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On Mighty Thews

On Mighty Thews is a game that I was very eager to play and has lived up to its promise in play. It is an indie game take on high fantasy pulp adventures with Conan being the big inspiration.

Character generation

Characters are quick and easy to create. They consist of a Virtue that defines the character and three different dice sizes (d12, d8 and d4) that get split between Warrior, Sorceror and Explorer. A character gets two attributes which are more or less freeform traits and then they are pretty much done. The traits are valued at d10 and d6.

Dice are rolled against a target number of 4 so your character is a badass if they get to roll a d12 and highly unlikely to succeed if they have a d4. All of the traits are desirable: Warrior is required to injure people, Scholar covers magic and knowledge of the world (include forming the fiction) and Explorer covers everything else in the game. This coarse granularity makes deciding where to put your d4 painful.

Using the attributes to offset your weakness and allow your character access to particular powers seems to be the name of the game. Being genuinely weak in an area would seem to reduce your fun as there will be challenges that you could never participate in.

On virtue

A characters Virtue is an a very interesting idea and it is only in play you understand the metagame that surrounds it. A player can choose to play a scene according to the character's Virtue, if they do they get a re-roll token which allows an entire set of dice to be re-rolled.

If the character is played against their virtue then they get to roll a d20, potentially scoring a massive success.

In practice this seems to mean that heroic or "good" virtues are much more desirable then negative or "evil" ones. Consider a holy priestess with the Virtue Kind, if she shows charity or kindness in a scene then the player gets a re-roll token, on the other hand if she sudden chooses to stab an unconscious character she gets a d20 to do it.

Compare this to a Set worshipping high priest with the Virtue Cruel, to get a re-roll token the character has to find opportunities to be vindictive and then only becomes truely powerful if they show charity.

While this is great from a narrative point of view it can be hard to understand from the point of view of what kind of character you want to play. Your virtue is effectively invisible from a game point of view and at dramatic moments it is actually the opposite side of your character's Virtue that comes into play.

Shared narration

On Mighty Thews uses a few shared narration techniques that make it feel quite fresh and different to a lot of the other pulpy systems that are doing the rounds.

It starts with the game map (which is a fascinating mechanism in its own right) where the character's Virtues are placed as "poles" on the map. The players and the GM then fill in the places between the poles. So if my character's Virtue is Brave and yours is Greedy then we create places that exemplify those traits, say a great wall that is defended by stalwart warriors and a massive trade city that runs on gold, and then between these poles there should be some group of people or place where people are not brave (but not necessarily cowardly) but also not greedy (while not having to be generous). Perhaps a monastery where the monks are more interested in an internal life than external entanglements.

The map illustrates the territory the game takes place over and in terms of geography could be a mountain, an island chain or a city as well as the more conventional fantasy map.

Once the game is in progress players can control the narrative via Lore rolls using the Scholar ability. For each success in these challenges the player gets to introduce a fact about an entity in the game world. The closest example is the Houses of the Blooded resolution mechanism.

On Magic

Magic is not accessed directly but is still one of the most powerful things in the game. If you want to throw fireballs around or summon demons you need to assign one of your trait die to that ability. Otherwise the use of magic is very subtle and kind of depends on the player's imagination instead of being a system.

As soon as something new appears in the game Sorceror characters need to initiate a Lore challenge to try and define some facts or gain a bonus against whatever has just arrived in the game narrative.

Defining facts is immensely powerful and you can use this to substantially advantage yourself by shaping the story to meet the strengths of your character or play on the weaknesses of another character.

The net result is an experience that is closer to a character like Gandalf, an advisor who always manages to be in the right place at the right time with the right item and ally on hand.

Playing a Warrior or Explorer is a lot easier as you can afford to be more reactive but being able to exploit a thread you have weaved into the story yourself is definitely one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game.


Interestingly characters don't seem to progress in the traditional RPG way. Instead the bonuses won during successful challenges represent a certain kind of improved circumstances. Their eventual undoing gives that pulp hero arc of constantly starting again from the same place.


On Mighty Thews is one of those games that manages to really blend its subject matter and mechanical systems. I think it provides a better "old school" fantasy adventure experience than most of the "Red box" recreations of the genre. It is fast moving enough that you can have a perfectly formed little half-hour adventure and then immediate say "what happened after that?" and do another one.

Giving players limited narrative control uses an indie mechanic to avoid a whole bunch of other rules that would otherwise be required to create the flavour of the theme.

I feel it is an exempler of where the new thinking on game design can take us: right to the heart of the experience instead of creating a lot of barbed wire to try and corral it.