Mythic Mortals has been built from the ground up to be an interesting and flexible system for one-shots and convention games, because those are the kinds of games that I run.
Just a little background about me: I host a weekly Tabletop Group in my hometown of Charleston, SC. My group is special because it mostly consists of beginners. I have about 10-15 people who attend sporadically, only 3-4 of whom are RPG veterans.
This leads to a lot of simple games, and lots of one-shots. Since I don’t have a dedicated group, I either have to run a series of very loosely connected games, or simply a bunch of single, unconnected missions. I can’t count on anyone being there consistently. This significantly limits what rpgs and games I can run for my group.
While a lot of great systems can be adapted for one-shots, most rpgs are built for longer, more extended campaigns. Dungeon World is our go-to choice. It’s multiple choice character creation lets us jump into the action quickly, and the improv element of GMing Dungeon World means that I only need about 30 minutes to prepare for a 4 hour game. Other games we run include Lasers and Feelings, Numenera, and Wushu.
A lot of games can be used for isolated adventures, but almost none are designed from the ground up for that purpose. Dungeon World, for example, has some advancement moves that only happen through levelling up (which don’t apply for a one-shot game), and other games require several hours just to generate and create characters. When I run these games for a single 3 hour session, I’m missing out on a lot of the mechanics and systems that are a large part of the game.
From the beginning I’ve tried to create the perfect game for my group, and for others in a similar situation; those running a a convention game, people who have a bunch of newbies, or GMs who just want a one-time adventure. After all, I’m primarily going to be using it that way; so I may as well design around that limitation.
The first big hurdle for me was character creation. I spent a lot of time, and a lot of work to ensure that character creation was really fast and intuitive. In fact, I wanted it to be as simple as placing cards down in slots, with different combinations resulting in different characters.
In the middle of working on character creation, I had an idea: What if players can re-spec and re-create their character throughout the game? I fiddled with it a bit, and it quickly became obvious that this could actually be the focal point of the entire game.
Every few rounds, you completely build yourself anew, switching out weapons, powers, abilities, etc. Being a lazy designer, I tried to maximize this aspect, and the results is a game that is TERRIBLE for longer, more drawn out campaigns, but works very well for one-shots.
There are a few main reasons for this, some of which I didn’t realize until I was nearly done:
- Combinations rather than powers. Instead of choosing from a list of 40 different powers and abilities, players only have 16 weapons/abilities/powers; but can combine these options in mutiple ways. Each combination encourages a different style of play; and while they aren’t as interesting over the long term, in the short term they’re easier to grasp and jump into than an extensive spell list.
- Systems mastery is helpful, but not required. In the same vein as Dungeon World, I tried to create Mortals to be a game that is not very fun to master. There is strategy in your choices, and some combinations are way stronger than others; but since your switching out your cards so often, you can’t really hold onto a winning combination. The player who’s an expert in math and statistics won’t be much more effective than a player who’s randomly slotting down cards. This is on purpose, and would be VERY annoying over the long run; but on the short term, it keeps everyone on the same level.
- Limited Choices. Again, like Dungeon World, players only have so many options. They can’t choose their cards, only the order. On their turn, there are only 4 available actions, and only 3 available reactions. This is great for shorter games, because players can experience every option within a few hours. But in a longer game, things would grow stale.
In the end, due to a variety of reasons (both intended and unexpected) Mythic Mortals has grown into something that I’m very proud of. It does its job admirably, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fun pick up and play type of game.
In the future, I hope to expand some of the non-combat options, and maybe see if I can adapt or hack a version that works well for longer, more drawn out games.
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