Friday, May 24, 2019

Queen of Cities

Mythic Constantinople is a setting book for the Mythras RPG system published by The Design Mechanism and written by Mark Shirley. The Design Mechanism offers a series of "Mythic" setting books including Mythic Britain and Mythic Rome. All are first rate game aids for their Mythras game and are based on a magical interpretation of a period in Earth's past civilizations. (A Mycenaean or Babylonian "mythic" book is on my personal "wish list". Perhaps I should be working on it?) Mythic Constantinople is set in the year 1450 A.D., not long before it will be conquered by the Ottomans (1453). The author takes some liberties with fact as this is a work of fiction aimed at game-play and therefore includes reference to real magic and fantastic creatures such as minotaur people.
Historically, Constantinople served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and later Byzantine Empire. By 1450, however, the "Empire" has shrunk to contain not much more than the city itself. Ravaged by the European crusaders in the 13th Century, Constantinople is a shadow of its former self. It is a city in decline and the center of a culture under siege.
Mythic Constantinople is an urban setting. Adventures seeds abound as the capital city is filled with power hungry political factions, religious struggles, foreign interests and if you wish to include them, alien races and magical mysteries. The adventurers may get involved in palace politics, help a merchant recover his kidnapped daughter or investigate a crime ring operating near the docks. Mythras as a system that grew out of RuneQuest makes use of religion and cult membership as part of the core rules. Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism offer three competing religions in Mythic Constantinople that the referee may use or ignore. Mythras offers four different types of magic, folk magic, divine magic, sorcery and mysticism, and each is addressed in Mythic Constantinople with suggestions regarding how each may be used to good effect in this particular setting.
The Mythras system is among my favorite role-playing games. Based on the d100 (Basic Role Playing) mechanic, Mythras started life as RuneQuest 6 and has roots in Chaosium's RuneQuest 2e which was recently reprinted after a very successful Kickstarter. The return of the name RuneQuest to Chaosium led to The Design Mechanism changing the title of their game to Mythras in 2016. Although it retains a d100 roll under mechanic and is a skill based system, Mythras differs significantly from RuneQuest 2e and Chaosium's new RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (RQ4e). Like RuneQuest, Mythras is a class-less role-playing game that allows for a lot of customization of the player's character. The Design Mechanism folks have stream-lined combat and Mythras melee plays out much faster than RQ2e. Gone are the attack, parry, attack, parry long drawn out sequences which were so common with the earlier edition. Mythras uses dice rolling success to allow players to choose tactical outcomes such as forcing surrender, disarming and other choices that will either give the character a distinct combat advantage or end the conflict quickly, often without creature death.
Mythras is not tied to a particular setting and one of the strengths of the system according to The Design Mechanism is how well it works across many different settings. My interest is primarily fantasy and ancient and medieval history, but The Design Mechanism offers setting books for modern vampires, adventures in space and others. Their Classic Fantasy volume is aimed at using Mythras as an old fashioned dungeon crawler game.
Mythic Constantinople, like Mythic Britain a couple years ago, has tapped into the inherent "magic" of the historic period. Myths and legends are very real aspects of our human past and making use of them in our role playing games is almost unavoidable to some degree. Our knowledge of traditions past and present fuels our imagination and we draw upon this knowledge in our creations. I am particularly impressed with the creative re-framing of some bit of past history combined with new ideas. This is what Mythic Constantinople accomplishes. It is historically based, so is familiar enough to seem real, but adds in a bit of the fantastic, often borrowed from beliefs and superstitions linked to the historical period and region, and produces a playground rich in possible adventures just waiting for some players to roll-up Mythras characters and dive into the streets of the Queen of Cities.

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