GURPS Discworld Also
GURPS Discworld Also Capsule Review by Robert A. Rodger on 07/05/01
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
While a must have for fans and completists, Discworld Also will only be of use to GM's running certain styles of certain campaigns.
Product: GURPS Discworld Also
Author: Phil Masters
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 128
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Robert A. Rodger on 07/05/01
Genre tags: Fantasy Comedy
Terry Pratchett has, at latest count, written 27 Discworld novels. The first two started as spoofs of certain fantasy conventions, including many found in Dungeons & Dragons (which he has admitted to DM'ing). But over the next twenty-five novels the setting has evolved and provided Pratchett with a forum for successful social and literary satire. The world became a not-so-funhouse-mirror reflection of our own, the characters developed depth and the themes and plots deepened, developed, and, largely, improved.
And some time ago Steve Jackson Games released GURPS Discworld written by Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters. This, I thought, was a perfect match (with the exception of Magic rules). The Discworld is actually a very harsh, gritty world. Its principle city, Ankh-Morpock, is a dirty, filthy, ruthless cross between New York, London and Lankhmar where life is cheap but assassination is expensive. Murder is rare, but suicide is common… if you're willing to define suicide as walking into a dwarf bar and asking for a 'small drink har har har'. GURPS, meanwhile, has an excellent rules set for low powered, gritty games where death (or suicide) is a very real possibility. GURPS is an excellent system for creating low powered characters who are just trying to get along and end up having deal with large, significant problems, like Captain Vimes and the Watch solving murder mysteries in Men at Arms. Or, Magrat and the witches fighting off an elf invasion in Lords & Ladies. Or Ptepptic the newly graduated assassin who is sent home to become king in Pyramids. None of these characters are great heroes in the fantastic sense. None of them are empowered with mighty abilities, though they are all clearly competent to very good at what they do. And they all could be easily recreated in GURPS (or other characters in the same mold) for 100 character points or less and with a steady job and duties.
This is where GURPS Discworld disappointed me. It continued the Discworld as parody mode, and supplied guidelines and suggestions for GMs to run humorous games adventuring across the Disc.
Which is not what the bulk of the Discworld novels are about. The plots are not funny; Prattchett's voice and writing is. The characters aren't absurd parodies; they echo archetypes but evolve into full characters. And the stories aren't about adventures; they're about people protecting their homes, their families and their virtues.
GURPS Discworld Also, released this year and which includes materials from the four latest novels since GURPS Discworld came out, also continues this trend.
Discworld Also contains a hodge-podge of material from the latest novels, some new setting ideas, and a variety of rule changes and options to help out the Discworld GM.
The first few chapters of the book provide rules, information and guidelines for playing and running new characters and situations from the latest novels. This includes new races, such as Gargoyles, Gnolls and Zombies, along with Elfkin and Bogeymen; new skills needed by Uberwald Igors and Mad Doctors; and new skills to keep up with current Disc technology: primarily the semaphore towers which provide long distance communications from Ankh-Morpock to the rest of the world.
Very helpfully added are a number of character templates for the Disc, and, for that matter, most any fantasy campaign. The templates follow the now standard GURPS format, and run from 25 to 100 points with a few 100 for Trolls, Unseen University faculty and Small Gods. In addition to being good aids for character design (just what skills and at what levels would a watchman have, anyway?), they also are a good indication of play style. Even a newly graduated Assassin, one who received one of the finest educations on the Disc (or at least that part of it that matters) is only a 100-point package. Most packages are 75 points or less.
All the rules and templates in these sections are very solidly build on the GURPS foundation. There are no surprises, just strong guidelines on how to apply cryptography to the semaphore towers, or a streamed-line Troll racial package.
The book also contains four campaign settings not detailed in any of the novels. Three of these, Wadi El-Rukl, The Brown Islands, and The Free Town of New Smarlhanger share serval elements with Ankh-Morpock and Lancre, the two most frequent locales in the novels. The fourth and final, EckEckEcksEcksian Cart Wars is just weird.
Wadi El-Rukl describes a growing trade town in Klatch, the Disc version of Arabia. It's a huge marketplace with little law enforcement, a weak local government and ripe with adventuring possibilities. The Brown Islands focuses on Port Duck, a Caribbean-like pirate cove. It's a growing port city with immigrants from all over the Disc, little law enforcement, a weak local government and is ripe with adventuring possibilities. And the Free Town of New Smarlhanger is very much an Old West mining town, just hitting a boom thanks to the local semaphore tower. It's a growing town with immigrants from all over the disc with little law enforcement, a weak local government and is ripe with adventuring possibilities.
EckEckEcksEcksian Cart Wars is set in XXXX, the Disc version of Australia (like the beer, get it?) where people race around in tricked out animal drawn carts and fight one another (like Mad Max and SJGames own Car Wars, get it?). It too is ripe with adventuring possibilities if your definition of adventuring possibilities includes racing around in carts drawn by wacky animals and fighting other wacked out characters. Fairly detailed rules are included to facilitate these armored chariot races uses the basics of the GURPS Vehicle rules. I found this mini-setting as uncompelling as I did the book it is drawn from (Lost Continent) and feel it completely loses the feel of the strengths of the Discworld.
The other three settings, however, are interesting and well drawn out. They do share many similar traits making the environment similar to that in Ankh-Morpock without the baggage that comes with the city. Instead of a masterful ruler who has carefully balanced the locale so that the competing forces will not topple it, they have weak or nonexistent rules and a variety of organizations tugging away trying to topple the locales. There is the feel that at any moment it will topple. But hopefully the PCs can be the ones to save it or, perhaps, topple it one way or the other themselves.
The settings allow for a broad range of character types and races, providing the multicultural interaction readers have grown to expect from the series of Watch books. But they still are all written from an "adventurer" point of view. Plot hooks involve lost treasures, mercenary missions (of a sort) and other "traditional" RPG scenarios. Not nearly enough attention is paid to the jobs and organizations the players can hold in the setting, the threats they can face and how to resolve them in a manner consistent with the Discworld tone and feel. Likewise the included adventures feel unlike anything you would read in a Pratchett book, and are additionally very linear with little room for player initiation. Although, having just read the new Beowulf translation, Festival of the Dimmed was quite amusing. But again, they read like parodies that drag the players along instead of character satire.
All in all, Discworld Also is an enjoyable read for the returning fan. The language is witty and all that we'd expect from Mr. Pratchett, without straight out copying descriptions from the books. It has limited use for GM's of other campaigns and, to some degree, GM's running Discworld. It will uncertainly update a campaign to the most recent books, and provide plenty more choices for players.