Sunday, August 31, 2014

Optional Characteristics in Man, Myth & Magic


As discussed previously, characters in Man, Myth & Magic have six basic characteristics:  Courage, Endurance, Intelligence, Skill, Speed, and Strength.  The sum of their values equals the amount of 'Life Points' that a character possesses – the amount of physical harm the character can sustain.  So, everything else being equal, smarter people are more durable than dumb people.  As a game mechanic, I don't have a problem with this.  Someone who has bought into the concept of Leprechauns, gladiators, Zen mystics, and Egyptian sorcerers reincarnating into one another cannot decry a lack of realism.  Regardless, determining Life Points by adding together all of the basic characteristics is a simple and convenient notion.  Also, beginning characters will tend to have similar Life Point totals; each added characteristic means a closer approximation to the “average.”  So, using all of the basic characteristics for Life Points helps to balance characters.

The rules do not explicitly define most of these basic characteristics, but they are largely self-explanatory – especially for people versed in RPG terminology.  'Skill' is an exception; it means something different for each character type.  For warriors, 'Skill' is combat training.  For sorcerers, it is magic proficiency; for merchants, it is salesmanship.  Let's take two hypothetical characters who have the same basic characteristic values as each other.  One is a warrior and the other is a merchant.  To the same extent, their 'Skill' contributes to their respective Life Point totals.  Some of the warrior's Life Points are due to combat training.  Fair enough, but the merchant has the same number of Life Points because he can get a good deal on a rug.  Perhaps instead of considering the effect of the Skill, we should interpret the talent and/or determination inherent in the Skill to be a metaphysical 'source' of Life Points.  If you don't buy that argument, just tell yourself, “Leprechauns.”

Book II of Man, Myth & Magic contains a section detailing various 'optional characteristics' that may be used “to increase the depth of your characters.”  The are typically expressed as percentile scores.  (Incidentally, the MM&M notation for percentile dice is “2d20%.”  This is a testament to the old-school nature of the game.  Back in the day, we didn't have ten-sided dice; we had twenty-sided dice numbered 0 - 9 twice – and we were grateful.)  The optional characteristics do not influence Life Points; however, as mentioned before, some optional characteristics – most notably Agility, Dexterity, Sight, and Throwing – provide modifiers when using certain weapon types.

The Luck optional characteristic is not represented as a percentage.  Instead, a die is rolled generating a result from 1 to 10. Modifiers are applied and the total is divided by three.  This is the number of times per adventure that the player may re-roll a result (or cause a roll made against the character to be re-rolled).  “Luck may not be used to offset death caused by a natural dice roll of 100...”

Height determination is a flat distribution.  'Normal' humans can be anywhere from 4' to 6'6" at intervals of 2" except that 4'4", 4'10", and 5'2" are skipped without explanation.  Leprechauns can be either 3'6" or 4' and Anakim have their own table ranging from 6'6" to 7'3".  The roll for Weight is determined by indexing a percentile die roll on a Height chart.

Many of the optional characteristics are shown in the “LM'S LIST OF CHECKING DICE ROLLS” graphic above.  This list is found on the back of the “ADVANCED CHARACTER STATISTICS SHEET” for ease of reference.  A successful roll means rolling high in some cases and rolling low in others and the distinction is not intuitive (or else there wouldn't be a need for such a list).  For Hearing, a successful roll is higher than the value but, for Sight, a successful roll is lower than the value.  Is consistency too much to ask for?  Incidentally, the only other 'sensory' characteristic is Senses which “represents a players [sic] ability to sense danger or trouble.”

Characters (in the AD 41 setting) “are assumed to speak their native language and Latin...Roman characters are assumed to speak Latin and Greek.”  The Language optional characteristic determines the chance a character can speak a third (and possibly a fourth) language.  The Read & Write optional characteristic determines if a character is literate (must have a score of at least 70) and – if so – with how many languages.

The “Player Characteristics Modifiers Table” takes up a complete page and provides basic and optional characteristic modifiers for each of the classes/nationalities.  (The Egyptian Trilogy provides an equivalent table for the 1375 BC setting.)  Fewer than half of the classes/nationalities have basic characteristic modifiers less than –5 or greater than +5.  Gaulish Merchants have no modifiers for basic characteristics so I assume they represent the 'average' of humanity.  Optional characteristics are more likely to have modifiers in the range of ±10, ±15, or even ±20.  Spellcasters tend to have a positive modifier for Luck and no class has a negative modifier for Luck.  An Egyptian Merchant has a +15 modifier for Woods Knowledge (bad) while a British Druid has a –15 modifier (good).  In contrast, the same Merchant has a –10 modifier for Desert Knowledge (good) and the Druid, a +10 modifier (bad).

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 compounded...is 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.