Sunday, September 4, 2016

Review: Power-Ups 1 - Imbuements

I like the older cover arts.
Imbuements, the first book in the Power-Ups series is kinda a deviation from the rest of the series... or well, I guess since it is the first book, the second book took things in a completely different direction and it never returned.
In any case, Imbuements, for better or for worse is a popular ability system for characters that, as far as my limited exposure to the system goes, is very quick, mostly combat focused, and somewhat expensive character point wise. This system allows a user to quickly "imbue" a weapon with a very temporary boon to momentarily pull off some unusual supernatural tricks: light arrows on fire, strike with a sword from a distance, cut through armor like wet paper, or fight with ghosts. Let's take a look at this book and what it has to offer.


Teeny, but adequate table of contents.
This is a 22 page file, with 5 pages of pre-amble, cover art, contents, etc, and 3 pages of post-content, giving 14 pages of THE GOOD STUFF in between. The book is so short, it doesn't split the content into chapters, but into sections. The first half page section is about the mechanics of the core advantage, Imbue, something like a Magery for the imbuement system. Then we have about 10 pages devoted to the imbuement skills, which somewhat resemble spells in the default magic system. The final 4 page section gives some worked examples of applying the content in this book to campaigns based on a few popular GURPS lines. The book is pretty much all rules for a new ability system, with a big catalog of skills that use the system, and a little bit of guidance, but remains mostly fluff agnostic or "flavorless," for better or worse.
Art is pretty good in this installment, and organization serves its purpose with very little flipping back and forth required to read through the material. The book has no important pre-requisites, and even though it recommends the Basic Set, I think it could potentially even work with GURPS Lite. The system, in my opinion is very straightforward to understand the way it is presented as well. Subjectively, I tell myself, an advantage based system would be better, but even though it is skill based, I find that the two complaints I have with the concept of a skill based system are addressed.
  • I worry that it is hard to keep skill based systems balanced when awesome abilities and more... not-so-awesome abilities have the same costs...
    • But the really awesome abilities require some steep skill modifiers to make them earth shattering or require high levels of the somewhat expensive imbue advantage
  • I worry that skill based systems are pretty hard to extend, modify, or build upon because there aren't as many degrees of freedom to separate barrier of entry between "entry-level" abilities and "god-tier" abilities...
    • But the set of abilities here basically covers the majority of special abilities that I could want, so I really don't have a need to spin up my own imbuement abilities.
So whatever, when I put my subjective bias against skill based systems aside, I think the imbuements system is good. Let's now look closer at the book itself.

The Imbue Advantage

This section speaks to Imbue, the root advantage of the imbuement system. It describes the basic mechanics of Imbue and has advice for customizing the advantage using limitations and power modifiers.

Imbuement Skills

This section starts with a discussion of more specific mechanics and describes the layout of the skill catalog which makes up the majority of the chapter. A lot of the options give interesting methods to mix things up and the guidance is overall thoughtful.
The skills are, for whatever reason, divided into the enhancement and transformation categories. Inside each category skills are listed in alphabetical order with entries that are tagged according to certain restrictions and rules described at the beginning of the chapter. The chapter ends with an optional rule for creating combination skills which have some interesting pros and cons, but it seems out of place? Though, at the same time, it almost seems better at the end of the chapter because seeing all the skills before reading about it gives a lot more context to the section. Then again, it might be better to group it with the rest of the rules for individuals who need to reference rules at a later time instead of flipping through the book to find them.

Imbuement in the Campaign

This section is some guidance for deciding if imbuement is appropriate for a given campaign. It includes some worked examples for appropriate abilities for different occupational templates for Dungeon Fantasy, thoughts on building Martial Arts styles with imbuements, and thoughts on how to incorporate it into a Supers campaign using Powers mechanics.
The section is interesting food for thought, but the Dungeon Fantasy stuff has been done better in my opinion in a follow-up Pyramid issue (issue 3/04 introduces defensive imbuements, a great expansion of the system, and issue 3/13 introduces a template devoted to imbuements.) The Martial Arts idea is good, but almost seems self-evident; then again, maybe it is so simple because it is just worded that well? Same goes for the Powers example.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I like giving imbuement abilities to powerful enemies when I am running campaigns. So far, none of my players have used them, and I have never used them. The book is well written, and the system has some interesting applications. Though primarily martial, it does have some ideas for applying it in mundane ways, eg, instead of using the ability to attack insubstantial with a sword, apply it to a camera to take a picture of a ghost. Instead of using sudden death to delay the effect of an attack, delay... anything you can think of. That right there has a bazillion uses. It still feels a bit to me to make something that was obviously designed for fighting work in another context. That said, for fighting, this is a good system, for other uses, there are some patches.


  1. I also expanded Imbuements in Pyramid #3/71: Spaceships II ( and I'veanother article in the works to use imbuements as a way to craft special items (like, say, how elves craft stuff in LoTR).

    1. I've heard about both, and though they sound real interesting, I don't have that issue of pyramid, so I personally can't recommend it strictly because I haven't read it. The crafting thing sounds really cool though!

    2. Don't forget Roger Burton West (author of Reign of Steel - Will to Live and Disasters - Meltdown and Fallout) included a new imbuement in his article GURPS Fathom Five in Pyramid #3/26. Since even Chris missed it, I guess it didn't make much of a splash.


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