Reviews of Elthos RPG & The Mythos Machine

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Elthos Reviews Written by Players

From: Chris Donovan

Before I write my review, I thought it might be useful to supply some relevant information regarding myself, and my preferences/expectations with role-playing games. I have been playing role-playing games for 30 years. I have played many RPG systems including AD&D, Palladium, GURPS, Everway, Cyberpunk, Villains and Vigilantes, Traveller, and D20. I have probably spent equal time playing and hosting. I have made three versions of a simple one die system myself.

I generally prefer games that favor role-playing and story over tactical combat, but when both are done well, I am extremely pleased with the result. My experiences as a player and GM lead me to believe that the people, not the system, are the most important ingredient for a good role-playing experience.

I am saying all of this not to establish myself as an expert, but to reveal any biases that I might have when creating a review.

When I review Elthos, I think I will consider the following: complexity, ease of play, and variability.


Elthos has a learning curve, but all systems do. What are Mystic points and Life points? What is DAB, and TAC? How do you roll a critical success or failure? How does combat work? Believe it or not, there are simpler systems out there, but for the most part, these concepts are pretty much what you would expect from any role-playing game. There are formulas in Elthos, and that scares some people, but, since Elthos exists as a web application, it handles all of that instantly. I believe that there is also a print out that people can use with all of the terms and formulas in a nice tidy list to use while playing.

On the other hand, Elthos is far from the most complex system out there. There are no comprehensive rules for aiming for body parts, disabling body parts, blood loss, aging, how long you can hold your breath and the infinite number of other possibilities that can be encountered in a RPG.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I would score Elthos' complexity at a 5 because of the handy online software.

Ease of Play

To call a system "easy to play," I am looking for one where players don't need to constantly refer to the rules to take action. Elthos scores high here because of two things: Elthos doesn't have a rule for every scenario and it handles action resolution consistently. Since there isn't a rule for everything, it is expected for the GM to resolve actions with common sense and the tools available.

This gives players the freedom to try anything and it frees everyone from looking up a rule, or potential rule, when playing the game. This is a double edged sword. Some people want a role-playing game to fairly simulate their game's setting. They want a rule for how much dirt can be dug by a character with X strength in one hour. GURPS has a rule for that. Some people like that. Some people realize that no book can have guidelines for all the possibilities that can happen in a role-playing game. Elthos is for people who don't want a rule for every situation. Its design doesn't want people to refer to the instructions during a game because it ruins the story's flow. It does a great job with that goal in my mind.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I give Elthos a score of 8 when it comes to ease of play. Keep in mind that I would probably never give out a 10. Since there are systems out there that are even simpler than this one die system, I didn't give it a 9.


Very often, people who role-play, play different games which usually span different genres. Within the last twenty years, systems like GURPS, Palladium and D20 have established systems which maintain their core rules while adding the elements of different genres. This is a great feature because you don't have to learn a new set of rules just because you would like to try something a little different. Elthos has infinite varieties, but at a cost, since Elthos' variety relies completely on its users. Elthos allows its users to add their own locations, classes, feats, skills and equipment. It comes with basic fantasy fare, and even some sci-fi stuff, but that's it.

For a GM who loves to build a world, Elthos is the best way that I know of to build it in an orderly way. I have yet to build my own world in Elthos, but I've seen an Elthos GM's world and the way that Elthos keeps track of everything is astounding. I have run a D20 fantasy game for close to a decade. Sure, I used a computer to write up my adventures, but I still lost track of where adventures took place, items and characters. It would be really hard to mess it up with Elthos, but I suppose that if you tried really hard, you could do it.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I'd give Elthos a 9 for variability if you're the type of person who likes to do it yourself. Keep in mind that the final vision of Elthos has the potential for people sharing their worlds. This means that Elthos could score the theoretical 10 here if there are enough users who are willing to share their work.

Additional Comments

I have two more points to bring up that don't quite belong to the above categories. The first is the alignment tracking in Elthos. I have seen this system used in games like Neverwinter Nights on the PC, but I haven't seen it elsewhere in tabletop role-playing. A GM in Elthos can track how a character's alignment shifts. I find this refreshing and innovative since most games allow players to select an alignment, and then trust the player to stick to it. Rarely will it change. In Elthos, the GM may choose to rate every action and assign a chaos/law or good/evil modifier. When this happens, you might find your alignment shifting. This might not have much of an affect outside of a fantasy setting, but I find this fascinating.

The last point refers to the creator of Elthos. Mark is a role-playing nut. I am too. He loves to run a good game and even writes up the resulting adventures into full fledged stories. He gets what role-playing is about. This means that his love for the hobby can't help but spill over into the product. He has been working on Elthos for a long time, and I suspect that he will never finish it to his complete satisfaction, and that's what will make it great.


In the time I've played with Mark, he's proven to be nothing less than an exceptional talent at the GM position. His storytelling is robust and deeply detailed. The gameplay scenarios are as varied as they are interesting.

The sheer amount of impressive work that goes into his worldbuilding allows for him to pull off a long-form, sandbox style campaign with excellence and ease, placing the players in a story as exciting and engaging as any. Characters and campaigns are allowed to breathe and fill themselves out at the pace the party is comfortable with. This is all complimented by an inextinguishable goodwill that makes any session worthwhile for the good company alone.

Mark has developed his own TTRPG system called Elthos RPG, so newcomers will have to familiarize themselves with a new system. However, he has also put in all the work to create a fully functional online tool, the Mythos Machine, to work with his RPG. Neither is particularly difficult to learn, and serve to facilitate his excellent GM talents.

- Ryan, SPG - Dec 15, 2021

Marks' GMing style is one of a kind, and he's been that way since I started playing with him in 2009. The first quality of note is his very calm and thoughtful demeanor. His personality doesn't get in the way of the game. The second quality is his love of role-playing games. Although he's having fun, he's very serious about his fun, and part of his satisfaction is for his players to have fun too. The last quality that deserves mention is his background. He is a genuine student of medieval literature; we're talking University level. He is also a fan of classic Sci-fi, and Fantasy. This background creates a sense of "being there" when playing in his worlds.

It takes time and effort to be a GM with these qualities.

Also of note, but not important to everyone, is that he only runs games with his own Elthos Rules System, and it's companion online tool set, The Mythos Machine. If you're looking for cookie cutter D&D, his games are not that; find another GM. There is, however, not much to learn regarding Elthos, so making a character and playing, requires very little effort on the player's part.

- Chris Donovan, SPG, Nov 9, 2021

Mark runs incredibly creative game worlds and he created and wrote Elthos, the system he runs on Start Playing. Elthos is fantastic, it's simple but not simplistic, and it is easy to learn. He's got a creative and active brain that is extremely engaging. Play with him if you get the chance. It is a wonderful way to spend a session.

- Josh the GM, SPG - Jun 10, 2021

Had a lot of fun playing Way of the Flesh though there were some issues. None of which is Mark's fault. Had some issues with other players showing up which is a pity because WotF has a interesting set up. I wish I had more of a chance to explore but due to circumstances, things were a bit rushed. Mark didn't leave me hanging though. He did his utmost best to make up for missing players. Big kudos to you, Mark! Thanks for doing that.

- purpleblorb, SPGs, Sep 15, 2021

I've been a player in Mark's Elthos game for nine years. I've also played/GM'd at least twenty different rpg systems of varying complexities, over a period of 34 years. Mark's GMing, using a 3 stat system, proves something that I've learned in three decades: The rules should not eclipse play flow, or story. Mark's games not only make captivating stories, but he keeps track of every NPC in his world; just in case his future players run across them. He is one of the best GMs that I have ever played with.

- Chris Donovan, NY - Feb 28, 2018

Hey mark! We wanted to thank you for running such a bad ass game. Everyone had an awesome time, we were still talking about it this morning. I was originally concerned about switching from D&D to Elthos but I'm glad we followed your suggestion and gave Elthos a shot. We were all surprised and delighted by how the Elthos mechanics allowed the game story to unfold so fluidly and naturally. Also, your ability to respond spontaneously and creatively to what we were doing was pretty freaking astounding. I want to be a GM like you when I grow up 😊 Anyway, we just wanted to let you know we thought it was super fun and are looking forward to the next session of Elthos on Sunday.

- Michael, NV - Feb 27, 2018

Mark’s Games Mastering style is amazing. The world is infinitely detailed and Mark must have tons of threads and events going on in his head that we never even approached. I especially like his NPCs; the characters that he creates feel like individuals with their own agendas and personalities. Each NPC is intriguing and entices the players to dig deeper into their past; even the animals (like Ember and Pepper) have personalities and are interesting! The down side to having so many different threads is that one is tempted to go explore all of them, therefore never finishing any given line, and it can be a little frustrating when you don’t get to get to the end of a situation. For example, when Juliet and the group were aphid sized, and hiding from the big battle above, the group came across this mysterious spider web with phrases woven into it and it was eluded that there were human souls trapped in the egg sacks. But because there was this exciting and dangerous battle going on at the same time, we were not given the time to fully explore what was going on in the spider den even though I really would have liked to learn. That being said- I feel that having too many details is better than not having enough.

I find the Tarot system very interesting, and I wish that we had used it more. There isn’t a strong mechanical system for using it (yet, anyway) the way it was used by Mark was phenomenal. The Death card very well may have killed Mr. Montague (an NPC that fell in love with one of the party members), and it was using the Death card reversed that allowed my character come back from death. It should be known that the Elthos Tarot deck is similar but not quite the same as a traditional Tarot deck, it has been customized for the Elthos world and a few cards deviate from the traditional deck.

The Elthos ODS rules are an interesting mix of complexity and simplicity. If one was to create a character without the web application, the process would most likely be confusing. But once the character is created, gameplay is very simple. Elthos ODS is like a boiled down and rationalized version of 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons. Most of the things that I don’t like about the rules are fundamental things about 1st ed. D&D that I don’t care for (I started playing D&D with 3.5, so to me 1st ed is weird and scary).

I love what Mark has done with the web app. He has come up with so many features for it. Primarily it’s for character creation. But you can use it to keep campaign notes organized or make new spells, and contains all the information that you need to play a game. I know there are other functions that I can’t remember. Mark has spent a lot of time on the app, making it easier and always adding more options, and while it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing application, it’s fast and easy to use.

- Monica, NY - Sept 14, 2011