By Bryant Durrell.
"I may be a GURPS supplement, but that doesn't mean I can't fight in the Secret War."
If you don't already know that Steve Jackson Games produces the best generic sourcebooks in the industry, it's about time you found out. GURPS sourcebooks and worldbooks are well-researched, well-written material that's often general enough to be useful as a reference for the game system of your choice; GURPS Places of Mystery is no exception. It's 128 pages of solid background material on the unusual, mysterious, and purely strange places in the world, with minimal GURPS rules material, and any Feng Shui GM who wants to know where the biggest feng shui sites in the world are located could do far worse than to look here.
The majority of the book is dedicated to descriptions of, well, places of mystery; it begins with a chapter on Atlantis, moves through chapters on Stonehenge and the Pyramids, and then covers the rest of the world indexed by geographical region. Each site, excepting the ones that have entire chapters to themselves, is covered in about two pages. Most have maps, which aren't the miniatures maps Robin Laws recommends against, but which rather serve to orient and familiarize.
The entry for the Taj Mahal is typical: it lays out the history of the location, offers a map and two views of the building, and includes two sidebars. One sidebar describes the Taj Mahal's layout in more detail, and one describes the Moghul Empire for historical context. The Atlantis, Stonehenge, and Pyramids chapters are similar but contain more detail; each also discusses related places elsewhere in the world, such as Lemuria or South American pyramids.
The last chapter contains hints on using the rest of the book, along with a mini-adventure. This is the only section with anything approaching extensive GURPS-specific rules, and there isn't even much of it there. (It is amusing, though, to note that there's a paragraph or two about Robin Laws' old GURPS worldbook... unlikely as it is that one will want to use Earth locations in the Madlands.) The mini-adventure, however, revolves around a secret supernatural society that's attempting to control several places of power for its own evil ends, which is a plot admirably suited for Feng Shui use. One sample character in the adventure is described using GURPS, but Dave Van Domelen's Dabbler archetype fits him quite well.
The authors are Phil Masters and Alison Brooks, and they did an excellent job. The writing is witty, engaging, and elegant. I'd read this for the entertainment value even if I weren't planning on using it as a game reference. The art is equally elegant, and serves well to catch the mood of the places without being so prevalent that it distracts from the text. My sole quibble with the layout is that the maps are, at times, a little small for easy use.
As a whole, Places of Mystery has the potential to be a very useful supplement for the Feng Shui GM. If you're intending to stay in Hong Kong, or spend a lot of time in the Netherworld, it won't be that useful, but breaking out of that mold is not at all a bad thing and if you do, you can open Places of Mystery at any page and find ideas.
At $17.95, it's a touch pricy, and that is in my eyes its largest flaw. If you can spare the cash, however, and you want a good reference on the history and myths surrounding the most famous feng shui sites on the planet, it's an excellent piece of work.
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