In 1990, GURPS was four years old; Third Edition was two years old. There had already been a number of great supplements. I was a committed fan.
A fan...moreIn 1990, GURPS was four years old; Third Edition was two years old. There had already been a number of great supplements. I was a committed fan.
A fan without a lot of money. I was surprised, and very happy when one of our local gaming group expanded my modest GURPS collection by giving me a new book for my birthday.
GURPS Aliens was pretty much exactly what I had been itching for: a book on how to construct non-human racial packages in GURPS. The theory had been discussed before, in both Space and Basic Set, but the tools were severely lacking.
The book breaks up into three chapters, the first of which talks about the nature of aliens in a campaign—anywhere from first contact to a universe where "humanity can barely set foot on some barren, drifting space rock without meeting some new intelligent life form." It manages to cover the topic pretty well for just being two pages long.
The second chapter contains all the 'crunch' of the book. 19 pages covering the essentials of creating an alien race for play. From discussions of what high-point-value races might mean in a universe, and why humans might be on top anyway, to pages of brand-new advantages and disadvantages covering all sorts of things that humans can't do, but plenty of fictional races can, like Nictating Membranes, Slave Mentality or even Independently Focusable Eyes. And there was a section on Extra Limbs. All in all, excellent basics to get you on your way.
The third chapter took up by far the bulk of the 128-page book. 28 actual alien races written up with game stats, a general description, followed by psychology, ecology, culture, and politics; a great template to write up a race in around 2-4 pages. The races themselves were varied: somewhat anthropomorphic pig-men, 3000-point energy beings, living crystals, a pair of symbiotes, four-dimensional traders, and so on.
And it was all disappointing. There was very little that I cared to even consider for use in my fledgling GURPS Space campaign. Looking back, I was a little too hard on the book, there are several races that could be quite good, but my campaign already had a certain spin towards minimal aliens. Part of the problem of course, was a need to be generic. While GURPS Space had done very well, and propelled much of the early line, there was no real setting to plug everything into, so the roles of the aliens presented was often not anything special, being meant to be parts of an undefined interstellar society.
Races were generally either outside society completely, or someone you'd meet in the startown bar. There was an 'antagonist' race, with some interest, though one of their big things was slavery, which is a great villainous pastime, but there wasn't a lot of interest past that. I'd have preferred something slightly more complex.
The book was not helped by the inclusion of the four races given in Space, with fuller write ups. I hadn't liked them much then, and they remained among the weaker races here.
The 'crunch' parts suffered from 'first out the door' syndrome as well. Later the same year, GURPS Fantasy Folk was released, in much the same format, and with new updated point-costs for everything. Five years later, the second edition of Fantasy Folk came out, and changed the point costs again. Aliens languished with but a single printing, and lots of errata.
It is good that it came out, since it started GURPS down the road of figuring out how to handle non-humans, but it took no time for it to be surpassed. Today, even a 3E player does not need it for the crunch (GURPS Compendium I will do the job much better); it is only of use if you care to update and adapt the races presented in it. This is not recommended, as most of them nothing special, and four pages (at best) each does not present enough to be worth going after to steal ideas from.(less)
This is the second book I've read from the Library of World Civilization series, which seems to be pretty good in all. The books come with a large num...moreThis is the second book I've read from the Library of World Civilization series, which seems to be pretty good in all. The books come with a large number of illustrations well placed with the text they're illustrating. However, these are older books and the layout can be cramped.
The thesis of this one is that at the beginning of the 15th Century, western culture can be seen as "Christendom", but by the end of the century, there is a move towards a European (instead of religious) community.
After talking about it in the first chapter, there's no more direct discussion in the rest of the book, but it does go on to tackle a variety of subjects in considerable length, ranging from changing views of knowledge, how the past was different from the present (and the creation of the idea that historical figures should not be presented in contemporary dress and scenery), to the changing relationship of the church and the layman.
In all, it is a very informative read, and a great starting point on the period.(less)
It's good, and it's thorough, but I found it a bit disappointing. However, I spent most of the book wondering why. Partly, I think, it is because ther...moreIt's good, and it's thorough, but I found it a bit disappointing. However, I spent most of the book wondering why. Partly, I think, it is because there are very few personalities in the book. Norwich himself actually complains of this on two occasions—there's just very few places in Venetian history where you can say anything about the personality of someone.
However, I think the main problem is I was hoping for a history of the Venetian state, and the book is really a history of the city, though restricted to that period where it was a state. Which is to say that except for those occasions where outside action impinges directly on one of Venice's holdings, those holdings don't show in the book. It is a stage play with one set—Venice—and news from abroad is sung by the Greek Chorus. There's no sense of how the overseas empire really worked.
But, Norwich loves the city of Venice, and that love shows through on every page. One thing that is tracked lovingly through the pages are the buildings and monuments of Venice. When a new building goes up, there is a footnote telling what part of it is still visible today. When a Doge dies and is put in a tomb, there is a footnote giving where it was, and where it was moved to if anything happened to it. Visiting Venice with this book in hand would be a real treat.(less)
I picked up The Pacific Ocean a while ago at a library sale. It's a history of the exploration of the Pacific Ocean written in 1940. It was the first...moreI picked up The Pacific Ocean a while ago at a library sale. It's a history of the exploration of the Pacific Ocean written in 1940. It was the first of the "Oceans of the World" series, all written by different authors, and searching around shows that the other 'forthcoming' books were indeed released. This one was written by Felix Riesenberg, who, according to Wikipedia, wrote quite a number of books on nautical subjects (including one which served as a standard textbook); he also took part in two failed expeditions to the North Pole via airship, and had a Liberty Ship named after him.
It's really meant as a young-adult level book, which makes sense given that it was published by a division of the McGraw-Hill company. It's more in the lines of 'true sea stories' dealing with Magellan, Drake, Cook and the like, and not a thorough study of the subject.
Being seventy-three years old, it does come from another time. This is most obvious in the first chapter, which discusses the possible origins of the Pacific, and you are reminded of the fact that Continental Drift theory was known, but not yet accepted. "It is an interesting theory, over which geographers still dispute. Wegener lost his life in Greenland trying to substantiate it, and the observations taken there over a long period of time seem to indicate that Greenland is still moving west, as he predicted it must be."
An even more telling part, is the second-to-last chapter, which deals with the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry, as this was written in 1940, when tensions were extremely high, but war had not actually started. The chapter is nicely sympathetic to the Japanese point of view, and recognizes past grievances. "The same difficulties that Perry met with in 1853 and 1854 exist today, and anyone who studies his attempts to cultivate the Japanese will find an astonishing Parallel between his negotiations and those that have made relations difficult in recent years between the United States and Japan. The Nipponese mentality and psychology have not changed, and neither have those of the United States."
In the end, it's a decent enough book, and might be worth picking up if you happen across it. But it isn't worth seeking out.(less)
Part of the Norton History of Modern Europe series, this is a good introductory history of a fairly turbulent period written in 1970. I’ll note that t...morePart of the Norton History of Modern Europe series, this is a good introductory history of a fairly turbulent period written in 1970. I’ll note that the series was apparently reorganized later, as there is a 1979 version of the book that runs to 1715 instead of 1689.
The book starts with the end of international conflict, and runs through the internal crises that beset most of Europe in the later sixteenth century. In so doing, it lays some groundwork that would have helped me with parts of Braudel’s Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II. It spends a fair amount of time showing the evolution of political structure, with the rise of absolutism in France, the failure of absolutism in Spain, the rise of constitutional government in England, to the dissolution of central power in much of Central Europe and Russia.
Despite the title, there’s not a lot of warfare here. Everything from the Hugenots to the Glorious Revolution is discussed, and gives a fairly solid understanding of why things happened for such a small volume. There is a good chapter on the limitations of pre-modern production, and how it limited the economy, and the end of the book gives a whirlwind tour of the trends in art and evolution of the sciences.
In all, if this is a period where you don’t have a lot of background knowledge (and it was never a popular period in my classes), this is an excellent and clear place to start.(less)