Reading Mythic Russia – Heroism and adventure in the land of the firebird by Mark Galeotti

I saw Mythic Russia when it first came out, it looked like an exciting game but for some reason I never bought it. The years went by and I forgot all about that game about medieval Russia. But then, a few weeks ago, Lulu had a free-shipping-drive, and as I stocked up on While the World Ends books for GothCon, i stumbled across it again. This time I bought it, and since it came in the mail I have been reading it.

Mythic Russia cover

Mythic Russia cover

The book
Mythic Russia by Mark Galeotti is one of the thicker books I have reviewed here on the blog, 320 pages US-letter. I have gotten lazy, reading such large games feel like a chore these days, but there is something about the game that kept me picking the book up over and over again.

The cover is lovely. The interior looks like most games did fifteen years ago, lots of double column text, and illustrations or gray boxes every now and then to break up the text into more manageable chunks. Numerous artists have been involved, and their pictures have one thing in common, they are very pixelated. I don’t think that is a result of the Lulu printing as such, perhaps it is the transfer from the originals that shows. But if I hold the book at arm’s length the illustrations are nice, even though the sheer number of styles involved leaves a somewhat scattered impression.

The text is wordy, especially in the rules sections, I had to dig through a few columns of text to find the specific rule when I wanted too look up how to do this or that.

The setting
The setting in Mythic Russia is unsurprisingly a mythic Russia. An anachronistic Russia where the fairy tales bleed into the world. Most history and fantasy I have encountered in gaming is based on western European history, but this game looks to the east and presents a wide variety of possible settings/character backgrounds. To me it feels like an new kind of fantasy, familiar yet different. Besides various kinds of Russians the game provides background (and the necessary rules) for Mongols, Teutonic knights, Lithuanians among others.

Religion (and magic) is important, both in the setting and and in the game text.

The rules
The rules are based on the HeroQuest game engine by Robin D Laws, but it has been tweaked in a few places. As I’m not familiar with HQ, I can’t tell for sure what is new.

Character generation is very neat; write a short 100 word text about your character, then extract keywords from that text and use them as the character’s abilities. There are no lists of predefined skills, stats or abilities, everyone comes up with their own that best describe the character.

The task and conflict resolution use the same basic mechanic, even though there are some optional rules for those that want more detailed conflict resolution. A curious detail is that there is no strict task resolution as such, e.g. if you want to jump over a rock, you have to enter into a conflict with the rock.

All abilities have a value between 1 and 20. Roll one d20, a one is a critical success, less or equal than the ability is success, higher than the ability is a failure and a 20 is a critical failure. Both the PC and the opponent rolls the die, and the outcomes are compared in a table to see the result of the conflict.

If a skill should rise above 20, 20 is traded for one mastery bringing it back down to something between 1 and 20 again. Masteries can be used to bump the results of die rolls. E.g. if you have 4 + 1 mastery, and roll a 5. That would usually be a failure since it is above the ability, but the result is increased to the next step by the mastery which makes it a success.

The system also has a HeroPoints, which a player can use to bump the results of die rolls, add stuff to the narrative, or use to advance the character if any should remain after the adventure.

The form
The Form is traditional with a GM and a group of players playing their characters. An intro scenario with pre-gen characters is provided.

The setting is excellent, about 200 pages are dedicated to describing the rich mythic Russia setting. There are loads of adventure seeds and events in the text. A group could play for years without exhausting the material in the book.

The rules are good, once you penetrate the text. The power level and feel of the game could easily be adjusted by the phrasing of the abilities.

The form is weak, the reader is assumed to know how to play RPGs already, and if you do it is not a problem. There is a short section with GM’ing advice, and a very short section with advice on how to play with children.

Will I play it?
Maybe. The mechanics seem solid, and the setting is very nice. I might pick one of the sub settings and just focus on that, to not have to explain 200 pages of setting to the players before the game can start. I’d like to have the time and commitment for a campaign before starting though. – Details on the game on the official Mythic Russia blog.

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