Monday, January 24, 2011

Mythic GM Emulator

Last week I came to know about a product called "Mythic GM Emulator" which is a system meant to allow a game master to run RPG sessions without preparation, or even to allow GM-less play. My first reaction was disbelief, but after reading several favorable reviews, I decided to check it out, buying the PDF version.
It turns out to be a very simple but effective system, involving essentially three tables and a lot of common sense. And it works. It balances the use of logic with random events, so that the game story can flow without being completely predictable.

 I tried it to run a solo game of Warrior, Rogue and Mage (WR&M), with very good results. I can easily see how it could be used as a GM tool for its original purpose. Combined with something like InstantGame and a rules-light game system, you can probably have a game without no preparation at all.

For my solo game, I created Derek, a common mercenary that picked up a few magical tricks during his career (Warrior 4 / Rogue 4 / Mage 2). What follows is a session report, with each scene in a separate paragraph and notes in brackets. For those who don't want to bother with the wall of text (and I wouldn't blame anyone; the report got really long) my conclusions are: First, the GM emulator does work for solo play, which opens many opportunities for me to playtest game systems that I wouldn't be able to play otherwise, for lack of an interested group. Second, WR&M is a nice and fast system, but combat is very random and very, very brutal. You can easily lose a character to an exploding damage roll, and sooner or later you'll be out of Fate points. I still have to try the alternate rules from the "Art of Combat" supplement to see if this changes.

The Session Report (Mythic GME + WR&M Playtest)

As the adventure begins, Derek arrives at the village of Radan, south of Traevar. While walking to the local tavern/inn to look for work, he hears a commotion and finds his own brother, Malek holding a man to the ground. Turns out the man (called Disphan) is a representative of the merchant guild of Traevar and Malek is accusing him of commanding a group of bandits that has been attacking the 'free' merchants. The militia arrives and arrests both Disphan and Malek. [Malek's appearance was actually an interrupt generated by the GM emulator; I originally intended to have Derek find some simple job at the tavern]

When Derek goes looking for the local sheriff to have his brother released, he finds out that the man is missing. Mavos, the village blacksmith, has taken the command of the militia until the sheriff is found, although he believes he may have been killed by the bandits. Mavos tells Derek that he won't be releasing either man until the Traevar magistrate makes his round through the village, which is scheduled for the next week. [Once more, the sheriff's disappearance was a product of the emulator bringing unforessen complications to the plot]

On the next day, Derek decides to explore the surrounding woods, looking for clues about the bandits or the sheriff's location. After a few hours, he enters what seems to be an empty cave, only to find a huge bear inside. Luckily, he manages to get out without alerting the beast and starts to move back to the village. [At this point, if I was playing with a human GM I'd say he was out to kill my character... in WR&M, a single character has little to no chance against a bear]

On the way back, Derek finds the remains of a fire, as well as leftovers from some drugs (mild hallucinogens that are popular in the region, especially among criminals). He concludes that the bandits must be moving from place to place in the woods. In this case, however, they must have someone to pass the goods they steal from the merchants, otherwise they would need a fixed hideout to store them.

Based on his findings, Derek decides to enter the room that Disphan rented at the inn, to look for clues or maybe some stolen goods. He tries to gain the trust of the tavern patrons and the innkeeper, but finds out that they see him only as "another troublemaking outsider who should be arrested or cast out."

After everybody has either left the tavern or gone to sleep, Derek decides to continue with his plan. However, as he crosses the tavern floor to reach Disphan's room, he is surprised by the tavern owner who accuses him of theft, believing that he was after the money from the tavern. His loud voice wakes up half of the village, and soon he is surrounded by the militia. Seeing no other option, he surrenders and is put in the same cell as his brother.

Days later, the Traevar magistrate arrives at the village and hears the arrested men. He becomes worried by the disappearance of the sheriff but ignores the accusations against Disphan, as there is no proof. The three men are released from jail, and Derek manages to convince the magistrate to be officially assigned to look for the sheriff (which should help gaining some trust with the villagers).

When Disphan leaves the village, Derek decides to stealthily follow him (which is easy, given his rogue abilities). To his surprise, the man arrives at a clearing where the sheriff, as well as a few bandits, are camped. He overhears their conversation and it becomes apparent that both are involved in the merchant attacks.

Derek rushes back to the village, tells Mavos what he found out and asks for the militia to come with him, to surprise the bandit group. They arrive at the bandit camp at dusk, and Disphan and the sheriff are surprised as their plot is revealed. To preserve their secret, they order the bandits to attack and leave no one alive. [To be honest, at this point I didn't roll for scene alterations/interruptions this time, since I felt that the plot was coming to a satisfactory ending]

As the fight begins, the bandits rush towards the militia, with the sheriff attacking Derek and Disphan trying to escape, only to be chased by the blacksmith. [I resolved the combat using the WR&M rules for the main characters and a simplified version for the bandits and militia] The fight is brutal, with the bandits slaying many members of the militia. However, when they see Derek killing the sheriff, they decide to flee -- which is just his luck, since he is also heavily injured. Minutes later, Mavos returns from the woods and tells that Disphan managed to escape. [I had to spend all Fate points that Derek had and fudge the dice at the end to avoid having him slaughtered. Combat in WR&M feels very random and deadly]

Epilogue: the surviving militia take the heavily-wounded Derek back to the village, where he rests for several days. With Disphan gone, no one is sure about what will happen next, but at least they have found the truth about the sheriff and dismantled the bandit group.

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