Michael Root very kindly sent me a copy of the Mythus RPG Gary Gygax wrote (with Dave Newton, someone I've never heard of) and GDW published in 1992. As I mentioned before, it's a game I read parts of when it was first released and hadn't given much thought to until recently. At the time it was released, it seemed to me like an overly complex rehash of many of the same ideas found in AD&D and, seeing as I was already tiring of AD&D in 1992 (about which I'll talk more in a later post), I didn't think give it a lot of thought.
Re-reading it more carefully since I received the book -- and I'm still only a portion of the way through it -- I'd say that my initial reaction was at least partially correct. It most certainly is overly complex, a fact made worse by Gygax's use of non-standard terminology for even basic game concepts. (Yes, I understand why, given TSR's legal vendetta against Gary, this was the case, but I just can't forgive "heroic persona" as a replacement for "player character.") Likewise, it also is something of a rehash -- perhaps a more charitable way of saying it would be "further development" -- of ideas found in AD&D. However, in 2010, I see the latter as a virtue, whereas I didn't in 1992.
Mythus is, in many ways, a glimpse into Gygax's post-Unearthed Arcana thoughts on game design and fantasy. While I don't think it's reasonable to suggest that what we see in Mythus is what we would have gotten in a Gygaxian 2e, I do think that a lot of what we see in its pages are at least partially derived from material Gygax was considering for inclusion in his version of 2e. To cite but one example, reading through its treatment of magic, I found myself seeing material that likely would have seen use in his never-published mystic, savant, mountebank, and jester classes. That's pure gold for anyone interested in the idiosyncrasies of Gary's vision of fantasy.
And there's lots of stuff like this scattered throughout the book, which is primarily what makes reading through the book palatable. I am reluctant to say this, but I don't think, as a game, Mythus is all that interesting. Gygax has not, as Lester Smith boldly proclaims in the editor's preface, "outdone his earlier work" with Mythus. I don't feel any burning desire to play this game the way I did after reading Chivalry & Sorcery (a feeling that, to be fair, quickly subsided but was nevertheless real). Indeed, I'm not 100% convinced that one could play Mythus as presented.
But that doesn't really concern me. What's vastly more fascinating are all the gems of Gygaxian creativity and insight to be found in nearly every section of the rulebook, things that reflect his enlarged notion of fantasy and fantasy roleplaying. Not all of it is to my liking by any means but it never ceases to be fascinating. Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting several of the sections in the book that I find particularly worthwhile. I suspect others will find them just as fascinating as I do.