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


  1. I was hoping that Criminal Activities, Mental might either be thinking about stealing things, but not actually doing so, or otherwise criminal behaviour of an inscrutable, Dadaist sort.

    I love that Border Crossing is a skill. I'm being too literal of course, but I imagine vast invisible walls being thrown up in front of a character on a failed roll, while his mates gambol away to buy cheap booze and cheese from the foreign supermerchants. Clandestine Meetings is even better; one assumes that if you fail, the meeting was a bit too clandestine and you missed it.

  2. Wow, a skill-by-skill analysis? I am truly awed at your masochistic devotion.

    You know, I think I'm actually going to steal that "Current Event Datedness" chart for future use. Whaddya know, actual usable content!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...