I’ve got a game of Mythras Classic Fantasy in the realm of Mystamyr! There are eight players who’ve committed to taking part and the first session is the day after my 50th birthday. We’re playing online bi-weekly for a couple of hours after I finish work.
I’m feeling pretty excited about the whole thing. I’m also feeling pretty anxious,. Why? Because my track-record in running fantasy roleplaying games earned me the appellation as the World’s Flakiest GM. In short, as any regular reader realises, I find it hard to focus on the long game that I so keenly want to play.
To overcome this anxiety, I am resolving to use what I’ve been learning and talking about over the past couple of years to push my boundaries outward a little further with this game. I’m going to use what I already have; I’m going to aim for a sandbox game that leans into the premise of Classic Fantasy; and I’m going to break things down into easily digestible pieces so that I don’t overwhelm myself.
This post is all about the steps I’ve taken in the past week to get the ball rolling.
While the label, “Session Zero” doesn’t sit at all well with me (because you can’t have zero of anything), the first step was to establish an online Zoom meeting wherein interested players came together to talk about what we wanted and why we wanted it. This almost didn’t happen – the first date got cancelled because I wasn’t in a fit state to host – and I was pretty anxious by the time we got to the day of the event.
Thursday 25th March was the day that I was due to get my first shot of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine against Covid-19. I had an appointment at 5.40pm and the game session was scheduled for 7.00pm. It should have been a breeze. What I didn’t count on was the huge queue at the vaccination centre and the consequent one hour delay. By the time I had got inside, been through the vaccination programme, come out and sat for 15 minutes in my car (in case of adverse reactions)… well, I was running late. I made it back home and logged online at 6.59pm. The side-effects came 24 hours later.
The main goal of the session was to find out why these players wanted to play Mythras Classic Fantasy in Mystamyr. What were they looking for? I had some new faces at the table, so I needed to find out if they were people I could gel with. I had some old faces at the table too, so the goal there was to re-connect and find out where their expectations were too. Finally, I was trying to get a sense of the experience the group was trying to have.
Most players were choosing Mythras Classic Fantasy over Dungeons & Dragons because they feel the classic game breaks down at higher levels; this surprised me… perhaps because I’ve not really played much D&D above Level 5. The d100-based Mythras game system appears to be a trusted engine for play and the blending of old-school “Classic Fantasy” made for an appealing combination. I think the general view was that it’s fun to use the classic tropes while using a nicely detailed system that gives a little more tactical granularity.
Having talked over a variety of issues, I set the players some home work: I asked for three character concepts by email by the following Monday. My plan was to challenge the players to come up with more than the first (possibly hackneyed) character idea from their mental shelving unit. By asking for three ideas, we would have a total of 24 potential characters and far more options for an interesting party.
Once the first ideas were shared, I was pleased to see a bit of player chatter by email and on the RPR Discord as they tried to work out a sensible group of characters. By Friday 2nd April we had a workable list of concepts.
Letting Them Play
My next decision was simple: let the players play with the character creation process. I was helped by the fact that we are going to use the game as a vehicle to offer author Rodney Leary the opportunity to playtest some new material that was exciting to the player group. I can’t talk about the details, of course, but my point is that the players wanted to go off and design their characters. Remembering that I believe in player sovereignty over characters, I decided to butt out and leave them to it.
What was interesting to me was that my request for some additional information seemed to cause a little bit of consternation for some players. In short, I asked them to answer eight quick questions about their characters.
Four of the questions were about their Passions – an element all characters have in Mythras – and the other four were about giving me a slightly stronger handle on the concept:
- What does your character love?
- What does your character hate?
- What does your character hope for?
- What does your character fear?
- What three things does your character do best?
- What is your unusual quirk?
- Why do you seek to work with others?
- Whose character are you connected to, and how?
The answers were shorter than I had expected. Some players struggled to answer them at all. A few players protested that they’d much rather discover these kinds of things through play.
That last point was curious to me: Mythras Classic Fantasy asks players to choose Passions before play begins and here were some players protesting that this was asking too much. For me, this was an intriguing insight into the common player preference to sum up a character as a simple combination of Ancestry plus Class: “I want to be a Human Fighter!”
I was astounded to find that it was too much to ask, “What three things does your character do best?”
I tend to worry about the adventure situations that I create for my games. I’ve internalised the basic idea that you don’t want to be creating plots and instead it’s far preferable to set up some situations. The situations then come into contact with the players and their characters. Mayhem ensues. This is all good stuff.
My worry is that the situations I create are going to be hackneyed. If I was being bold enough to ask the players to give me a few better ideas for their characters then it seemed reasonable for me to ask a little bit more of myself. We had agreed to start the game in Anminster – the village that I created for my first published module – and that gave me a head start on the basic parameters of the game. But I was worried nonetheless.
On Friday 2nd April, the first day of my annual Easter holiday from work as a teacher, I decided to do something different. I grabbed my copies of two .PDF products from the extensive Webster gaming library and sat down to roll some dice. I was going to spice up my creativity with some trusty random tables.
Castle Oldskull, the creation of David Kent Kelly, provides a range of old-school classic fantasy tools designed to offer the harried GM both some interesting random tables and – more importantly – a methodology around using them. I’d enjoyed using the Castle Oldskull Game World Generator a few years ago and I decided to use the latter sections of that tool to add some flesh to the bones of the realm of Mystamyr. From there, I dug out the Castle Oldskull Adventure Generator and had at it.
By Sunday morning, I had a decent set of results and was able picture the outline of a classic adventure which offers a blend of the familiar and fantastic.
I realised that Mystamyr is a lot more magical and fantastic than I had previously been comfortable with. I also realised that there’s a big difference between the idea of “high fantasy” and “high powered” campaigning, allowing me to blend some unusual and “higher” elements of the fantastic with my preference for a “lower powered” baseline for the player characters. The result has left me excited to flesh out these new situations and see what happens when the player characters arrive on scene.
I’ve begun and the next steps are the harder task: turning rough ideas for situations into fleshed out scenes and encounters usable at the table.
There’s not too much to add, of course, because I am keen to continue the practice I have more recently begun of minimising my preparation and accepting a much looser framework. But there are NPCs to design and some creature stats to create; maps will need sketching and there is a bit of thinking to delve into around one or two of the more intriguing situations; and I need to create rumours and other clues to help provide the players with all they need to discover the adventure.
But today I am energised by the progress. I know that this energy will necessarily dissipate and I will need to keep forward momentum through applying a process. That process is in development too because, as I mentioned before, I am seeking to push my boundaries and move a little further out of my comfort zone with each session I prepare.
Perhaps that is the biggest learning from the past four months: to take it session by session. I have a potential adventure which the players might choose to explore. I’m going to be adding more situations and locations to the map of Mystamyr to provide them with an interesting sandbox in which to play longer term. But when it comes down to it, I just need to prep enough to deliver on the next session. The rest is in the hands of the players.