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Modern characters sent to mythic setting


Coffee Zombie

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My friend and I wrapped up our last solo campaign, and while brainstorming for the new one I knew the idea would work in Mythras. I've just hit one snag. 

The concept is a group of high school students, typical but full of personality, end up going through a portal into an iron age fantasy world. The idea is to have them start in the wilderness and survive on their own for a while, and much of the drama will be based on that survival. Eventually they will find nearby civilization and have a chance to upgrade gear, find new teachers, etc. 

My question is this. Trying to model modern age humans using the Mythras rules is tricky. Modern adolescence appears prolonged, and our educational priorities for our young are vastly different than pre-modern civilizations. I know there are some skills which will become useless and can functionally be left off the sheet (one of the characters is into auto repairs, for example). But is there a good piece of material to model what Professional Skills I should award to the characters? Even the Civilized culture really isn't a good fit for post-industrial human adolescents.

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The "fish out of water" phenomenon (here, temporally-displaced teens) fits poorly IMHO with the Mythras character-building process, which works hard to embed a character into their culture; you'll likely have to "wing it" to a large degree.  That said, some things will probably carry over...

  • Anyone who was in the Scouts or Guides may have some outdoors skills.
  • The character into auto-repair probably has a decent sense of simple engineering, for building a shelter, a raft to cross water, etc.

I'm sure there are others not occurring to me at the moment!

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1 hour ago, Matt_E said:

Try using Luther Arkwright.

Yeah.  Kind of a d'oh moment for me there.

Of course, the OP had specified Mythras.  As in, presumably, the core rules without the LA supplement.  Yeah... that's what was meant ...  OBVIOUSLY.

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No, I do think the OP was about straight Mythras RAW, so you're right to discuss that.  I just wanted to point out that all this had been addressed, to the satisfaction of the Makers, in an official sourcebook.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Lack of access, perhaps, but it would probably be worthwhile to just save up for LA.

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21 minutes ago, Matt_E said:

No, I do think the OP was about straight Mythras RAW, so you're right to discuss that.  I just wanted to point out that all this had been addressed, to the satisfaction of the Makers, in an official sourcebook.  Why reinvent the wheel?  Lack of access, perhaps, but it would probably be worthwhile to just save up for LA.

In total agreement with you Matt_E.

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Sounds like an interesting idea. I don't have the LA rules yet, but they sound like they would be invaluable for a wide range of campaigns outside the original one. It opens up a wide range of potential for the Mythras rules if the promise holds.

How were you going to handle languages once our teen survivors reach civilized lands? If you're going to be this gritty, then it seems reasonable that part of their challenge will be communicating with the locals once they find them. They will probably need to find some sort of way to convey simple concepts (like "I'm hungry" and "I'm not a threat") until they get even a slim grasp of the language. Which will probably be completely unrelated to their native tongues.

The odds are really stacked against your PCs, which will make their successes even more heroic.

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Sounds like the plot of that Eighties cartoon where some kids got into the wrong funfair ride ... And also a recent BBC TV series called Atlantis, which was kind of a flop.

They would have to be forced to survive on their wits alone - which, considering modern humans, means that they probably would not last very long.

Mythras emphasises a good deal on backgrounds: it is from one's backgrounds that one develops one's skills, connections and so on. So without purchasing any supplements that you can't yet afford, if the students come from a Civilised background, they would have Native Tongue - their own - Literacy - again, their own - and a selection of random skills, depending on their backgrounds in the world they came from.

For example, if they'd been brought up in a community on the shore, they may develop Swim, Boating and Seamanship, and fishing could form part of their Survival skill. Bloggers might be out of luck in a world which hasn't even invented hot metal print yet; but politically savvy types with designs on being some sort of student leader in school would know Influence and Insight, because political backstabbers sing the same tune and dance the same dance everywhere.

Speaking of singing and dancing, the denizens of the strange new world in which they arrive would be amused by some of the music and dance moves that the kids would bring in; bemused by hip hop, appalled by Lady Gaga, and curious about those strange glass and metal boxes which briefly yielded that odd noise from "Edsheeran" and "Littlemix" before they gave up the ghost.

And then you'd have the science nerd, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of science: chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology. He'd probably want to explore everything, and everybody would be holding him back from exploring that dragon's lair armed with nothing more than a notebook. Imagine being given the chance to invent everything, from pencils to plastics. Imagine someone going in with intimate knowledge of what one can do with the correct mixture of sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre, or an understanding of how to extract pretty much every element of the periodic table from the raw ores, including such elements as arsenic, white phosphorus and uranium.

Imagine, also, someone with knowledge of biology, particularly a knowledge of organic poisons derived from plants and animals. Oh, and biochemistry, and recreational compounds.

I'm sure that if they had decent INT and POW scores, maybe high enough CHA, they would survive long enough to learn local Customs and Locale knowledge, enough to survive a few years at least. Maybe they would even find out why they were brought to the realm in the first place, and by whom, and if the being who brought them there can send them back some day ...

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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One issue worth considering -- brought up by @Alex Greene's comments above -- is the magic-vs-science thing.

While I'd be a rather wary implementing the character concept "knows all the sciences to an encyclopedic level, including practical engineering threof" (particularly at the high school level), I'm equally wary around the science/magic interface:  I find a huge range of difference-of-opinion and breaks-suspension-of-disbelief variance within geekdom here...

Does high-tech even WORK in your fantasy realm?  In some fantasy realms, it just doesn't:  their magic-driven metaphysics doesn't support high-tech the same way ours doesn't support "Fireblade" and "Befuddle."

If tech DOES work... can one magically read the data off of a disk drive?  A thumb drive?  What if it's encrypted?  Can one re-charge batteries via magic?  Even non-rechargeable ones (if not, why not)?  Can you just run a battery-driven device straight off a spell, without bothering to charge a battery?

Etc ...

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3 hours ago, g33k said:

One issue worth considering -- brought up by @Alex Greene's comments above -- is the magic-vs-science thing.

While I'd be a rather wary implementing the character concept "knows all the sciences to an encyclopedic level, including practical engineering threof" (particularly at the high school level), I'm equally wary around the science/magic interface:  I find a huge range of difference-of-opinion and breaks-suspension-of-disbelief variance within geekdom here...

Does high-tech even WORK in your fantasy realm?  In some fantasy realms, it just doesn't:  their magic-driven metaphysics doesn't support high-tech the same way ours doesn't support "Fireblade" and "Befuddle."

If tech DOES work... can one magically read the data off of a disk drive?  A thumb drive?  What if it's encrypted?  Can one re-charge batteries via magic?  Even non-rechargeable ones (if not, why not)?  Can you just run a battery-driven device straight off a spell, without bothering to charge a battery?

Etc ...

 

Another issue is actually knowing how that stuff works at a level that allows you to build a working model. Most modern technology has a wide separation between the theory and application. An electrical engineer can design a cell phone, but he probably can't actually build one from parts and is even less likely to know how to make the individual components needed.

It is the Captain Kirk vs the Gorn thing. Actually whipping up a little black powder from random stuff on the ground, measured by feel to build a cannon is really, really unlikely, but many players seem to take that kind of ability as a given.

 

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Magic versus technology ... not an issue. A lot of fantasy writers try the "magic works over there but not in this world" thing as if to explain it away, but if everything was magic, we'd all be dead because we're still humans, still oxygen-breathing homeothermic evolved plains apes who learned to channel kinetic energy, thermal energy, chemical energy and electrical energy to our ends, just as we have tamed muscle energy from domesticated beasts of burden.

Gunpowder works even in fantasy worlds. "How can fire undo stone?" - Grima Wormtongue, Lord of The Rings

Chemistry, biology, mathematics, the sciences - they all work. Just that the focus has always been on spell slingers because magic just looks more fun. But if some nerd can MacGyver a rocket out of a capped metal tube with flanges welded to the sides, just run with it.

Sauron would not have lasted long against a Minas Tirith that was bristling with cannons. And vice versa.

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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I, er, was into studying lasers at school when everybody else was just getting into mixing salt into water to see it dissolve. So some people can be really nerdy that way. Not good on the social graces, but that was because they probably, like me, found humans to be an irritating source of pointless pain and suffering, particularly those who loved to use their fists. A distraction from the Great Work, best ignored.

I might survive in a mythic fantasy world, but my 15 y.o. self would have found a hole and buried himself in it with lab gear.

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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2 hours ago, Toadmaster said:

Another issue is actually knowing how that stuff works at a level that allows you to build a working model. Most modern technology has a wide separation between the theory and application.

Yeah, this is exactly my point -- more fully stated here by @Toadmaster -- in noting "the practical application thereof" is a problem...

2 hours ago, Toadmaster said:

An electrical engineer can design a cell phone, but he probably can't actually build one from parts and is even less likely to know how to make the individual components needed.

Cellphones?  Not gonna happen.  Purifying the silicon, doping it, masking/etching, sputtering the metal to actually construct transistors, etc etc etc (each of which is its own huge suite of tech & engineering issues -- and industries backing them) -- it needs an entire tech/electronic industry.  The same is true for a LARGE number of our modern things... things that are, medievally, Clarke-tech.  The problem -- if it's even perceived within the culture as a "problem" needing a "solution" -- is already being solved with magic.

But frankly, if the OP has an "iron age fantasy world" deploying magitech cellphones & similar... it probably isn't an "iron age" culture!  ;)

That said... the telegraph is not beyond high-school tech.  I built one myself, for an elementary-school science project.  Granted, I used off-the-shelf wire and off-the-shelf batteries... but again, this is something the average science-nerd might plausibly be able to construct, with medieval supplies.  Next step would be the "wireless radio," and that too is within reach.

Electronics -- the early ones -- aren't out of reach, either :  vacuum-tube & crystal tech is do-able.  Items would be bigger (q.v. ENIAC), but it'd be do-able.  But if magic ALREADY works, it's not clear to me how or why anyone would devote the time and resources to build early techno-tech...

3 hours ago, Toadmaster said:

It is the Captain Kirk vs the Gorn thing. Actually whipping up a little black powder from random stuff on the ground, measured by feel to build a cannon is really, really unlikely, but many players seem to take that kind of ability as a given.

In all fairness:  once you put together the ingredients for gunpowder in anything even vaguely resembling a gunpower-esque formulation, it'll blow up when sparked; "random stuff on the ground" won't blow, but a science-nerd will easily discern WHICH bits are the right ones (of course, seams of coal, sulfur, and saltpeter aren't usually found within a few km's of one another... but hey, we already knew the magic angels who set up the lesson/duel had put stuff there for the finding).

Deathworld 2 (Harrison) has another take on the "make tech out of primitive stuff" notion, even more-relevant than the Kirk/Gorn episode.

 

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37 minutes ago, Alex Greene said:

Magic versus technology ... not an issue. A lot of fantasy writers try the "magic works over there but not in this world" thing as if to explain it away, but if everything was magic, we'd all be dead because we're still humans, still oxygen-breathing homeothermic evolved plains apes who learned to channel kinetic energy, thermal energy, chemical energy and electrical energy to our ends, just as we have tamed muscle energy from domesticated beasts of burden.

Well, YMMV.

I'm perfectly happy with the supposition that -- in a magical world -- we survive because the magic (or Divine Will, or any other supernatural say-so) says so, just the same as we survive our world because the physics & chemistry say so.  It can drive the science-geeky-types to fits of rage at times, but if it makes for a better game, story, etc... I will throw the science out with the techwater.

In "Ars Magica," for example, our modern physics is explicitly incorrect -- it just doesn't work; instead the rules of the "medieval paradigm" are in place, with Natural History (science) working as defined & understood by Plato and Aristotle and other foundational figures.  In "Mage," science works because everyone EXPECTS and WANTS it to work (due to a sustained multi-century PR campaign by a cabal of wizards (and they do their spells as reverse-Clarke:  magic that the uninformed find to be indistinguishable from science)).  But actually, science DOESN'T work:  the Universe is just making its magic look like "science" in conformation to the will of the billions of believers.

So, yeah.  I got no problem with the "science doesn't work over there" trope.

 

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1 hour ago, Alex Greene said:

Sauron would not have lasted long against a Minas Tirith that was bristling with cannons. And vice versa.

Sure he would have... Sauron's momma di'nt raise no fool !

Recall that Sauron took Isengard without a single clash of arms.  And Denethor was teetering on the brink of despair and/or madness; he had in fact resigned himself to going down in valiant defeat (i.e. he had essentially already lost), even before he got Boromir's Horn and Faramir lay dying of fever.

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It seems to me that you would have to rewrite the laws of physics to make them cease to work. Even in magic, there's laws of physics - magic takes its toll in "Magic Points," which is to say that biochemical energy fuels spells, or at least catalyses the spells' effects, which must mean that there has to be some sort of scientific principle at play that is not entirely fully understood by the sorcerers themselves, even.

The most profound science fiction authors were all scholars, scientists or otherwise learned men of some sort or another, and they all brought in ideas for what made magic work and what didn't. In effect, even when they were writing fantasy, they were really writing science fiction.

So back to the original story - the kids would probably survive, if the world more or less ran the way their world ran - laws of physics the same, laws of economics likewise, familiar enough political situations and motives to be recognisable and so on). Some of their solutions would seem to be the sort of solutions anyone from the fantasy world would come up with - but the Gamesmaster would have to set things up in every adventure, such that at least one of the kids had their chance to provide one solution to a problem in any given adventure which turns out to be something scientific. Something they would have known from school.

Assuming any of them paid attention ...

Edited by Alex Greene

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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Another problem is that Iron Age cultures were pretty xenophobic -- perhaps not of the level of "Look! Strangers! KILL THEM!", but people would have a hard time trusting people they don't know. After all, if there are bandits running around and you're in a town threatened by them, you have to assume that if you see someone you don't know they're probably a bandit unless they deliberately display a sign that they're on your side -- and even then you'd be wary for a trick. If the PCs don't speak the language, that only adds to the challenge.

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All this depends on how your Gamesmaster wants to play the setting. If it's about kids from the 21st century surviving a world where people their age, say 17-18, are already either adventuring or committed to their allotted lives as serfs / nobles / whatever, then the game should be about them using their limited knowledge of various Lores like Chemistry, Astronomy, even Folklore, and copious quantities of other skills such as Survival, Deceit, Sleight, Conceal and Stealth, to survive in a hostile world.

And they should be given a chance to not only survive, but to determine why they were brought to the world - because someone or something would have wanted these specific kids to come here, meaning that each of them would have something: some knowledge, exposure to an event or common trait: which is essential to the resolution of the task for which they were brought to the world.

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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Oh, I love the way my brain works.

Suppose that the one thing they all have in common is this.

The kids are all native to this domain.

They were all sent away for their safety, transported away by some influence or power - ancient sorcery, some Theistic Miracle not listed in the book - and each of them found their way into the hands of loving parents who brought them up in the same place - early 2000s America, let's say in Denver, CO.

2017, and they've all had a chance to grow up, and the force which sent them away feels that they are mature enough to bring them back home to the people who gave birth to them. But they're kids of a modern age, and once they have solved the problem which necessitated their being sent away in the first place, they have a choice: to go back to 21st Century America, or to stay with their birth parents. Assuming their birth parents still live.

That would work as a scenario.

 

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Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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To bridge the gap in dimensions/worlds/time this way would be very high-powered magic for a Mythus setting. So if you're using this much power as a deliberate act, it might take you weeks or even months to recover.

If the summoner is capable of acting, he or she would be doing their darndest to keep to kids alive while they work this all out -- if they are capable of doing so,

An other way to play this is for this summoning to be accidental. Maybe the kids accidentally cast the spell themselves back in their own world, and it's a surprise to everyone they survived. Perhaps random doors between the worlds open and close every so often, closing as rapidly as they appear.

Perhaps there is no way home and our teen heroes discover they like their new world better than home and decide to settle down for good. Or they realize they are stranded and have to make the best of it even if they don't like it,

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11 hours ago, Michael Hopcroft said:

To bridge the gap in dimensions/worlds/time this way would be very high-powered magic for a Mythus setting. So if you're using this much power as a deliberate act, it might take you weeks or even months to recover.

If there is one thing I have learned from physics, it's that there is always enough power available from somewhere. If internal Magic Points are not sufficient, there'd still be some other resource that is tappable. Plot works like that, which is why you get stories about powerful characters throwing about insane amounts of power towards the end of their campaigns, hurling lightning bolts that turn entire city blocks to molten glass and arm-wrestling with gods.

Author of Fioracitta for Mythras and the 2d6 SFRPG setting of Castrobancla.

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On 1/23/2017 at 2:32 PM, Michael Hopcroft said:

Another problem is that Iron Age cultures were pretty xenophobic -- perhaps not of the level of "Look! Strangers! KILL THEM!", but people would have a hard time trusting people they don't know. After all, if there are bandits running around and you're in a town threatened by them, you have to assume that if you see someone you don't know they're probably a bandit unless they deliberately display a sign that they're on your side -- and even then you'd be wary for a trick. If the PCs don't speak the language, that only adds to the challenge.

And not even overt "xenophobia" -- just plain old unenlighted self-interest (this era being pre-Enlightenment & all...) .  Why the <bleep> should any lord or merchant -- in a position to help the kids, offer patronage/bankroll/backing/etc -- actually help these piss-ant (nb very much NOT puissant!) pisces ex aquam???

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On 1/25/2017 at 8:06 AM, g33k said:

And not even overt "xenophobia" -- just plain old unenlighted self-interest (this era being pre-Enlightenment & all...) .  Why the <bleep> should any lord or merchant -- in a position to help the kids, offer patronage/bankroll/backing/etc -- actually help these piss-ant (nb very much NOT puissant!) pisces ex aquam???

Assuming there isn't a prophecy that they are assumed to be a part of, which is an idea cliche enough that I would avoid it, there can be completely irrational reasons for the way people respond to the newcomers. Maybe word gets out of something they did (or possibly did) and that changes how people respond to them. The story of :Jack the Giant Killer" comes to mind -- the characters say or do something whose significance they do not fathom and, mistaken for the great heroes they aren't, get sent on a seemingly impossible and/or suicidal quest. To get through they will need sharp wits, but if they succeed people will respond to them differently than if they were simply rando0m, oddly-dressed strangers.

It could be as simple as where they emerge. If they get their start in a deep dark forest that nobody dares enter, for example, and come out of it alive, people will definitely come to conclusions about them.

You just have to find a story reason for the locals not to kill them outright, The rest is up to them.

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