Monday, August 15, 2016

Review: Pyramid #3/66 The Laws of Magic

Good issue.
This issue of Pyramid, from April, 2014, speaks a lot to Ritual Path Magic and to a few bits of updated mechanics from the 3rd edition of GURPS, and little bits of odds and ends that deal with, of course, magic systems. The RPM content alone makes this issue a must-buy for fans of that system, but the rest of the content is a decent bonus too. Let's take a closer look.


This is a typical 40 page issue of Pyramid that focuses a lot on rules, some on fluff, and a bit of data and guidance. To get the greatest bang for your buck, you probably want the Thaumatology, Ritual Path Magic, Magical Styles, and, of course, GURPS Magic. With that short introduction out of the way, let's look at the articles one by one.

Alternative Ritual Path Magic

This is an 11 page article from Christopher R. Rice that speaks to a bunch of ways to mix up the original system with bits here and there, but mostly Thaumatology. First it looks at a way to use the Book Magic system from Thaumatology, which isn't an especially ground-breaking change from the original system and is totally straightforward. Next is an augmentation to blend Divine Favor, which is again, pretty straightforward and includes some helpful prayers that someone who would know both styles of casting might find useful.
Now, the revolutionary bit, in my opinion, starts with the writeup for swapping out the energy accumulation foundations of RPM for the Effect Shaping system from Thaumatology. This system does two awesome things: It makes spell-casting in RPM a bit more of a consistent thing with less dice rolling and easier to determine casting times, and two, it gives a really good yardstick to make the Effect Shaping system much easier to use - it easily converts all existing RPM spells to work with Effect Shaping, a system that otherwise, I feel, didn't have really good guidance for coming up with unique spells. This section also includes some detailed writeups for new perks and advantages to fit the new paradigm.
We have an interesting aside on p.7 which gives a short blurb to several smaller mechanics from Thaumatology that can probably mix and match well with other major systems. Nothing noteworthy to mention, but the whole thing is an entertaining curiosity.
High Craft is similar to Book Magic, with a few differences here and there, but is definitely a flavorful system for high magic settings where craftsman can be so skilled they can produce magical effects.
The next section speaks to how to use the Magical Styles supplement along with Ritual Path Magic. This section includes some new perks and repurposing of existing perks, and has some pretty nice boons that make styles attractive.
The Ritual Powers section is a small writeup on creating advantage versions of rituals. This section disappointed me a little because I was hoping for something as naive as a Energy cost -> Character Point conversion, but it is more like a hand-holding thing that walks you through creating a similar advantage from scratch and then modifying based on some input parameters. Interesting, but not what I was hoping it would be.
The last major section is Ritual Symbols, similar already to Ritual Path Magic, but adding some subtle pros and cons, which overall seem to stack in favor of pros, making casting more expensive spells easier at the cost of time.
Overall, this article is the main event. If you like the summary, you should probably get this issue.

Ritual Path Specialists

This article by Jason Levine (PK) sets out to address the double edge sword of ritual path magic: On the one hand, it makes omnipotent mages convenient, on the other hand, it makes omnipotent mages convenient. This five page article talks to ways of using Higher Purpose and Talent to make more focused RPM users.
First we get a guide on how to customize Higher Purpose, which gives incentive to casting thematically appropriate spells. It also includes some thoughts on additional benefits besides the vanilla +1 to skills. It's an interesting start, but I wish there was more.
Next, we have a bunch of limitations that can be applied to the Magery and Ritual Adept. There is a fantastically detailed list of limitations here, and they don't feel like rip-offs. Special note that there are some really cool perks in an aside in this section.
The next section offers several talents that help with one or two paths and several related practical skills. I have nothing special to note about the talents except that there are a lot, and I think they all come across as pretty thoughtful combinations of skills.
The last section talks about mechanics for applying the rules for optional specializations. I think it is written as well as it could be, but I find optional specializations a really expensive raw deal, so I don't think about them often.
Overall, I consider this article a pretty big winner as well, cementing this issue as the "You need it if you like RPM at all" issue.

Eidetic Memory - The Azure Dragon

This is an Eidetic Memory feature, brought to you by David L. Pulver. It speaks to The Azure Dragon, a magic book that can be used with the Book Magic mechanics. It includes a lot of lore and world building background information for a campaign on Earth in modern times, but names of countries, continents, historical periods, dates, and important NPCs could be massaged easily. At the end we are given four spells that are contained in the book that can be used with either effect shaping or energy accumulation mechanics, all four having an astronomy type theme.
Interesting fluff, but I don't know if I could ever use this in a campaign. I prefer thinking of it as a case-study in how to make a MacGuffin interesting, and set up a web of important characters around it.

Thoroughly Modern Magic

This four page article by Paul Stefko is a guide on statting up and costing out magical factories, that is, assembly lines that produce enchanted items.
The article starts with a straightforward equation for figuring out how much it would cost to build an assembly line, and guidance for calculating logistics of operating the line. We are then treated to a helpful table that breaks down a lot of numbers for us for each tech level from 0 to 12.
After this we have a Magical Style for mages that would work on an assembly line, a nice bonus for world building. And then we also have an occupational template that incorporates the style, and an example character built on that template. A recursive 3 for 1! But it is definitely helpful for seeing how all the pieces come together.
An interesting article that I could see being helpful in a fantasy business campaign or for players that might want a day job in a slice-of-life campaign.

The Material Difference

A seven page article by Sean Punch that gives guidance for using the vanilla enchantment system in a fast paced campaign environment like Dungeon Fantasy that can't tolerate years of downtime. Mainly, this is accomplished by gathering magically inclined raw materials, like you might see in a video game. The article includes some metrics for deciding appropriate amounts of energy rendered from particular bits of loot, and skills needed to find them. It includes a lens for wizards in Dungeon Fantasy that might want to focus on enchantment over or along with dungeon delving. And it gives a nice sample table of appropriate materials by college to use as a launching pad for other materials or quests to find materials to make powerful enchanted items. It includes, in typical Dungeon Fantasy form, different levels of labs to be used for the enchantment process as well. This leads into a talk about the distillation of "essences" from raw magic grist, an extra layer of abstraction for fun and flavor. This leads into the actual process of enchanting, which follows naturally from the built up mechanics, and ends with a very detailed practical example of enchanting a sword, from harvesting materials, to execution of the enchantment.
An interesting system, but I haven't tried putting it into practice yet. I think I might want to now that I've taken a closer second look at the article. The first time I looked through it, I missed a few details that made it difficult to actually understand how it works. With newfound perspective, it definitely looks like a usable iteration of the GURPS Magic enchantment system.

Random Thought Table - Break the Law!

This two page feature, by Steven Marsh, talks about the idea of magical laws, a fixture in fiction where magicians know there are certain things they absolutely cannot do. It speaks to the semantic impacts on a setting when, for example, there is a law that says "magic shall never [...]" and gives some ideas of questions to ask and mechanical fallout in the implementation of such, and more interesting, like Chekov's gun, explores if a rule exists, does that mean that it is meant to be broken? An interesting idea that I haven't used yet, but maybe I'll apply it. It sounds like a good source of lateral thinking to put in a situation that almost barely works, but only because of a technicality... but honestly I'm not clever enough to think of one that my inner censor tells me is going to be more fun than annoying for players.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

The Odds & Ends feature includes one cool option for adding limitation type adjustments to RPM spells to reduce energy costs, I like that, and as an extension to Thoroughly Modern Magic, Paul Stefko includes a couple of adventure prompts that center on the idea of magical factories.
Overall, I've said it again and again, this is a must for RPM fans. For Dungeon Fantasy fans, the enchantment article is pretty neat, and for everyone else... the rest are pretty interesting, but not must-haves by themselves; more like a good bonus if you like the other content.

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