Monday, 9 July 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt20

Ah me, where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday that I first jokingly broached the idea of a Lets Read of Dangerous Journeys: Mythus (and for the life of me I can’t remember why that ever seemed like a good idea). Now here we are, 20-odd weeks later, still deep in the Combat chapter, facing yet another wodge of text, tables and wonky formatting.

Today we exhume the Advanced Mythus rules on Weapons and Armour, which sprawl across pages 235-256 in a bloated abandon reminiscent of an orgied-out Roman emperor. Those last few hardened, dead-eyed souls still playing along at home may wish to charge their glasses with something nice and paint-stripping now.

Weapons and Armour Information and Tables

The section opens with a couple of paragraphs of introductory busywork. In brief: "here are tables of stats for war gear, uses them." (a paraphrase, not the original gygaxian prose) The customary intro is followed by a column of text explaining what all the abbreviations in the forthcoming tables mean.

These abbreviations.

Sub-Area -- what weapon skill sub-area you use to bash people.
WP -- Weapon Points. How much the weapon adds to your skill.
C -- Composition; what your thwackenstick is made from. (M for metal, W for wood, C for combination)
S -- Speed Factor. Not ‘SF’? I’ve no idea why not.
DT -- damage type (P for piercing, C for cutting, S for stunning, B for blunt, etc.)
Dam -- base weapon damage
Reach -- striking range (in yards)
Price -- price in Mythusbucks.

Additional notations for missile weapons:

T -- thrown weapon? Y/N distinction.
Price -- given in a ###/## format. The number before the slash is weapon price, after is price per shot
ROF -- rate of fire per round (before modification for skill level)

Not sure if any of these are worth toasting as OMJ (Original Mythus Jargon - gateway to liver damage since Feb 2012); with the exception of 'WP' and 'SF' they’re all pretty standard RPG jargon.

Weapon Tables

Remember the weapons tables back in the AD&D PHB; the ones that sprawled across a page or so, and which were so lovingly parodied in Hackmaster? Well, the Advanced Mythus weapon tables cover four pages: pp236-240, the whole of pages 236-240. That's two pages for listings of melee weapons, one page for missile weapons, and then another page of missile weapon ranges, of which there are five: Point Blank, Short, Medium, Long, Extreme. Why five? Because three range brackets would just be soooooo unrealistic, of course.

In total the tables give stats for:

Melee Weapons -- 18 swords, 9 shields, 59 others -- total 86
Missile Weapons -- 8 bows, 9 xbows, 23 others -- 40 total

Almost all the special rules and footnotes from EGG's iconic AD&D weapon tables are in there, along with a few new ones. There are 13 special weapon abilities all told, and it looks like this is where all the special attack stuff I was lamenting the lack of last week has been hanging out. Want to unhorse/disarm/entangle? See here:

Yeah, lotsa combat options, all hidden away in the footnotes.

Its nice to see some familiar old friends (hold at bay, prod off horse, etc.) poking out of the sanity-devouring accretion of Zalchisian proportions that is the Advanced Mythus rule set. But - and isn’t there always a ‘but’ - I do have one small niggle with these super secret esoteric rules of doubleplusobscurity. Namely, that the half-written rule problem which so often plagues Advanced Mythus rears its ugly head again. For example:

Ok, great. But what DR are you supposed to test against? A straight DR "Hard"(x1) roll? A DR derived from the relative weapon skills of the participants (in the manner of a contested K/S vs. K/S roll)? Does the guy you’re trying to do stuff to get an Avoidance roll? Are we told? Are we hell.

The footnotes to the missile weapon tables are much simpler, with only one special rule and a couple of notes on ammunition cost. But then what else did you expect regarding a series of variations on a theme of string and twigs? It's not like anyone armed with a bow was ever instrumental in winning a battle; no, not like Gary's beloved pole-arms.

Wassat? "Gunpowder weapons?" Wash your filthy mouth out!

A couple of other takeaways from the Advanced Mythus weapon tables:

  • Pike, Mancatcher and (Bill-)Guisarme(-Voulge) are slow as owt at SF 10. Enjoy your going last.
  • Rapier, Scimitar, Mancatcher and Lance practically do your fighting for you, adding 10 WP to your skill (12 if you pick up a heavy lance). Sure, coz lancing is super-easy and takes no practise at all...
  • Daggers are able to unhorse opponents. Nope, it says so right there on page one of the grand unified melee weapon table.
  • Long bows and crossbows negate the first 5 Armour whenever they hit. Some melee weapons (particularly the Renaissance-era ones: halberd, 2H sword, morningstar, pick, pike) ignore even more; anything up to 2x their inherent WP!
  • Some weapons are officially useless against armour, either doubling armour values per hit, or causing 0 damage.
  • Throwing a rock at someone? That's Hand Weapon, Missile (sub-area: darts). ¿Que?

Weapon Descriptions

As well as the four pages of tables for 120+ types of weapon, we’re also offered no less than eight pages of text defining those weapons. The weapon lists are pretty much what you'd expect of a Cold War-era militaria nerd's knowledge base: the majority of stabbinators are European or Japanese, with a scattering of notorious weapons (bolas, blowgun, shaolin shovel, cho-ko-nu, tulwar) from other cultures. I spotted no African, Amerindian, or Polynesian weapons, and very few Indian and SEAsian ones, so all you maquahuitl, tlinga, katar or chakram fans are SOL.

But fret not knife-on-a-stick fetishists! All the classic Gygaxian pole-arms are there. All. Of. Them. Because a game without glaive-guisarmes and six alternative names for the ranseur(!) is no game at all.

Each and every killtoy gets one paragraph of potted description covering such germane information as:
  • general appearance,
  • cultural origin,
  • use in combat, and
  • minimum strength requirement to wield.
The minimum strength requirements are, to put it mildly, problematic. For one thing I've no idea why this particular rules wrinkle wasn’t defined earlier and integrated into the weapon tables: it’s not like a there’s a lack of space. For another thing more than a few of the requirements seem rather over-inflated. Min PMPow (Str) of 13 to use a katana? Min Str 15-16 to use a pole-arm? In a game where normal humans have Str 10? That seems steep to someone used to RQ's 'Min Str 7/9' requirements. To cap it all there's no mention of any penalty for using a weapon that's too heavy for you, just a blanket ‘you must be this high to ride’ number. PMPow 15 and you want to use a PMPow 16 weapon? RULES SAYS NO!

Dear oh dear. That is no way to run a whelk stall...

A couple of weapons from the tables ('chopper', 'generic shield') are missing text descriptions, and there are a few other odd Easter eggs hidden among all the wordswordswords:
  • Pig feathers (a metal version of the classic sharpened stake) don’t even belong on this table; they’re an emplaced battlefield obstacle, not a weapon.
  • Manopele? An armoured sword-breaking gauntlet covered in blades and spikes. METAL as all hell.
  • A Foot Bow (Long) - or possibly a Foot (Long) Bow - is basically a giant crossbow that uses you as the body. See that wacky scene in Hero [link].
  • Get your bow wet and you lose *at least* 50% range and any bonus damage. Get your compound bow wet and its 75% likely to come unglued. Bow users: enjoy your 'hostage to a dick GM' status.

Finally we come to the all-important question of utility. Is this section useful?

Arguably not. If you've read the AD&D weapon rules you've had most of the benefit of this section, and the writing herein is the worst sort of completist, minutiae-obsessed game writing. I’m not going to take EGG to task for failing to anticipate the later prominence of Google and Wikipedia, but I know for a fact that handbooks of medieval warfare and weapons (produced either by game designers or by general interest publishers) were readily available in the 1990s. Eight pages spent defining a spear, katana or pike is naught but just needless busywork and completism.

And then there’s this particular weapon description:

Argh! the obvious! I'm blind! I’m completely blind!!!

Is that subtle self-parody, or just complete loss of proportion? I don't even know any more.

Advanced Mythus: Chaos plot?

Armour Tables and Descriptions

Just when you thought it couldn't get any fiddlier and pixel-bitchy, we finally come face-to-face with the Advanced Mythus armour rules in all their infernal glory. They're only six pages in toto*, and include rules for natural (monster) armour, for humanoid (suit) armour, for barding (animal) armour, and no less than three variations on the theme of  simplified Advanced Mythus armour. Yes, you read that right. Mythus even manages to make a meal of simplifying thing.

* Wait, did I really just write 'only six pages of armour rules'? What is this game doing to my head?! More worryingly, why are the armour rules lodged in some poor little Scottie dog?

The crux of the Mythus armour system is the Armour Categories table:

Because a dozen armour locations makes sense in a game with four hit locations.

You can only have one piece of armour per Category, but each piece of armour grants its protective bonus to all the listed Hit Location Areas. Does that make an oz of sense to you? Thankfully there are a couple of paragraphs of worked examples and rationales for the hopelessly confused. The self-awareness test is again failed with a helpful suggestion that " would be a good idea to create an armour sheet to help you keep track of it all."

Natural Armour

Monster armour in Advanced Mythus is weird and a bit irritating in that completely negates the benefits of multiplied damage from hit location rolls. No, seriously. Read this:

So, according to this, rolling for Hit Location on a monster is nothing but busywork.

The above conclusion is not just me interpolating meaning for dramatic effect. This textual WTFery is entirely supported by the example gratis offered as elaboration and clarification. Consider the armour schema of a Mythus monster:

Because a unified 'All Others' column would never work.

Argh! That's just stupid! A single row of 'Normal' armour and note to the effect of "deduct this from damage before multiplying for Area hit" would cut that whole over-elaborate table down one value, two modifiers, and a footnote, and all in a grand total of three lines. Watch:

Stone Golem
Armour, Non-Vital 20* (Electricity 10, Blunt 5)
* deduct from damage taken /before/ multiplying for hit location

Natural Armour? Nothing natural about it! Kill it with fire, salt the earth, and start from scratch!

Human(oid) Armour

Rules for artificial armour. Cost for bigger suits scales in a linear fashion (+100% for each +3' of height above human norm), while protective value scales not at all. So a 12' tall giant's suit of armour costs three times the human norm (no, not eight times) and blocks exactly the same damage that a human size suit does. I'll just leave that bizarre little nugget o’ Mythuslore there to enrage anyone who understands cube-square mathematics, shall I?

The introductory paragraph of madness is followed by another para' explaining the abbreviations used in the tables on the following pages (a bunch of damage types, "AP Cat" = Armour Protection Category, "SF Pen" = Speed Factor Penalty). This is delicious jargon, and we drink to it. (*gluk gluk*)

After the decompression of OMJ terms into English we're then given something that, at least in a bad light, looks a little like an armour encumbrance rule:

Running: -1 yd/BT per -1 SF penalty.
Walking: -1 yd/AT per -1 SF penalty.
Dodging: impossible in armour with SF 5+. Why SF 5 or more? Because phuque, that's why!

Whether you’ll care enough to remember something as fiddly as this in play is up to the conscience of the reader. I wouldn’t give it a second look myself.

Armour Tables

Cover pp248-249. Listings of all the information you could ever want or need for both individual items and for full suits of armour. Annoyingly there's no 'bespoke' vs. 'off the peg' organisation, everything is all mixed in together in alphabetical order. Could have been handled better IMO.

Page 2 of 2, page 1 is just more of the same.

There are several footnotes at the base of the second page, and the old Mythus crime of using both bullet points (·) and askterisks (*) in a font where there is almost nothing to distinguish them rears its head again. "Bad editing staff! No cookie for you!"

All those different numbers by damage type probably relate, in some subtle way, to the Weapon-vs.-AC tables of AD&D fame, but I'm blowed if I can tease out any correlation beyond the most obvious.

Astute observers will note that shields make a reappearance, this time giving their defensive stats rather than Speed Factor damage. A rational mind (as opposed to the mercilessly Martian logical one that actually laid out Advanced Mythus) would probably have hied the shields off into a single unified table all of their own.

Armour Descriptions

Pages 250-253 are a primer on the art of armour, from the evolution in styles of full plate right down to the subtle delights of Cuissarts, Demi-Jambarts and Tuilles. (Nope, me neither without checking) One paragraph per suit or piece of oddly shaped metal. The Speed Factor penalties from the armour tables are reproduced in the description. My cursory flick-through turned up no text/table conflicts.

Barding Descriptions

Armour for animals. Warhorses (+elephants +monsters) only. Work and riding horses are unable to wear barding. Why is not explained, they just can't. Barding of a particular type always protects per the table. I assume the listed price is to bard a horse rather than a war-elephant or something equally rock-and-roll. Nothing is said about the price of armouring other creatures. Presumably it's an "If sir has to ask, sir cannot afford" situation...

The table is pretty self-explanatory to anyone familiar with the human(oid) armour tables.

  • "SF Pen" percentage is actually a penalty to the mount's speed.
  • Chamfron and Front Plates are additional 'bolt-on' armour. Everything else is a big coat of horse reinforcement.
A textual note that creatures of Phaeree cannot wear any ferrous-metal barding (iron, steel, adamantine) and must wear bronze reveals that the latter metal offers only 70% of the protection of steel. This implies a whole other level of detail regarding non-iron weapons and armour, a world of which we (perhaps mercifully) know nothing.

Useful? Depends on how fiddly you like your tinned horse rules...

Cost of Weapons and Armour

Price of stabbers and tinbitz varies by quality.

Quality in turn affects only the amount of damage your shiny toy can take in parries. Spending 10x the normal amount on a weapon of "Unsurpassed" quality modifies its innate Weapon Points, Speed Factor penalty or encumbrance effect by precisely 0. You want a better weapon? Go kow-tow to the Heka-slinger: they have the monopoly on improving weapons.
"Silly muggle! All mundane quality is equally worthless; only magick has mechanical benefits in Mythusworld."
Price variations with no useful purpose in-game? *pffft* Seen better. Heck, written better.

Damage To And Repair Of Armour

An opening plaint on the complexity of modelling wear and tear on armour before we're informed that if a piece of armour takes maximum damage 10 times (ie: blocks damage, but some still gets through to you) it falls to bits. That drops to "5 penetrating hits = crumple" if its a buckler. Again, no variations for quality.

We do find the limits of Advanced Mythus armour fiddliness though:

Note Gary's polite use of the word 'purist'.

Averaged Armour

Most of pages 255-256 is spent in tacit admission that the default armour system of Advanced Mythus is overcomplicated to the point of absurdity. The reader who might actually want to play a game of Mythus some time before the heat death of the universe is offered three alternate system of simplified armour calculation.

The first alternative system is Average Armour, and it offers three levels of coverage (half, 3/4, full) in six remarkably familiar types.

Half armour = byrnie (coat) only
three-quarter = byrnie + greaves and gauntlets
full = the above + helm, shield, brassarts

The armour types are (stop me if you've heard this one before):

Hello old friends. What are you doing in a dump like this?

Want simpler? Pick an off-the-peg Averaged Armour, Simplified suit: all the joy of damage types with none of the number-juggling of pick'n'mix armour.

Want simpler even than that? Choose Averaged Armour, Unified Damage Types, which is basically the Mythus Prime armour system.

The numbers are run for you in one last page-spanning table:

Start simple, get more complex? Such is not the Mythus way!


And that's the skinny on arms and armour in Advanced Mythus. Wasn't it both fun and infinitely useful for your nice, simple, rules-light Classic game?




Sorry, no. Couldn't keep a straight face there.

Seriously, some stuff here might be of interest to AD&D players, or to RuneQuesters who want a bit more mechanical fiddliness to their arms and armour rules. Almost anyone else should probably take these weapons and armour rules as a cautionary example of the dangers of excess.

I think I’m going to go and read classic super simple Brit-gamer RPG AFF: Dungeoneer until my desire to hunt down the surviving members of GDW’s editing department and make them eat pages of Dangerous Journeys: Mythus while screaming "You! You let this happen!" abates. I may be some time...

Next Time: Dazing, Permanent Damage, Shock and more. And that's just what's going on inside my head...

Pic source: Dangerous Journeys: Mythus rulebook, teh netlowubz


  1. will there be any Chris left after this business?

  2. Despite my love of Hong Kong cinema, I had no idea what a "Shaolin shovel" was, thinking it sounded an awful lot like a cocktail. Today I have been educated, and all because of Miffus, so some good has come of all this misery.

    I do appreciate that they defined a rock as a weapon though. It's a fun joke.

    It is a joke, right?

    " would be a good idea to create an armour sheet to help you keep track of it all."

    In the Disgaea games, your weapons and armour have little dungeons full of monsters inside them; clear the dungeon with your Fantastic Voyaged party and your weapon or armour is upgraded. This is fiddly and unnecessary, but also quite weird and fun; the armour sheets of Miffus seem just as fiddly but nowhere near as fun.

    I'll just leave that bizarre little nugget o’ Mythuslore there to enrage anyone who understands cube-square mathematics, shall I?

    Some people say that D&D4 retains nothing of the Gygax legacy within it. I say they lie, for are not D&D4's diagonals-of-a-square-that-are-the-same-length-as-the-sides pure Gygaxium, albeit of Miffus descent?

    "AP Cat" = Armour Protection Category

    No, no, it's "armour-piercing cat"; it's in the weapons table.

    Could have been handled better IMO.

    We're twenty episodes in and you say this now?

  3. I cannot explain why I haven't been following you on this dangerous journey. Maybe lack of rotgut whisky. Anyway, now I've found this... I salute you. Your dedication, your grit. You poor, mad bastard.

    Also Phaeree? Like, really, in the text? Wow. That seems like it could be worth an essay all on its own - a Latinized, hard-to-parse respelling of the pretentious name for fairyland. Which is not Calyferne.

  4. You know, when I posted my own anti-Mythus screed I got a couple comments to the effect of, "Oh, it's really not that bad. We had some good times with that system." I really hope those same people are reading this series. Actually, I'd love to see a "Mythus apologist rebuttal" guest post once your djangos guerney has wrapped up.

    @Zak: This might indeed be the end of Chris, but he'll leave a beautiful e-corpse. I say it's worth it.

  5. Chris, how many words have you written ABOUT Mythus? And how many words long is OD&D?

    The weird thing is that Gygax had total freedom and no experience when writing OD&D. Yet he produced something concise and [comparatively] comprehensible. Yet as he grew more experienced, learned about publishing, marketing, and the joy of editing other people's text... he began to look like he'd attended a writers' workshop with Raven c.s. McCracken and Kevin Siembieda.

  6. you are still my heroic persona

  7. @Zak: I expect the whole thing will end with a pile of clothes on a beach somewhere. I keep getting these recurring visions of hippos...

    @Kelvin Green: I'm no JRPG buff so Disgaea had completely passed me by. The idea of _dungeoncrawling your own kit_ though, that's gold! I can feel my brain stretching in odd directions just thinking about it. Hmmm. Wasn't there an old FPS game that mapped your computer's system architecture and used that as the battleground?

    No, no, it's "armour-piercing cat"; it's in the weapons table.

    I thought there was something missing from the weapons table. No cat launcher (as showcased by action/comedy legend Adam West)? I walk.

    @Richard: Someone had to warn future generations. And you can't send an actual thinking, feeling person to do a job like this; that would be barbaric.

    Yep, 'Phaeree' is the Official Mythus Jargon for fairyland. I have no idea why, and can only assume it was a '90s 'myth, not fairy tale' thing. I'm a little disappointed there's no Land of Cockayne reference myself.

    @David Larkins: I'm sure Mythus defenders have a legitimate point when they say they had fun with this system, and more power to them for getting some fun from it. I can't see how they did it, but I'm impressed...

    @Dr Bargle: ~40K words so far. (I consider it part of my journeyman 'million words of crap'.) I'm guess about 60K for OD&D (128(?) pages @ 500 wpp).

    The whole Mythus experience has forcibly reminded me that there's a lot to be said for constraints in writing (game or otherwise). Less often is more. And I find myself in agreement with you on OD&D vs. Mythus. The former reads like a working document; a tool for getting sh*t done. The latter tries to out-DMG the DMG, but just ends up reading like a vanity project.

    @gdbackus: Nah, I'm not detailed enough, and my sub-areas were poorly chosen by an obvious part-timer. ;)

  8. Oddly enough I just read a few articles by Gary in Best of Dragon Vol 2 I had laying about and he seemed to have changed a large number of strongly held opinions by the time he came up with Mythus. Very strange.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...