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Mythras/Runequest - how good at pulp heroic fantasy swords-and-sorcery?

Azgulor

Adventurer
I recently came across Mythras – and by extension, Runequest. I’m very intrigued by the character creation, character stats/skills, and especially combat. The consensus on Mythras seems to be that’s it’s very customizable. I’ve also seen Mythras and Runequest cited as good systems for swords-and-sorcery games.

So, for those who have actually played/run Mythras or Runequest, can it deliver the goods for S-&-S heroic combat where even a combat master like Conan is going to take multiple opponents seriously, armor up when he can, and leverage every advantage he can muster? Can they support the frequency of combat required to feel like pulp adventure without trivializing combat? Can it support powerful sorcery without the “Tiers of play/you have to change your game” nonsense that you get in level-based games?

Because if it can’t, there’s little reason to pick up another fantasy RPG. I want the “power increase” you see over Conan’s career and in other pulp and heroic fiction but want to avoid the Zero to Demigod progression of D&D, but still want to be able to run a Howardian- or Lieberesque-style dungeon crawl when desired. I want the heroic action of fantasy novels and movies where things can be high-fantasy yet still remain somewhat grounded ala swords-and-sandal, the 13th warrior, etc.

Can it do it? And if so, how well?
 

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Dillon

Explorer
In my experience, RQ will play faster at the table than Mythras, and is the easier system to introduce to players unfamiliar with either game, or d100 systems in general.

Multiple opponents need to be taken seriously in both systems. In Mythras, the action economy can make solo monsters laughably weak (I'm not sure if the same is true in RQ, as most of my RQ combats involved groups of humanoids) as you can focus fire specific target locations to force endurance checks that drop the monster out of the fight. It is possible to armour up in both systems to the point where a special/critical success is needed to hurt the target with most ordinary weapons. The possibility of that critical hit that bypasses armour and does double damage, is always there. There are many stories of PC heroes getting taken out by a peasant who got lucky with a spear.

Combat can be pulpy in Mythras as long as the PCs have luck points left to force rerolls when things go wrong. RQG has a divine intervention mechanic which if successful will reduce your Power attribute (making you weaker at magic for a time). I think Mythras luck points refresh each game session.

For Mythras, you need to have a chat with the players about whether you are playing Combat As Sport or Combat as War. As GM you will choose the special effects the NPCs use, and there is a huge difference between you choosing "Target Left Leg and Disarm" for a critical hit rather than "Bypass Armour and Target Head". In RQ the special/critical hits follow a set procedure, so its not the GMs fault if a PC dies.

The magic systems have different power levels. Spirit/Folk/Battle magic tends to have minor effects, but divine/rune/sorcery magic can be used decisively. My back of the envelope math for Mythras is that a Sorcerer with Wrack and a 90% sorcery skill is 4-5 times more effective in terms of burning through enemy actions and HP than a Warrior with 90% sword skill, until the sorcerer runs out of magic points.

The default progression system has a large difference. In RQ you generally get to roll to improve every skill you have used successfully in an adventure. In Mythras you get a flat number of rolls per session. If you give out three rolls per session progression is slow, if you give ten its a lot faster. In both systems, you want to make a d100 roll higher than your current skill to increase it. So skill improvement slows down at high skill levels, but you can focus progression more in Mythras. Downtime training is also an option in both systems.

Mythras is the better toolkit system for customising your own campaign concept, as the current edition of RQ is very wedded to the Glorantha setting. If I was doing an S&S campaign I would be tempted to borrow from Pulp Cthulhu which builds off the Call of Cthulhu 7th edition rules, but doubles PC HP and has a range of pulp talents to power up the characters. I would then grab the random armour rolls from Magic World so that players never got too overconfident.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
Standalone?
It simply cannot do any kind of pulp action at all...period! Combat is simply too deadly and I have no interest in those type of games!

However, to accomplish that you need to Mythras Companion. They have two dials of play: Pulp & Paragon. The first is essentially trying to deliver on pulp heroes; which in my opinion are still too weak and does not really capture the genre. It has a bloody good go, but does not quite accomplish that goal.

Paragon they are essentially hoping to get Batman level characters. Needless to say if the previous type misses the mark, so too does this. In a big way. Again, it has a bloody good go, so kudos on trying.

But simply put, the rules or generic principles that Mythras is built upon prevent this happening.

Mythras magic can be interesting, but again, in my view vastly underpowered. But it does give you lots of type of spells, which is not really required. Everyone should be picking from the same list, with modifiers, just to make it simple.

Runequest has some good spells. But the issue here is of spell spam. which is a problem. They have five different spells that do the same thing, which in Savage Worlds would be just Blast with a specific trapping. Or Conjure Weapon with a trapping.
 

S'mon

Legend
BRP really is not the system I'd use for 'heroic pulp fantasy action'. I think it can just about do 'Sword & Sandals' film level heroics of the 1960s-70s, but it doesn't do anything like what people tend to think of as pulp fantasy action these days. You might do 1970s 'Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire', but you're not doing Russell Crowe single handedly massacring an entire Gladiator team in 'Gladiator'. For that kind of pulp action level I'd use D6 System. Likewise Conan or Fafhrd/Mouser. Or Elric, ironically - BRP Elric/Stormbringer lets you play in Elric's world, it doesn't really let you play Elric.

Edit: I had huge success using BRP for a gritty ALIENS mini campaign, though. As Call of Cthulu shows, BRP does horror really really well.
 

S'mon

Legend
So, for those who have actually played/run Mythras or Runequest, can it deliver the goods for S-&-S heroic combat where even a combat master like Conan is going to take multiple opponents seriously, armor up when he can, and leverage every advantage he can muster?

Yes, BRP Conan will certainly act like that. However without authorial fiat he will still die. :D
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I've been told that a Mythras supplement called Monster Island is a good example of how to tune the system for pulpy play. I've never read it myself, but there you go. Personally, I wouldn't use a BRP system for pulp action, but anything is doable.
 

Willie the Duck

Adventurer
Agree with the above. RQ/Mythras is more of a reaction against the pulpy 'one hero can best a half dozen or more mere guards at least much of the time' aesthetic which other games tend to have. D&D (certainly certain editions of D&D) actually work better for what you are describing, one just needs to cull some of the upper level- and magic item- shenanigans (not that there aren't plenty of other options out there, if it doesn't float your boat).
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I recently came across Mythras – and by extension, Runequest. I’m very intrigued by the character creation, character stats/skills, and especially combat. The consensus on Mythras seems to be that’s it’s very customizable.

Yes, especially given the questions you ask. It's not customizable by choice of rules (or slightly) but in the latitude given to model opposition.

So, for those who have actually played/run Mythras or Runequest, can it deliver the goods for S-&-S heroic combat

IMHO, yes.

where even a combat master like Conan is going to take multiple opponents seriously,

That depend on how you define combat master. A starting character will certainly not be able to win against two opponents (or more) without extreme luck. On the other hand, if you pit him against rabble, it's possible, but still serious. The rules insist that even fully stated opponent, like a BBEG, will generally prefer to surrender than fight to the death. Glorantha emphasizes ransom-taking as an incentive -- in a society where ransoming is the norm, killing might make the characters the bad guys and even bad guys will think twice before doing that. "Pay up and take an oath not to ever come here" is thematically appropriate.


armor up when he can,

Yes. And you should consider accelerated healing. Conan doesn't spend a month in bed after getting hit, and it's something that will often happen barring healing magic (which is pulp, but non Conan-esque).


and leverage every advantage he can muster? Can they support the frequency of combat required to feel like pulp adventure without trivializing combat?

The frequency might be problematic unless most of the opponents are rabble and have low attack stats. The side with the lower number of characters will feel that the action points economy is very stacked against them... but in Mythras defensive actions can win you a fight... 1 AP rabble will make their attack, sure there will 3 of them, so your 3 AP Conan will keep all his AP for parrying... but (a) he can wait to see if one of them miss (b) parrying a miss can give a fight-ending special effect. It gives you a way to make heroic fights.

If your opponents have 70% in their fighting style, it's not the same as having 30% skilled opponents: if you want an appropriate amount of fight, I'd make full use of weaker opponents and not consider the characters as the baseline opponent in term of threat level. Or use the increased starting level in the Companion, but it might not be necessary.


Can it support powerful sorcery without the “Tiers of play/you have to change your game” nonsense that you get in level-based games?

For players or NPCs ?

Because if it can’t, there’s little reason to pick up another fantasy RPG. I want the “power increase” you see over Conan’s career

The starting characters certainly aren't zeroes and you will feel an increase in competency, but the life expectancy of the characters risk to be much shorter. Death is a real risk for characters.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
Here is the product I mentioned in my post.


Mythras Companion. It does a good job at making pulp rules, but never quite gets past the finish line. That said, if you like slightly higher power Mythras games (at least until destined comes out), this is the item for you.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I recently came across Mythras – and by extension, Runequest. I’m very intrigued by the character creation, character stats/skills, and especially combat. The consensus on Mythras seems to be that’s it’s very customizable. I’ve also seen Mythras and Runequest cited as good systems for swords-and-sorcery games.

So, for those who have actually played/run Mythras or Runequest, can it deliver the goods for S-&-S heroic combat where even a combat master like Conan is going to take multiple opponents seriously, armor up when he can, and leverage every advantage he can muster? Can they support the frequency of combat required to feel like pulp adventure without trivializing combat? Can it support powerful sorcery without the “Tiers of play/you have to change your game” nonsense that you get in level-based games?

Because if it can’t, there’s little reason to pick up another fantasy RPG. I want the “power increase” you see over Conan’s career and in other pulp and heroic fiction but want to avoid the Zero to Demigod progression of D&D, but still want to be able to run a Howardian- or Lieberesque-style dungeon crawl when desired. I want the heroic action of fantasy novels and movies where things can be high-fantasy yet still remain somewhat grounded ala swords-and-sandal, the 13th warrior, etc.

Can it do it? And if so, how well?

Yes and from your requirements very well. People who are familiar with BRP or RQ but not so much with Mythras frequently just do not know much about the system, or have mis-conceptions about it.

In terms of combat itself, the standout feature of Mythras is the special effects which go along with the combat system, these are unique to Mythras and not found in other BRP games. Special Effects, which are granted if a combatant gets an advantage over their opponent (like a successful attack Vs a failed parry) often determine an encounter. Disarming, sundering armour, impaling a weapon, tripping, stunning, are some of these effects. These transform combat from a meat-grinder into a play for advantage, which might end with someone surrendering rather than getting chopped up into pieces, which is usually how older RQ combat ended.

The current version of RQ is not well suited to pulp action, given all the knobs and bits added to support a very local Gloranthan Dragon Pass game, there would be too much work to do to remove the setting from the core system, you would be better off using OpenQuest as a start.

Mythras is on the crunchy side so the main issue with the system from my point of view is the amount of work a GM has to do to prepare running a campaign, because you need to decide what you are and are not going to use. For example, as elegant as the sorcery system is, I don't think it is a good one for players given its complexity and potential power. By contrast, the other magic systems are perfectly suited to a S&S campaign. Folk Magic is good for witches, Theism for cults, Mysticism for wushu types, Animism does a better job than any version of RQ at representing spirits, and how the living relate to them.

Monster Island is an essential supplement for a S&S Mythras campaign. Despite what I say about sorcery it presents an excellent setting for baddie NPC sorcerers by completely re-theming all the sorcery spells and organising them into decadent colleges, It provides a complete Animist society giving a good idea how to use spirits and what impact they have on characters and their culture. It introduces a different technology level (roughly stone-age) with a wide variety of weapons and armours suitable for the environment, a large number of valuable and strange goods, narcotics, poisons and diseases available to buy or to become a victim of.

For a Hyborian campaign, look at Raleel's site: raleel - RQ6 Hyborian Age

Ranger Dan's combat styles Ranger Dan Combat Styles - Google Drive

Spider God's Bride xoth.net publishing - sword and sorcery roleplaying adventures (get the original and the Legend conversion for best of both).

Notes from Pavis for resources: Notes From Pavis
 
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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
These transform combat from a meat-grinder into a play for advantage, which might end with someone surrendering rather than getting chopped up into pieces, which is usually how older RQ combat ended.

Still, special effects do not replace damage, they add to it, and fights tend to be on the deadlier side. The GM really has some work to do to make sure they play with the special effects to encourage the game style they want to emulate. Coming from other systems, some players might assume a level-appropriate challenge rating for enemies they'll defeat through HP attrition, which isn't the right approach to fighting in Mythras against a "named" opponent. It's not "intuitive" depending on where you come from to get it right (and think of Trip + Compel Surrender a viable alternative to "let's chop his head off... again and again".


Mythras is on the crunchy side so the main issue with the system from my point of view is the amount of work a GM has to do to prepare running a campaign, because you need to decide what you are and are not going to use. For example, as elegant as the sorcery system is, I don't think it is a good one for players given its complexity and potential power. By contrast, the other magic systems are perfectly suited to a S&S campaign. Folk Magic is good for witches, Theism for cults, Mysticism for wushu types, Animism does a better job than any version of RQ at representing spirits, and how the living relate to them.

Sorcery, if you go with low MP generation and sacrifices as a source of power, has a very Howardian feel for NPCs. I'd keep it in their hand but make sure PCs have some way to access healing magic, though.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Still, special effects do not replace damage, they add to it
yes but
(and think of Trip + Compel Surrender a viable alternative to "let's chop his head off... again and again".
Suggests that effectively SEs can replace damage... :)

Special Effects are the big differentiator between Mythras and the other BRP games. IF players and the GM are interested in a more detailed combat system, SEs change the game.

Sorcery, if you go with low MP generation and sacrifices as a source of power, has a very Howardian feel for NPCs. I'd keep it in their hand but make sure PCs have some way to access healing magic, though.
Sorcery can work great for NPCs, and Monster Island provides some excellent new spells and traits (the whole campaign is a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith). I find the mechanics of sorcery just horrible to use in play though, despite RQ6/Mythras fixing the problems with RQ3 I still don't think it is worth using.

Lower magics, or even non-magical tricks are represented well by Folk Magic. Conan encounters plenty of witches and spirit-magic users that Animism represents very well, and even a few priests make Theism a good fit. All of these work well pretty much out of the book for a S&S game, just not sorcery, unfortunately for a Sword & Sorcery game.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
yes but

Suggests that effectively SEs can replace damage... :)

Special Effects are the big differentiator between Mythras and the other BRP games. IF players and the GM are interested in a more detailed combat system, SEs change the game.


Sorcery can work great for NPCs, and Monster Island provides some excellent new spells and traits (the whole campaign is a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith). I find the mechanics of sorcery just horrible to use in play though, despite RQ6/Mythras fixing the problems with RQ3 I still don't think it is worth using.

Lower magics, or even non-magical tricks are represented well by Folk Magic. Conan encounters plenty of witches and spirit-magic users that Animism represents very well, and even a few priests make Theism a good fit. All of these work well pretty much out of the book for a S&S game, just not sorcery, unfortunately for a Sword & Sorcery game.
The trouble here is that out of the box, even with the Companion, Mythras cannot do Conan as seen in the comics. That would take Champions or M&M, or SWADE, or a game engine like them.

Now the Companion, to make this distinction could, just, do Conan movies, or Batman (Bale). But it has absolutely no chance, likely even with Destined, to manage comic Bats or Conan.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
The trouble here is that out of the box, even with the Companion, Mythras cannot do Conan as seen in the comics. That would take Champions or M&M, or SWADE, or a game engine like them.

Now the Companion, to make this distinction could, just, do Conan movies, or Batman (Bale). But it has absolutely no chance, likely even with Destined, to manage comic Bats or Conan.
I think you are dead wrong, and I do not understand your focus on the Companion supplement, it does very little for a S&S game frankly.

I am not sure what the superhero genre has to do with Sword & Sorcery? they are more like opposites.

If you read the Conan stories, or indeed most of the comics if they are faithful, the action is quite down to earth and Conan is far from a superhero. This is the nature of Sword & Sorcery. Looking more broadly at weird fiction this is even moreso the case. The "heroes" of those stories are quite vulnerable.

Mythras does the genre very well when it comes to power level and survivability. Luck Points go a long way to help PCs survive, group luck points if the GM wants to be generous. The real stumbling block is the complexity of the system, and how much of it you want to use. For example as far as combat goes, I do not use "Reach", and I got rid of cycles, using a Rounds-only combat turn. This simplifies the action significantly while still keeping Special Effects and everything else.
 

Rogerd1

Explorer
I think you are dead wrong, and I do not understand your focus on the Companion supplement, it does very little for a S&S game frankly.

I am not sure what the superhero genre has to do with Sword & Sorcery? they are more like opposites.

If you read the Conan stories, or indeed most of the comics if they are faithful, the action is quite down to earth and Conan is far from a superhero. This is the nature of Sword & Sorcery. Looking more broadly at weird fiction this is even moreso the case. The "heroes" of those stories are quite vulnerable.

Mythras does the genre very well when it comes to power level and survivability. Luck Points go a long way to help PCs survive, group luck points if the GM wants to be generous. The real stumbling block is the complexity of the system, and how much of it you want to use. For example as far as combat goes, I do not use "Reach", and I got rid of cycles, using a Rounds-only combat turn. This simplifies the action significantly while still keeping Special Effects and everything else.
The quotes below are from the Mythras Companion.
Mythras Companion - Page 58 said:
Think of Conan, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Doc Savage, Batman – or any number of popular heroic characters.
Pulp Hero Characters These are traditional Pulp Heroes. They aren’t superheroes or demigods, and a well-placed shotgun blast will still end their life, but they are tougher, smarter, more able, and in general, a step or two above ordinary people. Also, their lives tend to be filled with adventure. While a Heroic character can choose to attempt to settle down and lead an uneventful life, often trouble or someone in need will find their way to the character’s door

Mythras Companion - Page 59 said:
While Indiana Jones and James Bond are Pulp Heroic characters, Conan, Doc Savage, Batman, and Sherlock Holmes are Paragon characters. Paragon characters aren’t merely supremely competent in one area of expertise, they usually excel at several. A brilliant inventor and physicist who is also a two-fisted, crack-shot war hero, is an excellent example of a Paragon character; A billionaire playboy crime fighter who studied with the finest detective minds in the world is another. Paragon characters may well have several college degrees, independent wealth, mysterious benefactors, as well as numerous other forms of experience.
You have no idea what you're talking about, clearly, as the Companion has everything to do about upping the level of the game. And even those options will not let you play Conan from the Marvel comics when he battles Thor. It just will not, and trying to say otherwise is a lie.

Using the Companion will let you do Conan from the Arnie movies, just, by using the two filters from the Companion - but otherwise, it won't.

I am not sure what the superhero genre has to do with Sword & Sorcery? they are more like opposites.
Rubbish. They are all about the level of realism from the setting being portrayed.
In the same way that Modern Age has Gritty, Pulp, and Cinematic.

Movie Conan, Batman (Bale) are both fairly gritty in their portryal.
Marvel Conan would be cinematic. So yeah, they have everything to do with one another.
 



Rogerd1

Explorer
I think you are dead wrong, and I do not understand your focus on the Companion supplement, it does very little for a S&S game frankly.
Your statement is above.
Mythras Companion - Page 58 said:
Think of Conan, James Bond, Jason Bourne, Doc Savage, Batman – or any number of popular heroic characters.
Pulp Hero Characters These are traditional Pulp Heroes. They aren’t superheroes or demigods, and a well-placed shotgun blast will still end their life, but they are tougher, smarter, more able, and in general, a step or two above ordinary people. Also, their lives tend to be filled with adventure. While a Heroic character can choose to attempt to settle down and lead an uneventful life, often trouble or someone in need will find their way to the character’s door
Mythras Companion - Page 59 said:
While Indiana Jones and James Bond are Pulp Heroic characters, Conan, Doc Savage, Batman, and Sherlock Holmes are Paragon characters. Paragon characters aren’t merely supremely competent in one area of expertise, they usually excel at several. A brilliant inventor and physicist who is also a two-fisted, crack-shot war hero, is an excellent example of a Paragon character; A billionaire playboy crime fighter who studied with the finest detective minds in the world is another. Paragon characters may well have several college degrees, independent wealth, mysterious benefactors, as well as numerous other forms of experience.
I then stated that Mythras alone will not allow you to portray Conan, and to do it properly requires the Companion, and did so by quoting the salient text. I also said that Pulp characters are a bit weak, and so too are the Paragon level ones.

Is Mythras a good system? Yes, absolutely it is.
Is there lots of different magic, again yes.

But the game is geared to core fundamentals of play, so unless you alter those fundaments.
 
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Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
yes but

Suggests that effectively SEs can replace damage... :)

Yes you're right. I am bad at communicating my idea :) I meant that even if you don't have to fight to the death thanks to SEs, there is a strong risk to incur a serious wound during a fight, especially a series of fights, for the PCs even if both sides use SEs. I wanted to underline that fights are a serious thing in Mythras (but I feel it matches S&S quite well).

Sorcery can work great for NPCs, and Monster Island provides some excellent new spells and traits (the whole campaign is a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith). I find the mechanics of sorcery just horrible to use in play though, despite RQ6/Mythras fixing the problems with RQ3 I still don't think it is worth using.

I kind of like them... except they don't have the corrupting effect (in regular Mythras) one would expect from Howardian sorcery.
 

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