The Evolution of Mythic Mortals

Mythic Mortals has had a long and difficult road from where it started to where it is now. Join me on a retrospective adventure!

This is more of a highlight reel, rather than an exhaustive breakdown. If you haven’t read the Zero-Prep Packet, I highly recommend you skim it. I reference a lot of the rules of this game, and it won’t make sense unless you know how to play the current version.

The Idea

776ce6905fd679ad14bf42fc4d2d8874_originalBelieve it or not, my plans for Mythic Mortals were all inspired by this image. I still haven’t read the rules for Project Dark, but this image and some of the details from the Kickstarter pitch really planted the idea of a card-based RPG in my mind.




The concept of creating your character from cards was really exciting for me. I latched on to this concept, and wanted to see if I could do anything with it. Over the next few weeks I was up late jotting down ideas and just tossing concepts around in my brain. Eventually, I had a solid idea and sat down to refine it.

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Prototype – Jan. 2014

The first few versions had a LOT of slots. 7-8 for each player mat. There were some for main stats, some that modified abilities, and some that activated weapons/artifacts. The idea is that players could fill the slots with cards from their hand, and they could also play cards for more direct affects.

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Cards could be replaced, but they never had to change. The thinking was that when a player found a better card, they could play it for a big attack, or place it on their Mat to make themselves more reliably stronger.

This idea quickly got out of hand. As I worked on it more and more, it ended up just looking like a Dungeon World playbook, but cards determined your abilities instead of dice. Frustrated, I threw it away and worked on Welcome Minions instead (which uses cards in a more free-form story-telling way).

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First Version – November 2014

After a few months, I wanted to make a more crunchy RPG system of my own, and I pulled out my old notes. I tried it from another angle, focusing on placing cards rather than playing them. Soon I had something playable, and I dragged some of my friends into a game. It looked similar to Mythic Mortals as you know it, but it played very differently:


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  • Players had a hand of cards that they could play to activate artifacts, use powers, and place in slots. There were rules about how many cards you could have, and when you drew those cards. One of the key ideas was that players had to play their crappy cards, or else they would just take up space in their hands. In practice, players just hoarded their cards, and avoided the low ones at all cost.
  • Cards were only used once. After you made a roll using a card, you discarded that card and replaced it with one from your hand. Games went by REALLY fast, and players got frustrated that their high cards could only be used once.
  • There were 4 Slots with 4 options in each slot. However the order of the cards didn’t matter. Abilities were unlocked by the number of suits, not the order. For example, if you have one heart on your Mat, then you had a fireball. Two hearts gave you a fireblast, 3 was a wave of fire, and so one. Players really only had 4 abilities that got stronger and weaker as their cards switched out.
  • There was another sheet of paper with artifacts. These were the only permanent things that players could unlock, and different cards unlocked different items/equipment. In practice they just drained cards from the players, and were either too strong to ignore, or not useful enough to spend the cards on.

This version was fun to play, but had a lot of awkward rules. It was too shifty, players never felt like they had control over their characters. When they finally got 4 hearts on their Mat, they’d have to dodge an attack, use up that card, and lose their cool ability before they were able to use it.

I needed to make something a bit more stable, and simpler.

Second Version – Feb. 2015

The second version was more similar to the current version.

  • I scrapped the way that abilities were selected. Now the order matters, and works just like Mythic Mortals works today.
  • No more artifacts
  • Cards can be used indefinitely. Things don’t shift until you want them to.
  • Players can spend their turn discarding their Mat and drawing new cards. The intention was that players could wait until they find a build they like, and then lock it down. They were never forces to change their cards.

But this presented a huge problem:

First, players would just change out their cards until they got mostly high cards, and then lock those in for the rest of the game. While this doesn’t sound too bad, it wasn’t very interesting or fun. Players might want to try out a different combination of suits, but their cards are just too high value to risk changing.

Another problem was that the game was frustrating until you got a bunch of good cards, and then boring after that. The mechanics just weren’t deep or interesting enough to support a 3 hour game once the cards were nailed down.

I needed something to encourage players to change cards, but didn’t force them to change too often.

Third Version – April 2015


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The Stability Track was a huge breakthrough for Mythic Mortals. I finally had a simple, visible, and flexible system for changing out cards. Players knew how long they had their cards for, and what their options were. When the track reaches the end, your cards switch out, simple as that.

I added Venting to let player’s switch early; it’s not fun to suffer through a crappy hand. Making Venting a better option than Overloading also encouraged players to maybe switch out early, even if they have a really good set of cards.

Blocking was a viable alternative to Dodging, to keep the Defense slot from being the most important Slot. More info here.

I re-wrote a bunch of abilities and rules to make the Stability Track fit into the game. It took quite a few tweaks to make sure the Track wasn’t an awkward add-on.

Flaws were the last thing I added before the final version, adding a lot more variety and fun to the moment to moment gameplay. Flaws are still my favorite things to write and design.


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Mythic Mortals Complete!

At this point Mythic Mortals was basically done! All the rules were ready, Mats were playtested, and I had a lot of positive feedback from playtesters.