Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Initial Mythus Thoughts

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.


  1. I remember looking at this back in the day, and having the same "initial" reaction.

    Of course, I had bought, hook-line-and-sinker, that Gygax was vainglorious, a traitor and has-been, whose departure from TSR was necessary to save the game.

    Therefore, anything with Gygax's name on it was suspect.

    Sadly, the truth was 180 degrees in the other direction.

  2. Speaking as a person who actually played Mythus, I'd say your gauging of the game is dead on. It is overly complex and the terminology really gets in the way—distance measurements in 'rods' and 'furlongs'? Seriously? And that says nothing of the game mechanics themselves, with armor being a prime example of this. I mean, you have a half-page chart listing your armor for vital, non-vital, super-vital and ultra-vital areas (areas which, to my recollection, are somewhat vaguely defined in the first place). And then there is the labyrinthine skill system. I am a gamer who actually LOVES skill systems, but this one was out of control. Many of the skills seemed to overlap in what they did, and some actually gave a bonus to other skills, but that bonus was hidden in the text block and may or may not even be known unless you are REALLY paying attention.

    No, the system itself I didn't much care for, but strangely enough, the game we ran with it was fun. Go figure. What I enjoyed most about Mythus was a lot of the source material pertaining to Gygax's view of a Fantasy version of Earth. I don't know if it is a universal truth, but I always enjoy Gygax's descriptions of things—his creative side—more than I do the mechanics of the systems he's developed.

  3. I still don't understand why people think Gary's terminology changes is instantly seen as "legal".

    In many ways, Gygax remembers the time before RPGs. In the past, there wasn't a common vernacular for creations like character, hit points, armor class, etc. Considering he fact that he also disliked game designers who just copied AD&D terms, I think it's more from a design philosophy that he wanted to re-invent terminology rather than just a legal thing. I have no problem with him using terms such as "avatar" instead of character for LA.

    As for the biggest tragedy of Mythus, I wish they had worked on a robust cyclopedia of creatures. With that, I think the game would have more interest, but the lack of a comprehensive beast book really makes an incomplete game. EGG definitely learned that lesson and Lejendary Adventures had a comprehensive book from the get-go.

  4. I still don't understand why people think Gary's terminology changes is instantly seen as "legal".

    It's the simplest explanation, I expect. Did Gary ever indicate that it was done for other reasons?

    Considering he fact that he also disliked game designers who just copied AD&D terms, I think it's more from a design philosophy that he wanted to re-invent terminology rather than just a legal thing. I have no problem with him using terms such as "avatar" instead of character for LA.

    New terms are fine if they describe new concepts unserved by existing terms and don't hamper comprehension. In nearly every case, I don't think the new terms in Mythus meet either of these criteria.

    As for the biggest tragedy of Mythus, I wish they had worked on a robust cyclopedia of creatures.

    So the bestiary published late in the existence of the game isn't very good?

  5. On the terminology, Gary mentioned both legal and creative reasons, at various points and times. For example, he said he chose non-standard spelling of "Lejendary" in Lejendary Adventures to make it more solid as a trademark. However, he's also said that he just liked to change the terminology to reinforce the differences between the games.

  6. I think you're 100% spot-on in your observation vis-a-vis the Gygaxian 2E mystic, savant, etc. powers and spells. A careful reading of both the Mythus books and Gygax's Dragon articles previewing what was coming in his vision of 2E gives me the inescapable impression that Mythus was a reworking of his 2E material. Even many of the specific terminologies are the same.

    Naturally, I've had reason to do just such an in-depth comparison as of late. But your initial impression is exactly right.

  7. Part of me thinking about making a Mythus 2nd edition with some editing and streamlining. That same part of me also wants to reorganize and edit the AD&D PHB and DMG, so it won't happen.

    I've always thought (for a details heavy game) the armor system was pretty well done. A bit of bookkeeping, but it worked when in practice when everything was on the character sheet.

  8. So the bestiary published late in the existence of the game isn't very good?

    It only contains the more mundane creatures of Aerth and not the beasts and monsters of Phaeree. Worse, the art inside is completely throw-away and terrible, instilling no sense of wonder and excitement like the old 1E Monster Manual.

    It should be noted as well that Mythus was supposed to be modular and that you didn't need to play it in its full complexity. (Although I haven't got around to trying it out yet, so I can't really attest to that.) I know there is a Mythus Prime rulebook floating around out there that is a more basic version of the game, but I never actually picked that up.

  9. I remember hearing years ago at my FLGS someone saying that Mythus Prime is the game that should have been released first, to ease people into the new system. I wouldn't never having read it, myself, but, after reading the two main books (Mythus and Mythus Magick, I think?), I never wanted to touch it again.

  10. From my conversations, it wasn't done deliberately for strictly legal reasons, it was partly for marketing--you can easily trademark new terms, and partly because Gary was just creative.

    Joe's right about connections. You get a lot of hints about concepts that might have been added to the AD&D expansion if things went differently. A lot of the terms that appeared in the Gord books appeared here. In a way, I got closure over the "what might have beens" for AD&D just by reading the book.

    The one Bestiary published is mostly for mundane animals of Aerth. Granted, this includes Dinosaurs and the other lost world creatures, but mostly regular animals. The only really "monster" types are the animals featured in the Subterranian realms. The strategy was to have books dedicated to a classification, much like was going to happen with the Monster Manuals. Unfortunately, the lawsuit and GDW troubles prevented that.

    For your purposes James, unless they are very cheap, I'd stick with reading the monster descriptions in Epic of AErth.

    (I'm gonna disagree about the art in the Bestiary though, as I found it acceptable and it's definitely not as amateurish as some of MM1s entries.)

  11. I was fairly disappointing by Mythus, but I sure will appreciate you dredging through its murky depths and uncovering any hidden gems. I couldn't get past the awful production values, the poor printing and low quality binding to even enjoy anything the mighty Gygax had written.

  12. I’d agree that it probably wasn’t for legal reasons; if it was, he wouldn’t have used exact copies of other things from D&D in the game.

    Take a look at the various equipment lists. The available livestock are exactly the same—right down to the songbird. Others are very similar. Of especial interest is the clothing table. It’s exactly the same—except that the DJ list is longer. The clothing list in both the PHB and DJ is in alphabetical order; the DJ list is the PHB list; the extra clothing is added at the end of the PHB list.

    Even the footnotes to the weapons list are very similar.

    The socioeconomic class table and the unknown device operation flow chart are also very similar to the AD&D versions.

    Now, it’s true that tables/lists aren’t protectable—but neither is terminology. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that he’d change one for legal reasons but not the other (especially not even bothering to resort the equipment list even though he was adding to it).

  13. Newton was an amateur and gamer who applied to work with Gary. I think he worked originally on computer games. I love Mythus, by the way, though I've never played it.

  14. You got it yesterday, and the same day had already partly read it!?

    Damn, you have more free time to read than most people I know.

  15. I posted on this subject here-


    under the name Shalaban.

    If you are interested you should check it out!