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Modern Mythras: Challenging The Players

Alex Greene


This is the penultimate Modern Mythras post, and I intend to wrap up the subject with one last look at Gamesmastering before I summarise everything in the next post - then take a one week hiatus.

In a recent post, I posed four sources of drama and conflict: Person versus Person, Person versus Self, Person Versus Nature, and Person Versus Society. This blog just expands on those four sources of drama, and presents ideas which are intended to draw the players in to the conflict.

Make It Personal

You have to understand the characters, which means taking time developing their backgrounds, their Passions, and their Connections, in Session Zero. Don't let them skip the little details - they're essential to your players' development.

Involve The Background Characters

Non-Player Characters aren't there to just be there in the store when you want to buy your ammo and other groceries. They aren't there to serve you. They're the people you, your Connections, your family, your friends interact with. Your brother in law might work in the American DMV and you can use this information to persuade him to alter - sorry, "update" - a driver's license. Your Ally might know somebody who works in a business you are infiltrating, and they can arrange to make introductions.

That Contact might just want to talk to you because their job is so boring, and they have a serious crush on you and your exciting life. That Rival might keep turning up just because they want to find out about you, or your strange friends.

Use Background Events

This is so important. Every character has a background event which influences their decision to enter play and become an Adventurer, Agent, whatever. Work with the Players on these background events: they should turn up at least once during each character's developing story arc, as a reminder of their roots and the direction their lives are taking them - as compared to the direction their lives would have taken, had the background event never happened.

What If?

Remember the story It's A Wonderful Life?

The TV series Person of Interest used this trope in its penultimate episode, where Finch was presented with a series of visions of what would have happened had Harold Finch never created The Machine. Samaritan would still have existed, Root would have joined Greer, John Reese would have been rejected by his woman Rachel and ended up dead, Fusco would have been a drunken washed-out has-been barely holding his own as a private detective, and so on.

Present the characters in an alternative world where each of them never existed. Had Pete Tink never become party leader, the group would never have formed and every last one of them would have ended up dead, for instance; or had Amalthea never met Sergeant Biff, she would have descended into an undisciplined life of lechery and drug addiction.

Use Passions

Those Passions are there for a reason, particularly Passions which involve another person, e.g. "Love (My Wife Monica)" or "Hate (The Man Who Killed My Dog)". They spur the character to act when they have run out of things to do: and conversely, they can also stop the character from doing something rash, acting as a last bit of common sense when the Willpower check fails - "But if you do pull that trigger, will your daughter Anneka be able to look you in the eye ever again?"

Person Versus Person

Tit For Tat

Your next door neighbour can't stand you, and you have no idea why. Perhaps it doesn't matter because the neighbour's just born obnoxious and you're the only person in the neighbourhood who isn't afraid of that little toad. So they have been making your life miserable with one act of passive-aggressive petty sabotage after another; getting you blacklisted with every takeout company and taxi firm by calling out pizza deliveries and taxis to your home whenever you've been away, throwing tyres into your back yard and so on. You wouldn't react, but today you found your cat lying dead next to a piece of poisoned meat in the front garden. What do you do?

Affairs Of The Heart

Sometimes, the source of drama is not hostilities. You have been having an affair with the boss's wife. It's been going on for about a year, ever since she picked you up at a company retreat last August. She knows your boss doesn't mind - she likes to watch. But the affair is at risk of being exposed, and none of you is happy. So who's got a hold of those sex tapes, and how, and what do they want?

Person Versus Self

Confronting Old Demons

You have long harboured dreadful self-doubt about that horrendous failure which plagued you (the character's background event). And now, it looks as if history is going to repeat itself as one of your closest, dearest friends looks as thought hey are about to do the same thing your loved ones once did - the thing that got them killed. You failed to intervene, last time, and they're all gone. Do you intervene now to save your friend? Can you, physically, intervene? How about morally and ethically?

Trolley Problem

You've seen this before, countless times in television shows, movies, literature, comic books and so on. You are faced with an impossible choice - save one person from getting killed, or let disaster claim the lives of multiple people - but that one person lives.

It leads to a situation where the character, and by "character" I mean "player," wrestles with the burden of making this important decision. What if the single person was a bad person? What if they were good, or a loved one? What if they were a stranger? A famous philanthropist, local hero, mother?

Similarly, how many people are in jeopardy if the switch was flipped the other way? Are they all bad people? Are some of them strangers - or even loved ones, mixed up with strangers and bad people? And what if every single person on both tracks was someone you loved, and you had to choose between the one and the many, knowing you were going to lost someone no matter what?

Person Versus Nature

Ticking Clock

You know it's coming. That volcano's been kicking the ground under your feet for days, now, and these last few hours it's been wearing hobnail boots. It's going to erupt. But can you get your car to work before it does? ANd can you get far enough away from it before it sends a wave of pyroclastic ash down on your head?

On Deadly Ground

"On deadly ground, fight." Never had Sun Tzu's advice from The Art of War been more appropriate. Those weird extraterrestrials have seeded the ground all around you with some virulent weed which is strangling every living plant; and that weed is now encroaching on your land. What have you got which can combat this deadly invader?

Person Versus Society


You Against Them

That cult has taken over the running of the town. You were only just passing through, but they have taken your family away from you, isolated you, made you fear for your life. How can you bring down a whole township of ten thousand people, with just one phone call?

Your Name Against The World

Someone's spread so many lies about you, you're almost starting to believe them yourself. Who can you turn to, to stop the smears, or to trace the root of the smears at it source and unveil the liar's dark motivations for wanting you out of the picture? And does it have anything to do with that new factory they are building on the edge of town, which you are convinced could have toxic side effects on the local ecology, food supply and community?

Conflicts Are Messy

Always remember - conflicts in a modern Mythras game are going to be messy. There's never going to be a quick, clean solution where your character just cuts a bad guy's Hit Points down to zero with a sword or a gun. The modern setting is full of repercussions: gunshots bring cops running, a bomb going off will bring cops, Feds and ATF, a bank robbery will bring the FBI, and so on.

Your characters won't be able to just buy up land, fortify it and put up barricades and shuttered windows without drawing the attention of every suit from Washington DC to Washington State. In the UK, you might get away with a little bit more than the Yanks do, but if there's even a single unspent round found on the premises, and you'll have the Bizzies* knocking on your door. With one of these.

A battering ram, tear gas, a doorbell and other equipment stolen from police  in Leeds - Leeds Live

*local slang for bacon, fuzz, pigs. ACAB. You know, cops.

The Modern Game

The modern Mythras game is not about wizards' towers, or Dark Forces Rising From The East. There are no chosen ones; just people thrust hip deep into weirdness.

Most of all, Modern Mythras is about people; and, for the most part, you can't just off people and throw them into a wood chipper if they bother you, any more than you can just go up to them and reduce them to zero Hit Points with your very long pointy two-edged metal stick. Not without people with badges asking you very serious questions.

A modern game requires modern solutions. Your characters have to be good thinkers, nimble on their feet, and very creative. It is that creativity, the ability to reach for alternative solutions, which makes Modern Mythras such a compelling setting, and one which desperately needs to be turned into a sourcebook.


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