found here.
A quick discussion of how the text is organized, plus a glossary of terms.
Character generation (CharGen) is split across a number of chapters. This chapter addresses initial elements such as characteristics, derived attributes (calculated from characteristic values), and the skills that are available to all characters.
People familiar with other Basic Roleplaying games will recognize old friends here. The basic attributes are BRP’s standard Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, Charisma, all fairly self-descriptive. All but Intelligence and Size can have values between 3 and 18, while Intelligence and Size have values between 8 and 18.
All characteristics, derived attributes, and skills are useful, but I suspect that the two that are most useful are action points (derived from dexterity and intelligence, dictating how often one can act in combat) and luck points (derived from Power, allowing one to avert misfortune in various ways). Supplies of both are limited.
Numerous examples of CharGen strategies are given; they would be even more useful they were not black print on a dark background.
Culture & community
This chapter addresses the cultural aspects of CharGen.
The text describes some cultures as “primitive.” I don’t like that at all (some small-scale cultures can be quite sophisticated in their use of available tech and in their adaptation to their environment) … but I’m happy enough with the rest of the game to give this a pass.
Characters have professions, which allows them to use the special skills and magics pertaining to those specific professions. Generally speaking, any particular skill can be picked up in a variety of professions, the exceptions being most of the magical skills.
Characters also gain bonus skills during CharGen.
One can obtain higher skill levels for characters by opting to begin play with older characters. There is, of course, a cost, which is that older characters don’t have the same physical and cognitive abilities. Well, except for immortal characters (see magic).
If this is anything like RuneQuest, a character who starts as a sixty-year-old will be much less skilled than a sixty-year-old who started out as an eighteen-year-old and got to sixty through game-years of game play. Of course, the odds of a Mythrascharacter surviving forty-two years of adventuring are pretty slim.
At the end of this, there is a handy visual aid and associated check list to ensure players have not neglected a step.
[image: handy visual aid]
Various percentile-based skill mechanics, all reasonably straight-forward, as well as skill definitions.
An important detail: base skill chances are generally either the sum of two characteristics or one characteristic doubled, which is to say, depending on values, the starting chance of a skill could be anywhere from 6% (if the relevant characteristics were both 3s) to 36% (if both were 18). While the players will have 350 skill points to add to the base chance, boosting skills one is already good at is more cost-effective. Of course, there’s roleplaying potential in the character who invested years of hard work to overcome poor aptitude.
Economics & equipment
Nothing says “white heat of adventure” quite like “economics.” This is a guideline to the economic challenges (from paying for food to paying rent) that player characters face.
A discussion of mechanics not already discussed, presented alphabetically. Rather counter-intuitively, this is where the rules for improving characters over time ended up.
As one would expect, this covers the combat rules. Combat outcomes generally range from dangerous to fatal.
A flourish I haven’t seen in any other game: extra degrees of success confer what the game calls “special effects,” which are advantageous outcomes in addition (or sometimes instead of) damage. Rolling to see how successful one was, then choosing the extra outcome seems causally reversed, as I am used to picking the effect wanted, then checking to see if the character pulled it off. I am assured that this approach works.
This is where action points come into play. Most characters have two action points: each lets them do one thing in combat. A few will have more. A few have one; they should consider pacifism. Additional action points confer disproportionate advantage. A simple example: if I can hack at you three times but you can parry only twice, that third blow will almost certainly succeed and win one or more special effects.
One can sometimes counter deplorable outcomes with luck points. Too bad that luck points are short supply, just like action points. Most characters will have two; a very few have three. Unlucky and presumably short-lived characters have one.
A general discussion of magic as it can be used in Mythras campaigns and settings. The options presented are quite extensive; GMs are free to select those that appeal to them. There are five kinds of magic, each of which gets its own chapter. Rather than being five ways of tackling the same thing, each has its own prerequisites and each lends itself to specific applications. If you would like to work miracles, consider theism. If you’d like to end up a faint voice in a jar screaming for death’s sweet release, then sorcery may be the career choice for you.
1: Folk Magic
Folk magic is weak and utilitarian, for which it compensates by being potentially ubiquitous.
Animism deals with wandering spirits and related phenomena. While more powerful than folk magic, animism often comes with social obligations (not to mention the common drawback that if you take an interest in spirits, spirits will take an interest in you).
Mystics search for inner truths; these truths can help them to amazing powers. The serene broom-pushing elder who takes time out from sweeping to hurl a fully-loaded wagon at a rude tourist is almost certainly a mystic of some sort.
Sorcery exploits impersonal cosmic forces.
Theists take their powers from gods. Like shamanism, theistic magic usually comes with social responsibilities.
Interestingly, while the single skill pertaining to Folk Magic can be acquired using bonus character points as well as all of the magical professions, the other four schools require possession of two skills for adepts to make full use of that style of magic. Possession of each pair can only be accomplished by selecting the appropriate profession, for which there is one per school. I’m still thinking about the possibilities of characters who picked as background skills one or the other of a pair of tied magical skills.
While all schools have a skill whose base chance is based on Power, not every magical skill draws on Power. Mysticism, Sorcery and Theism each have one skill entirely based on other characteristics. It’s quite possible to have characters who start off weak but skilled or comparatively powerful but inept, as long as they are not Folk Magicians or Animists.
For that matter, there is diverse choice in which non-Power characteristic figures into the relevant base skills. Are you impressively charismatic? Consider Folk Magic, Animism, or Theism. Terribly bright? Mysticism, Sorcery, or Theism may be your calling! Impressively robust? Animism and Mysticism welcome the unusually healthy!
(Strong people may consider the rewarding occupation of carrying heavy items for the party Folk Magician, Animist, Mystic, Theist, or Sorcerer.)
Cults & brotherhoods
Social organizations to which characters may belong. Cults tend to have theistic or at least magical elements, while brotherhoods can be purely mundane.
Yes, I too wish they’d picked a less gendered term than brotherhood.
In general, lone wolves tend to fail to prosper in BRP-derived games. Social connections are as necessary as personal achievements.
This offers a fair assortment of non-human beings, some of which can be used as player characters.
An innovation I have not seen elsewhere: animals can have instinctive cunning. Useful in cases where human-style intelligence isn’t appropriate.
Useful advice to would-be game masters.
This is an index.
Appendix: Play aids
Descriptions of and links to downloadable play aids. Mythras being as complex as it is, these play aids are very useful.
1: Full credits, minus play testers
Developed and written by Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker
Based on material originally created by Steve Perrin, Ray Turney, Warren James and Steve Henderson
Editing: Lisa Tyler and Brian Pivik
Proofreading: Ben Monroe and Lisa Tyler
Design and layout: The Design Mechanism
Artists: David Benzal, Simon Bray, Sarah Evans, Alex Ferreiro,
Eric Lofgren, Dan MacKinnon, Pascal Quidault, Sergio Sandoval,
Lee Smith, Antonio Vazquez
Cover by Pascal Quidault.
Rear cover illustration by Lee Smith.
Special thanks: John Hutchinson, Carol Johnson, Brian Pivik, Simon Bray, Bruce Mason, and all the members of, and contributors to The Design Mechanism forums
2: I can never remember every iteration of RuneQuest. I think it goes:
Runequest: Adventures in Glorantha
RuneQuest Slayers [2a]
Mongoose RuneQuest I
Mongoose RuneQuest II [2b]
The Design Mechanism
RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha
2a: Reworked into RuneSlayers.
2b: Reworked into Mongoose’s Legend.
2c: Reworked into The Design Mechanism’s Mythras.
3: While the focus is on fantasy settings, the core engine can and has been adapted to SF and other settings. Perhaps that’s why there is a single instance of the word ‘laser’ in the text.
4: I would like to play Mythras, but I don’t think I could actually run a game without encountering a personal stack overflow.