Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: Thaumatology - Ritual Path Magic

2013 seems like the
start towards the
"more words than cover art"
trend.
I've done subjective comparisons of the Ritual Path Magic system before, but I haven't ever spoken directly to the book in which it is contained. I think the system is one of the best alternatives to the vanilla magic system, (though, right tool for the right problem, right?) The book does have a lot of things I think it does well, and a lot of things I think it could do better, but overall, that's meaningless in the face of how awesome the system is underneath all of the physical trappings of the writings therein. Let's take a closer look then at this supplement and see what I like about it.

Overview

P-Shaped table of contents.
This is a 56 page PDF, where the first chapter starts on page 4, and the main content ends on page 53 with a 2 page index after, giving us 50 pages of stuff. The book starts with a 10 page chapter on the core advantages and skills for learning the system in game, then a 9 page chapter on the execution of the core mechanics, a 15 page chapter on advanced details, a 12 page chapter example spell list, and then a 3 page example critical failure table.
Overall, the one big problem I have with this book is the organization because of how much stuff needs to be looked up and how there is no condensed resource that contains all the important metrics in one location, meaning you will often need to look across three separate pages at least to get all the information you need to put together one spell, but looking at it, there is definitely a way that it should be possible to contain all that information in one page. Sometimes, I take the reference appendices for granted, but this is one time where I feel like it is a critical omission.
The book, is, of course, first and foremost rules, with a lot of guidance, some data in the form of a grimoire chapter, and not too much fluff by default, though the system is strongly steeped flavor wise in the sephirot and the zodiac, but it is recommended you look into decanic elements from the main Thaumatology book for some thematic support. Speaking of which, the resource doesn't need much more than the Basic Set to function, but Thaumatology is required for that one optional section, and for the overall handiness of helping with ideas to augment magical systems.
Other than that, the pull quotes are good, and the art seems consistent. The actual content of the book is great, it just needed a better organization of the mechanically heavy chunks, or a summary appendix. As an added bonus, the chapters all have a continuous anecdote reflecting on the story of Cole Jenkins. A fun extra I think.

Learning Magic

The first chapter introduces the concept of the system and describes the key mechanical components that a player needs to use the system. We start with a discussion of relevant advantages, each with detailed rules for flexibility, some being based on existing advantages from the basic set, repurposed from the vanilla magic system, but some being brand new and purpose built for Ritual Path Magic. This segues into a description of the skills for the system, starting with the root skill Thaumatology which exists in Basic Set already but has unique applications in Ritual Path Magic, and then the path skills, each path skill being related to what might be considered similar to a college in terms of the vanilla magic system. The chapter ends with a discussion of the different properties that are receptive to manipulation to customize the Ritual Path Magic system for a different setting.
Overall, this is a very well written chapter, and doesn't suffer from the organization issue I brought up earlier. Especially helpful is the amount of detail devoted to describing each path and each of the typical effects of each path.

Performing Magic

This is the chapter that gets into the mechanical nitty gritty of calculating how hard it is to cast a given spell based on the particular parameters in effect. This is the section that I gripe about. A lot of the information on pages 15-19 needs to be used in tandem, but there is a lot of text, though very helpful, only serves to drive me mad with page flipping. I have my own project to get all the abbreviated details I need on one page, but it's a private thing because sharing it would be, you know, blatant copyright infringement. But like I said, the information on a first read through, and refresher read-throughs is very well presented. After the big danger zone kerfuffle, the rest of the chapter proceeds pretty smoothly going over each of the core steps in the process in more than adequate detail, though I wish there were a few more examples than the 2 on page 22. I like to learn through reading. That said, running the examples in real life makes it click really quick.

Advanced Magic

This chapter goes above and beyond the pedestrian applications of simply casting a spell, and into options like instantaneous defensive casting, or storing spells for later as a conditional spell or a charm. There is an aside on p.26 for easily creating charms which is helpful, but again, in a somewhat awkward place in the book. I'd have liked it in an appendix, but it is big enough that finding it isn't too hard. 
A similar system to charms and conditional spells, Alchemical Elixirs also exists, and has some unique pros and cons that do enough to make it feel like a different mechanical beast, but not so much that it feels like learning everything over again.
A very interesting sub-system for finding grimoires, books that give bonuses to casting spells, and for pricing them out is included, and I find it a surprisingly helpful and welcome inclusion. The price scaling means modest bonuses can be afforded by players with just a little money to spend, but gigantic bonuses require gigantic sums of money.
In contrast, I find the section on Places of Power make said locations just slightly sparse for my liking... well, that might be the wrong way to put it. I think what I mean to say is that I wish that the defaults made them a little less rare, but I guess depending on what I want, I could just massage the parameters a little. That said, the rules are actually solid and easily applied.
The Enchanted Items section is a really big dropped ball in my opinion, and is barely anything more than the gadget limitation from the Basic Set without much to do with Ritual Path Magic at all. Completely mechanically anachronistic, and I wish there was a system that was based on turning rituals into enchanted items instead.
The next section is a mechanically dense trappings system which is optional and directly depends on GURPS Thaumatology, but I think brings a lot to the game. Using the decanic trappings gives a more objective, but less creative flair to the default energy discount system, Traditional Trappings. The mechanics enable someone with the right resources to cast incredibly powerful spells if they can come into the resources to do so, which can be expensive to buy, and difficult to find, but it enables players to do something cool by breaking the mold, and gives hard numbers so they can do it in no uncertain terms.
The chapter ends with an example of a new path based on secret magic knowledge. It describes its effects mechanically, and although definitely playable in of itself, I take it more as a hands-on example of how to create one's own custom set of paths for a setting which might not be compatible with the idea of the sephirot because maybe it is a fantasy world without Abrahamic religion or cabalistic tradition, and how to distribute additional decans and the like.

The Grimoire

This chapter is a decent sized catalog of different pre-configured spells using a variety of paths with myriad capabilities. It is almost as much a catalog as it is a guide-by-example, with each spell having a typical mechanical breakdown, allowing players and GMs to follow the pattern to produce similar spells as variations on a theme. There are, in fact over 80 spells, which is a very generous offering in my opinion.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

The Botches and Quirks appendix is really helpful. Think of it as an example of a critical failure table, but Ritual Path Magic being different enough, a critical failure has a different mechanical outcome that makes a "table" not exactly practical. Instead, the fallout of a mis-casted spell depends on the magnitude of its effect.
Despite the few areas where I have big beefs, I love the system that comes from this book, because magic that lets you do anything is awesome. To me, magic that comes from a list of spells doesn't feel like magic, it feels like choosing an option from a different menu than the other players, but it is still the same thing any one of them could do with just a different name. This is also one of the very first books I bought for GURPS, so that shows how new I am to RPGs. I hope to get to a point someday where we can use it again in our campaigns. If I ever play in a game, and I have the option, I might be sorely tempted to create a Ritual Path Magic user. One last thing, Pyramid #3/66 is an awesome expansion to Ritual Path Magic, so if you buy this and like the system, check that out too.

2 comments:

  1. "As an added bonus, the chapters all have a continuous anecdote reflecting on the story of Cole Jenkins. A fun extra I think."

    It says I don't give up, ever; right here in this GURPS book. That's like a rule, man.

    ReplyDelete

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