Monday, 19 March 2012

Lets Read... Mythus pt 5

Today we will be pushing henchmen through the door of the Advanced Mythus rules and listening for grinding, whirring and screaming noises. Also drinking heavily to numb the pain.

The Advanced Mythus section of the Mythus book is separated from the Mythus Primes section by another b+w Aulisio illustration, this one a two-page spread. We’re shown a bunch of warriors in Chinese armour resting in the shade of pillars or pagodas. Vaguely evocative, but not as compelling as the preceding Aulisio pics.

Chapter 10: Creating Advanced Mythus HPs

The opening paragraph of this chapter refers us to the following "How To" boxout:

Six step character creation. Seems simple enough, no more complex than the Mythus Prime chargen system to which we’ve already been exposed. But look! Lots of delicious new jargon. Something called Class Levels even get a mention, but this doesn't mean what you might expect from class-levelled game systems, like... nope, it escapes me.

[An aside: the Steps of HP Creation boxout was found lurking in the bottom-right hand corner of the page, in the spine, rather than at the bottom-left which would have made more sense in terms of both layout and context.  The problem of orphaned boxouts and peripatetic tables is an ongoing one in the Advanced Mythus chargen section, it obviously being beyond the wit of man to keep tables on the same damn page as their associated text.]

Having established last week that Chapter 10 is a big, fat whale omelette of a thing (60 pages!), we’ll be taking it nice and gently, covering only steps 1 and 2 of chargen this week. Remember folks: wading through haut gygaxian verbal porridge is an endurance discipline, not a sprint. The race goes not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but to he who taketh the time to let his liver recover between bouts of masochistic drunken bogsnorkelling.

Step 1, Part 1: Socio-Economic Class
Boom! Front and centre, and straight out of the box, your characters place is determined by his place in the social order. That old fraud Karl Marx would approve.

Socio-Economic Class in Advanced Mythus will look (ahem) more than a little familiar to anyone who's read page 82 of AD&D Unearthed Arcana. However, unlike the not-directly-related piece of cruft which was class in UA, SEC in Advanced Mythus is a pretty big deal as it determines which Vocations (character classes) your imaginary gonk is eligible for. Not that the text is anything like that tersely informative on the matter. Dear Lord, no.

The ten paragraphs of introductory material(!) we get on the matter veer hither and yon like a small, excitable child. Here it’s explained that determining social class first assists in choice of vocation (unlike /some/ unrealistic fantasy games on the market); there’s a plug for the never-published Unhallowed horror setting for Dangerous Journeys (which remained vapourware thanks to selfless TSR law troll action killing off both Djangos Gurning and GDW); this paragraph intimates the existence of such things as nonhuman races and Primitive Vocations (oddly-accented yokels from the fringes of particular culture areas); and that one over there explains that Aerth is a historical kitchen sink setting in all but name.

The reading level in this blizzard of information is worlds away from the hand-holding tones of Mentzer Basic D&D, and not in a good way. Look, I understand that role-players are expected to be intelligent and capable of following nuance, but there’s no excuse for dense, undifferentiated verbiage in a game book. Yes, yes. I get that Advanced Mythus is the Blessed and Ever-Righteous Gary in full flow, and that anyone who sees that name on the cover knows what they’re in for; but Mythus is not the AD&D DMG (the 1979 one, not any of the later pretenders to the throne). The One True DMG is dense because it reads like a technical manual. Advanced Mythus is dense because the editing department lacked the courage to take say "That’s shite!" and take a red pen to The Word of The Master.

"Igor! Ze tazerdrones!"

By way of illustrative contrast, take a quick look at the writing style of someone like Frank Trollman. For all that you might not agree with his opinions the man writes clearly and well. Short sentences with simple subclauses; unambiguous wording; clear, memorable headings; minimal jargon. That is how you write a book that people need to flip through in a hurry.

After all this textwallery, the real meat-and-spuds of the whole infodump is a simple d% chart on p 59. Said chart produces results weighted heavily towards the middle of the social scale. A Mythus HP is only 20% likely to be a Sancho Panza peasant, 50% likely to be bourgeois, and 30% likely to be some degree of chinless toff. So Advanced Mythus HPs are disproportionately likely to come from the middle and upper classes, which goes against all that poor-but-fortunate third son source material from which fantasy draws.

The bulk of pages 59-60 are taken up by further details on socio-economic breakdown, vocation and literacy rates by percentage of population. SEC 9 aristocrats make up around 0.1% of the population; peasants of SECs 1-3 comprise anything from 70-87% of the population. The remainder of pages 60-61 are more sociology, being all about Literacy and Class Relations. Literacy increases by class, as you might expect, although we’re explicitly told that some nobles employ "...servitors to manage reading and writing for them..." The Class Relations sub-section is a ~1,000 words rehash of the old Cleese, Barker and Corbett skit on class. This whole section can be thought of as something like an excerpt from one of the Magical Medieval Society books, but with all the game-useful material carefully filleted out. Its probably interesting in a Fernand Braudel way, but of limited utility for a game of *fantasy adventure*.

Half of page 61 is another (orphaned) table which finally describes SEC in terms of actual social station and vocation. It is *heavily* footnoted. I can’t see any logical reason why this table and the one from page 59 weren’t just combined. It would be a nice, easy one-stop-shop for this whole section.

P62: YMBS*, with a column of essay on SEC Class Mobility (TL;DR: no one likes a johnny-jump-up), and then a section on SEC Outside the "Culture Area". The latter is three paragraphs containing one useful sentence, this last being inevitably orphaned on another page. Long story short: exotic foreigners = SEC -1, primitive foreigners = SEC -2, barbaric foreigners = SEC -3. S'alright, but not a patch on the 'local bigotry' rules of GURPS Goblins. Can it adequately model, for example, the sheer absurd parochialism of a society where people hang a monkey in costume because they think it’s a French spy? I fear not.

(* "yet more bloody sociology")

All this guff finally gets us to part 1.2 of the chargen rules on page 63:

Part 1.2 SEC in Relation to Vocational Choice
Or, as my simple monkey brain prefers to think of it: "Hulk Pick Class Now!" More textwall, including the following gem of jargonic opacity:

plus a page-long table which finally gives us some actual, semi-useful information about the 35 Mythus Vocations. Behold the magnificence:

I know, right? How have you coped with a mere 4 (or 7, or 12) classes all these years? What’s that you say? By using your "I-ma-gi-nay-shun". How peculiar. Where might one obtain this 'depiction of horse repelling' you speak of?

So, Advanced Mythus (published 1992) offers more classes than AD&D (pub. 1977-79), but not as many careers as WFRP (published 1986). I also notice a disappointing lack of ratcatchers, mudlarks and graverobbers, which - as any fule kno - are necessary elements of True Scientific Fantasy. The table is the first time we see substantive mention of the five types of optional non-human, which includes three flavours of Elf. There’s really no mistaking who wrote this, is there? I fear we should brace for An Essay On the Taxonomic Characteristics of Faerie Types (And Their Preferred Pole-Arms) before too long.

Note to the confused: Level Range on the table above has *nothing* to do with any other fantasy game with which you may be familiar. It is instead the SEC that can pick that Vocation. HP SEC at Start is what your character's Social Class then ends up as. So your initial (rolled) social class determines what vocations you can pick, and your vocation then determines your standing in society. Clear now? Ok.

Let us press on. Trudging, trudging, the slow weary walk of men with nothing left but the will to simply soldier on.

Step 2: Heroic Persona Statistics

The section on putting numbers on your imaginary gonk starts on page 64 with a page-long breakdown of TRAITS, CATEGORIES and ATTRIBUTES. (Sgt Major-style screamytext as original)

The three TRAITS will be familiar anyone who has followed us here from Mythus Prime. These TRAITS are then broken into two Categories apiece (Mnemonic and Reasoning for Mental, Muscular and Neural for Physical, and Metaphysical and Psychic for Spiritual). Each and every Category has three Attributes: Capacity, Power and Speed. Capacity is the most important of the three, as it defines the upper limit for the other two Attributes within a Category. The other two also do stuff.

All told this gives your Advanced Mythus HP a grand total of (3+6+18 =) 27 ability scores. This is all totally reasonable, and clearly not at all the result of a lack of actual playtesting with actual human beings. I mean, how could you even play a MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN(tm) with anything less than 27 ability scores? Such a thing boggles the mind! The whole exercise would be little more than a group of friends sitting around playing at a chaotic, unstructured form of Magic Tea Party. Entirely unsustainable, I'm sure you'd agree. Such a game could never last 40 years and go through ten or more editions...

(That low crump you just heard? That would be the sound of sarcasm exploding from the stresses of overclocking.)

We’re also shown how to jargonize each of these 27 scores in that special Mythus way, which gives us such immortal lines as: "...high SMSpd helps you to be punctual and meet deadlines..."

(See what I mean? Where do you even start to parody that?! It's like a flawless fractal of self-satirisation.)

Page 65 is a full-page colour illustration by Paul Daly of a knight being fitted for armour by smiths. It is workmanlike in execution, and the ‘forging and girding’ imagery is appropriate for a character generation chapter, but the piece still seems more suited to a /Life in Medieval Times/ illustrated history book than a hard-charging fantasy RPG. YMMV.

Page 66 is entitled What The Numbers Mean. It attempts to put all the soon-to-be-generated scores we met earlier into context.  We're told that human range is 1-20, with 1-5 being crippled in that Attribute, 20 super-exceptional, and 10-11 average. Pretty much ultra-orthodox RPG, nothing here that would cause a RQ or D&D veteran to either flip the table or move from their existing game. The reader is cautioned - in italics no less! - of the absolute human maximums of 30 for Physical Attributes and 40 for Mental/Spiritual Attributes.

We’re informed that an HP’s total score in a given TRAIT sets a hard cap upon all K/S area (trans. skills) that use Attributes dependent upon that TRAIT. So, if you’ve a total Physique score of 75, no Physique skill can be higher than 75%. It’s a nice little wrinkle, but I’m not sure how often it would come up in play. And then halfway down the page we find this piece of textual Slaadjacking:

I’ve read that a half-a-dozen times and am still suffering from a bad case of "WTF? Where did that come from?" It's like finding a landmine in your breakfast cereal or something.

Page 67 finally (mirabula dicta! Hosannas and hallelujahs! and vuvuzelas for all!) tells us how to generate ability scores for Advanced Mythus HPs. You can generate them one of two ways:
  • Point Distribution: one score per Category (50, 45, 45, 40, 40, 35), splitting the points as you see fit between its Attributes, or
  • Roll for it: 2d6+8 no less than 18 times, assigning these scores to the HP's 18 Attributes. Capacity, Power and Speed are summed to give the Category Score, and the two Categories are summed to give the TRAIT. Got that? Good.
Rolling produces slightly higher scores on average, and players are expected to play the dice as they fall. As Grand Wizard Gaxyg wisely informs us: "nothing ventured, nothing gained". Each method comes complete with a brief worked example for those poor souls already too infoburned to do simple sums.

Note that by the maths no Advanced Mythus character is ever less than average at anything. We saw this special snowflake-ism before in the Mythus Prime Appearance rules, and I fear we'll be seeing it again.

Aerth needs heroes! 
(but only pretty people need apply)

As well as finally giving us numbers Page 67 also reintroduces Wound Level (WL), one of the derived characteristics introduced in Mythus Prime. And this time it brings its dodgy dope-smoking mates Critical Level (CL), Effect Levels (EL), and Recovery Level (RL) with it:
  • Wound Level is an HPs ‘dazed’ threshold (75% of your Physique TRAIT) - if an HP takes this they are seriously wounded
  • Critical Level an HPs ‘drop unconscious’ threshold (90% of Physique TRAIT)
  • Recovery Level is an HPs ‘no longer injured’ threshold (10% of Physique) - if you’ve regained 90% of your Physique then you don’t feel injured any more. It is also suggested that Recovery Level can do double duty as an HPs negative damage before death threshold.

Your HP has two separate Effect Levels -- one for Mental TRAIT and one for Spiritual (80% for each) -- which are his resistance to mental or spiritual damage. I have no idea how these numbers are used in play. All I know is that they exist... and that the room is ever so slightly spinning.

Page 68-69 is a double page colour spread by Darrell Midgette and Lee Meyer of some generic adventurer types being loomed at by rocks with blue eye spots. More Midgette & Meyer illos pop up throughout the chargen section, sometimes one page, sometimes two-page spreads. All that I can decently say about them is that such art would be offered gentle critique and encouragement on Deviantart.

And this brings us to page 70: Standard HP Descriptions and K/S Area Bundles, which is a whole other swimming pool of porridge I elect to save for another day.

Wow. Was that ever a grindy slog just to determine class, career and stats. Twelve pages of eye-glazing, attention-repelling wordage, and a couple of useful tables. Things I might actually steal for my game? Sadly, there's nothing I haven't already nicked from other places that do it better.

So far Advanced Mythus is making me all kinds of sad. WFRP, Traveller and Cyberpunk 2013 had already done far superior jobs of chargen as mini-game. This has been chargen as aucturial exercise. A definite 2/10, must try harder.

Advanced Mythus: my face when...

Next time: more Advanced Mythus chargen

Pic Source: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Collected Curios


  1. You know those days where suddenly, perhaps mid-afternoon, you stop in your tracks and wonder if you managed to bang your head whilst getting out of bed on that particular morning but the force of the blow caused you to have no memory of it and so you have actually been unaware of being concussed all day and this why the universe seems ever so slightly out of kilter and all unfathomable when it was all fine yesterday?

    That's now that is.

  2. @Coop: Do you mean Mythus or the post?

    I can edit the post. Can't do much about Mythus. ;)

  3. Crikey. That was brutal.

    Not that the text is anything like that tersely informative on the matter. Dear Lord, no.

    If you rewrote Mythus so that it said what it needed to say and nothing more -- and putting aside any attempt to make it fun and playable -- to how many pages, would you say, could a ruthless editor reduce it?

  4. My computer must have picked up on the emanations coming from this post--it started playing Electric Wizard as soon as I started reading.

    I truly can't believe I slogged my way through that rulebook when I was 14. No wonder that, when I started doing my taxes a few years later, they didn't seem like a big deal.

    Something must've stuck, because I *think* I understand the TRAITS Limiting Heka-Generating K/S Areas box, god help me.

  5. @Kelvin: If given a free hand to re-write it as an /actual complete introductory game/ I could easily winnow Mythus Prime down to 16 pages*, tops. Given that the main marketing draw is EGG's name Advanced Mythus might be harder to perform a radical wafflectomy on, but I reckon you could easily reduce the current page count to half what it is now and still have a cleaner, more legible layout.

    (* Introduction 1, Stats 1, Skills 1, Base Mechanic 1, Adjudicating the Game 1, Combat+Healing 2, Magic 2, Money/Gear 2, Monsters & Wonders 2, Introductory adventure 2)

    sirlarkins: 14? You're a braver, madder man than me. I sort of picture the whole experience as not unlike tinkering with the Hellraiser puzzle box ("It is not hands that call us, but desire for realistic and meaningful fantasy"): after that no human endeavour holds any terror for you.

    I *think* I understand the TRAITS Limiting Heka-Generating K/S Areas box, god help me.

    Alas, there is no hope. The infection, caught so early, has burrowed in too deep. Soon the Gygaxlaad gestating in your mind will hatch and blossom like some alien flower. Their nascent power will destroy the world of men, leaving naught but an ever-roiling desolation of puns and obscure synonyms where the only constant is obsessively kept time records.

    Also, Wurzel stoner rock? Why was I not aware of this thing until today?

  6. 14? You're a braver, madder man than me.

    I can assure you, it was a real slog. I know I fell asleep reading more than once. Never a good sign. The farthest I ever got was forcing my hapless friend to make an Advanced Mythus character. I think it took us 3 hours. After that I quietly tossed the rulebook in the back of my closet and tried not to think about it.

    Also, Wurzel stoner rock? Why was I not aware of this thing until today?

    I don't know, but I can assure you it makes the perfect soundtrack for reading (about) Mythus.

  7. After that I quietly tossed the rulebook in the back of my closet and tried not to think about it.

    It is there still. Festering. Plotting.


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