Monday, 2 April 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt7

Welcome to this week's installment of Lets Read Mythus. Or should that be Lets Reach for the Meths? Oh well, too late to change now... (which is my standby excuse for all my many faults and excesses)

Today we'll be covering sections 4 and 5 of Advanced Mythus character generation: skills and general persona information.

Section 4: The Knowledge/Skill Areas

This section covers pp 96-101 of the rulebook and -- in a marked departure from established Mythus tradition -- compresses quite a bit of information into its six pages.

Page 96 does come on in the same old way (wordy), so we shall meet it in the same old way (sarky). Two paragraphs caution the reader that having a skill doesn't mean you can use it flawlessly. This is so numbingly obvious a statement that I can feel my face seizing up, tragically rendering me unable to offer comment or critique more structured than a loud "A-duuuuuh" noise.

This specimen-quality sample of RPG obviousness is followed by a section on Universal K/S Areas Known to All HPs, or ‘universal skills’ as they are known among people without a raging neologism fetish. Each HP gets 5 or so of these. Skills, not fetishes.

Etiquette - which might actually be useful in status-conscious pre-modern societies. It is worked out as 5xSEC+MMCap. That's five times social class: posh people obviously being better mannered 'n' that. Primitive vocation types get a flat '5' to this skill when outside their home culture, but civilised folk get to swan around the Primitives’ lands with their courtly manners working at full effect. I offer a trenchant "Balls!" to that: different standards of etiquette does not imply a lack of same. Honour, respect, good manners, 'face' and taboo are universal human concepts, albeit with specific cultural manifestations.

Native Tongue - you speak whatever you spoke growing up at 5xSEC+MMCap. Toffs talk better than plebs, which makes sense: moar edjamikashun meens clevura wordin's.

Perception - 2 separate skills, Physical or Mental. Your vocation's Trait determines which you get, Spiritual types can pick. If you have both skills (probably through a vocation skill package, or later purchase with APs) you get two Perception checks to notice something. Interesting ruling that.

One oddness though:

There, did you see that? Physical Perception is +reasoning ability, Mental Perception is +nerve speed. I’ve looked at that for a long time and it still makes precisely no sense to me. F***ing Perception skills: how do they work? Oh, and the text doesn't appear to match the formula. Either I fail reading comprehension forever, or GDW editing *derp*artment knocked off early and went to the pub again.

Riding or Boating - You get one, usually horse-bothering. Riding skill level is SECx5 again (Nice nod to the old cliche of toffs born in the saddle, while plebs grub in the mud). You get to add your PMCap (trans. "strength") if you’re a roughdy-toughdy outdoorsy Physical vocation type. Boating is included as a substitute skill for seagoing types. Characters get this skill at PMCap+PNCapx0.5, because sailing is an all-classes pastime dependent upon actual ability.

Trade Phoenician - which is Mythus Common. Humans get this, non-humans don't. SECx3+MMCap.

Non-Human universal skills are slightly different. They don’t get Trade Phoenician, but instead get one of three types of Nature Tongue. Cue Frankie Howerd arching eyebrow meaningfully. Choices are Fair, Hob- or Goblin; which are basically sparkly pixie alignment languages. The pointy-eared and iron-afflicted* contingent also get to speak the local language of whichever place on Aerth their folkloric origin equates to. I assume this means Redcaps speak Scottish, Djinn Arabic, Trolls Norse, etc.

* Bet there are rules for this later. Betcha. Is folkloric.

Additional HP K/S Areas
As well as your ~20 vocation skills, and your 5-6 Universal skills, your alter ego also gets some free-pick extras. You get a number of skills for each Trait determined by your total score in that Trait, plus one extra pick for your vocational Trait. All these extra skills are at 2d10+Attributes.

This also makes a bit more sense of the inscrutable Trait Limitations to Heka-Generating K/S Areas table we encountered a couple of weeks back. I’ll resist the urge to bang on about layout and organisation again; just take that particular rant as read.

The rest of page 97 is a worked example, which is helpful. And then there’s an odd little optional rule that humans - and only humans - can choose /not/ to take their vocational Trait bonus skill but instead split 2d10+highest Attribute in that Trait points between existing skills. Fair enough, but the condition that you can only spend 2-6 points per skill seems simultaneously tight-fisted and arbitrary. That's at best 1-roll-in-20 you'd make that you'd otherwise fail.

Urge to rant... rising...

Flipping rapidly over to Page 98, we're introduced to K/S Sub-Areas. "Oh goody", they cried, "because the Advanced Mythus skill system simply wasn't crushingly comprehensive enough already". The whole sub-areas thing is exactly as nitpicky as you imagine it. This is Advanced Mythus on a crystal meth/nitrous oxide cocktail; going above and beyond, into positively goatsean levels of anal retentiveness.

You get sub-areas to each and every skill you have according to the following table:

Working out your skill sub-areas is going to involve a *lot* of page flipping, given that the comprehensive skill rules cover 64 pages of dense text (pp137-201).

We're also offered two optional rules regarding K/S sub-areas:

The first of these is specialisation. Spend two of your K/S sub-area slots on a single sub-area and you get 1.5x the normal skill level. But - and here’s the kicker - all your other skill sub-areas drop to half normal. Yes, that's right. All. Of. Them.

Talk about paying twice. Even the AD&D Unearthed Arcana fighter didn't get hosed that hard! Sure, he was outdone at his niche by a bunch of newer, shinier classes, but at least UA weapon specialisation didn't make a character vastly clumsier with every weapon in the world other than his one favourite.

It’s graciously conceded that when you get to 51+ in a skill you’ve elected to gimp yourself specialise in that you can then pick half the sub-areas you know and use them at full ability. Ooh, how generous. So instead of a knee to the balls and a kick to the head, you will now only be kicked in the head.

I sincerely wonder if that little rule was ever used in play, or even playtested in a meaningful way.

The other option is to delay choosing K/S sub-areas until you actually choose to use them in play. So you get to sketch in your character's base skill, then draw in on more detail about exactly what parts it he's good at as you discover you need to know things. This would be kinda cool -- if there weren't so damn many skills in Advanced Mythus.

Bitching aside, the latter of these two rules might actually have some use for new players in a 'skill rules, but only kinda' game like AD&D or full-fat BECMI.

Consider the following hypothetical: poor confused newbie player gets skill slots, but has no idea what’s going to be useful. Fair enough. The GM rules that newb doesn't have to pick a skill until they decide what they want to be good at during play thereby enabling player agency/awesome. That’s a good rule even for experienced players who a) don’t know the GM’s preferred play style, or b) don't know whether the campaign will be all dungeon-crawling, all ships, all city adventures.

An actually useful suggestion in Mythus? Well paint me purple and call me Shirley!

Pages 99-100 are tables of all the skills in Advanced Mythus, divided up by Trait and complete with their Attribute calculation equatiomabob. Simple page references to these tables would have saved bags of space (about 6 pages or so) in the Vocations section. There are a grand total of 60 Mental skills, 48 Physical and 37 Spiritual in Advanced Mythus, which is... erm... many in total. More than I could possibly care about. And don’t forget that you can take certain skills - Jabber Foreign Moonspeak, for example - more than once.

Page 101 is a list of 76 languages of Aerth, intended for use with the aforementioned Speak Slowly and Loudly at Johnny Foreigner skill. The list is in alphabetical order, which tells you precisely nothing useful about what's spoken where. The entire list of glorified auslander gargling noises is a right mess, with Brythokelltic being somehow distinct from both Kelltic and Kelltic Dialect, and Deutsch being somehow different to Francodeutsch, Boideutsch or Neustrian. There are also four Atlantean and five Lemurian languages, but we're told nothing about them.

Oh, and a lot of the languages have an additional Dialect option, so that, for example, Soumi (Finnish?) is distinct from Soumi Dialect. I have no idea why this is the case, and no explanation - or even reference to one - is offered. By contrast with the needless dipthong-bitching fiddlyness of the European languages most of West Africa appears to speak one generic 'Beniyorob' tongue (no subdialects).

And that's enough to bring on the red mist. So here's our now customary ‘fix Mythus with a red pen and some common sense’ aside:

Your 'umble scribe would have done the whole languages fustercluck a bit differently. Very differently in fact.

See, my way of doing it would have been to divide languages up by culture area (Christendom*, Greek ecumene, Persia/Araby, Aztec Empire, Cathay, Atlantean domains, etc). Each culture area would have a hegemonic (literary/legal) language, a regional trade pidgin, some scholarly/arcane tongue(s), and a slack handful of local languages/dialects in which the local peons gibber to one another. Anything else is just outright foreign babbletalk.

*  or nearest Mythus equivalent: Greater Frankish cultural area or sommat?

Here's a historical example of what I mean:

Roman Empire
Hegemon language:
Trade pidgin:
Etruscan, Egyptian, Minoan
Local Languages:
Oscan, Spanish and Gallic dialects, German dialects, Rhaetian, Illyrio-Moesian, Macedonian, Aramaic, etc.

See, by limiting things like this you can still have 1,000 languages in a game world, but starting characters only need to pick from a shorter local sub-list. That way you get both the benefits of a fantasy-style common language ~and~ the point-and-gesture language barrier thing, as well as the entertaining (and authentic) historical experience of two educated foreigners communicating via literary quotations in a third language both known mainly from books.

Heading outside your usual culture area? Spend some points to learn the lingo, or get a native guide.

/end aside on languages done right.

The next table on page 101 gives us a dozen Phaeree (non-human) Languages. This one is a masterpiece of gygaxian specificity sans any kind of useful context. Apparently Drowish is distinct from both Elvish and Trowish, and I have no idea what Slaughite is and why it is distinct from Goblintalk. We are helpfully cautioned that the table is incomplete. *eyeroll*

Our last language table is Ancient, Arcane, Dead and 'Lost' Languages. It has the usual suspects: Ancient Greek, Latin, Sumerian, Vedic, as well as some intriquing oddities like Arachnidean, Arcane Magickal, Etruscan, High Atlantean, Lemurian Pictogram, Unknown Tibetan or Y'dragi Runic. Nicely evocative. Could be worse.

Section 5: More Heroic Persona Data

This is pages 102-111. Lots of tables and -- would you Adam and Eve it! -- some actual potentially useful stuff for a non-Mythus game. I'm gettin' that celebratory Finnish folk-rock feeling!

Page 102 repeats the rules for Attractiveness we encountered in Mythus Prime. Apparently the maximum for HPs is 18, even though the 2d6+8 die roll gives you a 12-20 range. I find myself having trouble caring about that particular caveat, and hope you’ll concur. Advanced Mythus does add an Inner Beauty/Ugliness rule, which modifies apparent attractiveness of NPCs, sorry, Other Personae, by +/-5 (roll d10) based on their character and moral/ethical qualities. This is a complete reversal of D&D, where Charisma is the big deal and Comeliness the raggedy-arsed poor cousin afterthought.

Next is Joss, which is clarified as being pidgin english for "deus", and not at all a reference to Mr Buffyverse. Joss is generated on 1d100, with roughly equal chances of 2-14, 14 being the absolute maximum anyone can have. The rules covering the use of Joss in play are elsewhere entirely, but I expect they'll be pretty much standard Luck/Fate Points.

What a minute. Did I just see some sly gamer humour in among all the dry-as-dust lecturing?

Birth Rank sounds as dull as ditchwater, and largely is. Which child in the family are you? *yawn* The exception is the "7th child" rule, which is the kind of funky 'roll, and get lucky, maybe REALLY lucky' thing Jeff Rients might come up with. I've reproduced the full-page table below, mainly to save myself from having to describe the damn thing:

You’ll notice that 7th children are the commonest type of Low Class HP, but are massively rare in the Upper Classes, which totally fits with both folklore and medieval demographics. The middle classes produce a disproportionate percentage of adventuring 3rd children (likely sons, given that gamers are 90% male). Again, in keeping with folklore.

Actual mechanical benefits of Special 7th Snowflakism are underwhelming. Plus 1-3 here or there doesn't mean d*ck in a percentile system, it’s less than a rounding error FFS.  This is a bit of a shame, as Advanced Mythus almost displayed a flicker of mechanical character for a second. And then it died aborning, strangled to death by a spreadsheet.

Pages 104-105 are entitled Background and Quirks, although the vast majority of the spread is taken up a sub-section on determining character age and how it affects Attributes, Skills, Attractiveness and Finances. All I can say about this is: picture the AD&D age categories rules; now imagine someone laughing at them for being pathetically imprecise and unscientific; now imagine that person was an actuary in his former life. Yep, pure fantasy heartbreaker; almost a send-up of gygaxian simulationism.

There's a mildly irritating footnote to the gains/losses by age table which specifically rules that civilised people get 20% more bonus skill points per age category than primitive types. Again with the "householders are superiah!" snobbery Gary? Your fixed-abode-centric rules make Conan, Genghis Khan and Hiawatha saaaaad.

Quirks (Knacks and Peculiarities)
Page 106 is two columns of *blah blah* about giving characters unique identifying details. It's recommended that you give with one hand and take with the other, balancing each minor benefit with a corresponding disadvantage. Cited is the example character having a minor sixth sense for impending danger, but an old jousting wound "...(because his sixth sense doesn't help when he is already in a dangerous situation!)." This has actual mechanical benefits in the game:

Holy crap! A slick, simple rule you could actually extract from Mythus and use in an old school game without instigating a violent revolt at the table. "Woo hoo! We’s partying now Leeroy! Pass that thur jug o’ pinecone liquor ma way!"

The only other thing worth looking at on page 106 is a pretty sweet Daniel Gelon pic of an Egyptian-looking wizardy guy and his lion? jackal? sidekick. In all seriousness, the b+w art in the Mythus book is (IMO) far superior to the full-colour plates. There’s probably a lesson about quality content trumping perceived style in there somewhere.

No crackle of lightning bolts, no wall of action, 
and no lunging monsters on the ‘roids: 
still better than 90% of contemporary fantasy art.

Pages 107-108 are two full-page tables of example Quirks (Advantages) and Counter-Quirks (Disadvantages). Most quirks are pretty trivial, things like +/-1 to a particular Attribute, +/-5 to a skill, or non-mechanical stuff like "good orator", "cheapskate" or "can't swim". Some are more significant: "Non-magickal: 20% Heka doesn't affect character", "Lie detector", "Anti-Midas Touch" (income 10% normal), 'hated by all animals' and 'halved healing rate' leap off the page at first look. These tables are potentially useful if you like random traits in your games.

More actual usefulness?! In terms of what has gone before we are currently mining a motherlode of usable information. Let’s see if we can’t keep this roll of joyful sozzlification going.

Pages 109-111 are Instant HP Information Tables. These cover all sorts of character details you might prefer to roll, rather than agonize long and hard over:
  • handedness - 75% R, 20% L, 5% ambidextrous,
  • background - job before becoming an adventurer. 9 tables, by SEC,
  • political beliefs - anachronistically 20th century,
  • religion - everything from agnostic to acolyte of Gloomy Darkness,
  • general personality - cool and casual through to crazy, wild,
  • degree of conformity - radical, fashion-chaser, outcast, etc.
  • general interests - travel, music, lore, politics, etc.
  • more Quirks - generally more powerful than the earlier tables, effectively mini-superpowers/curses. Strictly GM option.
  • race - five races: Black, Brown, White, Red and Yellow, each with more local sub-groups.

Handy, albeit nothing dazzlingly novel. I'd say that's a two-finger drink, based on the *might* use it in game if all other books are in storage somewhere factor.

And that last table may be... let's just say 'problematic' to modern sensibilities. Yes, people look different, and yes, there's precedent in pulp and adventure fiction - especially the older stuff - for dividing fantasy world humanity up into capital-'r' Races. But it does jar somewhat to see the word race used in this context in a fantasy game written only 20 years ago.

I dunno, maybe I'm being oversensitive about this. Have a look and see what you think:

I'm not sure what EGG was thinking here: is Aerth a semi-melting-pot world? Do certain races find themselves more prone to adventure and exploration? Who knows, there might even be 'sunstroke/vitamin D deficiency by biome' rules deeper down the Advanced Mythus rabbit hole. We're given no explanation of course, just a big, fat hostage-to-fortune to anyone willing to take offence.

EGG: unwitting racist, or simply hardcore 'simulation uber alles' product of his time and reading preferences? Knowing what we know of the man I'd honestly have to go with option 'B' (rather than option /b/tard). I think this table was just a case of perfectly innocent "It's a fantasy game; not a political tract" creator naivete.

And, with that last little bout of pidgeon-catting, we say finis to this sacking-and-looting spree on sections 4 & 5 of character generation in Advanced Mythus. Surprisingly undepressing really, although how much of that is down to it being an unseasonably sunny spring day here in Blighty is undetermined. I counted at least four possible takeaways from this section; which is - I think, it's all a little hazy right now - more than in the entire rest of the book so far!

Good news Mythus. It appears we will not require the services of famously placid Scotsman David Hume this week:

Next Time: we brave the sixth and final part of Advanced Mythus chargen: Heroic Persona Resources. That's money, contacts and gear, all in EGG's inimitably specific style. And - given that most of that section is equipment tables - we might even make a start on Chapter 11: Core Game Systems.

Pic sources: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Ryan Dunlavey's Action Philosophers


  1. I sincerely wonder if that little rule was ever used in play, or even playtested in a meaningful way.

    I sincerely wonder if anyone ever played Mythus at all. The character generation alone seems to be such a huge barrier that I know I would have given up a long ttime ago.

    intended for use with the aforementioned Speak Slowly and Loudly at Johnny Foreigner skill

    I know I keep doing this, but I can see the beginnings of a Comedy Colonial Generals game here. Ancient bewhiskered gentlemen sitting in wicker chairs in Karachi, moaniing about the state of the Empire and telling tall tales before their Absent-Mindedness score tops out. It would be like The Shab al-Hiri Roach, but less Cthulhoid.

    Arachnidean, Arcane Magickal, Etruscan, High Atlantean, Lemurian Pictogram, Unknown Tibetan or Y'dragi Runic

    I think I had a cup of Y'dragi Runic in a fancy cafe once.

    Next is Joss, which is clarified as being pidgin english for "deus"

    This isn't explained earlier, is it? It's taken then a hundred pages to get around to explaining a core statistic. Brilliant.

    1. Apologies for the poor spelling. I'm not even playing the drinking game!

    2. I sincerely wonder if anyone ever played Mythus at all.

      I hear terrible rumours. Apocryphal tales of hollow-eyed, burnt-out gamers who can no longer look at a polyhedral without screaming.

      I know I keep doing this, but I can see the beginnings of a Comedy Colonial Generals game here.

      S'alright. The BritOSR Gonchong - like the proverbial scorpion - cannot help its nature. ;)

      I picture CCCG (Crusty Comedy Colonial Generals) as Munchausen meets Junta:

      "That's not now the Buggarub-Whoopsie Massacre of 1847 happened at all!" rumbled Brigadier Sir Percival Blitherington-Clot, KCSI, DCS, OBI, who immediately expired of apoplexy (this being the only way to sufficiently express the intensity with which he disagreed).

      Turn order would be determined by seniority and would, of course, only ever pass to the left.

      This isn't explained earlier, is it?

      Nope. Welcome to Mythus, please leave your scrutables at the door.

  2. Additional thoughts on 'emergent exploring' - detail 1 feature pex hex (in classic/OSR-approved fashion), then for each map, or significant area of a regional map, write up a short 'search-as-you-go' table (d4 to d20) of additional features that can be dropped in when a hex is successfully searched; e.g., a map region which is mostly rolling plains with scattered settlements and a small forest = 1d4 'within 1 hex of settlement', 1d6 'in forest' and 1d12 'all other areas' tables.

    ...what's that you say? Take my fingers out of my ears and stop going lalala whenever you mention mythus? ;)

    1. Ingenious. Maybe make a d20 table of increasingly challenging drop in locations, and the wilder and more dangerous an area is, the larger the dice rolled.

      Re: Mythus. No probs. My current niche-of-a-niche-of-a-niche fixation is not relevant to your interests. I understand that this sometimes happens among hobbyists. ;)

  3. The wizardish dude us standing there with a hyena (I think), I wonder if you get one on the 9th son of a 9th son table ;-)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...