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GURPS Low-Tech

Reviewed by Jamie "Trotsky" Revell, Copyright © 2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

GURPS books covering post-medieval and futuristic technology have been out for some years, so it's pleasing to see the set finally completed with a supplement covering earlier periods. GURPS Low-Tech deals with the lowest four tech levels, from the Stone Age to the medieval period, and will therefore be especially useful for those involved with fantasy games.

Each tech level receives its own chapter, which in turn is divided into sections on the exploitation of the environment, basic technology, social organization, scientific knowledge, warfare, transportation and equipment. GURPS High-Tech (covering the period from the Renaissance to the modern day) dealt almost exclusively with weapons and military technology, but here that mistake is rectified and a much more balanced range of information is provided. This time only about a quarter of the book deals with the evolving art of warfare and with the various types of weapons, armour and artillery available at each tech level. There is enough detail here to keep combat-focused players happy, while still leaving room to describe all the other important aspects of technological advance.

By including sections on political systems as well as law and trade, the book manages to give a feel for what it might have been like to live in each of the periods covered. These parts of the supplement naturally deal with real-world examples, which will be of more use to the historical than to the fantasy gamer, but should provide inspiration for designing or elaborating on a 'realistic' fantasy world. The depth of information on transport, literacy, mathematics and medicine provides guidelines for what can and cannot be done at each era of history. Magic might change some of this, of course, but in most fantasy worlds the common folk will likely have little access to it and will have to make do with the sorts of technology described here.

There are shopping lists, of course, although nothing on the scale of books such as ...And a Ten-Foot Pole. By focusing on wider concerns and covering aspects not directly related to equipment and weapons, GURPS Low-Tech provides a useful complement to such books. The items it does list are described in greater detail than can be done in a simple list of equipment, although if you don't play GURPS the weapon and armour statistics may not be of much use to you. New rules are also provided for a range of activities, from Stone Age hunting and foraging to repairing armour. These new rules don't dominate the book, and may provide inspiration for GMs of non-GURPS games that do not currently provide rules for such activities.

Statistics for an NPC at each tech level is provided too, which feels slightly out of place in a book about technology. But each NPC is a real historical personage (the Ladby ship jarl, the Soldier of Herculaneum, the Pazeryk ice-maiden and Ítzi the ice-man) which may at least provide some insight into the real world of the relevant time period, although it's difficult to see exactly what you are supposed to do with them!

Overall, I would recommend GURPS Low-Tech to anybody interested in providing a realistic background to a fantasy or historical campaign, even if they do not play GURPS or if they already own ...And a Ten-Foot Pole. Anyone planning on a campaign set in a pre-medieval period such as the Bronze or early Iron Age is likely to find it especially useful.

Editor's Note:

GURPS Low-Tech is published by Steve Jackson Games who can be reached at http://www.sjgames.com/

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