Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 18 – Power Items

As all my other reviews this one will be rated according to meat (rules, stats, game mechanics), cheese (setting, characters, story), sauce (form, writing, style, art) and generic nutritional substance (universal nature, adaptability). At the end you find a weighted average of those components and a value score that also takes into account price per page.

The Dungeon Fantasy series is growing at a rapid pace at the moment. Hard on the heels of Matt Riggsby’s extremely useful Guilds and very cool Glittering Prizes comes Sean Punch’s Power Items. Makes one really nostalgic for those sales figures good old e23.sjgames.com used to show us.

Cover of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 18 - Power Items

Now, any title by the good doctor raises great expectations, but in this case the subject matter is rather specific. Power items were introduced in a small box in DF 1 and to me they always were just a way to provide simplified powerstones without all the hassle that comes with the GURPS Magic version.

Facts

Author: Sean Punch (a.k.a. Dr. Kromm)
Date of Publication: 2015/01/07
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 14 (1 title page, 1 contents page, 1 index / ad page)
Price: $4.99 (PDF), $ 0.36 per page of content; Score of 3/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-18-power-items

Review

Now, the book is one of the smallest GURPS releases in recent times, coming in at 14 pages (7 less than Kromm’s Icky Goo). That certainly hurts the price-per-page, but then I don’t think double the size would have been better here. The book is one of those that are kind of too long for a Pyramid, but kind of short for a standalone book.

Of those 14 pages only 11 are true content. After a one-page introduction that is actually a pretty good summary of the concept, we get a good 3 pages for determining the value of power items complete with ready-to-use tables and detailed price formulae. The next three pages describe the different types: caster, psionic, heroic, scholary and endurance items. The next two pages deal with actually using (and recharging, replacing etc.) the items in question. One page page for power item-related character power-ups and one page on controlling all that power round off the book.

Meat

Apart from some minor setting-related toggles, this book is pretty much all rules – most of them new. Heroic and scholarly items are, as far as I can tell, new and the rules for all the other items have been expanded considerably.

If you want to play DF by the book, the part on determining value is extremely useful. Even if not, it does add a neat “item-modding” system in an almost full-page box that really screams Diablo. Who didn’t want to fiddle around with gems in sword hilts since the late nineties?

The chapter on the different types of Power Items serves two purposes: Clearing up ambiguities that existed in the previous rules (strung out over several books and mostly contained in small boxes) and giving non-caster, non-psi characters more access to power items. The first will be of certain use for defending against rules-lawyering munchkins (not unheard of in DF), while the diminishes the uniqueness of caster/psi items. All in all, good and useful.

“Using Power Items” involves a lot of clarifications too, but these serve to make power items a bit more involved than just “cash fatigue points”, so that’s good.

The character power-ups are new and seem reasonably expensive. We get a way to get more power items, a perk for better power items (reworked from the Dark One perk), one to make an item recharge like a powerstone and Recharger advantage that only NPCs will be attracted to.

Basically the only thing that isn’t treated in detail is the relationship between powerstones and power items, but that’s probably a conscious design decision. We’re talking DF here. The material is well-thought out, balanced to offer more niche protection and extensive, but you probably won’t find huge surprise in there.

Meat score: 7 (good, sturdy workmanship)

Cheese

There’s next to no worldbuilding information in this volume, not even in the form of dwarven limericks. Very limited information about what kind of folks come after you if you start running a recharging business, doesn’t make a world book. But then, this isn’t about worldbuilding.

Cheese score: 2 (some Emmentaler shavings)

Sauce

Except for the cover (seriously guys, use ornamentation!) there are only two pictures in the book, but those aren’t so bad. Vampire dude’s sun-protection ring sure is shiny and who doesn’t like gemstones. The cover art is atrociously cobbled together though. Kromm’s writing is very good, but isn’t quite as funny as in Icky Goo and other places and all the clarifications on how the items work drag on a bit. Editing is top-notch as usual.

Sauce score: 4.5 (still a passing grade)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Ay, there’s the rub. While you can certainly transfer the concept of power items to other settings (or other fantasy campaigns), it is very much written with DF in mind. And that’s the full Monty DF with prescriptive templates and guild training costs. While I don’t doubt that there are quite a few groups out there, playing it like that, many more use the DF line as a quarry for ideas. And power items are not necessarily the most-pilfered bits.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 2 (Almost painfully specific)

Summary

I admit that I’m not the target audience for this – having never used power items myself. The book has helped me visualise a place for them in a DF campaign. I might even include them in the occasional fantasy campaign, but the whole “power bling” vibe is still a bit too DF for me. I did enjoy reading the book, but it’ll probably be a long time before I dust this one off.

It’s not a bad book, but I find myself thinking: “Is the main use of this resolving arguments with combative munchkins?”

Total score: 5 (average)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a meat-oriented book. A “cheesy” setting- or drama-orientied book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 4 (hampered by the short length)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

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2015 – (Re)Commencing to Blog

When I started this blog in June last year, I did it for two reasons: To promote GURPS, especially new books, through reviews and articles and to structure my own ideas better. From my livejournal experience I didn’t expect much of an audience outside the GURPS forumites and the occasional Google search for reviews. Now, either things have changed greatly in the last decade or my interpretation of the traffic data is completely deficient, but in 2015 alone I got more than 600 and more than 1200 views. Even discounting a third as bots, that’s far more than I would have expected.

What hasn’t changed is that hardly anybody ever comments, but that I expected. I’ve got one subscriber on wordpress (Hallo dknxohq!) and two comments so far. Now that’s still pretty good if you assume only one visitor in a thousand ever gives feedback. And I did have some external feedback on Twitter and on the forums, mainly from RPK, Turhan’s Bey Company and Archangel Beth. That’s pretty good, considering that there’s hardly any GURPS blogger living on wordpress. I really should have gone to blogspot, but I refuse to have anything more to do with Google than I have to.

So, what did people interest in 2015? In one word: reviews. With the Thaumatology – Sorcery review leading the parade at more than 300 views, I can be pretty sure that’s what people want. Even the most popular rules article has only one tenth of that (though that’s getting close to the less popular reviews).

Some rules articles only have 2 or 3 views at all. Now that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get any use out of them, because they did help me to finally focus on some topics that I only treated in passing before.  Now, I’d love to get some feedback on my Language article, Technique pricing and thoughts on Afflictions, but I guess I should push my blog a bit more on the forums.

The articles on The Dark Eye roleplaying system got relatively disappointing views numbers in the lower double-digits, but that might be due to most of them being written in English. I should really ask SJGames about translating GURPS rule terminology. I got a comment anyway – thanks, Dunkelzahn.

Resolutions

This also brings me to my blogging resolutions for the new year. In 2016, I’m going to try to review each new GURPS release – with the possible exception of Monster Hunters and Action instalments, which I haven’t really followed and don’t feel competent to judge.

I know, I’m bad at self-promotion, but I’m going to try and do a bit more in this regard too: Opening a blog thread on the GURPS forums, tweeting each new article (without forgetting the hashtag), maybe spending a bit more time on the forums and being a little more assertive about linking to my stuff.

Then there’s the mentioned translation: If SJGames gives me the go-ahead, I’ll make that sure that I publish at least one DSA article a quarter, though these might be German-only in this case.

I’ll also post a number of maps I made over the years and see if somebody can’t find a use for them in their game.

If everything goes well, I might even post a some campaign transcripts, probably from DSA’s Phileasson Saga.