Monday, 30 April 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt11

Are you ready for more drunken ranting by an English bogmonkey about the perceived deficiencies of Advanced Mythus? HPL is!

Today we continue our machete-swinging thrash through Chapter 10, K/S Area Descriptions: Mental Skills (letters A-F covered here). The writing is, as usual, dense, and the inevitable references to STEEP, K/S Area, and various Attribute acronyms (PNCap, SPPow, etc) scatter the text like dog turds and dirty needles in a poorly maintained park. Just take it as read that I've translated the Advanced Mythus moonspeak into plain gamer English.

So without further ado, we pick up at Azathoth's favourite letter: G.

Oddsmaking and betting on things.

Six sub-areas:
  1. Cards
  2. Dice
  3. Table Games
  4. Sporting Events
  5. Dog/Horse Racing
  6. Animal Fighting
Gambling is a contested roll which uses an interesting little variation on the roll-vs.-roll contest mechanic. Each player wagers a DR ("Easy", "Average", "Hard"), and the one who can succeed in a roll against the most demanding DR wins. This would actually make a pretty good 'blind bid' mechanic for general gaming purposes.

Wait a second. Was that some interesting and potentially usefulness? What a way to start an episode (outbreak? infestation? fit? I'm not sure of the correct nomenclature...) of Let’s Read Mythus. I’m close to welling up here.

Games, Mental
Distinct from gambling in that this is the skill of playing games for the sake of play, not the manipulation of odds for profit. Uses the bid-and-roll mechanic introduced for Gambling above.

Six sub-areas:
  1. Strategic and Table Games (Chess, Backgammon, etc)
  2. War Games
  3. Darts (as in darts? Really?)
  4. Croquet/Yard Games (not 'croquette' Gary: that's a fried potato)
  5. Pool, Billiards, Snooker
  6. Parlour Games (Charades, etc)

You know all about gemstones. The sheer breadth of your knowledge of pretty rocks makes the boys at De Beers feel a bit inadequate.

As well as all that mundane knowledge you also know what sort of gems can store or channel Heka. In a world where gems are batteries and magijck is the only science that's probably a non-trivial thing.

Geography/Foreign Lands
Knowledge of terrain and famous landmarks, cartography, and navigation by dead reckoning. This is the Advanced Mythus 'get from A to B without getting lost' skill, rather than scholarly knowledge. No sub-areas, and no cross-feed skills (not even the obvious one: Navigation), but we are advised that having surveyor's tools will improve Difficulty Ratings.

You know all about where to find specific types of (non-precious) stone. Handy for prospecting or a career in the decorative stonework trade I suppose.

You can answer questions about Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? with greater accuracy and rigor than the goldfish-brained common herd. The broad general knowledge and cynical contempt for human vanity which all historians acquire seem to offer no cross-feed at all to other skills. Similarly the study of all that has gone before isn’t broken down into sub-areas, although there is a vague caveat that "In a medieval-type setting such as that of Aerth, historical knowledge will be somewhat limited to regional areas, rather than the overall world."

Really Gary? Would it have killed you to replace that wasted word count on what history is with the names of half-a-dozen epoch/continent-spanning sub-areas?

(declaration of interest: the author studied Eng Lit and History at university and considers the latter to be the only Humanities subject worth a damn.)

"Drugs are for losers. And hypnosis is for losers with big, weird eyebrows."
-- Philip J. Fry, time traveller

A page of mesmerism abilities. Depressingly quasi-realistic; there are no Chandu the Mystic ("Your gun is burning hot.") or Thulsa Doom ("Come here my child" *splat*) swirling-eyed kewl powers. That sort of magic hypnosis is apparently covered by the Magnetism skill, which is off in the Spirit section of the skill list.

Inducing a hypnotic state requires CT = MMCap (*gluk gluk*) for a willing subject, AT = MMCap for an unwilling one. Translated to English that’s an average of 30 seconds to put friend under, and roughly an hour to break down the will of someone who dislikes you and your Derren Brown act.

Once you have them under your power you can choose one or more of the following violations of volition:
  1. Memory regression - can be used to recall forgotten information. Can also be used to regress to previous lives, although this may cause Mental damage. 3d6 damage for being forced to relive a previous death; a figurative knife to the brain.
  2. Hypnotic persuasion - command the subject to perform short, simple actions to the best of their ability ("You are now a chicken"). Hilarious brainwashed kamikaze cultist action is specifically excluded. Which sucks.
  3. Post-hypnotic suggestion - you saw The Manchurian Candidate, right?
  4. Heal Mental damage - the talking cure as cure light wounds for the mind. Be warned that a poor roll will end up causing more damage.
Characters with Mental Trait totals <48 or >100 are outright immune to mundane pendulum-swinging hypnosis.

All very *meh* I'm afraid. Yes, its the stuff of good villain plots, but the talking cure doesn't make for  good 'slam, bang' heroism.

Make people do your bidding with words.

Seven sub-areas:
  1. Debate
  2. Persuasion
  3. Salesmanship
  4. Demagoguery
  5. Misinformation
  6. Oration
  7. Propaganda
Sub-areas 1-3 are used against individuals, 4-7 against groups.

I don't even know where to start with this mess. Debate is (supposedly) just rhetoric+logic. How is Salesmanship not an aspect of Persuasion? Oratory *is* persuasive public speaking, to whatever end (demagoguery, propaganda, etc.). And surely Misinformation is a function of the existing Deception or Espionage skills, depending on circumstance?

Gathering information, conducting interviews, composing and publishing articles: the full panoply of scurrilous Grub Street Hackery. No sub-areas; you are all-round nosy vermin. I'm not sure whether the various aspects of this skill wouldn't be adequately covered by other skills. Was journalism a distinct discipline in pre-modern societies? I think not.

You know the about the laws of a particular country, usually your nation of origin, and have a handle on what's illegal in foreign jurisdictions. With a skill of 41+ (and a non-plebian Social Class) you can ponce about in a gown and horsehair wig playing clever buggers with semantics and other people's lives.

Law has six sub-areas:
  1. Civil
  2. Criminal
  3. Government
  4. Matrimonial
  5. Tax
  6. Probate

Unlike most skills sub-areas in Law are only available to characters with a skill score of 31+. One sub-area /only/ at 31, and an extra one at 51, 71 and 91.

So, for the purposes of Advanced Mythus, EGG thinks it perfectly reasonable that Appraisal, Languages and Law are detailed, specialised and restrictive, but that the hard sciences (biology, engineering, geology, etc) are just an amorphous grab-bag mass of largely useless general knowledge. I'm not sure what that says about the man, or his game...

Oh, what a delight. Because we haven't heard enough about languages yet. Your study of the formal structure of language adds 10% of this skill to all your language skills, and knocks 10% off the time taken to learn a new language (and all of its cascading attendant gibberishes, you masochist).

Lip Reading & Sign Language
The Mythus language mess: even in deaf(ness) there is no escape. You can lip-read a spoken language you understand on a successful roll. Don't speak the lingo? Can't parse the meat-flapping face shapes I'm afraid.

There's also a suggested list of sign language sub-areas. These are divided up by profession and interest: alchemist, assassin, beggar, deaf/mute, dweomercraefter (by school), gypsy, hunter, pirate, priestcraeft (by ethos ~and~ by pantheon), secret society (specific named), soldier and thief all have their own unique forms of non-verbal communication, details of which are hand-waved. (Sorry!) You know one type of sign language per 10 skill points.

Aerth: a world with half-a-dozen varieties of German, and where pirates have a universal sign language. That could actually be fun if played for laughs. ("No, sorry. He speaks a different type of German to me. We do have alchemist sign language in common though, so anything you want to know about chemicals...")

You can appreciate literature and act as a critic. No, really. Doesn't cover making new literature, that's handled by the Poetry/Lyrics and Creative Writing K/S Areas, which are apparently Spiritual in nature (I'm sure there's some vague hippy-ish rationale about 'channeling the muses' behind this). This skill explores whole new levels of pointlessness, even by the standards of the Advanced Mythus skill system.

What's this doing here? Surely Logickqkc would be more suited to the science-is-bunk bizarro world of Mythus? Once you get past the pompous, nigh-Websterish definition of logic (*gluk*) it turns out that this is a 'clue me' skill, albeit one that rewards players who actually studied formal logic in school with easier Difficulty Rating modifiers.

Yeah. There’s rewarding player skill, and then there’s just rewarding paying attention in class. I think not.

The reason for the New Agey, patchouli-scented mis-spelling of the standard English word 'magic' entirely escapes me, but its probably worth a drink on the grounds of needless neologism. Matchjicqk is counterpart to Dweomercraeft both in drunk spelling, and in that the lower of the two skills determines how good you are at casting spells. Having the Myajik skill generates Heka, which is nice. Given that Magick is such a broad skill " a magic-active milieu like Aerth..." we're cheerily referred off to the Mythus Magick book for the full spiel. So, more incompleteness-by-design "buy our next book" bollocks.

Surprisingly, THAT table of spell effects by skill level doesn't make an appearance.

You can do sums good. Apparently the world of Aerth has such things as algebra and calculus, even though the fundamental laws of physics there are arbitrary and illogical (e.g. gunpowder just doesn't work, but candles burn and the sun continues to shine). Adds 10% to Cryptography skill.

Medicine, Veterinary
Another kick in the balls for science:

Yep, in the skill description for horse-doctoring we're directly informed that Earthly scientific (western) medicine does not work on Aerth. No antibiotics or vaccinations allowed, sorry. What do you know? It turns out the Evil Eye really does give your cows the murrain, and that disease is probably caused by demons. Oddly enough both Herbalism and Oriental Medicine *are* valid skill picks on Gareeze Wurld: wisdom is obviously wiser when it's fringy or exotique.

Military Science
Generalling, staff work and chinless Rupertry, not the actual hard work of marching, stabbing and bleeding. Allows you to identify weapons, units or formations, and grants you "...some idea how to plan a mission for maximum ease and efficiency." Yet another reason the superfluous Fortification and Siegecraft skill can go and die in a ditch. I’m actually quite surprised that EGG (a known tin soldiers nerd) didn’t slip a full military strategy mini-game in here.

Native Tongue
This is exactly what you think it is. It’s assumed that anyone with this skill at 10+ is literate. There's also an odd little rulelet that impersonating a person of another social class requires a skill of 41+.

Grants both a vague internal compass (Where's north?) and the ability to use navigating tools like maps, sextants and compasses. Someone with this skill and the appropriate trappings is capable of being a ship's navigator.

Perception (Mental)
The first of Advanced Mythus two 'ping' skills. Why do you add Physical Neural Capacity to it? Because it involves using your physical senses. OK Gary, but I'm really looking forward your description of Perception (Physical)...

Four sub-areas:
  1. Anticipation
  2. Understanding
  3. Detecting
  4. Noticing
Half a column of dusty dry prose draws over-subtle distinctions between these sub-areas ("Detecting is the connection of previously but unconsciously recorded sensory and mental data, when triggered by current stimulation." blah, blah, blah...) and only confuses the issue. I was pretty sure I know what each sub-area did until I read the description. Now?

What a mess. I mean, how do you even manage to balls up a nice, simple 'notice stuff with your brain' skill description?

Phaeree Flora and Fauna
You know about the wild and woolly pixie-infested alternate world. Skill is maxed at 25 unless you spent time in Faerie. Even though Faerie is specifically divided into 3 discrete chunks (Seelie, Unseelie, Borderlands), and the skill description actually says that time spent in Faerie only increases maximum possible expertise in the area you visit, there are NO sub-areas. Consistency in writing rules is obviously the hobgoblin (or possibly spriggan, or maybe nixie, or...) of small minds.

Political Science
Your character did PPE at university. This skill "...can be used to analyse politicians, policies and political events for abnormalities and hidden agendas...", which may be handy when rooting out Deep One infestation on the district council. Political Science is really just another 'clue me' skill for something OSR types handle by player-GM interaction.

Public Administration
Hermes Conrad knowledge. Apparently this " a 'must' Area for a persona who is to hold any form of public office successfully for any extended period of time." It's hardly "By this axe, I rule!" is it?

Knowledge of, and ability to identify, valuable items. General categories (but manifestly not sub-areas; I imagine we would have been told if they were) include "...antiques, art, coins, gold and silver work, museum pieces, pottery, porcelains, rugs, sculpture, Staffordshire [wtf?], and tapestries."

Two skill checks are made per examination: one to correctly identify, then a second to determine authenticity. Oh, the excitement! Indiana Jones only wishes his adventures were this gripping.

Depressingly this is yet another entirely needless skill, which in this case replicates existing uses of the Appraisal and/or Criminal Activities, Forgery skills. Another specimen quality example of Bad Design then. Does a rule being entirely superfluous count as a wasted paragraph for the purposes of the Mythus drinking game? I judge ‘yes’. (*gluk gluk*)

The idea that you can appraise chunks of one specific English Midlands county tickles me though. I picture some poor Aerth-ish scholar pining for the chance to show off his hard-earned and encyclopaedic knowledge of a place that doesn't even exist in his world: a screwy inversion of the nerd who wants to share his knowledge of the minutiae of Tolkien/Dr Who/80s cartoons. (Hey, I’m taking my laughs where I can get them.)

Knowledge of the customs, mores, attitudes and taboos of foreign cultures. Succeed in a "Hard" (skill x1) Sociology roll to mitigate "You are a dirty foreigner and we despise you" SEC-loss by 1 level. No cross-feed from other skills, and no sub-areas, coz all beastly foreigners are the same.

Warbling hippy magic that requires the Music (surprisingly not spelt ‘Musick’) K/S Area to use. THAT table of spell levels is back again, this time headed Spellsong Castings. Spellsongs take longer to cast than most spells, but cost less Heka and require you to make a noisy tit of yourself for the duration. Heka cost is doubled if you can’t also plonk away on a musical instrument while doing your poncy caterwauling magic. The Spellsong skill generates Heka as normal for a magic skill, also gaining additional Heka from Musical Composition and Poetry/Lyrics skills. Got all that? Good.

This skill description is rife with unexpected new jargon about how Spellsongs affects the TAD (Time, Area, Distance - Mythus-ese for Area of Effect) and Effect/Force/Material (not the foggiest, I think it translates as ‘spell effect’) of Castings. Huzzah! Let us celebrate the entry of these newest pet gobbledygooks into our lives in the customary manner. (*gluk gluk*)

Subterranean Aerth
Knowledge of the "...underground maze which honeycombs the whole of Aerth". In any game but Advanced Mythus this combination of Geography and Navigation for monster-infested magical cave networks would openly be called ‘dungeoneering’. Thanks to the law-trolling of TSR however the man who introduced the concept of dungeon-crawling to popular culture is unable to call an entrenching tool a spade.

Seven sub-areas
  1. Upper Levels (The Byways of Shallowshadow)
  2. Middle Levels (Midgloom Mazes)
  3. Lower Levels (The Deepdark Labyrinths)
  4. Flora and Fauna of the Upper Levels
  5. Flora and Fauna of the Middle Levels
  6. Flora and Fauna of the Lower Levels
  7. Sapient Dwellers in Subterranean Aerth

Areas 1-3 are knowledge of layout and notable features of the cheesily named underworld, including holes and shafts (*fnarr, fnarr*), lucid areas (glowing crystal caverns and fluorescent fungi groves AFAICT), oases, etc.
Areas 4-6 cover your understanding of those wacky underworld ecologies ("What the hell do they eat down here?").
Area 7 allows you to tell Morlocks from CHUDS from Mole People while you’re rampaging through their homes in search of loot.

Urban settlement layout, landscape gardening and general "this landform would look better over there" skill. Also useful for making maps: Topography governs how accurate your map is; Cartography how legible it is. Doesn’t cross-feed to the Geography/Cartography skill though, so Surveying’s supposed usefulness is strictly colour.

Wait, wut? "Geography/Cartography"? Ain’t no such skill! Piss-poor editing rears its ugly head again.

Trade Language
A column and change on the distribution of the assumed koine of Aerth: Trade Phoenician. All the information we’re given on the distribution and frequency of Trade Phoenician speakers should arguably be somewhere (anywhere!) other than the skills section. That’s setting background; not the type of thing a player is going to need to know about using their skill in the game.

Included is a table that could - and arguably should - have been part of the general language rules:

See, this should have been the dialect rule

The above may actually be semi-useful rule for games that use a single Common language and/or generic racial languages (Elvish, Orc, Roper, etc). Travelling far from home? What are the odds that these exotic far-away types actually understand your peculiar idioms and grammar through that absurd yokel accent you have?

The fine art of poisoning, including some quick-and-dirty brew poison rules. Although we’re referred ahead to Chapter 12 for the full rules on poison and its use, these are adequate and yoink-able for a rules-light Classic game:

In what must be a first in the entire Lets Read Mythus experience I sincerely wish I’d read this before I’d started flailing away at the poisons rules for Small But Vicious Dog. (Wow, hold on a second... *gluk gluk gluk*) Add some pricing to the above table and you’ve pretty much got a complete Lucretia Borgia Memorial Poisoning Rules sub-system.

Weapons, Military, All Others
Why not just call it Weapons, Siege Engines? Most of the skill description is a glossary of the usual pre-modern siege weapons including "...gravity motivated cylindrical or spherical objects (logs or boulders)..." I elect to believe that last was an in-joke from EGG’s wargaming days, because to believe it was intended in seriousness would have me in the bell tower (and blood on the quad [link to song]) in short order.

You know about non-domestic animals. No ruling on whether you know about mythic/fantastic creatures, which is a sore oversight in a world where the typical medieval bestiary is actually a factual textbook. More sloppy writing not picked up by playtesters or editors.

And, at page 161, we stagger - pie-eyed and bewildered, our brains full of things that cannot be unseen - to the end of the Mental skills of Advanced Mythus. A few stealables, a load of acronyms, some sloppy editing, and a whole heap of verbiage: pretty par for the course for this abominably over-written game. In an uncanny symmetry with meaning only to the fatally Mythus afflicted we’ve covered both two fifths of the book and two-fifths of the skills.

Oh god, no! The search for any sense or sanity in this vortex of madness has taken its toll. Send help! Or possibly more sweet, numbing booze...

Next time: we get physical [caution: link contains excessive amount of 80s-ness-nesses] as our ongoing review of "WTH was EGG even thinking?!" explores the many and varied Physical skills of Advanced Mythus. Offerings for our delectation include: Acupuncture, Combat skills, Clothwork, the fine art of Heka-Forging, and all eight (entirely essential) sub-areas of Cultured Palate.


Art of the Section
The Mental skills section is broken up by quite a lot of art. No less than eight-and-a-bit pages out of twenty-six in this section are taken up by pictures:

1 x b+w 1/4-page picture
2 x full-page colour plates
3 x double-spread colour plates

Five out of the six are - and I’m doing to make no bones about it - pretty uninspiring. Their excision from the book would be no loss.

First off we have a full-page piece by Paul Daly that looks like something out of a Prince Valiant comic. ‘Baron All-the-Teeth plots his revenge’ or something. This would have been fine as a black-and-white incidental piece, but as full-page art it’s rather lacking.

"Isn’t it clever how the teeth follow you around the room."
-- The Blessed Pterry

Pages 148-149 offers us a two-page colour spread of feasting Egyptians. I have no idea what value this piece is supposed to add, and can only surmise that Midgette, Meyer and Bryant were shoring up their portfolios for a planned move into the historical illustration field.

Pages 151-152 is a piece by Midgette, Meyer, Kirk and LaMonte showing us a day in the working life of Crazy Ahmed the Roofer. What’s that? Of course he’s a roofer. Just look at his stern disapproval of the cheap, shoddy job of tile-laying done by his predecessor. I can’t imagine why else a swarthy turbaned man would be crawling around the roofs of a generic oriental cityscape, can you? An assassin you say? Rather unlikely...

Page 155 includes another black-and-white linework piece by G (Daniel Gelon, IIRC) of some burnoosed bumpkins bowing to a temple dog/beartoad statue(?) on a plinth. The figure has echoes of both South-East Asian and Meso-American sculptural forms, which is a nice contrast to the barren Araby-ish plain of its setting.

See what I mean about the b+w incidental art in Mythus being better than the colour work?

Page 156-157 ... I don’t even know where to begin here. Darrell Midgette offers us a view of a typical day in the wondrous realm of Phaeree. Centaurs, unicorns, fauns, toadstools, a dragon and suchlike Central Casting fantasy types frolic in a sylvan idyll under a sickly pink, purple and yellow sky. Although the composition, execution and colouring are passable the whole couldn’t be any more ‘generic fantasy’ if it tried. Imagine the coolest, most mind-blowing fantasy art you ever saw: this is the diametric opposite. Darrell Midgette and Zak S: aesthetic antimatter.

Page 160 is a full-page piece by Allen Nunis of a classical roundship/dhow sailing towards an island encrusted with vaguely classical Mediterranean architecture. It has the workmanlike quality of the art in a well-drawn historical comic from the 70s or 80s. The drafting is inoffensive, but the piece lacks any really zazz. There’s none of the ‘value added’ fantastic realism you might see in DAT’s Emrikol the Chaotic or in Dave Gallagher’s Blood on the Reik WFRP art book.

This art makes me sad. Let no more be said of it.


Pic Sources: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, the electrowubz


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm a little disappointed that Games, Mental doesn't include roleplaying games. Imagine the Inceptioney possibilities of playing Rifts within Mythus!

    As for darts, I don't think the sport has quite the same, er, lifestyle in the US as it does here.

    Also, the idea of stuff like snooker being a skill reminds me of all those Japanese rpgs that have inexplicable fishing sub-games within them.

    "...can be used to analyse politicians, policies and political events for abnormalities and hidden agendas..."

    D&D has detect alignment and Miffus has analyse politician. Beautiful.

    The Byways of Shallowshadow

    Really? Really? That's just wonderful.

    See what I mean about the b+w incidental art in Mythus being better than the colour work?

    I do quite like that black and white G piece. It has a hint of Moebius to it.

  3. this comment contains no content and is here merely to encourgae you to continue your lunatic quest


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