Posted by : David Guyll April 10, 2015

Disclosure: I drew the cover for this game and am acquainted with the author. I also provided some criticism and feedback during the game's development, and am planning a supplement. I haven't actually played the game: this is more of an overall first impression.

Mythic Mortals is a short (weighing in at just over 20 pages), easy to learn, quick to play, action-oriented role-playing game from the mind of David Schirduan. It's also currently Pay What You Want, so really your only risk to giving it a shot is time.

The Concept
The game's backstory is that a long time ago, countless gods, spirits, and other powerful entities collectively referred to as the Ancients were weakening and dying. In order to prevent their deaths, they planted the seeds of their power in humanity and slept for thousands of years, giving time for mankind to multiply across the world.

They eventually awaken on modern day Earth so that they can reap what they have sown, and it's up to you, one of the few mortals with the ability to tap into this reservoir of god-like power, to stop them.

The Mechanics
While your ability to harness the power of the Ancients allows you to fight back, you don't have full control over it. How this works is you randomly draw cards from a standard deck of cards, and assign them to four different stats: Accuracy, Damage, Mythos, and Defense. The higher the number the better, and in the case of the numberless face cards the game assigns them values.

Usually when you want to do something (the sneak's Mythos tricks always hit), you roll 2d6 and try to roll under a card's number: if you want to attack, you have to roll under your Accuracy, and if you want to dodge you have to roll under your Defense.

The only difference is the Accuracy card: if you roll the exact number, you get a critical hit. Rolling a nat 12 is a critical failure, which means that there's a good chance your odds of a critical hit are going to be much better than a critical failure, but given you're playing with (godly) power I'm guessing that's by design.

In addition to the number the card's suit also matters. Not just the stat you assign it to, but your archetype as well. For example, sticking a card with the club suit into a brute's Defense allows you to grab, throw, or grapple anything slightly larger than a school bus, while putting a club card into a hunter's Defense grants you exploding ammunition.

When you take damage you discard cards from your deck, and if you don't have enough cards to fill in all the slots on your mat, you're out of the game unless someone revives you. To do this they spend 1 card from their deck to add three cards to yours.

Finally, don't get comfortable with your cards, because one way or another they're going to change: each time you do something the Stability Track progresses, and when it hits Overload (every four actions/reactions) you discard all of your cards, draw four new ones, and assign them on the spot.

Alternatively you can Vent. It eats up your turn, but two of the cards on your mat go back into your deck, so it can help save some cards.

The Characters
By default the game assumes you are playing yourself. I remember trying to do this with older role-playing games, which invariably resulted in players arguing about their stats, class, skills, and so on. Fortunately that won't be a problem in this game, because there are no stats and skills, and the abilities are randomly attained.

Obviously if you don't want to play yourself with god-like power there's nothing stopping you, and you don't have to change anything about the game to do so. Character creation is as easy as grabbing one of the playmats, assigning your cards, and playing.

There are currently four archetypes: the brute, hunter, brewer, and sneak. Each of them eats up a single side of a single page, and there are no levels or new abilities to buy. I think this is fine given that your abilities will constantly fluctuate throughout the game (see the bit above about Overloading and Venting), and each archetype has twelve abilities (your Damage slot instead gives you one of four Flaws).

There is a page on running an extended campaign, which includes a bit on dealing with non-combat obstacles, and a form of character advancement involving starting with a smaller deck, and gaining more cards over time. I think the ability to boost what the card suits do, and/or the ability to mitigate/remove flaws, would also be an interesting way to go.

The Bad
I like to end things on a high note, so lemme get the bad stuff out of the way (keeping in mind that I have no played the game, so what I'm about to say may not be a problem at all).

I'd like to see more headers and sidebars to help you navigate chunks of rules. There are some, but not enough for me. Terms are bolded, which helps, but I would have liked to have seen, for example, a header for Overload and Venting, movement and ranges, a sidebar for the rule on rounding numbers up, and so on.

In addition to a table of contents, I also think some of the mechanics could be organized and presented in a clearer, cleaner manner. Currently the rules start out by telling you to draw four cards and place one in your Accuracy stat, after which it tells you that you want to roll under the card's value. It then proceeds in this manner for the rest of the stats.

I think explaining the core mechanic, then the stats, then character generation would be a more intuitive way of going about it.

To be fair this is really only going to be an issue for first timers: once you've read and played the game, the next time you'll have a better handle on it. As it stands my recommendation is for the GM to read the full book, and then explain stats and the core mechanic to the players before they place any cards.

There are a couple parts where it says to fudge things in favor of the players (especially if you are just starting out an extended campaign). I think people will have a problem with this, especially if they are more of the "let the dice fall where they may" mentality.

Personally, I like to earn my victories: if I die, I die, and that makes the times that I do win all the more meaningful. That said, I think this would be an excellent area for people to playtest and provide feedback on: if the characters routinely require DM fudging to survive against mooks then, in a game where characters are mortals with god-like power, I don't think it's working as intended.

The Good
This game has a strong focus on combat, which isn't a bad thing. I love a game that knows what it wants to be and embraces it, instead of trying to please everyone, provide rules for social role-playing because that's the "right" way to play, or stretch in directions that it shouldn't bother with (like Dungeons & Dragons and, say, horror).

I also like that it uses its own, unique system. I know that having to learn a new system, however simple, will potentially turn people off, especially when it comes to system diehards. There seems to be an abundance of clones and hacks of existing games and systems (of, well, dubious quality), so it's refreshing to see someone take the time to develop mechanics that they need, instead of settling on what's popular.

Most monsters are insanely simple, having only three stats (Base Damage, Mythos, and HP) and a short list of moves (like unleash a foul, sticky liquid on the player, taking them out of the fight for a round). This is good, because you're usually going to throw a lot of them at the players. I think, as a simple tweak, I would consider "mob" rules, so that instead of having to roll to Defend numerous times, you can just roll once.

"Boss" monsters are a bit more complex, having multiple "phases". This is something I first saw in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, mostly with solo monsters, but frankly it wasn't utilized enough (and in many cases well enough). I think this is a great idea for keeping the players on their toes, because you can't just fight it, learn what it can do, and reliably go through the motions until you win.

Take the shell dragon: it starts out dealing decent damage (8), acts three times per round, and has a pretty beefy 20 hit points. Once you beat it down, it grows wings and tries to escape. In this phase its damage is reduced (only 5), it doesn't act as often, and has less hit points. Once you knock it out of the sky shit hits the fan: 10 damage, three actions (again, though one of its actions allows it to hit 2-3 characters at once), and a whopping thirty hit points.

There's a bunch of advice on running a game, from rethinking combat, giving the characters something to fight for, creating powerful and changing enemies, creating your own adventures, and so on. Some of it you might agree with, some of it you won't, but it all boils down to how you like to play/run your games and doesn't really change the mechanics.

Finally, there are several example adventures, making it incredibly quick to make a character and just get playing. With the minimal rules and setup time, I think this would make for an excellent convention game, maybe even something you could run during a lunch break (Mythic Meal Time?).

Conclusion
If you like action-oriented games, I'd take advantage of its Pay What You Want status to take it for a spin, and then let David know what you like and hate about it. It's clear this wasn't crapped out as a cash grab, or so that he could label himself a game designer.

So let him know what works and what doesn't. Be constructive. If you like it, tell him why. If you don't, tell him why. Don't just say, "I hate it", and definitely don't just look at it and conclude that it sucks: give it a legitimate shot.

Oh, and if you enjoy the game don't forget to go back and throw some cash his way (Drivethru allows you to do that, even if you initially pay nothing).

Also, David encourages anyone and everyone to make their own content, so long as you merely credit him (hence the Atlantis supplement that I'll be working on). No bullshit licenses or anything else like that. Some things that I'd like to see are rules for essentially carving out, managing, and protecting your own dominion from the Ancients.

I'd also like to see an implied setting, set many years in the future, in which humanity desperately tries to keep the minions of the Ancients in check. Maybe something like Rifts, just without the horrible, often contradictory mechanics and hundreds of races, classes, and books packed with guns and armor.

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