Monday 28 May 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt15

Dangerous Journeys: Mythus + opinionated gabshite + alkyhol: mix and stand well back.
You know the drill by now.

A note to the confused: You will see references thought-out this stream-of-consciousness jabbering spree to something called That Damn Table. I include it here again for reference purposes:

To know it is to loathe its ubiquity.

Today we’re going to cover the last batch of Advanced Mythus K/S Areas, then have a brief rant on how I’d have done things differently (and arguably better), before finally talking about the incidental art of this section of the book. It’s gonna be a long one, so charge your glasses.

And we start this week’s final thicket-thrash with:

Described as the reverse of Exorcism, this is the art of inviting spirits to appear for the purpose of wasting everyone's time with table-rapping "Your grandfather sends platitudes but no useful directions to where he buried the gold/hid the title deeds" antics. No compelling of spirits is allowed, and failure/fumble "...could bring a hostile or malicious entity..."

Bored now.

We're offered two paragraphs of rules for séances. Said exercises allow the Partial or Full Physical Manifestation (given their own TLAs as P-/FPM *gluk*) of spirits through ectoplasm (or, as the Victorians knew it, oiled muslin) leeched from the Physique TRAITS of séances participants. The benefits of having a spirit Physically Manifest escape me. I've checked the index, and that either sends you into a "refer to" loop, or to an entirely unrelated appendix. F--ing amateurish. Rules for resisting potential unwelcome ectomonglers? Left in the lap of the GM, presumably as extra credit homework.

Bored and irritated by half-assery now.

Characters with the Mediumship K/S Area also gain access to Medium Castings in accordance with the inevitable reprinting of That Table. According to all the tables relevant to this section Mediumship does generate Heka, but there's no mention of this in the text.

Bored, irritated and wishing this skill description would die in a fire now.

Would I touch Mediumship for an Classic RPG? As written, no. In fact: Hell no! Advanced Mythus Mediumship reads like it belongs in an Arcana Victoriana game like Forgotten Futures 4 and 8 or For Faerie, Queen and Country: it’s gutless, deracinated spirit magic for the bored middle classes in a pre-TV age. I get that it’s also supposed to represent the character invoking ancestor spirits, genius loci, ideolectic gestalts, etc. but the flavour text and rules on offer are far too Derek Acora [no link, the man is vermin] for my tastes.

We’re given the better part of a paragraph of definition of metaphysics before EGG cuts to the chase and explains it in game terms. It turns out that under all the philosophy syllabus waffle this is a non-evil equivalent of Demonology with the option to make "roll to detect celestial influences" checks. So, angelology for a world with stabbable spiritual entities. ("Jeez EGG, that’s all you had to say.")

As well as generating Heka, which is pretty standard issue for an Advanced Mythus Spirit skill, Metaphysics also has a half-baked ‘gain Spiritual strength’ rule. At 41 skill, and at every 10 points gained thereafter, a person may make a "Hard" (x1) difficulty Metaphysics roll to gain a point of SMCap. After gaining two points thus the difficulty of future rolls increases to "Difficult" (0.5). Hey, free stat points. Shame that none of the Physical or Mental skills enjoyed such an advantage.

Metaphysics skill as written is all over the place. It’s academic metaphysics, and stat-enhancing meditation/spiritual exercises, and an detect angelic meddling skill, AND a spotter’s guide to celestial beings too. I’d probably break this into a couple of skills if I were going to make use of it at all.

Multiversal Spheres & Planes
Knowledge of the position and makeup of the multiverse, divided up by plane.

Eleven sub-areas:
  1. Alternate Material Planes
  2. Elemental Planes
  3. Shadow Plane
  4. Negative and Positive Planes
  5. Aethereal Plane
  6. Nether and Pandemonic Planes
  7. Empyrean and Concordelysian Planes
  8. Entropic and Celestial Planes
  9. Temporal and Panprobable Planes
  10. Abyssal Plane
  11. Astral Plane
All that lot fits together in a manner which may look more than slightly familiar to AD&D veterans.

Yes, because the problem with AD&D’s Great Wheel cosmology was that it wasn’t complicated and prescriptive enough.

No useful information or stealable moving parts in this skill description. It just sits there without even a helpful reference to the Mythus Magick book where the cosmography of Advanced Mythus is actually explained. More and more I begin to fear that this game isn’t actually comprehensible without the Mythus Magick book in close attendance: not quite 400 pages of crippleware, but dangerously close.

Musical Composition
You can make up instrumental music, but not write lyrics (because that’s an entirely different discipline, roight?). The Musical Composition skill generates Heka if you have all three of Spellsongs, Music and Poetry/Lyrics. A character with this skill can also read music with a DR of "Easy". Even someone afflicted by the bane of music dyslexskia (like Skwizgaar Skwigelf "I do nots wish to talks about it") finds this last a bit eyebrowish. Is sight-reading so risibly easy?

Musical Composition has no skill cross-feeds (no, not even to the obvious ones) and no sub-areas. I find that last a bit peculiar, as what constitutes ‘good’ composition in, for example, the classical Chinese musical tradition != ‘good’ in the traditional West Asian or European modes.


Ooh, this sounds like it might be cool. So what kind of mysticism does Advanced Mythus deem worthy of coverage as an entire skill in its own right? Sufi? Buddhist? Taoist? Qabbalist esoterica? Blakean whackdoodlery? Nope, this is 70s Californian mysticism, so we get two pages of rules about crystals and crystal-derived woo-powers.

Ah yes. Those powers. A mystic knows eleven of them, listed A-K:

A. Self-Improvement: meditate 1 hour/day and make an Easy skill check to gain +1 per 4 bonus to AP/General awarded. That means "25% bonus to XP" in standard gamer.
B. Self-Healing, Heart & Mind: meditate 2 hour/day and make Hard skill check to heal 2d6 damage to both Mental and Spirit TRAITS. 1/day.
C. Mental/Spiritual Defence: presenting your crystal as a shield awards Armour vs. magic effects that harm mind or spirit according to the table below:

D. Mental/Spirit Offence: allows the crystal-waver to attack manifested spirits using 50% of their Mysticism or Dweomercraeft skill.
E. Mental Heka Force Amplification: meditate 1 hour + Hard skill check to boost one Heka-using skill by 50% for 5 minutes. 1/week only.
F. Heka Concentration: meditate for up to 2 hours + make Hard skill check to dump 1 Heka/minute in crystal.
G. Visions: using Mysticism to "clue me" is one DR easier than normal when using a crystal as a focus.
H. Self-Healing, Body: as power B, but a Difficult skill check. 1/day.
I. Heal Others, Mind & Heart: as power B, but base difficulty of Hard, +1 DR per additional person healed. 1/day.
J. Heal Others, Body: as power I, but for others. 1/day.
K. Scrying: "Easy" skill check to see invisible presences. Rules on types of crystals required to scry other planes.

Access to the above powers are governed both by state of mind and by the purity of the crystal the mystic has attuned (navel gaze for 7 hours, Easy skill check). The requirement that mystics "...must be sane, sober and not Dazed to use a crystal with any degree of success" which just goes right against the grain of verisimilitude for what we actually know about Californian mysticism.

As well as dictating your ability to use your skill crystal quality also gives modifiers to base DRs ~and~ determines the Heka storage potential of your pet rock. All these factors are determined by crystal price, which makes hearty mock of the outmoded concept of mystics as people who abjure earthly wealth.

A textual note says that high quality rocks can be X2-3 the listed price. I wouldn't have objected to this information as a second footnote to the table.

In addition to the powers above the Mystic gains Mystic Castings according to That Table, generates Heka, and has access to two additional perks:

Dreams & Visions: another "obtain clue" skill, with DR determined by how often in the past month the mystic has bothered the sublime crystalline entities (or whatever) that his little tchotchke(sp?) resonates with. The reading referee is cautioned in special invisible to players italicised text not to dish out too many clues in response to "clue me" skills. EGG sagely reminds us to "...always make the HPs work for most of their information. [...] Thinking is worth a score of successful die rolls."

Detect Spirits and/or Magick: a Mystic, or maybe his crystal, will *ping* in the presence of spirits (detection DR is dependent on magnitude of manifestation) or magic (Base DR "Extreme", one DR easier per 100 Heka expended), or if the Mystic or his friends become the subject of a magical Link. No idea about what this last entails, but I console myself with a delicious soothing beverage. (*gluk*)

The downside to using a pretty stone as a lever to move the world? Anyone else touching your crystal scrambles the attunement (hippies don’t share well); your crystal crumbles to dust if you ever fumble a Mysticism roll; and lastly, you are a pretentious crystal-gazing woo-monger.

As you may have surmised by now this skill contains the makings of a pretty comprehensive patchouli-scented Hippy Crystal Chick class, if that’s something that floats your boat.

Nature Attunement
This is Druidism as skill. Unfortunately it’s not the cool ‘20 years of training, then you get buried alive in a flooded coffin to compose your dissertation in verse’ druidism the Romans wiped out, but instead tediously worthy ‘listen to the land’ crying Indian/GROLIES one. I’m really not kidding:

purity, sense, feel: nice of Gary to highlight the hippy detection keywords for us

Doing any of the things listed above is DR "Hard". Users of this skill can also blend into natural surrounding at a base DR of Easy, modified by terrain and vegetation.

Finally Nature Attunement has five non-standard sub-areas:
  1. Growing Things
  2. Natural Cycles
  3. Personal Relationship
  4. Animal Husbandry
  5. Exotic Places
Instead of actually doing anything useful in their own right all these sub-areas do is provide cross-feed to other skills:

Growing Things gives 10% cross-feed to Agriculture and Herbalism,
Natural Cycles cross-feeds to Ecology and Geology.
Personal Relationship (grossly mis-named) actually benefits your Hunting/Tracking and Survival skills. Go figure.
Animal Relationship cross-feeds to Animal Husbandry, but not at all to Riding or Animal Handling.
Exotic Places cross-feeds to Phaeree Flora and Fauna and Subterranean Aerth knowledge.

The highly developed spiritual and metaphysical connection to the living world granted by Nature Attunement does not generate Heka in any way shape or form.

One of the bad-boy rock star magic skills. I’m sure you don’t even need this defined for you, right? Ha! This is Advanced Mythus, of course it gets defined! Cue one very skippable paragraph of thesaurus abuse (*gluk gluk*) telling you what necromancy is. Of course it generates Heka, and of course you gain access to Necromancer Castings according to That Table.

Most of the word count in this skill description is expended on 3 rather unimpressive abilities you gain by virtue of sending off for your mail order skull ring. I’m almost embarrassed to expose EGG’s nomenclatural shame here, but:
  1. Coldbody - lower body temperature by 1° F per skill point for up to 1 AT (5 minutes) per STEEP. One/day AFAICT.
  2. Darksee - infra- and ultravision by other names. You see in the dark as if it was twilight. Always on.
  3. Shadowskulk - hide in shadows. DR Easy (total darkness) or harder. Lasts 1 BT (30 seconds) per STEEP. One/day.
So sad. You’d expect a fan of Vance, KAS, et al to be better at evoking the terror and majesty of Death Magic (yes, it rates the caps) in his ability names, wouldn’tcha? I mean, I can throw "Chill of the Grave", "See in Darkness" and "Enrobed in Night" down as substitute names with precisely zero thought on the matter.

Anything worth stealing here? Naaaah. Advanced Mythus necromancers can’t even animate zombies from the look of it. You’ve probably written a better necromancer class yourself, or know a guy who has.

Knowledge of the names and hierarchies of ghosts, elementals and similar entities: a handy skill for mediums, conjurers or anyone else determined to get bossy with those bodiless folk in the spirit world. By contrast with the needless wordiness of many Advanced Mythus skill descriptions this one actually feels rather like a précis of a (missing) longer section on spirit magic and Truenames.

Learning about spirits is easy; a simple d% roll determines whether or not you learn the name of a useful entity. On a success skill check the character learns a spirit’s name and then rolls two more d% to determine whether they know it’s supernatural rank and/or leverage-enabling Truename (see table below).

Spirit entities have a crazy number of names, anything from three for the lowliest up to eighteen names for the most powerful. I’ve no idea what use this information actually is; it’s just thrown out there with us left to infer it by reference to other Spirit skill descriptions (Conjuration, Sorcery, etc). Creatures of Major status or above have multi-part Truenames that can’t be wholly learned through Occultism. Don’t ask how you can learn their full Truename though; the text is stonily silent on the matter.

Occultism has no sub-areas or cross-feed to any other skills: an all-or-nowt skill. It does grant Heka = STEEP, but there appear to be no Occultism castings, so for once there’s no Special Guest Appearance from That Table.

Whether you’d ever make use of this skill in your non-Mythus game depends on whether you care for Truenames, or for creatures having a dozen or more situational epithets. Personally I’ve always found that "I am known by many names" mythology shtick a bit pretentious and vaguely absurd. Too many aliases = cheap and shifty in my book.

Painting (Artistic)
Distinct from Painting (House), which seems to be missing (*tsk*). Characters with this skill can make pretty pictures [link], assess the value of artwork (toe-trampling makes Appraisal skill saaaad), and also know art history. Painting as a Spirit skill though: is that right? Let’s just take the snide historian gibe about art history not being a proper intellectual discipline as read and move on, shall we?

Mythology knowledge. In a world with manifest divinities this is probably something more than just a gateway field of study for geeks; knowing which god to make propitiatory obeisance to may actually be useful. The skill grants broad general knowledge about all pantheons in the game world, but the further away a pantheon is from your home culture area, the harder are skill checks required to remember salient information. Proximate pantheons are "Hard", those more distant "Difficult" or "Very Difficult".

Sub-areas can be taken (to no apparent benefit), and there are nineteen of these listed, from Atlantean to Voudoun.

This skill is simultaneously vague and game world specific; a lot of work for the player and GM. Pass.

Phaeree Folk & Culture
Distinct from the Phaeree Flora and Fauna skill this is "...the study of the many intelligent races inhabiting the Aerth’s counter-world": poxy pixie politics.

There are six sub-areas to this skill: three Races of [faction] Nature and three Culture of [faction] Nature sub-areas. You can pick the Seelie, Borderer or Unseelie factions as fields of, for want of a better word, interest. No cross-feeds to other skills, and you’re limited to a ceiling of 35 in your skill until you spend time in fairyland.

This is a boring, unevocative take on faerie lore. All the legwork is left for the GM, or to a later (never published) Mythus Phaeree sourcebook.

(Oh, and that misspelling, like Magick and -craeft, just gets more annoying with time.)

Front and centre: "...philosophy adds 10% of its STEEP to the Influence K/S Area" (you remember that particular mess, right?), which is yoking the ‘philosophy and rhetoric = trufriends4eva’ connection a little too tightly for my tastes. What’s the skill good for in itself? Well, aside from being another "clue me" skill philosophy also makes you "...a sophisticated kind of person...", and one "...not easily misled by sophistries and falsely persuasive arguments."

Pwahahaha!!! Oh my sides! I can only wonder how many philosophers EGG ever met.

Good for writing odes, sonnets, ballads, librettos which don’t grate on the ear (DR "Easy" or harder). The skill also covers critical analysis and history of poetry and music.

Poetry/Lyrics has no sub-areas, but does cross-feeds 10% to Etiquette/Social Graces, which bonus "...applies across all cultures and societies", as we are informed in italics most grave. Poetry/Lyrics also grants Heka to a character provided they have some ability in all three of the Spellsongs, Music and Musical Composition K/S Areas.

Priestcraeft (sic)
This chunky page-long description open with two paragraphs on determining Full or Partial Heka Ability, which is practically a reprint of the similar section in the Dweomercraeft skill description. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: not the right place for this rule.

After this we’re introduced to the requirements to become a full-fledged priest. These are:
  • Full Heka Ability
  • STEEP of 31+ in Religion K/S Area (q.v.)
  • Exclusive devotion to one god of one pantheon
  • Vow of Faith/Pact with Evil (depending on whether your god is white or black hat) to chosen god

In return for all the above you gain both crazy Heka and access to a bunch of special Tutelary Castings specific to your ethos. In return you are at the beck and call of an inscrutable, omnipotent egomaniac (already a familiar experience to many players). Non-priests with the Priestcraeft skill gain somewhat less Heka and have access to non-Priest Castings in accordance with That Table.

We’re informed that, unlike many skills, Priestcraeft has ‘insular’ sub-area. Once the pomposity has been hacked away (I kid you not, the word ‘Ethoi’ is used no less than three times in one paragraph!) it turns out this means: "pick the sub-area of Priestcraeft that matches your god, abjure all others; that’s you now."

The five Ethoi of Priestcraeft are:

Balance - disinterested neutralism. Taoists, nature worshippers, etc. Has some overlap with the Elemental School of Magic. Basically this guy:

Gloomy Darkness - black hat maltheism. Combines chaos with tyranny for delicious full-fat double evilburgerness. Has so much in common with the Black School of magic it ain’t even funny.
Moonlight - ‘little from column A, little from column B’ omnivorous ethos. Moon and sea gods.
Shadowy Darkness - grey hat darker-and-edgier antihero ethos. Non-evil gods of death (Osiris, Hades, etc.) hang out here. Has a lot on common with the Grey School of Dweomercraeft.
Sunlight - white hat light and order. Sun gods, lawgivers, etc. Corresponds to White School of Dweomercraeft.

Not much of use here for Classic RPG gamers. Classics players generally already have god-bothering rules to their satisfaction.

Knowledge of the rites and rotes of any one religion and pantheon, which must be chosen when the skill is taken. A STEEP of 31+ in this skill is required to be an ordained Priest of a temple. The skill generates Heka, but appears to have few if any in-game uses.

The art of making sharp, vivid, three dimensional images from physical stuff. A necessary skill for anyone with a yen to shape golems. Sculpture offers no sub-areas, because the skills involved in casting bronze, carving stone or wood, shaping clay, or shaping jade are all same-same. The skill offers no skill cross-feeds, mainly because as written it's just too broad and vague to meaningfully apply to Masonry, Forging/Welding, Carpentry (another mentioned-but-MIA skill), Jewellery, etc. But hey, those are just lowly Physical skills; it’s not like they do actually matter in Mythus-world.

The other bad boy rock star magic skill. This is the one that lets you grow a goatee, dress in full Halfordian mode and generally act like the villain in the film adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley book. Provided you have even a smattering of skill in the Demonology K/S Area, and are prepared to make a Pact with Evil (Vow of Faith by another name) forfeiting your soul, this is the full-on demon magic.

Yeah, almost exactly like that, wicker man and all.

What do you get in return for selling 21 grams of spiritual self?
  • a non-trivial multiplier to the Heka generated by this skill. The text says anything from double to ten-times normal, but I think we all agree that x6.66 is the most thematically appropriate.
  • access to Sorcerer Castings per That Table.
  • the ability to call up infernal entities to do your bidding, Faust-style
Which segues us nicely into the half-page of demon invoking rules. These are largely a copypasta of the Conjuration rules with specific reference to evil-themed paraphernalia. The Heka cost and difficulty of upsetting the MADD element is given in a table coyly named "Called Beings":

But wait! There’s more. A sorcerer also gains five innate ‘in the inverted pentagram club’ minor powers. The names of these last aren’t as groan-inducingly bad as those listed under Necromancy, but they’re still not much to write home about.
  • Delusions - win a contested K/S roll to mentally troll ("Look again. You’re eating maggots.") a person within one chain (66ft), up to 3/day.
  • Flamesdance - control flames. Flames can be made to flicker, dim or expand in size by up to x6(.66) for damage + chance of setting things afire. Usable 1/day.
  • Impsummon - you get a squeaky little infernal minion to order/kick about. Usable 1/week.
  • Kiteseyes - you can see through the eyes of any carrion bird out to a maximum range of 6 leagues. 1/day.
  • Ratseyes - you can see through the eyes of rats. Mean-spirited mice and black squirrels are also "...good candidates for being pawns of this power!" 1/day.

There is a Carcosa-style suggestion that you can exploit the knowledge provided by this skill to fight evil, so long as you don’t summon demons, make pacts, or cast the naughty Sorcery spells. ("Goat Boy finds that disgusting. Where is the fun in that?")

Is there anything here usable for a Classic D&D game? Not really. AD&D already has a string of mid-to-high-level summoning and binding spells that form a perfectly adequate demon-bullying mini-game in their own right. It is refreshing to see EGG just plain not giving a phuq about possible ‘RPGs are satanic’ clucking though. The sorcery skill has a definite air of "This is the subject matter under discussion and honi soit qui mal y pense".

The ability to fit in and not embarrass yourself among sub-cultural groups within your own culture. Examples sub-cultures listed include urban proletariat, rural peasants, mercenaries, beggars, etc. You know one sub-area of non-standard etiquette per 10 skill points. The skill is also good for identifying those groups traditionally shy of local law enforcement.

"All that fuss. Why not just try acting dear boy?" - Laurence Olivier to Marlon Brando
Includes both ability to act and knowledge of stagecraft. No cross-feed to Disguise, Persuasion or to anything else you might think related. I’m still not sure if this skill doesn’t render the Impersonation superfluous.

Dunno why this is distinct from Sorcery, other than Gary had a Witch class bug up his butt right from the early days of D&D. IIRC it was an example class as far back as OD&D. Whatever the reason we are informed that "...any individual practising Witchcraeft is of vilest malevolence and dedicated to Evil."

Sooooo Evil! Burn immediately.

After a couple of paragraphs of introductory matter which might as well have just read "refer to Sorcery" (*gluk gluk*) we’re treated to a column or so on the all-important administrative requirements of being a witch. We’re told of the benefits of regular attendance at Sabbats and Esbats (basically bonus Heka: so much for turning up; more for being boss hag; even more "...if especially honoured for evil works." I can’t believe that known punster Gary missed the mentioned in Esbatches gag...), and of the swingeing punishments inflicted on witches who fail to keep their covens up to regulation strength: "If ever a coven should have exactly seven members for even as short a time as seven hours, the remaining members are lost, for their Pacts are foreclosed, and each and every one is doomed!"

In return for their dedication to the infernal bureaucracy witches gain their bonus Heka, access to Witch/Warlock Castings per That Tables, and two witchy-themed minor powers:
  • Eyebite - give someone the Evil Eye. This is basically a pre-incarnation of the SRD’s silent/still spell feats.
  • Beastform - the witch can adopt the form of a totemic carnivore (wolf, bear, or big cat) between midnight and dawn on nights when the moon is either full or dark.
Could you use this as the basis for a Classic RPG witch class? Not really. Half the skill is a recycling of the (already half-recycled) Sorcery skill, and the non-spell abilities of Witchcraeft are pretty duff. There’s nothing here to appeal to anyone who wasn’t aroused by the internal politics of the AD&D Druid class (one boss per area, fight to advance, etc.).

Writing, Creative
You can make stuff up and write it down, or polish non-fiction into an entertaining read. I’m surprised there’s no self-pitying authorial plaint on the difficulty of writing here; maybe EGG got that out of his system back in the Difficulty Ratings section of this chapter. Creative Writing cross-feeds 10% to the Influence K/S Area, which I suppose represents speechwriting and such.

Don’t expect a thorough-going examination of the magic(k)al benefits of a 5,000 year old mystic tradition here, Mythus yoga is fakir tricks, pure and simple. The skill description covers the better part of a page, but the core of it is that the skill grants "...resistance to Mental and Spiritual attacks, immunity to normal fires, the ability to heal Mental, Spiritual and Physical wounds, and the ability to slow physical body functions." All these benefits, as well as innate resistance to Insanity-causing effects, are granted per the Yogi Abilities Table (reproduced below):

As well as making you an unkillable pucnic-basket- plundering hobo the Yoga K/S Area also generates Heka, and cross-feeds 10% to Hypnotism, Perception, Acrobatics/Gymnastics, Endurance, Mysticism and Nature Attunement. Yes, all of them.

You’ve seen this skill before in your Classic D&D game. Split the abilities up among a bunch of levels and you’ve pretty much got the Monk (aka Mystic if you speak BECMI). The body control thing? That was right there in OEPT all the way back in 1975.

And, having reached page 200 alive and (relatively) sane, I am glad to report that is the end of the Advanced Mythus K/S Area descriptions section. 64 seemingly endless pages of:

Mythus skills: my face when

Was it worth the swedge? Arguably not: an average of a couple of possibly interesting elements for your game per dozen pages really doesn’t justify the effort expended. I’m just glad I did it so that no one else has to.

How I’d Have Done It Differently

Before we call finis on this gibbering horror for all time I’m just going to indulge myself with a brief retrospective of the Advanced Mythus K/S Areas section, why it sucks, and how it could be made better. Trust me, this is a necessary exorcism for someone who’s just spent six weeks staring into the void.

The number one improvement would come from having a guy like this on the staff:

"Hello. I'm here to edit your text."

Everything else flows from there.

For starters, the universal skill lists on pp100-101 would have been moved to the K/S Area Descriptions section, with *copious* page numbers and textual references in the Vocations section.

Second, each and every skill would have to justify its existence in the book. If you’re going to have a comprehensive skill system, then it has to be comprehensive, not half-done and lopsided.

Duplicate another skill? We have that thanks. Off you trot.
Stupid number of sub-areas? They get purged and/or the skill gets split up into two or more separate skills, which then have to justify their own existences.
Vapid waffle text? Expand skill description to a meaningful degree, or cut: pick one.

Then, and only then, I’d have put the surviving Heka-active skills in a section of their own, maybe called something sensible and obvious like Heka-Active Skills to indicate that they are not quite like their mundane counterparts.

All the skills would be collected into one table with a fat wedge of relevant information all in one place. Thus:

NameTRAITHeka fromCasting Access?Sub-Areas?Other Abilities?
Arglbarglism M Skill+MMFoo Y (Arglbargl) Y (# of) Y/N (see pXXX)
Chodmancy M Skill+PNBar Y (Choddery) N N
Gonkology P Skill only N Y (# of)Y (see pXXX)
Murblnurfism S Skill+Ssblah Y (Murblnurf) N Y (see pXXX)
etc etc etc etc etc etc

There’d be one, and only one, instance of That Damn Table, renamed to something logical like Casting Access for Heka-Active Skills. The newly renamed table would have a header or footnote explaining that all Heka-active skills that gave casting access did so according to this one table; no exceptions.

After that, Heka-active skill descriptions, edited down to the needful information. Got a bunch of setting material and/or worked examples? That’s what the Mythus Magick book is for. The Rulebook is for the rules you need to play the game. The clue is in the name.

There’d also be one clearly marked and logically placed explanation of the process of checking for Full or Partial Heka Ability in characters. This also would be page referenced to within an inch of its life because we have respect for the time, effort and money the reader has expended upon our game.

Bosh! Greater clarity, ease of reference, ~and~ a bunch of pages saved for more actual substantive content. The whole section would actually read like a usable rulebook rather than as a bunch of half-thought-out fob-off skill descriptions interspersed with setting essays, authorial advice, worked examples and over-stuffed uber-skills.

Job done. I am rock!

Art of the Section
Before I finally collapse into a gibbering heap for the rest of the week I’d just like to mention the three b+w pictures which *ahem* grace the Spirit K/S Areas section of the Advanced Mythus rulebook. All three are b+w incidental art, rather than the full page colour spreads we’ve come to know and loathe.
  • p182 - Daniel Gelon pic of a Faerie Prince and his court, complete with robed eminence gris naturally. Odd bits of this picture include the weird black dot doll eyes of the prince and the Bowie homage(?) focus on his groin as the focal point of the entire composition. This piece is WTF Mythus? territory.
  • p195 - Not visibly credited (Mitchell?) pic of an Ogre standing before a Mycenaean-looking tomb. The ogre is characterfully drawn with a slightly pathetic air which gives the impression that beating on this guy would have a slight whiff of 'bullying the local weirdo' about it.
  • p198 - Ellisa Mitchell pic of a generic Conan-style fantasyburg. This architectural style in this picture will be more than slightly reminiscent to anyone who saw the opening reel of the execrable Solomon Kane film.

Next Time: K/S Areas Use for Economic Gain, in which Ernie Gygax and his old man expend seven pages laying down the law on earning your keep in /Advanced Mythus/.

Pic Source: Dangerous Journeys: Mythus rulebook, Mythus Magick, Action Philosophers, the intarwubz

Monday 21 May 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt14

It being - as is traditional around this time of the week - Monday, it's once again time for our regular dive into some obscure, archaic, densely-written text which speaks unto us of eternal verities about tragic, self-destructive ambition.
"Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
Strange things I have in head, that will to hand,
Which must be acted ere they may be scanned."
-- MacBeth, Act 3, Sc4
(It is like that Bill Shaxberd bloke was reading my mind, but I was referring to Advanced Mythus.)

"I think I saw something useful over that way."

Spirit Skills
Pages 175-200 of the Dangerous Journeys: Mythus rulebook cover K/S Areas governed by the Spirit TRAIT. And may the Future Buddha help your accursed soul if the preceding sentence means something to you. This is the shortest of the three skills sections in terms of number of skills, but still longest in terms of page count.

Here's what we'll be looking at over the next couple of weeks:

For the purposes of comparison with the other sections of the skill lists:

TRAIT# skills # Pages Skills/page Heka Y/N?
Mental 60 17 3.5 6
Physical 43 13 3.3 4
Spiritual 37 26 1.4 20

Even without reading any skill descriptions raw numbers clearly indicate that Spirit skills are supposed to be a big deal in Advanced Mythus. There's quite a bit of implied setting scattered about in these skill descriptions, in a way that we've only previously encountered in the (*shudder*) language skills. Also - in stark contrast to the casual dismissals given to many earlier skills - these chunky skill descriptions contain actual game mechanics and defined character benefits.

There's a lot of Unconscious Wizard Privilege going one here: either your skill is magicky ('Heka Active' in Mythuspraak), or it ain't worth a damn.

For example
  • Leadership, Military Science, or Seamanship - 1 paragraph apiece, no references to other rules sections
  • Alchemy (partial rules) - 3+1/2 pages; Exorcism - 2+1/2 pages; Mysticism - 2 pages. All have additional references not just to other sections of the rulebook, but to a whole other 400-page tome entirely devoted to magic.
From this it can safely be inferred that - for all its pretensions towards being the apogee of versatile fantasy gaming - Advanced Mythus is actually a game about being a wizard, albeit one in an alternate Earth where magic is a workable replacement for science. Advanced Mythus is provably *not* a game about brawny warriors (Howardian barbarian or otherwise) leading armies to crush the thrones of the world beneath their sandaled feet: the rules for executing these classic adventure fantasy tropes in the game are practically non-existent.

To adapt an old management cliché: what gets rules gets done.

One other thing before we once again launch ourselves screaming into the abstruse abysm of the Advanced Mythus skills-verse. That Table. We've encountered That Table before several times in the Mental skills section, but I'll reproduce it here:

That Table makes over a dozen appearances in this section under various names, but invariably containing exactly the same information. (Distrust anyone with that many pseudonyms and no visible means of support.) I kid you not, after a while this thing leaves you feeling a little like the wolf in the old Droopy cartoons: wherever you turn, it's already there.

Enough preamble, on with the winnowing:

I presume I don’t need to define what alchemy is for this audience. No? Good. This is the first of the BIG skill descriptions that are something of a motif of this section. The (partial) rules for alchemy given here cover about four pages.

Alchemy is, as we noted back in the equipment section, a rich boy's game. Doing magichemistry requires at least 150K in expenditure for alchemical implements (cup, dagger, pentacle, ring, rod, wand), and anything up to an extra 200K(!) for alanthors, basins, lodestones, etc. All these can be used as regenerating Heka stores, with their self-renewing Heka being good only for the purposes of doing alchemical magic.

Oh, and you also have to buy an alchemical lab, which modifies the DR of whatever you're attempting by non-trivial amounts. No lab at all? All alchemy is 2 DR harder for you than normal.

So what does all this expenditure get you?

Well, you gain Heka, which is nice, and so do your alchemy tools, as mentioned above. You also gain access to Alchemical Castings (spells) gained per That Table.

On top of all the above - at which most non-Spirit skills can only gaze with envy - yon Alchemy K/S Area-haver also enjoys the opportunity to perform mad science Alchemical Operations. These are kind of like Hekaforging, which regular readers may recall was the art of imbuing items with power through the magic of hitting them. Alchemy infuses Heka into items using the power of applied money. Rules for doing this take up a column of dense, closely written text, which takes quite a bit of parsing out before it makes sense.

Yes, your alchemist character can turn lead into gold. Shazaaming 1lb of lead into a similar amount of gold will take 320 Heka and a bunch of skill rolls, the last at a difficulty of “Hell no!” (Base DR: Extreme, x0.1 skill). Note that such noodle-twisting of the laws of nature can only be performed at certain auspicious times. But you can do it...

As well as the basic ‘do this, get that’ rules the Alchemy skill description also covers:
  • Creating artificial life (golems, homonculi, meatpuppets, etc). Animals can be reanimated as you like (no souls, see), but reanimated corpses - known as alchemical zombies (or Corpse Golems, or 'Frankensteins' if you're Jeff Rients) - may be taken for a joyride by malign eldritch intelligences. Herbert West, Reanimator approves!
  • Bringing back the dead with the power of your bloilping hiccupy glassware and wacky rites. These rules are largely implied/inferreable.
  • Rules for transformation of materia (Latin for 'stuff') based on binary oppositions and lunar phases (one page), complete with another page of example stuff you can make.

Yes, because nothing says arcane mysteries of the universe like a standard price list.

I see three ways for an alchemist to make gunpowder/napalm there, but science absolutely positively never-ever can't? Right-oh Gary, that seems perfectly fair and reasonable.

Full and complete rules for alchemical items and castings are, of course, found in the Mythus Magick book (sold separately). Insert your own pithy sarcastic comment about turning dross into profit here.

You know, in some games this single skill description would form a chassis for an entire magic system. In Advanced Mythus, it is merely one of many ways in which caster wank is made manifest. Is any of this stuff salvageable for non-Mythus games? Well, I've long been seeking a way to give non-wizardy characters the ability to play with magical effects [link to old alchemy article]. Would I use this one? Maybe. With some work. ‘Scuse me (*gluk gluk gluk*)

Animal Handling
The woo-tastic art of beastie whispering, like in that estrogen-drenched Robert Redford film. Distinct from Riding/Teamstering and/or Agriculture: Animal Husbandry in that you can use Animal Handling to Crocodile Dundee/Beastmaster non-domesticated animals to your will. There are six degree of affinity rated 0 (unaffected) up to 5 (bonded) achieved by successive skill rolls.

Table might be useful as the basis for a beastmaster class if you don't have such in your Classic game.

EGG takes a substantial paragraph to tell us that in a magical world astrology is more than woo; it actually does what it says on the tin. Astrology generates Heka, and characters knowledgeable in Babylonian numbers also gain Heka from their Astronomy skill. Zodiac-fanciers also gain Astrologist Castings (planet- and zodiac themed divination) according to That Table.

Another big skill at no less than 2+1/2 pages. This is the remainder of the Fool's Guild curriculum (see also: Acrobatics, Juggling). EGG obviously intended that foolery (in the cap-and-bells, ‘speak truth unto power’ sense) be a big deal in games of Advanced Mythus; there are a *lot* of mechanical options here.

The Super Clown Power skill grants the ability to do stand-up, physical comedy and minor magic tricks. Essentially comedy magician Tommy Cooper with malicious intent and an even sillier hat. These abilities are typified as either Ploys or Physical Actions, because calling them ‘Routines’ and ‘Pranks’ would obviously be far too nebulous and abstract to make any sense in context.

Ploys - gabbling at an audience for an Action Turn (about five minutes in old money) allow you to modify their reaction to something on a skill roll (usually of Moderate or Hard difficulty). There are no less than 12 types of ploy: Amuse, Distract, Pay Heed, Suspect, Belittle, Enrage, Question, Trust, Confuse, Feel Assured, Re-evaluate, and Value. Clown-san gets them all: no sub-areas for him.

I’d have reduced that list to half-a-dozen, or maybe to just a single ‘modify public reaction’ ability. But that’s just me.

Physical Actions - with a skill check (usually vs. DR of "Hard") the fool can do any of the following:
  • Cause Minor Injury - create booby-trapped devices that cause 1d6 Physical damage and stun a target for 1-2d6 CT (rounds).
  • Precipitate Stumbling, Tripping or Falling - cause Humiliation (no defined effect, but makes ploys more effective), Delay (no defined effect), or Physical Damage (1d3 to 3d6+3 + 1 CT delay per point of damage).
  • Set Minor Trap - 8 types of trap: Catching, Damaging, Gas, Light, Noise, Prank, Severing, and Spray. These generally replicate the above actions, or cause a one-time minor status effect. The killer clown knows how to make 1 type of trap per 5 skill points he has in Buffoonery.
The Physical Action rules are objectively badly written. Cause Minor Injury directly duplicates Set Minor Trap, which in turn repeats information in the Precipitate S, T or F section (which anyone without a tin ear would just have called ‘Pratfall’). This mess of half-formed ideas could have been reduced to one single list of effects, some of which were only available through traps, others through either traps and/or physical antics. There’s simply no excuse for this. I know Gary could do better when he wanted to. Just read the Guards and Wards spell description in AD&D; lotsa info, clearly formatted. Heck, *I* can lay out rules better than Buffoonery does when being flippant! [SBVD, DjG]

I think this is the first time the 'Every page of wordswordswords that could have been reduced to one simple rule: take four drinks' rule of the Mythus Drinking Game has come up, or at least the first time in a long while. Let us celebrate in the traditional brain cell-killing manner. (*gluk gluk*)

The Baboonery skill description has all the makings of a full-blown killer clown class, IF re-written good and hard by someone with a hatchet. It’s just not for me though; I don’t get the Jester-as-adventurer archetype, and have no desire to. I know some people dig the Harlequin warrior vibe, but I can't just get past the mincing Mr Claypole jester look:

Actual real advertising image from a more innocent age.

A final couple of notes on Buffoonery before we smack it in the head with a shovel and roll it into an unmarked grave:
  • This skill description appears to have influential on the Jester class found in Joe Bloch's Adventures Dark and Deep theoretico-retro-clone (of an alternate universe Gygaxian 2E).
  • I think I've just tumbled (no pun intended) to what the Clown College career in HOL: Buttery wHOLesomeness was parodying.

Essentially gladhanding plausible fraud ability, this is a version of the Deception K/S Area (q.v.) for Spirit-focused types. We’re actually referred back to the Deception skill for mechanics. Charismatification is usable in conjunction with “...Influence, Espionage, Leadership, Thespianism, Hypnotism(!) and Mediumship(!!)”. (Multiple exclamation marks as original text. I’ve no idea why.) 

Possession of the Charismagicjizm skill also adds to an HP’s Attractiveness score: +1 Att per 20 skill points. No idea if this is supposed to be because of the innate attractiveness of clubbable hucksters, or a 'good moral character' bonus, or what. It's either an oversight, or perhaps EGG wants the reader to meditate on the uses and abuses of charisma.

I’m really not all that keen on this skill. It duplicates Deception to no benefit, and is worth mention at all only because the word Charismaticism is a classic Mythus neologism designed to:
  1. make your spell checker cry, 
  2. increase my blood alcohol level, and 
  3. send the Campaign for Plain English into frothing berserker rage.

A page on the basics of making spirits, departed souls, elementals and godlings appear to do your bidding. This is basically the entire Stormbringer RPG magic system compressed into one handy skill.

The Mighty Xagyg is quite unabashed about conjuration’s use of magic circles, pentagrams and thaumaturgic triangles. This gives the skill description a slightly sulphurous whiff reminiscent of the One True DMG, and of the days before TSR ran scared of calling a demon a demon. Whether this as a direct take that! to early 90s TSR, or just Gary doing fantasy magic the way he things it should be done (rooted in real world occultism), is an open question.

The conjurer is able to use his puritan-baiting pentacles to drag all sorts of creature into the physical world according to the table below:

The accompanying text helpfully defines what each of these categories means directly below the table, rather than in another section or book (as is traditional in Advanced Mythus).

Base DR is modified by things as varied as material preparations, bribes/sacrifices offered, use of spirit name (covered under Occultism skill), truename (see Demonology skill), or invoking the spirit’s superior. This whole can of worms is sensibly handwaved with a notice to ‘refer to other skill descriptions’.

Failing a conjuration roll just wastes time and money, but fumbling one is all kinds of (actually defined) bad. At best 1d3 of your expensive spirit-wrangling toys spark and melt like burnt out fuses. At worst the conjured entity (or its bigger, meaner cousin) appear in your pentacle to ask "What’cha doing?"

So, yeah. Caveat invocator.

Once you’ve got a beastie in your pentacle you can torment it with various Conjurer Castings (gained, as usual, per That Table) in order to “...encourage their cooperation”.

As well as all the above there’s a paragraph on Heka generation from Conjuration; another para’ on the implements, material magica, rites and writings necessary; and a note that you can make the physical items into Conjuration-specific Heka reservoirs if you like. Pretty comprehensive then.

Conjuration cross-feeds to, and is cross-fed by, the Sorcery skill at 10%, which I think is the first cross-feed we’ve seen this week. There’s also a passing mention of sub-areas in this skill, but whether this refers to the types of creature summoned, or is just an erroneous reference that sneaked past the editors, is unclear.

Would you use this skill for a Classic D&D game? Maybe, if the ‘summon-and-bind in pentagrams’ aspect of fantasy is a thing in your setting, and the ‘one spell, one entity’ system of Carcosa isn’t to your taste. It’s certainly more flavourful than the ‘fire and forget’ monster summoning/planar patsy spells of modern (WOTC) D&D.

Runecasting, gut-gazing, tea-leaf gawping, daphnomancy (divination by burning laurel leaves apparently *gluk gluk*) and the like are all covered by this skill. Divination is somehow distinct from the - superficially almost identical - Fortune Telling skill in ways that elude me.

There are no sub-areas: you either know divination, or you don’t. If you know divination you gain Heka, have access to Diviner Castings per That Table, ~and~ you can demand that the GM ‘clue you’ by reference to an annoyingly overcomplicated divination sub-system.

The better part of a page is spent on the particular mechanic in question. Most of this text defines the modifiers to skill DR a character will have to take to get answers to various degrees of question (from simple ‘yes/no’ up to actual useful information) from their GM.

Oh, wait. No, I got that wrong. The actual wording is that “...the GM should always secretly make the HP’s divination rolls.”

... Right ...

So basically the already-busy GM has to spend actual time, effort and skull sweat pixel-bitching difficulty modifiers to a behind the screen roll which should be a simple “Do I let them know this? (Y/N)” binary decision. That’s just...

*wipes froth from mouth*

I do not like this skill. It is an over-fiddly mess, nothing that D&D’s commune and contact other plane spells didn’t do better a decade-and-a-half earlier. Divination belongs in an unmarked grave along with Buffoonery.

Exorcism is the arcane art of evicting unwelcome (and usually foul-mouthed) boojums from people, animals or objects. Distinct from Apotropaism in that Exorcism is getting unwelcome visitors out of people/places once they’re in, rather than keeping them out in the first place.

The 2+1/2 pages(!) of rules for the Advanced Mythus exorcism mini-game seem to be modelled on actual Catholic exorcism. I’m not sure if this is a function of Gary having seen The Exorcist right before writing the skill description, or of the man’s active Christian faith. Could be either/neither/both.

A possessing creature will be of one of nine degrees, and the more powerful the creature, the harder it is to shift. The Difficulty Rating of getting an unwelcome visitor out of their current vessel is modified by:
  1. the nature of what they inhabit (human, animal, tree, building, etc.),
  2. what knowledge of the possessor the exorcist has (origin, nature, power, name, place in the arcane hierarchy, etc.),
  3. the relative power of the exorcist and possessing spirit.

Fortunately the skill description has a bunch of tables furnishing us with all this information. Look! There’s one of them now:

There are nine steps to the process of exorcism, although the first six are really just actions performed with ritually prepared (and possibly Heka infused) items. First off the possessed is botherized with: candles, symbol, fumigant, wash, incense, and consecrated oil, in that order. The better part of a page is devoted to the exact details and requirement of these items.

Preliminary nuisance tickling over with, steps 6-9 of the interloping entity eviction process are: naming, rebuking, and reciting the rites of exorcism. This is when the investment of time, effort and Heka pays off, and actual skill rolls are made ... At least, I think that's what happens:

Nope. No idea. It’s probably Enochian or something...

What happens to spirit, vessel and/or exorcist as a result of the exorcism is determined by reference to yet another table. The specially unpleasant effects for Fumbling are buried tastefully out of sight in the accompanying text.

As well as providing hours of exegetic and number juggling entertainment for anyone who takes the skill, Exorcism also generates Heka and allows access to Exorcist Castings (per That Table). There are no sub-areas or cross-feeds to other skills.

Is the Exorcism skill retrievable for use in a non-Mythus game? Well, although chunky the skill description isn’t as egregiously offensive in its mechanics as, for example, the Divination skill. The stuff that's there generally makes sense in context. These rules might be usable for Call of Cthulhu or other modern horror RPG that needs an exorcism mini-game, but they're way more complicated than I personally would ever use for Classic D&D.

Fortune Telling
The Fortune Telling K/S Area is the art of divination by card reading, phrenology, palmistry, runes and/or tealeaves. It is not to be confused with the Divination K/S area, which is the art of fortune telling through card reading, phrenology, palmistry, runes. It is likewise not to be confused with Victorian railway engineers Robert Ste(v/ph)enson.

Unlike Divination, Fortune Telling gets sub-areas:
  1. Cartomancy (inc. Tarot)
  2. Palmistry and Phrenology
  3. Runes (inc. I-Ching)
  4. Tea Leaf Reading
One sub-area only until you get to 41 STEEP in this skill, then you can pick a second (or specialise if you hate yourself...).

Fortune Telling is yet another ‘roll to clue me’ skill usable at the mercy of the GM. As well as letting you play Gypsy Rose Lee the skill also generates Heka and gives access to Fortune Teller Castings per - yes, you guessed it - That Table.

There is no reason for this skill to exist as something separate from Divination. It is just credulous, lowbrow foretelling in ethnic costume.

Herbalism in Advanced Mythus is not just knowledge of which plants can be harvested for Heka (complete rules in Mythus Magick, available from all good remaindered book stores); it is also the only curative paradigm that actually works on Aerth.

Scientific medicine? *Pshaw!* You seem to be forgetting that science is unreliable hokum. To quote the Alchemy skill description: “Because it contains some concepts of science, this Area is always a difficult and uncertain practise.” (p175). Note that animals are still treated with (non-wootastic) Veterinary Medicine, which may be something to do with them not having souls spirits (again, see the Alchemy skill), but for actual people in Mythus-world it’s nettle poultices and athelas, or nothing. Go figure...

As well as generating Heka and granting access to Herbalist Castings (spells) according to That Table, Herbalism also allows the designated medic character to:
  1. Double Physical healing rate with a “Moderate” (x2) skill roll.
  2. Heal Mental damage at a rate of skill x0.2/day with a “Hard” (x1) skill roll.
  3. Heal Spirit damage at a rate of skill x0.1/day with a “Difficult” (x0.5) skill roll.
  4. Cure disease at double normal rate with a Very Difficult (x0.25) skill roll, or at normal speed with a variable DR.
  5. Immunize against disease with a variable DR, based on rarity of disease.
All ist clar, ja? Goot!

Included for the edification of the reader is a table of DRs by rarity of disease.

The skill description is rounded out with a column of caveats, commentary and general blah blah (also pronounced *gluk gluk* in this part of the world).

As you can see Herbalism manages to tread heavily on the toes of several other skills, simultaneously making Acupuncture, First Aid and Botany (all non-Spirit and non-Heka generating) all feel a bit small in the pants. There's no good game mechanical reason to take any of those three if you have the option of spending skill points in Herbalism.

Would I use this? I suppose Herbalism has its place in a fantasy RPG. You could do worse if you’re going to have non-spell magical healing in your game.

The art of pretending to be someone you’re not. I don’t know why this isn’t just a function of the Disguise or Thespianism (*gluk*) skills, but there you go.

Two types:
  1. Impersonate type of person – base DR “Moderate” (skill x2), 1-2 DR harder if you’ve no clue how they would act, another 2-3 DR harder if impersonating in front of that type of person. Being of the right social class (SEC) or having relevant skills will reduce penalties.
  2. Impersonate specific person – base DR “Moderate” (skill x2), modified as above, and even more if you encounter people who actually know the subject of your imposture. 10% of Buffoonery, Disguise and/or Thespianism skills can be added to skill level where appropriate.
Impersonation cross-feeds to and from Disguise at 10%. Which necessary inclusion leaves us all greatly relieved, I'm sure.

Screwdriver-&-duct tape-o-mancy is a spiritual exercise. Who knew? Ignatius of Loyola missed a trick there: the very concept of Jesuit Father MacGyver would have filled the Protestants of early modern Europe with fear and awe.

Cheap gags aside, there are no actual rules for getting stuff to work when it shouldn’t. Difficulty Rating is too situational to be defined, and the whole mess is dumped in the GM’s lap with the blithe assurance that “’s theoretically possible to jury-rig something with no knowledge of how it works, no tools, and no help whatsoever. (That is, if you can beat a DR of “Extreme”!)

Ah, now I see why this is a Spirit skill: jury-rigging in Advanced Mythus is ‘clap your hands if you believe’ cargo cult engineering, not actual problem solving through deductive reasoning and ingenuity. It's some guy poking around and fixing a machine 'as if by magic'.


Nothing here the old Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World Tinker with Artefacts charts didn't do better.

You can lead people. D&D from its ‘O-’ iteration onward devoted entire sections to the skilled arts of command under pressure. Advanced Mythus gives you a paragraph: six lines of text, no formal rules. This makes Caesar, Alexander and Patton sad pandas, and once again gives the lie to the brag that Mythus is a game “...far beyond any other.

Sub-areas? Skill cross-feeds? “Pwahahaha!!! No.”

In Advanced Mythus terms Magnetism is a form of Hypnotism (q.v.) that works on the Spirit rather than the mind. It is difficult to magnetise the unwilling, or someone who hasn’t already taken their Effective Level in Spirit damage. So it's a case of emotionally abuse, then Magnetise ... I think.

Three possible uses, although poor formatting manages to kludge them together into two text blocks numbered ‘1’ and ‘3’ respectively:
  1. All non-hostiles within 20’ radius regard the Magnetist (Magnetiser? Magnet Monster?) favourably. This requires a skill check vs. “Hard” DR.
  2. If one non-hostile is concentrated on for AT = their SPCap Attribute (*gluk*) they act as if hynotised for 1 hour per 10 Magnetism skill points.  Whether this requires a skill check to effect, or just time, is unclear. Affected subjects can be controlled per a Spirit attack to Subvert (explained in the Combat chapter, but nearest D&D equivalent is the charm spell: ally, not mind slave). No post-hypnotic suggestion is possible, but the person will refuse to believe they were ever magnetised.
  3. Heal Spirit damage equivalent to the Mental damage healed by Hypnosis (1d6 per DR, cause damage on a fumble).

Being a pervy soul-fondler doesn’t generate Heka, surprisingly. Nor does it make you a better Hypnotist, Charismatic, or public speaker in any way.

Would I use this? Not in a game that already has charm, dominate, affinity/antipathy and other such mind affecting spells as standard, and probably not in any game with an existing Hypnotism skill either. It’s just a bit *meh*.

Medicine, Oriental
This is Chinese medicine through a pop culture filter, plain and simple. There’s not even a pretence that the 5,000 year old Indian medical tradition gets a look in. This is Yin-Yang balancing; chakras don’t get a mention. Yoga? That’s for fire-walking and meditation purposes.

Oriental Medicine in Advanced Mythus is largely another palliative care skill. It increases healing rate to "Prime" (which equates to bed rest + medical care AFAICT), also adding 10% of skill level to a regular patient’s disease resistance. The benefits of Oriental Medicine stack with Acupuncture in all instances.

There are no sub-areas, and likewise no skill cross-feeds. Nope, not even to Herbalism, which, IIRC, is a substantial part of Oriental Medicine.

So scientific medicine doesn’t work in Mythus-world, even though First Aid, Veterinary Medicine, Herbalism and now traditional Oriental Medicine all do. Likewise gunpowder can’t be created, but all sorts of bizarre alchemical explosives can. There’s really no consistent internal logic there, just a knee-jerk ‘anything that smacks of lab coats does not belong in my fantasy game’ mentality.


And that one last gripe about the one last skill I have the stomach to sample in one sitting brings us right back round to some of our opening comments far, far above.

Were I a less charitable person, or one prone to edition jihadery or game snobbery, I'd cite this entire section of Advanced Mythus as the bad old gygaxian 'muggles can't have nice things' mentality in action. You know, the same one that unintentionally spawned the linear fighter, quadratic wizards meme, a stick with which D&D was long beaten by its detractors. As I am a generous soul - not a joyless game purity fedayeen - I'll instead call it as an intended authorial focus. It sort of makes sense to expend a lot of words on mechanics about the magic-slinging skills in a game about adventures in a world where magic is a workable substitute for science.

The very specific lacunae in which physics as we understand it just stops working? (western medicine, gunpowder, etc) Sadly, that's Gary falling into the trap of trying to *enforce* the fantastic, rather than making wonder so appealing in itself that resorting to science is perceived as sub-optimal. That's just a little too much "It works like this because it does!" for my tastes. If you're confident in your setting and mechanics you shouldn't even need to roadblock certain non-genre-appropriate options, people will be too busy having fun with all your cool new stuff to miss the same old, same old.

Grumbles aside, this week’s schlep through the skills has been surprisingly rewarding. The first chunk of Spirit skills has the makings of three or four types of specialised wizard class for a fantasy game, as well as a complete exorcism mini-game for modern/historical horror buffs. The dozen-or-so pages interrogated have also been replete with exemplary instances of ‘don’t do it like this’; scattered with jargonic excuses to lubricate the system; and have also given me a little bit of insight into the intended game buried beneath the verbiage and cruft.

Advanced Mythus: an alternate world Ars Magica that got out of hand. (It’s just a shame Ars Magica already existed and was, y'know, better...)

Next Time: more Spiritual exercises, literal and figurative, as we relentlessly grind our way from Metaphysics to Yoga. Who knows, we might even hazard a peek at K/S Area Use for Economic Gain: seven ages of light and fluffy witticisms and sparkling humour.

Pic source: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Metro newspaper Sociological Images, the internet

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Lets Read Mythus pt13

Perhaps inevitably, the curse of 12a struck. Guess who lost his article on Sunday afternoon, and then managed to copy the blank save over his back-up? Who's a clever Chris, eh?

Right now we are deep in the roiling digestive mess that is Advanced Mythus. I do not like it in here: it is dark and gloopy, and there are enigmatic nodules scattered about that belch mysterious mind-warping substances in the faces of the unsuspecting.

What began as a clean, clinical autopsy has turned into something darker and more primal: a chaos-f**ked abomination fathered by Heart of Darkness on Fantastic Voyage, probably with onlooking sweary Muppets. Perhaps some day I will have delved far enough to be restored to a world of light and air and sanity, and will be able to once again perceive the whole of Advanced Mythus as the fat harmless ruminant it is. But now, the beast is the world.

Torturous extended metaphor aside, today I share with those few of our readership who have not yet fled screaming some thoughts on Advanced Mythus Physical Skills, J-Z. The usual rules apply.

You comprehend the esoteric mysteries of bodging (which is actually a skill in itself, not just a pejorative. Who knew?).

Six sub-areas:
  1. Carpentry
  2. Construction (all)
  3. Masonry
  4. Mechanics
  5. Printing
  6. Smithing/Welding
Unlike almost every other skill in the game each sub-area possessed functions at 40% of the skill. So actually worse than skill speciousization specialisation, and with none of the (dubious) benefits of same? How does that make sense? No idea why this skill even exists. Ludo agrees:

“Smell bad!”

Just pay attention in class and get the real skill.

Clown college skill. Rules for ‘roll to flamboyantly not drop things’ spreads over a page or so. We are cautioned that juggler != jongleur. This is nice to know, coz I'm always getting those two types of loud, badly-dressed public nuisances mixed up.

Juggling has sub-areas (I can almost hear Biology, Engineering and the like raging):
  1. Balancing Self and Items
  2. Fire "Breathing" (sic)
  3. Knife (et al.) Throwing
  4. Sword Swallowing
  5. Tossing and Catching of Objects (juggling /per se/)
Balancing and Sword Swallowing are pretty self-explanatory.
Fire-breathing does 1d6 damage and may set someone on fire.
Knife Throwing can be used instead of Combat, Hand Weapons, Missile, adding 1 yard to range per 20 skill points.
Tossing and Catching can be used to snatch missiles out of the air and throw them back according to the following table:

Juggling cross-feeds to and from Acrobatics/Gymnastics by 10%. In an additional wrinkle a player may take 10% of the average of their Juggle + Gym skills and add it to any one of their Criminal Activities or Combat skills.

(This skill description is dedicated to the memory of Juggling, which was recently found beaten to death in an alley by skills unknown.)

As clothwork, but with animal skin. You know every part of turning integument into inventory. The skill description gives construction times for various leather items. Crude shoes or shield cover: 1 day. Good shoes: 1d3+1 days. Leather armour, boots or saddle: 1 week. Cuirboulli: 2 weeks. Might be handy for your game.

Stage magician tricks: "...close up magic, card tricks, prestidigitation, ventriloquism, misdirection and illusions..." Can be used for stealing on a successful check. Treads shamelessly on the toes of the Criminal Activities, Physical sub-areas of Pick Pocketing and Shoplifting/Pilfering (probably as a deliberate distraction tactic...)

You heap up stone, and hit to make pretty. The Construction skill sits there wondering "WTH jackass? That's my shtick." Masonry "...includes the skill of carving inscriptions and decorations in stone, but is far from true sculpture" which implies that EGG never saw a rose window or fan vaulting. Knowing Masonry offers no benefits to finding secret doors (physical or mystical), which seems an odd oversight.

Blue-collar version of Engineering. A bodging skill for things with moving parts. Too plebian for sub-areas.

Mines & Mining
Horny handed 'dig holes to get stuff out of ground' skill. Distinct from Speleology and Subterrenean Aerth knowledge in ways that actually make sense! (Oh be still my beating heart) No sub-areas though, coz mining is all just swinging a pick, innit?

Mountain Climbing
Another terrain bothering skill. Tethered, free-climbing and rappelling. Ascend at 10% walking speed, descend at 25%, or rappel at 'trotting' pace. Once check per BT (30 seconds) during a short climb, or once per 4 hours for extended schleps up Everest.

Useful for Spellsongs (q.v.), or to accompany singing for one's supper.

Seven sub-areas:
  1. A Cappella
  2. Horns
  3. Keyboards
  4. Percussion
  5. Stringed, Bowed
  6. Stringed, Plucked
  7. Woodwinds and Reeds
Each sub-area taken allows you to play one specific instrument.

Perception (Physical)
Noticing things using your senses, modified by your intelligence. This skill is wholly and entirely distinct from Perception, Mental; which is the knack of noticing things with your mind, modified by your senses. ...
Nope. Me neither.

Four sub-areas:
  1. Noticing
  2. Hearing
  3. Searching
  4. Tracking

The sub-areas are basically belt-and-braces copies of other skills or sub-areas. One difference is that Physical Perception, Tracking is defined as understanding how and why a person/creature moves where they do, rather than spotting spoor. Physical Perception, Tracking: "He should be over there", Tracking/Hunting skill: "Told ya so." Far too fiddly for my tastes.

Police Work
Hateful anachronism, just like the Criminology skill (see LRM pt 10 for that rant).

Four sub-areas:
  1. Stakeout
  2. Shadowing
  3. Interrogation
  4. Evidence Analyzing
Sun-areas 1-2 should just be usages of hiding and sneaking. Interrogation should just be Influence, Persuasion with menaces. Evidence Analyzing is a function of those otherwise worthless science skills. I know Cadfael (CSI: Shrewbury Abbey) was already a thing in 1992, so there’s no excuse for this skill.

You can squidge ink onto pages and have it make words and pictures, because you have the clever. You can also abuse this skill to forge documents, which makes Criminal Activities, Forgery sad.

The traditional 'make enslaved dumb animal carry your lazy biped ass' skill: "...when riding you receive your mount's/draft animal's movement rate and don't expend a lot of energy walking." One of the skills everyone gets, because all humans are exploitative monkeys.

Seven sub-areas:
  1. Horses, Mules and Asses
  2. Camels
  3. Elephants
  4. Racing
  5. Difficult/Unbroken Animals
  6. Mounted Combat
  7. Teamstering
Racing uses the Gambling mechanic, although why it's a sub-area in itself instead of just "resolve races using the Gambling mechanic and your Ride skill" is unclear.

Mounted Combat limits attack ability to Riding skill, but adds height advantage bonus to attacks. I have no idea how the two interact. Is height advantage bonus to weapon skill capped by Riding, or is it situational? We are not told. As Riding skill is a function of SEC you can expect upper class people to regularly beat your peon self from a great height.

We're also given a helpful table of sample trotting/running speeds so we don't need to refer back to the equipment section. Camels can't trot, apparently.

Operate ship, also navigating by sun, moon and stars (Why does the Navigation skill exist again?) No sub-areas, which is perfectly fine: it's not like ships are the most complex and diverse machines ever devised by pre-industrial man, or like ships and seamanship are integral parts of some of the greatest adventure stories in the canon of human story-telling. ("Rassa-frassa mid-western landlubber.")

Bend metal to your will. No rolls necessary, as banging on something will always make it do what you want eventually.

*pffft* Where's the skill in that? It's just a matter of time and repeated hitting.

No sub-areas, probably for some zen 'all metal-bashing is one' reason. Similarly no skill cross-feeds, not even to some of the Arms and Armour sub-areas you might think were related. Smithing/Welding adds to Heka, which gives me a new respect for the arcane knowledge possessed by MIG/TIG/dog welders.

Exploring and mapping caves without "...getting lost, falling, or running into pockets of poison gas." Completely distinct from Subterranean Aerth in that there are no cheesily named sub-areas: you either know caving, or you don’t.

Sublimated aggression displays, beloved of philosophers and the less academic kids.
  1. Mounted Individual Sports
  2. Mounted Team Sports
  3. Individual Non-Violent Sports
  4. Individual Violent Sports
  5. Team Sports
Mounted Individual = racing, hunting, jumping, jousting, etc. Would be less irritating if the Riding skill on the same page didn't already cover these. Cross-feeds 10% to and from Riding, which just heaps on the annoying.
Mounted Team = polo, buzkashi, pig-/peg-sticking, and such. Cross-feeds 10% to and from Riding.
Individual Non-Violent = tennis, golf, track-and-field, and about 90% of all other sports. Consult your GM for skill cross-feed.
Individual Violent = boxing, wrestling and "mock combat afoot". Sheer completism when Combat, HtH, Non-Lethal already exists.
Team Sports include lacrosse and "team mock combat". Cross-feeds Combat, Hand Weapons " the usual 10%." Fear the netballists!

Subterranean Orientation
Direction sense, like a pigeon. Also works above ground. Waste of words: Navigation already has a 'natural compass' ability.

This skill makes me both sad and angry. Surveillance/Security, is "...used when guarding or protecting an item from theft, acting as a bodyguard, or monitoring an area to prevent intrusion..." WAAHARGLBARGL! These are already covered by Perception checks, or by using stealth skills in opposed rolls, surely? You don't need a separate 'guard thing' skill! High skill level here apparently serves to "...negate Total and Natural Surprise"; a whole new area of (unexplained) Advanced Mythus mechanical jargon for us to toast.

Roll to not die of exposure/starvation/thirst/own stupidity in the wilderness. It's explained that arctic survival != desert, jungle or island survival, but apparently this isn't sufficiently important a distinction to merit sub-areas. We're informed that surviving indefinitely in a non-native environment would require a skill of 61+, which is (referring back to the skill level table on page 70) "Pioneer-level knowledge and mastery. Past-master skill." little short of Nobel prize skill.

I think you misheard me Edward. I said 'past mastery', not... Oh, never mind.

Swim speed is 25% walking pace, or up to 75% if you push yourself. This seems ...generous. Diving allows you avoid falling damage when dropping into water, according to the following table:

Increasing difficulty per 10 feet. Now where have we seen that before? *cough* monk *cough*

Pass = no falling damage
Fail = half normal falling damage
Fumble = falling damage is if hitting a solid surface

A column of 'resist alcohol/drug/poison by flexing' rules. I have no idea how the 'delay effect' rule of Tolerance interacts with Advanced Mythus other poison rules.

Because "save vs. poison" is just nonsensically simplistic.

Tourism skill. No, really. From the book:

This skill is just a *horf* of over-generalised hot nonsense which treads on the toes of several existing skills. Etiquette, Geography/Foreign Lands, Sociology/Culture (and arguably History, Law, Politics, etc.): all rendered worthless by one over-general catch all skill.
"Expert? Hah, your years of study and exploration are worthless in the face of my Lonely Hipster guide!"

Weapons, Special Skills
Specific tricks you can perform with weapons. In effect, 3E feats - specifically the crappy Fighter-only ‘pay to perform your class role’ ones - a decade early. Nothing you haven’t seen in RQ, WFRP, RoleMaster, etc.

Four sub-areas:
  1. Florentine
  2. Fast Draw
  3. Specific Target
  4. Blind Fighting
You know one trick per 25 skill points, and can apply it to one weapon skill sub-area per 10 skill points. Thankfully we’re offered a worked example, as the wording on how and when sub-areas are gained is less than optimally clear:

Florentine: two-weapon fighting. Base Attack Chance (or ‘Attack Bonus’ in Gamer Phoenician) is limited to the lower of weapon skill and Florentine skill. Ambidextrous people have no use for this sub-area.
Fast Draw: roll vs. a DR (varies by location of weapon) to draw weapon at no initiative penalty. Bit *meh*. I can see a way to make a fun fast-draw/iaijutsu mini-game out of this using the gambling rules. Gary seemingly couldn’t.
Specific Target: called shot. Roll to hit, then roll against this skill, to hit a specific body part. Fail on this skill means a roll on some Hit Location Table at +20, with 100 or more being a straight miss. I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the Advanced Mythus hit location mechanics to decide if this ‘trade miss chance for greater accuracy’ effect is a worthwhile skill or not. Fading Suns’ Accenting rules did this better.
Blind Fighting: make a skill check at a DR of Hard (x1) or harder to ignore darkness/blindness penalties for 1d6 rounds.


And there we have the Advanced Mythus Physical skills. As a Frenchman might say, with a particularly world-weary Gallic shrug and a draw on his Galloise: "ça existe."

This week’s trawl has not been a pleasant experience. Endless infuriating duplication, repetition and redundancy in skills; clumsy wording and opaque phrasing; and occasional claymore mines of poor design waiting in ambush. Little found here would be useful without enough rework to constitute starting from scratch.

Perhaps I should make the stretch to attempt a Mythus version of the D&D is always right thought experiment: but I just can't do it. Lord knows I’ve tried, but the assumptions and internal logic informing the design choices behind Advanced Mythus skills are so far removed from my own ingrained preferences that it’s like trying to comprehend the mores of an alien culture: weird, vertiginous, and sometimes a little nauseating. I like to think I’m a pretty broadminded guy, but I’ve almost lost count of the number of times reading this section has reduced me to "Why? Why would you even say/think/do that?" bewilderment in recent weeks.

Appraisal:14 sub-areas
Never forget

Next Week: we enter the rarefied world of Advanced Mythus Spiritual Skills, including the Gygaxian take on Metaphysics, Painting as spiritual exercise, and no less than 13 appearances by Featured Very Special Guest Star *That* Table. The madness commences next Monday with no less than 3+1/2 pages on Alchemy.

Pic Sources: Dangerous Journeys Mythus rulebook, Quenched Consciousness tumblr, Muppet Wikia,, teh intarwubz
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