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Old 11-15-2013, 11:24 AM   #1
Kromm
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Default GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

All things cycle through
Earth, water, fire, metal, wood
Always, that is Tao
— Some hack
The cynics figured it was a fluke when we published GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, and merely snorted when GURPS Zombies came shambling right after. They took Pyramid #3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III for granted. However, they couldn't help but be awed by GURPS Locations: St. George's Cathedral (an impressive structure, to be sure) . . . and a week later, they were genuinely surprised when GURPS Martial Arts: Yrth Fighting Styles jumped them. The fact is, e23 is on a roll. It is only fitting, then, that after rolling through five supplements in just over a month, it returns once more to the GURPS Thaumatology series with GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers.

One puzzle of GURPS Powers is "How do I construct a good system of interrelated powers?" A common question about GURPS Thaumatology is "How do I break away from spells and present magic as powers?" GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers balances the yin of magic and the yang of powers to offer you something that is both . . . and neither. Though it might not lead you to enlightenment, it should at least make it a lot easier to combine powers and magic in your campaign!

Contents include five completely worked powers, each with both internal and external disciplines. These come with not only a huge catalog of cool and flavorful abilities, but also new uses for skills that were previously of dubious value, ways to connect all this to Chinese martial arts, and a dose of well-researched real-world mysticism for good measure. Whether your goal is to run a heroic campaign set in mythic China, power up a Chinese-themed superhero, toss a little Eastern flavor into your fantasy campaign, or just learn how to build powers, you're bound to find this supplement valuable.
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Old 11-15-2013, 11:29 AM   #2
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

I can't believe I'm saying this, but stop releasing these so quickly! I need time to get more money! I can't wait to get my grubby fingers on this one (it's been on my radar for a while now).
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Old 11-15-2013, 11:47 AM   #3
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Humabout View Post
I can't believe I'm saying this, but stop releasing these so quickly! I need time to get more money! I can't wait to get my grubby fingers on this one (it's been on my radar for a while now).
No no release then, people low on money can catch up! ;-)

It looks pretty good so far, but I literally just glanced over it. Hpe to do some reading after the session tomorrow.
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Old 11-15-2013, 05:18 PM   #4
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

Quote:
Originally Posted by Humabout View Post
I can't believe I'm saying this, but stop releasing these so quickly! I need time to get more money! I can't wait to get my grubby fingers on this one (it's been on my radar for a while now).
There's nothing that says that you must get the PDF on opening day or that the PDF disappears after X days.
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Old 11-15-2013, 09:21 PM   #5
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There's nothing that says that you must get the PDF on opening day or that the PDF disappears after X days.
But I wants it! Instant gratification is my friend!
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Old 11-16-2013, 06:53 AM   #6
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

I still have to give it a through read, but my initial impressions is that while good, it lacks the spark of genius that made psionic powers and divine favor so awesome. It's conventional, it doesn't really have an inspiring central mechanic that sets it appart from standard powers builds. The abilities (as well as the ability names) are interesting, but they don't really scale well, at least not without some rebuilding, meaning that in dungeon fantasy or supers game, they might need some rebuilding (and it's so suggested) because using only extra effort to get stronger abilities reaches diminishing returns way too fast, specially when the abilities themselves are relatively cheap. The builds themselves are good, yet slightly bland, not using modifiers to surprise the reader with things that are obvious in retrospect yet one would have never found by himself.

The perks, external/internal and elemental interactions were excellent, as was the writing, so that's why I'm disappointed it was only OK mechanically. It's good that this fell under the Thaumatology series and not the Powers series, because that way, people won't compare it so readily to Psionic Powers and Divine Favor, and will then appreciate it for what it is.

Once I manage to give it an in depth read, I might come up with a chapter by chapter review.
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Old 11-16-2013, 11:07 AM   #7
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

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Originally Posted by Kuroshima View Post
I still have to give it a through read, but my initial impressions is that while good, it lacks the spark of genius that made psionic powers and divine favor so awesome. It's conventional, it doesn't really have an inspiring central mechanic that sets it appart from standard powers builds.
So would using the AA mechanics like Divine Favor does have mae it better for you?
It is trivially easy to do, here is an example.
Name of ability, base cost/5= AA cost if its an alternate of another ability of the same or higher cost.
Wood
catapult hand 9/5=2
Club Fist 8/5=2
Endurance of Bamboo 33/5=7
Forest Walking 14/5=3
Ivy Climb 15/5=3
Root Grip 4/5=1
Skin of Oak 7/5=2
Touching the Spleen 11/5=2
Wood Frame 13/5=3
Blowing Leaves 5/5=1
Commanding Wood 16/5=3
Knowing Hidden Vegation 18/5=4
Storm of Wind 23/5=5
Tangling Vines and Branches 25/5=5

Going back to my Control Magic construct I would do this with Control as the typical base power.
So...
Commanding Wood Rank 1 [16] allows 9 of the above as alternates.
Commanding Wood Rank 2 [32] Allows 3 more
Commanding Wood Rank 3 [48] Allows all of the above powers as alternates and most can be leveled up.
I would have liked to see this in a "Power Ups" section for High fantasy or Supers games but it took me just a few minutes to do the above and it was rather obvious so might have been wasted space.

Remember the two comparisions you made did not come up with any new mechanic either.
Divine Favor just used the AA and a list of powers with minimal interconnection (hence it replaced a description word count like much of Chapter 1 and 2 here with more space for additional power builds.
The one thing it did I doubt many of us had thought about was use patron as the base power and come up with some complicated rules to break that up using reactions and such.
But the AA mechanic that is the core of the book was in Powers.

Psionics used the same rules from Powers as well but I liked it becasue it gave greater exposure to a few rules I had largely ignored and would not have used much (if at all) outside a Supers game. However seeing how there broken down into skills inspired other things.
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Old 11-15-2013, 11:29 AM   #8
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

Yet another way to take my money :P
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Old 11-15-2013, 11:50 AM   #9
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

I figured I'd used up my monthly RPG budget when I bought my Pyramid subscription but, no, you just had to make this available for a mere $8. With the total -5 to Will imposed, how was I to resist?
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Old 11-15-2013, 12:13 PM   #10
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Default Re: GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers

My review.
Primary complaint, it could have been a bigger book :)
Chapter 1 The Cycle of the Elements
The obligatory fluff chapter. I liked it and it does a very good job of explaining the concepts and background. It is easy to read and detailed without too much detail that might bore a reader with little or no interest in the source material. Water Quenches Fire was a nice bit of Crunch that I really like here and useful for Fantasy and Supers games where you may be curious as to the effects of certain water vs. fire effects.
Water Nourishes Wood is a really handy tidbit for naturlists and farmers as well. Those two gems should be reused in a Magic: Water spells book or other material. Overall this chapter is really the perfect size and feel for explaining the key concepts.

I even liked how a nod was given to the IChing rather then ignoring it, it would make a good magic system but I dont think fare as well as a powers system.

Chapter 2 Fundamentals

The least useful chapter, it still has a nice gem in it with Crippling abilities and the disadvantages for Yin/Yang imbalance. It covers and consolidates rules from a variety of book and goe over some setting specific stuff so I do consider it useful and a required chapter.

However those with the other books, especially a good understanding of GURPS Powers will find this the least useful chpater in the book.
Of course if you do not have a good grasp of GURPS Powers its essential and explains some things people often seem to forget about such as power defenses and crippled abilities.

Chapter 3 Character Traits

Harmony with the Tao is back! Actually this version is a lot better written and balanced I think.
Super Throw getting put in another spot besides Supers is nice, it never got enough love :(
I like the Body Discipline perk and it was nice to see Green Lanterns limitation appear here too.
The skills section of this chapter has the most new crunch with cinematic variants of a handful of skills and I especially liked the change to Alchemy and the FP sharing of Erotic Art. Meditation gets some love, though I already used it as its described here but its nice to have house rules in published form.
Only 2 techniques but there both good ones. Focus is an obvious one but good to have here and I appreciate the detail in comparing it and noting when it is not a good deal.
Deliberate Crippling is headed to some Martial Styles soon :)

Chapter 4 Elemental Abilities

The real heart of the book and what I was looking forward to the most.
a few good surprises here, not just the kinds of abilities I would have thought up and I like how each is organized with a standard set of types.
I really am surprised (and pleased) how balanced each element winds up being when compared to each other.
The writeups are classic Powers and I was expecting more of the "Skills for Everyone" format of GURPS Psionic Powers. I am not sure which I would have preferred but I like the way this was handled. Also several mentions of AA where the alternate is not crippled if the other version is. That is a good touch, normally AA get the discount because you cant use them at the same time but also there part of the same power. Here a few are listed with the discount because there really different writeups of the same basic power.
A few of the perks might be overpowered but overall I think everything works out really well and manages to catch the feel of the elements while still being playable. Thinking it over I do miss a few "cold" effects for Metal.

Chapter 5 Campaigns and Crossovers
This chapter tends to be the least useful and interesting to me in most books but it was very well written and good reference to source material.
It was a nice read.
PS: The Godlike Extra Effort section was a good way to power up this book for a Supers or High Fantasy game. I am considering using that with Threshold and the disadvantages and such under crippling to replace most of the calamity type stuff.


Overall I loved the book and while I liked all of Bills work I think this is his best and most useful out of the box. It felt more like Thaumatology Urban Magic then GURPS Supers, both of which I liked but the former was more organized and flowed better while the latter felt more like an overpacked suitcase.
PS: The format established here would make a good basis for other power writeups, kind of like Powers as Styles.
As Bill mentioned in another thread you can use the same format for Naruto elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Wind, Lightning) and thier exotic subtypes such as Wood, Magnetisim, Particle, Lava, Ice, and what not.
I can also see the format for the core for any number of other things as well. Animal would be a good writeup I might use for another example.

My desire for this book, other then to see a good writeup of an overlooked theme was to see how well it fit for my Kaya (elves based on the 5 elements).
It is too limited to replace their magic system but it will be a nice supplement that flavors the various versions nicely. I will probably write up additional elements and categories (animal being a likely one) that use this format.

EDIT Update after working with the book awhile.

The thrust of this book is aimed at what I call medium power games which is confirmed by the authors post that it was inteneded to work well with WuXia campaigns.
I tend to run high power fantasy and in working into my setting I have decided that it can easily scale up in power. In fact it can scale nicely even to the Supers level and the elements can provide models for other powers using a similar model.
Elementalists lack the flexibility of most other mages but tend to have more reliable effects.
If you scale it up to a high meditation or focus skill can allow liberal use of Temporary Enhancement and Powers that Default and you can get a good variety of effects without much more of a buy in. this stacks well with the other Magic as powers systems.
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