Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: Pyramid #3/100: Pyramid Secrets

February marks the 100th issue of Pyramid magazine's, which is a major milestone. Congratulations to the Pyramid team, and good luck on the next hundred issues!

But just what does one find in an issue that marks such a momentous occasion? An intriguing sampling of offerings from across the board, from the decidedly crunchy, to the details of a secret operations group of a far future government.

Impulse Control
By Christopher R. Rice

Disclaimer: I had the pleasure of reviewing a playtest version of this article, and some of my feedback made it into the final version.

This excellent article expands on the system of Impulse Buys introduced in Power-Ups 5 [link], and not only extends its uses, but unifies with other metagame mechanics like Luck, Serendipity, and Destiny. If you're running a cinematic game, this is a great way of representing the conventions of heroes pulling off desparate feats at dramatic moments, bad stuff befalling them at the worst time, and so many others.

The core of the system is a regenerating pool of Impulse Points, which can be spent on effects outlined in Power-Ups 5 and the article, like scene alterations, buying criticals, and many others. The article also introduces Villainous Points, which is the dark twin of Impulse Points, and gives the GM a pool of points to spend on effects that cause the character trouble. Watch out!

My favorite part of this article is the way that it brings together Luck, Destiny, Serendipity, Unluckiness, and other traits into a single system. The Buck Stops Here explains how to represent these traits as combinations of Impulse Points/Villainous Points, with appropriate modifications. So, not only do you know just how Unlucky you are, you also know that your specific kind of Unlucky is always looking like a fool in front of an audience. And if you take advantage of Going Cosmic, you can readily represent godlike entities that can dictate events around them.

It also introduces some new uses for Impulse Points, like adding flat bonuses to rolls, moving faster, and temporarily adding enhancements to skills. This is an excellent way of representing heroes (or villains!) pulling out some new trick when needed, but that they can't repeat later on.
Some other useful aspects are the outlines for breaking down stretches of time, like actions, scenes, and adventures, using Impulse Points to modify BAD from Action, and rewarding characters for in-genre actions.

I'd normally go into ideas on how to vary the system, but Impulse Control is already so flexible that it's unnecssary. Instead, I'll provide a few ideas for aspected Impulse Points:

  • Destiny (The One True King): Impulse Points 3 (Aspected, "Acts of a king", -5%*) [15], Enhanced IP Refresh 2 [20]
  • Divine Power: Impulse Points 20 (Cosmic, +300%) [400], Enhanced IP Refresh (Per Five Minutes) [240]
  • Untouchable in Combat: Impulse Points 1 (Aspected, Defense Rerolls Only, -40%) [3]
  • Weirdness Magnet: Villainous Points 4 (Aspected, Attracting Weird Stuff or Occurrences Only, -20%) [-16]

* Per Christopher R. Rice, this is a fair way to represent the limits of Destiny.

Infinite Weapons
By Hans-Christian Vortisch
In this article, you'll find a selection of real world firearms that never made it, ranging from the early days of guns up to the modern day. Many of these have interesting features, which often contributed to unreliability and their ultimate failure, but for a campaign set in the Infinite Worlds, you could find variants on other timelines where their kinks were worked out.

Sadly, I'm not much into firearms myself, but if that's your thing, this article will provide plenty of fodder for ideas for unusual designs.

The Galactic Operations Directorate
By David L. Pulver

This article was one that I was really excited to see, since throughout Ultra-Tech, you're given tantalizing glimpses of a far future civilization and the clandestine Galactic Operations Directorate that protects it from the gravest of threats. Now, the curtain has finally been drawn back, and we're given a glimpse into this secretive organization.

It starts off with a brief history of the GOD, and offers an interesting insight into the minds of the elite in this world. The idea that one's most trusted operatives are androids speaks of paranoia, and a desire to have definitively loyal agents.

The organization itself would make for an excellent Patron for player characters, since the agency's mandate is to predict, investigate, and countering ultratechnological threats to the Emperor and the Empire as a whole. It even comes with a set of brief statistics that let you assess its capabilities at a glance.

Typical agents of GOD are teams of combat androids, all named after angels or angelic beings from Earth myth. However, while the article gives you a basline for these characters, it sadly doesn't include a template for any. Since it also suggests that these are 1,000 point (!) characters, you're given a lot of wiggle room for design.

The section on GOD is then followed up with the Yezendi Antimatter Syndicate, another organization that appears in the Ultra-Tech vignettes as an antagonist organization. As their name suggests, they deal in antimatter, smuggling it through Imperial territory as a way of bypassing the restrictions the Empire places on its manufacture and sale.

While the presence of antimatter in quantity raises concerns about the setting for me, the organization itself is nicely set up to be a foe for the GOD. They're certainly an ultratechnological threat, and their layers of middlemen means that they're hard to shut down and the leaders are insulated from Imperial retaliation, both by distance from the operations and their presence outside Imperial space. Player characters trying to roll up this organization have their work cut out for them.

The Yezendi race itself gets a brief overview, and so could be adapted to other roles in the setting, if you'd like. The existence of castes and the Questioners who challenge those caste roles give plot hooks of their own, and the internal tensions of the Yezendi could serve as a focus in a campaign.
On the whole, I rather like this article, and hope that we get another look into the world of Ultra-Tech at some point in the future.

Using This Article
As written: The player characters are agents of GOD, going up against the sinister Yezendi Syndicate. Can they stop it before a reign of antimatter fueled terror and destruction descends upon the Empire?
Alternatively, the player characters could be renegades, who defected from GOD with technology that the organization planned to turn to sinister ends. Can they elude the Archangel teams long enough to bring the agency's plans to the attention of the Emperor?

There's many other possibilities, of course, but no matter what you choose, you'll have to fill in other aspects of the setting. I suggest going through the Ultra-Tech vignettes first, and expand on them. Also, since this is an unrestricted TL12^ setting, don't try to make complete sense of it. Rule of Cool is the order of the day.

Variants: By toning down the setting, you could use both organizations in a less cinematic Ultra-Tech setting. GOD's teams are still highly trained agents, but their scope is more focused, and Yezendi deal in more conventional weapons and fuels.

Fashion Forward
By Matt Riggsby

What would fashion look like in the far future? Unfortunately, there's no pictures, but the article still offers rules on how to dress to impress, including how much you have to spend to get reaction bonuses for the quality of your clothing.

While I've seen objections to letting clothing provide more than a +1 bonus, there's another way to use these rules: for you to claim the reaction bonuses from high relative status, you need to be wearing clothing with a bonus equal to or greater than your status.

There's also interesting tidbits on how high technology might affect the ways we approach fashion and what's considered impressive. The section on new materials for clothing could also provide inspiration.

On the whole, this is a fairly functional article, but it's also dry.

For variants on this article, simply change the underlying basis of fashion from technology to whatever suits your setting. You could reuse this with magic, for example.

Gods of Commerce
By Christoper Conrad and Jason "PK" Levine

Delvers are greedy folks interested in making as much coin as possible, and now their gods can get in on the action! Variant clerics and holy warriors serving gods of commerce, wealth, and prosperity are the focus of this article.

In Dungeon Fantasy's minimalist fashion, the article focuses on how the attitudes of gods of commerce affect the delver, with holy gods expecting fair dealings, while unholy gods care only about money at any cost, but will desert you if you get caught.

There's also a nice list of new Holy Might powers suitable for the faithful, and they're quite useful, even in areas beyond the commercial. They're good for making money, yes, but they also make you quite personable, and lend to an additional roll as a face for the party (assuming that they're willing to try talking!)

Using this Article
As Written: If you're running Dungeon Fantasy, it's plug and play. Everything you need to know is in the article.

Monster Hunters: Gods of commerce per se don't really suit the genre, but you could reuse the Holy Might abilities as powers for a Crusader serving a god of prosperity and good fortune.

Realistic Injury, Expanded
By Peter V. Dell'Orto

This is a quick article that's exactly what it says on the tin. It's focused on the lingering effects of injury, and offers some new details for how lasting injuries to various parts of a character affect them. It's solid work, and even if the detail isn't appropriate to your campaign, there's a simplified set of rules you can use instead.

Briefly, An Adventure
By Steven Marsh

Another short article, this time on how to building a short adventure. It's well worth the read, and even if you run longer adventures, the advice is still useful in figuring out what the important elements are.

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