I saw an ad for Mythic a little while back, and it sounded fascinating. It’s both a standalone RPG and a supplement for other games, designed to allow you to create and run adventures with zero prep — and you can play it without a GM. I was intrigued, so I asked Word Mill Publishing to send me a review copy, which they were kind enough to do.
In a nutshell, Mythic delivers on its promise: It’s not perfect, but with or without a GM, Mythic gives you a nifty framework for near-zero-prep roleplaying.
Layout and Organization
Mythic has a clean, clutter-free layout that flows well onscreen. It does a great job of leading you from the introductory concepts into the meat of the system, and the writing is clear and conversational.
Unfortunately, Mythic isn’t bookmarked — the PDF equivalent of not having an index, only worse. With a print product, you can just flip through it until you find what you’re after, even without an index.
With a 145-page PDF, though, scrolling around takes a lot longer — this is a big downside for me. (Oddly, Mythic actually has an index, which would be a nice bonus in a PDF if it was also bookmarked.)
Mythic has a great concept: You sit down with your friends, spend a few minutes brainstorming — and then jump right into playing. No prep, no bookkeeping and no hassles.
And if you like, you can do this without a GM — or without using Mythic‘s house system, as the concept can be ported to any other RPG with a bit of head-scratching. (We’ll get to both of those elements a bit later on.)
Back to the concept — zero-prep gaming. How does Mythic pull this off? With four building blocks: The fate chart, yes/no questions, logic and interpretation.
The fate chart is a large grid with acting ranks along the side and difficulty ranks along the bottom. When you want to do something — climb a wall, let’s say — you match your acting rank (in this case, your climbing skill) against the wall’s difficulty rank (how tricky it is to climb) and find the number at the intersection.
Then you roll percentile dice and see if you succeeded. In Mythic, a success means your question gets a “yes” answer — as in, “Yes, you climbed the wall.”
That’s true whether the question was “Can I climb that wall” or “Is the door guarded?” Even a big question like “Is there a castle at the top of the hill?” gets answered the same way — the GM (or, if you’re playing without a GM, the group as a whole) assigns a difficulty, and you roll on the fate chart.
In other words, Mythic‘s core element — the fate chart — is both a unified resolution mechanic (in that every task in the game, from skill checks to combat to social interactions, can be resolved using the chart), it’s also the engine that drives the structure of your adventures.
Instead of having an adventure written up that specifies what happens next (to a greater or lesser degree), what kinds of questions the players ask, and how they are answered, moves the game forward.
That’s where the improv element that is so central to Mythic comes in, and the game provides lots of guidance about how to phrase questions, how to deal with bundles of questions (multiple actions) and other situations that might crop up.
Logic and interpretation factor in pretty much how you’d expect them to: The more logical the questions, the better the fate chart works; and sometimes, as in any RPG, there will be room for intepretation. Mythic wouldn’t be a good choice if your group is inclined to look for every loophole in the rules, but with like-minded players it sounds like a lot of fun.
If you like, you can play Mythic without a GM — any time a ruling is needed, the players just come to a consensus. The fate chart takes a lot of the guesswork out of it, and the end result is likely to be closer to collaborative storytelling than traditional roleplaying.
Alongside the conceptual engine are rules for character creation, combat, damage and character advancement, as well as lots of guidelines, examples and worksheets.
Character creation is pretty straightforward, and involves rating strengths and weaknesses with intuitive terms like “average” and “exceptional.” As you’d expect with an improvisational RPG, characters are pretty loosely-sketched.
Combat involves the same yes/no question mechanics as the rest of Mythic, but filtered through resolution tables. The resolution tables each feature a yes/no question and a set of outcomes — yes, no, exceptional yes, exceptional no — along with modifiers and other info.
Along with its many examples of play, and of resolving different situations, these resolution tables are one area where Mythic really shines. At every step along the way, the game provides plenty of support — handholding at first, to get you acquainted with its freeform nature, and then more and more specific the deeper you go. This works very well.
There’s a solid section on running adventures, including guidelines for setting the scene, using lists to keep track of open threads (which sounds like a good idea in an improv-driven game!) and so forth.
This is followed by a chapter on GM emulation (playing Mythic without a GM), a short section on using Mythic as a worldbuilding tool and a chapter on converting Mythic for use with other RPGs. That process — conversion — looks pretty straightforward, and guidelines are provided for dot-based ratings (White Wolf), percentile skills (Call of Cthulhu, others), attributes on the 3d6 scale (D&D, among others), etc.
The final section includes a huge extended example that covers a lot of ground — everything from setting up the adventure to resolving new elements as they come up, plus a lengthy combat.
I really dig the concept behind Mythic — it’s unique and well-presented, and it sounds like it’d be a blast to play.
I’m also a huge fan of examples of play, which Mythic provides in spades — there’s an example for everything. Guidelines and other support material build on these examples, too, and you can tell that they were written based on actual play. That makes a huge difference in their effectiveness.
My biggest complaint about Mythic is the lack of bookmarks, which makes it a chore to flip through onscreen. There are also a handful of typos, but not so many as to be distracting.
Mythic has distractingly bad art throughout — mostly a mix of big-breasted nymphs bathing in PhotoShop textures and B&W line drawings of misshapen creatures, neither of which have anything to do with the game (as far as I can see).
From a GM’s Perspective
I’m not fond of prep, so as a GM I find the idea of being able to just sit down and play — with no upfront work — very appealing. I’ve never seen this concept tackled in quite this way before — nor in this much detail — and Mythic does a solid job of making it accessible.
It also strikes me that Mythic would be a good way to build up your improvisational skills as a GM, especially because it provides so much support and so many examples of how things can go. I love to improvise, and I can see getting a lot of mileage out of a system that wraps improv in a solid framework.
Should I Buy It?
Whether or not to buy Mythic boils down to one thing: Do you like the concept?
If the idea of using yes/no questions to structure and then play out freeform adventures sounds good, then for $7.95 it’s well worth a look. You get a lot more than just the concept, and being able to graft the core elements of Mythic onto the RPG of your choice is also a very nice feature.
On the other hand, if improv makes you cringe, or if you prefer RPGs that offer a wealth of tactical options, ways to customize characters and other details, Mythic probably isn’t the game for you. Your group will also be a big deciding factor — the core concept just isn’t going to appeal to some folks, making Mythic a bit more of a tough sell than, say, d20 or the Storytelling System.
Did you find this review useful? I hope so — and if you have questions about Mythic, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments.