Monday, 26 March 2012

Lets Read... Mythus pt 6

Today we look at the third section of the chapter on Creating Advanced Mythus HPs, the pithily entitled:

Step 3: Standard HP Descriptions and K/S Area Bundles
(Or, in non-gobbledygook, 'careers and skills'.)

This section alone is 26 pages, of which 20-ish are text and boxouts, and 6-and-change are art. I'll go over the content first and save the art criticism for later if that's alright. I’ll also try keep the editorial ranting to a decent minimum, instead concentrating on winnowing out sense - and possible worth - from the big blocks of words in front of me.

pp70-71 are preamble matter. Extensive and densely formatted preamble matter; the textual equivalent of a stale bagel. There are two main thrusts to this section:
  1. characters choose their vocation (one of 35, plus 5 optional nonhuman races) irrevocably but can diversify away from it by buying new skills, and 
  2. magic-using careers (of which there are 12) are all Partial Heka users, except for the lucky 20% of high-stat Wizards and Priests who make the cut as Full Heka users.

Inevitably - this being Mythus - it takes a *lot* of parsing to tease these essentially simple facts out of the hot, roiling quagmire of text. The focus of discussion alternates by paragraph, swapping back-and-forth between the general subject of HP K/S Areas (trans. "PC skills") and the far more specific subject of HP Heka potential. Just another instance of the GDW editorial department half-arseing the job.

There's also a d% skill benchmarking table, which I have reproduced for viewing delectation below:

The spread ends with an especially egregious piece of handholding: a whole paragraph that explains the oh-so-clever layout of the skill lists. And I quote:

Yes, I can see that. I have eyes. They work thank you.

So this is a good start. Two pages of wordswordswords that could have been reduced to a few lines by someone with a rigorous sense of what needs to go where. Looks like we'll be playing the Mythus side game good and hard again this week. :)

On a parenthetical note before we dive into the vocation skill lists, I want to talk a little about one of the two points I mentioned above. For the sake of illustrating my point I’ll do it Socratic style. 'Q' is my query to the text, 'A' is the answer it returns.
Q: Hey, Mythus.
A: Yeah?
Q: Where do you learn what a Full Heka user is, and why it's better than being a Partial one?
A: Refer to the Mythus Magick book, of course.
(funnily enough Mythus Prime referred us to Advanced Mythus for an answer to that question, but ok.)
Q: How do you determine which new-minted HPs get to be Full Heka users?
A: See ditto.
Q: Hey, Mythus.
A: Yeah?
Q: Isn't telling me this stuff kind of /your/ job; being that you're an RPG rulebook and all?
A: [dense block of repetitive filibustering gabshite]
Thanks to the magic of the intarwubz, I was eventually able to refer to the long-out-of-print Mythus Magick book. And what did I find in the relevant HEKA USERS section? Why, nothing less than /a complete lack of useful information on determining Full vs. Partial Heka status/. Really. Nothing. After constantly referring to this Partial-vs-Full Heka distinction as if it were a big thing the writers seem to have forgotten to explain it fully and clearly.

Seriously, f*** you Mythus! I’m just some random internet guy and I can write rules more clearly. Watch this:
Determining Degree of Heka Power
General Heka skill user, or Mage/Priest with <101 in your casting TRAIT? = Partial Heka. Sucks to be you.
Mage with a Mental TRAIT/Priest with a Spiritual TRAIT total of 101 or more? Roll d10:
1-2 - you crackle with Full Heka mojo when you walk.
3-10 - you only have small-in-the-pants Partial Heka power.
Add a maximum of one paragraph of setting/context fluff and references to other sections of the rules, then move onto the next subject. That is how you write a one-shot rule. Here endeth the lesson.

Weekly rant on the deficiencies of RPG writing standards over. Back to the matter in hand: Advanced Mythus skill lists.

After another two-page art spread (of which more below) p74 gives us an explanation of the footnotes used in the vocations tables: dollar sign ($), asterisk (*), and bullet point (•). Now, your humble author ain't a technical manual writer, or any sort of layout wonk, but even I can see that using an asterisk ~and~ a bullet point in a tight-packed typeface like the one in the Mythus book is a sub-optimal decision in terms of clarity. Given that we've already seen double asterisks (**) and crosses (†) being used to footnote tables /in this very chapter/ there’s simply no excuse.

With that done we get the first of our Vocations, ordered per the big long table on page 63. You may remember that we looked at that last week. 35 vocations. Thirty-bleedin'-five!

The Vocation descriptions and their skill lists follow a standard format. The main text gives us a potted description of the career. Some of these - like apothecary, soldier/mercenary, pirate etc - are pretty self-explanatory and largely a waste of text. Others - such as the various Dweomercraeft (wizarding) Vocations - have short blurbs about various (in)famous organisations on Aerth. This is a nice 'describe the setting through game material' touch, and I wish it had been exploited a little harder.

We're also given a handful of keywords describing the defining interests and motivations of each vocation. This is a bit 'Intelligent Martian', but might help the hopelessly confused who lack dictionaries and/or history books.

A substantial boxout gives the game material for each Vocation. Advanced Mythus vocations have an average of 20 skills, with 250 or so skill points split between them. This is a marked increase from the 200 points divided between 10 skills of Mythus Prime. Working out Advanced Mythus K/S Area scores is also rather fiddlier working things out in Mythus Prime. Case in point:
Mythus Prime: 20 + 1/2 TRAIT,
Advanced Mythus: 20 + (SMPow+SSPow)x0.5•

The required calculations generally come with footnotes indicating added complexity (expanded upon in some nebulous, never-defined elsewherespace, of course).

Example skill list boxout, one of 35 or so.

Unfortunately there is quite a bit of orphaning (separation of table from related text) in this section. Some Vocation descriptions end up two or three pages away from their skill lists, which is less than ideal. But then, given that some K/S Area boxouts take up entire pages it may be simply a necessary evil.

>>> Warning: lots of text follows. Skip ahead if you're DILLIGAF about vocation/skill lists.

Alchemy Vocations (Mental)
Alchemy: You are Paracelsus in a world where magic works. You are pretty high-born (have to be to afford all that weird hiccupy glassware) and have lots of science skills.
Apothecary: You are Cadfael. Not as addled by mercury fumes as the alchemists, still pretty proto-scientific.

Arms Vocations (Physical)
Cavalier: You are a highborn knight in shining armour type. Cultured Palate is surprisingly prominent a part of your skill set.
Engineer: You are a military engineer, and the only one who does any bloody work in this army. Military Engineering and Fortification/Siegeworks are separate skills to you. I have no idea why.
Soldier/Mercenary: You and your hundreds of surly friends kill people for money. Apparently claiming it’s for another reason altogether makes this more respectable. You Gamble better than you know your job.

Dweomercraeft Vocations (Mental)
We get another two paragraph rehash about how important Heka is on Aerth, and some semi-informative text about requirements for Full Heka user status that really belongs as an actual rule either back on pp70-71, or in the magic chapter. *tsk*

Black School (Abyssal Institute, Ebondark College): Gee, I wonder what hat these guys wear. Puppykicking and Maniacal Laughter are missing from their skill list for some reason.
Elemental School (Imprimist Hall, Quintessential Academy): You are a classic 4+1 element wizard with an 'inquiring mind' bent. Skill list reads like a prospectus for one of the flakier Californian universities.
Grey School (Penumbrate Palaestra, Shadowy Forum): You are a morally ambiguous Shadow Magic dudes. Part way between Elemental and Black. Shadowy Forum obviously lost the 'Who gets the dull name?' mage war.
Green School (Transcendent Conservatoire): You practise religiose nature magic, flute solos and basket-weaving. The Green School deny being druids, but have Herbalism, Ecology/Nature Science, Spellsongs and Poetry on their skill list, the dirty hippies.
White School (Orgonebright Institute, Splendent University): You are a white hat wizard who stand for "Reason, order, altruism, and sacrifice for the betterment of all..." Skill list is all kinds of generic wizard.

*meh* Ars Magica and WFRP did schools of magic better.

Mysticism Vocations (Spiritual)
Mystic types are four flavours of augur. They can gain additional Heka powers after character creation, which sounds cool. "Note that this power will translate to the corresponding Psychogenic K/S Area in a Vril-Active milieu (see other games in the Dangerous Journeys line for details)." ... Oh. It appears I spoke too soon.

Astrologer: You are interested in everything. Not just the mysteries hidden in the stars: everything! No, really. It says so. Heka skills out the wazoo.

Truly beyond parody.

Diviner: You are interested in stuff, but less obsessively than those weird astrologers. Skill list is pretty much interchangeable with theirs.
Fortune Teller: You are Gypsy Rose Lee in a magic-active world. You still get no respect.
Soothsayer: You are a spirit-talking prophetic type with a rich inner life.

Outlaw Vocations (various Traits)
Assassin: You lurk in the shadows (and are expected to enjoy it) and kill people for money. Which is bad. Nice people only kill for country, or clan, or cult... Your best skill: Toxicology, you pharmacist you.
Bandit: You steal from people at sword point and are ghastly common by default. No dandy highwaymen here. Broad, generic-as-all-hell skill list.
Mountebank: You cheat people out of their goods, which apparently earns respect among the Stockholm Syndrome-afflicted people of Aerth. You scam and gamble good.
Pirate: #Yarr harr fiddle-di-dee# Skills are as Bandit +boats, -horses.
Thief: You steal stuff by being sneaky. It’s a living. Three of your top five skills are about deception.

PriestCraeft(sic) Vocations (Spiritual)
Priest vocation has the chance to be Full Heka special snowflake, everyone else is Partial Heka second-class citizens.

Healer: You are Florence Nightingale. Sadly it’s boring 'angel with the lamp' Flo, not 'medical store locked? Pass me that fire axe...' Flo. You skill list is all medical, all the time.
Priest: You have obligations to a higher power. In game terms this means you've taken a Vow of Fidelity and get the chance to be a Full Heka user, which may or may not be worth the hassle of the GM trying to pull adversarial 'force the paladin to fall' crap on you. Your skills = theology syllabus.
Theurgist: You are Faust, beating up Supernatural beings for their Heka using your vast knowledge of pantheonic family trees.
Wise(wo)man: You are a magical holistic medic who thinks all evil is caused by demons (aka The Accursed). You'd be really annoying if you weren't right - magic world remember? You have good Handicrafts and Agriculture skills.

Primitive Vocations (various Traits)
"Ya ain't from round here, are ya boy?"
Hunter: You eat meat. Animals are made of meat. You have put two-and-two together and made a living of it. Your skill list is Ray Mears + Green Arrow.
Medicine Man: You grumble curses and wave bones at things: horrible stuff happen to them. You can also use the word 'mojo' unironically. Broad skill list.
Seer: You are a rustic version of the soothsayer who communicates with gods and ancestors. Your skill list - like you - is mistaken for soothsayer in bad light.
Shaman: You are a black hat version of the medicine man who weedles the Netherrealms for power. Priest skills + animal training.
Warrior: You are Proud Warrior Race Guy incarnate. You fight better than the Soldier vocation and probably have a wicked cool hat. Qur'plah!
Witch Doctor: You protect the tribe from demons, monsters, bad spirits and the like. Townies think you weird. Hope you have a high tolerance for Ting tang walla-walla bing bang gags. Lotsa Heka skills.

This section ends with two paragraphs on literacy for primitives and settled populations in a fantasy milieu. Surely the place for this would have been in the earlier SEC and Literacy section?

Scholar Vocations (Mental)
Philosopher: You are an action philosopher who "...suits action to thought and word. Think of a Nietzsche doing thus!" Kelltic Ovates of Aerth claim to be philosophers, but they can't even spell Celtic right. Your skill list includes Sport, Travel, Journalism and three Foreign Languages, which is all kinds of WTF?
Poet/Musician: You go into the dungeon and sing at things. How's that working for ya? Even the class description emphasises the virtue of expanding skills away from the vocation's list. You have all sorts of non-practical skills.
Sage: You are a walking encyclopaedia and go well with onions. You have crazy breadth of 'know stuff with your brain' skills.

Voyager Vocations (various Traits)
Explorer: You travel to distant lands and claim you found them. This is news to the existing inhabitants. You can do Darwin/Marco Polo stuff with your skills.
Merchant: You are a grubby little capitalist who buys low, sells high, and gets robbed by proper adventurers. Your Deception overtops your Business Admin, Investment and Survival skills, which may or may not be Gary's little dig at TSR.
Seafarer: You are a respectable midshipman or such, according to the book. Hah! who are they kidding? You're a scurvy-raddled salt who lives for rum, sodomy and the lash. You have boaty skills and sewing prowess.

Non-Human Vocations (various Traits)
All non-human vocations gain access to an innate Heka power, usually ‘Psychogenic’ (which I think is Mythus-ese for psionic. *gluk gluk*). This power is determined by the GM from some never-published Djangos Gurnery book, which may prove slightly problematic.

Aflar (Spiritual): You are a snooty and aloof Norse elf. Likes: decorum, courage, nature, the hunt and superiority. You have hunter/skaldy skills.
Alfen (Mental): Contrary to expectations, you are short, fat and rustic, and would be called a Hobbit outright if it weren't for the eagle-eyed law-ninjas of the Tolkien estate. Likes: practicality, solidity, comfort, crops and tradition. Your top ten skills are all tedious domesticity/lifestyle crap.
Dwarf (Physical): You are Urist McBeard of the Clan McBeard. Strike the earth! Likes: caverns, gold, precision, work, caution and suspicion. Take a wild guess what your top skills are.
Elf (Spiritual): You are decidedly noble-but-enigmatic Sidhe in flavour, and wouldn't look out of place in Celtic tales or Arthuriana. Likes: culture, nature, revelry and beauty. Bows, Music, Poetry and Astrology top your living cliche skill list.
Gnome (Mental): You are from Zurich. EGG is not even being slightly subtle about this. Check out the vocation description:

Likes: profit margin, credit, risk, hazard and reward. Top two skills? Business Admin and Economics/Finance/Investing. (Is true, no make up)

And that brings an end to our merry rampage through the Advanced Mythus Vocations and their skill sets. After the casserole of hot nonsense on pages 70-71 the descriptions themselves aren’t too offensive - only a paragraph or two apiece. All that pads this section out is the *sheer number* of possible life choices on offer, many of which differ in ways that only a beancounter would actually care about. I think it’s actually the first time I’ve actually seen splat sprawl* in a core book.

* Gamer jargon: an excess of variety in character or setting options, variously trivial or game-breaking. Results from the demands of a publication treadmill. If you’ve played WoD or GURPS -- or any D&D after B/X -- you’ll know what I mean here.

Advanced Mythus is a world away from the 'Fighting Man, Wizard, Cleric' archetypal purity of OD&D without quite embracing the 'open plan' character generation of GURPS, Runequest or Savage Worlds. Worst of both worlds; merits of neither.

Overall utility of this section to players of Classic D&D? A big fat '0' I'm afraid. Still, at least the infamous Mythus text bloat hasn't been as cataclysmic as in preceding sections. The jargon has been rich and plentiful enough to keep my buzz going, but Dr Cactus will not be demanding that those responsible report for exemplary correction. Not today.

This post was brought to you letters 'D' and 'T', and by the number 40%-proof. Remember kids: trinkin' iss gud fur you!


The Art of the Section

As promised, a quick rundown of the art to be found in the Vocations section of Chapter 10 of the Mythus rulebook.

Three full page/spread pieces, four b+w partial page pics. All the artwork is competently executed, at least to my untrained eye; but there there's nothing on a par with Blanche, Miller, Nicholson (read that as Otus, Sutherland, DAT if you speak Merkun).

pp72-73 - two page FC spread by Midgette & Meyer. It seems to be a sort of daily life in Mythustown scene, presumably representing the diversity of vocations in this section. Its omission would be zero loss.

p76-77 - double page Midgette & Meyer battle scene. An Egyptian-looking army complete with lightning throwing chariot-mounted wizard, fight it out with bearded Shemite(?) warriors. Clever use of negative space, silhouettes and smoke clouds as framing element. Kinda cool, but would be more suited to the Combat or Magic chapters.

P80 is a quirky Midgette & Meyer pic of a flying wizard with a terrified warrior clinging desperately on as his loot pours out of a tear in his satchel. Good compositionf and nicely picaresque subject matter.

B+W partial page pics
P71 - an unintentionally amusing Daniel Gelon pic of a classic dungeon situation: a confused goblin-type staring at an Elf wizard framed in a doorway. Why is the goblin confused? Well, I know I’d be a bit nonplussed if a guy broke into my home and started throwing Goth-dancing shapes while his hands were on fire.


p85 - A desert ruin. David Miller, I think. The signiture is rather squiggly and ambiguous.
p87 - A rather Mongolian-looking centaur introduces us to the Primitive Vocations section. Uncredited.
p90 - A broken-nosed Egyptian soldier posing down before Egyptian scenery. Because we all need more Khemri beefcake in our lives. Miller again?

Only noticed this recently - the page header pics for Basic and Advanced Mythus are different. Cute, but not useful in play.


Next Time: we look at Advanced Mythus chargen section 4: Knowledge/Skill Areas; What They Are and Aren't, and section 5: More HP Data (Attractiveness, Joss, Birth Rank, Quirks, Knacks, Peculiarities and Counter-Quirks, Handedness and Race). There are lots of tables ahead, and they may have useful stealables. We can but live in hope...

Pic Source: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Jolly Jack


  1. Why does this all remind me of the Red Dwarf episode where Rimmer regales Kryten with a slide show of his tour of the engineering decks? "Sir, I think my brain has melted..."

    1. Geez mate, next you'll be telling me you're no longer up for Hammond Organ Night. :(

      So... shorter sections? Or less wordy commentary?

    2. No, this is brilliant and mad!

  2. What would you think of Mythus if someone re-edited it and changed the terminology for most RPG standards?

    1. I'd probably think "Hmmm. That's an interesting -- if slightly odd -- take on Runequest". Seriously, Mythus:RQ3E::Rolemaster:AD&D.

  3. That is how you write a one-shot rule.

    Careful. That's dangerously close to an offer to retroclone the whole thing!

    Ebondark College

    Really? That's wonderful. I wonder if the dean is called Tenebra Shadowblack?

    Your skill list includes Sport, Travel, Journalism and three Foreign Languages, which is all kinds of WTF?

    I have a philosophy degree, and I can tell you that this is one hundred percent accurate, except in the ways it is not. Which is all of them.

    Djangos Gurnery

    And there's the name for the aforementioned retroclone!

    1. Careful. That's dangerously close to an offer to retroclone the whole thing!
      And there's the name for the aforementioned retroclone!

      Enabler! *shakes fist*

  4. I don't know how I am going to carry on once this series is done...


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