Monday, 2 July 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt19

Welcome again to Let's Read Mythus, our weekly trawl through the Gary Gygax's post D&D masterwork. Today we trudge into the murderous mess that is the Advanced Mythus Physical Combat rules, which may or may not be of usable salvage value to players of other games.

Physical Combat, Lethal

Week three of Combat, and we finally get to the crux of the matter: thwacking dudes with swords. And, no, that's not just me being a bloodthirsty lowbrow bogmonkey; we have it on good authority from the pen of the master his own bad self:

One of us. One of us. One of us.

One nice short paragraph saying that Lethal Combat is dangerous (No, really?) and assuring us that "Note that while these rules may seem complicated, once you get used to them they're quite easy. They are designed to simulate reality and the actual suspense which exists in combat." Ok. So the confusion, tears, pain and screaming were actually a desired outcome borne of careful attention to verisimilitude, and not just my reflexive horrified reaction.

Front and centre attention is drawn to the all-important sidebar, to which anyone daring this section will probably want to cling to like a drowning man snatching at a life ring:

This is your (war)god now!

Pages 223-230 are all just footnotes to this.

The main thing to note is that, unlike every other form of combat in Advanced Mythus, Lethal Physical Combat offers absolutely no option to do anything other than hit someone. There's no option of attacking to cripple, or blind, or disarm, or anything else. Eight pages of mechanics for hitting and hitting back. And that's it.

Oh, I tell a lie. You can parry someone else's attempt to hit you. Big whoop!

Notable new jargon:

Basic Attack Chance (BAC) -- weapon skill STEEP + modifiers for high Perception and quick reflexes
Final Attack Chance (FAC) -- This is your BAC after all modifiers; what you actually roll the die against.

Weapon Information

Pages 223-225 are full of information, tables and worked examples explaining how to determine attacks and damage with a particular weapon. It starts thus:

And, like some sort of aspie Terminator, absolutely does not stop until the end of p225. There is a lot of info here, all divided up into sub-sections corresponding to the numbered points above:

This is STEEP + Weapon Points + Bonus for Physical Perception. Each of these gets some defining blurb.

STEEP we know. That's your skill level with the weapon in question derived from the relevant Combat (HTH, Lethal, or Hand Weapon, or Hand Weapon, Missile) K/S Area sub-area. Mmmm, delicious jargon. (*gluk gluk*)

Weapon Points are a novelty. These are a seemingly ass-pulled number that a particular type of weapon adds to your BAC. I'm a bit vague on what Weapon Points represent: possibly some abstraction of reach and handiness? All weapon, except HTH, Lethal weapons like nunchaku and tai-fu, have Weapon Points. Why? No idea. Magic weapons have bonus Weapon Points over and above the norm for their type.

Bonus for Physical Perception are granted for high stats according to the following table:

Just for completeness, we're also told how to work out BAC for characters who lack the correct K/S sub-area to correctly wield their chosen stab-toy. Half-trained klutz BAC is Weapon Points + 1/2 the relevant general Combat skill (HTH Lethal, Melee or Missile). Total combat virgin BAC (for those with no relevant weapon skill) = Weapon Points only. Enjoy your sudden, messy death.

Attacks per Round
Varies by type of weapon and by skill with weapon. We're helpfully referred back to the skill descriptions, and forward to the weapon tables later in the Combat chapter. Try to enjoy the breeze as the pages flap back and forth during the orgy of cross-referencing this section requires.

A couple of tables giving bonuses to Physical damage. These are just clarifications of simple rules:
  • High STEEP damage bonus is +1 per 5 points of skill over 40. At 71+ this increase to +2 per 5 points. So +4 at 56-60, +5 at 61-65, +10 at 76-80, etc.
  • High PMPow (aka STR) damage bonus is +1 per point over 12. So +2 at 14, +3 at 15, etc.
 There is also a table of bonus damage per die for being extra HUEG:

The bonus damage per die is a nice touch not often seen outside some of the more obscure sub-rules in AD&D, but I'm not sure how often this table will actually see use. Remember that the implicit setting of the Advanced Mythus game is a rigidly humanocentric place where even the bog standard fantasy races are strictly optional: something like ogre or ice giant is definitely not a default character type in this game.

A list of damage types (previously seen in the Heka-Based Attacks section) make a re-appearance for the sake of completeness. The damage types follow the previously defined rules.

Reach or Range
One paragraph. Range for claws and martial arts is 1 yard, and longer weapons have a longer reach (given on the weapon tables). Missile weapons have the best range. Waste of a paragraph, you might as well have just written "refer to weapons tables" and been done with.

Speed Factor
Again, one paragraph. Again, could have just been a "refer to weapons tables" reference. Martial arts attacks and weapons = 3. All other weapons consult the weapon tables. Echoes of AD&D are echo-ey.

Durability of parrying weapons, etc. Actual rules for blocking incoming objects with other objects are given elsewhere, this is just commentary on filling out your weapon description.

Shields modify the damage capacity for their quality and composition according to the last column of this table. So an average spear will be (Average quality, Combo composition) 8/20, while an average rimmed shield will be 8/30. Exactly what these numbers mean is explained later in the Combat chapter, under Parrying. Try to restrain your excitement.

What's left in your cho-ko-nu or quiver? You must know. It is important! Yes, of course Accountancy Mythus tracks every last arrow, bolt, and sling bullet. Did you honestly expect anything different?

Congratulations. You've now filled out the relevant stats for one weapon. Now go back and do it again for all your other jabbification devices. It shouldn't take that long. It's not like you intended to spend any time role-playing or anything...

So far I'm strongly reminded of the 1d4chan entry for RoleMaster? ("An ancient classic from the Dawn Times. If you picked up this game in 1980 and started making a character immediately, then you should be almost ready to play this Friday.") Most of this stuff is just a waste of words. Two-and-a-half pages to define the qualities and characteristics of your weapon when the basic rules for using the damn thing only take a half-page sidebar is just sheer pandering to the 'no common sense' element of the readership.

Final Attack Chance (FAC)

As those who bothered to read the Physical Combat, Lethal summary boxout will already know, FAC is what you actually roll against to hit. It's calculated as the sum of your BAC +/- the scads of modifiers detailed over pages 226-227. Simple enough, right?

Modifiers to BAC differ from a lot of difficulty modifiers in Advanced Mythus in that they are linear modifiers (+/-n), rather than adjustments to Difficulty Rating multipliers. I have no idea why this exceptionalism exists, and there's nothing in the text to enlighten me. Any suggestion of a savage Mythus playtester revolt in favour of traditional percentile modifiers is naught but wildest speculation on my part. ;)

Advanced Mythus playtesters, circa 1991

Some modifiers only apply to ranged attacks; others apply to all Lethal attacks. "Hand weapons, martial arts and natural attacks use only the Attacker's Movement, Target's Movement and Position tables." This is explained in the text, rather than being marked up on the page-spanning table of modifiers where it might actually be helpful. I've taken the liberty of correcting the oversight.

Sooooo many modifiers. Soooooo much scope for clarification and simplification.

Dodging in Advanced Mythus is subsumed in this (sub-)section and takes the form of a mathematically insignificant 'always-on' modifier to FAC. Dodging bonus is available only to people with crazy-good reflexes, and is usable only when wearing light armour.

Runequest fans will be feeling some more deju vu about now.

The situation isn't as bad as it looks at first glance given that Advanced Mythus HP's Attributes are generated on 2d6+8 rather than the more traditional 3d6. So anyone with better than average (for an HP) reflexes will get at least some dodge bonus, however insignificant. And boy are dodge bonuses insignificant: +1-2% for dodging when the act of walking grants a -5% modifier is just what can reasonably be called a b*llsh*t bonus.

So that's yet another grudging, pixel-bitching, mechanically inconsequential stat modifier to keep track of. Which - I'm sure we can all agree - is a hallmark of good game design.

A couple of additional notes extracted from the dense text on FAC:
  • BAC can never be reduced to less than 10% of initial score by negative modifiers.
  • FAC is usually a DR "Hard" (x1) skill check. Judging from the worked example offered expending Joss is (seemingly) the only thing that modifies this DR, rather than playing with the percentiles.
  • By default all of a character's attacks are taken on the same initiative score.
This section has lots of wordiness and some p*ss-poor organisation of info. I'd have done it all very differently. Small mercy: at least the GDW layout chimps managed to get all FAC stuff onto one two-page spread.

Special Hits/Special Misses

Crappy layout orphans the Crits/Fumbles text from its accompanying table. The Lethal Combat Crit/Fumble rules are pretty much a rehash of the Non-Lethal ones we've already looked at:

Crit = maximum possible damage (*snore*)
Minimal Hit* = minimum possible damage
Fumble = roll d%, deduct weapon skill and 20% per Joss spent, compare to table

* a hit reduced in effect by Joss. We're even given a page reference to the rule.

The Advanced Mythus Lethal Combat Fumble table is pretty poor. How poor? Well, let's just count up the entries shall we? I know that number of entries isn't a guarantor of quality or anything, but bear with me).

"One... two...three... (fades out)"

Musical interlude

(fades in) "six... seven."

Yes, that's it. This table has a Sesame Street-worthy total of only seven (7) entries, of which one is "The attack misses, but nothing else happens."

Never has a lethal mis-step been so Dull. Dull. Dull.

I've seen rules-lite old school Fumble tables with more character and interest than this. RoleMaster would look on it with pitying contempt and even jolly old WFRP would amble over, take a shufti, and wander off chuckling. Whatever happened to the promised "...elective complexities which place this game far beyond any other"? Bad show!

Fourteen Appraisal sub-areas; seven possible combat fumbles. Do you ever get the feeling that someone had their system design priorities a little confused? If even the most allusive mention was made to 'other game systems on the market' famous for their critical hit systems I might have a little more time for this section. But no: zip, zilch, nada.

Applying Difficulty Rating to FAC

Three paragraphs confirming that - exceptional circumstances withstanding - the DR for a FAC roll is almost always of "Hard" (x1) difficulty. Waste o' words, but an excuse for more pain-numbing swiggery. (*gluk gluk*)

We're also given a table of automiss/Fumble chances for high FACs. It's more than a little reminiscent of the standard autofail/Fumble table from back in the Core Systems chapter, but it's nice to have it here for completeness.

Might be handy for a percentile game player who lacks a fumble table and feels the need of one. Otherwise c'est inutile.


Parries in Advanced Mythus are (gamer jargon) elective interrupt actions which require you to reserve attacks. Hope you remembered to reserve some attacks when you were going nova earlier. There's no word on whether you have to declare intent to parry in advance, or simply declare it in reaction to a connecting hit. That bucket of angry eels is left in the lap of the GM, because he doesn't have enough to worry about already.

You can parry any melee or thrown missile weapon (although trying to block a sword with your hand is not recommended). Launched projectiles (arrows, bolts, etc.) can only be blocked with a shield.

We're also given a lick-and-a-promise note to the effect that:

Oh, hell no! You did not just do that!

I'm usually prepared to give Mythus the benefit of the doubt, but that is amateur bullshit in the first degree! This is not some kid's fantasy heartbreaker 'zine where "Coming soon" or "Under construction" is acceptable. Advanced Mythus is a full-on magnum opus: an inch-thick, professionally produced rulebook with a bunch of names on the colophon, playtesters galore, and a 60+ page combat chapter. There's no excuse for doing a Mearls half-assing any part of the rules and promising "Yeah, we'll do it right in some other book". That just smacks of attempting to double-dip the punters' wallets for something you should have done right first time.

Deadline-crushed amateurism, lazy design, or cynical set up for a later cash grab? You decide.

"Ma! Get me my hack whomping 2-by-4 from the shed!"

Weekly fit of frothing and moonhowling concluded, we return to the rules for parrying. Parrying in Chadpants Doofus Physical Combat is a straight roll by the Defender against their own BAC, with the DR dependent upon the weapons in play. No, a parry is not a contested roll in any way, shape or form: that would just be stupid!

Fortunately for my blood pressure the information required to perform a basic parry is actually present in the rulebook, mainly in the form of another handy table:

Actual rules for parries disposed of - in five lines and one table (which could easily have been simplified *gluk gluk*) - we move onto the related sub-rules for weapon damage from parries. No sub-section heading; just an unheralded topic shift somewhere in the depths of a textwall. You may remember the numbers from the table presented in the Parry section of Weapon Descriptions above.

Coz it would have killed you to explain that earlier.

Both sides of a successful parry roll for weapon damage.And, yes, mutual *ting ting SNAP* action is possible.

Is any of this stealable? IMO, nah. The Advanced Mythus parry rules are a half job; the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a nice, sleek two page combat system like Stormbringer, not in an ultra-complex RPG which trumpets itself as "...a quantum leap in roleplaying." You can't even riposte FFS! If you're going to nick quick-and-simple parrying rules something like Necromunda has better, and that's a toy soldiers game that uses d6s!

Strike Location

If a hit gets through without being parried (or if the players just decide to take the damage instead of broaching that particular barrel of nightsoil), then roll d% on the Strike Location Table to determine where your mighty swing hits.

No, that is not a bad joke on my part. That is the unified Advanced Mythus hit location table for any and all creatures in the game world in its entirely. Roll d%, get a damage modifier of x1-4. That's it.

Honestly, this is all a little disappointing. Given what we've already seen of this game I sure that you were expecting a hit loc' table of positively Dwarf Fortress detail and specificity: hit locations down to the metatarsal and specific internal organ. Instead we get pure functionalism: four Vulnerability Categories (*gluk*) reminiscent of the "This is where you hit him to kill quickly, or slowly, or to cripple" speech from Spartacus (the movie, not the even more homoerotic tv show). 

To add insult to injury the hit locations aren't even defined in a non-abstract way, they're nothing but damage multipliers. Would a mere dozen words expended on "Ultra-Vital = face or groin, Super-Vital = neck or guts, Vital = torso, Non-Vital = limbs" have broken the word limit, or somehow imposed crippling constraints upon EGG's creative vision? Obviously so.

And the waffley footnote that "fragile or tough creatures adjust roll by +/-5-10" is neither nowt nor sommat: a mere house rule. If WFRP 1E can expend a few lines explaining how the sole hit location table can be modified to take into account the wild variety of non-human physiologies in a fantasy world, then a game with seven types of standard physical damage which spends more than two pages on its Buffoonery skill has no excuse.

One other point to note: looking at the above table suddenly Special Hits don't seem so special any more. That rare '1/10th of skill, maximum damage' hit will be overshadowed by doing average damage but hitting in Vital or better area 40% of the time.

More than half of the Strike Location section of the Physical Combat rules is taken up by something semi-related: the mechanics for using a specific sub-area of a Weapon K/S area:

The opportunity to select one's damage multiplier? Yes, I am interested. Please go on.

Roll to hit as normal, then roll Weapons, Special Skill (Specific Target).

Success = choose your damage multiplier. ("Hurr durr. I choose x1.")
Failure = roll on the Strike Location table w. a +20 modifier. >100 = miss.

And that last disappointment disposes of Step One of the combat summary: hitting. We now move onto Step Two: hurtin'.

Applying Physical Damage

If damage isn't parried, and the person using these rules hasn't lost the will it live by now, damage is done. Armour will (probably) soak some of the pain, and the remainder hurts your HP or monster Monstrous Persona. So, that's a classic soak mechanic which is an RPG Orthodoxy at least as old as Runequest, and probably has even hoarier antecedents in wargaming.

Of course, this being Mythus it doesn't remain a simple deduction operation. There are tables to be cross-referenced of course! Each of your four Vulnerability Categories has separate armour scores for each type of physical damage. The worked example of some dude in maille and shield takes up the better part of a column.

Say it with me now:"AC5".

Yes, the negative numbers are intentional. As regular readers may recall, lightning damage is to armoured warriors in Advanced Mythus approximately what King Herod was to infant schools. So inventing some form of primitive lightning rod will probably be a priority for any tinboys who manage to drag themselves through character generation ~and~ armour calculation with an ounce of their sanity intact.

To add final insult to injury we're informed that magic armour doesn't have any of this number crunching to deal with. Magic armour - being magickqkc and thus inherently better than dirty mugglemetal - has one armour value per Vulnerability Category against all types of damage.


It's at about this point a sane person would be thinking: "Hmmm, is my game perhaps too fiddly?"

Wound Level, Critical Level and TRAIT damage thresholds get name checked and defined again, along with a page reference to full rules (on p256) for the Shocked, Dazed and Permanent Damage conditions.

Shocked, dazed and permanent damage about sums up my experience of the Physical Combat, Lethal rules so far. The whole thing is just a morass of simultaneously abstract and over-complex dissociated mechanics [link] with little meaningful relation to one another.

Particular niggles:
  • You can hit the dude, and that's it.
  • FAC Modifiers could do with being simplified and rationalised.
  • Dodge bonuses are so insignificant as to be all but meaningless.
  • Rules for Crits/Fumbles during the deadly, high-stakes dance of blades are both abstract and dull.
  • There is no relationship between accuracy of hit and actual damage done. Acceptable in a game as abstract as OD&D, just insulting in a game as complex and fixated on 'realism' as Advanced Mythus.
  • There is only a single (very specialist) option for modifying hit location. An option of which effective utilisation will require more system mastery than most players will care to invest.
  • Seriously, you call that a hit location table?!
  • The parry rules are a clunky, half-done job and fill me with displeasure on many, many levels.
  • There is no option whatsoever for using Heka in Physical Combat. No one-off accuracy increase, no way to enhance dodge or parry bonus, or no damage boost: nothing.

The bulk of pages 230-231 are taken up by additional rules and notes of special cases which may apply to Physical Combat, Lethal in certain circumstances. These are: Susceptibilities, Invulnerabilities, and Exceptional Attacks.


Some creatures suffer additional Physical damage from certain substances. This is Wounding type damage, which is a new one on me. The list of magic allergens should be eminently familiar to any role-player or reader of horror fiction:
Silver, Crystal, Iron, Fire, Irridium(?!), Salt, Wood, Blessed Water

Contact: merely touching the inimical item will cause 1d3 damage (or minimum weapon damage) to the susceptible. Salt and Blessed Water cause 1d3 damage per oz, with 30-80% of possible damage being done by bulk applications.
Insinuation: stabbification causes the susceptible x2-10 normal damage after all other modifiers (Armour, Hit Location, etc.).

There are also rules for non-weapon Susceptibilities (garlic allergy?) later in the rulebook.


These are classic D&D-style immunities to [named thing], usually balanced by a corresponding Susceptibility to [other thing]. Usually all-or-nothing, and players will usually have to puzzle out the Achilles' Heel of whatever creature they're facing.

Exceptional Attacks

These are basically rules for screwing characters over with attacks which don't do much direct damage, but still have a catastrophic effect if they take hold. Snakes and swarms of insects are the cited examples, but we're informed many other types of (undefined) attack also fall into this category.
  • Unarmoured individuals are allowed to parry such attacks and/or attempt Avoidance [link].
  • Armoured individuals either suffer automatic attacks per round (by swarms of killer bees), or have to suffer a Super- or Ultra-Vital Hit to be affected by scorpion stings, snake bites or poison blow darts.

Would I use these rules? Nah, Classic D&D does all this with exception-based rules found in the monster descriptions or with Saving Throws.

Tying It All Together

An extended worked example is spread over three pages (pp232-234). The only way it differs from any other worked example you have ever read is that the example GM is a fan of seemingly arbitrary dick moves that screw the players.


In Conclusion: the Physical Combat, Lethal rules of Advanced Mythus are loosely jointed, dissociated, and all kinds of scrappy. There's very little coherence of elements into a symbiotic whole, nor is there much sense that these rules are part of the same system as the rules for Mental, Spirit, or Non-Lethal Physical Combat.

In a section which almost requires a clear, orderly progression of useful information, the characteristic Mythus sins of dense formatting and verbiage are *still* in full effect. As is often the case, a good hard proofreading and procedural precis/ing wouldn't have gone amiss.

In its entirety the Physical Combat, Lethal section reads like nothing so much as a heartbreaker version of AD&D combat written by a guy who liked Runequest but couldn't be bothered to deliver the full RoleMaster level of complexity he originally envisioned.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend these rules to others. They are beta release quality in a world where superior finished articles already exist.

Next time: Weapons and Armour, 20 pages thereon. And, yes, there will be pole-arms.

Pic Sources: Dangerous Journeys: Mythus rulebook, the intawubl


  1. And now on to the golden rule of all roleplaying games: When in doubt, whip out your trusty longsword and start swinging!

    Gary must have run some weird games of Call of Cthulhu.

    If damage isn't parried, and the person using these rules hasn't lost the will it live by now, damage is done.

    I get the feeling that combat in Miffus ends in surrender or negotiation, most often before a single attack is made.

    Each of your four Vulnerability Categories has separate armour scores for each type of physical damage.

    This is the case in the PlayStation rpg Vagrant Story. It was annoying there, and in that case there was a box of Japanese electronics doing the sums for you.

    You may wish to have a few pieces of paper handy to use as armor sheets for your HP

    Multi-page character sheets for your armour? Oh, bravo Miffus, bravo.


    You mean it wasn't explained in the skill chapter, under Alchemy (Better Than Science) or Digging (For Shinies)?

  2. Oh the agony, the agony... if not for the golden rule about swinging longswords, one would assume that we are meant to spend far more time role-playing with all the other subsystems in the book than engaging in combat... the further thought, that a report of actual play be offered, raises the question of who here will suffer the greater SAN loss


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