Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Review: Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys

Literally an impulse buy
for me.
I've discussed some metagame mechanics a few times on this blog, so as you can imagine, I have been interested in Power-Ups 5 for a while, so I decided to pick it up since I had nothing better going on, and I've already completed the Dungeon Fantasy series, and it was pretty cheap. Impulse Buys is about creating mechanics to spend character points on little pick me ups here and now on a temporary big boost, as opposed to a more modest "permanent" upgrade down the line. It's more than metagaming though, even though that why I picked it up. So let's take a look at this book, which in the end, I think is something that is good for the type of person looking to add that kind of thing to a game, but others might want to pass on.


Table of Contents
This book is 24 pages, a 1 page title page, 1 page of contents, 1 page introduction, and a 1 page index, leaving 20 pages to content. This is split into two chapters, the first is 12 pages and talks about ways to spend character points, and the second chapter speaks to managing and modifying the key rules for different types of campaigns to give different feelings to the same mechanics.
This book is almost all mechanics, and the content is all pretty new. The type of mechanics described, for the most part, trading precious character points for temporary boons, are somewhat controversial though. The second chapter works in some good guidance with lots of examples of application. There is zero fluff, and almost 0 content in the way of new character customization; most of this book is a campaign switch. So whether you think locking extremely powerful abilities behind character point spending is something you would like determines whether you will like this book.
Organization is good, and a cheat sheet on p. 23 is very helpful for summarizing the entire contents of the book. Illustrations and pull-quotes are also good, and the asides are all pretty interesting. Overall, from a functional perspective, a well edited book, though it does drag a bit if you attempt to tackle it as a pleasure book from cover to cover. That's my experience. It makes more sense to approach it as a reference book, but reading through it all at some point is the only way to understand everything inside.

Parting From Your Points

This chapter goes through all sorts of methods a player might be allowed to spend character points, one topic at a time. There are a lot of different topics, but the intro to the chapter cautions that everything needs to be tempered with GM guidance and fiat. Topics covered in this chapter:
  • Buying Success - Spending points to instantly succeed at a roll, a la the optional rules in the Basic Set, but with a bit of an expansion and more details and examples.
  • Wild, Wild Destiny - Inside the Paying Fate's Price aside, this is some optional rules to give Destiny a more objective and measurable benefit that makes it support many of the ideas from Impulse Buys without requiring permanently lost character points. A critical option to consider for GMs or players wary of permanently "throwing away" points.
  • Player Guidance - This speaks to metagame abilities like being able to determine set pieces, props, and coincidences in the current situation, and give some, in my opinion, unfortunately soft guidance on how to judge the appropriate level of a meta request. This section also includes, similar to Wild, Wild Destiny, rules to make Serendipity work on a point system for the Player Guidance benefits.
  • Survival- This section covers ways to make sacrifices so players can save themselves or friends. Importantly, there is also guidance for how to not devalue the Extra Life advantage.
  • Amazing Feats - This is about spending points to have characters do unusual, amazing things. It, for example, gives huge discounts to advantages if they can only be used if the appropriate amount of character points are used. It also includes burning character points to temporarily enable cinematic campaign switches in a more gritty or realistic campaign, like those spoken to in Martial Arts.
  • Besides those main categories, there are handfuls Perking Things Up asides that allow players to burn a character point for a temporary benefits a la perks.
Those are all the big categories, take a look at the table of contents to get even more details, because there is a lot.
Not all of it is meant to be used at once (as the next chapter explains) so you will find some parts more or less useful than other parts. As I've said about 7 times now, the most important thing to me was the section on Player Guidance and Serendipity, I wish it was a magic silver bullet that solved my problem, but it wasn't, and I think that is an unfortunate coincidence of the shape of the problem that is the Serendipity advantage. Everything else looks useful in certain contexts, but as a player, I'm of the type that I hate "throwing away" character points, so for me, the sections on Destiny and Serendipity about  are most important. I wrote a post about Serendipity yesterday, by the way. 

Impulsive Campaigns

This is kinda a player's and GM's guide to the rules in the previous chapter. It does a nice job of walking through the effects of dialing costs, limits on usage, and compatible uses depending on campaign, and the effect it might have on the feel of the game. Example: does having a "don't die" button make a horror game worthless? What can I do to stop a player in an epic level 1000 point campaign from saving all her points to just buy successes over and over until they run out of points, appoint a successor, and retire? What happens if things are cheaper? More expensive? I can only use the ability a handful of times a session?
It also gives ideas for campaigns that give different types of rewards in addition or in place of regular character points. Some sound interesting for short or one off games, and remind me of some of the metagame benefits I see mentioned in Japanese Tabletop RPGs, so if you ever felt like you wanted to play GURPS: Ryuutama, this chapter might help.
I especially like the section at the end where they go through several key GURPS franchises and pair appropriate and warn against inappropriate options for each. The reasoning included is helpful, as for example, my thoughts on what might be appropriate for my current Dungeon Fantasy campaign were close, but comparing it to the published recommendations gave me a good second opinion and helped reconsider a handful of them.


It's really hard for me to say whether I can recommend this book or not. It does what it set out to do better than I expected it to do. It gives really good mechanics for narrative and collaborative games, but those are very contentious genres and system features that some people love and some people hate. I will say that I enjoyed it, and I think it will be useful to me. I think for even players that don't want to change the paradigm of their game and flip it upside down, some sections are a *little* useful, but for anyone that is even thinking about introducing features like that, I'd say get it. It's cheap.

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