Smoke, Mirrors & Faerie Dust #3

Copyright ©1998 By Joseph Teller

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Surface Mail: 266 Western Ave Cambridge Mass 02139

Personal Notes:

We managed to miss the deadline for last issue (#277) so I presume that the zine we wrote for it will appear in #278. I'm not sure whether this will actually make #278 or #279, so we will just have to wait and see. I'm starting the writing of this with less than 2 weeks until the deadline, and only received #277 three days ago, so evidently our post awful is being horribly slow locally.

Neither Kiralee or Cindy will have anything to include this issue, Cindy just got back from Dragon Con and is now playing catchup at work. Kiralee, who's company is already overloading her daily, has to take time off at the end of this week to travel to Maine for a cousin's wedding. I myself will be brief as I am attending my sister's wedding as one of her four photographers (the only non-professional) as well as the usual brotherly type things, this week.

The Third edition Beta of Shadow Bindings is now available on our website for browsing or downloading. This is the result of a push to get it finished before our flyers would be released at Dragon Con, and about a month of extensive discussion of the game systems on one of the newsgroups (hundreds of messages were surprisingly posted). Its been majorly changed, finally edited by Kiralee, and with a new navigational approach to the layout (which now requires a Frames compatible browser). Hopefully I will get the existing world base materials updated by the end of next month to be fully functional with the new edition. If you haven't seen the new version, you should, as it is VERY different.

Quick Review: Gurps Egypt

ISBN 1-55634-342-6 Published by Steve Jackson Games. By Thomas M. Kane, and edited by Spike Y. Jones. 128 pages .

The history of Egypt spans thousands of years, and it would be difficult for anyone to cover every detail of that history within a roleplaying game, and even more difficult to achieve it in a mere 128 pages. Despite the daunting task that was laid out before the author and his editor, I feel that they have done the best analysis of ancient Egypt for gaming purposes that has been done to date, and that anyone who runs historical period settings will find it a welcome addition to their gaming reference shelf, even if they do not play Gurps.

Instead of over-emphasizing the dry details of wars, Gurps Egypt points out the more interesting aspects of the culture and to some extent its connection to various contemporary cultures that it shared its time periods with.

I found wonderful details about Egyptian life that I had never even considered previously, but as a gamer felt add large amounts of color and understanding of the culture. Things like the fact that the Egyptians were probably the first major culture to develop the use of passports, or exactly what were the hairstyles among the people. I've heard many a program and read a few books over the years on Egyptian archeology and religion, but the details like these are not what most scientists bother talking about, and having these important blanks of knowledge filled in are important for running a game setting.

Yes, the book could have used twice as much space to present the setting as there is a number of areas that could have used a lot more detail in regards to historical figures and events. Larger books are rare in the GURPS line (save a few, like Discworld which came out at the same time) and expensive to produce. Historical settings are not as good at selling as ones that tie in with a particular book series (or ones based on other media). In this period of time when its good to know that new material is coming out at all, it would be foolish to begrudge a quality product simply because of the size limitations it was crafted under.

The material is excellent, the layout makes good use of the sidebar system of information presentation (the closest thing you can do to achieve hypertext on paper), the Maps and diagrams are helpful.

Quick Review : Gurps Discworld

ISBN 1-55634-261-6 Published by Steve Jackson Games. By Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters. 240 Pages (including 31 pages for GURPS LITE rules).

If you have never read or experienced the books of Terry Pratchett in the Discworld fiction series, it is definitely worth getting them (at any price!). Terry writes some great tales and they are both great fun, and have interesting hidden insights between their pages about life, reality and the humorous status of sentient life in general.

That said, and knowing that I've read the entire series (including those not yet available in American editions), I would like to thank Terry for helping Phil attempt to adapt the Discworld to GURPS. It was a daunting task, and one that few would be up to handling. Phil has done the best he can with this adaption, the space limitations (how do you describe a world that's taken over 20 full length novels in less space than one of the novels?) and Complexities that the strangeness of the Disc can present to concepts like basic physics.

The art is great, the information is wonderful (but I would love to have had some of the other important personalities that were left out included, like Leonardo of Quirm) and the layout makes this a fun book.

That said, I must say that I feel GURPS was the wrong system, it just doesn't approach the feeling of the books, being a system of far too realistic combat (and far too fatal). Additionally the GURPS 'standard' magic system just doesn't give the right feel, even with some crafty additions and fixes, that one expects from magic wielding characters of the Disc. I really feel that this unique world deserved a unique set of magic mechanics, and that the limitations forced on characters by standard Gurps Fantasy Magic just fails utterly to properly represent the magic of the books.

That's not to say that one of the currently available systems from other games would do better, instead a whole new system should have been crafted that took the concepts in the books in to consideration, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

I'd also argue with the GURPS point ratings suggested, and the descriptions of abilities for some of the characters. This comes down to a difference of opinion on the limits of the mechanic and the presented characters (in net conversations Phil has complained about the 'escalating power levels' of various characters, and yet has evidently missed many actions that characters performed early on that established their abilities or that the books obviously cover easily between 20 and 50 years of events).

Still, half a disc is better than none, and with that said, I recommend folks to get the book anyway. Its worth having, and I'm sure that sufficiently creative and aspiring GMs can take this wealth of background information for the setting and re-work it to better fit the feel of the books (with or without GURPS). We bought two copies for our household (one for use, the other to one day be signed by Terry and perhaps to replace the other when it finally falls apart for loving use).

[I'm considering doing a Shadow Bindings adaption from the book someday, for my gaming group's amusement.]

Comments on #277:

(If I fail to write a comment, please don't feel that your zine was not read and enjoyed, its just that I didn't have anything specific to add that I thought would be of value to the readers).

Lee Gold: re newsgroups; I find the folks on the net in the newsgroups are often too fast to flame others or make rude comments to simply draw attention to themselves, and many appear to simply post because they have a Monty Python concept of arguments ("an argument is not a simple contradiction", "Yes it is!", "No its Not!", "Yes it is, you Nit", "No its not! " ad nauseam).

As far as much of the Internet is concerned, the newsgroups themselves are an archaic leftover to the pre-commercial internet. But when it comes to promoting a website's existence (necessary now when many search engines are starting to charge folks to get their site cataloged, believe it or not) it is necessary to face the critics and the twits that inhabit the newsgroups regularly. I think that there's still a place for APA's, otherwise I wouldn't have returned to A&E with the demise of IR. APA's have always, to me, been more polite, less reactionary and contain a lot more content then can be found on the net (and offer a lot more honest reviews and opinions than are found in commercial publications like Shadis that only review those who buy ads in their pages).// re: Night Watch magic - yes, there is actually low-level magic in the day (which allows ritual magic, but not the quick spell concepts that players tend to prefer) because of those who sleep in the daytime, and an abnormal number of non-sleepers at night (say on New Years Eve) can reduce the effectiveness of magic in many cases (but the day after New Years Eve, with all those Hangover spawned nightmares continuing well into the mid-morning would be very difficult for people to deal with). Part of the concept is that many people blot out their memory of magical events, or disguise them with more 'rational' events in their memories.//re: Fantasy Realms Combat - most combat damage used a single table, but the weapon values would generally change where they started using the table - a light weapon like a fist would start at the bottom, a more powerful weapon, like a mace would generally skip the lower parts of the table. In all cases though armor or other protections could lower the position, so that a fist against an armored knight would have to be a darn good shot (say to thru an open face mask) to do any real damage. Guns went to a separate table, as did energy attacks (from magic, weapons or powers). //re: inventing - most of the listed things you gave would be more a matter of inspiration then planned inventions/designs. That sort of thing is primarily part of the players function in characters in my games (I also don't have Intelligence or Wisdom attributes in my systems, as those are part of what a player brings to the character, and because most players can't play a character that is wiser than they are (and many are bad at playing one with greater or lesser intelligence) in my experiences with systems that used such concepts. I do have a MIND attribute, but it usually represented Memory. A player might want to try something wild, and in Shadow Bindings could justify this with personality aspects of high creativity and insight (such as applying a more modern concept in an ancient setting).

S. Isaac Dealey: Yes, Synergy is still included on the CD (but we only have about 10 copies left to move from the shelf at this point so I wouldn't worry too much). I will be sending along a check for a copy of Paradigm as soon as I can get my roommate to write one (I don't keep an account myself).//I'm starting my preparations for January's Arisia (having recovered from our promo efforts at Dragon Con) and will be running an ad in the souvenir book for our website to keep up the visibility, as well as a strew of new flyers. If you have any promo flyers that you would like distributed at the various conventions that one or more of us attend, please send them along to the mailing address and I'll gladly pass them along.

Brian Misiaszek: re 1950s Roleplaying - yes its an era that no one else has done much with, which is why I decided to work with it. I find that often what makes a successful roleplaying game is having a unique setting or time period to work with, or a very different approach to a 'standard' setting. I tend to think that's one of the reasons why WW's Vampire the Masquerade took off so well, no one had done an extensive piece on playing vampires or what vampire culture was like before (though vampires were common in numerous horror settings for years). That's also why the other settings we are working on are either in periods that there just aren't many games working with (Victorian England, for example). I am considering a Pulp setting game along the way, as I have yet to find any (past or present) that do the period real justice. //I Love An Adventure is definitely a poor substitute for the earlier ILAM series and is not More at his best.