Because I test every game I review for at least one adventure, I have found myself playing solo TTRPGs a great deal. Before my review of Pacts & Blades, I'd never played solo in my life, and it has been a very strange journey, finding what works. Running through a dungeon made in Donjon without reading it first is all good and fine, but you require more if you want a rich experience that really let's you kick a game's tires.
I started expanding my experience using Parts Per Million's Dungeon Crawl Solo. It's oracle system was handier than just grabbing a tarot deck or assigning a 2-in-6 chance to everything. Once I started using an oracle of some sort, I started having a much richer experience. Combined with a big hex-crawl setting like The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putresence or What Ho, Frog Demons! I could get a lot more spontaniety of play. Threads and plots emerged of their own accord once in awhile that kept play surprisingly fresh.
I have been searching for another toolset that does so with even more torque and less emphasis on dungeon crawling for awhile now. I picked up Tom Scutt's DM Yourself last Summer, and was quite disappointed in it. I have also been using the tools from the free version of Scarlet Heroes on occasion, which I have enjoyed. I've not reviewed the free version as I have been meaning forever to pick up a full - preferably print version, and keep putting it off. Scarlet Hereos does a much better job of spontaneous emergent play, but it is very much focused on the lone hero, which isn't what I am looking for as a playtesting tool.
I've been hearing about Mythic GME for some time now. and I listen to a handful of solo RPG podcasts that use it to great effect. I decided that I would pick it up this month and give it a try. And I am very impressed.
Mythic GME is a fine-tuned version of the emulation tools originally intruduced in World Mill Games' Mythic RPG, designed to be usable with any TTRPG. And it is really good at creating spontaneous emergent play using additional mechanics. It can be used as a solo play tool, as a way for players to all play PCs and let dice run the system, or as a tool to make GMing faster and easier.
As a note: I am reviewing the 2006 version of Mythic GME, not the revised 2023 version that is freshly released. I suspect you will find the changers are not so significant that you will find this review inaccurate if you invest in the revised edition.
By necessity Mythic GME does require the GM to think in terms of "scenes" rather than using traditional Turns and Rounds as older editions of Dungeons & Dragons and many OSR games do. However, if you treat each encounter as a scene once it is generated you do not need to fundamentally change your play loop.
There are two major elements to the Mythic GME system: the yes/no oracle, and the scene alteratiion system. the latter is the more innovative element:
Mythic GME uses a mechanic called the Chaos Index that is rated between 2 and 10. Any time a scene (or encounter) begins, start by establishing the PC's goals and intentions for the scene, and how it is expected to go. Then roll 1d10.
If the roll is below the Chaos Index and odd, the cene will not go according to plan - something is altered.
If the roll is below the Chaos Index and even, the PC are interrupted by some ther random event before they reach their goal and destination.
In ether case, PCs then roll on three tables: one to determine who or what causes the alteration or random scene, one to describe the action of the scene, and one to decribe the object of the scene. The GM or players can then interpret that to fit into the context of the game's narrative.
For example an interrupted scene might indicate "PC Negative", "Struggle", and "Legal Matters" at which point the PCs might be suddenly interrupted by a bounty hunter who is trying to bring the PCs in, or find that the NPC they are contacting has sold them out to the authorities.
Another exmple might be that the PCs "move toward a Thread", "Stop", "Technology" which might indicate that they discover a way to get one step closer to thwarting an evil plot by discovering a password that will get them access to the enemy's computer (or a bypass for a dungeon's traps.)
To make these more effective, the GM or Player should keep track of a list of important NPCs and narrative threads / goals that can be used as random tables to help with the use of this tool.
Depending on whether the PCs ended the scene in greater control of what is occuring in the narrative, or whether the situation for them is getting out of hand. the Chaos Factor and lower or rise at the end of the scene. This means bad situations will snowball, and when characters are handling things well, adventures will tend to go more acording to plan.
The other element of the Mythic GME is the Yes/No Oracle. When PCs need to establish a detail of the scene they ask the kind of question intended to Lead the GM, like "Are there any clues as to how the victim was killed" or "Are there sentries watching the back entrance?"
The players and/or GM should decide how likely the answer is to be "Yes", and then cross-index that with the Chaos Index to get a chance of a "Yes", "No", "Extreme Yes" and "Extreme No". For example, let's say that the PCs are headed to interview a witness to a murder, and the scene is altered in such a way that the NPC witness is wounded and dying when they arrive.
Questions like "Is the attacker still here?" or "Has anyone heard the struggle and called the police?" are pretty important to figuring out how the scene will go.
Let's assume that the Chaos Factor is 7. Because the NPC isn't dead yet I would say that the attacker is Very Likely to be there. That gives me a 85% chance of a Yes, a 16% chance of an "Extreme Yes" and only a roll of 100 on a d100 would give me an "Extreme No".
Rolling an "Extreme Yes", I might decide not only is the attacker still there - the whole scene is a trap so that the PCs can taken out of the picture.
I might also decide that because this scene is happening in a very bad neighbourhood that chances of someone calling the police is unlikely. Given the Chaos Factor of 7, There is a 55% chance of the police being on the way, and an 11% chance that they are already there thanks to an "Extreme Yes" on a roll of 96% or higher, an "Extreme No" the assailant might be a police detective, and thigns are about to get very complicated.
The higher the Chaos Factor, the more likely it is that "Yes" and "Exteme Yes" answers will result and the less likely "Extreme No" will show up.
Like all Solo Game "Yes/No" systems there is a lot of room for abuse, and it takes a certain level of maturity and willingness to see what happens instead of controlling what happens to make it worthwhile. There are some safeguards and a lot of advice for using the system in a way that avoids abuse in the system.
What I Loved
Mythic GME does a great job of creating unexpected twists as the game goes on, and even builds up a possible campaign with little GM input.
In my first experiment with the system I set up a simple Shadowrun Premise: the PCs are hired in a hurry to transport a stolen piece of tech to a Mr. Johnson halfway across the sprawl.
A few questions on the oracle deterined that no double-cross is planned: the fixer and the Johsnon are on the level - but the original owners really want it back, and hired a high-rated Shadowrunning team to retrieve it.
As the run continued the PCs had to deal with an errant hacker who just decided to mess with the Runners to prove he can, in hopes of getting a job, forcing the party hacker to enter into desperate cybercombat as the hacker tries to jack the runners' ride.
The original owners of the tech decide that they would rather destroy it than let it fall into the wrong hands, authorizing the rival team to use explosives, which led the PCs to be forced off the freeway into abandoned sprawl where they narrowly escaped a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades.
This was a harrowing car chase that forced one of the PCs to call upon a contact for help... which required them to do a favor on the spot to run some gangers off from the apartment complex.
By the time they got underway, things got hairier: the rival corporation amanged to identify Mr. Johnson, and the tech delivery now had to turn into a race to extract their employer and get him, and the prototype to an airlift elsewhere in the city whill being hunted by killer rotodrones.
The narrow escape required the PC's samurai to hang out the side of the van and pick off drones while the hacker defended the driver's computer from cyber-attack, and the party magician to heal a wounded employer and fend of observer spirits simultaneously in a van busy trying to do high-speed evasive driving. Overall a very satisfactory SR scenario, and I started with nothing but a random run premise.
Using Mything GME to run Drakken I came up with the survivors of a crshed viking longship who have merged from the mists into a strange land. Aside from creating four Vikings stranded on a beach with their gear and dead crewmates all around, I left everything to Mythic and the dice.
The Vikings barely survived the beach as they fought of gaint crustaceans detrmiend to feast on the corpses of their fellows. Staggering up a nearby hill with strange standing stones, the Vikings, unawares, fell under the eye of a fell Necromancer who was watching the region. The Necromancer decided he wanted the women as slaves and the men as sacrifices for a dark rite he had in progress, and began a scheme to bring them under his thrall.
At the top of the Hill, the Vikings could make little of the stones. They were ancient and connected to strange old cults that only the party Magic User had even the faintest inkling of. Below they spotted a ruined village downshore. Heading the ruins, the Vikings discovered that they were abandoned less than a year.
In a near miss they barely detected that the well water, and in fact every rain barrel was poisoned. Wounded, with magic resources thin and the Cleric's healing powers having failed twice, the PCs staggered into a ruined building to rest, pray, and eat the little crab meat they had extracted from their monstrous attackers.
The cleric cast un uncertain future in the ruins, while finally restoring vitality to her wounded companions. As they settled in for sleep, leaving shields and helmets outdooors to collect the drizzle they were attacked:
The village had a nest of Vermen underneath it, and a war-party of 24 of the rat-men swarmed up in the night, beating the fighter and cleric unconscious. Only the thief and the magic-user escaped, the latter barely alive having used up most of her life-force to escape.
Hiding in the woods, without food, weak, and frightened, the two of them were left planning a rescue I last left the game...
These stories started with nothing but the barest ideas, and the latter could be a good extended, if dark, fantasy campaign with four major threads (survive, rescue their allies, fidn a way home, and the Necromancer) already in play. I was amazed by how much Mythic GME could generate with little effort.
Examples and Advice
Mythic GME offers a ton of examples for every mechanic, often in different genres in order to showcase the robustness of the system. It likewise has a significant portion of the book dedicated to dsicussing how to most effectively use the tools. This is a system that doesn't leave you guessing.
Without having looked at the revised edition that has been out just a few months, I am hesitant to offer too much development advice. I am sure most of this has already been tackled in some way, shape, or form.
First Session Assistance
Mythic GME gives some advice on creating that first scene premise using the pre-existing random tools, but it is relativly vague advice compared to the rest of the book. I feel an adventurie geneartion tool like the one in Tiny Dungeon 2e or my own Simple Adventure Builder would be a helpful tool, although you almost need a handful of genre-specific options in that case.
Additional Random Tables?
Mythic GME could stand to offer some generic tables for NPCs, describing motivations and attitudes, as random NPCs often must be added to the game when an altered scene or interrupt scene occurs. Some good generic help would be very welcome.
Myrhic Game Master Emulator is one of the most impressive pieces of kit I have seen for running a solo game or helping novice GMs run a game with low or no prep. Combined with a relatively simple rule-set it can be quite fast. Or it could theortetically be used as a game system unto itself with a little tweaking. I was honestly surprised by how well it created emergent adventures and even potential campaigns.
If you want to see it in action, I highly recommend listening two two or three episodes of The Lone Adventurer, a podcast that combines Both D&D5e and Blades in the Dark with Mythic GME to produce very complex and tangled intrigues.