Pyramid #3/68 review

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I finally got round to reading issue #3/68 of Pyramid, Natural Magic, published at the end of last June. Quickly put, I find it a very good issue, with much content instantly useful.

As the title suggests, this fantasy-themed issue focuses on magic under all of its forms: spells, creatures, practitioners, magical areas, alchemy… There really is something for everyone in these 38 pages.

Magic desert

Written by Matt Riggsby, of GURPS Locations:Hellsgate fame, this four pages article describes a desert where mana is particularly active. Since I’m currently running a Forgotten Realms campaign set at the beginning of the second edition, right after the Coming of the Avatars and the appearance of Wild Magic areas, this article got all my attention. Well, I’m glad to say I found it an especially good article, packed with many great ideas. If I had to name just two, that would be the Managrass, a cereal-like grass whose seeds contain mana and which is likely to attract much attention from those wanting to grow it, those wanting to forbid or control its usage or wizards eager to crack its mystery; and Fossil creatures, where long-dead creatures find a new life as animated stony skeletons. My own campaign has its story rooted in ancient times and this makes this kind of ideas just perfect.

Magic of the Shaded Woodlands

Paul Stefko details The Perfecting Rites of the Shaded Woodlands, a Magical Style practiced by a people of dark elves in Banestorm to defend the home forest against intruders. Even though the style has been designed with this setting in mind, it is versatile enough to be easily adapted to any fantasy setting. I personally don’t use Magical Styles but I found this article quite inspiring and it actually got me thinking about introducing them into my campaign. I’m currently relying on the standard magic system, more by default than for any specific reason, and this article really showed me how styles can be designed from a background-oriented perspective (as opposed to a technical perspective).

Ars Metallica

Alchemy involves more than just preparing potions and convincing unsuspecting fellow adventurers to take a sip. William H. Stoddard dedicates five pages to the presentation of the metallic alchemy. The article starts with the introduction of a new skill, aptly named Alchemy (Metallic), and explains the two branches of this art: enhancing metallic devices and attuning them to their mystical environment. The remaining four pages detail how properties associated with the sun, the moon and five planets from our solar system can echo into metallic creations: fertility rings, gloves of fortitude, amulet of majesty or helmet of panic are all ideas one could draw from reading this small catalog. I find the idea of making metal devices mystically aware very interesting and full of potential. However, I think a five page article doesn’t do it justice, since there isn’t room for more than a catalog of bonuses and pre-requisites, where it could have been much more.

Dark of the woods

This installment of Eiditic Memory, written as usual by David Pulver, presents a detailed history around an ancient druidic cult as well as how complications arise when an expanding kingdom ends up violating the forest they protect and hold sacred. As usual, I read the article with no intention of using the material as is, but rather as a source for inspiration. Even though the article is structured to have PCs investigate the events and likely fight or bring the druidic cult back to reason, I found enough material to take a different approach: the PC my partner plays in my ongoing Forgotten Realms campaign is of druidic nature, being a follower of Sylvanus, the god of all things in wild nature. I really can imagine her PC take side with the druidic cult and help them fight back the threat of modern times.

Green Power

This four page article, written by Michele Armellini, offers a catalog of powers (following the rules found in the Basic Set and greatly expanded in GURPS Powers) on the theme of nature. Some powers are really original (like Undergrowth distraction, where enemies get distracted by sudden noises in nearby bushes and trees), some are more on the classic side (like Willful Vines, which has vines entangling enemies), but the major benefit from this catalog is that each power is ready to use, with all limitations and enhancements already selected and calculated. I’ve always found the power system to be great but sometimes a bit painful to work with, with all the tiny 10% to add and subtract, and this kind of article really helps.

Wilderness Adventures

In these Designer’s Notes, Sean Punch discusses the approach he took for Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures and gives insight into the challenges he faced while writing this supplement. After fifteen Dungeon Fantasy supplements with a strong focus on dungeon crawling, how should a supplement on the great outdoors put the typical profession of this environment into the spotlight again? How to do so while preserving game balance, both in terms of points and fun at the table? Sean Punch also discusses many technical aspects of the supplements, like the lenses provided to enhance clerics and wizards character templates as well as their new powers. As always with Designer’s Notes since the days when Pyramid was a print magazine, I found this kind article very interesting: reading a good supplement is one thing, having the author explain the whys and hows opens new perspectives on the same supplement.

When nature calls, you’d better answer

In this Random Thought installment, Steven Marsh gives us some perspective on how nature-based characters are often overlooked and under powered, both in general and in RPGs in particular, and what can be done to change that. I would think the best part of the article is where Steven Marsh tries to answer the rightful question of what nature is exactly. Where does it start, where does it stop? This really helps think of druids and nature-oriented characters as something else than adventurous gardeners. Examples follow which illustrates the fact that nature can be dangerous, powerful and even frightful.

Odds and Ends

After having spent over thirty pages convincing the reader that nature wizards can be powerful, this issue of Pyramid wraps up in a nice twist with useful advice on how to keep them from becoming too powerful.

Like I said in the introduction, I found this issue of Pyramid a really good read, with a good balance between ready-made material and food for thought.

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