Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review: Pyramid #3/04 - Magic on the Battlefield

Store Link
Welcome to the inaugural pyramid review post. Today, I'm going to start with the oldest pyramid issue I have, which isn't very old. Volume 3, issue 4, Magic on the Battlefield is an aptly named article that deals a lot with the idea of Magical Styles, some Imbuements, a little bit of Mass Combat and a bunch of system agnostic fluff and food for thought. Overall, for me, I bought it for the imbuements because I was experimenting with some ideas, but I do like a few of the other pieces as well. I am kinda impulsive when buying so if I see an issue with an article that sounds interesting, I'll probably buy it, but if there are more articles that turn out to be interesting, that's just icing on the cake. Let's take a closer look.


This issue came out in February, 2009, so it's a bit old now, but not fossilized. It has a fairly typical 40 page count, and in that, 11 different features, plus an introduction and a boilerplate About GURPS section you can find at the end of several books and Pyramid issues.
To get the most value out of this issue, you will probably need any and all of the following books beforehand:
  • GURPS Magic
  • GURPS Mass Combat
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles
  • GURPS Power-Ups 1: Imbuements
All of that is in the introduction, and I agree with it.
One interesting feature I noticed in the older issues you don't see much in the newer ones is every once and again you have a thoughtful soundbite in a bar across the bottom of the page. I like them, and kinda wish they still did that.
The art style is a bit of a hodgepodge with some having simple clipart, some being very detailed black and white illustrations, and some being color raster graphics, but I didn't even notice until I was looking at them critically.
Overall, the Imbuements article is the star of the show, but I didn't read anything that wasn't interesting. Next let's take a look at each article one by one. I'll be excluding Odds and Ends (though the roll table in this issue was interesting) the reviews (because a review of a review is too meta for me.) and the interview with Jeff Vogel because I don't think I have anything interesting to say about that.

The Society of Siege Sorcerers

This article, by Sean Punch, is an application of rules from Magical Styles and Mass Combat. The article speaks to the "Six Strengths of Siegecraft," an idea of the six different specialties a magic user in an organized military might put herself to use. This might be intelligence, logistics, artillery, and so on. This is then expanded on in a very detailed magic style, and this then develops into a talk about Mass Combat elements for each of the six specialties.
The article is flavorful and gives some good application advice. The Mass Combat talk is a bit short, but the stats are nice, and most of the interesting details can be ascertained from the more detailed discussion of the magical style content. I like it because it is a good illustration for players new to GURPS and interested in building a magic character to show there are more options than "girl that throws fireballs," and "elf that heals."

Perfect Defense

This is the article that I bought this issue for. To get the full value out of this, you will need to have the Imbuements book. This article, by Kelly Pedersen expands the previously mostly weapon focused list of abilities to include abilities for armor and shields. The article is mostly a straight up list (but each item has a generous description) of 22 new imbuement abilities and a bit of a clarification of the rules to make them fit into the current imbuement framework. Though the variety of counters, independant abilities, and resistances offered are pretty good, the one issue I have with the article is there are some abilities that seem more passive, but very important... and I wonder how does one handle the energy cost on them... like Lighten Armor, an ability that sounds good, but I don't want to pay 1 FP a second to use it... unless maybe the point is just to make dodging and fencing parries work better for one turn? Can anyone clarify? Good stuff besides that one trip up, and a few "meh" abilities, but what's one man's meh is another man's cool, pretty subjective.

The Vulture Squad

This article, by Brian Rogers, gives the backstory of a gang that raids battlefields for treasure in a somewhat TL3 fantasy setting. The characters described are pretty interesting and the background information is a bit inspiring and thought provoking for my own material, but the characters have such low point values, I fear using them in my typically high powered campaigns. I could beef them up a bit, of course, and I do like the idea. I think maybe one day I should try running a fantasy adventure with low point totals and see how long lived characters organically develop.

Battle Strategies

This feature is like the combat cards you can get for free on the official Steve Jackson website, except for Mass Combat. The idea is good, and I think if I try running a Mass Combat campaign, I'd like to print these cards out. My one issue is that the clipart is a bit cheesy and they could stand to have a splash of color, but meh, any art is a step up from the original combat cards, I won't die if these aren't a masterpiece, and frankly, they just look really useful.

Magic and Naval Warfare

This thoughtful article, by Demi Benson is a great mix of advice and mechanics on the types of things you should consider when hosting naval combat in a world with magic. For "enjoyability," this article is the winner for me. It speaks to elements like organizing fleets, the typical kinds of offensive, defensive, supporting, and logistic magic a crew might use, and each section ends with a "style point" which helpfully suggests the things to focus on depending on if you want to present a lower or higher fantasy game. This article doesn't exactly require any other books be previously read, but it does have useful advice for those using GURPS Magic or Mass Combat.

Our Wyrds at War

This article, by J. Edward Tremlett, is a system agnostic look at setting building and how the world might be different if magic were an integral element. To quote the introduction, it attempts to answer the following questions:

So what would the field of war look like if few people knew there was magic to be used – or if everyone could use it? What would the effect be if magic was reliant on demonic bargains, or if gods walked among the people? What would those societies be like outside the battlefield? And how would the long term effects of weaponizing magic affect the societies themselves?

Frankly, this article had little impact on me, neither positive nor negative. It didn't really get my attention the way anything else did. Nothing I read sounded bad, but I couldn't keep reading it.

Random Thought Table: Magic on the Battlefield (and Other Imponderables)

 This short bit, by Steven Marsh talks about dialing up and down the realism on respectively, battle and magic and what that might mean for a game hosted in one flavor or another. Of course, this creates four different possible variations if we read each of the two properties as a binary, and all four of the combinations are touched on in detail.
This is neither here nor there for me, but it did hold my attention.

Other Thoughts and Closing

If you want a soundbite buy/don't buy, here it is: if you have Imbuements, this issue is practically fundamental. If you have Mass Combat or Magical Styles the content there is solid but not absolutely essential. If you need world building advice for large scale magic influenced war, this is something to consider looking at.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...