Mayhem is an RPG from Midnight Campaign that was published in 2013. Product of the minds and effort of Rob and Aubrey Hicks, the book contains everything you need to play the game.
Mayhem comes in a POD book with over 200 pages in full colour and, in the edition I have, softback. Although I don’t know what POD service was used, the quality of the printing is pretty good and the paper is thick enough. The binding has seen a lot of use in the last few weeks and yet all pages have survived without a problem.
Layout of the book is actually very good, with great attention being paid to design and detail. Although it could do without the background pattern in the pages, the frequency of the illustrations is enough and, dare I say, pretty impressive for a book that is the product of just two people.
The indexing system is actually very good. On the left page you will find an icon for each of the ten chapters and on the right page an icon for each section within chapter. Although the chapters are not long enough for those icons to have any real practical effect, they have been very well designed and look pretty awesome, so I like having them there.
Artwork throughout Mayhem is a mix of good and mediocre. Although usually I would make an issue out of this, the fact that this is a book published by enthusiasts I can’t fault it too much. Yes, it could be much, much better, but what is there does the trick and there is a fair amount of it, so I won’t fault it too much.
The game takes a fair bit of time on the rules and they do sort out, or try to, a number of issues. The core system is simple enough. Depending on the skill level you have, the die will be higher. For a skill of 5 to 6, one rolls a d6, for a skill of 8 or 9, you would roll a d8 and so on.
Although this requires to keep track of a few dice depending on what level skill your character has for each ability, it also provides with a nice progression path that reflect how much better the character gets on a skill by skills basis.
There are two truly interesting things about the rules for me. One is the hit points chart. Hit points are calculated based on the Endurance and the Willpower of the characters. Endurance marks how many total hit points a character has. Willpower, however, determine how many hit points of damage a character can take before falling unconscious. Although this might make it easier for the character to be put out of order, it also means they are likely to be more durable.
The second thing that got my eye was the feedback chart. Every spell and similar in the book has a feedback cost and character with more Willpower can take more feedback than those less. Feedback points are like hit points for the mind. You can use a number of them, but if you overexert, then you are in trouble and get mental damage. What I liked about it is that it provides with a fairly clear method to keep track of the ability of the character to cast spells – perhaps psionics in the future – and at what point they can start to be harmful, as well as decide how many points to use for spells too.
The rules section also cover combat, movement, flight…
Character creation is a relatively simple affair. Although you don’t have to do a lot different from other roleplaying games, the sheer amount of races and curses that can be applied to those races means you have to do a lot of reading.
Mayhem comes with 22 races and 11 talents and curses of which only one is human and there are no elves, dwarves or the more common races typical of fantasy worlds. Races are divided in several sections that include demonic and celestial races and among them you will also find animal races. This is actually something interesting, though it could also lead to some problems if you try to use demonic and celestial, or undead characters in the same party. So a lot of preparation work would be needed.
The curses and talents are another good addition. They are there to add depth to the characters with abilities and conditions to expand their nature. Not all races are compatible with all talents or curses, but they do add a lot of variety.
The sections on equipment, magic, abilities… they all have enough options to enhance your character, but not so many that it becomes overwhelming to actually learn them or manage them. They are divided in small sections and the information is concise enough to be easy to find and remember, but detailed enough that you can actually use the skill at hand.
Mayhem’s setting is rather interesting and very, very rich. Although there is nothing overly original in the setting, the background itself is solid and well described. A world with several continents and an interesting cosmology, the world has enough foundation for many adventures. Also adventure hooks are dotted all over the description of the land to help you come up with some ideas.
The game ends with a short chapter on storytelling with description on how to create adventure, type of plot hooks, managing the rhythm of the game… very handy and full of tips that are always good to learn if you are new, or be reminded of if you are a seasoned player or GM.
Mayhem is very clearly a product that needs a lot of work, but also one that shows a great deal of potential.
The writing is very good but could do with some editing. The artwork is in the right places, they are right illustrations and they are numerous enough, but they need an overall improvement in style. The layout is sound but needs a bit of tightening…
The rules, although not the slickest to get to grips with, truly work. The hit point system gives a great deal of flexibility to allow players to play as they see fit without the fear of instant death.
The feedback system is probably my favourite bit of the game. The idea that you can use your points and force their minds a bit to use more powerful spells or powers, recovering some of those points to recover enough to use the power again… That I enjoyed a lot.
The number of races is pretty amazing and well worth considering. Although not all have the same level of information – or indeed the same information – the are all very intriguing and congruent with the world where they are located and although the sheer diversity makes it complex to create a coherent party, the potential is truly huge.
To have over 600 feats, skills and spells might sound daunting, though the way they have been located in the right place and in the right numbers make them easy to use. Being divided by weapon, skill set, magic area, etc, means they come in chunks small enough to be very easy to use.
In terms of world building, the thing I liked the most is the potential for epic storytelling. In Mayhem, even the Sun, the Moon and Stars are actually sentient beings that can, somehow, be interacted with if you are the right type of adventurer.
It is also massive, which is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because, although the book only covers one of the continents that create the geography of the planet, it is so rich that it will never be too small for the players.
However the amount of information about locations, empires, landmarks… it feels like it is not enough and needs much more. It is pretty obvious this book needs another 200 pages just for the world where it is played.
The storytelling chapter is very handy. Although it doesn’t give any ground-breaking advice, for a beginner it will go a long way to help get to grips with RPGs.
I am not sure, though, if this is a good game for beginners. Although all the premises, rules and backgrounds are explained with sufficient detailed, the variety in the races, richness in the story and complexity in the rules could make the experience a bit frustrating for those with little experience.
Overall Mayhem should be praised. It is a solid game even if it feels it’s unfinished. This is all because the authors are just two people and have created the whole thing from scratch, with money from their pockets and doing the best they can.
And the best they can is pretty good.
I am not going to compare this with any other well-established publisher material. That would be unfair.
If you want a game that has a ton of information to offer and a lot of truly excellent ideas but needs a bit of work to bring to the table, this is for you and I thoroughly recommend it.
If you want a fully finished product that will allow you to play with little extra effort, look elsewhere. But you will be missing out on a lot of good things.
Thank you for your support.