Review: Mythic

Posted: 5 June 2013 in Reviews

"And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules." – Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

In a Nutshell: Mythic can either be played as a stand-alone RPG or used as a GM emulator.

It’s a 146-page PDF (in my case) from Word Mill Press, written by Tom Pigeon. I’ve been using it on and off for a few years now, admittedly only in emulator mode. There’s a fairly active mailing list for it on Yahoo!, where people share thoughts and experiences of playing the game in various modes. Some use the GM emulator as an opponent for solo wargaming. Some retain the role of the GM and use it to emulate the players.


Before I start into that, it might help to understand that if you’re only interested in Mythic as a GM emulator, you only need chapters 1, 3, 6, 7 and possibly 8 as well; the rules of whatever other game you’re using will fill in the gaps. You can buy a version of Mythic which is just the emulator, if so inclined.

Introduction (2 pages)

The obligatory what-is-an-RPG explanation, definitions of terms used later, and how Mythic differs from more traditional RPGs, namely that it is completely improvisational rather than scripted. Moving on…

Chapter 1: Mythic Adventures (6 pages)

This begins by outlining the various ways to use Mythic: Group with GM, group without GM, solo. Any of those modes can use the built-in RPG, or another RPG of your choice. Mythic can also be used to write stories, although I’ve not tried that personally; in that mode, it’s essentially solo play without a GM.

Helpfully, this chapter explains the concepts of what Mythic does, and how, without getting down into the weeds of detailed rules. In short, as play proceeds, the players ask yes/no questions, and use logic and interpretation to decide what the answers are. Every so often, the Mythic rules will introduce a surprise element, so neither the players nor the GM can be sure what will happen until it actually does.

Like the various implementations of FATE, Mythic uses a ladder of "ranks" ranging from Miniscule to Superhuman, centred on Average; the key to this part of the rules is agreeing, and recording for later use, what "Average" means in each particular case.

More of all those later. Meanwhile, this chapter closes with a short example of play.

Chapter 2: Character Creation (12 pages)

You only need this if you want to use Mythic‘s own RPG rules. There are two main ways to create a character in Mythic; free-form and point-based.

The intriguing aspect of the free-form approach is that you start with the central character concept and dive straight into play, filling in further details as you go. Point-based character generation is more traditional in that characters are fully detailed from the beginning.

There are seven characteristics: Strength, Agility, Reflex, IQ, Intuition, Willpower and Toughness. However, one of the key facets of Mythic is that it is customised to an emergent game world which develops naturally during play, so this list is, as the Pirates of the Caribbean observed, not so much rules, more like guidelines. Characters also have abilities (skills or supernatural powers), strengths (called feats, advantages or edges in other games) and weaknesses (known in other rules sets as disadvantages, hindrances etc). A typical strength or weakness adjusts an ability’s rank under some circumstances, for example "Fear of Heights: Suffers a -2 to all rank shifts when performing tasks at an obvious height".

These are all rated on the "ladder" of ranks; in free-form generation, you choose whatever fits the character concept, in point-based generation you have a pool of points used to buy them, which means point-based PCs are all of roughly equal power to start with, and free-form ones might not be. Strengths and weaknesses are intended to be agreed by the GM and players for a specific game world, so there are only a few examples, and no definitive list of options.

I should also mention "hidden abilities". These are usually skills which aren’t on the character sheet, but which it is logical the PC should know. With GM approval, once a situation that would reveal a hidden ability occurs and it has been agreed that the PC ought to have it, the player can add it to his character sheet there and then, at whatever rank the GM deems appropriate. For example, if a suave and sophisticated PC finds himself discussing fine wines with the Big Bad, he can persuade the GM that someone of his breeding must know more than the average mook about wines, and add Wine Knowledge: Above Average to his sheet. Notice that the hidden ability might not have existed in the game at all prior to that point.

The chapter includes an example character (developed under both free-form and point-based rules), and hints at the usefulness of Favor Points, which are the local version of bennies, action points etc; characters gain them by progressing the storyline, and can spend them to adjust percentile dice rolls on the Fate Chart, which handily is the next chapter.

Chapter 3: The Fate Chart (12 pages)

This is the heart of the game system, and looks a bit like the Resistance Table in old-school RuneQuest. When you want to know something that the GM would normally have prepared, you ask a yes/no question and roll percentile dice. You then cross-reference two factors to identify the relevant cell on the chart, and compare the dice roll to the numbers in the cell to see what the outcome is – yes, no, exceptional yes, or exceptional no.

For example, characters exploring a dungeon might ask: "Does this room have stairs leading down?" Mythic calls this an "odds question" and compares the likelihood (agreed by the players) with the Chaos Factor (which starts at 5 and is modified by events during play). The GM (or the group as a whole) might decide the presence of stairs is unlikely, note the current Chaos Factor is 8, and roll a 37, which by cross-referencing on the table he would find answers the question with a "No". This is the only way you use the chart in emulator mode; if using the Mythic RPG, you also use it to answer questions like "Does my PC win the arm-wrestling contest?", in which case the two contestants’ Strengths would be compared to determine the outcome.

Odds questions are susceptible to cheating or power-gaming in two ways. The obvious one is that you can set a likelihood which favours the outcome you want. The less obvious one is that as the Chaos Factor increases, odds questions are more likely to be answered "Yes", so by phrasing your question carefully you can influence the outcome. Still, you can cheat in any game, if you really want to.

The way questions are phrased has an impact on both speed of play and level of detail. If you ask a series of specific questions, you can get a lot of detail, but it will take you longer to get there. A high-level "bundled" question gets a faster response from the rules, but tends to be less detailed. There are examples of this which explain it better than I can here, but the overall aim is to ask for the minimum level of detail you need to frame a logical answer to the question.

As written, the rules assume that the GM, or group as a whole, interpret what "yes" or "no" means for each question. You can start recording the answers, so that if the question comes up again you don’t have to figure it out on the fly; but I counsel against this in general, because it quickly becomes cumbersome. ("Where’s the chart for stairs in a dungeon chamber?")

Chapter 4: Task Resolution (6 pages)

This extends the Fate Chart chapter to look at tasks (e.g. fixing broken things) in more detail – what modifiers apply, for example. You won’t need this unless you’re using the Mythic RPG in full, but if you do need it, this is a case where it is worth recording details for future use on the handy forms provided – the effects of skills (sorry, abilities) need to be broadly consistent so players understand how good their characters are, and can make informed judgements on when to try things and when to walk away.

Chapter 5: Combat (16 pages)

For the most part, Combat is a further extension of the Fate Chart, building on the Task Resolution rules; combat is effectively a series of tasks to be resolved, and the bulk of this chapter is therefore special cases, modifiers and examples.

Where it gets a bit confusing for me is the lack of initiative. Instead of initiative, the players ask "Do I go next?" as a question, with the difficulty affected by their combat skills and those of their opponents. Yes means the player strikes first, no means the enemy does. Despite the examples, I couldn’t really get my head around how this would work in a many-on-many fight; and after a while I drove on, because I only use Mythic as an emulator, and therefore the answer doesn’t matter to me; but if I were using Mythic as an RPG, I would need to decide which player gets to ask the initiative question first…

For fights, we also need to understand damage. This is another Fate Chart question, with the attacker’s weapon damage opposed by the target’s Toughness (which may be boosted by armour). If the answer is "yes", the target suffers a wound, which by default imposes a -1 shift in rank for anything he tries to do afterwards; if the answer is "exceptional yes", the weapon does whatever it was intended to do, usually, kill the target. Damage therefore functions somewhat like wounding in Savage Worlds; no hit points, but a "death spiral" of steadily decreasing capability until a lucky shot kills you outright.

There are additional questions and rules to cover things like fighting on through the pain and recovering from stun, but you get the idea; everything is a roll on the Fate Chart. The chapter ends with a couple of detailed examples of combat.

Chapter 6: Randomness (8 pages)

So far, the rules have focused on deciding what happens by logic and interpretation – given the circumstances, what should happen? Where this fails is in generating surprise twists, and Mythic addresses that point by adding random events to the mix, in two ways.

Firstly, Mythic adventures occur in scenes (a D&D 3rd or 4th edition player would say "encounters"). Generally, at the end of a scene, the GM (or player group) decides what the next scene will be like; however, depending on the Chaos Factor, a random event may occur instead of the expected scene.

Secondly, whenever the Fate Chart is used, there is a chance of a random event; if you roll doubles, and the number is less than the current Chaos Factor, a random event pops up. For example, if the Chaos Factor is 5 and you roll 33, voila! Random event.

To resolve a random event, you roll percentile dice three times, and consult a table and two lists of words. One roll gives you the focus of the event, one the meaning’s action, and one the meaning’s subject, and you interpret them in light of the adventure’s context. Let’s say our dungeon crawlers trigger an event when they look for stairs; I roll a 13 for focus, a 23 for meaning: action, and a 39 for meaning: subject. This gives me a focus of "NPC action", and a meaning of "judge" (the action) "news" (the subject); I decide that there are no stairs, but there is a sarcophagus, within which an undead warrior sleeps. If the PCs open the sarcophagus (whaddya mean, if? These are PCs, of course they will) he will awaken and ask the PCs for news of a long-forgotten war, judging them according to their response, possibly attacking them.

Chapter 7: The Adventure (12 pages)

A Mythic adventure consists of scenes, like a movie; these may or may not be in chronological order. Scenes are resolved by asking questions of the Fate Chart until the main activity of the scene is completed, at which point the scene ends.

The adventure begins either with a deliberate premise created by the GM, or a random event if inspiration fails – remember, the goal of Mythic is zero preparation. At the end of each scene, the GM and players decide what the next scene should logically be; however, 1d10 is rolled, and if it is less than or equal to the Chaos Factor, the group gets either an Altered Scene (odd numbers) or an Interrupt (even numbers) instead.

  • Altered scenes are typically the second most likely scene, whatever the table thinks that is.
  • Interrupt scenes are random events which occur while the party is en route to the expected scene; they are resolved using the usual method.

Someone needs to keep track of the Chaos Factor (which begins the first scene at 5) and also maintaining lists of NPCs and plot threads. At the end of each scene, all of these are updated.

  • If the PCs are now more in control of the situation than before, the Chaos Factor drops by one. If they are less in control, it increases. It can stay the same.
  • If any new NPCs were identified by Fate Chart questions, they are added to the NPC list. They may be crossed off too, say if they are killed. (Each PC character sheet also has its own NPC list, where allies, rivals and contacts are recorded.)
  • Fate Chart questions may also identify a new plot thread, which is added to the plot thread list. Plot threads are crossed off if a scene resolved them. (Usually, the first scene will introduce at least one plot thread, in the form of whatever quest or mission the PCs are undertaking.)

Chapter 8: Game Master Emulation (6 pages)

This recapitulates how to run a game with no GM, but frankly, by this point in the book you have probably worked that out already. The recapitulation is supported by numerous examples.

Chapter 9: World Creation (4 pages)

One of the things you don’t need to prepare before a Mythic session is the setting. You can make it up on the fly using Fate Chart questions. After a brief exposition of this theory, the chapter provides a worked example of a fairly standard high fantasy setting.

Chapter 10: Character Advancement (8 pages)

Any aspect of a character may be improved, and you guessed it, that is handled by a Fate Chart question.The GM adjudicates when the opportunity to ask this question arises, typically either because the character did really well on an adventure, or spent some down time training. The bulk of this chapter is guidance on what opportunities are reasonable and what factors influence the dice roll.

This is also where the effects of aging are explained, which are also handled by the Fate Chart.

Chapter 11: Converting to Mythic (4 pages)

This doesn’t quite mean what you might think. Certainly it explains how you can convert things from other RPGs to Mythic, mainly by comparing aspects of each thing to the average for the system, but it also offers several other options; you can use Mythic to…

  • Replace the GM, or at least all his prep work for the session.
  • Fill in the gaps in the other RPG. No rules for shoe repair? Use the Fate Chart.
  • Keep things moving when you can’t find a rule. Not sure which chapter the shoe repair rules are in? Use the Fate Chart.

Chapter 12: Notes and Suggestions (4 pages)

This has Frequently Asked Questions (and their answers), tips for better play (largely expansions of topics covered earlier in the book),

The tip I found most useful was the two question rule: Instead of drilling down endlessly into detail, stop after the second question on any given topic and just roll with whatever seems most logical at that point. (Of course, many things will be resolved by a single question.)

Chapter 13: Extended Play Example (14 pages)

Exactly what it says on the tin. This ties everything together, showing how a GM and a single player create a setting, a PC and an adventure, and then work through the scenes of the adventure to a conclusion.

..and the book concludes with 22 pages of quick-reference sheets, forms, and example characters. Of these, I’ve found the most useful to be the Event Meanings and the Fate Chart; the Adventure Worksheet is also useful, but could be replaced with scratch paper.


The book is largely two-column black text on a white background, with occasional boxed text on a grey background. Simple, effective, gets the job done.

Like most RPGs, the book is peppered with art, both black and white and colour. It’s not to my liking, and none of it is especially relevant to the nearby text.


I’m not quite sure how you’d fix this, but I find some parts of the Fate Chart really hard to read. Aging eyes, no doubt.

Reconsider the artwork. In particular, try to link the pictures to the text nearby.

A detailed combat example for a many-on-many melee would be helpful, as I don’t understand how to resolve who goes first in that situation.

The things I most often forget in play are how random events and altered/interrupted scenes happen. It would be useful if they were mentioned on the Fate Chart, or possibly the Event Meanings page, in the quick reference sheets.


The intent of Mythic is that everyone comes to the table having prepared nothing, but that they then sit down and play as if everything had been prepared. This applies to character generation, adventuring, setting creation and everything else.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. The built-in RPG doesn’t appeal to me, but YMMV. The GM emulator is useful, and I use it sometimes; its biggest strength is that you really can turn up with nothing prepared, and run a satisfying adventure on the fly.

  1. Brass Jester says:

    I haven’t used the RPG, but I have used the emulator many times over the last year to run various solo Games (the last one was Stars Without Number and is posted on the SFRPG site, previously to that I ran Slipstream and posted it on Obsidian Portal under ‘Uncanny Worlds’. I like it a lot, I think one of the key elements is the random events and the altered/modified scenes. One thing I have found, as a solo player, is sometimes the Game stalls because I can’t think of the next logical question and can’t see where to go with it. Also, as a GM, I’m used to planning things in advance and I find it difficult to ‘let go’ and let the system do the talking.
    “Ah, so I’m being targeted by a Big Bad”. Immediately the GM in me is working out who the BB is and why he’s after the PC, instead of finding it out piecemeal via Mythic.
    Having said that, the SWN Game had a totally unexpected ending, one which threw me completely. It should be interesting to see how things work out in the next Game.

  2. andyslack says:

    I’d like to see the SWN game writeup, could I have a link please? (I can find the Obsidian Portal one, I’m sure.)

    • Brass Jester says:

      Sure. It’s I’ve just got the last session to write-up and post. Slipstream I’ll carry on with shortly, at the moment I’m fiddling around with Diaspora.

      • Brass Jester says:

        Hmm.. that link doesn’t seem to work. Try Googling sfrpg.discussion

      • andyslack says:

        Found it, thanks. Interesting use of the Mythic engine with other tools. I think it works better in combination with other things, maybe I am just not that good at posing the questions…

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