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

Monday 23 April 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt10

Being now a third of the way into the Dangerous Journeys: Mythus book, this week we turn our jaundiced attention to skills, specifically Mental ones. Sorry, but that doesn't mean cool stuff like telekinesis or shooting things with mind bullets (that's called Psychogenics or something in DJ-world), it's just book larnin.

For the benefit of my fellow masochists who have stuck with this project we're still deep in the trackless wastes of Chapter 10, albeit in a new section entitled K/S Area Descriptions. This sprawling chunk of info-dump opens with -- and this is no word of a lie -- the line "And here it is, the section you've all been waiting for!" My feelings on this can best be summed up visually:

Wildly out-of-place carney barkerish razzamatazz opener over with, we only have to sit through one nice short paragraph explaining that this is section you turn to when you need to work out what your HP's skills do, at least for simple K/S Areas. For complicated (Heka-active, aka 'magic') skills you're referred to the Mythus Magick book for full details.

There's a short sub-section on Cross-Application of K/S Areas which adds yet another, entirely un-bloody-heralded (of course), wrinkle to skills. Apparently having other relevant skills will actually boost your ability in skill use by some actual small amount: 1/10th of one skill is added to another.

Oh good, coz there was me thinking, "I like the Advanced Mythus skill use system, but it just doesn't offer enough things to keep track of".

Then without further ado we're plunged into a sea of skill descriptions. 64 interminable pages of 'em. That's enough room to write a game in, that is!

General Comment on the Skill Areas
Each of the eleventy-dozen-and-three Mental, Physical and Spirit skills gets its own individual blurb. Some get a single paragraph explaining that "this skill is exactly what you think it is"; others get a dozen or more sub-areas and a /couple of pages/ of detail. There’s little apparent rhyme or reason over which skills get lick-and-a-promise treatment, and which get the full Gygax. I’m sure there’s a logic to it, I just can’t divine it.

Remember the potted Vocation descriptions a few weeks ago? [link] We're going to do the same for skills, but with a sharper eye on possible utility for old school games.

Mental K/S Area Descriptions

Lots of skills, oh my yes. I fear I had forgotten quite how many.

Oh well. Too late now. Let's just start at A and plug away until I lose the will to live.

Farming farming farming

You probably started adventuring to get off the farm, but retain some of your previous skills and knowledge. Dunno, don't care.

Five sub-areas:
  1. Animal Husbandry (includes falconry, horse-breaking, etc.)
  2. Crop Farming
  3. Floraculture (includes Herbs)
  4. Horticulture
  5. Viticulture (includes vintning)

These sub-areas seem massively over-generalised. For example, take a look at the actual blurb for the Crop Farming sub-area:

"Gorsh, that Cleetus dun be raat know-li-jubble."

Now, call me a nit-picking ninny if you like (you brave Internet Tough Guy you) but I was of the - hopelessly simplistic and doubtless flawed - understanding that farmers, herders and the like specialise in the crops/beasts they tend. But apparently on Aerth rustics are expert on the nuances of handling all animals ("It lives, I can wrangle it"), or at growing every single crop "...from alfalfa to zucchini..." If you're going to pretend to be exhaustive and 'realistic' then at least divide crops up by climate or continent or something. A spud farmer won't be an expert on sorghum, and a Peruvian highland maize dude won't necessary know anything about tropical lowland rice.

So that's the classic Mythus mix of over-specific and wilfully vague in full effect in the very first skill description we encounter. This fills me with joy and anticipation for further delights to come. Hemlock cocktail? Don't mind if I do.

That's a hit on the "Improve Your Word Power" category (*gluk*), and the first page-long skill description. Apotropaism is abjurative/protective magic wot keeps nasty things away. It adds to your Heka score, enables you to use "...powers and Castings of apotropaistic nature. (See the Mythus Magick book.)" ~and~ gives you a dandy little string of innate "keep away!" powers based on your skill level.

You gain access to spells according to the following table:

Casting Grade = Spell Level in Classic D&D-speak. (*gluk)

This one table is identically reproduced (with different title headers) no less than 13 times in various magic skill descriptions. That's just wasting pages for the hell of it.

As well as the above, someone with a decent Apotroaism skill also gains a suite of innate, advance-by-skill-level badness-repelling abilities. One power per 10 full skill points, ranging from Warding Gesture (super-quick spirit armour) at 11+, up to Spirit Trap (Ghostbuster-style soul trap) at 91+. Each of these gets a one-paragraph power description.

So, as you can see, Apotropaism is a non-trivial skill mechanically. There's meat enough here to serve as mechanical chassis for a whole Abjurer/Spirit Warder class in an old school RPG. The interaction of learned spells and innate powers is reminiscent of the way the Mage and Priest classes work in OEPT, which is cool.

Does that count as something useful for your game? Arguably so.

Know the value of stuff skill. No less than /14/ sub-areas, some of which are just straight duplicates of others. Piss-poor proof-reading and clockwatching editing are in effect.
  1. Artwork
  2. Furs
  3. Crystal/Glasswork
  4. China/Pottery
  5. Rugs & Fabrics
  6. Gold/Precious Metal
  7. Jewelry
  8. Handicrafts
  9. Woodwork & Furniture
  10. Garments
  11. Buildings
  12. General Goods/Workmanship
  13. Animals
  14. Land
10% of Appraisal skill is added to your Rarities (Antiques Roadshow knowledge) skill, which is nice.

"Design building that no fall down, go boom" skill, also history of architecture. No sub-areas, so you know all about every building tradition on the planet. Architecture skill and Fortification and Siegecraft skill cross-feed to each other at 10%.

Telescope-fondling, planet-ogling and eclipse-prediction skill. Adds to Heka, but only for Astrology skill. Cross-feeds 10% to Navigation.

Who Do You Think You Are? skill. Might be actually semi-useful in tribal/feudal societies where bloodlines and the like matter for something other than dogs, or in a world where knowing someone's ancestry and true-name lets you do magic on them.

You know about living things. No sub-areas, so you know about everything from entomology to marine biology to ecology. Cross-feeds 10% to animal care.

You are all-knowing about flora and fungi. Again, no sub-areas, so you're an omnidisciplinary plant-understander. Doesn't cross-feed or add Heka to Herbalism, as you might expect, but it does improve farming or gardening skill checks.

Business Administration
The skill description here is beyond parody. Here, look at this:

Wow, days of high adventure indeed. I have nothing more to say on the subject.

Non-magical alchemy. Kind of obsolete in a magic-world setting where Alchemy actually works. You can make chemicals, but " the Advanced Mythus game, chemical formulations which would create explosives will not work." This massively arbitrary ruling that only the magic people get to make things go boom makes Jamie Hyneman a sad science walrus.

Criminal Activities, Mental
This skill still sits slightly oddly with me. Crime is doing things in a way the powers that be don't approve of, not a skill set in itself. Yes, I can see the utility of having specific 'cunning villainy' skills from a game adjudication perspective, but... *sigh*

14 sub-areas:
  1. Blackmail
  2. Bribery
  3. Confidence Games
  4. Counterfeiting
  5. Embezzling
  6. Extortion
  7. Fencing goods
  8. Forgery
  9. Fraud
  10. Gambling Operations
  11. Racketeering
  12. Vice
  13. Money Laundering
  14. Misappropriation
We are generously advised that "...because there are so many sub-areas... they are gained at twice the normal rate." Fine, but surely it would have been more logical to, I dunno, rein back on the kudzuvian sub-skill sprawl. For example, I fail to see how Embezzling, Misappropriation and/or Fraud differ in any meaningful way: surely the first two are merely aspects of the third?

Detect crime skill. Horribly anachronistic for a pre-modern setting: there's a reason "poachers make the best gamekeepers" and "set a thief to catch a thief" are proverbs. Also mechanically useless given that the Criminal Activity K/S Area can be used against itself in opposed rolls. This skill is just bad design on every level. Criminology adds 10% to Crime, Mental.

You read Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, right? Codes are cool. Includes a table of code-breaking difficulties based on the code-maker's skill, and a rule that basically makes a skilfully constructed code unbreakable. Mathematics boosts Cryptography skill by 10%, which is nice.

Current Events
Streetwise/Gather Information/Gossip skill. Adds 10% to Biography/Genealogy. Includes a handy little table indicating how long news takes to spread in a pre-modern society, which may have some use in non-Mythus games:

Semi-useful? Combined with the earlier semi-usefulness of Apotropaism that's a whole, entire full useful. Woo hoo! Consume!

ARGH! Again with the 'make a skill of a skill usage' thing?! A paragraph of waffle defines things that can be modified deceptively (people, events, places, things, or information -- basically anything that is). The remainder of the column expended on this arguable non-skill discusses hypotheticals and worked examples. In game terms, the Deception skill modifies use of other skills (Criminal Activity, Espionage, Law, Disguise, etc.): double your effective skill if a Deception roll is successful, half if failed. (*weeps*)

Know about demons skill, and possibly an intentional Take That to D&D 2E's pusillanimous flight from the time-honoured gaming tradition of stabbing de(-mon/-vil/-modand)s for fun, profit and XP. A page of rules explains how your HP can learn demonic true names and gain leverage over them with the related Sorcery skill. Demonology is defined as 'activating' Sorcery, which (I think) means it is a necessary prerequisite, or some such. Adds to Heka.

Domestic Arts and Sciences
Mrs Beeton/Martha Stewart knowledge. I suppose its necessary, but there’s a reason the single biggest pre-modern employment type after ‘farmer’ was ‘servant’. As a big, rich flash adventurer you can hire people to do this sort of stuff for you.

Four sub-areas:
  1. Cooking and Nutrition
  2. Household Management
  3. Interior Design/Decoration
  4. Sewing and Tailoring

Each of these can be taken twice, as domestic or commercial. "Yay!"

Another page-long skill description. The first two paragraphs /finally/ explain how to check for Full Heka capacity. You may recall the gnashing of teeth that induced back in our whistle-stop tour of Vocations. I find myself greatly displeased that there was not one single page reference to this section. Believe me, in a densely written 400 page rulebook that sort of oversight is 'strangle the editor with the writer's entrails' level annoying.

Long story short: roll d% vs character’s MMCap Attribute.
Pass = you are huge in the magic pants, Fail = you ain’t.

We’re informed that "Dweomercraeft is the knowledge and art of the Laws of Magick [sic] and Castings..." whereas the related Magick skill " the art of the use of [Heka] to influence events on Aerth..." So theoretical vs applied magic, gotcha. Dweomercraeft has five effective sub-areas, one for each of the five schools of magic (Black, Green, White, Puce, Blue, Ulfire, Grey) we met back in the Vocations section. Knowing more than one school increases Heka gain from this skill.

THAT table makes its second appearance, this time headed Non-Mage Castings for no good reason I can divine.

Ecology/Nature Sciences
You know about landscapes. I'd like to think this was hardcore Herbertian To Tame a Land ecology, but as the skill description talks about ecological ‘issues’ rather than ecological science, I fear not. Provides Heka for filthy hippy tree-huggers.

You know how money works and how to make it flow your way. Also how to destroy economies and pauperise millions with your greed.

Instil knowledge into the thick skulls of others skill. Improves own learning time for skills, which saves you time and money.

You know all about mills, vehicles, pumps, printing, presses and such-like pre-fossil fuel Heath Robinson gizmos. No sub-areas, because all machines and mechanical processes are interchangeable in the mind of the mad wizard Xagyg. Optics, windmills, hydraulic engineering, presses, shipbuilding: all same. How much play this skill will ever get in a magic-active setting where at some point physics just stops working (see Chemistry skill description above) is entirely too hostage to GM whim for my tastes.

Engineering, Military
Macho khaki-clad combat engineering. The possessor knows about "...placing and building fortresses, bridges, roads, dumps, bases and camps..." as well as building "...shelters, towers, siege engines, stone throwers and the like..." Oh, and they can also build (or detect and disarm) indoor and outdoor traps. There’s even a table of example traps your MacGyver type can whip up with a skill check:

This is potentially stealable for a skill-using Classic D&D game. Just convert the damage ratings to your nearest local equivalents, and job done. Unlike the poor saps in D&D3E Advanced Mythus characters can actually make simple snares, pitfalls and punji spikes without expending enough gold for a peasant family to live on for a year. It’s just skill check; construction montage; done.

This skill cross-feeds Fortification and Siegecraft by 10%, which is a particular bete noire I’ll be returning to under the relevant skill description.

Spying tradecraft skill, for the high-collared and fedora-ed types. Like Criminal Activities, Mental the Espionage Skill can be used to detect Espionage in opposed rolls. Six sub-areas:
  1. Gather Information
  2. Clandestine Meetings
  3. Border Crossing
  4. Smuggling
  5. Recruit Informers
  6. Object Concealment
Not sure about border crossing as a sub-area in itself. Surely that’s covered by smuggling (getting stuff covertly from A to B)? And shouldn’t smuggling in turn be a Criminal Activity? Oh, never mind. Skill also sucks for lack of balance bucket of acid on door sub-area.

Etiquette/Social Graces
Making yourself look good socially. There’s an implicit monocultural assumption that etiquette is interchangeable between cultures, which is a bit "eh?" but probably falls under an ‘acceptable breaks from reality’ exemption. Here would have been the logical place to introduce the ‘fish out of water’ modifiers to SEC (and thus arguably social interactions) that characters take for being far from home. Instead those are back in the Primitive Vocations descriptions. Oh dear, oh dear.

Foreign Language
Allows a character to read, write and speak one or more form of foreign hooting-and-parping. Knowing one language boosts your ability to speak any and all related languages by some percentage, which is nice. The two page(!) table of language interactions though (pages 146-147, because the half-page table back on page 101 simply wasn't comprehensive enough); that’s less than nice. In fact it’s just pure wagharglbarghl in its mix of over-specificity and Eurocentric bias.

I won’t reproduce the table in full, but here are a few salient examples of Advanced Mythus linguistic WTF-ery I was able to glean from it:
  • Latin exists, and helps you speak lots of Romance languages, but there’s NO mention of Italian as a language at all. Sorry Petrarch, Dante, Macchivelli; you’re all SOL mutes.
  • Knowing Boideutsch means you speak Deutsch, Franco-Deutsch and Latideutsch at 75%, Skandeutsch at 50%, Skandian at 25%, and Slavic (and its dialects) at 10%. Agh! This level of fiddlyness is like having Geordie, Cockney and Scouse as separate languages. Why, for the love of Raptor Jesus, not just have one Speak German skill and make use of the existing dialect rule?
  • No -oc/-ouil distinction in French? That seems like a strange oversight for a writer who knew all about the troubadours.
  • In Flanders they speak Brythokelltic, not French or any variation thereof. Oh, how we laughed.
  • Slav? You speak Slavic. Not Serbo-Croat, Polish, Ruthenian, Russian, or whatever; generic Slavic, maybe seasoned with dialect. Because everyone east of Germany all sounds the same.
  • Speaking Hindic grants you Hindic dialect at 90%, Burmese at 25%, and Farsi at 10%. Now, that’s either lazy, or just plain rude. There are something like 600 distinct languages in four major language groups spoken across the Indian sub-continent. Smearing the lot together into ‘Hindic’ is like saying there’s one generic ‘European’ language.
  • Beniyorob allows you to speak Ewe and Yoruban at 50%, and any dialect within 25 miles of your home at 10%. So at least there’s some acknowledgement that the African West Coast isn’t all one monoglot mess.
  • Quechuan (Incan) grants you knowledge of native subject languages at 75%. This is wrong from a historical perspective: the Incas had an official policy of attempting to eradicate local languages in the (continent-spanning) area they conquered. It was a harsher version of the within-living-memory situation where children in Wales could be caned for speaking Welsh in class.
  • Teclan (Aztec-ese) allows you to speak Lemurian at 25%, and Atlantean at 10%. Which is semi-witty in a kind of 'Atlanteans/Muvians build the pyramids' way.
  • Knowing Altantean (and Lantlan - the other Atlantean language, I dunno) mean you can speak Spanish, Portuguese, Berber and Aztec with some facility. That must be one weird-sounding tongue.
  • Many of the Native (North) American language groups - Iroukian, Lakota, Cherokee - are mutually comprehensible at 50%. I’m not sure if this was actually the case IRL.
  • Suomi gets a look in, heck, it gets dialects; but the richness and complexity of Javanese isn’t even mentioned. The whole of South East Asia (bar Cambodia and Siam) speaks some flavour of Malay.

Yes, I know, I've ranted about languages in Mythus before. And, yes, I know, it's only a game. But if your implied setting is a parallel Earth then don't get surprised when someone takes issue with glaring historical/linguistic howlers. To adapt an L5R fandom meme: Rokugan is not Japan, but Aerth's Nippon totally is.

The Linguistics skill supplements Foreign Language by 10%, which little detail is quite enough to push the whole dog’s breakfast  of Foreign Languages over the threshold from 'complicated' into the realm of 'absurdly, needs a spreadsheet, byzantine'. FGSFDS!

Fortification & Siegecraft
Why this skill even exists in the face of Architecture and Engineering, Military is entirely beyond me: Architecture covers putting up castles, Military Engineering covers knocking them down. A column-and-a-bit gives us a potted primer on the art of medieval fortification, which is just Gary the Wargamer flaunting his reading around the subject. (*gluk gluk*)

And, between a full-page picture of that looks like a blown up Prince Valiant comic panel, the infamous two-page language table, and a double page art spread of some Egyptians having a feast, that's our lot until page 150. (Full critique of the art will follow when we get to the end of the section.) This seems like a natural place to break(down) until next time, when we will resume the quixotic search for useful gameable gubbins.

What have we learned so far? Well, mainly that the Advanced Mythus skill system is not half as logical or exhaustive as it thinks it is. It's also very reflective of a particular authorial voice. Skills the writer knows/cares about - and/or thinks matter in terms of the game - get a quite maddening level of detail, anything up to a dozen or more sub-areas and a page of discussion. Other (amazingly broad) fields of human knowledge get short shrift indeed.

Next time: the skill grind continues with Mental skills from 'G' onwards. Hopefully we'll get through more than six letters of the alphabet. Expect this:

Pic Source: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Nextwave: Agents of HATE - Vol2 I Kick Your Face, and teh intuwubz

Monday 16 April 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt9

Rejoice! Rejoice! For our month-long grind through Advanced Mythus character generation in search of useful stealables is at an end. We have emerged blinking into the light which heralds a bright new dawn, and the vista which spreads before our bedazzled eyes is:

Chapter 10: Core Game Systems
123 pages into the Mythus book, and we finally get to some actual proper "roll to do stuff" game mechanics. Hopefully all those numbers, acronyms and such will begin to make some sort of sense.

The K/S Operational System
Opens with four paragraphs of blah-blah on abilities and skills in RPGS and the fact that there are mechanics to determine success or failure, with a couple of facile examples. Not worth remembering, take a drink and skip it.

Making Rolls Against STEEP
I can write the mechanic in the same number of words it takes EGG to write that section title: "d%, roll under TN". Snark aside, this is four more paragraphs of text that explain the core Advanced Mythus mechanic: your K/S Chance (ah, never miss an opportunity for some new jargon *gluk*) is your STEEP (*gluk*) multiplied by Difficulty Rating (*gluk*) of the endeavour.

Difficulty in Advanced Mythus is a multiplier to your base skill, rather than the linear +/- modifiers you may be more familiar with from certain other percentile-based RPG resolution systems.

Yeah, the baseline difficulty is to double your skill. Assumption of competence is a nice change of pace from the "you suck and fail, then you suck some more, and then you die" ethos of WFRP. However. Is it just me, or will multiplying/dividing skills scores lead to actual skill level actually not mattering all that much in difficult situations?
"This means that your level of expertise becomes less important, the more difficult a task gets, and a poorly trained character will have fairly meager chances of success even at an Easy task. Gygax is evidently of the opinion that you can tell a true master from a bumbling wannabe by how well they perform an idiotically simple task. At higher difficulties, the differences tend to even out..."
-- Marius Bredsdorff, review of Mythus
So it's not just me who noticed that. Here's some back-of-a-napkin figuring:

        STEEP     x3    x2*    x1    x0.5    x0.25    x0.1
Low Starting    17    51    34    17    8    4    2
High -"-     33    99    66    33    16    8    3
Masterful     75    225    150    75    37    18    7

Looks like you'll be depending on dumb luck to save your ass in a crisis, coz that hard-earned skill won't.

So far, Chris no like.

Rolling Against HP Statistics

How fiddly do you want your "roll vs. stat" mechanic? You can roll:

vs. TRAIT (3 stat groups) = half it to find base chance
vs. Categories (6 stats) = use as base score
vs. Attributes (18 sub-stats) = multiply by x2-3

I have no idea when a roll against one's Spiritual Psychic Speed might be the correct one ("I can imaginatify quicksier then youz!"), but it’s nice to know it’s an option. Just... not one that I ever see the need to use.

Combined Efforts
Want to try something stoopid hard? Get half-a-dozen skilled friends in to help, and run that Oceans 11 caper as a semi-narrative montage resolved by a single die roll. The more people involved, the less help they are. No formal limit on how many people can be involved in a combined effort action though.

That’s the sort of rule I might actually use, if I was currently playing in a percentile game, or any game that used skill systems.

Combined Efforts of Diverse K/S Areas

Or, ‘pitching in without expert knowledge’. If you only have tangentially relevant skills you can add 10% of that skill to the skill of the person attempting a thing. It's suggested that only 3-6 different skills can be called on for help in this way. It’s suggested that no more than a dozen people can aid on a project in this manner.

Wow, who’da thunk it: Gary had D&D4-style Skill Challenges – situations where everyone pitches in to help – all worked out in 1992. And in less than a page, although you could still easily trim his wording down to a paragraph or two.

Rolling via Guesswork

This is Mythus-ese for 'untrained skill use'; cack-handed attempts to do stuff you saw a dude do once. Once you flay off all the extraneous verbiage, it’s pretty simple and elegant:

Skill you absolutely no have: skill = 01.
Skill you have, but lack the relevant sub-area: +2 DR.

Of course, this being Advanced Mythus, there are additional "elective complexities":

If you have a related skill, or some common knowledge about a thing, you get a skill level up to its corresponding Attribute (GM call). There's a list of 20 or so skills you can do this with, largely commonsense ones (Domestic Arts, Gambling, First Aid, Sports).

Special Successes and Failures

Crit chance is 1/10th your skill: a naked RuneQuest steal.
Auto-fail and Fumble vary by how skilled you are; more skilled characters bungle it less often.

1-in-600 chance of a fumble? Why even roll?

This is a nice change from some mathematically ass-backward (*cough* OWoD) or just plain hateful-to-player-agency (*cough* Fading Suns) systems I’ve seen, but is a little too granular for my tastes.

Determining the Difficulty Rating
A page and change defining the difficulty ratings and offering example tasks.

Oh Gary, you card! You do crack me up sometimes.

We are also offering an expended table of no less than ten degrees of difficulty ("Routine x2.5", "Very Hard 0.75", etc). Great if you want that much granularity, but IMO the extra modifiers in this table should have just been included in the core table as optional rules.

K/S vs. K/S Rolls

Or, as we say in my country (say it with me now): "contested roll". Degree of difference between the two skills involved modifies difficulty in the favour of one contestant and against the other. Both then roll: Special Success beats Success beats Fail beats Fumble. It both degrees of success are the same = tie.

If I read the table (and its page or so of accompanying explanation) correctly having ~20 skill points less than an opponent makes your roll Very Difficult (skill x0.25) and his roll Easy (skill x3). It is obviously REALLY advantageous to have the higher skill in Advanced Mythus.

Frequency of K/S Rolls
Tells you to use your discretion as GM. Subsumed in this non-useful advice are two additional rules which – in a book laid out by the sane - would probably have been entirely separate sections:

Try and Try Again, which defines situations you can and can't attempt a second bite of the cherry. It's column of blah-blah which boils down to

That's ALL you had to say. (*gluk gluk*)

The second needlessly subsumed section, Handling Long Projects, advises breaking large things down into smaller challenges with more rolls (and thus more potential points of failure). *sigh* And for a moment I thought Mythus had left 4E Skill Challenges eating their hearts out in shame. Oh well...

So that's basic core mechanics spread out over six densely packed pages. Although new jargon has been kept within sane levels there are whole chunk of rules would have benefited from an on-the-ball editor with a swift and merciless red pen. It would have been nice to have some better organisation and clearer marking out of what's an essential mechanic vs. what's commentary and advice.

Useful steals? A couple, if you’re a skill-inclined GM. But really, there’s nothing here that shakes the heavens with its innovation or mechanical subtlety.

The Many Uses of Joss
At long last, on page 129, we are given the full speil on Joss. Narrative control points for player use.

Your bucket of Joss points has 9 possible uses:
  1. Modify a DR - can improve your chances, those of an ally, or nobble an enemy by one DR per Joss spent.
  2. Ha ha! I/You hit/missed! - Can cause a single attack by or against you to succeed or fail automagically.
  3. A Mere Flesh wound - Can modify the severity of an inflicted hit; increase to Crit or reduce to normal.
  4. With One Bound... - Escape capture, stranding or imprisonment - 1-5 Joss depending on alertness of guards and degree of isolation.
  5. Clue me - 1-6 Joss depending on magnitude of your "sudden inspiration".
  6. Need a friend? - 1-6 Joss to gain a one-time Special Connection.
  7. Need cash? - 1-5 Joss to simply happen upon no-strings cash = Disposable Monthly Income.
  8. It's Not So Bad - Reduce severity of bad situation: can reduce poison or disease effect; stop your horse from fleeing/being stolen, etc. 1-6 Joss, more "...if it was due to your own carelessness." (A classic little bit of EGG tough love there)
  9. Oh No You Don't! - Negate Joss spent by others on a one-for-one basis.
Pretty standard Fate Point/Grace of God mechanic then. But it is nice to see the limits of what Joss can and can’t do set out so clearly.  Ah, numbered lists and indenting, where have you been all this time?

Movement and Time
Pages 131-132 are rules on movement speed by foot or mount. The hiking/jogging/running rules are pretty unsurprising for anyone who's ever played a classic FRPG, although the inclusion of crawling speed (1/10th normal) and stacking adverse terrain effects are nice. I’d have simplified the latter further and included bloody encumbrance effects, but that’s just silly old me.

The mounted movement rules have much more detail, including mount speed and endurance, and some over-complex rules for riding your horse (donkey, elephant, camel, w/e) to death if that’s what gets you off.

The game time rules are largely a rehash of the nested Action/Battle/Critical Turns introduced in Mythus Prime. Two columns of worked examples and hypothetical situations, but otherwise RPG standard. To my shame I only just noticed the A/B/C notation, which is intuitive, but obviously not /that/ intuitive.

The Game Time vs. Real Time section is nothing that the AD&D DMG didn't do first and with more character (and ex cathedra ALLCAPS). The suggestion that a week of real time between sessions = a month of Mythus game downtime is quite cool. That’s your monthly living costs, training time, recovery time, etc. all covered by one simple rule. Knocks the old '1 adventure per level = lord of all you survey in 10 weeks of game time' thing on the head slightly.

Accomplishment Points
Advanced Mythus has three types of not-at-all experience:
  • General, 
  • Specific K/S STEEP and 
  • Exceptional Performance APs. 
This is obviously both logical and necessary. I mean, how on earth did we manage for 20 years with only one type of XP? As you'll see below, they seem almost like two entirely separate advancement systems kludged together and/or thrown in for the sake of completeness.

General AP
Abbreviated AP/G. Awarded at the end of a scenario, 1-20, with around 10 being the average. Expended in a non-obvious manner to buy new character goodness. There are limits to how much AP you can spend on a skill per time period, but AP/G can be saved and expended weekly during downtime.

  1. Add skill points: costs 1-2 AP = +1% to a skill, up to +5% per adventure. Cost varies depending on what your character’s Prime TRAIT is, which is mildly reminiscent of 3E’s hateful concept of cross-class skills.

    Want a skill not related to your TRAIT? Go suck a fat one.

  2. Specialise in a skill sub-area: This self-gimping costs! 5-10 AP and two weeks of game time training.
  3. Buy new skills: costs 5 AP + 1-2 per 1% of skill. Takes one week of study per skill point gained. You don’t add your Attributes to newly-developed skills.
  4. Buy new Heka-Generating skill sub-area: these aren’t gained automatically as skill increases. You have to pay 10 AP, study for 10 weeks, and /then/ make a successful roll to learn a new sub-area. What this roll entails is not defined; we’re referred to a nebulous ‘as above’. You can also learn entirely new Heka K/S Areas. Those costs 20 AP (30 for skill outside one’s Vocation TRAIT) and 20 (or 30) weeks of study and a successful “Very Difficult” (skill x0.25) Occultism or Mysticism roll.
  5. Buy new Joss: costs 1 AP per point you’re buying up to. So buying up from Joss 5 to Joss 6 would cost 6 AP, 6 to 7 would cost 7 AP, etc.
  6. Buy Attribute Points: each +1 to an Attribute is costed per the table reproduced below:
  7. So buying an Attribute up from 8 to 12 will cost (6+6+6+8=) 24 AP. The worked example in the book is incorrect, which is just more editorial job-snoozing. Skill scores are not improved by Attribute additions, which is a small mercy.
  8. Buy Special Connection: 5 AP gets you a new imaginary friend.

Specific K/S STEEP APs
That section heading must be some kind of Mythus jargon yahtzee, and I hereby honour its full alphabetti spaghetti glory in the accustomed fashion. (*gluk gluk gluk*) K/S STEEP APs are awarded for "...making skillful and clever use of one's K/S Areas." They can also be dished out to the screeching gibbons you game with as a ‘reward for winning’ if one achieves a Special Success on a roll of “Extreme” (skill x0.1) difficulty. 1-5 points, added straight to the skill right there during play.

Exceptional Performance APs
Awarded only "...for very expert and clever play..." Expending one of these immediately adds +1 to an Attribute, grants a new Special Connection, or restores 1d6 Joss (to the maximum of 14). Super Magic Mythus Abbreviation is "AP/X", the resemblance of which to the word ‘apex’ can’t be coincidence...

Dammit! Why oh why did I forget to include a “Drink if you spot a sly Gygaxian pun” rule? Oh, that’s right: liver damage.

The Art of Studying & Training
Essentially training costs, but not in the 'pay to play' AD&D advancement sense. Advanced Mythus characters can expend money during downtime to gradually enhance their skills and Attributes.
  • Skill training is relatively cheap: 200 BUCS and three months of training, gain 1d6-1 skill points in a skill. You can train in up to four skills at once.
  • Attribute training starts out at 500 BUCS and three months of training, and rises in cost as one goes above 15 in a score. It gets progressively harder and more expensive to improve Attributes beyond this point, which I suppose is logical.
  • You also gain +1 Joss per game year spent not adventuring.
Don't agree with rewarding people who can't even be bothered to turn up myself, but some might like this.

So all told Advanced Mythus experience rules are the kind of mish-mash that makes the poor player cry out for the elegant intuitiveness of BRP’s tick-to-advance system, let alone the sheer simplicity of D&D’s *ding* level up. Nothing here worth looting I’m afraid.

This depressing barrenness beings us to the end of page 136, and I call halt. Ahead stretches the seemingly endless desolation of the K/S Area Descriptions section: sixty-four pages of detail on skills, skill sub-areas, and the use of skills in the Advanced Mythus game. Next week sees the start of a true Let's Read death march.

I'm now going to curl up under a duvet with a bottle of vodka and read RISUS until my urge to gnaw my own leg off fades to normal background levels.

Art of the Section

Chapter 10 offers only a single picture to relieve the endless swathes of text and tables: page 135 has an Elisa Mitchell pic of awesomeface demon leering around a rock outcrop framing a glowing treasure chest and skull. Well-executed, and nicely old school in the balance of profit and threat.


Pic Source: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook

Monday 9 April 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt8

Welcome again to our weekly examination of the Dangerous Journeys: Mythus RPG, the post-TSR fantasy heartbreaker in which EGG parodied and deconstructed his own mystique as the father of role-playing. Look upon his works, ye nerdy, and despair.

Today we will be taking an exploratory spork to the heap of financial auditing tapioca that is Heroic Persona Resources, an especial delight exclusive to "...this game far beyond any other."

Chapter 10, part 6: Heroic Persona Resources

After several pages of legible and potentially usable tables (dissected for possible value last week) the infamous Mythus textwalls reappear with malicious intent and a decidedly rapey glint in their eyes. Most of pages 112-113 are a straight word-for-word reprint of the coinage and general item price notes from Mythus Prime. Even the Metal Values table and its accompanying footnotes are reproduced verbatim. This was windy and overlong first time around, and doesn't get any better on second reading.

There are short new sections on coinage and the value of money in inflationary or deflationary areas. This is exactly as dull as you picture it being. A copper standard (5x the value of Mythus normal BUC) is suggested for particularly high cost-of-living locales: worlds away from D&D's assumption that chunks of gold should be the normative coin of exchange. On which subject there is a note on converting prices to Mythus BUCs from unnamed 'other game systems' which use gold as the assumed price base.

There's also an aside on valuing gemstones in BUCS - 10,000 per carat up to 10, more per carat for larger stones. So many zeroes! Of such little use.

Determining HP Wealth
Another reprint of material we first saw in Mythus Prime: Net Worth, Cash on Hand, Bank Account and DMI are all defined again. There's an expanded Initial HP Finances table which contains the data on all these things orphaned on p114. Looking at this table rams home the point that it's really good to be high SEC in Advanced Mythus. Good as in, your starting money and kit can be up to five orders of magnitude richer than that of the low-caste peons with whom you associate. I sincerely wonder why any high SEC character ever bothers going off adventuring rather than sitting safe and comfortably at home atop their fat stacks of cash.

Wealth Adjustment For Age
A new wrinkle. One paragraph saying that the younger you are the poorer you are, and the older the richer. The accompanying table modifying starting money could be simplified down to two columns and a footnote with no loss of meaningful data.

Spot the potential for simplification

So between the skill adds and the wealth increases that accrue to older characters in Advanced Mythus that's everyone with an eye to the main chance playing rich fogies. In that respect Sadvanced Yiffus is little like Traveller, only with a chargen system that won't kill you (however much you might pray for the merciful release of death).

Net Worth
This is Bank Account + value of Possessions. Possessions are divided into Dwelling, Clothes, Weapons & Armour, Transportation, Misc. and Securities.
  • The stuff you own is valued at half purchase price for the purpose of determining Net Worth. Your stuff is worth what you could get for it if you sold it, not what you paid for it.
  • Your horse doesn't count as part of your Net Worth at all. Which is odd...
  • Exception to the 'half value' rule is Securities (real estate, gems and coins), which are always costed at full purchase value. No one cares if a house/gold/jewel is 'used'. Quite how this last ties into the earlier 'gemstones in BUCS' section's assertion that purchase price mark-up on gems is 2-7 times their resale value is gracefully ignored.
There is also some non-useful guidance on buying equipment: "Housing, clothing, weapons, armour and transportation should take top priority."

This whole section is almost tear-inducingly dull and makes me actively hate it. As a taster for the tone of the section, here's a table from the worked example of an HP's Net Worth:

I hear Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser weeping.

No, they are not joking.

This part of the Papers and Paychecks Advanced Mythus comprehensive chargen mini-game is absolutely not fun; it is a nitpicking, beancounting chore above-and-beyond the standards of earlier sections. Any sane gamer should just disregard this whole mess and use something like ckutalik's Quick Start Gear Tables (to be found at his damn fine Hill Cantons blog): 4 quick die rolls and you're ready to go. Life is too short for aught else.

Special Connections
HPs get one NPC contact for each Trait they have at >90. So an HP can either be skilled and popular, or they can end up with crap stats ~and~ no mates. This particular 'reward for winning' at chargen is a classic gygaxism, much like extra XP for high stats in Classic D&D (a rule I never grokked).

The actual Special Connection tables (orphaned overleaf from their parent text) are naff: d20 gives you the occupation of your special imaginary friend's imaginary friend, and that's it. I presume you're expected to roll on the Instant HP Information Tables we looked at last week for more on these characters; no guidance is given. There is nothing here that the One True DMG's Quick NPC Generation tables didn't do first and better.

Page 116 has more waffle on stuff your HP owns, including a snidey little rule that 'if you forget where your character is carrying it, he left it at home'. I quote: "...what your Heroic Persona has on hand must be known at all times." This just screws players over in the name of simulation IMO. Your mates at the table will not - and arguably shouldn't - take as much care and attention over the imaginary gear of their imaginary character as actual real people will take over preparing for an actual expedition. YMMV however.

After the avuncular advice that any soldier (or boy scout) knows the importance of distributing carried weight evenly, encumbrance gets handwaved. No, really. After all the nitpicking we've endured so far Enc is handled via player discretion and GM fiat.

So let's just unpack that last in the light of recent reading, shall we? According to Advanced Mythus calculating every last brass razoo of net worth and the location of each and every carried item are worthwhile investments of player time and effort, but tracking the bulk and weight of this same swag and survival gear is just *snerk* absurd.

Now that's just lazy. If you're going to be comprehensive in the "...elective complexities..." of your 400+ page RPG then you don't knock off early when it comes to putting actual numbers to things that might be some use in play. It's not like Advanced Mythus lacks sufficient mechanical detail on which to hang some quick-and-dirty Encumbrance rules. Simply writing something like
"An HP suffers a cumulative -10% to move rate and all skill checks each time pounds weight carried exceeds his/her Physical Muscular Power Attribute" 
ain't rocket surgery. (note: it actually took me longer to look up what the Advanced Mythus Strength stat was called than it did to think that rule up!)

Instead of any actual useful bloody rules the Encumbrance sub-section is padded out by paragraphs of waffle about situational kit lists (adventurers don't march around town in full fighting kit, you don't go ghoul-hunting in courtly garb, etc.), an unexpected tangent about how players are expected to "...think, reason, imagine and solve problems on your own against a background of sketchy information...", and by repeated admonitions on the importance of tracking nature, cost and location of each item.

I can (*gluk gluk*) feel... my... (*gluk gluk*) braurgh... (*gluk gluk*) melgipublin...

Thus far the Heroic Persona Resources section has been 5 pages of non-useful gab: an 'orrible mishmash of the overly specific and the hand-wavey which has kept my drinking arm even busier than expected and filled me with uncharitable feelings to all involved in the creation of this game.

Oh well, I'm the one who volunteered to scour this particular Augean Stables of a game. Press on.

Special Equipment
Some notes on equipment scarcity: Standard, Specially Constructed and Rare items (in order of increasing rarity). You'll probably have to wait for non-standard kit to be made to order. Again, vague to the point of uselessness; I know what 'rare' means as an abstract concept. Give me actual mechanics or GTFO. (*gluk gluk*) For the record: WFRP has better (for which read ‘actual’) scarcity rules.

Half a page on how the various types of horses, camels and elephants you can buy to ride around on differ. Do you need to know the difference between a genet, a garron and a palfrey? Nope, me neither. And if I do I can look it up in an encyclopaedia. (*gluk gluk*)

Equipment Lists
Pages 118-122 are kit lists, a dull but necessary element of traditional RPGs. Rarely have I been so relieved to see page-after-page of bland price lists. It may just be Mythus Stockholm Syndrome setting in, but mere well-tabulated dullness is a relief after the dense-yet-vague blah blah of what has come before.

You have separate price lists for Standard, Specially Constructed and Rare general equipment, and then additional tables for specialist Heka Equipment, Mounts, Land Vehicles and Ships.

General kit (Standard, Specially Constructed or Rare) is as you'd expect for a fantasy RPG. The list entries will be immediately familiar to anyone who has perused the AD&D equipment lists, albeit with a couple of extra zeroes tacked on the prices. Livestock, tools, musical instruments, furs, broadcloth, torture devices; its all in there. Its nice that EGG was able to recycle his research into the costs of the minutiae of medieval life. All told it's a dull but worthy, and at least logically organised in a way that is entirely too rare in Advanced Mythus.

Heka Gear is non-magical but necessary trappings for ‘doing magic’, and covers everything from tweezers and magnifying glasses up to tomes of spells and alanthors. Some Heka gear (cauldrons, prayer beads, tomes, etc) is marked as being able to store Heka points. Such things are expensive, which keeps alchemy a rich man's hobby.

The Mounts table is *insanely* specific. Even the King Arthur Pendragon RPG - a game which is entirely about guys with a horse-centric lifestyle - isn't as exhaustive as Advanced Mythus in the sheer variety of horseflesh on offer. Nor does KAP have prices for three types of camel and two types of elephant.

Two letdowns from what's an otherwise pretty comprehensive table:
  1. No footnote to explain if the prices for the exotic mounts are local or import price: shame that.
  2. No actual fantasy mounts. Mythus is supposed to be a fantasy game, so where's my thoats, war lizards, pegasi, riding tigers and Tarns at?

The Land Vehicles table offers prices for five types of increasingly elaborate cart, from two-wheeled tipcart up to royal carriage. Damage points are listed in case you need to smash them up.

Last but not least in the gear section is p122, a full-page boxout containing a very familiar list of medieval ship types (raft, galley, warship, etc.) along with rules for damage, movement speeds, turning radius and seaworthiness. In effect it’s a potted system of sailing rules, and stands as poignant proof that EGG could actually pack a lot of info into a small word count when required.

And that concludes our examination of the character generation chapter of Advanced Mythus. It's been...emotional. Section 6 in particular has been an unremitting desolation of tosh that makes me want to take those responsible by the scruff of the neck and rub their noses in it. Even the last little surprise Easter egg of unexpected sailing rules only throws the preceding waste of words into stark high relief. There is literally NOTHING here for players of Classic D&D (except possibly that unacknowledged silent minority of accountancy fetishists).

Let us depart (staggering and veering) and never speak of this again.

The only thing I've come away with from this week's masochistic exercise? Desolation of Tosh would make a good name for the wasteland left when a civilisation collapses under the weight of an infestation of banalising systemisers (accountants, auditors, actuaries, etc). The numbingly tedious records they created are still uncovered by unfortunate archaeologists, who recoup their losses by selling them on as insomnia cures, wards against interesting people, and/or the material components of sleep spells.

Next Time: Chapter 11: Core Game Systems - doan stuffs in Advanced Mythus games. Forthcoming delights include combined efforts, rolling via guesswork, 'try and try again', and why ten degrees of difficulty is not excessive.

Pic Sources: Mythus rulebook, Jollyjack's Collected Curios
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