Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: Pyramid #3/99: Death and Beyond

January is a month of beginnings and ends, for as it marks the beginning of one year, it marks the end of another. Fittingly, January's issue of Pyramid is all about the ultimate end: death. In it, you find a variety of death and death-themed articles, including death oriented psionics, a location built with necromancy, and a setting switch for how severe death is.

Like most issues of Pyramid, Death and Beyond is a grab bag of ideas, and while they are all individually excellent, they cover a wide enough range that only one or two might be useful at a time. Since Pyramid is meant to be a showcase for ideas, this isn't a flaw, and the variety can be a way of getting inspiration.

Now, without further ado, let's dive into the articles themselves.

By Christopher R. Rice

Here we have a collection of psionic powers focused on death, souls, and darkness, made to give psis abilities similar to necromancers. For that purpose, they succeed wonderfully. You have three groups of abilities, Animakinesis for interacting with souls, Thanatokinesis for manipulating death and the dead, and Umbrakinesis for controlling shadows and darkness.

They are all wonderfully thematic, giving psis a good selection of abilities in each area. The highlight is the Thanatokinesis powers, with the ability to animate the dead, see the last thing someone saw before death, and use deathly psionic power to inflict harm. You can even make your undead puppets explode! Combine this with the Umbrakinesis powers to obscure the senses, and you have the makings of a very creepy psi.

They're all built using the framework established in Psionic Powers, making that book very useful in making use of this article. However, you can also use the Basic Set rules for psionics instead, with the loss of some detail that Psionic Powers offers and the inability to make full use of the techniques.

Using this article
As written: If you're already running a game using Psionic Powers, you can drop this in and go.

Dungeon Fantasy: Replace the Psionic Powers rules with those in DF14 and swap out the Necrokinesis PM for the DF Psionics PM. Ignore the techniques.

Monster Hunters: You can use it as written, but like using Psionic Powers in general, you have increased complexity and may need to tweak the Psi template. Alternatively, use the powers under the Basic Set rules and simply omit the techniques.

Remix: Swap the Necrokinesis power modifier out for a Mana Sensitive limitation and you have powers befitting a necromancer. I believe you could also adapt this to Sorcery, but I'm unsure how much more work that would entail.

What Doesn't Kill Me Makes Me Stronger
By Scott Rochat

In the vein of classic dungeon crawlers, Rochat offers something that every right-thinking delver wants: Experience Points! Well, Kill Points, specifically, but the effect is much the same. By going out and killing monsters, player characters grow stronger.

Taken as a whole, this article is very much a switch on the kind of Dungeon Fantasy you want to run. The Kill Point system encourages actions, since in addition to killing monsters, disarming traps and outwitting foes can also award KPs. It also incentivizes the players to take risks, since threats more powerful than the PCs offer significantly more KPs.

And what exactly are these KPs good for? You can use them to negate incoming damage, recover FP, and add bonuses to various rolls. Or you can save them, and at the end of the adventure, unspent KPs get converted to character points for permanent increases in power. This adds another resource management game to Dungeon Fantasy, since you can try and hold on to KPs to increase your long term power, or you can spend them right here, right now to keep your delver from becoming monster chow.

The downside is that assigning KP values to monsters and traps requires some number crunching, and it's probably a good idea to make a spreadsheet to streamline the process. Fortunately, the article comes with a list of KP values for the monsters in DF2, DF5, DF9, DF14, and DFM1.

Using this Article
As written: Are you playing Dungeon Fantasy? Then take this, turn on the switches you want to use, and go to town. Or rather, go to the dungeon. You get no KPs for townspeople, only monsters.
If you're not playing Dungeon Fantasy, use this system with caution, and only if an old school RPG "Kill all the monsters" approach is appropriate for your game.

Variants: A similar system could be used anywhere a running score makes sense. The amount of energy gathered from ritual sacrifices, legendary feats for increasing reputation, and solving problems in a domain game all come to mind.

Soul Reapers
By David L. Pulver

Not all souls pass on peacefully, and when they don't, it's the job of a reaper to ensure that they do. As variant Crusaders or Inhumans, they join monster hunting teams to seek out these restless dead and ensure that they move on.

This is as thorough an exploration of the concept as one can ask for, with a brief discussion of the culutural background behind reapers, a list of powers, several new Inhuman templates, and an exploration of the roles they can fill in a Monster Hunters campaign all included.

The Reaper powers are all very focused, dealing with finding the dead, fighting them, and helping them pass on. The iconic scythe even puts in an appearance, which is a nice touch. The drawback is that while these abilities are all nicely thematic, they do make a reaper something of a one trick pony. If ghosts and the dying don't show up, their powers are mostly useless.

The Inhuman templates represent a selection of reapers and psychopomps from around the world, with the skeletal Grim Reaper from Western tradition, the Irish Dullahan, the Japanese Shinigami, and the Norse Valkyrie putting in appearances. They serve well in making these incarnations of death mechanically distinct and flavorful, and could easily be reused in non-Monster Hunter settings.

Using this Article
As written: If you're running Monster Hunters, the article itself offers all the advice you could want. I would suggest adding a few more powers so that the reapers don't feel cheated when facing something other than ghosts, though.

For Dungeon Fantasy: Some of the Reaper powers would be suitable for clerics and holy warriros of death gods (see Dungeon Fantasy 7: Clerics), particularly Ectoplasmic Ropes and Soul Scythe. The Inhuman templates are far too expensive for the standard DF campaign, but they could serve as inspiration for a more modest half-spirit template, similar to Celestials and Infernals.

Variants: You could take much of the information on reapers and how to use them and apply it to a lower powered campaign, particularly ones influenced by Japanese anime.

The Slaughterealm
By J. Edward Tremlett

Take a gameshow where the host is a powerful necromancer, the contestants are unwilling abductees, and the challenges include gauntlets of the undead, and you have the Slaughterealm. This is a systemless setting that can be added to any campaign, though you're on your own for stats and mechanics.

All aspects of the Slaughterealm are covered in detail, giving you plenty of information to use in a campaign. The experience of the contestants is laid clearly enough that I came away with a vivid image of what it would be like for the player characters. It starts with how contestants are "recruited", then covers the rules of the contests. This includes the ones for contestants, and for the Patrons of the Slaughterealm that devise these challenges.

The Patrons are appropriately loathsome and creepy, with each bringing their own flavor of contestants, challenges, and foes to the Slaughterealm. There's an world-conquering warlord, a monster-collecting hunter, a vampire queen of the undead, and a trapmaster baron.
At the end, there's a few ways to use this in your campaign, but there's so many possibilities that you're never likely to run out of ideas. If there's room in your campaign for a creepy, undead themed gameshow realm that draws its challenges and participants from across worlds, then you can keep coming back to the Slaughterealm with a fresh approach each time.

Using this Article
As written: No matter what, you're on your own for stats, so you'll have to do the legwork of finding suitable ones to drop in or make up your own. But if you're willing to put in the effort, there's so many possible ways to use the Slaughterealm.
  • As a One Shot: The player characters have been abducted and must survive one of the Slaughterealm's infamous challenges. Will they make it out alive? Alternatively, they might be hired to crash the party and rescue contestants that have been abducted from their world.
  • As a Recurring Location: The Patrons of the Slaughterealm are powerful individuals, and their reach extends across worlds. It's quite possible that the players will clash with their agents on multiple occasions. Or they might even end up working for one of the Patrons, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis.
  • As a Campaign Setting: Leaving aside the obvious possibility of a "dungeon of the week" type camapign, there's plenty of room for intrigue and doubledealing among the Slaughterealm's Patrons. They may be forbidden from directly fighting in the realm itself, but that doesn't stop their agents from trying to sabotage the other, and the player characters could easily get drawn into these intrigues.

Death and How to Avoid It
By Steven Marsh

This is a short little article that discusses what kind of an impact that death might have on a setting, ranging from it being an absolute final end to something completely meaningless or even unknown entirely. It's primarily useful as a GM tool for thinking about how big a role they want death to play in their campaign setting, and it can also be used to let players know how easy it is to come back from the dead in the campaign.

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