Mythos Mythras: Methods of Madness

Mythras introduces rules for the mental effects of ‘unpleasantness’ and long-term abuse and vices in its Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels expansion which also broadens the social and technological base of the game beyond the bronze and iron ages into the industrial age and far, far beyond. This makes it a solid match for a generation jumping game such as our PBeM, As One Bare Hour will be.

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Our opening scene, sharing the load of introducing the players to how I conduct games via e-mail, to each other, to this campaign, and to Mythras itself, was set in 1888. This featured characters we can safely – at this point at least – consider to be secondary to the events of the campaign, but whose brief time in play has much to tell if the players and characters in turn have the ears to hear and eyes to see.

Our current focus is on characters we will be spending much more time with. If circumstances and sanity permits, they may even come to be thought of as the campaign’s main characters. This phase of the campaign begins in 1908, in a city of mysteries and curious contrasts, Shanghai. While there, they will have the opportunity to get more fully inside the skins of these major (main?) characters, find their footing in the early years of the 20th century, and – if things should go the way it is possible for them to go – have the foundations of their sanity tested.

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In Luther Arkwright, the Design Mechanism provides us with Tenacity, a derived trait rooted in the Power Characteristic. Application of the Tenacity rules neatly suggests reactions to different types of challenging mental stimuli that are also relatively easy for players of afflicted characters to accept and manage. Rather than focus on specific and/or possibly out-of-context ‘insanities’, the system allocates reactions, called conditions, and leaves room for the GM to connect the condition to the circumstances. Examples include, but are not limited to conditions such as demoralization and nausea. Tenacity also presents a distinction between the immediate response to a mentally-damaging situation, and the road of struggle that leads to more permanent effects. Further, Arkwright also provides a detailed selection of dependencies and addictions which aid in the portrayal of the gradual unraveling of the human mind when forced to cope with too much. All in all, combined with the Passion traits already in Mythras, a deep insight into and roleplaying guidelines for portrayal of the characters and how they will try to hold themselves together when the insensate and conflicting gravity wells of the universe inexorably pull them apart.

We will be able to use this robust system as written to represent relatively tough-minded individuals with the capacity to, over time, put many mortal horrors behind them, but who will, if they persist in investigating deeper mysteries, leave sanity behind them like a snake sheds its skin.

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There is one element of the existing Mythras core rules that I will clarify in its relevance to mental health, and there is one that I will add to the method provided in Luther Arkwright to tighten the focus on the nature and deleterious effects of human interactions with agents and actors of the Mythos.

As we play, Passions will play a significant role in shoring up, or helping to tear down, the walls which guard the stability of each character’s mind. They will function as printed in the rules, but this use and new connection will be prominent in play.

What I will add will be a Sanity trait which acts as a governor on the number of times a character will be able to bring themselves from the brink of madness – or from actual bouts of it.

This version of sanity is a pool of points which cannot be restored or refreshed except by particular and unlikely circumstances. The pool is set by multiplying Tenacity by a number generated in the same manner as Luck and Action Points.

As written, when under strain, Tenacity may be lost. Any such losses might also affect the sanity pool slightly. In addition, like with injury in Mythras, more serious effects manifest when the trait falls below 0. One of those effects will be to trigger certain Sanity loss. Each serious loss of Tenacity will likewise deduct from the sanity pool, but while Tenacity recovers naturally in many cases, and with therapy in others, Sanity will not.

With this framework in place for the mental aspects of a mythos campaign, we are set to embark on a world of mystery with Shanghai as the gateway to the challenges and horrors to come.





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