Mytharc is a methodology and supporting system intended for game-runners that would like to focus on creating narrative-driven live action games.
My decision to create Mytharc came out of a general feeling of dissatisfaction with available systems to both handle narrative progression as well as elegantly handle conflict and combat resolution. It is my feeling that systems should be employed when they support or reinforce the themes of a game, but that many systems over-complicate a creator’s intention. Mytharc is an attempt to create navigable systems that are lightweight enough to support story without becoming the focus of the story. The goal is to focus both game creators as well as players on how they can collaborate to create meaningful, enriching stories together.
This document is divided up into a few distinct parts.
The methodology explains the thought process behind system choices; the safety section sets out some expectations to create a fun and safe environment; and the system section lays out rules to support the framework in order to encourage collaborative, story-driven games.
Mytharc is heavily inspired by Nordic LARP1 tradition and the FATE RPG2 system, taking the tack that great characters and stories are not defined by their stats or abilities, but by their choices and interactions. At the same time, Mytharc takes into consideration some traditions from more well-known LARP systems such as Accelerant3 and Cthulhu Live4.
Mytharc is setting-less, and is intended to be flexible enough that any setting desired can be created and applied to the system. In general, Mytharc’s systems support the type of game that is more gritty and deadly than epic and dashing, but the system could be reasonably tweaked to support either.
Mytharc is not intended to be the “right” way to run games—many games are perfectly suited with other systems. Mytharc is focused primarily on collaborative narrative, and secondarily on simulation, and in any case where the two clash, Mytharc takes the position that the story should drive the outcome.
Players “play to lose.”
Equality in Design: Abilities are not tied to race, gender, orientation, beliefs, etc. Equality and uniqueness are not mutually exclusive.
The Journey: Players are the protagonists; their choices impact the world and themselves. Narrative arcs are the driving force behind choices. Completion of arcs and stories is heavily encouraged.
Constructivist Pedagogy: Connections to others, sharing, and self discovery through experiences are the driving forces behind growing in knowledge. Knowledge is power; power can be lost.
Players in a Mytharc game are expected to “play to lose.” This does not mean that a character can never win or succeed, but rather that players are aiming for the type of story that includes failure and subsequent growth from that failure. Playing to lose is about being generous with your roleplay, it’s about yielding the scene to someone that will get more benefit from it than you, and it’s about taking a dive in a battle so that others are included in the story. When you play to lose, you allow your character to experience failure and loss. The point of play-to-lose is to create dramatic, interesting dynamics, and encourage collaborative play.
One of the core tenants in a Mytharc game is that all people are created, at their very centers, to be equal. Similarly, every person is unique and special. It is not their race or socioeconomic status that makes them unique, but their own personal journeys, and therefore, their personalities. As such, Mytharc does not use any traits based on race, class, gender, orientation, or beliefs.
While all people are equal, our environments are influential to our perspectives, and as such the concept of cultures is important. Knowledge of certain cultural or group-associated aspects can be represented through taking skills favored by those groups, but again, are not restricted as long as the appropriate context for knowing them exists. Certain cultures may have knowledge that tends to be known among all their members, but others are not precluded from a similar understanding, so long as they put in the work needed to learn that knowledge.
In a Mytharc game, all players can start with the same base skills. These skills should fit a character’s background and story. Specialized skills can be unlocked through many different means, and players can be creative about how they approach this. A game creator can decide what skills are open, and what are restricted or hidden.
Similarly, each person is unique and has something special that helps make them who they are. This is represented in Mytharc by the “True Self” ability, which is a special ability unique to an individual, but can be learned by others with the aide of the individual. This system is further explained in the later part of this methodology.
Stories are how we create meaning from experience, and Mytharc seeks to create meaning from a player’s experience, both personally as well as within their greater community. In Mytharc, players are the protagonists; their choices impact the world and should drive the narrative just as much as the vision of the Game Creators. Completion of arcs and stories is heavily encouraged via use of the character progression mechanics (see the Experience and Red Token system), as well as the fact that death and character exit are built into the system in a way that is meant to encourage a story full of growth, change, failure and triumph, love and loss.
Understanding, whether initial or deeper, can only be developed by sharing knowledge. Central to the concept of the Mytharc story is the notion that people can only understand the meaning behind things when they are able to share with others and learn from the multitudes of perspectives. By teaching and sharing, we grow, and can only further our own development by including others. This is represented in a Mytharc game by the fact that no single character can advance along a knowledge path past a certain point unless there are others sharing in that knowledge with whom they can speak and share. The more who share in the knowledge, the greater the ability for progress.
There are two words used for physical safety in a number of LARP traditions, Mytharc included, that are recommended for running games of any type. These words are “Caution” and “Emergency.”
“Caution”—this is a warning that a player is about to be in physical danger. The statement following should describe that danger clearly.
“Emergency”—there is a medical or physical emergency. Game ceases entirely until the situation is resolved.
There are two words used for emotional safety in some LARP traditions that are recommended in a heavily narrative game like Mytharc. These words are “Brake” and “Cut.”
“Brake”—this is a warning, this player is feeling uncomfortable out-of-character and the scene can continue at that same level of intensity, but no further. The player does not need to explain themselves afterwards. If in a situation where the player cannot speak, they can double tap (tap twice on any surface) for a brake.
“Cut”—this player is feeling overwhelmed; the scene ends, no questions asked. In a situation where a player cannot speak, they can triple tap for a cut.
When we develop our connections to others, we often grow as people. Since intimacy can be difficult to simulate in a game, players are encouraged to participate in whatever context they find most comfortable. Ars Amandi is a system that uses certain forms of physical contact to simulate other, more intimate forms of contact. Some players may wish to participate in Ars Amandi6 as an expression of their character’s connection and intimacy to another, but this is by no means required. Systems for simulating intimacy are opt-in only, and no one need ever explain any reason why they refuse an exchange.
Mytharc games have a special place set aside called the Meta Room. This room is where players may go out of character to be “off screen” while something would be happening in the game. The Meta Room can be used for taking an OOC break to think through something, resolve an OOG discussion about an IG story, or play out a symbolic version of something happening in game such as a duel or romantic encounter.
In games with high emotional content, players can experience what is known as “Bleed”8. This is when the emotions of their characters are so strong that they are carried back to the player and impacts them in an out-of-game way, or vise versa. Bleed is often the goal of a very emotional story, and it can be very positive to experience. By the same token, experiencing too much bleed can be a negative experience for some people.
Mitigating the negative effects of bleed is important, and after-game debriefs9 can be a great way to handle this. This can take a few different forms, and Game Creators are encouraged to use whatever form best suits their style of game.
Characters in a Mytharc game are created as follows:
Picking a character’s culture
Deciding upon their personal beliefs and writing their corresponding history
Deciding attributes and skills
Gaining a unique ability based on a character’s history and experiences
Other details—outfit, etc.
Everyone comes from somewhere, and our places of origin can have a great influence over the way we see the world. Mytharc encourages Game Creators to make up worlds that have elaborate economic, ideological, and social climates, and allow your players to choose whatever cultural background is appealing to them from a story perspective.
Game Creators are encouraged to think about areas of knowledge that might be special to or preferred by a culture, and note what they are and their reasoning in writeups about the cultures. Players are not required to incorporate those into their character, but should also have a sound reasoning for why they would not.
Everyone believes in something. Whether that belief is in a military industrial scientific society or a spiritual path makes no difference in the Mytharc system—belief systems make up the core of how people interact with one another. Discovering your character’s own personal belief system is key to their growth and development. Like in our own lives, these beliefs can change and grow over time, and no one idea is more “correct” or “true” than another. Mytharc’s character creation process encourages players to develop out these ideas about their character, but does not represent these in any way on a character sheet or via skills.
Attributes are meant to represent a person’s actual physical and mental being, and help to arbitrate things like when a person is injured or exhausted, etc.
Skills are meant to represent the things that a person does or knows. Everyone has talents and crafts that they may cultivate over their lifetime. Mytharc encourages social skills to be represented and generated via interpersonal roleplaying (and social skills are not represented on a character sheet), while knowledge skills and physical skills can be represented on a character sheet and have corresponding in-game mechanics to support these aspects of roleplay.
In order to represent the special unique qualities of an individual, every character has a special skill that is linked uniquely to them. Game Creators are encouraged to create skills that fit a character’s background and story while adding balance and intrigue to their game world.
This special skill can be called anything a Game Creator wishes (in case they want to build in a narrative surrounding it such as super powers), but for ease of reference will be called a “True Self” in this documentation. A character may use their True Self skill once per day. If a character so wishes, they may, when they have a deep interpersonal connection to another character, allow them to access this skill by bestowing it upon them. If another character uses the skill, they must tell the person with whom they share it, and that person may not use it for that day. The intention behind this was to reflect that you would only share your True Self with someone whom you loved and trusted deeply; someone who would not misuse your trust or use it carelessly. Once you have shared this part of yourself with someone, it cannot be unlearned, even if the relationship sours. Learning someone’s True Self and sharing yours also gives you a Red Token.
In a Mytharc game, attributes are simply Body and Mind. This represents the amount of stress that your physical body or your mind can take before you need to rest or be restored in some way. All characters get 10 points to distribute in either category, which serve as their base. These points can be temporarily diminished and restored over the course of an event by physical injury, taxing mental problems, etc, but will always return to their base scores with time and rest. These attributes usually will not change through the course of a character’s life. There may be exceptions; extreme situations in which one point of either Body or Mind might be permanently lost for narrative reasons.
A game cycle can be as much as once per hour, or once per battle, once per day, once per meal, once per event, once per season—depending on the Game Creator’s preference. The Game Creator can determine what constitutes “rest” enough to gain back attributes. Further, Mind and Body could refresh at different rates, depending on the kind of game that the Game Creator wants to run. For example, a high magic, high fantasy game might have Mind refresh every few hours, but Body refresh only once an event. An esoteric horror game might have mind refresh once per season, and body refresh once per event. Anything appropriate to the game creator’s world is encouraged.
In a Mytharc game, there are two types of skills—Mental skills and Physical skills.
It is worth noting that there are no skills to represent the ability to handle weapons or armor in a Mytharc game. This reflects a fundamental design philosophy of Mytharc; anyone may pick up any weapon at any time and use it, and that using it effectively is simply a matter of knowledge, time and energy invested. The knowledge of using a weapon can easily be reflected in a knowledge-based skill, and would create the ability for a character to then invest the time and physical training into a physical-based skill. Similarly, anyone may wear as much or as little armor as they like, and expect it to protect their body accordingly.
For example, in a Star Trek game, there may be a secret call known only to those who understand “Vulcan Martial Arts” that allows them to put an opponent to sleep with a single touch. After learning the appropriate Knowledge skill, the Physical skill “Sleep” then becomes available for investment.
There are two categories of mental skills in a Mytharc game. One is Knowledge, which comprises the vast bulk of what can should be invested in. The other is Special Mental Abilities that equate to things like powers and spells. These are unlocked through knowledges much the same way that restricted Physical skills are, but draw from the Mind pool to enact, as opposed to requiring further skill point or experience investment. This is because, as a mental skill, by investing the time into the knowledge, it has already been learned, as opposed to a physical discipline that takes time and practice in addition to knowledge.
In a Mytharc game, knowledge is the basis for much of the story. Characters engage in soft skill-checks based on their knowledges at almost every turn. What they know defines how they interact with their environment and others, and open the door for many creative possibilities, both created by Game Creator, as well as driven by the player.
Knowledge skills are meant to be a general area of knowledge, which allow for a diversity of specialization under those categories. For example, say a character wanted to be a masterful cook, they might find themselves with a basic education of “Services”, and a highly specialized education in “Culinary Arts”—or perhaps alternately an education in “Arts” and a specialization in “Cooking”.
At character creation, a character starts with Knowledge-Based Skill points equal to that character’s Mind score multiplied by 3. The reason why knowledge is so much more abundant at creation than physical skills is because in Mytharc, what you know is far more powerful than what your body can do. Any unused points may be banked (in the category) and used later when characters gain experience.
The cost for a skill is 1 point for the core skill, and specializations cannot be purchased without the core skill being taken. Cost for specializations are 1 point for a the first level, 2 points for a second level, and so forth. Specializations may grow to 3x with a lone player’s investment, and up to 5 using shared learning (see Constructive Pedagogy explanation). A game creator can decide how many individuals must be studying together in order to open the following level, and they can be PC or NPC, Mytharc recommends three and five, for the 4th and 5th tiers, respectively.
This list of skills is co-opted from a list of higher education majors, and is highly mutable.
It is incumbent on Game Creators to create a list of skills (and specializations) that will be relevant to the game they are creating, and to react to the kinds of skills that characters in their game take by creating opportunities for those skills to be useful in their game world where possible. Different skills can be created at a Game Creator’s discretion, and creating hidden knowledge skills that can only be discovered as a character grows is highly encouraged. Examples might be an ancient language unknown to most, or the business dealings of a secret society. Players and Game Creator’s should keep an open dialogue about a character’s goals and interests, and react accordingly, keeping in mind that points on a sheet do not equal a great character.
It is also possible for knowledge to unlock mentally-based powers, especially in systems that utilize magic or science-fiction technology. Game Creators may create appropriate systems for these based on their setting that draw from a character’s temporary Mind pool.
An example of this might be in a esoteric horror game, learning a dark and dangerous spell to summon an impish creature to do one’s bidding. Learning the spell would require a specialized Knowledge, perhaps a deep understanding of the Occult. Enacting the spell would require spending Mind. The spell itself could be learned by anyone who put the time into learning it, given an appropriate reason for doing so.
In a live action game, people often would like to represent their characters as having a different set of physical attributes or limitations than they themselves have. It is important to take that into account in a system. This is handled in many LARP systems with “calls” or gestures that represent these abilities or limitations. Game Creator’s are welcome to use whatever calls or gestures they deem appropriate to their setting. The Mytharc methodology recommends open calls that are disabling effects that last 3 seconds or are instantaneous, rather than things that outright end a conflict—for example a “Trip” versus a “Sleep”.
At character creation, a character starts with Physical Skill Points equal to that character’s Body score. Any unused points may be banked and used later when characters gain experience.
Calls or gestures can be purchased for 1 point for the first level, 2 points for the second level, and so forth, and cannot grow to more than 3x without constructive pedagogy, which allows up to 5. The number of levels taken is the number of times that the call or gesture can be used in a cycle. The cycle is determined by the Game Creators (and is discussed above under Attributes).
Recommended Open calls:
Recommended Restricted or Secret that require special knowledge:
Players may outfit a character however they like. The only thing that determines how armored a character is at any given time is the armor they are actually wearing at that moment. The reasoning behind why armor and physical skills are different is that anyone can get armor and come up with a narrative reason to do so, that is easy—but learning a physical skill is hard and takes investment of time/energy.
Armor can give up to 5 points of “hits” before it must be repaired or replaced (repairing should simply be roleplayed accordingly). Game Creators will look at a character’s outfitting and decide how many points are given—typically 1–3 is the average. Five points would be very unusual and be someone in full heavy plate or space marine armor.
Characters may carry whatever weapons they would like to physically represent, and similarly, should have an understanding for themselves of where the weapon came from, whether it is special to them, etc.
Game Creators are highly discouraged from creating or giving any items that have any sort of attribute or skill attached to them that is not widely and generally accessible by the entire game world. Items in a Mytharc game might require certain knowledges in order to use appropriately, or to access, but in general, items should require something from a player, not bestow something to a player.
Game Creators can go another step, and make it so that without Constructivist Pedagogy at work, some items are inaccessible, but working together, they become available for all. For example, in a game where bullets are a scarce resource, enough players who invested the time and energy into Engineering and Manufacturing would be able to create a means by which everyone could obtain bullets each session.
Mytharc is of the opinion that systems with items that bestow attributes or skills can lead to item hoarding, negative player-versus-player interactions, and can create an environment that is destructive to collaborative narrative storytelling. Similarly, Mytharc does not have any in-game professions or wealth mechanics. This is so that players may feel free to roleplay whatever character they feel is the most interesting to them.
Players receive normal experience at a rate of typically 2 experience points per game event that their character attends. A Game Creator may have other systems for gaining more experience, such as in-game discovery, contribution to the community, etc., but that is up to each Game Creator individually.
Experience is spent to purchase Mental skills and Physical skills, for the same cost progression that is described at character creation (i.e., 1 point for first level, 2 for second, etc.). Game Creators may wish to represent experience with a token of some kind, but they can also choose to not do this.
As in our real lives, there are experiences that broaden our understanding of ourselves at our very core. These are things like love, loss, accomplishing a major goal, failing at something important, and more. No one gets through life without experiencing these things, and as we gain these experiences, our perspectives shift and we are able to approach things differently.
This is represented in Mytharc games by a system called the “Red Token” system. When a character experiences a major event, they gain a Red Token. This Red Token opens up knowledges to them that they could have never known before (secret paths that are at the Game Creator’s discretion). The Red Token also gives them an advantage in conflicts (see the dueling system below), as they’re more likely to have experienced similar things in their lives before this.
There are certain events that will automatically mean gaining a Red Token, such as those described in the Death & Exit, and the True Self mechanics. Game Creators should also feel free to create a manifold of narrative means by which a character can have this happen. This can also be a collaboration between player and Game Creator.
As the character’s story goes on, and they accumulate Red Tokens, their narrative arc unfolds, and their self-discovery finally comes to a point where the arc is over. After a number of Red Tokens decided upon by the Game Creators (Mytharc recommends 5) are gained, the character’s arc is completed. The player then works with the Game Creators to end the character’s story, whether by that character’s death, retirement, or other exit.
One of the most fun parts of a live action game can be the rush of a battle. In a Mytharc game, battles can be extremely deadly. For this reason, Mytharc supports two different systems of play—combat resolution as well as conflict resolution. Combat resolution is represented by boffer combat, and conflict resolution is represented by the dueling system.
In a Mytharc game, real-time combat is represented by latex weapons, boffer weapons, dart guns, or other weapons at the Game Creator’s discretion. There is no called damage in a Mytharc game; each hit represents a wound which temporarily lowers a character’s Body. Some Game Creators may wish to have weapons of certain types do more damage; they can adjust accordingly, but but in the standard Mytharc design philosophy, access to those weapons should be accessible via many different means and not closed off to someone thinking creatively (see above section on items for explanation of this reasoning).
When Body is at 0, a character falls unconscious. They will awaken in 3 minutes unless bandaged and cared for by whatever means appropriate to the setting, which can shorten that time. A character will not die unless they are death struck (see below on Death & Exit for an explanation of death strikes).
A duel may be requested at any time between a player and an NPC or another player. Game Creators are encouraged to come up with a phrase that is recognizable as an invitation to engage in a duel that a character can accept or reject, such as “It seems as though we cannot settle our differences with words.”
If accepted, both parties will exit the scene and meet in the Meta Room. There they will quickly talk out of game and decide the outcome of the duel. This is the preferred way of resolving a conflict, and can lead to fun dramatic interactions on both sides at no major risk to the parties involved.
If no agreement can be made, each party must bid experience (or skills points if no experience has been gained/spent) or Red Tokens, in secret. Game Creators should have appropriate dice set aside in their Meta Room.
1 Experience/1 Skill Point—Give 1 d2
Red Tokens—Give 1 d6
Any Experience that is bid is lost, regardless of the outcome, and players must adjust their builds accordingly. Any Red Token bid will create a permanent Impairment, but Red Tokens are never lost. This represents the fact that in a conflict of this type, people are injured and will experience loss, and is meant to encourage people to collaboratively come up with interesting scenes without the use of mechanics (remember—Play to Lose!). A player’s willingness to sacrifice may make the difference between their loss or victory, and when things like their life are on the line, the sacrifice may be well worth it.
Each party rolls their bid and adds up the total. The party with the higher roll wins the Duel. They now exit the Meta Room and act out a dramatic fight, predetermined by the previous rolls.
Physical healing of all types (even magical in nature) only grants temporary Body, which expires in 1 hour (or other time period Game Creator deems appropriate). This temporary Body cannot exceed the player’s maximum Body. After the expiration, if the player is at zero Body, they must take a temporary impairment. Impairments can include a broken limb, or temporary loss of a physical skill (Disarm, Trip). They must roleplay this impairment for the remainder of the cycle.
The only way to heal permanently is to rest, or extraordinary extenuating circumstances, at a Game Creator’s narrative discretion. Rest can be at a Game Creator’s discretion as is appropriate for their setting, but Mytharc recommends a full night’s sleep at minimum.
Impairments can be temporary or permanent. Temporary impairments should be player-arbitrated—if a character has gotten into such grievous physical situations that they are beaten bloody, this should be roleplayed accordingly.
Putting one’s life in extreme danger can cause physical impairments that are permanent. These situations can arise narratively, as presented by a Game Creator, or may also happen with specific mechanics in place like Dueling and Death. The Impairment can be anything from roleplayed injuries (e.g. the character walks with a limp, the character has a nasty scar across their face) to loss of physical skills (e.g. the character loses the ability to disarm others forever). Whatever the impairment, it should be interesting, befitting the situation that caused it, and add to a character’s story. Permanent impairments can be a collaboration between Game Creator and player.
Game Creators may wish to create systems that require mental exertion in order to complete, such as magic systems, superpowers, mentally taxing scenarios, or something else.
Game Creators can create whatever system they choose and use the Mind attribute as the pool from which people can draw for these systems.
Mental healing of all types (even magical in nature) only grants temporary Mind, which expires in 1 hour (or time period deemed appropriate by the Game Creators). This temporary Mind cannot exceed the players max Mind. After the expiration, if the player is at zero Mind, they must take a temporary mental impairment.
The only way to mentally heal permanently is to rest, or extraordinary extenuating circumstances, at a Game Creator’s narrative discretion.
When a person becomes mentally exhausted, they can become impaired.
Impairments can be temporary or permanent. Temporary impairments should be player-arbitrated—if a character has exhausted themselves mentally so completely that they are barely able to function, this should be roleplayed accordingly. Players are cautioned to think about this as a mental exhaustion or stress, not as a mental disability or mental health issue, and to be sensitive about their choices.
Other situations can cause extreme mental stress, which are permanent. These situations can arise narratively, as presented by a Game Creator, or may also happen with specific mechanics in place like Dueling and Death. The Impairment can be anything from roleplayed post traumatic stress, to the loss of permanent knowledge or mental-based skills. Whatever the impairment, it should be interesting, befitting the situation that caused it, and add to a character’s story. Permanent impairments can be a collaboration between Game Creator and player.
Death in a Mytharc game represents the end of a character’s arc. Characters can also complete their arcs in other ways and choose to retire or exit the character in a manner suitable to them.
Because of the extreme focus on narrative, being death struck in Mytharc is very dramatic and far more rare than in many other LARP systems. Being death struck results in an immediate Red Token, and causes a permanent Physical Impairment. If a character is death struck and they already have the max number of Red Tokens, they are killed permanently. If they are not at their maximum number of Red Tokens, roleplay for repairing the critically wounded character should be undertaken in a manner appropriate with the game setting.
A death strike in a Mytharc game is as simple as walking to a beaten opponent (who is at 0 Body), and calling “Death” while ending their life in some setting appropriate means. Killing someone gives a character an immediate Red Token, and causes a permanent Mental Impairment.
Caroline Murphy is a game designer, community organizer, Director of Marketing at Intrepid and Chief Creative Officer at Incantrix Productions. She is a founder and CEO of the Boston Festival of Indie Games, leader of Boston Indies, a member of the Board of Directors for Be Epic, Inc., and a founder of the LARP Forum. Caroline has been designing Live Action experiences since 2001.