Sunday, August 24, 2014

Character Classes in Man, Myth & Magic (part III)

Art by Angus McBride

The only Priest class available in the 'original' Man, Myth & Magic setting is Hebrew.  Once per segment, a Hebrew Priest has a 41% chance to “commune with his Deity” thereby obtaining a truthful yes-or-no answer to a question.  Once per adventure, a Hebrew Priest has a chance (based on the character's SKILL) to “work” a miracle.  For purposes of MM&M, a miracle must be expressed as a written statement of no more than twenty-five words and is subject to literal interpretation by the Lore Master.  With a POWER expenditure of only 150 points, a miracle costs less than a Leprechaun's wish.  The class description for the Hebrew Priest explicitly states, “Magical Abilities:  None.”  Regardless, several Hebrew Priest 'spells' are described in the back of MM&M Book II.  The spells are appropriately thematic:  Part Waters, Water from Rock, Manna from Heaven, Fiery Hail, Angel of Death, Pillar of Fire, and Lazarus Lives.  (For the sake of comparison, here are the spells specific to Hebrew Sorcerers:  The Ear of Baalam, Joshua's Tongue, The Eyes of Elija, Walk on Water, The Jug of Gideon, Conjure Cherub, Seeker, Conjure Demon, Sanctuary, and Bridge over Gehenna.)

'Lazarus Lives' is an interesting spell for a game where reincarnation is a primary feature.  At a cost of 30 POWER, the Priest has a 20% chance of restoring life to a character who died that same segment.  If successful, “the Priest loses an amount of POWER Points equal to the restored character's total Life Points.”

In The Egyptian Trilogy 'setting' for MM&M, several other Priest classes are introduced.  (Original MM&M takes place circa AD 41 while The Egyptian Trilogy transpires 1,400 years earlier.)  Specifically, the additional Priest classes are:  Babylonian, Egyptian, Minoan, Philistine, and Sumerian.  With regard to 'magical abilities', the description for Babylonian Priest states, “May not use Spells listed in Grimoire, only Special Character spells for this class.”  Seemingly, this is true of every 'nationality' of Priest, including Hebrew.  The Grimoire consists of thirteen spells “common to all Character Classes having magic as one of their abilities.”  Priests are evidently excluded, as are Apothecaries; some 'magic' classes – like Druid or Harper – don't cast spells per se and others – such as Soothsayer or Astrologer – are 'psychic' rather than magical.  Thus, the classes that have access to the Grimoire are:  Witch-Doctor (African), Leprechaun (Hibernian), Sorcerer (Hebrew and Egyptian), as well as Shaman and Zen Lama (both Oriental).  (It seems that the Zen Lama class has access to the psychic talents as well as the Grimoire spells.)

Only Hebrew Priests are entitled to miracles.  Maybe if the other gods were less stingy with their miracles, their respective religions would have persisted.  Each variety of Priest has its own selection of spells, but instead of invoking miracles, non-Hebrew Priests can craft magic-like items; specifically...
Babylonian:  Can create charms that offset Basic Failure Rate (10 uses)
Egyptian:  Can create a 'Focus' that magic-class characters can use to reduce Basic Failure Rate (10 uses)
Minoan:  With a two week preparation, can enchant a weapon (+1 damage per 25 POWER spent)
Philistine:  Can create an ointment that allows the user to fly
Sumerian:  Can create a personal focus that reduces Basic Failure Rate  (permanent, but costs 50 POWER and takes two weeks)

Instead of being able to commune with their various deities, non-Hebrew Priests have an aptitude with divination – an aptitude shared by Hittite Seers and Sumerian Astrologers.  There are many, many forms of divination; however, MM&M limits itself to nine methods.  In listing the divination types, sometimes the rules use the high falutin' term (e.g., 'hepatoscopy') and sometimes a common descriptor (e.g., 'smoke').  The methods are:  Rhabdomancy (use of divination rods), Incubation (sleeping overnight in a temple), Tarot (a.k.a. Taromancy), Augury (“The study of birds in flight”), Smoke (a.k.a. Capnomancy; +10% chance of success if smoke is narcotic), Dog Howlings (a.k.a. Ololygmancy), Casting Lots (a.k.a. Sortilege), Hepatoscopy (“The study of the liver of an unblemished sacrifice”), and Horoscope.

Aside from Rhabdomancy, which is used “to locate water, oil or a particular type of ore,” and Smoke, which gives “a clue to a future event,” the various divination methods provide a yes/no answer to a question.  For most methods, the question must pertain to the future; however, Incubation allows for “any one question” while with Dog Howlings, the question must regard “another individual.”  Hepatoscopy actually answers six questions and Horoscope, three questions.

The 'Divination Table' shows which classes are capable of performing a given type of divination as well as the POWER cost and Basic Failure Rate modifier.  POWER cost is usually 10 or 15 points, but there are two instances of a 5 point cost and one instance of a 20 point cost.  Modifiers are more often detrimental than beneficial; however, the modifier for Hepatoscopy is beneficial for all classes that can perform it.  An unblemished sacrifice really is the most economical means of gaining knowledge about future events.  The only class that can engage in all forms of divination is the Sumerian Priest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Interview: Stephen Peek

J. Stephen Peek was a game designer for Yaquinto.  He is credited with several board/war games, but more importantly (for purposes of this blog) he was the developer of Man, Myth & Magic and co-developer of The Egyptian Trilogy.  Recently, he was gracious enough to answer a few questions...

Thoul's ParadiseMM&M was Yaquinto's first RPG.  What was the impetus for entering the RPG market?

Stephen Peek:  During this period Role Playing games, (read as Dungeons & Dragons) were rising to dominate the hobby gaming industry.  War games required each player to read and fully understand tedious and long game rules.  Role playing required one player to understand the rules and be the game master.  The rest of the players in the group only had to understand the aspects of their character for the adventure.  Other companies were beginning to compete with Dungeons and we needed a game that allowed us to jump into the market.

TP:  Why did Yaquinto go with MM&M as its first RPG and not some other game/genre (Timeship, for instance)?

SP:  Herbie approached us with Man, Myth and Magic.  We loved the idea that it was rooted in history and ancient mysteries instead of pure fantasy.  Herbie offered us Timeship sometime later.

TP:  You have a “developed by” credit.  In collaborating with Herbie Brennan, how did you influence the game?

SP:  Herbie had created a great game system.  What I tried to do was expand the world in Man, Myth & Magic so that it had a better chance of competing with D&D which had, by that time, an enormous world for gamers.

TP:  The setting for the original Man, Myth & Magic rules was circa AD 41.  The Egyptian Trilogy allowed for campaigns in 1375 BC.  Were there any long range plans to adapt the rules for other times and/or places?  Were there any times and/or places you would have liked to address?

SP:  Eventually Man, Myth & Magic would have allowed players to play in any historical period through the middle ages.  Targets would have been:  The Hollow Earth, Mu, Incas, Maya, a Lost City series and a few others were on the drawing board.

TP:  I doubt you would remember this from thirty years ago, but the nerd in me is compelled to ask.  Page 14 of MM&M Book II states:
Distant Memory is a very important concept in ADVANCED MM&M. It is the key to the ultimate character – a skilled, experienced amalgamation of all classes; and the ONLY character entitled to strive toward the final goal of ADVANCED MM&M.
What was the “final goal”?

SP:  The premise was that once an advanced character died there was a Distant Memory role for his next incarnation.  Only high level characters had a chance of achieving the Distant Memory roll.  If the player did then his next incarnation possessed his own newly created skills plus a percentage of skills from the previous character.

TP:  Several Yaquinto games (including your own Mythology) command respectable sums on E-Bay.  What is the feasibility of reprinting some of these games?

SP:  Zero from me.  Yaquinto was purchased a few years ago by Carte Mundi and I don't think they have an interest in these old games.

Thanks you for your interest.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Character Classes in Man, Myth & Magic (part II)

Art by Angus McBride

Doubtless, the cats pictured above are leopards.  The Man, Myth & Magic livestock table does not list leopards – an unfortunate oversight – but it does list trained cheetahs, the minimum price of which is 300 gold libra.  Although MM&M provides no bestiary, we gain some insight into the capabilities of leopards via the Witch-Doctor spell 'Leopard Man'.  A leopard (or a Witch-Doctor who has turned into a leopard) gets five attacks per turn and causes damage equivalent to a dagger wielded by a human being.  Some other Witch-Doctor spells include:  Pointing Bone (“kill any single mortal enemy” at a cost of 100 POWER), M'Gumbo Sickener (causes 1-100 opponents “to become too ill to fight”), Voodoo Doll, and Zombie.  The special ability of Witch-Doctors is healing; at no POWER cost, a Witch-Doctor has a 31% of restoring 25 Life Points and a 4% chance of re-attaching severed limbs.  According to the class description, “the Witch-doctor is something of an Apothecary” and “Any poison or death magic exceptionally potent.”  However, there are no other details in the rules about this.  Similarly, the description states that the Witch-Doctor “is something of a Warrior,” but there is nothing that elaborates upon this.

Aside from the Witch-doctor, the other class exclusive to the African 'nationality' is the Wisewoman.  Like the Sibyl, only a female character can be a Wisewoman.  The prime ability for Wisewomen is 'healing'.  They can form a healing compound with only “the flower of any plant” and “the root of any other plant.”  The compound takes five minutes to prepare and it must be applied immediately afterwards.  One Life Point is restored for each point of POWER the Wisewoman invests.  Due to “the very ancient Feminine Tradition of Prophetic Lore,” a Wisewoman has an 11% chance of issuing an accurate prophecy “only in [a] segment following consumption of the yarrow herb.”  Also, Wisewomen can craft charms like the Apothecary classes, including a charm exclusive to Wisewomen – a Love Token.

In MM&M, the primary ability of the Druid is something called “The Four Strange Arts.”  According to Herbie Brennan, “No-one is quite sure whether the Four Strange Arts are strictly speaking magical, or purely scientific.”  The Four Strange Arts are:
Stone Lore – “This enables the Druid to set fire to stone which will then burn fiercely until all immediately available stone is consumed” or until the Druid wants it to stop.
Tree Lore – For ten POWER points the Druid can receive a truthful 'yes or no' answer to a question put forth to a tree (which must be at least six feet tall).  This assumes, of course, that the answer is “within the tree's knowledge.”  If the tree is an oak (and the Druid spends a total of 25 POWER points), a response not in excess of twelve words is possible.
Stellar Lore – “A form of astrology” which allows the Druid to obtain a 'yes or no' answer about the future.  This costs fifteen points of POWER per question.
Mekhenesis – Apparently, this “is the old term for hypnosis.”
Regardless of their magical or scientific nature, Druids lose “all abilities in the Four Arts for three segments following a solar eclipse.”

The prime ability of the Philosopher class is 'information retrieval'.  At a cost of fifteen points of POWER, a Philosopher “can attempt to gain information on the essential nature of an artifact, strategy, environment, situation, etc.”  I guess the information comes from the Philosopher's own mind, specifically a combination of memory and deduction.  Yet what does “essential nature” mean?  Of course – since this is philosophy – we may as well ask what does anything mean?  But what does it mean in terms of in-game knowledge?  What – beyond the obvious – does a Lore Master tell a Philosopher's player once the player makes a successful roll to gain information?  I fear this class may not be well-suited for adventuring.

Slightly less useless than the Philosopher are the Scribe classes.  While scribes were an important part of the ancient world, their potential for thrilling RPG action is rather limited.  The Egyptian Scribe has “a 40% chance of getting the basic gist of any written language.”  The rules specify “one try only.”  Is this one try per language or per writing sample?  The Babylonian Scribe has a chance of memorizing conversations verbatim.  Otherwise, over a period of months, either type of Scribe can attempt to learn to read and write or speak any foreign language.  If you are easily excited or have a heart condition, this may be the perfect class for you.

The primary ability of the Roman Senator class is 'bribery'.  At a cost of five points of POWER, “a Senator is entitled to offer a bribe to any Character.”  The amount of the bribe is determined randomly:  one thousand gold libra times 1d100.  If you don't have the money do you still spend the POWER?  Even with the money, the Senator must succeed with a roll; if failed, the unsuccessfully bribed “Character will immediately attack the Senator.”  Senators also have a 71% chance of obtaining “any reasonable item required by the party.”  The item appears in the segment following the segment in which the roll was made.  Finally, for 25 POWER points, “a Senator may take charge of a friendly party and lead them in a given direction whether they wish to go there or not.”

The Hibernian Harper class has 'music' as its prime ability.  A Harper has four special abilities, all of which require the Harper to have a working harp in his or her possession.  First, once per segment, a Harper has a 36% chance of sending a message of no more than twelve words to any other Harper.  Second, once per segment and at a cost of twenty points of POWER, a Harper may attempt to send a message of no more than six words to any character regardless of distance.  Third, at a cost of twenty-five points of POWER, a Harper may attempt to transport any character “physically to another dimension of reality” until the end of the segment.  Although not stated, I suppose the target character must initially be in the Harper's presence.  Fourth, a Harper can play a “LOVE SONG.”  Each character within fifty feet has a 45% of being well-disposed towards the Harper “and will not attack him [or her] under any circumstances.”  However, there is a 45% chance that “any affected Characters...will fall in love” with the Harper.  Such are the perils of being a musician.

Perhaps the oddest class in MM&M is the Leprechaun.  According to the rules, “There is still considerable controversy about whether or not this Character Class is actually human.”  Their prime ability is 'magic', so they have access to spells common to all spell-casters but they also have access to their own exclusive set of spells:
Fairy Path – The Leprechaun instantly travels in a straight line up to a distance of one mile, “passing through any obstacles, without harm enroute.”
Grant Wish – At a cost of 201 POWER and subject to the approval of the Lore Master, the Leprechaun can grant the wish of another character.
Magic Milk – The Leprechaun can create a “fluid” that can provide combat bonuses to three characters for an undisclosed period of time.
Rainbow Gold – The Leprechaun creates 100 x 1d100 gold pieces that turn into “dried leaves at the end of the segment.”
See in Dark – Self explanatory.
Tinker's Dam – The Leprechaun can block any portal of no greater than ten feet in radius with a metal disk (including a coin).
Luck of the Irish – “Allows the Leprechaun to win any nonphysical wager.”
Shamrock Sleep – The Leprechaun can “turn willing subjects into Shamrocks until the end of the segment.”
O'Brian's Key – The Leprechaun can open any non-magical lock.
The Wee People – The Leprechaun can shrink “any willing person to one-tenth their normal size.”
Abilities that technically are not categorized as 'magical' include the power to sense gold or danger and the Gift of Gab, which gives the Leprechaun a 21% chance to convince a character “to believe any single proposition, however fantastic, for the space of one segment.”  Unfortunately for their players, Leprechauns can disappear from the game for one segment at a time.  At the beginning of a segment, there is an 11% chance that the Leprechaun will disappear.  The Leprechaun will return at the beginning of the next segment and will not have a chance of disappearing again until the following segment.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Inspiration: Thel

Today's inspiration comes from the 1985 TV series Otherworld.  The protagonists are the Sterlings, a nuclear family from Southern California – husband Hal, wife June, teen-aged son Trace, teen-age daughter Gina, and pre-adolescent son Smith.  The Sterlings are visiting Egypt in the pilot episode.  On the day of a rare planetary alignment, they hire a guide to take them into the Great Pyramid.  The guide attempts to extort money from them.  Because they refuse, the guide extinguishes his lantern, abandoning the family in darkness near “the Chamber of Ordeal.”  They inadvertently enter into a “mysterious vortex” and arrive in another world (although they do not realize it at first).

The Sterlings spend hours walking through a desert before finding a road.  The first person they meet is Nuveen Kroll, a 'Kommander' (thus spelled) in the Zone Troopers.  Fortunately, Kroll (like everyone else on Thel) speaks a language indistinguishable from English.  Unfortunately, Kroll is an arrogant jerk and attempts to arrest the Sterlings since they are in a 'forbidden zone' and lack identification papers.  A scuffle ensues and Kroll is rendered unconscious.  The Sterlings leave Kroll and take his vehicle and a crystalline phallic symbol of authority.  They soon abandon the vehicle because they don't know how to control it.  Eventually, they find an inhabited area called Sarlax.

Our protagonists assume they will not be treated favorably if they claim to have gone through a vortex and overpowered some kind of authority figure and stole his possessions.  (This is just the sort of thing player characters would do, only they would do it intentionally.)  So, the family doesn't mention their problems to anyone.  In another instance of good fortune, they fall in with a group of 'new' people.  Playing along, they are assigned vocations and a residence.

After living in Sarlax for a couple of days, the family obtains some information.  Sarlax is one of seventy-seven distinct 'provinces' separated by forbidden zones.  Each province is 'different' but they all more-or-less acknowledge the authority of the city/province of Imar.  This is the result of a series of Unification Wars.

Also, throughout Thel, there are obelisks.  (See the image above.)  Legend has it that – long ago – people from other worlds would come to Thel and follow the trail of the obelisks to Imar.  When they returned to their worlds, “they became kings and sorcerers.”

It turns out that all of the residents of Sarlax are androids, but they have souls.  Androids operate the all-important mines because humans can't tolerate 'Sarlax radiation' for more than a few days.

The family also finds out that the crystal they took from Kroll is a “Class One Access Key.”  It offers “practically unlimited access to power sources, locked doors, information banks, travel...anything.”  As one might expect, Kroll wants it back.  Thus, the Sterlings acquire their very own Inspector Javert/Gerard.  Not only does he pursue the protagonists as a matter of pride, but they have an object he needs to recover.

Thus, the protagonists are subject to what I call a goal/goad motivation.  Their goal (returning home) is to be accomplished by following the 'obelisk trail' to Imar, but there is also the goad of the pursuer.  Theoretically, one can gradually attain a goal or even forgo it altogether; the goad makes this impossible.  If the draw isn't enough, there's the push.  In Otherworld, the fact that the location of the goal happens to be the seat of power of the goad makes things more interesting.

Each week, the Sterlings find themselves in a new province – usually ripe with social allegory.  With Kroll's access key, they are able to establish identities and gain funds.  Any given episode might start with the Sterlings struggling through a forbidden zone or domestically ensconced in a province hardly discernible from a Reagan-era suburb.

The series lasted for only eight episodes.  Some parts were clever, some parts were quirky, and some parts were both.  However similar Thel might seem to Earth, it is a different place.  Frequently, a difference might only be seen or mentioned in passing – taunting the imagination of the viewers.  The ironically named 'Unification Wars' were important, history-shaping events.  The fourth such war occurred hundreds of years ago and included the “Black Mirror Campaign.”  Yet one of the Unification Wars was so recent that Kroll is a veteran.  The differences aren't limited to historical/sociological deviations; the laws of physics don't always conform to 'Earth' reality.  For instance, in “Village of the Motorpigs,” there is a 'photo-comet' that emits light but not heat.

Iconography of the
Church of Artificial Intelligence