Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Thaumatology - Magical Styles

Unique art style.
So, yesterday I reviewed GURPS Magic, the fundamental tome for GURPS. Besides that book, Magical Styles is a critical expansion that adds some interesting detail, flavor, and mechanics to the otherwise overwhelming list of spells. It takes the concept of martial arts styles from the Martial Arts book and modifies it to work with magic instead by massaging the framework to accommodate large lists of spells instead of oodles of advanced techniques. This book comes in handy if you, the GM are looking for guidance on directing a magic-using player's character growth by putting some limitations in place. The book comes in handy for you, the player, if you have a focused image of what your magic-using character should be, and would like some system support in building that character efficiently and being rewarded for sticking to a plan. Let's take a closer look at this supplement for GURPS Magic.


Chapter 2 looks huge on paper, but
actually isn't as big as chapter 1.
Kinda funny.
This is a 38 page supplement that starts on page 4 and ends on page 36, giving us 33 pages of real stuff to look at. The first 16 page chapter explains how to build a style, the second 14 page chapter has tons of new perks, the main incentivization mechanism of styles, and the final 3 page chapter is a sample style that puts together everything we have read about throughout the book.
The book is split about 50/50 starting with guidance and content, half of the book giving a really good run down on things to consider when codifying a style, the other having tons of new perks and a very detailed application of creating a style. There is little in terms of fluff, though the sample style includes some. There also isn't very much in the way of new rules here, it's more of a structuring of rules that already exist.
The introduction states that the book is usable with just the Basic Set but works better if you also have GURPS Magic and GURPS Thaumatology. This is technically true, though I would warn anyone away from this book if they don't already have GURPS Magic. Thaumatology does enhance the experience, but it is not critical. Some of the perks can be logically applied to other GURPS magic systems though, especially those found in Thaumatology or in some of the smaller supplements like Ritual Path Magic.
The organization of the book is spot-on, and the order of content makes total sense. Art is on-point and feels stylistically appropriate and matched to the content, and the pull-quotes are all entertaining.

Building Magical Styles

This chapter is a guide for putting together a magical style, the main point of the supplement. It first goes over how styles typically have prerequisite mundane skills and how to choose them depending on the theme of the style. The guidance here is helpfully extremely detailed with examples for more than ten different style themes.
The next section goes into prerequisite spells and has some helpful tools for rooting out and determining fundamentals depending on your requirements, like tables of spells that have low barrier to entry, and guides for setting up dependency trees for spell learning order.
After determining the spells needed to be admitted to learn a style, the chapter moves on to our two big incentives of using a style, access to perks and secret spells, with guidance on choosing appropriate perks, and designing and balancing spells that would be secret. After this, there is a discussion on how to make a spell list that is long enough, but not too long, with some thoughtful advice on making what sounds like a laborious task not sound so bad. Then there is a guide for dealing with convoluted requirement trees in a fair way so that things don't need to be unbalanced, but the trappings of the style and theme can also be maintained. After this is a discussion on optional traits and how to handle things like advantages, disadvantages, and other skills that might be thematically appropriate for a certain style.
The chapter ends with guidance on how to handle buying into a style and improving it through play, a very useful inclusion as this is often a hangup for new GMs that aren't sure how to approach such an important problem.
The one complaint I have, which everyone that knows me can probably guess by now is that the guidance for creating a new secret spell feels way too lax, "make it powerful, but try to keep it balanced, but try not to make it too balanced, otherwise it isn't a great secret" is just about the dictionary definition of wishy-washy. On the other hand, the rest of the advice is rock-solid.

New Perks

This chapter includes oodles and oodles of perks to help individualize styles and make them more attractive. By giving a particular style a unique edge that other styles don't. it can make two similar things feel pretty different. The chapter starts with a discussion of the school familiarity perk, somewhat analogous to the similar concept in Martial Arts styles, and then explains the pros and cons of pursuing a particular style versus being a generalist. Subjectively, I think it's a really good list of perks with some adding some setting nuance, and some being really cheap game changers. The write-ups are thorough and definitely include enough detail to make sense of them, each including at least a paragraph of descriptive and prescriptive text. As a special note, some of the asides in this chapter are especially useful if you want to consider using the ideas presented here for other magic systems.
The list is a bit difficult to navigate because there are a lot of perks, but that's really a small problem. They are alphabetized so finding one you know the name for isn't hard; the problem is finding a perk for a particular application, and sometimes the mechanical benefits aren't exactly transparent from the names. Having so many perks to choose from that you have to spend time looking at them carefully though is definitely not a bad problem to have.

Sample Style

This chapter details some lore and mechanics about a style, The Onyx Path to give readers an idea of what might go into putting a style together. It effectively applies many of the concepts in the book, and has an aside with design notes explaining even more of the nitty gritty of the mechanics of putting it together.
The example is executed perfectly, my only wish is that there might have been more. Readers interested in more can find several in later issues of Pyramid though.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I think this is a great book for people that get trapped in analysis paralysis when looking at the potentially overwhelming spell list in Magic. For everyone else, the perk list is also pretty useful. I really like what how Pyramid #3/66 makes this book work for Ritual Path Magic, so if you like that system, and you are looking for a way to spice it up, both books in conjunction open up a lot of customization options.
In conclusion, this book is not an absolute essential, but it is a fun way to dress up magic if you find the basic system doesn't have enough flavor, or find that your players are drowning in options.


  1. one of my absolute favorite books! I LOVE Magical Styles!

  2. Here is a link to over 30 fan made styles. I use this netbook often!


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