Mythender manages to make a game that is about roleplaying and storytelling, while being almost entire combat.
Movies, television, novels, and short stories have all shown that a battle can be story in and of itself. It can reveal things about the characters, contain hard decisions, carry themes, and ultimately have a narrative arc. Despite the focus on combat in many RPGs, few manage to turn combat into these stories. I'm unaware of any RPGs that do turn combat into stories and put that at the center of the game. Mythender does, and with style.
Characters are mechanically defined by the weapons they use, revealing aspects of the characters. "Matched swords, holding the spirits of my mother and father" is very different from "my despair over the deaths of my people" (both of which are from games I've run). Even how a weapon is used tells us about the character; does the character wielding despair hold it within themselves, turning themselves into a perfect, emotionless killing machine, or do they push that despair into the minds of their foes, shaking their resolve?
The PCs, the Mythenders, begin at a disadvantage, but build themselves up over an ebb and flow of advantage and disadvantage before reaching the climax where one side or the other fail. This flow matches the flow of a battle, as well as the flow of a narrative arc.
The Mythenders face a constant balancing act between grabbing for more power and resisting the urge to become Myths themselves. Too little power and the Mythenders will fail. Too much power and they prevail only to install themselves as the new tyrants over humanity. Every action becomes an interesting and frequently difficult choice.
The quieter moments in Mythender, between battles, show the Mythenders among humanity. They again face the choice between power and resisting the urge. Grabbing for more power requires terrifying the mortals. Trying to push back from the bring to too much power requires reaching out to the mortals as another mortal, which can be challenging as every mortal knows that a Mythender could slay them and their entire village without a thought.
This isn't a game I'd break out for a long term campaign. But it's great for one-shot games, and I hope to try it for short campaigns, or perhaps a long term campaign that runs occasionally as a change of pace from other RPGs. It's a blast to run at conventions and I always have fun doing so.
On the down side, Mythender requires a lot of supplies. You're looking at about 150 dice in three different colors and about 100 each of two different types of tokens. I think it's worth it. The number of dice and tokens you have replaces a lot of tracking of numbers in other games; you don't care that you 5 Storm and 17 Thunder, you care that your fistful of dice "pretty big." And as the characters build up their advantages, the resulting rolls feel suitably epic.
Mythender is also one of the best written RPGs I have. It's a sizable book, but the space is used to benefit the reader. This isn't a book cramming things together to keep the page count down. Concepts are given one or two pages each. Key ideas are briefly repeated on later mentions. This repetition could have felt condescending, but Macklin carefully steers clear of it, giving just enough information to keep flipping through the book to check something to a minimum. As a result, it reads quickly while making it easy to retain the rules. A healthy chunk of the book is given over to a tutorial battle that simultaneously teaches the game and is a lot of fun; players who have played repeatedly don't mind replaying it for the benefit of new players. In total, Mythender is a master class in how to teach a role-playing game to both a reader and a player.
At a price of free, the Mythender PDF is a steal. $25 for a print copy with spot color interiors is a great deal. I highly recommend it.