Author: S. John Ross
Company/Publisher: Steve jackson games
Page count: 128
Capsule Review by Jason Kucherawy on 08/25/98. Genre tags: none
Until I read GURPS Russia, I had no idea that Russia even went through a "Middle Age". As far as I was concerned, it just appeared on the map sometime around the turn of the century complete with a Kremlin and a population of hardy bearded men and robust women. So, when I caught wind of the rumour that GURPS Russia was to be released as the first of Steve Jackson Games "Straight Line" products (only available directly from SJG), and I acknowledged my complete ignorance of Russian history, it was decided that I acquire this book.
The author, S. John Ross, knew that many people were not familiar with medieval Russian history and the rich gaming opportunities such a setting could provide. So, he took it upon himself to heavily research this period of Russian history, compiling and cross-referencing information from dozens of sources. He dug up information on daily life in a Russian village, the customs and attitudes of the people who lived there, and their folklore and legends. All of the things needed by game masters to inject life into a setting. GURPS Russia is dense with colourful descriptions of medieval Russia and contains enough information to start a good many exciting campaigns.
GURPS Russia is a flexible tool. Game masters have a choice as to the type of adventures they would like to run. The GM can decide whether to keep the setting grounded in reality, making heavy use of Russian terminology and history, or whether to make use of the Russian folklore and magic as a the focus the game, thus making it a high fantasy setting. And since medieval Russia is rather unique (compared to medieval Europe) and is not something most people are familiar with, it is possible to inject this settings elements into a current fantasy campaign. The Russian people could be any population living in a low-tech chilly forest environment. Just don't call them Russians or mention vodka, and you should get away with it.
Some of the highlights include:
- The artwork. Good call bringing in artists other than Dan Smith. I like his art, don't get me wrong, but the recent GURPS source books are just filled with his stuff. It is nice to see something new between these covers. The art in GURPS Russia is descriptive, dynamic, and does a nice job conveying the character of the setting.
- A list of Russian proverbs like the classic, "Even the skomorokh weeps sometimes."
- A selection of typical Russian names so there is no excuse for having a village full of Ivans and Natalyas. -A list of epithets and nicknames so you can insult your friends in Russian. Put away that dog-eared English/Klingon dictionary!
-A job table (a staple in GURPS source books) if you want to know what the qualifications are to be a peasant in medieval Russia, or how much it pays to be a Bear-Tamer... and what happens if you roll a critical failure while on the job.
-There is also a money table if you are unsure whether a poltina is worth 50 copecks or 50 rubles. You can also spice up your dialogue with authentic Russian terms for measurement.
As far as source books go, this one is one of the best I have read for the GURPS line, however, I am hard-pressed to think of a GURPS source book that I have not found useful to some extent.
The only thing I think might be a bit of a turn-off is the amount of Russian words in the text. The reader may find it difficult to get their head around all of the Russian language in this book. But hey- who said running a good game was easy! Besides, you are free to include or omit as much of the language as you like. Knowledge of the Russian language is NOT a prerequisite to playing this game any more than a love of vodka is.
Although I have never been a big fan of the medieval/fantasy genre, I find myself tempted to run a GURPS Russia campaign just because it is so cool and there is more than enough material in these 128 pages to get me started.It is obvious that this book was a labour of love for S. John Ross, and would make a fine addition to any collection.
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)