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Tamburlain
06-04-2009, 11:56 AM
Hello, all.

I'd like to get your suggestions, if willing to slog through this lengthy post, as to which rpg system(s) you feel might be best suited for running a campaign based on Robert Holdstock's world presented in his Mythago Cycle (http://www.robertholdstock.com/news.html)of novels and short stories. (More ambitiously, if you feel this is a concept worthy of its own system, do tell, as I've been thinking along those lines, too, but am intimidated by the vagaries of copyright law.) Aside from eventually building an original rpg from scratch, however, my goals presently are more modest and immediate. I just want to find an extant system that will bring this world to life and hopefully find one that can support the hybrid-sandbox setting that I hope to write about on my blog here at PaPG.

If unfamiliar with his work, no worries. I will outline the gist of the setting, as I've devised it so far, which is directly inspired by Holdstock's cannon. Lastly, I'll also note a few of the unique challenges I feel its thematic complexity presents to game-play and development.

1. Setting(s)

The initial game story in the campaign I envision is set in England (East Sussex) in 1971. Within this county there lies an estate established by a lesser Noble in the 16th century, but now is owned by a wealthy Egyptian with a mind to convert the manor house (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/72/Taagepera_castle_2008.jpg) into a luxury hotel. The estate property includes several areas of interest, including a small but dense woodlands (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6e/Shadows_in_Coldfall_wood.jpg) of about 250-260 acres known as Greyholme Woods, named for the estate's Nobility, but also known by regional folk as Little Harmers' Wood.

2. Mythagos and Mythago Woods of Robert Holdstock

The woodland area abutting Greyholme Manor is, in fact, an example of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mythago_Wood), an ancient (primeval) woodland (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_woodland) whose "ecology" is more-or-less undisturbed at least since the retreat of the Devensian. (In 1971 there are very few Mythago "sister" woodlands remaining, e.g., Ryhope Wood in Herefordshire, Broceliande in Brittany.)

Aside from being an ancient woodland, a Mythago Wood is special in other ways. Paraphrasing from a wikipedia source: The wood is far, far bigger on the inside than on the outside; once penetrated, the forest grows larger, older, wilder, and more unbearable as one approaches the heart of the wood. The forest is referred in Jungian terms by literary critic John Clute as an "abyssal chthonic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chthonic) resonator", which is a fancy mouthful of words meaning that it conjures and is home to what Holdstock calls myth-images, or mythagos. Mythagos are beings (including animals, monsters, humans, or other "agents") who embody living correspondences to the human mythic imagination. As manifestations within the boundaries of the primeval woodland, Mythagos are dangerously real, but if any of them stray too far from the wood they slowly deteriorate and die.

Note: The word "chthonic" in the above paragraph is used in the true (i.e. original) sense of the word, from the Greek, meaning of the earth--in all of its stink, rot, and fertile glory; though I LOVE CoC, this word has nothing whatsoever to do with the extra-dimensional alien Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft.

To paraphrase the wikipedia entry more: Because they are formed from the tropes of human myths, they will vary in appearance and character depending on the collection and culture of memories from which they emerge; for example there may be, over a period, many different forms of the Mistress of Animals, from Artemis to Hekate; or different forms of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Herne the Hunter, etc.--all looking and acting differently, yet all with the same basic functions and all acting within the 'norms' set by their defining myths.

A Mythago Wood can also generate archetypal places and scenes known as Geistzones, which range in scope and complexity. A Geistzone may be populated by mythagos and may represent any endogenous mythical setting, from a small sacred grove to a paleolithic tribal settlement; from ancient bronze-age villages to Roman baths; from castles to battlefields; caravans to Childe Roland's Dark Tower. You get the picture.

3. The Game:

As envisioned, the setting of the game's first campaign will move back-and-forth between the modern world of 1971, where the player characters are confronted with a central mystery to be solved, to the Mythago Wood. The characters will have different abilities depending on where they venture within the game's many landscapes (acquiring special and individualized powers in Mythago Wood that correspond to tropes from Celtic myth and more ancient still; necessarily, the game's adventure will involve a host of antagonists, some mundane some magical, present in both settings, and all related to the central mystery and associated quests that the game will present to the players.

Players will have a wide range of discretion concerning how and where to focus their exploration. Indeed, part of the game will involve the characters finding out "who they are" in relation to the mythic universe in which they may repeatedly find themselves. Therefore, as an rpg, whatever system that is chosen will require a mechanic flexible enough to resolve conflict and advance storyline throughout a wide array of discrete "micro-settings"--from modern and gritty historical to mythic fantasy.

4. Thematic Tone and Genre

As a gaming genre, the modern setting should be gritty but also more or less realistic, involving risks of gun-play, secret societies, and sleuth-style adventuring for the characters. In contrast, the world of Mythago Wood is neither of the "sword and sorcery" genre nor of traditional fantasy, per se, though it will contain many elements of the fantastic, but limited to a brand of mythic supernaturalism. If done correctly, adventuring in the woodlands should feel like entering a mythic underworld that changes the deeper the characters explore and the closer they come to its primeval heart. It should become darker, more dangerous, more dream-like.

***

So, here is what I have:

I am working now on unifying a set of myths that will define the Geistzones and encounters. They are, of course, related to the endogenous mythologies and native history of southern England, but I have also planned a few surprises. It will not be typical Celtic Authuriana. This written part is almost complete, though I have only just begun work on sketching the maps of the sandbox.

I have several story hooks to engage players and hopefully motivate them to explore the modern surroundings (where the mystery of the game begins) and eventually engage the woodland. But it's not going to be scripted. Ideally, I'd like game-flow to fit somewhere in-between true sandbox style and guided play, where players will have many choices in character creation and narrative development.

Here is what I do not have:

A game. As in, an rpg system. (!) I have toyed, though am not satisfied, with the idea of using Burning Wheel or some heavily modified form of nWoD. Neither seems perfectly suited. I dunno. And that's why I am here writing this--to come about any and all suggestions for how to make this game (and setting) a reality.

jade von delioch
06-04-2009, 09:38 PM
Burning wheel might work for this. i don't know for sure i have never played it but from what i have heard about it it seems to fit. I believe webhead could help more in that area.

I think you should use the Savage worlds system for this. it seems to fit the ideas that you want to portray. Check it out. they have a free preview on their site somewhere that can give you a run down on the system.

Tamburlain
06-04-2009, 09:54 PM
Thanks, Jade.

Burning Wheel is currently my top runner, since it's also my favorite game these days. But, I just feel that it's been my solution so many times previously, that I might want to try something else for the chance of a better fit. Savage Worlds, I likey. It's a fun game, all around. I'll give it some thought. Thanks again for your input!

fmitchell
06-04-2009, 10:44 PM
Mythago Wood is a trippy series, with myths and reality blending. I'd suggest a light-weight, indie system like Prose Descriptive Qualities as a base. HeroQuest from Issaries (not the MB game) is another possibility, and, from what I've heard, Dogs in the Vinyard might work as well.

Tamburlain
06-04-2009, 11:10 PM
Mythago Wood is a trippy series, with myths and reality blending. I'd suggest a light-weight, indie system like Prose Descriptive Qualities as a base. HeroQuest from Issaries (not the MB game) is another possibility, and, from what I've heard, Dogs in the Vinyard might work as well.

Dogs in the Vineyard has one of my favorite dice mechanics of all the games I know. In the modern half of the game I am proposing, it would work perfectly. I'm not entirely sure how I might use it the Mythago Woodland setting that will incorporate magic. Hmm... more for me to think about. Mucho appreciated!

PhishStyx
06-06-2009, 02:39 AM
I've started this post a couple times and quit to think about it more.

Reading your post, I am left wondering still about how visible magic in Mythago Wood will be. This really only applies to the players, since you can simply use descriptive techniques to cover any NPC magic that comes up.

Burning Wheel does sound interesting and should probably do well as the system for this, but if you're looking to go a little further afield, you should definitely the Decipher Lord of the Rings rpg.

Unisystem (http://www.edenstudios.net/witchcraft/) probably would do well, and I would definitely be interested to see how that might turn out. However, the Witchcraft version of Unisystem that I linked above may be too magic heavy, in which case the easiest fix is to tweak the Essence costs of spells and Essence recovery so that they can only get a couple good spells off a day or so. The other game elements you mentioned would be very easy to reproduce, and combat is incredibly deadly (sometimes almost too deadly).

Another idea that comes to mind is using the new Supernatural game (same system as Serenity), but I just picked that up and haven't delved as much into it.

Tamburlain
06-07-2009, 11:37 AM
Thanks for turning me onto Unisystem. It looks interesting. I have downloaded the free WitchCraft core rules on pdf from the Eden website, and am giving them a thorough look. Already I can tell that I like it more than WoD's Mage, and even if I don't adapt Unisystem for this game, I'd eventually like to play WitchCraft, Ghosts of Albion, or All Flesh Must Be Eaten in their own right.

As for magic within Mythago wood, it is visible, but is usually subtlely so. Usually, I say. This is because it is based on the earthier mythopoetic traditions rooted in shamanism and animism (cf. sympathetic magic and contagion magic)--as opposed to hermetic, ceremonial, or high sorcery. Also, magic in Mythago Wood should require a certain creativity on the part of the players to bring about, and once unleashed may be hard to control. Meaning, there will be no fire-balls leaping from staffs. (But a mask left to bathe under the correct phase of moon may impart temporary invisibility to its wearer...) Other examples:

1. Divination (cleromancy, oneiromancy esp.)
2. Clairvoyance
3. Enchantment of objects, totems
4. Invocation of True Names
5. Evocation
6. Ensorcellment of plants, animals, and the 5 elements
7. Incantation, song magic

Harwel
06-10-2009, 01:26 PM
I've turned on to Cortex as a universal RPG thanks to this board. If you're looking for characters to have input into the narrative development, you could do worse. One of the game mechanics is that the characters gain and spend Plot Points to influence die rolls and the plot/story in ways that are favorable to them. Depending on how much influence you want them to have, you give award plot points more or less often. Hoarding is discouraged by capping Plot Points at 12. Quoth the rulebook "Plot Points ideally should fall like rain". This may or not fit what you're looking for, of course.

Basic game system is point-buy character development, skills and attributes are rated in dice (d2 through d12 or higher, d6 is "human average" like Savage Worlds). Roll attribute die + skill die and exceed a target number for task resolution. The system is pretty fast overall.

The magic system is fairly basic and you would need to flesh it out. In its base form, magic is a "complex action". Complex Actions have higher target numbers than regular actions, and you keep rolling every turn and totaling the dice until you exceed the "threshold" number (success) or roll snake eyes (indicating failure). To me this seems to fit magic in the setting, as you've described. If you set the thresholds in the medium-high range it would take at least several turns to cast to spell, so the magic is more ritual and less "pewpewfireball" (though "pewpewfireball" is easily supported by making casting a simple action or setting thresholds lower). Also, by-the-book spellcasting costs some life force (Stun points), which could make it easier for you to get knocked out if you're casting during a fight. That makes combat casting something of a chancy decision.

However, the example spells given are limited, so it's kind of the GM and/or player to make spells to a large extent. However, I'm working on a campaign world where the magic is primarily shamanistic / animistic, and I think it's highly suitable.

Tamburlain
06-10-2009, 08:26 PM
I've turned on to Cortex as a universal RPG thanks to this board. If you're looking for characters to have input into the narrative development, you could do worse. One of the game mechanics is that the characters gain and spend Plot Points to influence die rolls and the plot/story in ways that are favorable to them. Depending on how much influence you want them to have, you give award plot points more or less often. Hoarding is discouraged by capping Plot Points at 12. Quoth the rulebook "Plot Points ideally should fall like rain". This may or not fit what you're looking for, of course.

Basic game system is point-buy character development, skills and attributes are rated in dice (d2 through d12 or higher, d6 is "human average" like Savage Worlds). Roll attribute die + skill die and exceed a target number for task resolution. The system is pretty fast overall.

The magic system is fairly basic and you would need to flesh it out. In its base form, magic is a "complex action". Complex Actions have higher target numbers than regular actions, and you keep rolling every turn and totaling the dice until you exceed the "threshold" number (success) or roll snake eyes (indicating failure). To me this seems to fit magic in the setting, as you've described. If you set the thresholds in the medium-high range it would take at least several turns to cast to spell, so the magic is more ritual and less "pewpewfireball" (though "pewpewfireball" is easily supported by making casting a simple action or setting thresholds lower). Also, by-the-book spellcasting costs some life force (Stun points), which could make it easier for you to get knocked out if you're casting during a fight. That makes combat casting something of a chancy decision.

However, the example spells given are limited, so it's kind of the GM and/or player to make spells to a large extent. However, I'm working on a campaign world where the magic is primarily shamanistic / animistic, and I think it's highly suitable.


I'm going to get a chance in a few mos to play Serenity with a friend of mine who is coming to town, so I look forward to giving Cortex a spin. I've heard mixed reviews of the games that use it, but it could very well be that the system itself is worth poaching for Mythago Wood.

Thanks for the tip.

korhal23
06-10-2009, 10:10 PM
Yeah, I was gonna say Unisystem a la All Flesh Must Be Eaten, though it seems I've been beaten to it. There are oodles of source books for different genres so you could find more than a few relevant ones to check out.

My other idea... Have you given any thought to using The Dark Eye? I think that might be able to do you justice with a bit of houseruling. While The Dark Eye hasn't really got too strong of a foothold in the English speaking world (though the recent Drakensang: The Dark Eye computer game seems to have helped), I had been introduced to it in German by my German teacher in high school, and the most recent edition (4th) has finally made the official transition to English. The Dark Eye can be a tad crunchy though, so fair warning, but I think you might find it useful.

Harwel
06-10-2009, 10:22 PM
I'm going to get a chance in a few mos to play Serenity with a friend of mine who is coming to town, so I look forward to giving Cortex a spin. I've heard mixed reviews of the games that use it, but it could very well be that the system itself is worth poaching for Mythago Wood.

Thanks for the tip.

Cool, FYI the Traits system in "Cortex 2" (Core/BSG) is a bit more advanced than "Cortex 1" (Serenity). Instead of Major or Minor, they have a die rating like attributes and skills. There are some other differences in the details obviously.

Tamburlain
06-10-2009, 10:27 PM
My other idea... Have you given any thought to using The Dark Eye? I think that might be able to do you justice with a bit of houseruling. While The Dark Eye hasn't really got too strong of a foothold in the English speaking world (though the recent Drakensang: The Dark Eye computer game seems to have helped), I had been introduced to it in German by my German teacher in high school, and the most recent edition (4th) has finally made the official transition to English. The Dark Eye can be a tad crunchy though, so fair warning, but I think you might find it useful.


I've never heard of 'The Dark Eye', to be honest. Definitely sounds worth checking out...

korhal23
06-10-2009, 11:00 PM
Its a good game, but its one to make up your own mind about. It's the most popular game in Germany, but like D&D here in America, it has a very vocal opposition, and it has folks that cling to older iterations and decry new ones. That's their call... but like D&D, The Dark Eye isn't one to look for reviews of it online if you don't want to be washed over with fanboys and anti-fanboys.

Tamburlain
06-10-2009, 11:07 PM
Its a good game, but its one to make up your own mind about. It's the most popular game in Germany, but like D&D here in America, it has a very vocal opposition, and it has folks that cling to older iterations and decry new ones. That's their call... but like D&D, The Dark Eye isn't one to look for reviews of it online if you don't want to be washed over with fanboys and anti-fanboys.

Gotcha. Right off the bat I am interested in a tabletop game that enjoys D&D-like success, BUT in Germany. Very curious. Those Germans are serious about their games...

I read that in order to trigger magic, the player actually has to recollect a given magical formula. I love the idea of incorporating meta-memory tests into the mechanics of a game.

korhal23
06-10-2009, 11:14 PM
That was an older version, that element of the game is now gone, unfortunately, because I loved that part too. Not that you couldn't bring it right back, especially since you're making your own setting and variant of a system anyway.

Jack Holcomb
01-18-2010, 08:39 PM
...but on the slight chance that someone might be listening:

I groove on Burning Wheel and Dogs and Savage Worlds--all great games--but none of them get to the core (for me) of what Holdstock was playing with (may he rest in peace). I've been a huge fan of the Mythago series since there was only one book, and I think the key to so much of what goes on in all of the mythago books is the psychology of the characters--and of course how their psychology ties in to the mythopoeic forest.

You pretty much discarded Call of Cthulhu at the outset, but that's actually the first game I'd go to for catching the feel of these books. The game is ready-made for playing twitchy academics and war-bruised men of action, without being pulpy in an Indiana Jones way. Just jettison all the cosmic monsters and replace them with sanity-shattering mythagos.

Another great thing about using CoC is that it's supercompatible with two other games that would be excellent sourcebooks for Mythago Wood--Pendragon and RuneQuest. The passion system in the former, plus all the Matter of England setting goodness, would be useful, and all the shamanic magic in the latter would be good, too.

Trail of Cthulhu would also be an interesting fit, esp. if you want to do a team of researchers like in The Hollowing. I think the more complex sanity system in Unknown Armies, and the Obsession Skill, and the easy percentile mechanic, all suggest that game. And HeroQuest is not a bad idea at all--esp. if you scavenge the Gloranthan spirit magic stuff for material.

If you want to have a REALLY intense game, you could mod Don't Rest Your Head. You'd want to think about the dice pools some--Madness and Exhaustion are pretty close to right, but the effects of snapping/collapsing would need adjustment. The descending spiral of that game would really capture some of the nastier moments in Holdstock.

Two more notes: you might look for the Mythic Places and More Mythic Places supplements for Ars Magica second edition, which introduced the notion of regio to that game. Regio are places--zones, regions--that are bigger on the inside than on the outside and are permeated with magic of one sort of another. The mechanics for getting in and out of a regio were interesting, IIRC, and the author of the books acknowledged Holdstock's books as the inspiration for the idea.

You might also look for Summerland, which doesn't have a great rules system, but has a really really inspired take on post apocalyptic role-playing in a world overrun by a dangerously enchanted forest.

Just my two cents.

Jack