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."
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?|
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.
- 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.
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
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*)
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.
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:
- make your spell checker cry,
- increase my blood alcohol level, and
- 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:
- the nature of what they inhabit (human, animal, tree, building, etc.),
- what knowledge of the possessor the exorcist has (origin, nature, power, name, place in the arcane hierarchy, etc.),
- 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.
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:
- Cartomancy (inc. Tarot)
- Palmistry and Phrenology
- Runes (inc. I-Ching)
- Tea Leaf Reading
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
As well as generating Heka and granting access to Herbalist Castings (spells) according to That Table, Herbalism also allows the designated medic character to:
- Double Physical healing rate with a “Moderate” (x2) skill roll.
- Heal Mental damage at a rate of skill x0.2/day with a “Hard” (x1) skill roll.
- Heal Spirit damage at a rate of skill x0.1/day with a “Difficult” (x0.5) skill roll.
- Cure disease at double normal rate with a Very Difficult (x0.25) skill roll, or at normal speed with a variable DR.
- Immunize against disease with a variable DR, based on rarity of disease.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 “...it’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:
- All non-hostiles within 20’ radius regard the Magnetist (Magnetiser? Magnet Monster?) favourably. This requires a skill check vs. “Hard” DR.
- 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.
- 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*.
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