RogerBW's Blog

Pyramid 87: Low-Tech III 10 March 2016

Pyramid is the monthly GURPS supplement containing short articles with a loose linking theme. This time it's a variety of ideas broadly intended for pre-gunpowder campaigns.

The Broken Blade (Douglas H. Cole) rewrites weapon breakage. It's doubtless much more realistic than the standard rules, but the requirement to consider the possibility of weapon breakage for every single hit seems as though it would slow things down excessively. Weapons have separate breakage thresholds for attack and defence, and if damage dealt or stopped exceeds the threshold they have to make a health roll; then there's a failure increment, penalising the health roll, so that high damage makes breakage more likely. Then there's a detailed system for repairing weapons once they've broken. This is frankly far more detail than I care about when I'm doing hand-to-hand combat, but it may well appeal to people other than me. Designer's notes here.

Purveyors of the Priceless (Christopher R. Rice) expands on bartering and trading, with a "Bartering Capacity" advantage that represents a stock of tradeable goods. There are some new perks and treatments of existing advantages, and expanded trade rules (based on the ones in Low-Tech Companion 3) that deal not so much with deals but with stock, turnover rates and markups. It's rather bitty but at the very least would make for more plausible merchant caravans in a fantasy setting. Designer's notes here.

Eidetic Memory: Medieval Sea Trade (David L. Pulver) also builds on Low-Tech Companion 3, and on Spaceships 2, to consider maritime freight, determining available cargoes and potential profit. Mostly it deals with speculative trade in the old Traveller model, with notable imports and exports and buying and selling cargo, but with some more conventional transport of freight and passengers. This could really have done with being a full-length Low-Tech book, but what there is is excellent.

Knowledge Is Power (Matt Riggsby) examines the imperial Chinese civil service and its famous system of examinations, looking at both its democracy (apart from women, relatively little of the population was excluded) and its biases (only people who could afford to spend years studying rather than working had any realistic chance of passing the exams). This is largely a fascinating real-world research piece, looking at the various stages of exams, cheating and its detection, and the implications of both the successes and the failures of the system. The actual game content is minimal, basically consisting of a series of difficulty modifiers and status rewards for different levels of exam. Designer's notes here.

The Music Maker (Jon Black) is a writeup and history of Antonio Stradivari and his work, including just why the instruments seem to be so good (various explanations of the wood, and even that they were simply more suited to the emerging musical style of the late 1600s). There's also background on Cremona and other famous inhabitants, and ways of using Stradivari in magical, conspiratorial, fantastic, horrific and alternate-historical games, as well as a number of short adventure seeds. Not much explicit game-mechanical content, but very good; I am likely to steal from this.

Tempered Punks (Graeme Davis) looks at ways of restricting player character inventors in steampunk, dieselpunk, clockpunk, and similar genres: religious objections, whether an inquisition or just an angry mob, excessive interest from the existing rulers, guild objections, and fellow adventurers. This is not the sort of article which I tend to need but it has interesting expansions of the basics.

Random Thought Table: Breaking Reality for Fun and Profit (Steven Marsh) treats the conflict between simulationism ("energy weapons need lots of power") and narrative gamism ("energy weapons can keep firing all day"): should bows be a reasonable choice because bows are a fun thing for your fantasy hero to have, or should they be mass killing machines? How quickly does first aid get you back into the fight? And so on. The article describes various ways of tweaking weapon damage and such like; again, it could have done with being rather longer.

Short Bursts: Ten Minutes in October (Steven Marsh) is more promotional fiction for Car Wars.

There's nothing thoroughly game-changing here, though I'll probably use the Stradivari article and maybe a rejig of the Chinese civil service examinations. Pyramid 87 is available from Warehouse 23.


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:25pm on 10 March 2016

    Does the Stradivari article go into why his instruments continue to be better than those built in the hundreds of years since? Including the possibility that they aren't and it's just reputation and brand recognition?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:30pm on 10 March 2016

    Yes, to both.

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