Monday, 12 March 2012

Lets Read... Mythus pt 4

Welcome once again to Let's Read Mythus, in which our hapless hero hurts his brain (and liver) by mudlarking for hidden gems in EGG's infamous descent-into-self-parody-as-performance-art piece: Dangerous Journey: Mythus. And you thought Hackmaster was the pinnacle of playable gaming satire.

Today we're going to look at the last few section of Mythus Prime, the training wheels version of Dangerous Journeys:Mythus. We will be covering Upgrading to the Advanced Mythus Rules, the GM's Section, and the sample adventure.

Chapter 7: Upgrading to the Advanced Rules

Foreshadows all the ways in which you'll make your character more complex for when you graduate to using the full fat MAdvanced ythus rules.

TL;DR: two pages of non-useful text which could just be replaced with: "Turn to page 56."

Long-form Bitching and Whining:
And I quote: 
A good way to start your campaign on the advanced track is to first add on the rules for Difficulty Ratings (DRs) and Joss Factors (JFs).
Please ignore the *gluk, gluk, gluk* noises. That's just me topping up my buzz in 'hail fellow, well met!' celebration of all this exciting new jargon.

Difficulty Rating I grok ...I think. But Joss Factor. Wassat den Dave, the amount of patchouli-scented waifey action girlness inherent in your character? No? It's a secret is it? Oh great. And now I can't unsee Advanced Mythus characters as weird Sailor Moon/Voltron abominations whose ongoing adventures in groovy hippy-space are sound-tracked by Monster Magnet.

The rest of this section is the 8 steps of upgrading to Advanced Mythus characters, and some unilluminating waffle on other game mechanics.

Complexificatifying Your Heroic Personadudeamabob

Yes, 'rewarding'...

1 Determine TRAITS, Catagories and Attributes. 
TRAITS each have two Categories, each of which breaks down into three attributes. Here's the boxout showing how one TRAIT shakes out into many different numbers in Advanced Mythus:

If I'm reading that right, /one/ stat just exploded to /nine/. What in the name of the Future Buddha?! I'm going to need a new liver, and probably some new swear words, by the end of this.
2 Roll for Joss. 
There's that fat foot-fetishist again. But of mechanics and use in play? Nadda! not even a page reference.
3 Calculate Damage Levels (DLs) and Effect Levels (ELs). 
These are things. They are part of the game. We know no more. Their unseen rules hover over us like an implicit threat.
4 Convert K/S areas. 
Apparently Advanced Mythus characters have three additional automatic skills: Etiquette/Social Graces, Native Tongue and Trade Phoenician (the common language of Aerth). We're referred off to page 70 for details.
5 Determine K/S sub-areas.
I assume this is Mythus-ese for skill specialisations. Referred to Chapter 10 and the master skill list on pp99-100.
6 Calculate Personal Heka. 
Apparently there's a more complex advanced method in Chapter 13. (A type of bankruptcy, IIRC my American law correctly.)
7 Establish General Persona Information. 
And I quote: "...all we can say is turn to Chapter 10, and have at it!" There we will find Quirks and rules on Handedness. My heart swells with joy.
8 Adjust Financial Resources.
Apparently you don't have enough stuff. You need to refer to Chapter 10 to add more detail to your Possessions Categories and Special Connections. (I'm sure the latter is a euphemism for something... But no, it just means NPC contacts/associates.)

"Refer to Chapter 10. Refer to Chapter 10."

It's like listening to the ravings of a lawyer's parrot. I'm just grateful there's no 'Take a drink for every time you're referred to a rule that hasn't been explained yet' option in the Mythus drinking game: I'd be getting my stomach pumped already.

And no, I won't be using the information given in this chapter to generate an Advanced Mythus character, simply because there's not enough information here to 'upgrade' said elter ego. All we have to work from is a bunch of page references and noises off.

Pro-tip for wannabe writers of game (or other) documentation: habitually referring to things you don't even define until later in the book is *lazy, bad and wrong*. It shows you can't organize things sensibly, and also makes the reader want to kick you right in the sack. Just bear that in mind, m'kay?

And... back to the matter in hand.

Advanced Combat
A paragraph telling you to - and this is no word of a lie here - "...go and study Chapter 12 carefully." And did I just see the words 'speed factors' used there? This bodes.

Complete Heka
Refers you to Chapter 13, and to the Mythus Magick book. A load of "moarcomplexities! MOAR!!1!" guff which introduces the idea that there are such things as Full and Partial Heka Practitioners. No useful explanation of what these are (naturlich!). There's also a semi-interesting paragraph on Vows of Faith and Pacts with Evil, which introduces the idea of characters dedicating themselves to supernatural entities in return for power. That sounds very swords-and-sorcery: "Blood and souls for my lord Arioch!" and so forth.

The Gamemasters Section

Pretty sweet Janet Aulisio pic of some cerement-wrapped, pointy-hatted cultist-types standing amid mist-shrouded monolithic columns.

IMO *this* should have been the cover art for Mythus, rather than the generico Elmore effort. I mean, that's sword-and-sorcery villain portraiture gold right there. Lord Azzur of Blacksand approves this look.

'Nuff gushing, on with the winnowing.

Chapter 8: Running the Mythus Prime Rules
One paragraph pep talk for the GM, followed by a one paragraph puff piece telling us how great Epic of Aerth is as a setting book which offers "...adventure, intrigue, role-playing, exploration and action...integrating fantastic elements into a working and believable world". This is a lie. Epic of Aerth is a dry, boring factbook which represents the nadir of Bronze Age of Gaming 'systematise the fantastic' fetishism. That bloody book should be a case study in "how not to do it, unless you actually want to bore everyone's ass off" setting design.

(Sorry, that was a bit off-topic. My Epic of Aerth critique in the style of Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham can wait until another time.)

Targeting a Campaign Locale
Seven paragraphs of verbiage (1+1/4 pages!) tell us that an entire world is too vast in scope to be a useful starting area, and that you should drill down to a local area in one nation on one continent.
"In fact, here's our recommendation: Locate your campaign's base in a large village ... somewhere  nearby will be an entrance into the mysterious labyrinths of Subterranean Aerth." 
A village near a labyrinth, you say. What unprecedented "...quantum leap in roleplaying..." (source: DJ:Mythus back cover blurb) is this? The innovation! It burns!

Beginning Your Campaign
Half a page to say 'set up some situations, have the repercussions of what the players do lead to new situations.' (eckles) "Well gorsh, dat's very cleva. I never fort of dat." (/eckles)

Setting the Value of the Base Unit Coin
The return of the BUC. Remember that guy? Three paragraphs repeating the idea that one BUC = $1 in purchasing power and explaining that on Aerth the BUC is a bronze coin weighing an ounce. So, yeah, another naked steal by Mythus Prime from the BRP-system (see, for example, the money system used in the Stormbringer RPG).

Then we get a table of relative metal values, complete with a footnoted insight into the composition of my old enemy:

Yeah, pretty much.

Here is the table, reproduced for your viewing delectation:

Along with it are some potted descriptions of the fantasy metals of Aerth: Adamantine (super metal), Hekalite (magic metal), and Oricalcum (triple value Atlantean gold). Rejoice, oh my brethren. We now know what percentage of Adamantine you should alloy with iron... Oh, but not what it bloody does. I'll let Deadwood's Mr Wu express my feelings on this. [link NSFW for swearing]

One thing to be said of the metal values given in the table above is that they're a marked departure from the coinage system used in that obscure little fantasy game which made EGG's name. Not sure about those base metal costs though. I don't see why people would travel from Phoenicia to Cornwall for tin at 1/20th of a BUC per coinweight in order to make bronze that reduces the value-per-weight of their copper by 80%. And I'm betting the values are based on 1992 market prices. Call that last a hunch based on...

Some Cost Examples
A column to tell us to base game costs off RL costs (meal = meal, sword = gun, nag = beater car, courser = sports car, destrier = Grand Tourer, labour = as RL equivalent) and to double and redouble prices for superior and excellent quality items. No explanation of why you'd want to pay more than the baseline cost though.

Awarding Accomplishment Points
One column. Average of 4-6 not-at-all-XP per session. A couple each for Success, Length & Difficulty of adventure, and for Roleplaying. All very 90s RPG in its assumption that experience for killing-and-stealing is wrongbad. We're cautioned that the Advanced Mythus experience system is different (and doubtless more complex).

Creating and Using Other Personas
Breakdown of types of Other Personas. You may recall from part 1 that 'OP' is Mythus-ese for 'NPC' - any character controlled by the GM. We're told to refer to Chapter 15 for more detail. Which surprises me greatly.

Subtypes of Other Persona (OP) include:
  • Evil Personas (EP) - the opposition
  • Friendly Personas (FP) - help during adventures
  • Mundane Personas (MP) - scene fillers and bit part players
  • Monstrous Personages (MPGs) - vampires and the like
  • Heroic Personages (HPGs) - patron and mentors
(*gluk gluk*)

Oh wow. Are the words 'mook', 'villain', 'extra', 'monster' and 'patron' unknown in Mythusworld? Instead of simple, evocative, plain-English words with a bit of traction and cultural resonance we get a shotgun blast of acronyms. This makes me a sad - and drunker - panda.

Pages 41-44 inclusive are rules for creating OPs. I use the word 'rules' advisedly. Perhaps 'guidelines', or possibly even 'vague suggestions', is more fitting. These can be boiled down to "give them what they need as appropriate to the context of the game". Really? People paid actual money for a book that contained that advice?!

Page 43 has a boxout with five sample magickal(sic) devices; mechanically simple fantasy standbys like armbands of strength, magic bolt wand, sword of speed, etc. Page 44 has 15 sample powers for inhuman beings. These are likewise straight from fantasy Central Casting (poison, regeneration, flight, fear, etc).

Using Mythus Prime Rules in Advanced Mythus Scenarios
Two pages to say 'ignore the complex numbers, use only the basic scores'. I'll give Dave Newton credit for the almost unimprovable line "Once again, there is a lot of ignoring to be done here...", which could be the tagline for this whole misbegotten exercise in ludic archaeology. Page 45 is rounded out by a boxout with a couple of sample statblocks.

These are refreshing in their brevity, although the writers still feel the need to tell you what a 'zombie' and a 'gypsy' are. Thanks for that; I had absolutely no cultural referent for these things.

New theory: Mythus was seriously aimed at the hitherto untapped 'intelligent Martian' gamer market. It was intended for people visiting from another world who had never even heard of roleplaying, or fantasy fiction, or of using their initiative and imagination.

Chapter 9: High Time at the Winged Pig
The introductory adventure for Mythus Prime. The Heroic Personaeonaeonaeas go to a bar in a half-detailed village to seek work as mercenaries escorting valuable cargo cross country.

No. Really. "You all meet in a tavern..." In 1992.

We get:
  • Map of a generic village.
  • Plan of the bar.
  • Rules for 5 pub game 'mini-games' to introduce characters to using their skills before...
  • the inevitable brawl breaks out (a non-fatal PvP=0 introduction to the combat rules).

And that's it. The 'adventure' - such as it is - ends there. No fantasy elements: no monsters, no mystery, no real peril. Nine pages that should have been a 2-page (at most) introduction to an *actual* fantasy adventure.

Having read that my egg-sucking football hooligan heritage urges me to throw things and chant "What A Load-a Bollocks!" (can't find a link to the actual chant so here's two Cockney geezers instead, the sentiment's the same). I've seen better from single page Critical Threat drop-ins in late-period Dungeon magazine. There's simply no comparison between A Gaming Night Wasted at the Flying Pig and, for example, any One Page Dungeon you care to mention. This displeases and disappoints me greatly.

And that's the Mythus Prime rules: 46 pages of blahblah and a 9 page non-adventure. The whole wordy slog relieved by occasional oases of mild interest, and some passable, if generic, fantasy art.

Just by way of unmerciful comparison, here's what a fan-compiled One Volume OD&D managed to pack into 46 pages:

Basically that's the whole of the players' side of the game! Actual substantiative rules too - no "refer to another section/book" fob-offs - for chargen, money, gear, living costs, henchmen, spells, adventuring procedures, wilderness movement, experience. Oh, and an example of play too. And the One Volume OD&D book isn't half as densely formatted as Mythus: there's a *lot* of artwork and whitespace in there, easily 50% of the page area.

What's my point here? Probably something simple like: brevity is a virtue, especially if half your rules are in another section of the book entirely.

Next time: We set tentative, trembling foot across the threshold of the Tomb of Polysyllabic Acronym-Spattered Horror known as the /Advanced Mythus/ rules. Who knows, we might even find a full-fledged game system in there.


Chapter 10: Creating Advanced Mythus HPs - pp57-117 inclusive?! Oh. I wonder if I can borrow Edison's vodka brain irrigation machine...

Pic Source: Mythus rulebook, One Volume OD&D, teh interwubz, Phillip M. Jackson's Collected Curios


  1. Your poor liver...

    And now I can't unsee Advanced Mythus characters as weird Sailor Moon/Voltron abominations whose ongoing adventures in groovy hippy-space are sound-tracked by Monster Magnet.

    If Mythus had been thus, perhaps the game would never have languished.

  2. Enjoying your romp through Mythus so far! :D


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