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Tabletop Game / GURPS Thaumatology: Age of Gold

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Not everything is known as yet, and some of the unknown regions of the planet are stuffed full of strangeness and deathtraps. Supernatural power exists and can very definitely be used for evil as much as for good. Meanwhile, even in the most “civilized” corners of the known world, utterly mundane evils are emerging that threaten to drag the planet down into darkness.
— From the book.

GURPS Thaumatology: Age of Gold is a setting/worldbook supplement for GURPS 4th edition by Phil Masters; the full title indicates that it is associated with the larger supplement GURPS Thaumatology, using the extended rules for magic in GURPS from that book. The setting is an Alternate History version of the Pulp-era 1930s, in which magic, which existed mostly in the shadows throughout history, is newly resurgent — and is empowering pulp-style heroes, adventurers, and master villains. The title refers to both the historical period — at the start of the Golden Age of comic books — and the fact that Alchemy, a key feature of the setting, was partly about trying to manufacture gold.

The book is sold in PDF form; the publishers have a Web page for it here.

Tropes Appearing:

  • Alchemy Is Magic: Very definitely; the resurgence of magic is largely a consequence of the rediscovery of the alchemical "Philosopher's Stone".
  • Anti-Hero: This setting predates The Comics Code, and most heroes are some kind of anti-heroic. Deadly force is the standard, "justice before law" is a common philosophy, and some mystery men are murderous dark avengers. "Boy Scout" heroes do exist, but they're the exception.
  • City of Adventure: Shanghai, a wealthy crossroads between Western and Chinese civilization where gangsters and cops wielding magic, kung fu and hard-boiled investigative skills struggle for power, a year before the Japanese Empire comes in to wreck the city.
  • The Conspiracy: The Black Dragon Society, an ultranationalist secret society in the Empire of Japan. They're something of a foil to the Ghostapo; while the Nazis are kind of buffoonish and hamper themselves by refusing to consider any magic that looks too Jewish, the Black Dragon are a ruthlessly-efficient and pragmatic group who combine military precision, arcane might and expert propaganda to become the most formidable evil organization in the setting.
  • The Corruption: One form of magic available in the setting provides a quick route to power at the cost of inevitable corruption. One of the sample villains detailed, The Jungle Madness, is an example of where this leads; once a Central American sorceress, she is now a totally inhuman and dangerous supernatural creature.
  • Dirty Commies: As in our world's history, Russia is ruled by the terrifying communist dictator Joseph Stalin, who has dark plans and the resources to carry them out. Good communists don't believe in magic, but in this setting, that just means that Communist Russian magic tends to take the form of exotic Magitek, accompanied by some appropriate Soviet Superscience doubletalk.
  • Disposable Superhero Maker: An artifact or Philosopher's Stone that gives someone superpowers will only work once. If it's an artifact, that might mean "once a generation or century, or maybe until the previously-empowered individual dies," which still means that mass manufacture of Mystery Men is out of the question.
  • Elemental Powers: Invocationism, a form of Ritual Magic, is based on the classical Chinese elements.
  • Functional Magic: It's essential to the dramatic, pulpy flavor of the setting that magic works; it's not ambiguous or generally subtle, it lets you blow stuff up.
  • Evil Sorcerer: One type of especially dangerous arch-villain to be encountered in this setting.
  • Ghostapo: This being the 1930s, the Nazis are a threat and a source of antagonists and evil plots — and they very much want to use and abuse magic. However, they aren't quite as formidable as they could be, because they tend to reject any and all ideas about magic which happen to have Jewish or "non-Aryan" origins. Still, Nazi archaeologists with supporting squads of stormtroopers are bad enough.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Well, Here There Was Magic, anyway — and it's coming back.
  • Heroic Russian Émigré: Appropriately for a '30s-period setting, the flavor text fiction includes "enigmatic White Russian exile" Irina Fedorevna among its magical heroes.
  • Magic Versus Science: Generally speaking, Weird Scientists don't get along with traditional alchemists and sorcerers. Some do apply modern scientific methods to alchemy - but they are rarely as effective as true alchemists because they don't generally understand the traditional methods and the new ones haven't been fully developed yet.
  • Magitek: An occasional feature of the setting, perhaps especially when the villain is an agent of the Stalinist Dirty Commies.
  • The Man Behind the Man: A minor case; the Secret Pharaoh, a sample arch-villain in the book, is basically a megalomaniac flake with too much physical power. The real organizing brains behind his operations are his "Handmaidens", a pair of mortal women who know when to flatter him and when to duck and run.
  • The Masquerade: If played in an Infinite Worlds campaign, it's a little easier to maintain than usual because discovery of the I-Cops doesn't mean discovery of the Infinite Worlds. The "Futuremen" will be seen as just another conspiracy among many, and most of those in the know will assume they're being run by an unusually tech-focused mastermind.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Soviet mad scientists have very little in the way of ethical constraints, since their patrons are Party officials who answer to Joseph Stalin. Their survival depends on getting results.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Age of Gold demons tend to follow local legends and popular beliefs very closely, in behavior and appearance — which makes them extremely dangerous but sometimes also faintly ridiculous. One theory is that they are projections of the human id, which would explain why they are so heavily shaped by the popular imagination.
  • Proto-Superhero: Some heroes in the setting have Superhero-level powers and effectiveness — but the period is technically a bit early to match the true superhero genre; the feel may often be closer to the proto-superheroes of the pulp period.
  • Randomly Gifted: While there are a variety of ways to gain superpowers through magical study, most Mystery Men are empowered through random chance rather than conscious wizardry.
  • Ritual Magic: One of several functioning forms of magical practice in this setting.
  • Soviet Superscience: In the Soviet Union, magic is a bourgeois lie. However, the Union's cult of science is alive and well, so those who would elsewhere be alchemists and mages instead focus on Magitek, which is politically acceptable in the socialist utopia.
  • Superhero: The tone may be more Pulp / Two-Fisted Tales, but some magically-empowered heroes and villains in the Age of Gold are truly superhuman in their abilities.
  • Supernatural Martial Arts: These are mentioned, but the book cautions against pulpy mystery men focusing too much on cinematic martial art abilities - they're not entirely in-theme unless the GM wants them to be.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Defied. In this setting, heroes usually solve their problems with violence, and a code against killing would be seen as completely stupid. Even a preference for non-deadly solutions, or an unwillingness to endanger innocent bystanders, is a little unusual.
  • Two-Fisted Tales: The flavor for which the book is quite explicitly aiming, with its Pulp-era setting and powerful heroes.
  • Weird Historical War: The Chinese Civil War is the first real sorcerous war in this world. The Northern Expedition failed, leaving China even more balkanized than in history. The Communists, the Left-KMT and Right-KMT are all fighting for power both openly in the countryside and covertly in cities such as Shanghai, while warlords and masterminds challenge each other in the wings, and the threat of the Japanese Empire and the Black Dragon society looms ever larger over the troubled country.
  • You Have Failed Me: Neither Nazis nor Soviets have much patience for magical researchers who can't produce results. Nazis consider their weird mystics to be alternately embarrassing and threatening, while the Soviet Union is led by an insanely paranoid dictator who purges almost recreationally, and scientists who waste resources are a danger to their own patrons.