Pyramid Review: #3/38: The Power of Myth

When I took a look at the most and least seemingly popular/favorable Pyramid issues since the magazine’s third incarnation, a few issues on the bottom were very poor sellers, but really gave no indication of why. I wanted to revisit each of these and do an article-by-article review, in the same manner that I reviewed Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay or Pyramid #3/61: Way of the Warrior. While those links go to the root articles, so to speak, every individual article got it’s own post.

This starts the series on The Power of Myth.

Contents

The issue starts of with the mission statement of hitting up pieces of myth, in the general and specific sense, that you can’t just go look up on Wikipedia or Google. So by design, this one was going to be a bit esoteric.

The article titles are:

THE GOLDEN GENIZA OF EZKALI, by Matt Riggsby
SEVEN MYTHICAL ARTIFACTS FOR DUNGEON FANTASY by Antoni Ten Monrós
EIDETIC MEMORY: BABA YAGA by David L. Pulver
THE JOURNEY OF THE DEAD by Kyla Ward
THE BEAR MYTH by Alan Leddon
BABYLON RISING by J. Edward Tremlett
ART OF PROPHECY by Megan McDonald
RANDOM THOUGHT TABLE: MYTHING AROUND by Steven Marsh, Pyramid Editor
ODDS AND ENDS featuring Murphy’s Rules

So seven “meat” articles, plus the usual bookends setting up and closing out the issue.

One thing that strikes me is that while I know four of these guys well, I’d not really heard of Kyla, Alan, or Megan before (surely my fault, not theirs; I’m darn sure they haven’t heard of me).

My first impression, on reading the table of contents, is that I have no idea what the feature article is going to be about. None whatsoever. Matt dutifully explains what a Geniza is right away in his introductory paragraphs, but my first impression is that 9 of 37 content pages, perhaps 25% of the entire issue, are a total unknown, giving no hint what I might be paying for.

OK, then boom . . . seven cool toys for DF. If I play DF (and I do), this one is surely going to have some value to me, though one might wonder if they’re going to be too high powered for general use. Still, it plays down the middle of the plate for the best-selling genre in GURPS (and in RPGing, for that matter).

Eidetic Memory: Baba Yaga. Having not really heard much about Baba Yaga until reading the article, this one wasn’t an instant draw for me.

The Journey of the Dead? Hmm. OK. Maybe.

As a matter of fact, way, way more than maybe. This was my favorite article in the issue, but I’ll get to that later, when I do the detailed review.

The Bear Myth. I expect something having to do with Native American folklore here (and as it turns out, it’s a lot more than that).

Babylon Rising. Intriguing and inviting title. Makes me want to read it.

Art of Prophecy. I’m going to guess at this point that it has something to do with how to deal with destiny and foreshadowing in games, which if true, will be a really neat article if done well. Something like an RPG with so very much player agency (if done right) makes the whole destiny thing hard to pull off. After all, when you steer players to a particular place, people scream railroading pretty fast.

So would the table of contents have drawn me in if I hadn’t already had a subscription? Possibly not.

Now, granted, compare with Pyramid #3/57, which is only four issues old. I’m a gun nut, so this would have been a sale from the title alone. But even without it, you get 12 pages of modern gear, 2 pages on magic bullets, something clearly game-mechanically related, two articles on what looks like a particular type of gun, and the intriguingly titled “The Devil’s Chariot,” which is entirely evocative. And written by Hans, so double win.



The average number of non-subscription sales for a Pyramid issue after the first few months have passed is 260. The standard deviation of that is about 70. So anywhere between 190 and 330 sales, and the middle half of all those stable issues spans between 190 and 310 copies sold. Pyramid #3/38 has sold 182 copies (which is actually one more than when I did the analysis, so the long tail is thin, but real!). So it’s lingering at the top of the bottom.

I’ll give away the ending before I review each article. I think this one has some hidden gems in it, notably The Journey of the Dead.

What I’m going to do is rate each issue as follows:

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Did the article draw me in, was it well organized, and did it the writing engage me and make me want to (a) read it, and (b) finish it? A score of 0 means that the writing didn’t get in the way. -2 would be that the writing or organization detracted from the work, and 2 is something that was notable as something enjoyable to read, much less use. Honestly, +Steven Marsh is a good editor, and the articles that will make his cut aren’t likely to be detractors from the work. I reserve “dear God this is awful” as a potential scoring, but I don’t expect to use it much for Pyramid.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: This category is all that is good when one says “fluff” in a GURPS context. The things that make you go “a ha!!” about a rule (but not the rule itself), or a background that is rich and vibrant and tactile. Concepts that can be mined for goodness and inspire adventures, campaign arcs, or worldbuilding. A 0 here contains little that really drives the use of things – a rule that doesn’t solve an actual problem or enable enhanced narrative, an adventure that requires insertion into a very specific setting that isn’t common. A 4 is “I want to use this, run this, and my gaming is better for having read it, much less imported it into my game.”

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: This is the ability to go from paper to game with minimal effort and pre-work. Things you can drop right in, start using right away, even in an existing campaign, that enhance without nerfing existing stuff? That’s a 4. Articles that are maybe awesome, but will require rebuilding an entire world around them, or can’t be used without wrecking the existing rules, or require four other issues of Pyramid or e23 supplements that aren’t really “core” to use? Closer to zero.

With that, we’ll get into the first article . . . in the next post!

One thought on “Pyramid Review: #3/38: The Power of Myth

  1. This was originally posted elsewhere; in response to someone else, so it will be out of context. However, it does contain some of my personal feelings on why some Pyramid issues may not sell well.

    "I make no secret about the fact that I really like GURPS. It's not that I dislike D&D or the other games that I played before (an still play,) but I had a hard time doing what I wanted to do with them. Somewhere, I actually have a notebook I was using to sketch out a setting. Up until a certain point, it's done in D&D stats; then it switches over to GURPS after realizing that what I was trying to do wasn't really working with the edition of D&D I was playing at the time.

    I remember standing at the local game store looking for a new rpg to try a few years ago. One way or another, my choices came down to either HERO system (unsure of edition) or GURPS 4th Edition. For whatever reason, the GURPS rules were presented in a way that seemed clearer to me upon a quick browsing of the books.

    I do agree with some of what was said by others in that thread though. A lot of the time, there doesn't seem to be much discussion in the GURPS community about non-mechanical aspects of the game. I myself am guilty of that at times, but there have also been times when I've tried to mention an idea on the forums, and it seemed as though I got no feedback. I think, to people who haven't played GURPS, it can give an impression of the game which is tilted in a certain direction. I also think that discussing the game more will make the game more visible. There is a lot of discussion about what the rules are, but not always a lot about how to use them or why someone made a particular decision in how something was used.

    Pyramid has a lot of articles which touch upon that sort of things, but I don't think Pyramid is very visible as a magazine. Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that I catch the occasion reference to it on the forums, even as someone who buys a lot of GURPS, I'd likely not be aware it existed. Typing in http://www.sjgames.com takes you to a website where there is no visible mention of it. To see anything about it, it takes me three clicks: first "store," then "e23," and then "what's new." Even then, I only see it if I scroll down and notice that one of the new releases was a Pyramid issue, and that's only helpful if I'm already aware of what Pyramid is.

    Trying again, I find that I can click "new releases" to find mention of Pyramid after only one click. However, that's only true if Pyramid happens to be one of the more recent releases. Right now it sits on top of the list because of the holiday break and things not being updated as quickly. The fact still remains that I don't see anything about Pyramid upon first visiting the SJ Games website. If I search specifically for Pyramid using Google, I'm taken to a Pyramid specific area of the website, but I already have to know it exists to do that."

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