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 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 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.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds

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.

Matt Riggsby seems to be on a roll, when it comes to Dungeon Fantasy. A month after kicking off the Treasure subseries,  he brings us GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds just before Christmas (Is it just me or would that release have been better for Treasures? Well the vagaries of publishing, I guess).

Cover page for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17 - GuildsNow, I am on record for saying Riggsby’s last book was less DF than what we’re used to. This doesn’t quite apply to this title, even though it does have applications outside of Dungeon Fantasy. Before I elaborate further let me say that the book builds on the social rules for DF that Dr. Kromm introduced in “Traits for Town” (Pyramid 3.58: Urban Fantasy II). In fact, pretty much the whole of the article is reproduced – not counting the “Professional Discounts” box, but that one has been expanded for each discussed guild. So if you thought about buying Pyramid 58 just for this article, you can just buy Riggsby’s book instead. If you already bought it, don’t begrudge SJGames the slight recycling.

Facts

Author:  Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora)
Date of Publication:  2015/12/10
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 31 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.26 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-17-guilds

Review

As a DF product kind of dealing with setting details, Guilds is a square peg in a round hole, but much less so than Treasures. Yes, it deals with worldbuilding too, but it does so in a style that is decidedly dungeon-fantasyesque. Nevertheless, the book is pretty much balanced between rules and setting tips.

The book is split in two chapters and an appendix of rank titles. The first chapter reproduces Kromm’s rules, which is important as this reintroduces social traits into Dungeon Fantasy. Then Riggsby takes us by the hand and shows us easy-to-use ways of using organisations in DF. He makes heavy use of the Pulling Rank rules first introduced in the Action series and expanded by the good doctor and Riggsby himself.  There is also some historical background information, but that amounts only to two paragraphs.

The second chapter details fifteen types of organisation (along with a couple of variants) for use in your campaigns. Each of those takes up one and a quarter page or so and they tie into DF templates a lot. The three questions “Who are they?”, “What do they want?” and “What can they provide?” are answered in some detail for each. Be warned though that these are very much types, not ready-to-use sample organisations akin to the magical styles in Dungeon Magic. The appendix of rank titles is just that: titles for each of the organisation types.

Meat

So, why would you want to add in all these fiddly social bits into a beer-and-pretzel game like DF? Simple: to give the players more options for customising their characters. The cleric who holds high rank a congregation will play differently from the one who’s someone in a noble court and the one who rubs shoulders with university-types. Organisations also provide ample plot hooks, but that’s a setting (and therefore cheese) thing.

The basics here are Kromm’s rules, but everything concerning guilds comes from Riggsby. The assistance rules from Pulling Rank et. al are nicely streamlined to fit a DF setting and not bog down play. All the different types of assistance are detailed complete with samples. The guild entries show at a glance what each can easily provide and what not.

Ease of use is a big thing here. We get a complete listing of DF professions with sources, a a complete overview of social traits, a sorting of professions in each guild (who are the masters, rank & file, hired help?) and a rank range for each organisation. Especially nice is that guilds don’t always use Administration for the assistance rolls. Intimidation or Streetwise might work just as well. There’s a lot of simple stuff like adding rank to contest skill rolls or wealth level to sell loot that might also work well outside of DF, even if they are a bit gamist.

Add to that some odds and ends (rules for technical jargon, cants and slangs are neat) and you’ve described most of the book’s rules. There’s nothing in here that doesn’t work, although there are no complete revelations for those who already know the Pyramid article.

Meat score: 8.5 (extra half-point for streamlining)

Cheese

As this is a balanced kind of book, setting matters just as much and although we don’t get any cute worked examples, this book can be a great help, especially for the beginner GM who just starts exploring their world. Riggsby explains why leaving the dungeon from time to time is a good idea. He shows how each of the guild types can provide hooks for further adventures and how advancement in rank can serve as a means to achieve the game’s ultimate goal: get better bling and cooler powers.

We do learn a little bit about historical guilds and communication problems that made large organisations impossible in the middle ages, but that information is relatively sparse. Don’t buy the book for its real-world data. The rank names are, unfortunately, mostly boring. Apart from one or two odd men out most of the tables have nothing interesting to them. The Congregation table is at least an odd mixture of religions, but only the Hermetic Cabal titles are truly close to old D&D weirdness. Who wouldn’t love to be called “Hidden Instrument of the Verities”?

As it stands Guilds is a good stepping stone to a more nuanced style of play and might lead people who cut their teeth on that other game and DF to actual worldbuilding. It’s only a first step, though, and it is a bit constrained by its length. Personally I would have liked a Dungeon Magic approach better with detailed worked examples added to the generic types. Even a half-page sample for each type would have been nice. Maybe we can still get this as a follow-up? Pretty please?

Cheese score: 7 (good framework in need of filling)

Sauce

There’s a very limited amount of pictures in the book, but most are appropriate if unspectacular. I like the ornamental title pages, as I’ve said before, but it’s nothing special. There are some jokes in Kromm’s text that make you laugh out loud, Riggsby’s jokes are more wry and less frequent, but they are well-executed and his writing is fluent and easy to read. There’s one cut-and-paste error, but apart from that the editing is good. The only surprise concerning the sauce was a pull quote from Pope Francis. The pope in Dungeon Fantasy – now that’s an association you’ll have a hard time severing.

Sauce score: 7 (okay art, nice jokes, good writing and editing)

Generic Nutritional Substance

The information, while DF-centric, is useful for any kind of fantasy campaign and might be even used for some that take place in higher-tech settings. By their very nature most of the guilds are, however, tied to a setting where there’s some pretty rigorous diversion of labour. In campaigns where there’s none of that, the write-ups will be much less useful.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7 (generic enough)

Summary

Dungeon Fantasy: Guilds is no must-have title for those who strictly adhere to the genre’s core values, but for those who want to stray a bit farther afield it is more than useful. More than some DF titles it is a toolkit, though – albeit a toolkit that takes the novice GM’s hand and leads them into that fearsome land of social roleplaying.

Total score: 7.4875  (a really good book, especially for less experienced GMs)
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 balanced book

Value score: 5.74375 (cost-to-length ratio is always hard to beat)
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 Aliens: Sparrials

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.

Elizabeth McCoy’s GURPS Aliens: Sparrials, is I think, her first independent offering for GURPS in a while. That is if I know how to use the search function on Warehouse 23 (Hint for all those who are confused: She’s listed as both Beth McCoy and Elizabeth McCoy). It’s not what I thought of when I saw the hints, but it isn’t all that unexpected. The Aliens entry has been on the e23 wishlist for quite some time. And Sparrials are shoe-in to kick-start the line. Title page of GURPS Aliens: Sparrials

 

You might ask what’s so special about the little squirrel-monkeys if you only skimmed the four pages in the original GURPS Aliens (which are pretty much reproduced completely in this volume by the way). Sparrials are pretty much as adaptable as humans in an SF setting (lacking only strength) and include iconic characters like Serron of Irregular Webcomic fame. Okay, maybe Serron is the only fictional Sparrial ever, but they are pretty cool anyway. (Edit: the author informs me that there is at least one more fictional Sparrial – although minor)

For those of you who haven’t encountered them in the German translation of the 3rd Edition version of Space, here the short version: Sparrials are limber aliens with interesting dominance mechanics, compulsive kleptomania and the ability to smell (among other things) lies.

Facts

Author:  Elizabeth McCoy (a.k.a. Archangel Beth)
Date of Publication:  2015/12/03
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 30 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.27 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-1684_preview.pdf

Review

The most surprising part about this book is that it’s a setting book that’s almost more meaty than cheesy. Yes, it describes an alien species, but it certainly doesn’t skimp on rule mechanics. We get the updated 4th Edition stats as expected, but we also get hints on what advantages, disadvantages and skills make sense for Sparrial PCs. We get variant races for dropping them into Fantasy, a species-specific martial arts style and preferred psionics and spells. Add to that a sub-chapter on template selection (with a fully-fleshed out pilot one) and a 7-page chapter on gear including pets and spaceships and you’re not going to end up with an all-fluff book.

What’s also surprising is the fact that the whole shebang is 30 pages instead of the 12 or 21 advertised on the wishlist – a wise decision that one can hope will continue to other books in this series and the – hopefully upcoming – Fantasy Folk one. Apart from the usual 4 spare pages we have a 9-page chapter that deals mostly with the game stats for the race, an 8-page chapter that contains much on Sparrial psychology, culture and society and the mentioned 7-page chapter on gear. On the whole, this looks like the sweet spot for any species book this side of elves, dwarves and orcs.

Meat

So, how does all that meat hold up? Very well for the most part. The basic stats make sense, even though both Short Lifespan and Increased Consumption are classic free points disads in many campaigns. The racial strength penalty is also a bonus in most non-military SF campaigns. With their high DX Sparrials are no longer point neutral in 4th Edition, which is probably a good thing. I’m only missing Brachiator for the originally tree-dwelling squirrel monkeys, but it can be bought by exceptional characters (and is largely irrelevant in SF if artificial gravity exists).

There are some neat titbits in there like the rules for albino eyesight riding gear for goat-headed, snake-necked sloths and scent-based attraction. But there’s also some (very) slightly wonky stuff like the ageing thresholds thresholds that don’t mesh with the rules for Short Lifespan and missing rules for Pacifism: Cannot Kill Except in Self-Defence. Overall there’s nothing substantial to complain about and almost anything you’d need to know about Sparrials is in there. There are no sample organisations, but even that makes sense: Sparrials are notoriously hard at coordinating above the family level. They have no large governments or even military forces.

For a minor race described on four pages in a decades-old book, this is an excellent treatment rules-wise. The Sparrial pets and the spaceship tie round things out nicely and the template makes you wish there was an SF equivalent to Dungeon Fantasy.

Meat score: 7 (would steal back from any Sparrial hacker)

Cheese

As shiny as the meaty bits are, such a book still stands and falls with its cheesy content and the McCoy doesn’t disappoint there either. Yes, the book uses most of the old GURPS Aliens content verbatim, but it also adds a lot of new stuff. Especially the kinship society and one-on-one dominance receive a lot of attention, as do child-rearing, culture and relations with aliens. Players shouldn’t have any problems making their Sparrial character fit into an existing group and GMs are given a lot of ideas to integrate  the squirrely aliens into their campaigns – that goes even for Banestorm and Dungeon Fantasy. As the Sparrials were quite low-tech before first contact, they don’t need many changes to exist between orcs and elves. With their low ST they might even be somewhat better balanced in a fantasy campaign.

There are no real disappointments for those who want extensive non-rules information about a species. Even the sample character and the adventure seeds are interesting – if reused from the original treatment.

Cheese score: 9 (Sparrials are very competent cooks)

Sauce

There aren’t many pictures in the book and both of those showing actual Sparrials are re-used from GURPS Aliens. There’s one that might show a Sparrial dwelling, but I’m not sure what it signifies. There is a generic spaceship picture in Christopher Shy’s gorgeous style, but it’s incongruous with the other art and appears twice on consecutive pages only clipped and skewed differently. All in all a quite disappointing showing.

Writing is good, but some of the direct speech in the prose text is a bit jarring. Those were taken verbatim from the original and the age shows. Some editorial decisions are a bit weird – size modifier considerations come before we know Sparrials actual height – but nothing major.

Sauce score: 5.5 (meh art, mostly good writing and editing)

Generic Nutritional Substance

As every species treatment is necessarily tied to setting, the Sparrials don’t do so well here, but they can reasonably be added to any setting that does contain multiple sapient species this side of grim dark treatments.

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

Summary

Aliens: Sparrials honestly isn’t something I would have bought if I didn’t have fierce desire to support GURPS and a wallet that doesn’t cringe on these kinds of expenditures any more. I am, however, glad that I did buy it. Sparrials probably won’t show up in any of my campaigns any time soon, but Elizabeth McCoy shows us how to do a species splatbook GURPS-style. If you think your campaign needs more colourful thieves, this is the book for you.

Total score: 7.275  (a steal)
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 balanced book

Value score: 5.6375 (not quite a steal due to 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 Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 1: Glittering Prizes

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.

I haven’t even managed to review the last Dungeon Fantasy title and then there’s another one. And the mouthful that is GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 1 – Glittering Prizes starts its own sub-series too. So now we have five different DF series: the main line, DF: Monsters, DF: Adventure, DF: Denizens and DF: Treasures. And that’s not even counting Magical Styles: Dungeon Magic. It sure would be nice to see each sub-series fleshed out with another two to three issues soon.

GURPS_Dungeon_Fantasy_Treasures_1_Glittering_Prizes_1000

 

Before you start buying this, better heed the preview’s advice: DF 2: Dungeons and DF 8: Treasure Tables are required reading for this. I might add that readers who didn’t like the latter won’t get much use out of this volume either.

Another caveat: This book is very much oriented towards the detail-oriented GM and those who run Dungeon Fantasy as beer-and-pretzels game might feel overwhelmed. However, it’s not only for Dungeon Fantasy GMs. Yes, you need the mentioned books, but if you’re like me and use the DF line as a quarry for ideas and stats, it might be even more useful than for the DF purist.

Facts

Author:  Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora)
Date of Publication:  2015/11/12
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 22 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $5.99 (PDF), $ 0.27 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-treasures-1-glittering-prizes

Review

As I’ve said the book is brimming with details. It is similar in this regard to Riggsby’s earlier Treasure Tables, but it contains less tables and some of those aren’t even random. What it does contain is details you might have been missing in TT. The first part (the book only has one chapter) uses nine pages with different kind of coins and other tokens of exchange. The second part deals with materials, decorations and cultural details on eight pages. As always contents, introduction and index are present too and a page each.

Meat

While the book is rules-oriented it is less so than you might expect from a DF book. Especially in the “Filthy Lucre” part we learn a lot of historical details the production, adulteration and use of coins. It’s almost enough to make the reader think this was a Low-Tech book. Small wonder as Riggsby has been deeply involved with that series too.

All the rules expand Treasure Tables considerably. Money wasn’t even a consideration in this earlier volume and here the GM finds a lot of ways to make a favourite treasure more interesting than “You find coins worth $10.000”. There are detailed tables on coin worth by weight, coin size by weight and random tables for composition, shape and condition. The decoration tables and even the improbable materials tables from the second part can also be used for coins, of course.

Despite that the tables are not the main thing here. This part is half a GM’s toolkit for designing monetary system for different societies and half a guide on how to use money in game. Even paper money is included for those who can fit it into their fantasy world-view. Magic coins and coin-based weapons aren’t missing either.

As far as low-tech and fantastic money goes, there’s not much to be left desired here. Personally, I could have done without the expansive weight and size tables. Inch measurements are not very enlightening for non-American readers to say the least and a simple excel file with densities and weight formulae would have gone a long way to make them superfluous. But maybe some GMs will appreciate them.

The second part features a detailed table for decorative motifs that completely replaces the one from TT. There’s also information on fasteners and fabrics with some historical details and rules for attacking fasteners, but I would have liked some more detail. I have been working on something similar for a while and it’s kind of sad to see many weaves to be defined only by a cost factor. And frankly, for fashion there can never be enough details.

The part about implausible materials does it better. Almost each of them (whether blood, flower petals or darkness) has a special effect. So your pixie ninja can finally wear a cloak made of moonbeams.

The last part is about building interesting societies for your delvers to identify and plunder. Again we get some historical detail and on top of that three non-human sample societies with their ethnic cool gear.

On the whole, the material is very usable. The book suffers a bit from the fact that Riggsby can’t go all Low-Tech inside the Dungeon Fantasy line. There are more than enough details to satisfy most DF GMs, but one or two more pages to satisfy the Low-Tech crowd would have been anticipated.

Meat score: 6.5 (still shiny)

Cheese

The real surprise is how much world-building information the book contains. The historical details are fun and I only missed a mention of Spartan iron money. Those useless ingots would have been a fun way to ruin any delver’s day. The sample cultures are interesting even without their ethic gear and if there ever is a DF worldbook I’m looking forward to see more about the Glittering City. All that doesn’t mean this is a hugely cheesy book, but for a crunchy book it’s certainly above average.

Cheese score: 5.5

Sauce

Illustrations are far and few between and mostly workmanlike. One looks like it was lifted from an archaeological textbook and I for my part wouldn’t mind seeing more of those. While the title page contains sparkles, it’s a bit boring that the title image was repeated on the very next page.

Matt Riggbys’ style is very readable if a bit technical – which is more than understandable given the subject matter. Editing is as top-notch as we’re used to. Jokes are sadly mostly absent, but I smiled at this line describing the Yellow Mountain helmet level: “Widespread use of the device has led to a myth that dwarves have an inherent ability to measure slopes.” Ring a bell?

Sauce score: 6 (okay art, good writing and editing)

Generic Nutritional Substance

As I’ve been saying, this book can be used for more than just DF or Fantasy. Only the supernatural stuff is inappropriate for realistic campaigns. Coins, details and textiles will be interesting even if you play in a gritty Roman Empire or the Mongol steppes.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7 (some fantasy-specific stuff)

Summary

Glittering Prizes is certainly not the most anticipated must-have buy. It’s a bit fiddly for DF and a could use a bit more details for real-world adventures. It could have profited from some excel support – though not as much as Treasure Tables. I’m certainly holding out hope for more volumes in this line. Both enhancements to parts of TT and completely new subject matter would be welcome. And maybe we can get automatic item generation when we hit the tenth volume…

Total score: 6.325  (good, but hampered by some hiccups)
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: 5.1625 (still average, though among the pricier GURPS PDFs due to its 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.

Review: GURPS Thaumatology – Sorcery

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’s release was hinted at beforehand, but GURPS Thaumatology – Sorcery wasn’t exactly what I expected. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome addition to the ever-growing list of alternatives to the standard magic system from GURPS Magic.

Cover of GURPS Thaumatology - SorceryAs with last couple of titles in the Thaumatology series, prospective readers don’t actually need GURPS Thaumatology to use this book. Surprising is the fact that they don’t strictly need Powers or Magic either. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you have an easy alternative magic system for new players here. Sorcery is almost on the level of Ritual Path Magic when it comes to the required rules-savvyness. If a GM is up to snuff, he can use the material to make it easier for inexperienced players to create magic-users, but like Ritual Path Magic the book on its own doesn’t quite provide a ready-to-use system replete with all the spells you could ever need.

Before I dive into the contents, a hint for prospective buyers: The material here is an expansion of the article “The Power of Sorcery” in Pyramid 3.63: Infinite Worlds II. As this wasn’t a magic issue of Pyramid you might have missed it, even if you have a subscription. The material has been greatly expanded from 7 pages to 32, but it’s still based on the same assumptions. If you like the Pyramid article, you will like the stand-alone treatment. The same goes for the opposite.

Facts

Author:  Jason Levine (“Reverend Pee Kitty / PK”)
Date of Publication:  2015/08/06
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 36 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.25 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-thaumatology-sorcery

Review

The book is almost exclusively concerned with rules, but it does have a few nods to world-building mechanics (like the economics of enchantment) and atmosphere (rules for magical weapons etc.). It’s the first generic treatment of Magic as Powers as a stand-alone volume. Chinese Elemental Powers, while also using this approach, was a lot more setting specific and less comprehensive. Not that the volume at hand tries to present a ready-to-play magic kit, but its scope is much more inclusive.

The book is divided into three chapters. The first one comes in at 8 pages and explains how Sorcery works. This part is pretty exhaustive answering almost every question about the system that could come up. It offers some rules switches that give players more tactical options and explains in detail how the mechanics were arrived at. These “Under the Hood” boxes were always a strength in RPK’s work and they don’t disappoint here. In addition to that there is a discussion of spell types that gives us keywords like “Jet”, “Obvious”, “Buff” and “Weapon Buff” – in short things that really should have been in the fourth-edition treatment of GURPS Magic. This section doesn’t merely describe what the keywords mean, but also how to build spells of these types.

And this brings us to chapter two, which is basically a list of two GURPS Magic spells per college that have been given the Spells as Powers treatment and found a second life as abilities. This section is 15 pages long and takes up the lion’s share of the book. Now, that’s a bit more than three spells a page with ability write-ups, effects, point costs and spell statistics and that makes things a bit cramped. There are definitely a couple of very interesting ways of statting the abilities – my favourite is using Contact! as a base for Awaken Computer – but I can’t help but feel that this is neither very close to the original spells nor all that helpful for beginners. The grimoire in RPK’s Ritual Path Magic was much more  comprehensive and offered enough rituals for novice GMs to tide them over for a while. Maybe it would have been better to not directly mirror Magic in this regard. Readers who also own Pyramid 3.63 can, however, add a hefty dose of fire spells to the mix.

Chapter three brings us enchantment rules for sorcerers and that’s where the book really shines. In 7 pages RPK gives us comprehensive rules from spending character points to spending time (and risking failure) to the intrinsic value needed for enchanted items to the economics of enchantment. We learn why jewellery is so much easier to enchant than swords, why there are no magic clothes in this system (except for cloaks) and even how to make potions.

The book is rounded of with a sample character that shows us how compressed a sorcerer’s character sheet can be.

Meat

As I’ve said above, this book is almost all meat and will be rated accordingly. The heart of the content lies in the new advantage Sorcerous Empowerment. SoEmp works similar to Divine Favor from the eponymous volume in Powers series. Basically you have SoEmp as an enabling advantage that allows you to

a) improvise relatively weak spells (Improvisation)
b) improvise relatively powerful spells, but at a greater cost and risk (Hardcore Improvisation)
c) learn spells that cost less than the points you spent on SoEmp (Learned Spells)

Spells in this are always built as abilities and make use Sorcery Talent. They normally cost 1 FP and take 2 seconds to cast, but don’t usually mandate a skill roll or any ritual – except for hardcore improvisation. These changes make Sorcery feel quite different from Standard Magic, which is good. If you don’t like the psi-like lack of ritual, there’s an optional rule to add it back in. Sorcerers are as a rule less flexible than a fully-trained mage, but given enough power that gap closes. In any case, they have a lot of flexibility when it comes to very low-level effects, which is something that Standard Magic is not so good with.

There are however, two problems with this system. The first is that the more specialised you become the higher your level of SoEmp has to be to use hardcore improvisation and learned spells. While specialisation indeed benefits regular improvisation there aren’t that many spells you can use that way even with a very high SoEmp level. This is unfortunate, since most fictional examples present specialisation as a way to gain power more quickly. This is pretty much impossible under these rules. The other problem is more endemic to the Magic as Powers approach: It shares all the shortcomings of the standard ability system, namely that Innate Attack is very cheap and Affliction and some marginal abilities are very expensive.

For example, the relatively impotent effect of No-Smell costs 63 points, while a Sunbolt inflicting 15 dice of damage costs 60 points. Granted, not giving off any scent can occasionally be a life-saver, but I know which of those my players would choose. With most spells costing only a single fatigue point, the biggest balancing mechanism of Standard Magic is gone and the GM runs into the typical problems of a Supers game. Sure, you can set arbitrary limits on damage or pre-construct a list of of approved spells, but examples like that Sunbolt make things difficult for the GM.

Which brings us to the spell list in chapter two. The spells are not exactly conversions of the versions given in Magic, but more like re-imaginings, which makes them rather hard to compare to what various members of the GURPS community have produced over the years. The good thing about that is that they are often a lot less complicated than the spells in Magic. The bad thing is that they are sometimes really free-form and not quite rules-conforming (e.g. Grease giving only the bad effects of Control: Friction).

Having said that, some of RPK’s solutions to difficult conversion problems are sometimes nothing short of ingenious. I’ve already mentioned Awaken Computer, but any of the following are at least interesting to look at: Repel Animals, Haircut, Tanglefoot, Create Object, Disintegrate, Inspired Creation, Dispel Magic, Remove Curse, Lesser Geas and Reverse Missiles. Of course, they often do change some rather significant parts of the spells they re-build, but if nothing else they are very good studies in how to build abilities.

Chapter three contains a complete enchantment system that is the piece-de-resistance of the book. In contrast to everything that has gone on before, this part is plug-and-play. Instead of arbitrary energy costs for any given spell, it uses its character point cost as the basis then modifies it by the type of object it is cast on. This is similar to gadget limitations, but the implementation shows little of the origins. It is relatively simple and very elegant. Instead of Magic’s quick-and-dirty (less than a day, but low energy) and slow-and-sure (no limits, but taking years), the time used for enchantment is always somewhere in the middle (from days to months). That depends on how many character points the enchanter is willing to spend. The character-point intensive method is called Personal Sacrifice, the time-intensive is called Spectral Forging and is more dangerous. All powerful items need at least some personal sacrifice, though. No matter what kind of method you use, you will make frequent rolls and even if your critically fail there’s always a chance to start over without losing everything.

This excellent core system can be used with any magic system as long as you have the spells statted as abilities. In addition to this core RPK adds extra rules for the inherent value of items, economic considerations and optional rules for attuning items to the wearer if the GM is worried about Sorcery proliferation.

The sample character is nothing special, but rounds off the book nicely.

Meat score: 7.5 (empowered)

Cheese

As I’ve said, there’s little that relates to world-building or matters of atmosphere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in a rules-focused book. Enchantment takes into consideration some world-building issues and the sample character could be easily be used for a Banestorm session or two.

Cheese score: 3

Sauce

The interior is sparsely illustrated and all the illustrations are relatively simple ones from third-edition sources, but they don’t distract much from the material. The cover, however is extremely uninspired merely combining the interior images into a ribbon. One of the illustrations is cropped in a way that you have no idea what’s going on. I much prefer some abstract styling like in Magical Styles – Dungeon Magic, Powers – Enhanced Senses or Power-Ups 8. That’s more recognisable and prettier at the same time.

The style is very readable and the editing is top-notch – I found one typo, but wouldn’t we happy if that was all we could find in our RPG books? It’s also the first RPG product I know of that has pull quotes from both My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Homestuck. Isn’t that magical enough…

Sauce score: 5.5 (okay art, good writing and editing, lousy cover)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Of course any book about matters magical is not going to be appropriate for settings without supernatural elements. Apart from that, Sorcery is certainly generic enough to be dropped into many settings. You need only add Low-Tech to make up standard S&S, urban fantasy is generally fine with powers you find within your self and even for Science Fantasy it’s a good match.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7.5 (pretty generic supernatural upgrade for your campaign)

Summary

Sorcery brings many good things and some that are slightly disappointing. If you’re looking for something that makes your magic-users quick, somewhat flexible and not totally imbalanced, it is the book for you. If you only want a catalogue of GURPS Magic spells as powers, this isn’t it yet. If you’re looking for a good enchantment system and don’t mind the price tag, buy it!

Total score: 6,425  (good, but hampered by some hiccups)
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: 5.2125 (still average, though among the pricier GURPS PDFs due to its 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.