The King is Dead

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mythos: The Review (by way of apologizing for screwing up the contest)


It's kind of like this.

Mythos is a great setting to run a high-powered campaign of demigods and tragic heroes. 

“High-powered” is an important descriptor of Mythos.  This is not a game setting inspired by the old-school sword-and-sandal films of Ray Harryhausen and Steve Reeves.  This is definitely a post-300, post-God of War setting with more in common with the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans than the 1981 original.  This is a setting where your Legendary rank character can cause an earthquake to demolish a town or summon a vortex of vengeful spirits to swallow his foes.  Gilbert Gallo calls it “epic;” I call it “gonzo.”

The basic conceit of Mythos is that Zeus has bowed to the demands of the other Olympians and declared that – rather than be overthrown like his father and his father’s father -- he will abdicate his throne to the god who gains the most followers in what they call the Heavenly Contest.  This has inspired the would-be claimants to take a more active role in the life of mortals and start up Mystery Cults that grant their followers powerful miracles, thus adding a strong element of epic fantasy to the Bronze Age setting and making winning and losing divine favor a central component of the story.  Men and gods must be careful, though, since the irresistible web of Fate is even more powerful than they.

Player characters may be mortals or demigods.  It is much, much trickier for mortals to navigate the rivalries of the gods and achieve divine favor but they are also under much less scrutiny from Fate.  Demigods begin with an Attribute at d10, have access to some super-powered Edges, and begin with the favor of their parent god (which means they can borrow magical items) but they are also automatically subject to the hatred of their parents’ rival (unless their parent is one of those gods who don’t have a Mystery Cult or rival – like Artemis, Dionysus, and Hermes).  Demigods also attract the notice of Fate much more easily.

How characters attract the notice of Fate is one of the mechanics that will have a lot of gamers divided on the merits of Mythos: bennies aren’t bennies in this game, but instead are Fate Points.  In addition to their normal Savage Worlds uses, Fate Points can be spent to power demigod super-Edges and invoke a few other divine phenomena.  They can only be gained back by propitiating the gods through sacrifices and dedicating deeds to them.  It certainly enforces genre emulation, but I’ll admit that even I am a bit leery of it. 

(I think I’d actually assign a pool of normal, refreshes-every-session bennies for basic soaking rolls and the like, but only award extra bennies during play as Fate Points through the proscribed sacrifices and dedications.  Poker chips have multiple colors, after all.)     

When Fate Points are used, they can cause Doomchaining; NPC witnesses to such divine feats might be caught up in the strands of the heroes’ web of Fate and be forced into a Predestined Role like Best Friend, Lover, or Rival.  When the player characters play into the NPCs’ expectations (like Taunting a Rival or Fighting a Nemesis), they get a bonus to the roll based on how strong the Doomchaining is; when they try to “play against type,” they get penalties.  This is great emulation for the tragic stories of Heracles and Oedipus, but might frustrate some GMs and players.  I haven’t actually playtested it, so I don’t know how this would fit my “make it all up as I go along” playstyle.  There’s 20 example Predestined Roles, though, so that makes for a nice random table.

Mortals and demigods can join a Mystery Cult (the only Arcane Background allowed in the game) in order to improve in their patron gods’ favor and gain access to really powerful miracles.  For example, Legendary-rank adherents of one of the cults of Poseidon do not need to release the Kraken; they can topple a city by themselves!  To counteract the power of these cults, there are several restrictions: you can only belong to one cult at a time, they only have one power per rank, and joining a cult puts you into disfavor with that deity’s rival.  What’s really cool about them – unless I’m misreading things here – is that Gilbert Gallo recommends running advancement in the cult outside of the experience system; instead of paying advances to improve in rank in the Mystery Cult, the PC should instead have to accomplish some great deed for it.  I really, really like that (but then I get kind of fidgety about the limited opportunities for character advancement in Savage Worlds).

Most of the rest of the book is what you would typically expect from a setting guide: setting rules, GM advice, a bestiary, etc.  I really suggest reading Gilbert’s GM advice; I was a bit perplexed by the gonzo, epic fantasy variations from the usual sword-and-sandal mode, but the advice section really helps clarify the tone of a Mythos campaign.  There’s also a section of Savage Tales, but unfortunately no plot-point campaign to guide your player characters from lowly Novices to sitting at the right hand of the ruler of Olympus. 

I would be lying if I said that Mythos is exactly what I wanted when I dropped my musketeer duet game back in March and switched to a Greek demigod campaign instead – but that’s only because author Gilbert Gallo doesn’t expand on the abilities of my gods of choice as much as he does some of the others (as we touched on in the interview).  It’s not Gilbert’s fault that I prefer Dionysus to Apollo, Hermes to Hades, and Artemis to Ares.  There are also a few areas where I feel the translation could be a bit more polished and I wonder at the word choice of the Norse-sounding “Doomchaining” rather than the more Greek-sounding “Fateweaving,” but that’s just a matter of taste.  Mythos is a fun, solid setting if you like your mythology crazy and your heroes larger-than-life.



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