Questions about Mythender
The other day, Carl Congdon (spookyfanboy on Story-Games) emailed me with some questions about Mythender. There’s quite the thread on Story-Games about it, and both Chad Underkoffler & Remi Treuer have discussed their contact with Mythender some. But, Carl’s got some great questions about the game overall that I don’t think I’ve entirely addressed publicly. He shot me these three bits, so I’ll answer them one at a time.
To focus on the setting: Apparently it’s the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church is sending it’s agents out to whack pagan gods? How much does “the public” know? And most importantly, what do the Mythenders get for killing myths and legends? What’s the reward?
Yes, it is the Middle Ages – 800 to 1200 is the rough time period of Mythender – but it has nothing to do with the Catholic Church unless a particular character wants it to. The people who journey to the land stronghold of the mythic world, known as Mythic Norden, come from all walks of life – peasants looking for their father’s approval, princes looking to make a kingdom of their own, priests looking to bring the word of God, pagans looking to free their lands from the tyranny of myth. The thing they have in common is that the see something wrong with the mortal world as well, and have such a burning, intense desire to change it that they can tap into the very world of myth as well.
Mythender is very much a “how much of a monster will you become to end the monsters you loathe and change the world” sort of game.
As far as what the “public” knows, the entire game takes place in Mythic Norden. People know that trolls terrorize the land and that gods demand tribute. People live in fear and despair. But they also know about Mythenders and instantly recognize one on sight. Mythenders have too much raw power flowing through them to hide among the masses, or to disguise themselves as common travelers. So, everything is essentially known in the setting – it’s high fantasy in the real world rather than religious conspiracy action.
The reward for killing myths is the power to remake the mortal world. We touch on that quite a bit in the thread, but to sum it up for people reading here: if your burning desire is to make your homeland ever-fertile, or to bring your brothers back from the dead, or even change what it means to be human (such as by removing lust or treachery from the human heart), by killing grand gods and monsters are you given the opportunity to drain the very lifeblood from the mythic world and use that to force your own will on all mortality.
The goal is epic play, and I feel that the only way to truly handle epic play is to have player-defined rewards. People who walk around with the respect and nearly the power of mythic beings do not merely accept quests from anyone, not even a king or pope.
How does combat look? How do you avoid becoming a Legend yourself? How do you keep the game leaping from awesome to epic to over the edge? Does it start out small and human-scale and then balloon from there, or do you jump in right away to fighting the legends?
Combat, or what Mythender calls a “Labor,” is a comic & anime-influenced system that focuses on a single moment in the fight (or argument, or whatever people feel like having a labor over) and assumes that Mythenders (and, frankly, their foes) are always going to succeed in the small scale – if you swing your sword, it hits, you never flub. To fumble I think would hurt selling the experience as “epic.” It would probably be better to post up an example exchange to explain what I mean, but the goal is that it’s essentially a race to beat the other side in the large scale – you can hit the dragon ten times with your sword, or your army, or your inability to feel fear (which are all weapons in Mythender), but the only one that “matters” is the critical hit that send the beast reeling back.
That said, all those small-scale successes build up to being able to buy that large-scale success, and if you can get enough of those before the other side does, you’ll win the Labor. Thus, the model is to “out-succeed” the other side.
Luckily, Mythenders have each other, and can help out by handing each other various currency & use teamwork tactics to beat their foes to the ground.
To keep it from leaping over the edge, well, it does start off pretty hardcore. In one game, weaponized stigmata was able to hurt a sorcerous storm. But, the way the dice work as a pacing system and the way that small & large-scale success is narrated is, I think, a big part of what keeps it from diving off the edge into something that isn’t fun for people. Essentially, you either buy with the currency generated a large-scale success and get to declare how it happens, or you just have a small-scale success and the GM describes the impact.
It doesn’t start out small or human-scale. In my opinion, that’s what other games are for (and I say that honestly – I love D&D 4/e, and don’t want to simply retread that ground). Mythender is focused on epic, god-killing play. But, that isn’t to say that all you do is fight legends. (If you did, you’d probably become a Myth within the first couple sessions.) The scenes you have between labors allow you to recharge your various abilities & regain your mortality, by exploring the situation you’re in with the mortals of the land, discovering other elements of this adventure, and dealing with your dual-nature as a mortal and as someone touched by the mythic world.
And this is to me key to an “epic” game. Only part of that is “dude, I got to stab Odin in his good eye!” To sell the entire experience, you need to show that Mythenders are respected (beloved and feared) and are harbingers of change outside of fighting gods.
What does character creation look like? Is it like Spirit of the Century, where you tie the characters together via past battles? Is it like The Whispering Vault, where you start somewhere, get your marching orders, and go out to do battle?
Neither. It’s in some ways a bit more classic – characters can, to an extent, be made in a vacuum (though it’s usually better to not, in my opinion, for any game). There are three phases overall to it, with the first answering three questions about your character overall, to get a baseline – a high-level concept, a character reference, and an ultimate goal. If everyone’s on board with what they’ve come up with, then you come up with your various Heroic Traits (though we’re looking to rename those here at Mythender HQ, after seeing how received they were at Dreamation and how I’ve explained them), what actions or emotions refresh those traits, and the elements of your mythic nature – your power and how you begin to change from a mortal to a mythic being.
Once you have all that, then the last piece is to come up with why you’re traveling with each of these other characters. You talk with each other to come up with these, be it with camaraderie (“I am traveling with Frederick because he saved my life.”), competitive (“I am traveling with Hakim because I need to convert him.”), or treacherous (“I am traveling with Jean because I think she’s insane and will be the first of us to turn, and I will be the one to end her.”) You could have matching reasons, or you could have completely unrelated reasons for traveling with each other. (“Jean is traveling with me because she has a crush on me.” – Yeah, how’s that for tasty, tasty mismatched action?)
This ends up building the backstory, and it’s assumed in Mythender that the group has been travelling along enough to have built up this sense of unity, but it isn’t just narrative uselessness. When you make one of these the focus of a scene, you can refresh one of your Traits – so it pays to come up with stuff that you together can use and want to reincorporate in your game.
I suppose it would be analogous to doing characters in Spirit of the Century, if you stopped after you made your novel, did up your skills & stunts, and then did the Guest Starring phases only after that.
At that point, then we get into adventure creation. But that’s another post, as this one is wicked long. :)
Thank you for the questions, Carl! Hopefully, I’ve answered them to your satisfaction. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to follow up on, though I should warn you that some things might be a bit fuzzy, and I’m only now starting to write the full draft.