Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Review: Pyramid #3/44 - Alternate GURPS II

No gasping on this
Issue #3/44. The Alternate GURPS issue of Pyramid are awesome for people looking for ways to change things up. They are full of optional rules, and myself, being the kinda guy who loves looking through optional rules, these are some of my favorite issues. Alternate GURPS II is my favorite so far in the series, so while I go through reviewing them, I guess I'll start with this one.


Table of Contents
This is a 38 page pdf, released June, 2012 with 7 articles, the editor introduction, and the recurring Odds and Ends feature. Besides the Basic Set, one very good article heavily depends on Mass Combat, the rest don't have any special prerequisites. This issue is heavily rules based, as the Alternate GURPS issues are wont to be, with some guidance, some data, but mostly void of fluff and background.
Pull quotes are amusing, art is sparse, but appropriate. Overall, I have no particular notes about organization or overall flow of the issue; most articles are self-contained entities. Some of the material in this issue I'd consider "advanced" as in they add detail and complexity, except for three, with one amongst those three actually offering a simpler alternative to the default treatment of money and wealth. This said, I recommend this issue more to tinkerers and remixers than to learners or those looking for cool catalogs of powers or equipment. Let's dissect the issue now, article by article.

The Last Gasp

This 11 page article, by Douglas H. Cole is a more detailed treatment of fatigue in combat. If you've ever had suspension of disbelief broken by character constantly using each and every second to the mechanical fullest without any breather moments here or there, this might be something that helps. The article starts with a straightforward talk about Long-Term Fatigue, different than the ,mechanic of the same name introduced in After The End, and relating to accumulated penalties from operating under fatigued conditions. The interesting part is Short-Term Fatigue, which introduces an action economy mechanic that requires careful management of action points and adds a new layer of tactical complexity and verisimilitude. Almost all actions require some expenditure of action points, besides a few restful options which restore them. This enables strategies like overwhelming opponents with poor stamina, and crises like needing to make room to gather yourself for another sally.
The article is very detailed and includes several considerations for edge cases that arise from changing a fundamental mechanic of the game. The system sounds interesting, but I admit that I am slightly afraid of the extra book-keeping and the possibility of forgetting a rule at the worst possible time. A cheat sheet for this article would have been appreciated in that regard, but it probably couldn't fit without messing up the page counts, which I hear is a strict thing for Pyramid articles.

From Skills to Advantages

This five page article, by Sean Punch, is basically what it says on the tin. It's a pretty straightforward mechanic for converting skills to advantages, which opens up several different options, like allowing limitations or enhancements, or more easily associating certain skills with power modifiers giving them the same talents, restrictions, benefits, and drawbacks. The article specifically focuses on those skills which are more like special abilities, especially those that require Magery or Trained by a Master, than actual "skills," and has a very long list of examples in that vein. A simple article that I've exercised several times in game and on this blog.

Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously

This seven page article, by Roger Burton West, offers some more detailed language rules. Instead of treating languages like advantages, it breaks them apart into several different components which behave more like skills. This offers more detail in exchange for more complexity and more character points in order to be considered more fluent. The article helpfully includes an interesting table of real world languages with defaults and familiarities to help enhance the system even further.
The idea appeals to me, but I have not used it yet because foreign languages in game seem like a real bad way to hose up game progress in a "realistic" game, and an inconvenient speed-bump in a supernatural game. If I were going to seriously use language mechanics though, I'd carefully consider using these ones instead of the default rules.

Eidetic Memory - Tactical Mass Combat

This seven page article, by David L. Pulver, gives a less abstract option for Mass-Combat. The original system is designed to handle large battles quickly and then yield the floor to the main characters, the PCs, but this system allows for a more detailed option if you want a "war game" experience. Instead of converting an army into one abstract number and then resolving hours of combat in a few rolls by the commander and tactician on either side, elements are represented as individual units on a map. It uses attributes and metrics from the original Mass Combat system so existing elements are largely compatible, with the new system. In fact, this is nice because it allows switching between the original abstract system and the more detailed system as appropriate. Say for example, using the abstract rules when the PCs have much less leadership involvement, and switching to the tactical rules if the PCs are in a position of responsibility. The asude on the final page, Force Commander is an especially thoughtful inclusion for morale boosting powers from good leadership.
I have not used these rules, and have used the Mass Combat rules exceedingly rarely, but the article seems easy enough to understand, almost easier than the original Mass Combat rules, though that has a little bit to do with how those rules deal with everything from logistics and human resources, probably the most difficult part of the system, while this only deals with the combat portion of the rules. It looks fun, and if I ever have a war heavy campaign with players in high ranking positions, I might try it.

Abstract Wealth

This three page article, by Jason Brick, is about using... an abstract wealth mechanic. Instead of, for example, a player with a particular wealth value earning on average a particular amount of money per month and tracking how many dollars go towards different goods and services, this system says if you have a particular wealth value, you can easily afford anything that costs less than a particular amount, might be able to afford stuff above that, and if the stars line up perfectly, you might be able to pay for something really big. Depending on the type of game you run, not having to track every penny can help things go smoother, and lets people with high wealth just "be awesome" and buy expensive stuff, and people with low wealth just struggle.
The system is really straightforward and is mostly explained in 1.5 pages with some charts, but there is a lot of extra helpful content besides that help deal with corner cases and unusual situations.
Like I said, the value of this system (and surely, all of these other systems) depends on what you are going for, and heavy resource management is one of the important challenges in my choice gameplay genres, so I haven't seen much use for it. I think that the system could help somewhat in some cases, but on the other hand, I feel like it could require having tables right in front of you to use it, which makes it a little less usable. Maybe with experience though it would be easy to just absorb the tables through osmosis and not need them anymore?

Random Thought Table - A Niche to Scratch

This two page article, by Steven Marsh, is about niche protection and mechanics to support it. Even using a perk literally called Niche Protection to facilitate it. Using this perk, players continue to be awesome at the things they are awesome at without worrying about being upstaged by other players or NPCs. The article, as is typical for Random Thought Table features, is a bit fluffier, but it speaks to an important assumption that players sometimes make: spending points on being able to do things well means they can do those things well. An interesting read overall. Also, some funny references in the examples.

Appendix Z - Survivable Guns

This two page... Appendix, by David L. Pulver offers a solution for games where guns would be cool, but often prove to be too dangerous. The method used actually manages to make the guns less lethal, but still have awesome oomph, good for more cinematic games where the threat of dying shouldn't keep heroes from doing cool stuff. To help clarify the translation, the article includes adjusted stats for several (all?) of the guns in the Basic Set, leaving others as an exercise for the reader. I've never used it myself, but it is a very popular option, and the math isn't difficult at all, so I can see it being easily applied in the case that I were interested.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

The Odds and Ends feature has a column by David L. Pulver with more guidance on Mass Combat, specifically, engagements between more than two armies, short but interesting read. I think overall, this is probably one of the best issues of Pyramid I have read so far. I'd recommend it to anyone, but some of the really good material, I feel requires a certain understanding for the advanced facets of GURPS. For that reason, I recommend it for any experienced GURPS GM that wants to continue running GURPS, but is itching to try something new.


  1. " I admit that I am slightly afraid of the extra book-keeping and the possibility of forgetting a rule at the worst possible time. A cheat sheet for this article would have been appreciated in that regard . . ."

    The rule of thumb I came up with in the car, prior to writing the article, was "every time you roll the dice to do something, spend an AP." The rules in the article are more clear than that, of course, but ultimately it's probably close enough. Attack? 1 AP. All-Out Attack? Two AP, because there's 2 attacks in there as an option. Quick Contest? That usually counts as an attack. 1 AP. Feint? You're rolling dice! 1 AP. (that might not be correct; I'm not consulting my own rules here, but you won't go wrong).

    The only pain is movement, which is very, very expensive in AP, and the rules in the article are so punishing I posted an alternative on my blog. :-)

    1. When I was going to use these rules in Blight Years (which I do intend to still run, someday; I just need a more GURPS-fluent group than the one that I'm running GURPS for right now) I was just going to use physical tokens for tracking AP.

    2. That's the best plan, and one suggested by Steven, no less. I think I said something somewhere - blog or article, not sure - about blue, green, yellow, and red tokens. I really think they'd work great.

    3. Ah, looking closely, I guess the broad strokes aren't that hard to remember. Gotta find the alt rules you mentioned though just for curiosity's sake.
      Is it this one?

  2. Oh, and Survivable Guns is a great concept. I used it in my Alien Menace campaign to good effect.

  3. "I think that the system could help somewhat in some cases, but on the other hand, I feel like it could require having tables right in front of you to use it, which makes it a little less usable. Maybe with experience though it would be easy to just absorb the tables through osmosis and not need them anymore?"

    I think that in the kinds of games best supported by using this system (like my upcoming Madness Dossier game), which aren't focused on monetary resources much at all, most of the time you aren't going to need the tables or to roll at all because most things that the PCs are likely to buy with their own money are trivial expenses.

    1. That makes sense. I didn't think of it like that, but that's really sensible. Most big time shopping, I usually have my players do "off-line," so this would just waive the small things most of the time, and only need to be called into question when people are spending mad dosh.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...