Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds

As all my other reviews this one will be rated according to meat (rules, stats, game mechanics), cheese (setting, characters, story), sauce (form, writing, style, art) and generic nutritional substance (universal nature, adaptability). At the end you find a weighted average of those components and a value score that also takes into account price per page.

Matt Riggsby seems to be on a roll, when it comes to Dungeon Fantasy. A month after kicking off the Treasure subseries,  he brings us GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds just before Christmas (Is it just me or would that release have been better for Treasures? Well the vagaries of publishing, I guess).

Cover page for GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 17 - GuildsNow, I am on record for saying Riggsby’s last book was less DF than what we’re used to. This doesn’t quite apply to this title, even though it does have applications outside of Dungeon Fantasy. Before I elaborate further let me say that the book builds on the social rules for DF that Dr. Kromm introduced in “Traits for Town” (Pyramid 3.58: Urban Fantasy II). In fact, pretty much the whole of the article is reproduced – not counting the “Professional Discounts” box, but that one has been expanded for each discussed guild. So if you thought about buying Pyramid 58 just for this article, you can just buy Riggsby’s book instead. If you already bought it, don’t begrudge SJGames the slight recycling.

Facts

Author:  Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora)
Date of Publication:  2015/12/10
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 31 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $7.99 (PDF), $ 0.26 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-17-guilds

Review

As a DF product kind of dealing with setting details, Guilds is a square peg in a round hole, but much less so than Treasures. Yes, it deals with worldbuilding too, but it does so in a style that is decidedly dungeon-fantasyesque. Nevertheless, the book is pretty much balanced between rules and setting tips.

The book is split in two chapters and an appendix of rank titles. The first chapter reproduces Kromm’s rules, which is important as this reintroduces social traits into Dungeon Fantasy. Then Riggsby takes us by the hand and shows us easy-to-use ways of using organisations in DF. He makes heavy use of the Pulling Rank rules first introduced in the Action series and expanded by the good doctor and Riggsby himself.  There is also some historical background information, but that amounts only to two paragraphs.

The second chapter details fifteen types of organisation (along with a couple of variants) for use in your campaigns. Each of those takes up one and a quarter page or so and they tie into DF templates a lot. The three questions “Who are they?”, “What do they want?” and “What can they provide?” are answered in some detail for each. Be warned though that these are very much types, not ready-to-use sample organisations akin to the magical styles in Dungeon Magic. The appendix of rank titles is just that: titles for each of the organisation types.

Meat

So, why would you want to add in all these fiddly social bits into a beer-and-pretzel game like DF? Simple: to give the players more options for customising their characters. The cleric who holds high rank a congregation will play differently from the one who’s someone in a noble court and the one who rubs shoulders with university-types. Organisations also provide ample plot hooks, but that’s a setting (and therefore cheese) thing.

The basics here are Kromm’s rules, but everything concerning guilds comes from Riggsby. The assistance rules from Pulling Rank et. al are nicely streamlined to fit a DF setting and not bog down play. All the different types of assistance are detailed complete with samples. The guild entries show at a glance what each can easily provide and what not.

Ease of use is a big thing here. We get a complete listing of DF professions with sources, a a complete overview of social traits, a sorting of professions in each guild (who are the masters, rank & file, hired help?) and a rank range for each organisation. Especially nice is that guilds don’t always use Administration for the assistance rolls. Intimidation or Streetwise might work just as well. There’s a lot of simple stuff like adding rank to contest skill rolls or wealth level to sell loot that might also work well outside of DF, even if they are a bit gamist.

Add to that some odds and ends (rules for technical jargon, cants and slangs are neat) and you’ve described most of the book’s rules. There’s nothing in here that doesn’t work, although there are no complete revelations for those who already know the Pyramid article.

Meat score: 8.5 (extra half-point for streamlining)

Cheese

As this is a balanced kind of book, setting matters just as much and although we don’t get any cute worked examples, this book can be a great help, especially for the beginner GM who just starts exploring their world. Riggsby explains why leaving the dungeon from time to time is a good idea. He shows how each of the guild types can provide hooks for further adventures and how advancement in rank can serve as a means to achieve the game’s ultimate goal: get better bling and cooler powers.

We do learn a little bit about historical guilds and communication problems that made large organisations impossible in the middle ages, but that information is relatively sparse. Don’t buy the book for its real-world data. The rank names are, unfortunately, mostly boring. Apart from one or two odd men out most of the tables have nothing interesting to them. The Congregation table is at least an odd mixture of religions, but only the Hermetic Cabal titles are truly close to old D&D weirdness. Who wouldn’t love to be called “Hidden Instrument of the Verities”?

As it stands Guilds is a good stepping stone to a more nuanced style of play and might lead people who cut their teeth on that other game and DF to actual worldbuilding. It’s only a first step, though, and it is a bit constrained by its length. Personally I would have liked a Dungeon Magic approach better with detailed worked examples added to the generic types. Even a half-page sample for each type would have been nice. Maybe we can still get this as a follow-up? Pretty please?

Cheese score: 7 (good framework in need of filling)

Sauce

There’s a very limited amount of pictures in the book, but most are appropriate if unspectacular. I like the ornamental title pages, as I’ve said before, but it’s nothing special. There are some jokes in Kromm’s text that make you laugh out loud, Riggsby’s jokes are more wry and less frequent, but they are well-executed and his writing is fluent and easy to read. There’s one cut-and-paste error, but apart from that the editing is good. The only surprise concerning the sauce was a pull quote from Pope Francis. The pope in Dungeon Fantasy – now that’s an association you’ll have a hard time severing.

Sauce score: 7 (okay art, nice jokes, good writing and editing)

Generic Nutritional Substance

The information, while DF-centric, is useful for any kind of fantasy campaign and might be even used for some that take place in higher-tech settings. By their very nature most of the guilds are, however, tied to a setting where there’s some pretty rigorous diversion of labour. In campaigns where there’s none of that, the write-ups will be much less useful.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7 (generic enough)

Summary

Dungeon Fantasy: Guilds is no must-have title for those who strictly adhere to the genre’s core values, but for those who want to stray a bit farther afield it is more than useful. More than some DF titles it is a toolkit, though – albeit a toolkit that takes the novice GM’s hand and leads them into that fearsome land of social roleplaying.

Total score: 7.4875  (a really good book, especially for less experienced GMs)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (32.5%), Cheese (32.5%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a balanced book

Value score: 5.74375 (cost-to-length ratio is always hard to beat)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


GURPS is a registered trademark of Steve Jackson Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Steve Jackson Games. All rights are reserved by SJ Games. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

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