Pyramid #3/70: Fourth Edition Festival in Review

Due to copious lack of time, I’m not going to do a strict review with one post per article, like I prefer to do. I am, however, going to hit each one with my usual method: rating in three categories that boil down to quality writing, quality ideas, and drop-in utility with minimal prep.

Destination Abydos (by +David Pulver)

Summary: David takes his Abydos work and extends it to include Dungeon Fantasy, Zombies, and Mass Combat.

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. This article worked for me. It is terse where it needs to be, evocative where it can. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The article presents a bit of a smorgasbord (huh. spelled that right first try) of awesome. How to blend Dungeon Fantasy at any point level with Abydos, which of course is rife with opportunities for dungeons. It’s a freakin’ city of the undead, after all. Plus: undead pirates. I mean, really. One could stop there. But he didn’t. Between mass combat, dungeons, horror, and zombies, each comes with enough meat to hang ideas off of. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: I would have preferred to see some of the ideas in translating these concepts from Banestorm to Abydos to Dungeon Fantasy fleshed out (see what I did there?) with actual lenses or templates, but that’s probably an article in and of itself. That being said, you get some campaign seeds and page after page of necromantic support for Mass Combat. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. This article was long on inspiration and had a lot of “yes, I could make a campaign arc out of this” moments. The Mass Combat support is a bit lost on me – that’s not how I roll – but for those that do, and I’ve heard plenty of good stories about blending Mass Combat with epic campaigns, with the PCs as leaders and heroes, this article is well aimed..If you deeply love mass combat, then the drop-in utility rating is more like 3 or 4, which puts this article at a score of 8 or 9 – basically a must-have.

Would I use it? Yes. Banestorm is a vibrant setting and fun to play in, when I’ve done so. This article takes a great location full of imagery and possibility – Abydos – and takes it even farther with the extensive support provided by the DF line, the Zombies hardback, and the Mass Combat abstract battle system. Some of the adventure seeds either written or suggested will make for good gaming.

Ten for Ten (by +Sean Punch )

Summary: Sean takes ten ideas from supplements he wrote or collaborated on that he wishes had made it into the GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition, back in 2004. There are ten more that he gives honorable mention (nine in one box, plus multiplicative multipliers).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Sean’s writing style has always worked for me. These are basically rule excerpts, so mostly “workmanlike” in that they just quote or summarize the relevant rules. However, the color commentary at the end of each really makes each one more understandable as to why each rule works for Sean. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Each rule nugget – and maybe even more so the honorable mentions, might inspire how to run a game differently. If you like rules (as I do), this will provide both a “buyer’s guide” for future supplements, or a “check this out” index. So the power of this one will range from about 2-4, depending. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Well, yeah. This is nothing but drop-in rules. It’s pure utility at it’s finest, and each rule is complete enough by itself to use at the table. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. It’s interesting to imagine what the Basic Set would be with free rein not only to include the best ideas Sean wrote, but the best core ideas from any source – e23 or Pyramid. Even as presented, there’s plenty here to chew on.

Would I use it? Yes. In many cases, I already do. Other Kinds of Points and Tactics are the two big winners from the main list. Alternate Benefits, Imbuements, Technique Design, and Everyman skills get used from the back-up list. Heck, I wrote a whole article expanding on Restricted Dodge Against Firearms (Dodge This!).

Gaming in the Ancien Regime (by William H. Stoddard)

Summary: Bill Stoddard provides a worked example of how to use Social Engineering in a swashbucklers campaign.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This was remarkably interesting. Bill writes history very well, and his interspersion of rules and historical context was very well executed. I did not expect to enjoy reading this article, but I did, from the get-go. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:This is a how-to guide for structuring a campaign in a structured, bureaucratic swashbuckling society. An historical one, but with a bit of filing off of serial numbers, it could fit in many places. The detailed division of political rank, status, administrative, and religoius rank show how complicated and interesting such structures can be. As noted, it’s a worked example, and a thorough one at that. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Obviously this is only drop-in with a utility of 4 if you’re running this exact campaign, or one very much like it. Still, it gives several flavors of rank structures, a good guideline for cost of living in such a regime, and some nice interaction of the different pieces. Still, it’s very specific, and so is probably a 2 or 3. It makes up a drop-in campaign by itself, but in general, it won’t be that much utility unless you can squeeze it in. Over in “Odds and Ends,” (p. 37) he also presents Paris of roughly 1720 in the City Stats format. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. A nice history lesson as well as the worked example nestled within, the article is a fun read.

Would I use it? No. No fault of the author’s, but this isn’t where I like to game. Social Engineering, though, and the worked example this article provides, would be used in my games in appropriate places, so my demurring from this is one of “specific campaign,” not “general distaste.”

Into the Wilderness (by +Matt Riggsby)

Summary: Matt leverages the recently published DF16: Wilderness Adventures to make his own Mirror of the Fire Demon even better.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Matt’s writing sucked me in, and had me reading each word eagerly. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. This amplifies an existing (and in a way, the existing) DF adventure. It is a partial worked example of any sort of desert/wilderness travel, so can be mined lightly for ideas here. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: DFA1: MotFD is a drop-in adventure. This takes that drop-in and makes it better, directly and with no modifiction. The “random desert crap that can hurt you” table (not his title) is portable anywhere. Plus: DF Cold-Weather loadouts in a box-text. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. While somewhat specialized, it scratches several itches. It’s adventure support. It uses Wilderness concepts. It shows how to blend the journey in with the destination to make adventuring more fun. It’s in the Dungeon Genre, too, which makes it more broadly applicable, since fantasy is still the #1 go-to for gaming.

Would I use it? Yes. I’d run Mirror if I were running that sort of campaign, and I’d definitely take his advice on how to make the wilderness part of it more challenging and fun.

Elemental Xia Champions vs. the Shenguai (by Jason ” +Rev. Pee Kitty ” Levine)

Summary: Jason combines Monster Hunters with Chinese Elemental Powers, providing a template, some powers, and several monsters.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This is a very crunchy article, dominated by a character template (which always make my eyes bleed) and several power and monster stat blocks. The accompanying text is well done, and very informative. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. If you’re doing a Monster Hunters game, this provides some nice ideas that in all likelihood will keep the players guessing, and therefore afraid. One of the monsters is particularly nasty that way. If you’re a player, the article provides a go-to template and lots of suggestions for elemental powers in the appropriate theme. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This entire thing is a drop-in to any MH campaign from start to finish, which makes it a solid 2 or 3 (it’s still pretty specific). Even in a non-MH campaign, it has suggestions that allow you to amp up to much higher power levels the concepts in Chinese Elemental Magic. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Again with “somewhat specialized,” this one is tailor made for a less-popular genre, but well done and instantly useful for players and GMs alike.

Would I use it? Yes. Monster Hunters is one of my favorite genres as a player, and I’d welcome this Xia champion into a game I was running or playing. The included monsters – the Shenguai in particular – are very nasty and definitely not your usual vampire, werewolf, or orc.

Horde Ninja (by +Peter V. Dell’Orto )

Summary: Peter manages to canonize the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu, and provides a nice treatment of ninja as monsters/foes.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Full disclosure: I collaborate with Peter whenever I can on projects and we play together. One of the reasons is that he’s a very entertaining writer, while still being terse and conveying information well. This very short article is no exception. “Ninja are either singular bosses, worthy of respect and fear, or they’re like these guys.” 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: How to use ninja is one thing, but the “Peeking Under the Hood” box is a key to taking any fodder-level monster (say, any template or lens from DF15: Henchmen) and making them into a credible threat. Beyond that, these guys are ninja, exactly what’s on the tin. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: High utility in a particular genre, mostly for the point above: though the Horde Ninja is the treatment here, the Mass Mage could easily be next on the list. And the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu (“The Last Ninja”) is just fun. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Third time’s the charm with “somewhat specialized,” and for the third time this review I point out that the real oomph of this short article is in extrapolation to other critters.

Would I use it? Yes. I mean: Ninja. Of course I’d use them..

Revisiting High-Tech (by +Hans-Christian Vortisch )

Summary: Hans proposes two new rules for dealing with machine pistols and shotgun rounds that he’d perhaps have adopted if he could revisit GURPS High-Tech.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The text itself is straight-forward, and gets its point across. I’d have preferred a table of some common values, but the examples provided are OK. It did leave me wanting a bit more, though – perhaps typical for a short, technical piece of only a page in length. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: A brief introduction to why the rules he’s picking on deserve it, and some good context for machine pistols. The shotguns piece explains the current issue with shotshell. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of the machine pistols section is high, since it’s basically a stats tweak. The shotgun rounds section . . . well, my own version is also 850 words (about a page), and I of course prefer it. Still, the solution provided does rein in the problem he throws out there, so it puts points on the board there. 2 points.

Overall: 4/10. The article took aim at a minor quibble (Rcl on machine pistols) and a mathematical oddity resulting from how pellets are treated in the original book. That’s not a lot to work with, and unfortunately it shows here. My bias to more complex treatments might be showing here, though; Drop-in utility could be higher than I rate it, but not 4 points, so overall this is a 4-5.

Would I use it? Meh. The stat adjustment to Rcl is more an errata than a true update. I’ll use my own shotgun rules fix, but for those that don’t want it, it’s a good fix. Hans is right: 1d-5(0.2) pi- is annoying, and his fix is better than the existing rule.

Random Thought Table (by +Steven Marsh )
Summary: Steven notes how rules can enable inspiration, and shows how campaign or story ideas can spring from rules, to complement the usual opposite trope (that rules enable story).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Well written, light, and fun. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The entire piece is a worked example of inspiration and “ah ha!” The article is quite frankly about epiphany in campaign and story design. Also look up “A Peek Behind the Curtain” (p. 37) to see how Steven took the rules and turned them into campaigns. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: These ideas are cool, but they’re seeds, and do-it-yourself by nature. 1 point.

Overall: 6/10. It’s a good premise. How do you take an interesting rule or notion and build from it, with eight examples, each with an associated campaign idea.

Would I use it? Not necessarily any of the ones presented here, but that’s not the real point. Any interesting rule that strikes your fancy can start up a campaign seed.

This is a very strong issue, and contains fun follow-up work from prolific and high-quality authors, who have written some of GURPS’ more enduring works. Worth picking up!

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