Mythras is the newest/current fantasy RPG from The Design Mechanism, written by Pete Nash, Lawrence Whitaker, and friends. Formerly RuneQuest 6 (and building on Pete’s and Lawrence’s work for Mongoose RuneQuest II), Mythras is now finally a stand-alone fantasy RPG, free from licensing issues. With an improved layout and RQ-specific material taken out, the page-count for Mythras has gone down quite a bit, and that’s reflected in a nearly-$20 savings when purchasing the hardcover (and ordering the hardcover from TDM includes the PDF!).
The hardcover is a solid, high-quality volume, with a matte cover with the amazing image shown above. The hardback’s binding allows for easy reading which I greatly appreciate. The improved layout for Mythras removes the spaces on the side, so more text is put on each page. The print is fairly easy to read, but for me it is bordering on being almost too small. The artwork is incredible, and while it still shows a Roman/Greek-bias it still encourages the reader to create a fantasy world of their own, with or without any realistic historical base.
In this very short chapter (7 pages), the game goes over the essentials for creating a character, with most of the remaining chapters providing details. A character sheet will be filled out, using a pencil and eraser, as many values will be calculated and will change not just during character creation but over the course of each gaming session.
This chapter also starts via a side-bar Anathaym’s Saga, an example character that goes through all the steps of character creation. This is a very clever and easy-to-understand method, and I really wish all RPG rule-books used this!
As this game doesn’t rely on character classes, you can go ahead and start thinking about what kind of character you’d like to play in general terms. While the game recommends starting with a human character and will likely be the most common race in games, almost anything from the Creatures chapter can actually be played, although some lend themselves better than others, and additional options are provided for those specific creatures/races.
The first thing to roll for is for the seven characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. The book gives a nice short explanation of each one. The number of dice rolled for each characteristic depends on the chosen/intended race; for humans it is 3d6 for the first five and 2d6+6 for the remaining two. Other creatures/races will have their dice listed. You can also be allowed to assign rolled scores to each characteristic that uses that die size/range, or start with a preset pool of points and assign them to each characteristic as you see fit.
Along with the seven characteristic scores there are also ten attributes: action points, damage modifier, experience modifier, healing rate, height and weight, hit points, initiative bonus, luck points, magic points, and movement rate. All of these attributes each depend on certain characteristic values, and the book explains which ones and why.
After attributes each character has a set of standard skills (too many to list here). Each skill is calculated by either the sum of two characteristics or double the value of a single one; the values will also be effected by a character’s culture and profession.
Lastly, this chapter mention combat styles, a standard skill that’s actually an “umbrella skill” covering multiple techniques. Similarly to their effects on standard skills, the combat styles are determined by a character’s culture and profession.
Culture & Community
In this chapter we cover the next part of a character’s background. Culture cover’s a character’s surroundings and the society she grew up in, while community cover’s a character’s immediate and extended families.
A culture will affect the character’s standard skills, as well as introduce new professional skills. Humans have four basic cultures: barbarian, civilised, nomadic, and primitive. The rules don’t state what if any cultures are available for non-elf races. Another optional rule introduced before moving on to community is background events, things that happened in a character’s past, both good and bad. I think it adds more role-playing potential and will definitely utilize it.
Community relates to the character’s family, contacts, background events, and passion. In this section you’ll fill out your character’s social class, starting money, families, allies/contacts/rival/enemies, and passions.
After this section you should have a much clearer view of your character’s background and history. Overall I like everything that’s offered, though I wish more of it wasn’t so focused on the assumption of a human character. Also, some of the organization could be better; one example is things mentioned in the culture part, rules presented in the community section, but depends on culture. Whaaaa?
In this chapter we cover the final piece of the character’s background information, before getting into the “nitty gritty” of skills, combat, and other game rules.
While this game, like other D100 RPGs, doesn’t use character classes, it does use the concept of careers. By choosing a career, the player has a few additional standard and professional skills, as well as providing a little more detail on how the character has spent their time and what they actually do in life. There’s twenty-four to choose from, so hopefully at least one will either come close to what the player already has in mind, or will pique the player’s interest to try something new and unique. Of course the player and GM are welcome to create a custom career if desired.
This section also covers determining the character’s starting age, bonus skill points, and starting equipment. It also gives a brief description of the five (!) types of magic possibly available, as well as the character’s possible membership in a cult/brotherhood. These are covered in far more detail in later chapters.
In this chapter, if it wasn’t obvious, we see all standard and professional skills listed and detailed. I just assumed as a “heavier” D100 RPG there would be a whole lot of them, but overall the number of skills isn’t too bad. We also learn when to roll against a skill, as well as modifying a skill roll. After the listed skills are a few more rules, including re-attempting a skill roll, augmenting a skill, capping a skill, contested rolls, and group rolls. Again, the organization could be cleaned up a bit, as there’s no reason all of these rules could come at the beginning, and then all the skills listed.
Economics & Equipment
Having a fleshed-out character is nice, but you can’t do anything without some nice gear! In this chapter the rules go over income, bartering and haggling, culture/milieu, manufacturing, and enhancements. Between all of those rules are tables with prices and stats for amour, accommodations, clothing, food, livestock, tools, weapons (melee, ranged, and siege), shields, and vehicles. Some of these tables aren’t very large, and are obviously only meant as starting points for a creative GM and players to come up with their own custom creations that will suit their world.
This chapter, along with Combat, make up the bulk of the rules for the game. True, there’s plenty related to character creation and skills, but in this chapter are the many rules the GM will at least need to know where to look for situations that arise during the game. On the first page of this chapter it does include a list of what all is covered, so this is certainly a handy item to copy down for reference or even for a Mythras GM screen (I would include page numbers as well): acid, action/time/movement, ageing, asphyxiation/drowning/suffocation, blood loss, character improvement, disease/poison, encumbrance, falling, fatigue, fires, healing, inanimate objects, luck points, passions, survival, traps, visibility, and weather. Each section is fairly short, so a GM doesn’t have any excuse to be at least somewhat familiar with all of these.
Here we come to the meat of the game, and what some consider the most complex part of this D100 RPG, as it follows in the tradition of RuneQuest rather than the simplified systems of Call of Cthulhu, OpenQuest, and Magic World. In this system, each creature doesn’t just have one number representing their health; using a system called Hit Locations, a successful hit will hit either a specific or random part, possibly causing serious damage or even loss of limb depending on the damage dealt.
This chapter covers quite a number of items, including: combat styles, combat rounds, special effects, close combat, ranged combat, and hit locations. There’s a lot to take in, especially for those new to D100 RPGs or RPGs in general. If a GM or player is having a difficult time grasping the basics, I would recommend starting first with Mythras Imperative or even OpenQuest Basic; both are free and will get someone comfortable with how a D100 RPG operates, knowing that coming back to Mythras will have a few differences (esp. coming from OpenQuest Basic) as well as some additional rules.
Not only for the first few sessions but overall, combat in Mythras shouldn’t occur too often; both because it can be quite deadly (but as noted in the rules it doesn’t have to end in death) and because in contrast to D20/OSR RPGs characters don’t have experience points nor levels, and fighting and killing creatures and other adversaries don’t grant the characters any immediate advancement or advantages.
This chapter introduces an oft-misunderstood aspect of Mythras: its magic systems (called Disciplines). Looking through this and the following five chapters, it’s easy to assume that it’s a huge part of the game, even though there is a lot to learn. But as noted in the opening remarks of this chapter, all five disciplines are optional! As a GM and/or group, you can decide which, if any, fit into your game and world. You may already have something different and unique in mind, and can use that in addition to or instead of what’s offered here.
This chapter introduces the five disciplines, as well as discussing magical traditions, abilities, casting times, magical energy, and characters and using magic.
Folk magic is the “lowest” form of magic, available to those without years (let alone a lifetime) of study. It can aid common everyday tasks, or be utilized by a wild witch hiding from those who would harm her without question. Many of the available spells would be extremely handy to have by any player, and as a GM I would need a really good reason to not allow them in my game.
Animism is the magic derived from communication with spirits and their realm. Instead of spells, a player will have two skills, trance and binding, which allow the player to have awareness of the spirit realm as well as control them. There are a wide variety of spirits to choose from, and of course the player and/or GM is welcome to modify or create new ones.
Mysticism is the summoning and flexing of great personal strength and conviction, allowing feats of abilities far greater than peers. To realize this, the player will develop two skills, meditation and mysticism. Using these skills a variety of talents are available for use, allowing the player to augment skills, invoke traits, and enhance attributes.
Sorcery is the closest to the classic magical system found in D&D and other D20 fantasy RPGs. Using the skills of invocation and shaping, a player can learn and invoke a variety of spells.
Last but not least we have Theism, the magic that involves the belief and worship of godlike beings, similar to the Cleric class in D&D/OSR RPGs. This magic involves the skills of devotion and exhort, and instead of spells the invocation are called miracles. This magic can also involve cults, covered in the next chapter. I think this type of magic, along with deities and religion, can add a wonderful flavor to a gaming world, but it’s one I would be sure to use sparingly.
Cults & Brotherhoods
A major feature of RuneQuest and now Mythras has been cults, for whatever reason. I understand they’re prominent in some Appendix N literature, but for me personally they aren’t a major factor. That’s not to say I would never use them, but in my games and worlds I don’t envision their use. Besides their more obvious religious aspect, worshiping a true or made-up deity or other leader, cults also factor in some magical learning and applications.
What does interest me more is the notion of brother- and sisterhoods. These secret groups and societies don’t emphasize religion and/or magic, and in my view that’s far more appealing. These can be utilized very creatively within a large city or other politically-involved games, and even outside of Mythras the information can be very handy for other RPGs. Even outside of a civilized area it could still be possible to meet a member, sparking either a player’s interests and/or can involve the current or a possible future story-line.
This chapter goes over the rules for creating cults and brotherhoods and their heirarchies, and also lists some of the possible benefits to joining them: training, protection, material aid, social status, magic, gifts, and divine intervention.
Mythras offers a decent selectoin of creatures, but it’s quite a bit slimmer than what you’d find in 1E and other similar OSR RPGs. Of course, since combat and kills in Mythras doesn’t yield much in the way of character advancement, a large roster of creatures isn’t quite as necessary. It also wouldn’t be too hard to bring in creatures from other RPGs, though you’ll need to think up relative skill values and hit locations.
Before getting to that list of creatures, there is about 10 pages of rules and other explanations, much of it looking off-hand like it could’ve been put into the Combat chapter. Looking at the creatures themselves, each stat-block is larger than in many other D100 and OSR RPGs, but a large portion of that is due to the hit locations, and on some creatures that list can be quite long and overly specific. If converting an OSR creature or creating my own, I would try to keep this list fairly short.
As mentioned in the Characters chapter, almost any of the creatures can be used by a player who doesn’t wish to play a human. It may only recommend obvious choices like the dwarf and elf, but here are the ones I would consider and encourage to players depending on the GM’s game: centaur, minotaur, and panothaur.
In the final chapter of Mythras, we have some information and advice for running a Mythras game. Like the rest of the book and rules, it isn’t very detailed nor heavy-handed, because it doesn’t need to be. It’s the right amount that both a new-comer to RPGs and veterans of RuneQuest and other D100 RPGs can get a nice refresher and ready to run these rules.
It’s hard for me to be biased, as I’m a huge fan of D100 thanks to Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green. Many other D100 fantasy RPGs have come and gone, with Chaosium recently giving Magic World the axe; they are now working on a new version of RuneQuest. D101’s OpenQuest is a serious contender, and with no hit locations and fewer magic systems it’s a bit simpler to get into than Mythras. The Design Mechanism also offers Classic Fantasy, an add-on for Mythras to allow for classic OSR-styled gaming; but that’s almost double the pages of rules, and if I wanted an OSR game then I’ll just use an OSR rule-set. Overall I think Mythras, and D100 in general, allows for a more flexible game without the use of classes, etc. If you wanted to play a game set in The Elder Scrolls universe, then this would be perfect!
I’m glad that Pete and Lawrence now have their own game free from any licensing, and I have to wonder why they didn’t just do that to beginwith. With the move away from the RuneQuest name The Design Mechanism is also starting to provide material for other genres. If you’d like to test-drive the rules to see if a D100 RPG works for you, check out the free Mythras Imperative game.