What I Would Change about Mythender Today

a.k.a. Sometimes Let’s Lift the Curtain on Design Intent

I’ve been thinking off and on over the past year about what I would do differently if I were writing Mythender now. I’m still pretty proud of how the system works, regardless of what others think about its massive dice requirement. What I’m proudest of includes the game book as a teaching and reference artifact, as well as the character sheet as user interface the reminds you what the various components are and do, but I’m especially proud of the system as cooperative psychological manipulation.

Wil Wheaton wrote about that effect when I ran the Santaender game for him and some other friends.

What I would change about Mythender today: I would make those tricks I use obvious and stated.

When I was writing the text in 2012, I was of the mindset that I shouldn’t tip my hand regarding the co-op psychological tricks—namely, that I’m using dozens of dice to trick your lizard-brain into interpreting the story we’re telling into a visceral, more immediate experience. In Mythender, you gain dice as you act and lose dice when you’re hit, so not only do you feel being hit, you also have elation or dread when you see the GM’s (or Mythmaster’s) pool shrink or grow. It works every time, and it’s great, but I never tell you that’s why the game demands so much in the material component range.

At least, I don’t enough. That’s the first and biggest thing I would change: I would explain the point. I was afraid that by stating the trick, the illusion would be shattered. But what I’ve discovered—and feel like I should have known the whole time—that by being a lizard-brain trick, it’s only shattered if someone tries to consciously fight against it. If that’s the case, eh, the game wouldn’t work anyway. But if I explain why there’s this need, more people are likely to buy into the concept because there’s a stated point beyond “Ryan loves the shit outta dice.”

Likewise, the rhythm of a Mythender adventure is designed to be a subtle (or non-subtle) morality play. The fact that you start with an epic battle and then interact with mortals is intentional. If you started with mortals first, it’s too easy to default to empathizing with them and believing you’re fighting for them. By making the fight first, you have to consciously chose how that action relates to your relationship with mortals.

This is super non-trivial, so where the one time I got to play Mythender instead of running it, I was determined to be the nice Mythender doing things for the common good. The Mythmaster, Kit La Touche, pushed a couple buttons that make me… not exactly go Dark Side, but believe I was terrorizing mortals for their own good. After that scene, I may have cussed him out, but damn that was an illuminating experience—even though I knew my own trick, I was susceptible to it. Kit knew that was the trick as well, so he was able to work with the game’s psychology rather than stumble alongside it.

I don’t know exactly where I would put those bits. I suspect I would put the bits about the dice in the front of the book, when I talk about the dice. Looking that section right now, I suspect the book would get another spread, as there’s not enough room to talk about that subject on that page. The bit about the adventure rhythm is probably something for the Mythmaster chapter, mainly so that isn’t not a distraction while referencing the adventure section. It’s easy enough to include a forward reference to the Mythmaster chapter, and I state that there are no player-verboten secrets in that chapter.

I hold onto these lessons in everything I make today. There are things that sometimes I wish we explained a little more in Fate Core, though the idea of explaining every design decision (which some have asked for) in the book itself is pretty stupid and would make the book worth less as a reference text. There’s a balancing act in figuring out what should be elaborated upon, what you want people to just trust at face value, and where elaborations should live in the larger work.


Addendum: The comments on the G+ thread for this post are pretty awesome and eye-opening.


2 Responses to What I Would Change about Mythender Today

  1. Kit says:

    Addendum: I knew that trick because when I ran Mythender for the first time, I started with contact with mortals before going into a battle, and you, having seen the game, explained the trick to me.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      I took a lot of other things like that as evidence to change directions. Just didn’t there. Ah well.