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Old 07-21-2011, 05:32 PM   #1
Tzeentch
 
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Default Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

The new Pyramid is out, and it's a doozy: the PDF comes packaged in a Zip file with a spreadsheet! And you'll need that spreadsheet too, as the lead article by Douglas Cole is very labor intensive without it!

The Deadly Spring (Douglas Cole): The intro says this is "one of the crunchiest articles we’ve ever run in Pyramid" and I believe it. I love crunch, but without the sheet I would just throw my arms up in defeat at this. With the sheet - it's actually easier in some ways than GURPS Vehicles, Second Edition weapon design.

Douglas doesn't discuss the background for the article, but you may remember him bringing up the idea during the Low-Tech playtest - so this is something that has been percolating for quite a while. The article is a labor of love, and although step B follows step A in most cases, it still mentions a lot of math and advanced concepts that may be hard to follow at first. I would recommend reading the article once, without trying to understand everything, then read it again and look for material that specifically interests you. For example, I found the discussion on bow damage (pp. 8-9) to be quite interesting, and applicable to any Low-Tech or Dungeon Fantasy game.

The system is daunting, but luckily you only have to understand what the variables mean, not calculate everything - the spreadsheet does all that. Douglas also has a very useful selection of sample weapons (including the design information) to get you started. If using this system, the hard part of designing a weapon is not Douglas' rules - it's that sources are often bereft of information on construction materials and dimensions!

At Play in the Fields (Matt Rigsby): This article extends to the farming material in Low-Tech Companion 3 to allow cash cropping, and otherwise operate an ancient agribusiness. There is a lot of background material here, and at first I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to do with these labor costs and yield calculations. The key material is really at the end (Death and Taxes, Minus the Death), which addresses the all-important agricultural surplus - which can be very important if you are trying to rationalize your campaign worlds economic system and population (i.e. how many farmers do you need at what level of productivity to support cities of your fantasy empire? What does this imply about small freeholders or the wealth of the rural areas?).

Obviously, the article cannot address everything (it only covers crops, not ranching), and things get crazy when you add magic. But as readible, concise background material on ancient (and most quasi-medieval) farming techniques and staple crops you would be hard-pressed to find one better (and it's GURPS oriented, which helps more than you might think). Combined with other RPG-centric economic background material such as Grain into Gold and The Medieval Farming Year you are bound to lose many hours working out your settings farming techniques and output :) It also gives you a greater appreciation for the poor farmers actually producing all that food your characters consume when not eating the cheapest travel rations they can find :)

Eidetic Memory: Medieval Prisons (David Pulver): I knew I was going to like this article because of the very first sentences that sums up years of roleplaying experience: "In my experience, throwing adventurers in prison for an extended period is an exercise in futility. The average player values his character’s freedom to the point where his hero will die before surrendering, or – like a wild animal – gnaw his own legs off in order to escape . . . or perish trying." Conveniently enough, David used a really excellent book as reference for this article as well: Guy Geltner's The Medieval Prison: A Social History. I don't care about the medieval period as an academic, and have only the barest interest in it even for fantasy purposes, but that book will completely change your view on the game utility of prisons in that period!

What sells this article is that it really blows up many of the wierd assumptions people have about ancient prisons. They were often far worse than people think, but could be rather innocuous holding pens as well. There's a ton of color material here to make your own settings prisons more interesting, and not just places that PCs go into and never return, or abstract penalty boxes that people vanish into for a game session or two. Heck, if it just gets people to think about the role of prisons in their games a bit more, then this will be one of the best Eidetic Memories so far.

A Killing Breath (Thomas Weigel): Blowguns. What are they good for? In most games? Absolutely nothing. In GURPS, after this article? A whole lot! I was a bit "WTF?" after seeing this article at first, as honestly I don't think blowguns have ever come up as a player weapon in games I've played. Ever. But I'll be damned if Thomas doesn't make it work. He has a slew of blowgun-specific blowgun weapon modifications, multiple ammunition types for the discerning user, and a complete GURPS Martial Arts mini-supplement to take their use to the next level.

This is a short work (4 pages), but I must say this is one of the most impressive Pyramid articles I have read in the new format. It's concise, expands a part of the game that would never get its own book, and can be dropped into an existing game or adapted to another game system with little effort. That fact that it puts a shine on a weapon and martial art that many considered little more than a joke or cinematic trope is just extra frosting. I wish he had discussed the poisons you could use a bit more, but I'm sure that could fill out an entire article by itself.

Roman Technology (Kenneth Peters): My article, so of course it's good! :) There is only so much room in a Pyramid article, so by necessity this article covers one specific time period (third century, specifically 258 A.D or so) and does not go into fine detail about every little technology - so I leverage Low-Tech and the Companions to get down to business. Of note here are the number of technologies that are listed as TL3 (or even TL4) that the Romans had ready access to - including water-powered trip hammers, clear glass, and vehicle suspensions.

The article is broken up much like the *-Tech books themselves, and starts with a discussion of what skills are available or restricted in the third century. Core Technology discusses food, common building materials, and even an aside on mining and mine working conditions (hint: they were terrible). It touches on alexandrian glass (TL3 clear glass), and the power sources in use. Although we now know the Romans made extensive use of waterpower, I didn't feel the need to go on at length about it.

For General Equipment there's one new item that was strangely missing from Low-Tech - pack saddles. I had originally planned on including a section on Roman units of measure but even I was bored by that, so it was removed. You can just look that up on Wiki anyways.

Information Technologies was fun to write, as there is still a lot being discovered and argued about with regards to writing technologies (who used what, where, for how long, using what types of inks and so on). I only obliquely get into question of Roman literacy (I err on the mass semi-literacy axis of argument) except to note that it did support bookstores, so it was fairly large in the urban areas at least (my quote by Martial was cut for space, see below). Low-Tech Companion 1 was very useful here!

Mobility and Transportation includes several new vehicles and of course some discussion of Roman roads and travel accomidations. New vehicles include generic versions of the carpentum (variant: cisium), biga, plaustrum minus, plaustrum maius, and carruca (variant: raeda) for ground vehicles. Conveniently, each is listed with an english "class name" instead of the Latin term (so the Biga is listed as "Racing Chariot"). Ships consist of the corbita, cogga, liburnian, and trireme. I kept things pretty generic here as ship names were not very specific to tonnage back then.

The most GURPS-specific material is in the last section: Medicine and Surgery, which has a writeup for Nero's gem spectacles and character notes for Roman characters and cities (GURPS City Stats Hygiene values). I would have liked to go into this section a lot more but I had wordcount limitations to abide by :(

Notes for Roman Technology:

I would suggest replacing "Sauces and strong spices help disguise the smell and taste of rotting foods – there’s no access to refrigeration!" with "Meats were often turned into jerky or cured for preservation -- the Romans did not have access to refrigeration!"

If you want to address lead poisoning, the line about sweeteners can read: "Honey was the only sweetener in common use, but resins and concentrated grape syrup (defruntum, which may contain high levels of lead) were sometimes used -- especially to make sour wine more palatable."

Last edited by Tzeentch; 07-21-2011 at 05:52 PM.
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Old 07-21-2011, 05:46 PM   #2
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

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Originally Posted by Tzeentch View Post
The new Pyramid is out, and it's a doozy: the PDF comes packaged in a Zip file with a spreadsheet! And you'll need that spreadsheet too, as the lead article by Douglas Cole is very labor intensive without it!

The Deadly Spring (Douglas Cole): The intro says this is "one of the crunchiest articles we’ve ever run in Pyramid" and I believe it. I love crunch, but without the sheet I would just throw my arms up in defeat at this. With the sheet - it's actually easier in some ways than GURPS Vehicles, Second Edition weapon design.
This is where I thank Ken for his kind words, and bow down and worship at Steven's altar.

Y'all simply have NO IDEA how much slack he gave me on this one. It combined all the crunch Ken refers to in the article with equations that usually would only appear in an engineering or physics academic journal.

One interesting bit for me is that you'll see the reference to the British Defense Academy Warbow Trials, Part 1. I actually corresponded with the author of the paper (David Whetham), who provided his personal link to the original source paper. He also said he enjoyed the article. For those interested in such things, the "Part 2" data actually does exist . . . but his co-author is busy helping worry about IED attacks, which understandably took precedence!

Thanks to Steven again, for sticking with this one. He could have tossed me overboard a few times, but didn't. For which I'm very, very thankful.
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Old 07-21-2011, 07:54 PM   #3
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

Thank you for the review!

For poisons, the best choice is usually curare (Low-Tech, p. 129) until TL4, at which point it's cyanide (p. B439). I probably should have worked in a sentence to that effect.

Two exceptions: curare isn't available (in which case hunters tend to switch to bows a lot sooner!) or golden dart frogs are available.

Golden Dart Frog Toxin
This poison is extracted from the skin of the golden dart frog, the deadliest of the many arrow frog species. As a follow-up agent, it has no delay, and eight 30-second cycles. For each cycle, make a HT-4 roll. Failure means 2d toxic damage and a heart attack (p. B429); success means only 1d toxic damage for this cycle. At 1/3 HP, the user suffers -2 DX from muscle spasms, regardless of success or failure. As a digestive agent, it has a one-minute delay, but is otherwise identical. As a contact agent, it deals 1d-2 (min 1) toxic damage and causes a horrible rash. If splashed in the eyes, treat it as a follow-up agent with a 1d second delay.

I'm not sure how to price it, since a single golden dart frog can provide 1dx10 doses... so it's pretty easy to acquire, and any high price will make the frogs little gold mines at TL0-3, but a low price isn't really "balanced" relative to curare.
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Old 07-21-2011, 11:35 PM   #4
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

Magnificent. This one is everything a Pyramid magazine should be.

Fantastic amounts of extra detail, the stuff that gets cut due to space from the regular books but is still likely to be beloved and become a huge part of someone's campaign, there for those who want it.
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Old 07-22-2011, 08:36 PM   #5
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

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Golden Dart Frog Toxin
This poison is extracted from the skin of the golden dart frog, the deadliest of the many arrow frog species. As a follow-up agent, it has no delay, and eight 30-second cycles. For each cycle, make a HT-4 roll. Failure means 2d toxic damage and a heart attack (p. B429); success means only 1d toxic damage for this cycle. At 1/3 HP, the user suffers -2 DX from muscle spasms, regardless of success or failure. As a digestive agent, it has a one-minute delay, but is otherwise identical. As a contact agent, it deals 1d-2 (min 1) toxic damage and causes a horrible rash. If splashed in the eyes, treat it as a follow-up agent with a 1d second delay.
If you really want your DF players to make up new guys, combine this poison, this article, and the horde pygmies from DFM1 into a short series of ambush encounters. New PCs needed in mere minutes of play! ;)
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Old 07-23-2011, 01:52 PM   #6
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

Must... make... Will... roll... to... avoid... buying...

Ok, I can't tell you how much I want to buy this, especially since for the last three weeks I've been kicking around the idea of a Roman fantasy campaign.
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Old 07-23-2011, 02:54 PM   #7
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

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Must... make... Will... roll... to... avoid... buying...

Ok, I can't tell you how much I want to buy this, especially since for the last three weeks I've been kicking around the idea of a Roman fantasy campaign.
Give in . . . you know you want Romans, with bows, facing blowguns firing dars the size of war arrows. It's too sweet to resist.
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Old 07-23-2011, 05:20 PM   #8
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Default Re: Pyramid #3-33 Low Tech in Review

But I've been saving my money up for some Roman slave girls. I suppose I could just buy this one issue, and still have money left over for minis.
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Old 07-23-2011, 06:00 PM   #9
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But I've been saving my money up for some Roman slave girls. I suppose I could just buy this one issue, and still have money left over for minis.
Just resist the temptation to buy that serving girl with big jugs, and you can have your slaves, bows, and sacred Roman honor!
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Old 07-23-2011, 07:51 PM   #10
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Just resist the temptation to buy that serving girl with big jugs
But think of the lost carrying capacity!
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