Every Pyramid issue contains an installment from +David Pulver, in the column entitled Eidetic Memory. Despite being the author of such books as Vehicles and Spaceships, David’s gaming interests are wide and eclectic, and since he has to write to each issue’s theme, I very much get the feeling that he lets himself play with each column a bit.
This article is one of the reasons that feeling solidified. It presents Baba Yaga, a figure from Slavic folklore, with a seriously warped backstory.
Grey Hag of the Forest
Baba Yaga is not a mystical witch. She’s the offshoot of alien experimentation with human/Grey hybrid children looking to instill psionic powers. It takes the core of the legend and extrapolates more high-tech (and insane) root-causes for each bit of the legend.
Baba Yaga (and Baba Yaga’s Hut)
The article then presents Baba Yaga’s stat block, which is the typical dense text that you have to read very closely in order to get the full gist of it. This isn’t David’s fault; it’s the standard SJG/GURPS stat block, but I will admit to finding these nearly impenetrable, unreadable, and I tend to skip over them. And this one isn’t even that long. The DF and Monster Hunter templates are worse, with all the choices. But I digress.
After the stat block, Baba Yaga’s hut is presented in standard Spaceships format. This, on the other hand, I love. It’s very readable, tells you what you need to know, and handwaves the rest. It has a neat TARDIS bit where it’s SM +4 on the outside, but SM +7 on the inside, which should make for a good WTF moment for intrepid adventurers.
Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. While the writing of the main text blocks is information-dense, everything was so matter-of-fact that I was never really drawn into the subject. It turns something mythological into something very technical, and that didn’t work for me. Plus: stat block. Eww. -1 points.
Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: There are some key takeaways from this article that are generically useful for epiphany and inspiration. The first is how to blend myth and technology, and how to look for gaming ideas for a modern game in the lore of the past. The connections made between legendary powers and tech abilities is a useful exercise. I found that connecting the myth of Baba Yaga to the Grey a somewhat novel twist – I didn’t like it, but it was an interesting idea. I didn’t think this one blended well with the issue’s theme, even though the roots were based in an actual myth. 1 points.
Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: Ultimately this article really only works in a very, very specific setting and campaign type, which is no surprise. This premise is excerpted directly from David’s modern-day campaign: “gonzo journalists chasing the unknown.”. If you have a similar campaign setting, or room for this sort of thing in something similar, you have a Big Bad and a novel vehicle. There are some details that can be mined here, but as far as a drop-in, I think you’re going to be hard pressed. 2 points.
Overall: 2/10. I had a hard time walking away from this one with anything fully tangible to grab on to, and the subject matter needed to be interesting a priori to the GM to make the twist on the take even more interesting. Since I didn’t know much (or care much) about Baba Yaga in the first place, the very campaign-specific variation on this theme was not going to grab me.
Would I use it? No. This one would not appear in any of my games, though the connection example of “take some mythology and find the core concept, and explore that” is of some utility.