Review: GURPS Hot Spots – The Silk Road

The long GURPS drought due to all the work on the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is finally easing and what does Matt Riggsby bring us? A desert! But this offering is most welcome as Mr. Riggsby takes us right into one of the most interesting areas, when it comes to cultural exchange: The Silk Road and especially the Tarim Basin. Yes, it’s a new GURPS Hot Spots volume and that means history nerd paradise with enough forbidden fruit to entice just about anybody.

Cover of GURPS Hot Spots - The Silk Road

Facts

Author: Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora and twitter)
Date of Publication: 11/05/2017
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 54 (1 title page, 2 content pages, 2 index pages, 1 page ad)
Price: $10.00 (PDF), $0.20 per page of content; Score of 6/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0662_preview.pdf

Review

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. As a setting book cheese will be most important.

The Silk Road is a bit of an unusual topic for for a Hot Spots volume as even it’s central parts, which make up most of the book’s content, are more far-flung than a regular spot. The time frame (from the 2nd to the 10th century AD) doesn’t help to fix it any more to a specific point. What keeps the setting together is the flow of goods and ideas from East to West and vice versa and the fact that small groups (adventurers!) can make a difference in a region that lies at the margins when it comes to culture, civilisation and state oversight.

Ostensibly, the book deals with the reality on the ground in the Taklamakan, the Tarim Basin, the Hexi Corridor with some forays into further-off areas, but the setting’s feeling, the social interplay between the fringes of empires can be transferred to other settings. Riggsby manages to kindle the reader’s interest with the first few lines (artefacts!) and keeps it up until the bibliography.

There is no denying though that this is a historical supplement. I assume most people have at least some experience with those when it comes to GURPS. It’s not completely different from what has been offered before, but it is very accessible and well-done. Also it has some tantalising cross-over possibilities – indeed the crossover section takes up more than three pages, but let’s have a look at the overall structure.

After a one-page introduction to whet our appetites, we have the usual chapters on geography (twelve pages, with six pages of maps only) and history (five pages), then the book takes a detour from regular Hot Spots and omits notable people in favour of a gazetteer of the area (ten pages). This chapter includes towns and cities along with some other sites, interspersed with boxes on interesting myths, adventure seeds and notable artefacts, followed by an overview of the people, empires and religions of the area. This is similar to other such gazetteers you can find in many fantasy world supplements and serves much the same purpose. It paints a vivid picture of the setting and helps to distinguish places that would otherwise be just names on a map.

Chapter 4 (5 pages) is named War and Money and tells us a lot about the weapons and units favoured by the local powers as well as the trade goods that were shipped along the Silk Road. Stats are not the focus here and the next chapter: Life on the Silk Road (6 pages) shows us how people ate, what they wore and they entertained themselves. Buildings and the intellectual life are also covered.

Chapter 6 (8 pages) deals with the details of running a campaign in the area. The section on characters is relatively short. Campaign themes and cross-over ideas take up more space. A two page bibliography rounds off the whole thing.

Meat

Meaty and crunchy rules are not the focus of the book, but some rules slip in at different places. There is a concise, but nice passage of how to give the present religions the supernatural GURPS treatment. There are new rules for getting lost in the desert and for taking damage from sandstorms. We learn the terrain quality for travel and the environmental quality for hunting and foraging in the Tarim Basin. Tech levels are given in all relevant quarters. Matt Riggsby shows us what elements the armies of the region deployed. There is relatively little news on weapons  and armour, though. Most of these were influenced or even bought from outside and can be found in Martial Arts or Low-Tech. There is even a sourced price list for the most important trade goods and a listing of farther luxury trade goods.

Most meat is found at the beginning of chapter 6 with Cultural Familiarities, languages (including learning languages with more than one script), explanations of skills, jobs and one Craft Secret. Both the Guide and the Holy Mendicant are two interesting jobs that are a good fit for adventurers.

On the whole, there is little missing unless readers were looking for a full gear loadout or complete martial arts styles. The latter would have to be fabrication, because little is known from this area and time. For the fun factor we get a technique for throat-singing and a treatment of cannabis according to Low-Tech Companion 3.

Meat score: 6.5 (more than solid enough for a setting book)

Cheese

While The Silk Road does give a very good overview of its topic, it really shines at the small details where Matt Riggsby can show off his academic expertise. We learn that rope suspension bridges would have been useful, but were unknown in the old world. We hear some good old myths repeated and debunked in the same breath (Crassus’ legion in China). We marvel at wonderful artefacts like the Diamond Sutra (the world’s oldest dateable printed book) and wonder what else might lie hidden in the sands. In short, we find ourselves drawn into a world that was as rich in inter-cultural exchange as it was in danger.

Both the landscape and the history do get a very solid treatment in the book, but you won’t find singular rulers or a overriding passion for dates and battles. The history discussed here is that of the longue durée: slow processes that shape socio-economic development. The reasons that make exporting silk to the west a good strategy for China and much appreciated in the west are all present, while the recurring wars and changes in ownership are merely a background that doesn’t change the overall narrative.

Chapters 3 to 5 give the reader an intimate view of how life in the cities and on the roads of the Tarim Basin must have been. Where the archaeological record and written sources fail him, Matt Riggsby draws on contemporary custom to provide us with a picture (e.g. for food).  Chapter 6 discusses the most important ideas on how to make a campaign on the Silk Road. Apart from the merchants, missionaries and militants three-way split, we are also presented with a mapping on familiar settings. One of these is the Western – we are literally reading about China’s Wild West – the other one is Dungeon Fantasy of all things. After the first mental disconnect this even makes sense. The area features culturally less developed tribal people, fortified trading cities and ancient ruins and even dragon-bones. It’s not a far leap towards the Western as a genre and as we all know the Orcs are just more socially acceptable stand-ins for American Indians.

If there’s anything missing from the book, it may be a stronger link to the empires in the area. We are left with a general remarks on Chinese and Arab officials and customs, but it’s a bit thin for making up military and civil-servant characters. Of course, there is GURPS China to fill the gaps, but GURPS Persia and GURPS Tibet are still sorely missing and GURPS Arabian Nights is a bit far off in tone and content matter.

Cheese score: 9.5 (trying for perfection)

Sauce

After bells and whistles of GURPS Mars Attacks everything would be let-down, but for a historical book the illustrations are quite disappointing. I see that there’s vastly less in the way of royalty-free (or any other) artwork and photos about the subject than say Constantinople or Florence, but one or two authentically clothed and armed Sogdians, Tocharians or Göktürks would have really added to immersion, as would a view of one the mentioned cities or a typical house.

The maps, while useful and correct, could have been more impressive. I might have too high standards in this regard, but the mountain ranges look pretty artificial and the deserts are worse. The high-resolution, small-scale map of the Tarim Basin is the best-looking one and probably the most useful one too. The large-scale overview map of the whole area takes a bit to get used to, though. There’s also a map of a cave shrine complex that is a bit bare bones and would have been better without hexes.

Riggsby’s writing is engaging, interesting and colourful in the vein of the best Anglo-American popular histories. Jokes are far and few between, but this ain’t Dungeon Fantasy, after all. The style fits the subject matter perfectly.

Editing is good as always. I spotted only one minor pointer problem and the index looks fine too. Oh, and kudos for getting the German sharp s in Seidenstraße right!

Sauce score: 6 (give us some illustrations already!)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Generic usefulness is generally not the high point of historical supplements. The Silk Road remained the major route of exchange between China an the west for the better part of a century, though, so there’s a multitude of historical settings where it might crop up at least once. Matt Riggsby also goes to great lengths to present crossover opportunities and analogous settings. I feel Mr. Riggsby is now fully justified to present an expanded version with Zoroastrian Wizard templates as the default setting for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7.5 (absurdly high for a very ungeneric setting book)

Summary

Hot Spots: The Silk Road is a really enjoyable read that will give its readers many ideas for campaigns and adventures. It is not a book that I can whole-heartedly recommend to people who really hate historical reading, but anybody else can rest assured that this is a good investment if you’re looking for something a little different for the usual RPG fare, while still giving your characters enough agency and interesting opportunities.

It is probably best used for a setting where characters are more or less mobile. While Mr. Riggsby does give a couple of sedentary campaign options, these are often a bit on the mundane even for people who like historical realism like me – although the caravanserai campaign does sound like it could be a lot of fun.

Total score: 8.05 (very, very good)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (15%), Cheese (50%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “meaty” tech- or rules-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 7.025 (hits the sweet spot of PDF 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.

Review: GURPS Mars Attacks

After far too much time off the radar I’ll tackle one of the two delicious GURPS hardcovers that came out late last year. It’s not exactly hot off the press any more, but it only got to Germany six weeks ago, so it’s not exactly cold review by that standard either. Anyway, just have a look at that gorgeous cover:

GURPS Mars Attacks Cover

Facts

Author: Jason “PK” Levine (a.k.a. Reverend Pee Kitty)
Date of Publication: 29/12/2016 (date of announcement of store availability)
Format: Hardcover-only
Page Count: 96 (1 title page, 2 content pages, 2 index pages, 1 page ad)
Price: $24.95 (PDF), $0.27 per page of content; Score of 6/10 (+2 for being a full-colour hardcover book)
Preview: none (likely because of licensing agreement, but it’s still sad)

Review

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 first thing that grabs you about the book is the art. You don’t even have to like the B-movie alien horror style to see that this is heads and shoulders above the usual GURPS fare. Moreover, it fits the mood for the setting perfectly. Then there’s the fact that it’s the first full-colour hardcover GURPS book since Low-Tech, albeit the smallest one in existence. Yes, it’s smaller than GURPS Dragons and GURPS Alpha Centauri! It’s still a good size for bringing it to your gaming table, but it won’t give you full-text search.

With the technical stuff out of the way, let’s have a look at the content. This is most certainly a setting book with a useful amount of meaty stats, but not enough to make it a meat-cheese hybrid. Only a little bit over twenty pages deal directly with rules and most of these are character templates. The history of the invasion, different aspects of Martian society, command structure (basically the same) and technology get a lot room as do human responses, the breakdown of global society and game-mastery things like setting the mood, making things memorable and maintaining a good pacing. Indeed, the book does a very good job at streamlining play both on the meta-level and the rules themselves.

GURPS Mars Attacks is divided in five chapters, a short introduction to the franchise and the usual comprehensive index. First we get a timeline of the Martian menace going back to the beginning of the 20th century, then we get an in-depth look at both the Martians and humanity with its allies. Their respective technology is also discussed in story terms in these two chapters. Chapter four deals with character traits and templates – both racial and occupational. The final chapter deals mostly with plots, atmosphere and setting dials, but also includes some NPC write-ups (as you might imagine there aren’t very many).

Mars Attacks is supposed to be a stand-alone book, ready to play with nothing but the Basic Set, but even the introduction strongly suggests Ultra-Tech. I would add High-Tech to the list (the only normal vehicle not covered in here is a jet fighter) and both the Action series Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys is a perfect fit for this style of gaming. More tech books can be added to taste, but they aren’t a necessity. 3rd Edition GURPS Atomic Horror is not a bad addition though. Even if a lot of its salient points have been covered in Mars Attacks it’s a good lead-in for the pre-invasion games and adds a ton of details for a 1950s campaign.

Meat

While stats and rules aren’t the focus, there is a lot of meaty stuff in Mars Attacks still. We get stats for the zany Martian weapons and vehicles and monster stat blocks for their experiments (including “upgraded” humans and giant insects). Giant robots get both the vehicle and monster treatment for use by and against PCs. There are streamlined tech level rules that reduce the penalties for high TLs and variant gadgeteering rules that allow for taking shortcuts in exchange for weird bugs.

We also get a comprehensive treatment of available character traits for both the Martian and human side, including Wildcard Skills and what to do if your players want to play less nasty Martians. Character templates and the accompanying lenses cover most of the common roles you’d expect to pop up, but the variety and niche protection is less than in dedicated series like GURPS Action, Monster Hunters or After the End. There are rules for adapting templates from the former two for a Mars Attacks game, but a small tie-in to the latter would have been even more àpropos, in my opinion.

There are some nice titbits I wouldn’t have expected like half a page of cybernetic limbs with point costs and Range Bands that replace regular range penalties with broader ranges for basic combat. Hilariously, you can also reconstruct the Martian weakness for awful country music, even though that’s not a standard assumption.

All in all, the only thing that seems to be missing is standard military loadout for the humans (the Martians are covered). I’m guessing that there were reasons for not making this an even 100-pages and setting-specific stuff is certainly more important than things you can look up in other books. Still it hurts playability for the target audience.

Meat score: 7.5 (weird tech win)

Cheese

For such a campy setting, there’s certainly a lot of non-campy backstory involved and that makes it possible to play a Mars Attacks campaign straight with the weirdness taking a backseat to the action and horror. That was probably a good decision. After all you can always turn the camp dial to eleven. The book actually uses the three dials of camp, darkness and gore to help the GM get a feeling for how to stage their scenes.The deeper themes of the story aren’t neglected, but they seldom take centre-stage.

Most of the GM advice is about making each session a rip-roaring tale of gruesome adventure and – above all – fun. The last chapter makes it easy to set up good campaign starters (and continuations) even for the less experienced GM. The seeds listed here and in the vignettes should keep players occupied for a long time. What’s missing is a sample adventure or at least a detailed look at an alien base through human eyes. While the book does a good job of inspiring GMs, it’s still bit more work than the popular GURPS series, including Dungeon Fantasy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Mars Attacks is more like regular GURPS in this way and not necessarily the first book to give to a newbie after Caravan to Ein Arris.

Having said that there is still a plethora of information in here that can be used to stage a multitude of scenarios: hapless civilians being caught in a surprise invasion, alien sadists rampaging through the countryside, secretive scientists preparing for the alien menace and special forces infiltrating the enemy’s bases. The fact that the aliens are always considered as a playable faction is a definite plus and lends itself to periodic changes of perspective. The alien mindset is very well represented and helps players portray sadistic, status-obsessed Martians without going completely off the deep end. The preferred option is still playing humane Martians, though, which is probably a good idea for any sort of extended campaign.

For those interested in such matters, the canonical story given here is different from both the trading card series and the movie, but makes more sense than either. I can’t speak for the comics – maybe those are closer. In any case, there are also a lot of divergence points offered, so that nothing is set in stone and can be changed by the GM – or the actions of the players!

Apart from the absence of an intro adventure there is very little that’s missing from a setting point of view.

Cheese score: 8.5 (Martians are very thorough)

Sauce

This is the first GURPS book in while that really makes you happy about how things look and it’s the first full-colour one since GURPS Dragons (remember that first 4th Edition book?). While the art style might not be everybody’s cup of tea, it’s a perfect fit for this style of game. Readers who get really turned off by the art will probably think the same thing about the content. Even the sexualised nature of some of the original artwork is addressed and in a mature manner too.

The writing is top-notch as you’d expect it from PK, but for most of this book he set his humour to extra-dry , which makes it all the funnier. The vignettes (a big one for the Introduction and each chapter and small ones throughout the text) are very interesting reads too and feel a lot less forced than what you often see in RPG books. They do add a lot to the overall look and feel and help the reader explore the world in a more immediate way.

Editing and index are near perfect as we’ve come to expect from SJGames, but the layout is even better than usual. The upper margin with the colourful UFOs  is a really nice touch and using a radioactive symbol instead of a fat bullet point actually helps readability a lot, especially in the templates.

Sauce score: 9.5 (highest Sauce mark so far)

Generic Nutritional Substance

As a setting book, there are always limits to how much you can pilfer for other games. Streamlined TL and gadgeteering are obvious candidates as are range bands and most of the tech and character templates. The GM tips work for a lot of over-the-top campaigns too, but ultimately more than half of the book is explicitly about alien invasion and much is about this specific invasion.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6.5 (still very good for a setting book)

Summary

Mars Attacks is is a very good, campy, over-the-top SF action-horror setting to buy that leaves very little to be desired. If you’re looking for a change of pace you could do much worse. Just don’t mistake the book for something it isn’t! It’s not GURPS Alien Invasions in the sense of X-Com, Xenonauts or Black Ops. It’s much more action-oriented and fast-paced and has – for most of the part – more similarity with a zombie apocalypse setting than anything else. And it will be bloody and silly and horrible in equal measure. Still, it’s a useful thing to have even if you don’t plan on running such a campaign any time soon. I certainly got more from the book than I would have ever thought. Add to that the fact that it’s the cheapest GURPS hardcover to date and you certainly have a winner!

Total score: 8.25 (2nd best so far)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (15%), Cheese (50%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “meaty” tech- or rules-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 7.125 (hardcover at this length raises the price per page)
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.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 19 – Incantation Magic

With the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy boxed set kickstarter going strong, it’s  only natural that I finally get my behind in gear and do another DF review during the product’s release week. And Dungeon Fantasy 19 – Incantation magic is certainly a strong contender for every Dungeon Fantasy fan’s wallet. The author dream team of Christopher R. Rice and Antoni Ten Monrós took up the task of bringing Jason “PK” Levine’s Ritual Path Magic (RPM) to Dungeon Fantasy. And I don’t spoil much by saying that their margin of success is rather large.

A word of advice for those readers just tuning in from the kickstarter: This book has been added to the Expert level of the kickstarter for a reason. Like regular RPM, it puts a lot more decisions and work into the hands of the GM – probably more than any other DF task except for making up adventures and campaigns. There is a grimoire of sample spells, but restricting players to those would go radically against the intention of the supplement. So get your rules boots on if you want to feature incanters in your DF game.

Cover of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 19 - Incantation Magic

Facts

Authors: Christopher R. Rice (Ghostdancer on the forum and his blog) and Antoni Ten Monrós (Kuroshima on the forum)
Date of Publication: 08/09/2016
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 32 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1.5 index pages, 0.5 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $0.29 per page of content; Price Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0340_preview.pdf

Review

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 will find a weighted average of those components and a value score that also takes into account price per page.

Before I dive into the review proper, I have a confession to make: I’ve never used RPM in a game before. My Dresden Files campaign took place way back in 2008 before RPM was more than a sparkle in RPK’s eye and we used Path/Book Magic and Magic as Powers for that. I’ve also never run a straight DF campaign, even though I thoroughly mine all the books for bits and pieces. So, keep in mind that there might be more knowledgeable people around to write about this!

The book is standard medium-size digital GURPS supplement divided into three chapters. After a short introduction (1 page), Chapter 1: Ritual Casters (6 pages) tells us about the necessary traits for incanters and gives us the DF templates and power-ups we’re used to by now. Chapter 2: Incantation Magic (13 pages) represents the bulk of the book and that’s where the magic happens. We get very detailed rules for working incantation magic into your DF game. Chapter 3: Grimoire (8 pages) is a list of fully-worked spells that are a good fit for a 250-points incanter.

All the rules are quite a bit streamlined from regular RPM. I deliberately don’t say simplified, because they do not represent a dumbing-down, just a different flavour that doesn’t need so many dice rolls and sympathetic connections as in a secret magic campaign. In a pinch you could use them for just such a campaign, but the original RPM rules will be a better fit.

Meat

Incantation Magic is not different from most DF titles in that it comes down heavily on the “meaty” side of things (what others call the “crunch”). The score will therefore mainly depend on this aspect. So, what’s there?

Incantation Magic makes use of Ritual Magic and paths just like RPM and Path/Book Magic. There are 8 paths: Arcanum, Augury, Demonology, Elementalism, Mentalism, Necromancy, Protection and Transfigurations. Those are more or less congruent with what a DF wizard can do. An incanter is not bound to specific spells, they can make up anything within those limits that the GM allows. Every part of a spell (effect, modifier etc.) adds spell points to its total. The more spell points, the harder it is to cast the spell; the more effects, the longer it takes.

We get a basic incanter template that follows standard DF conventions. There’s less customization going on than in other professions since incanters mainly specialise by path, not by spell. Maybe there’s going to be a DF Denizens book for incanters one day that adds a bit more variety, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

We do get the lenses to make up “multi-class” characters, though. These only include the 11 professions from DF 1 – Adventurers, even though the artificer, mentalist and scholar are called out as good combinations for incanters. At least the evil versions of the cleric and holy warrior are included as variations. That’s a bit disappointing, but can’t be helped. With more and more professions being added in supplements you can’t have all the combinations all the time, though the lack of the scholar – also being an improvisational character – smarts. My favourite is the Incanter-Wizard though – clearly the best of both worlds.

What is incantation magic like? For the rules-maniacs: it’s a streamlined Ritual Path Magic variant that uses effect-shaping instead of energy accumulation, does away with greater and lesser effects and instead sets a sliding scale of effects and hard limits on what can be achieved. For normal readers: incantation magic does away with a lot of the fiddly bits of RPM and gives you a better idea how difficult a certain effect should be. Incanters are more likely to do their casting in town and call upon those resources later. They can cast in the dungeon, but they aren’t very efficient at that.

So what are Incanters good at? Two things: First, they can prepare custom-made spells in advance (in town) and bind them to a spell slot – similar to the Vancian system used in ‘that other game’. These incantations can be activated with a single concentrate manoeuvre and a casting roll. Second, they can cast these very same spells inside the dungeon if they have enough time to prepare. This is basically a non-combat task. Even with the Adept power-up only the simplest spells can be improvised within a second and there are far and few combat situations where a 5-second casting time is worth the effort. Scripts are written on scrolls and are more resilient than incantations, but work more-or-less the same. Infusions are basically special potions that don’t take up spell slots, but have a limited shelf life.

This description already shows that incanters come heavily front-loaded. Even a starting character can have 23 incantations (or scripts), 2 scripts and 4 stabilised infusions. Regular infusions have their power go awry after a month or so, depending on your stats. That means incanters benefit heavily from good intelligence about the the next dungeon, since they can’t replenish their bag of tricks easily when in the dungeon. It also means a lot of book-keeping: The GM has to secretly note (critical) success or failure for each incantations and the sequence of their casting also matters, because you can lose them. The margin of success needs to be noted for each script and the shelf-life for each regular, non-stabilised infusion. That’s a bit of a turn-off for less strategical-minded players and GMs alike and easily the biggest drawback of the system I could find. If you have players who like a bit more Shadowrun-like scouting and planning this can turn into a bonus, though.

There are a couple of minor bonuses: It’s nice that interactions with standard magic are explicitly addressed, whether it’s dispelling each other or using energy from another reserve. That has been missing from RPM so far. There are also good guidelines as to what constitutes a spell and what is a different spell. Rules on girding your spells to make them harder to dispel, making spells harder to resist and hard limits on buffing are also quite useful.

The grimoire features a variety of 39 different spells from the expected direct damage and invisibility to betwitchment, summoning, fate manipulation and berserking spells. They are all well-done, but nothing stands out as absolutely ingenious, but Mule’s Strength, Safeguard and Twist of Fate are pretty dang nice. I would have liked to have a two or three copies from the RPM grimoire just to see how they turn out differently, but for the average reader all new spells are certainly the better deal.

Some things are a little iffy: You can make your own personal very-high-mana zone to give you a massive bonus to casting rolls – despite the book saying you can’t use magic to get better at magic. The Field Caster and Adept power-ups are so useful that they will be picked up by most characters ASAP. Some effects seem a bit strong, like directly giving a penalty to survival rolls. In general there’s nothing too wonky going on, though. All in all this is one of the most solid and self-contained rulebooks I’ve seen in some time.

Meat score: 9.5 (It’s a kind of magic)

Cheese

There’s very little in here that helps you build a campaign world or create characters. We get a little on the disdain incanters have for wizards and how incantations can’t do anything about elder things, setting up a bit of a psychic rivalry. Most spirits are also beyond their domain.

The paths themselves are well thought out and fit in with what we know about the DF world. I personally would have liked to know how incanters stand vis-a-vis the gods since they have two very dark paths indeed. Their relationship to nature is probably akin to the wizards. As you can combine every profession with every other one, these seem a bit like a moot point, but there was certainly room for improvement.

Cheese score: 4 (mundane magic)

Sauce

The worst part of the pretty stuff is easily the art again. Four illustrations and you can see the quality on the cover collage. Not very enticing, though at least at appropriate places in the book. The cover itself is typical DF style, but not one of the better ones. The technical writing is very good and makes things easy to understand almost all of the time. What’s a bit disappointing is the quality of the vignettes. They have a  clear “this happened in my last campaign” vibe. While this serves to illustrate the subject matter, it still feels a bit awkward. There are also a couple of typos and minor errors that will go directly to Steven Marsh, who will certainly take care of things as fast as usual. Still, they are there.

Sauce score: 5 (That Old Black Magic)

Generic Nutritional Substance

While this is still Dungeon Fantasy, it can be used for a lot of other genres, even if it won’t be a perfect fit for most. Yes, we do get three pages of DF templates, but at least the generic incanter can be dropped in a range of settings with only minor alterations. The magic system itself fits many campaigns, from secret magic to high fantasy to non-four-colour superheroics. It’s working together with standard magic and clerical magic out of the box too. All in all, more than generic enough.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 8.5 (magic is everywhere)

Summary

Dungeon Fantasy 19 is the highest-scoring book I reviewed this year and my new personal favourite among the double-digit DF supplements – barely edging out the more generally applicable Wilderness Adventures and Power-ups. It’s an excellent stand-alone book debut for Messrs. Rice and Monrós.

It’s also a solid investment if you want to try something new magic-wise or have players who don’t like the rigid one spell, one skill approach that the other casters use. If you don’t feel like getting it on its own right now, order it through the kickstarter!

Total score: 7.625 (elven high magic)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (40%), Cheese (25%), 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: 5.8125 (you can’t put a price on magic)
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.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 – Born of Myth & Magic

Not one of the new series Kromm and PK have been hinting strongly about, Peter V. Dell’Orto’s newest oeuvre will be very much welcomed by Dungeon Fantasy players and other GURPS fans alike. It’s close in style and content to Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, but whereas the former volume had a lot of unique, original and lesser-known monsters, the current one deals to a large degree with classic ones. The title is right on the money and if a monster is not connected to myths, it’s sure to have some magical slant to it (actually the mythic monsters are also magical).

Cover Page of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 - Born of Myth & Magic

Facts

Author: Peter V. Dell’Orto
Date of Publication: 02/06/2016
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 24 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index/ad page)
Price: $5.99 (PDF), $ 0.29 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0338_preview.pdf

Review

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.

Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 follows the format established in DFM1: Each of the 16 monsters presented gets a page with game stats, description, GM advice and (in most cases) possible variants. Only the notoriously hard to run Doppelgangers get two pages. Apart from the introduction, there’s a short section explaining how to read the monster stats, two pages on meta-traits not in GURPS Basic (two of them brand-new) and new prefixes. There’s nothing especially surprising about all that.

The same can be said of the mythical monsters. Basilisk, Cockatrice, Doppelganger, Dryad, Harpy, Manticore, Medusa and Phoenix are old standbys in fantasy games, but it’s good to see full game stats for all of these. It would have been nice to see non-western myths represented, but you really can’t argue about the sheer iconic value of this selection. Some less expected monsters like Giant Ant, Lava Lizard, Phase Serpent, Rock Troll and Shadow Warrior to provide variety. But my favourites are the weirdos, of course: Living Pit, Octopus Blossom and Rot Worm are surely going to provide hours of fun for your players – or painful seconds of death more precisely. A special mention goes out for the myrmecoleon – an ant with a lion’s head from medieval mythology.

Meat

As would be expected from a Dungeon Fantasy supplement, the diet is leaning towards the meat side of things, though not as much as the recent Power Items. We get the expanded stat block that has become the standard DF notation and notes how everything works in play (read: combat). There are some boxes on special combat rules, where warranted – note the large number of gaze or sight attacks. Variant round this off. We get four different Basilisks (not combinable), two different Cockatrices (not combinable), three types of ants (workers, soldiers, queens) combinable with six variants (some of which can be combined for even more fun), Sirens as variant Harpies, scalable Living Pits, five variants of Manticores (free to mix and match), six Medusa variants (stackable), six Octopus Blossoms (some of them combinable), rules for making variant Phase Critters, five different kinds of phoenix (only one burns), guidelines on using prefixes on Rot Worms and rules for making different Shadow Beings (Shadow Warriors already can be modified by race).

The two new meta-traits (Amorphous Stone and Plant) are very useful, the prefixes (Flying, Furious, Holy and Phase) a bit less so with Phase being the most interesting one. Rules for fighting monsters without looking at them, for attacks out of phase, falling into monsters and a decapitation Achilles Heel for Unkillable 1  round off the rules-side of things. All in all, the book comes through for all those who cherish stats and rules.

Meat score: 8.5 (deliciously roasted monster meat)

Cheese

Despite the rules-heavy outlook of the book, there are also roleplaying hints for all creatures, though those are often on the short side of things and sometimes solely confided to tactics and whether they are able and willing to negotiate. The exception is a very good treatment of what to replace with your Doppelganger adversary.

Cheese score: 4 (none of these monsters are giving up any milk)

Sauce

Except for a rather boring composite of interior art on the title page, the inside art is quite good. While it’s certainly not up to DFM1 level, it’s a clear step up from most GURPS offerings nowadays and gives off a cool medieval bestiary vibe too. Peter V. Dell’Orto also manages to capture the tongue-in-cheekiness of Kromm’s Dungeon Fantasy.  While he doesn’t quite reach the master in all cases, I laughed out aloud at least once and chuckled many times. Whispering tree gossips, pit-fighting, death by weasel, chibitrice and the dreaded leaping ethereal dungeon shark are among the funnier concepts I read in RPG supplements lately.

I did manage to find three spelling mistakes, which is abysmal for a GURPS supplement, but still stellar for regular RPG products. I’m not marking the book down for that.

Sauce score: 7 (pity there wasn’t a chuckling variant for the Cockatrice)

Generic Nutritional Substance

The monsters presented are optimised for fairly high-powered fantasy, but many wouldn’t look too shabby in a Monster Hunters campaign or any urban fantasy with a couple of tweaks. Indeed, there is a nice range of power levels present in this volume. Prefixes and especially the new meta traits are pretty dang universal. I can’t believe we didn’t have the Plant one before now. The extra rules are also useful for fighting any weird foes and will come handy in many unrealistic campaign settings.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 8 (a true bestiary)

Summary

On the whole, there is only one true criticism I have for this book: It’s too short. Even another four pages with non-western monsters would have been nice, but with this topic I could have seen a full eighty-page treatment – though that would have necessarily overlapped with 3rd Edition’s Monsters. A pity most titles on the GURPS wishlist are for 30 pages or less.

Total score: 7.45 (my favourite title for the year so far, barely edging out After the End 1)
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: 5.725 (just at the right length to get a positive price rating)
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.

Review: GURPS Disasters – Meltdown and Fallout

A pity this one didn’t get published last week to coincide with Chernobyl’s 30 years after. But it’s still a topical first release in a long-awaited (at least by me) new series. Didn’t expect  this one specifically – the title wasn’t in the examples section – but it’s a nice companion for the recently released first helpings of After the End. At the same time, it’s nice to see GURPS going back to its roots by providing gameable abstractions of real-world situations.

On the first page, there’s the sentence “All the real-world information in this
supplement was obtained from public sources and off-the-record discussions with experts.” If such a line comes from a GURPS author, I’m  inclined to believe such a promise.

Cover Page for GURPS Disasters: Meltdown and Fallout

Facts

Author: Roger Burton West (“RogerBW” on the forums)
Date of Publication: 2016/05/05
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 31 (1 title page, 1 contents page, 1 bibliography page,  1.5 index pages, 0.5 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.30 per page of content (counting the bibliography); Score of 3/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-1710_preview.pdf

Review

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.

Author Roger Burton West has a good track record when it comes to articles and books about robots or nuclear stuff, including the 4th Edition incarnation of Reign of Steel: Will to Live.

As the first title in the new line, it’s interesting to take a look at the book’s composition. First off, we get the introduction that briefly brings us up to speed why the topic is interesting in an RPG and how it can be used in different campaign frameworks. There’s also a glossary of the terms provided Then we get seven pages of real-world background information, including possible accident scenarios. Next are nine pages about gaming the meltdown, followed by two pages of radiation gear – real and (mildly) speculative. Rounding it off are eight pages about possible campaigns and adventures, a bibliography and the index. Nothing surprising here, but surprise is not actually what you’d be looking for in a book about real-world topics.

This is, of course, a book addressed mainly to GMs. I’m not sure you’d need anything besides the Basic Set to play around with it, but it’s certainly not bad to have High-Tech at hand. Do note that some High-Tech equipment stats are updated here. There are some ties to After the End, Action and Zombies, but those are strictly optional.

Meat

The meat of the matter is contained mostly in the first three chapters – but it’s mixed heavily with the cheese. The first chapter starts off gently by explaining fission and sustainable chain reactions in layman’s terms. We learn about the different reactor models and radiation types, fuel, waste and how to protect against radiation (including updated Protection Factor numbers). There are also sections on economic and social impact, but they are fairly short. There’s also a box on ultra-tech meltdowns, dealing with fusion and antimatter reactors.

The second chapter “Gaming a Meltdown” first has a Characters-like section that presents us with a list of the very much expected exotic traits to resist radiation. Then it veers off into versions of common perks, disadvantages and quirks. The latter two – Always Jokes / No Sense of Humour About Radiation – are a bit weird. More interesting are the skills. More useful are the skill notes that explain what specialisation covers what. There’s also a small section on superhero mutations. And then there’s the meltdown itself. If you ever wanted to know how much damage a reactor’s steam explosion could do, you need not look further. Also there are detailed rules for nuclear weapons – which frankly surprised me a bit – but that was the one area where 4th Edition’s High-Tech  was lacking compared to its predecessor.

Also in this chapter are both After the End‘s simplified Radiation Threshold Points and a more detailed, realistic method for simulating radiation exposure. There are also some rules for affecting truly exotic characters. Fallout dispersion gets a detailed treatment too.

The gear chapter has very specialised realistic anti-radiation remedies. Fun fact: Some of the really advanced stuff is so hideously expensive it makes regular cancer drugs look like chump change.

Some meat is also found in the boxes and tables of Chapter 4, like fright check modifiers for radiation exposure and likely damage from fires, steam, toxic chemicals and electricity.

Personally, I would have liked a little bit more on radiation effects on wildlife, vegetation and machinery – as well as even more detailed rules for radiation sickness on characters. That’s mostly nitpicking, though. The book answers most of my questions on how to treat a nuclear disaster rules-wise and even some I didn’t know I should ask.

Meat score: 8 (reactor is critical)

Cheese

Some of the campaign-building and flavour parts are distributed through the first two chapters. That includes real-world effects that aren’t quantified into crunchy rules and also descriptions of historical disasters. Most of the cheese is contained in chapter four, though. That one deals explicitly with campaigns and adventures.

Obviously the focus here is on modern-day earth and the seven decades before today, but there are alternatives that include nuclear steam engines (not as unrealistic as you might have thought), spaceship reactors and magical reactors. Technomancer‘s NEMA is briefly discussed, as is general magical “radiation” as well as magical smybolism. We learn about different countries’ nuclear safety nets, security forces and the global organisational oversight.

The chapter presents different kinds of hazards from a story point of view – whether as the main focus or a just a complication. Meltdown-focussed adventures are split in two flavours: prevention and disaster management with many different sub-grouping and specific (if generalised) adventure seeds thrown in between. Infinite Worlds gets a seed, but there could be more ties to other settings, especially After the End and Reign of Steel.

Necessarily some things have been left a big vague as there are many different types of reactors and safety and security arrangements, but I would have liked a bit more on specific hazards that occur during clean-up or rescue, maybe in the form of ‘hazard seeds’ boxes just like there are adventure seed ones. It’s not a big problem, but sometimes things feel a little bit removed from the action on the ground.

One thing I’m feeling a bit ambiguous about: The book tries hard to be neutral about atomic vs. renewable energy, but there is a certain undercurrent in favour of the atom that doesn’t taste very good to me. Your mileage may vary, of course. As a member of the Chernobyl generation I might just be a bit touchy.

Cheese score: 7 (politicians clearly back nuclear energy)

Sauce

Burton West’s prose is clear and elegant, but quite technical at times – don’t expect many Kromm-like jokes (there is one though, have fun finding it). The book doesn’t require excessive physics knowledge, but readers should be generally aware how atoms work, at least to tell apart electrons, neutrons and protons.It gets more technical in some spaces, but rarely to the point where the interested reader becomes less so. Science-shy readers might want to avoid looking too closely at the “Measuring Radiation” box, though.

It’s still weird to me to read science with degrees Fahrenheit, but the average American reader won’t have that problem. Another thing that’s annoying are that the giga-/peta-/eta-becquerel numbers that are really hard to visualise, but there’s not much Mr. Burton West could do about that.

There are a couple of intersting titbits here like Lake Karachay, the most polluted place on earth, or the 2012 Oak Ridge Incident, in which an 82 old nun and two companions broke into a top secret nuclear facility, but unfortunately they not very detailed – come on, at least mention that she was a nun!

There are some some slight compositional problems: e.g. the output of a normal reactor in MW is found in a sub-heading in Chapter 4 and as contrasting number under Turnkey Reactors. That isn’t ideal, but we’ve had worse.

Illustrations, as usual, are extremely sparse – three out of four can be seen on the title page and the third one is a warning sign. They’re not that pretty either. I do like the brushed steel for ‘Disasters’ on the title page though.

The bibliography is pretty exhaustive for such a small book, but I find myself incapable to comment on the non-fiction. It seems a pretty good mix overall, though.

Sauce score: 4 (think about lowering those graphite rods!)

Generic Nutritional Substance

That’s better than you might think, actually. Sure, you can only get bona-fide nuclear disasters in relatively modern or future settings, but the book also considers the problem of magical equivalents / ramifications. It’s still rather limited, but it does raise some interesting questions. Much of the information is about the real, of course, but that also covers a heck of a lot of campaigns.

As a special bonus, much of the material will be applicable to other game systems too. Most of the equipment can be used as is and the real-world data doesn’t change with the system.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6 (dodged that lethal dose)

Summary

A very promising start for a new series. I’m looking forward to more from both the author and the series. I won’t exactly start putting nuclear stuff into my campaigns, but I feel confident I could manage that better than before, should the need arise.

As always I wouldn’t have minded another half a dozen pages, though. Up your standard length to 38 pages already, Steve Jackson Games!

Total score: 6.575 (expected half-life of 20 years on my digital shelf)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (32.5%), Cheese (32.5%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a book balanced between Meat and Cheese.

Value score: 4,7875 (cost more tax dollars than expected)
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.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 2 – Epic Treasures

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.

This week saw the release of another Dungeon Fantasy title and as Dr. Kromm’s blog suggested it’s another Matt Riggsby one. Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 2: Epic Treasures turns the Treasures sub-line into regular thing that actually needs the number in the title.

Cover of Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 2 - Epic Treasures

Facts

Author: Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora)
Date of Publication: 04/02/2016
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 13 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page)
Price: $4.99 (PDF), $ 0.38 per page of content; Score of 3/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-treasures-2-epic-treasures

Review

In contrast to the first volume in the series this one is a bona fide gear catalogue. There are rules to make solid gold and platinum weapons and armour (spoiler: they suck), but apart from that everything is a unique epic treasure. The book itself feels a lot like the item section from the Other Game’s Dungeon Master’s Guide with everything generic removed. Older gamers might also remember the Encyclopedia Magica from the same game. There is however one glaring difference: Epic Treasures is too damn short! At ten pages of actual content it’s even shorter than Power Items (which was at least of appropriate length for the subject matter).

This will not impact any scores except the Value Score, but I dearly hope the length is due to Matt Riggsby is holding back highly-specialised treasure troves for future supplements.

Required reading for this includes the usual DF 1-3, but also DF 6: Artifacts and DF 8: Treasure Tables, funnily enough DF Treasures 1 is not exactly needed.

Meat

As a gear catalogue the book is rather meaty, but in DF that is still rules light. We don’t get any behind-the-scenes deconstruction of the item’s traits, but that’s sort of the point. These are unique treasures. They don’t even get a price tag, though most come with a fully power-items-compliant Energy Reserve.

Most interesting rules-wise are platinum and gold weapons and armour. I’d like to see something like that done to the faulty rules for silver weapons presented in the Basic Set, but the rules given here are easy enough to reverse-engineer. The same goes for the energy costs for high-powered weapon enchantments that only need a dollar cost in DF.

The items themselves range from the very powerful/almost imbalanced (Whirlwind Swords, Spell Magnifier, Omnigates), over the powerfully specialised like armour that effectively gives you an elemental meta trait, to classic plot devices (Dungeon Torpedo, Nightmare Phaeton, Forest Clarion, Raiser of Mountains). There are two or three that are rather boring (both mechanically and power-wise), but things like the Universal Tool and the Cornucopia are the exception.

On the whole that comes out to a rather tasty meat snack. Not quite the top of the heap, but pretty good

Meat score: 8 (high-class ham)

Cheese

As in the last supplement in this line Riggsby surprises us with a pretty atmospheric book by DF standards. Most of the items have an interesting touch to them. They don’t quite come with a backstory, but most certainly evoke a feeling of well the epic. Except a few silly ones like the Centarmor (yeah, exactly what you’re thinking off) all these items are a fitting reward for an epic adventure – not only in power, but also in style.

Additionally, the introduction has a very good explanation of what makes an item epic that is pretty helpful for campaign-building.

Cheese score: 6.5 (the stuff you just like on your pizza)

Sauce

The art ranges from pretty good to serviceable without anything awful hidden in the pages. The only annoying thing is the repetition of the title image on the very next page. That’s unnecessary.

I already said a bit about the evocative nature of the items in the last section and Matt Riggby’s language certainly is good for that. There are few obvious jokes, but I really like the shout-out to DSA/Realms of Arkania with the Blades of Destiny (including invading hordes and a picture of a Viking).

Sauce score: 6.5 (Tomato is good with anything)

Generic Nutritional Substance

There’s no denying that this book is geared towards the Sword and Sorcery crowd, though many items will also work in an urban fantasy setting they do seem most appropriate for something where dungeons at least remain a possibility. That does not mean pure DF, though.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6.5 (filling)

Summary

A pretty good dang good gear catalogue that only suffers from its short length. Gamers on a budget might want to get something with a better value.

Total score: 7.25 (not quite epic, but helping you get there)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (40%), Cheese (25%), 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: 5.125 (only slighty below the preceding volume)
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.

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.