Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gygaxian Supernaturalism

In preparation for the arrival of some volumes of Gary Gygax's early 90s post-TSR RPG, Mythus -- part of the unfinished multi-genre game called Dangerous Journeys (né Dangerous Dimensions) -- I've been doing some poking around online to find out additional details about the game and its contents. In doing so, I came across this neat little diagram of the multiverse as presented in Mythus Magick (yes, I hate that spelling too).

I have to admit I'm rather taken with this illustration. It has all the hallmarks of the kind of Gygaxian comprehensiveness AD&D had in abundance but moreso -- an awesomely baroque vision of the supernatural world, one that includes a variety of planes and influences. It's complex but evocatively so and reminds me of one of Gygax's greatest gifts, his ability to present a synthesis of a variety of sources and ideas that's somehow more than the sum of its parts. This cosmological diagram is a good example of what I'm talking about and certainly piques my interest about Mythus.

15 comments:

  1. I'm usually right there with you James reminiscing about the 1st generation RPGs, but Mythus was not the game for me when it came out. IIRC the system was all the things I disliked about AD&D squared combined with GDW's traditional boatload of typos and errata.

    I'll be curious to hear your take on DJ/Mythus and where it fits in the the Gygaxian canon.

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  2. I like this diagram! Very interesting, Thanks!

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  3. Who fancies an adventure in the Pan-Probable? ;-)

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  4. It's a hot mess, as far as I can tell. There doesn't appear to be any cohesive vision behind the thing; strikes me more like a bunch of throwaway terms packed together in a schema that doesn't hang together. Not to mention it resembles the AD&D conception of the multiverse (later called the "Great Wheel") very closely (no big surprise there, I guess). I am slightly curious to hear how it is all explained in the text of the game, but not hopeful that it would make any more sense.

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  5. DJ is a dense, poorly laid out and organized mess.

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  6. Funny, I rather like this diagram, as it simplifies the AD&D universe very nicely. It also would allow Gods different alignments to co-exist.

    Clearly, this model was very much part of Gary's extended worldview, as it very much resembles how the planes would be configured in the Gord books.

    Ultimately, I think the genius of Gary was that he did not want to get bogged down in theology but his vision was more grounded in planes not so much as places but altered forms of existance (universes onto themselves). It was Ward's infusion of the DDG that promulagated the idea of another plane being a MegaDungeon which reach its climax of Sutherland's Queen of the Spiders.

    I think if Gary had wrote the conclusion to the Giants/Drow series, it would have Lolth coming over to the material plane rather than characters taking the fight there, as that was more consistant with Gary's dungeons

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  7. The author's insurance underwriter heritage is strong in that one. And all those "Æs" and "-cks" enhanced DJ not at all.

    I'd much rather have cosmology maps like these.

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  8. Yeah, let's face it... EGG was better as the "lead singer" for TSR than he was in his later "solo career". Very imaginative, but a bit unfocused. This schematic epitomizes how he often would systematize something with no real underlying conceptual glue. Like someone once said, "Authors who need editors should never self-publish." People like Mike Carr and other editors of AD&D must've been saints. We've seen it before, we'll see it again. Sigh.

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  9. As much as it pains me to say it, this is one aspect of D&D that never really inspired me. As a matter of fact, I find that these cosmological diagrams actually restrictive. Given my own predilections, Gary's diagrams actually helped turn me away from the game I love for several years. I much prefer the image of planes-as-planets suggested at in the Dwimmermount campaign or planes-as-part of the megadungeon. In my mind, both allow a significant amount more freedom and inspiration than does either this or any other cosmological diagram Gygax ever did.

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  10. For all the good and bad in Mythus, it's funny that people harp on the spelling, terminology, and acronyms. Am I the only one who read the lawsuit?

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  11. Well,

    As far as the cosmology goes, this doesn't describe the individual planes. Planes are made up of many Spheres, and Dimensions make up the planes. This just shows a general structure to follow. In the game, each pantheon has a cosmos similar to what you'd find in mythology, but those various realms can be mapped to these planes. So it's not as restrictive as it seems. There's only about 2 pages regarding this.

    Note that Gary was also kind of in a paradigm shift in mid-creation. He had a list of various "extraplanar races", but then wanted stuff to aim more for strict mythology based on Earth, and got away from creating races such as Dreggals and Demodands. You can kind of see it here.


    I don't know why people pick on the changes in terms either. I can understand not liking AErth, but why not change the terms. Why should Gary, a guy who created games many times, be forced to stick with terms such as hit points, armor class, "character", etc. It's like, EGG created a language, why would people suspect him to just be satisfied with "singing the same old song".

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  12. I think we have to face the possibility that D&D was great because of a lot of things, not all of which Gygax created. Arneson and others seem to be sorely missing from GG's later attempts to create a game to compete with D&D. The dude should have stayed in LA and worked on being a producer (he had a foot and a leg in the door already), helping bring the literature he loved to the big screen.

    As for diagrams of planes and other dimensions, I hate them. Always have. They never had mystique for me, even as a kid. Even then, I knew this stuff was esoteric and abstract and no mortal man could map it out. The guys that could were locked up, gibbering and drooling, in the padded cells of Arkham.

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  13. While I find such maps fascinating, I much prefer a looser and more flexible conception of the other worlds.

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  14. I'm glad the map exists, but I'm afraid it does nothing much for me. I prefer Fludd to Hulse, Regardie or Blavatsky, he tells me more. Maybe cosmologically I'm just a single-conception rather than a massala kinda guy.

    Or maybe, if a multiverse is what's depicted, I want it to not be reconcilable to a 2d map - I want universes to cross-cut through each other, Klein bottle around mundane reality, be incommensurable.

    I'm also wondering what the organizing schema is here - I don't want to write it off as a hot mess, there are clearly continua/axes at work (emotion vs thought, positive vs negative), but I don't know how to use it. Is it a network diagram - can you not get from Empyreal to Nether without going through Yang, Fire/Material and Shadow? Do the concentric ellipses represent "remoteness" or cost of access/travel, like zones on a subway map, or universality of influence, like Fludd's (Pythagoras') spheres?

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  15. I am like James, here. These kind of Gygax dimensional maps are like meat and potatoes to me as far as wonder, insight, and adventure ideas. I remember seeing the original concepts of the outer planes in the PH as a kid and I just couldn't stop staring at them and trying to imagine what it all meant. (Then, as an adult I have become fascinated with the mystical qabbalah and the Tree of Life... so I guess either my brain is wired for this kind of stuff or maybe I was influenced at a tender age!)

    These Mythus maps, while adding certain dimensions of complexity to the Cosmos, actually appear less rigid and deterministic to me than the old D&D versions. They look very open to interpretation to me. And I don't think these maps are trying to claim the multiverse is 2-dimensional... they seem to be trying to show a 3-dimensional concept in two dimensions.

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