Bite-sized Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 2 – Tomb of the Dragon King

last changed 2018/08/28: Correctly attributed DFM3 to Peter Dell’Orto

Interestingly 2018 seems to be a better year for Dungeon Fantasy adventures than 2017. Not saying the ones released with the Dungeon Fantasy RPG were bad, but Matt Riggsby’s new offering Tomb of the Dragon King and Douglas Cole’s Hall of Judgment, which I hope to review soon, are on a different level content-wise.

Cover of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 2: Tomb of the Dragon King

Facts

Author: Matt Riggsby
Date of Publication: 16/08/2018
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 37 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $8.00 (PDF), $0.24 per page of content; Score of 5/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0345_preview.pdf

Review

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. This being a Dungeon Fantasy adventure, the meat and the cheese will be equally important.

Before I start, let me confess that though I own Mr. Riggsby’s first DF adventure: Mirror of the Fire Demon, I haven’t read it yet. I still entertain notions that one day one of my players will step up and lead me through a GURPS adventure provided they don’t have to do any conversion work. So, please bear with me if I comment on stuff that’s well-known from that no doubt excellent product.

So, what do we need to go raiding the tomb of the Dragon King? As always you can look at the recommended reading in the preview – in short, you need everything monster-related that has been published in the DF line and a lot of other stuff is useful. Nothing is said about the DFRPG, but the only thing that is really needed is apart from the boxed set is Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3: Born of Myth & Magic (by the lovely and talented Peter Dell’Orto). There are some undead Dinomen too, but you don’t need Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 for the Undead lense alone.

Indeed, the generous three-page introduction does give the GM hints how to adapt the adventure to groups with modern weapons teleportation, mind-reading abilities etc. In short, the adventure is quite adaptable as long as you own some DF books for further reading.

Spoilers start here!  Scroll to the bottom if you want to play the adventure as a player!

 


 

After the intro the book is divided into four chapters on town (3 pages), the dragon king’s court (11 pages), the dragon queen’s court (8 pages) and conflicts (also 8 pages). Town actually has a name in this adventure and it’s Broken Fang Point, a small trading town in the forested foothills of a mountain chain. The basics are there, but don’t expect 5% of the content of Caverntown. The two courts contain the layout of the respecting locales and the basis of the storyline, while the last chapter gives stats, character traits and background info on the antagonists. A slightly too elaborate index rounds things off.

Meat

The most important meaty bit in this volume is the concept of N (introduced in the previous volume as far as I know). N is the number of combat-capable characters of 250 points or less and the number of opponents is adjusted according to this number. N is also increased for higher point averages. As far as metrics for judging encounters go, this is a both a bit more flexible and a bit less granular than The-Other-Game(tm). It is, however, more than good enough given GURPS’ generic nature (heck, there are tips on how to play this module with high-TL heroes – let’s see the D&D clones deal with that).

Tables for wandering monsters and treasure are included in the two court sections. There are detailed rules for attracting attention and patrols and looking for treasure. The two courts pose very different challenges with the dragon cultists in the king’s court for the most part representing an organised, lived-in dungeon and the queen’s court containing “squatter” monsters that guard secrets still unearthed.

The monsters are varied and present interesting challenges that almost always offer a pay-off if the characters manage neutralise their opposition. The dragon-blooded magicians and priests come only with one set of spells each, a bit more variety wouldn’t have hurt, especially since they lack damage-dealing spells. The dragons themselves are made with a simple toolkit for choosing size/age, breath weapon and spells. The king and the queen get a special treatment and are unique characters, which are essentially unbeatable without expending a lot of resources. Defeating either one of them is a major undertaking, though I would have preferred a couple more varied spells for the king.

In the whole there are four types of cultists, three sizes of dragons (except for the spells and the hatchling size they are very similar to the ones from DFRPG), three lurking monsters and the two royals. A good selection that can be reused for other lizardfolk-centric adventures.

All in all, a really solid effort that does its best to help the GM to tailor the adventure to their specific group of adventurers.

Meat score: 8.5

Cheese

Each part of the tomb is described in the likely sequence the characters are going to encounter their adversaries and each is accompagnied by detailed hex maps of the locales.

For each of the chapters there are hooks and holes. While hooks are an old-standby to get characters into the action, holes are exactly the opposite: ways the characters can miss the adventure or vital parts of it. Here the GM is gently reminded of how things can go wrong and how to avoid or remedy this.

While the adventure is a classic, old-school dungeon crawl, it is not a stupid one. Indeed the PCs can interrogate the cultists and use their wits to free the dragon queen to decimate the opposition surrounding the MacGuffin and save themselves a world of hurt. On the whole, the adventure represents a very believable dungeon crawl, with patrols acting intelligently and challenging players who live by the “kill everything” doctrine.

And that’s the one of two caveats I have about this. You shouldn’t play it with groups that are used to kill without stopping to think. It is easy to be overwhelmed if the group insists on fighting without any recourse to stealth and there are at least three encounters where retreat is the most sensible option.

The other caveat is that this is an old-school dungeon crawl. While that shouldn’t be a problem for the typical DF group, the adventure is not really restricted to Dungeon Fantasy. For other modes of play it might be too combat focused. A GM could emphasize the tensions within the cult that are outlined in the third chapter, but as it is, this is no intrigue or puzzle adventure.

In short, a good dungeon-crawling adventure with epic adversaries and a couple of twists, but not a whole lot of interaction or a very involved story.

Cheese score: 7

Sauce

Compared to the general GURPS fare, the extras are pretty good. The style is workman-like with few frills and whistles, but you don’t generally want that for a crawl. The dragon pictures are mostly old retreads, but they aren’t bad. The maps are neat and have a real old-school vibe to them, but it would have been nice to have extra copies as image files – though the pdf resolution is generally good enough to print at a useful scale. The only thing that’s missing from the maps is a couple of debris piles or other cover.

Sauce score: 6.5

Generic Nutritional Substance

It’s a fantasy dungeon crawl, but Mr. Riggsby does his best to give the GM everything they need to customise the hell out of it. Want to set it somewhere else? Want high-tech weapons? Want special adversaries? Don’t like dragons? He’s got you covered. Doesn’t mean you’ll play this in every sort of setting, but it still covers a lot of fantasy.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6.5

Summary (no spoilers)

Matt Riggsby has delivered another fine supplement for the dungeon-delving crowd. Mileage may vary for less combat-oriented folks, but it certainly does what it says on the package. The old-school maps are a nice touch, but would be even better in png format.

All in all, a worthy addition to the Dungeon Fantasy line, hampered only by the relatively high per-page price – as usual for shorter GURPS offerings. Also be advised that due to the maps, there is considerably less text than usual.

Total score: 7.3125
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: 6.15625
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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Bite-sized Review: GURPS Magic – Artillery Spells

It’s been only a six weeks since the last GURPS offering from Sean Punch and while I would still like to see a more tightly packed release schedule, I am more than content to wait if everything we get is the same quality as GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting – Caverntown and GURPS Magic – Artillery Spells, both of which plug some big holes in heroic fantasy line-up of GURPS.

GURPS Magic - Artillery Spells

Facts

Author: Sean Punch (a.k.a. Dr. Kromm)
Date of Publication: 17/05/2018
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 31 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page, 1 page ad)
Price: $8.00 (PDF), $ 0.30 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0154_preview.pdf

Review

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.

 

The GURPS Magic – XYZ Spells series are mini-grimoires. They always contain a large list of spells (50 in this case) and an introduction that helps the reader to put them into perspective. Unlike Plant Spells (a favourite of mine since I helped playtest it), Artillery Spells  doesn’t focus on a single college, but on a type of spell – namely those that allow a mage to damage and kill multiple low- to mid-threat foes. It is the counterpart to Death Spells which have a good chance of killing one worthy opponent in one fell swoop.

The spells cover most of the colleges with only Food and Knowledge being left-out, which is probably a good thing. Every college having a death spell was a bit weird already and I don’t think we needed more of that. GMs do get a lot of information about building their own artillery spells, so readers don’t need to worry that they’ll never see their favourite food fight spells.

The chapter on spell-building is five pages long and discusses both the types of spells that can be used as artillery and how to balance their stats. It’s deliberately not

The spells themselves form the majority of the volume (21 pages) and are unevenly distributed over the colleges with the elemental colleges usually getting more and the ones less commonly associated with damage-dealing less. A couple of helpful boxes on larger topics are distributed throughout this chapter.

Meat

There’s a lot of meaty rules goodness in this book, beginning with dramatically expanded ways for dealing damage to multiple opponents. Cones, emanations, bombardment, ricocheting shots, swarms, contagious damage, portals, damage that moves the targets around – it’s all in there. Indeed, the book goes a long way towards making damage-dealing spells less generic. There are some common themes like cones and repeating area damage, but many spells have unique and mostly entertaining mechanics.

The spells range from merely efficient, workmanlike spells like Improved Explosive Fireballs and Cloud of Doom to fast but unpredictable damage-dealers like Twisting Terror and Mana Storm to atmospheric spells like Vengeful Staff (think Gandalf on the bridge of Khazad-dûm), Doom Wish and Spirit Incursion.

There are mass mind-control spells that induce everybody to stab each other, psychic screams, magically-animated weapons that attack everybody in an area, huge fists that pummel targets from the sky, sun-light lasers, mine-fields, the whole shebang. A couple of spells are slightly edited versions of older spells that had been introduced after GURPS Magic, but most are completely new. As there are far more ways to deal damage over an area,  the spells feel much more unique than the ones in Death Spells. The spread also feels appropriate and there are a no obvious gaps.

A few of the spells are a little complicated (Collision, Sun’s Arc, Ironweed), but most of them are not much more complicated than what we’re used from former publications. Magery requirements are handled flexibly as is availability. The spells are almost all very hard (except for Self-Destruct) and Legality Class 1 or 0.

Especially interesting are the spell-building guidelines (the good doctor deliberately didn’t call them a system), which give the GM good ideas for balancing their own spells and making sure the spells in the grimoire don’t upset their campaign. GMs also get hint on fitting damage effects by college. There are also boxes on defence and the ever-popular topic of spell maintenance. Kromm takes especial care to show the reader how to differentiate artillery spells from boss killers. You don’t want your goblin horde eradicator to take out the dark lord or the archmage by accident.

All in all, there’s not much missing here. Even the page-count is half a dozen pages higher than the previous volumes in the series, despite Death Spells having a similar number of spells.

 

Meat score: 8.5

Cheese

As this is a spell catalogue there’s not that much in the way of world-building information present. There are, however, boxes on how to introduce artillery spells to existing campaigns and how to fit them into a fantasy legal framework, how to frame a heroic self-sacrifice by dangerous spells and how to fit the new spells into divinely-granted spell-casting tied to Power Investiture. There are hints as to which spells fit which genres best, but the vast majorities are slanted towards generic fantasy with a good dash of dungeon-delving.

For a generic spell collection there is not much more you could ask for.

Cheese score: 6.5

Sauce

The writing here is less tongue-in-cheek than most of Kromm’s Dungeon Fantasy titles, but there are the odd joke or two. It’s mostly enjoyable, though it does get a bit technical in some of the spell descriptions.

The art is, while not great, at least appropriate to the spells mentioned, sometimes more than I would have thought possible with reused generic art from Dan Smith & Co. We get a whopping five black and white illustrations and the cover isn’t actually doing them justice. Still, it’s a far cry from what other companies or even enterprising freelancers like Douglas Cole and his Lost Hall of Tyr.

Still, it’s a good effort for our favourite system.

Sauce score: 6

Generic Nutritional Substance

There are probably few campaigns outside of traditional fantasy and Technomancer that will use all the spells presented here. There are, however, a fair number of spells that work in secret magic, illuminati and horror games. Whether a dozen spells are worth the price of admission, everybody must decide for themselves.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6

Summary

GURPS Magic – Artillery Spells plugs a hole in the GURPS Magic system by presenting interesting damage-dealing spells that don’t all work in the same way and merely exchange damage types. Together with Death Spells it goes a long way of remedying one of the criticisms that are frequently levelled against the system, namely that its spells are boring and generic. It’s a good buy for everyone who likes the versatility of the system, but wants a little more flavour.

Total score: 7.7 (very good)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “cheesy” story- or world-building-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.85 (above average)
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.

Bite-sized Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting – Caverntown

And here is it the first traditional GURPS release of the year (not counting Pyramid and Dungeon Fantasy Role-Playing Game releases. And it’s part of a new series – sort of. I’ll explain what that means in a second.

Cover of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting - Caverntown

Facts

Author: Sean Punch (a.k.a. Dr. Kromm)
Date of Publication: 05/04/2018
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 49 (1 title page, 1 content page, 2 index pages, 1 page ad)
Price: $10.00 (PDF), $ 0.23 per page of content; Score of 6/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-setting-caverntown

Review

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.

Caverntown is a town located underground next to tons of dungeons – something most players will find interesting. But what sets the Setting series apart from similar GURPS products like Encounters and Locations? Encounters are places to explore or visit – simply put adventures happen there. Locations are a bit more ambivalent, but most often they are imposing structures where adventures could happen, most often with a map, sometimes even a hex map attached. Worminghall is the odd one out and would have frankly been better as a Setting – had the series been there at the time. The main difference to Hot Spots (apart from being fictitious) is that DF Setting – Caverntown contains a whole lot of meaty rules in addition to all the story hooks and characters.

After a one-page intro that discusses the meaning of ‘Town’  in a dungeon-delving campaign the book is divided into four chapters: A Most Unusual City State (9 pages) tells us about Caverntown’s history, layout and inhabitants, Those Who Pull Strings (11 pages) is all about NPCs, guilds and other influential groups, Welcome to Caverntown! (13 pages) is all about things to do, dangers to encounter and mysteries to explore, Taking Care of Business (11 pages) is all about buying, selling and contracting. As usual there’s and index, which comes in a bit heavier since there are many lemmas to take care off.

Meat

The meaty bits are feature most in the fourth chapter (Taking Care of Business), but bits and pieces are distributed through the whole book. It’s definitely meatier than most specific settings we’ve seen so far in fourth edition. Some of it reads a bit dry, but the point here is that the GM does not need to improvise anything. Chapter 4 lists everything about buying, selling, contracting, custom-fitting, hiring any Dungeon Fantasy players could possibly want – often with die rolls and certainly with price modifiers.

Caverntown’s defences, tolls and law-enforcement are described in equal detail, so that the GM can quickly set up a chase with the town watch or a break-in in  the mages guild without much trouble. Five important NPCs (mayor, grand mistress of the holy warrior order, great druid, head of the chamber of commerce and the androgynous master bard with the enigmatic name Sivel). Sometimes this is quite reminiscent of That-Other-Game™, but be advised that you often need other DF supplements to make use of this information. Especially DF 15 Henchmen is important, but DF 1-3, DF 8 Treasure Tables, DF 14 Psi and DF 17 Guilds are almost required reading. The more likely your players are to cause mischief in town or want special orders, the more likely you are to need those.

Which raises an important point: This is a Dungeon Fantasy product, not a Dungeon Fantasy RPG product. It’s meant to work in the regular GURPS framework and if you only own the DFRPG you’ll be mystified by some things mentioned here. I suggest you just ignore anything that a quick full-text search in DFRPG doesn’t turn up. 90% of the supplement will still be useable and it’s good practice not to obsess about rules minutiae in GURPS anyway.

What else is new? We get an encounter table for town, which ranges from monster incursions (Caverntown is an outpost next to monster-infested territory after all) to petty crime to major capers and supernatural events. An actual wandering monster table is provided for the tunnels leading to the dungeons. There are rules for buying a building and hiring permanent servants (both of which are be a bit on the cheap side), training considerations, notes of credit, crime and punishment (mostly swift and capital), social traits, finding quests and the supernatural properties of the environment.

In short this is pretty dang complete setting from a rules-point of view.

Meat score: 9

Cheese

Caverntown’s history is interesting with multiple gods, a devil-worshipper and an elder thing featuring prominently, but it’s a bit on the cheesy side (in the original sense of the word). The characters though are wonderfully quirky and not easily sorted into good and evil, making complicated city plots possible if the GM wishes for a change of pace.

As a constructed town with a grid layout Caverntown is a bit bland when it comes to geographic diversity, but the individual features from the Shaft (an elevator tower that connects it to the surface), the Eight Titans (statues that keep the cavern stable), the druidic gardens, gates to the tunnels and the many establishments in town make up for it. The detail level is greater than say an average 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms city, but doesn’t quite reach GURPS Tredroy levels. The town does come alive for the reader though and interesting hooks are dangling everywhere, though these are for the GM to work out.

Chapter 3 is most interesting from an actual campaign point of view and outlines how to make everybody useful in a longer-term (or permanent) Caverntown campaign, notably what to do with those more outdoorsy professions and how to deal with the more uncommon races. It also contains a few locations outside of Caverntown proper, though these are more like teasers, not even real scenario ideas.

In short, the supplement contains an unusual amount of social stuff for Dungeon Fantasy and makes for an interesting if not absolutely breath-taking setting.

Cheese score: 8

Sauce

Again the lack of actually fitting illustrations is a big downer. One or two illustrations of buildings or persons that actually feature in the book would have made a big difference. There are more illustrations than usual, but they are often cropped to the point where you think it would have been better to have a blank space or another pull-quote. I could also think of quite a few DFRPG illustrations that would have been more apt. Not even the smith is a dwarf.

The lack of a map is easier to justify given the unique location and shape of the town and the fact why there is none is actually addressed in the book.

Sean Punch is at his more Dungeon-Fantasy-esque writing here and most of the time the tongue-in-cheek tone works nicely. There are a few lead-in sentences that are bit annoyingly retro, but these are rare. Pull quotes are from characters mentioned like in DFRPG and the index is sorely needed in this case. We also get a summary table of guild-masters and -mistresses, which is also nice, but the art still hurts.

Sauce score: 5.5

Generic Nutritional Substance

You won’t drop Caverntown into a modern-day horror campaign and setting it in a Science Fiction, Steampunk or Cliffhangers universe will make most of the information useless, but the cheesy bits are generic enough that you can use them this way if you don’t mind changing races and supernatural stuff. The meaty bits are generic enough to use in normal fantasy campaigns if you own the DF books mentioned and don’t mind a little professional lenses in your game.

Still, this is not GURPS at its most generic and it doesn’t mesh perfectly with the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, which does lower the score.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6

Summary

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Setting – Caverntown goes a long way towards the plug-and-play GURPS campaign that people are always clamouring for. The GM still needs to supply the adventures, but with the full power of the Dungeon Fantasy line behind it the GM does have to think much about all the bits between the dungeons.

Total score: 7.525 (almost very good)
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 (meaty-cheesy) book where both story and rules matter.

Value score: 6.7625 (well worth its price)
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.

Bite-sized Review: GURPS Encounters – The Harrowed Hearts Club

The GURPS Encounters series is still young and its second instalment is very different from its first (Matt Riggsby’s Pagoda of Worlds), so it’s time for a little review. It’s bite-sized, because I try to cut down from my usual endless word-wastes. So without further ado, here’s Jon Black’s The Harrowed Hearts Club.

Cover page of GURPS Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club

Facts

Author: Jon Black
Date of Publication: 02/11/2017
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 21 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1/2 index page, 1/2 page ad)
Price: $6.00 (PDF), $ 0.33 per page of content; Score of 3/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-encounters-the-harrowed-hearts-club

Review

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.

Encounters is a new format for GURPS and this supplement combines two very different things: The first chapter (7 pages) is basically GURPS Clubs (or Haunted Clubs if you want to be pedantic) and explains how the basic building blocks can be used to make up very different establishments. From the different parts of the club, to its dimensions, to supernatural abilities of the club itself (complete with appropriate manifestations) and the templates for regular patrons and employees (including musicians). A small bibliography can be found on page 10 under “Additional Inspiration”.

The second chapter (11 pages) contains a short history of the titular club and four actual encounters. Each encounter is two or three pages long and consists of a number of events, some of which are optional. A small box on the last page contains five more three-sentence scenario ideas.

Please take note that the following contains some spoilers for the encounters! Scroll down to the summary if you want to completely avoid those.

Meat

The crunchy bits are not the main thing here, but there are quite a few stats here all the same. Templates for patrons and employees are short, but to the point, and the encounters make use of them too. Abilities and disadvantages for the Spirit of the Club and its manifestations take up almost a page – performance addiction is a nice idea how the club may affect musicians.

There’s also a box that lets you find out how likely it is to have someone with a specific skill in a middling-sized club (the stereotypical “Is there a doctor here?”). That will surely come handy in a variety of campaigns. Nothing obvious is missing, indeed even magical and psionic abilities are called out explicitly where they might matter and each encounter has a quick overview box with campaign and character suggestions.

Meat score: 8.5

Cheese

The first chapter is certainly useful, but GMs will likely come for the stories and not so much for the generic pub-building. The history of the Harrowed Hearts Club is violent from the very beginning and ties in nicely with the different iconic periods of American history. It’s quite clear that Jon Black knows his stuff and much of this is quite fascinating. So fascinating indeed that it is a bit of a shame that some entries have been cut short. Sure, you can read up on Jake Leg on wikipedia and need the game stats for the stuff more than the exact details, but I would have liked to see a bit more in some cases.

As for the encounters, they are clearly structured in different events and are nicely varied with more or or less mundane things, to creepily ambiguous horror to straight-up supernatural stuff. Three of them can be set in more or less recent history with a strong urban fantasy slant (low-powered Monster Hunters are mentioned as a definite possibility). The first one is a completely mundane Prohibition-era gangster story and – in my opinion – the weakest piece in the ensemble. The second one takes the characters literally to the past and allows them to change history by rescuing people during a famous fire. The third one is a creepy piece set during a high-stakes illegal poker game and the last one is the big confrontation with the spirit of the club and its unwilling minions – Monster Hunter style.

The last three encounters can be easily interspersed into an ongoing urban fantasy / secret magic campaign that build up to an unexpected crescendo. Pity that the pub will no longer be haunted if the characters succeed. The supplement certainly lives up to the Encounters title, even though a little bit more wouldn’t have hurt either.

Cheese score: 8

Sauce

As often the case, this is where GURPS lets us down. The illustrations are actually quite good, but it’s still two black-and-white images that are relatively generic. Also there’s no map. And though you could argue that this makes it more generic, it does hurt the plug-and-play functionality. At least two of the encounters could definitely make use of a detailed map.

What’s good is Mr. Black’s fluent writing style, good editing and even an index.

Sauce score: 6

Generic Nutritional Substance

This category might seem a bit pointless for an Encounter book, but it still is important to know how easy it is to to drop the club into an ongoing campaign. There are quite a few hints to adapt things to different backdrops as far as the supernatural is concerned, but basically the encounters presuppose a modern American secret magic setting. You can certainly shift things a couple of decades back or forward in time, but that’s basically. I’m not saying it can’t be reworked more completely, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a worked out scenario.

The first chapter, on the other hand, is quite generic and can be used for many a different campaign. There’s a little overlap with Dungeon Fantasy 10: Taverns, but it’s surprisingly negligible.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7

Summary

Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club is short and sweet – a good example of what the line can look like outside Dungeon Fantasy. The question whether it couldn’t be all the sweeter with a few more pages does arise, though. That would also help with the relatively bad price/page ratio.

I like the fact that the encounters really feel like more than just scenario ideas without being turned into fully-fledged adventures that likely would be too specific for most campaigns. What is a bit confusing about this is that all the Encounters so far are pretty strongly tied to locations. I’d like to see a volume that is less place-specific next.

Total score: 7.525 (almost very good)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (15%), Cheese (50%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “meaty” gear-or rules-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.2625 (hurt by the high per-page price)
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.

Review: Dungeon Fantasy Traps – Powered by GURPS

Changed 02/02/2018 with new information, when the PDF was released to the general public.

Together with the contents of the DFRPG Boxed Set, Kickstarter backers who backed at the “I want it all”-level (or added the pdf as an extra) got the pdfs of Dungeon Fantasy Traps and Dungeon Fantasy Magic Items. This weekend I am reviewing the former and next one the latter. Traps was written by  Jason Levine and Christopher R. Rice – who might be called the leadership of Ritual Path Magic Cabal. The two adepts certainly think alike on many subjects, so it’s interesting to see what they came up with on the subject of traps. Rice already already gave us a random trap generator in Pyramid 3/60 (appropriately called “It’s a Trap!”). Some of the example traps contained within that article can be found in the volume at hand.

Facts

Author: Jason Levine (a.k.a. PK, @rev_pee_kitty ), Christopher R. Rice (a.k.a. Ghostdancer, @Ravenpenny)
Date of Publication: 17/08/2017 (Kickstarter-backer-exclusive), 01/02/2018 (general public)
Format: PDF-only / part of the Dungeon Fantasy Companion
Page Count: 26 (1 title page, 1 contents page, 2 pages of ads, no index!)
Price: $6.00 (PDF), $ 0.23 per page of content; Score of 5/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-8101_preview.pdf

Review

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. A book about traps will naturally come down more heavily on the mechanical side, making it meat-focused.

The book looks a lot more like a standard GURPS book than the contents of the DFRPG box. After the short introduction (complete with recommended books, publication history and a few words about the authors), the book is split in two chapters: Traps (13 pages) and Tricks (8 pages). The former deals with bona fide traps or at least immediately dangerous stuff camouflage to avoid detection. The latter has more unconventional surprises in store, only some of which are physically dangerous and none of them are immediate death traps. These are more designed to confuse, mislead or serve as obstacles or puzzles. Note that this differs considerably from the definition given in DF 2 – Dungeons and DFRPG Exploits, which is not ideal, but the new definition makes more sense so I let this one slide. Dangerous stuff and curses are now classed under traps.

Both traps an tricks use the standard Dungeon Fantasy traps notation, but that notation  has changed a bit: instead of “circumvent” we now have “avoid” and instead of “evade” we have “save” (doubtless to help players of that-other-game adapt). Both traps and tricks have several more subheadings from “Alchemy and Gunk” to “Monster Mash” to “Insane Architecture”. Each trap/trick gets a descriptive paragraph and the stat block of. The descriptions are of varying length with the tricks usually being much more elaborate to set up. What’s not in the book is a trap generator à la “It’s a Trap!”, but that is actually not such a bad thing since that strays into advanced game-mastering territory and quite a few traps have hints on how to modify them, anyway.

Meat

Now, the meat of the matter is what dungeon-delvers want to know more about, of course. Here the meat is mainly (but not exclusively) in the stat blocks. Each gives stats to detect, disarm, avoid and save against the trap’s effects, how many shots it has and whether it can be rearmed and stolen (yes, even the 10,000-pound stone sphere has a careful “no” under “steal” lest an intrepid adventurer make off with it). The traps range from the commonplace – deadfalls, pit traps of all sorts, shrinking rooms – to the ingeniously devious – Dehydrating Basin, Imprisment (James Bond-style Laser web with prisms), Projectile-Capturing Field and the insidious Dragon’s Maw Hallway.

I am not giving away the secret design features, but a GM who mixes one or two of the more insidious gems with the more ordinary traps will get a very satisfying result. On the whole there are 44 traps and 20 tricks, but many of these have variants (12 variants of Evil Runes for example and 10 different weapons at different strengths for Weapons Traps – though why the list is missing two weapons only to see them added to the respective traps is a bit strange). The damage range is pretty high, going from as little as 1d-1 to 5d6x4, which is pretty much lethal. Some traps require very quick thinking to avoid losing a party member – Lava Pit and Crush Room I am looking at you! Thankfully, insta-kills are relatively rare and always pointed out within the text.

There are only a few traps that I’d find difficult to set up successfully – Elven Clothesline is only for riders, for example – but the vast majority are generic enough to be used everywhere in a dungeon (or in most wilderness for the few wilderness-oriented traps). Most of the traps make sense even without saying “A Wizard Did It!” it but some strain the suspension of disbelief a bit – if you can’t imagine a bola-throwing mechanism, you’re not alone. There are few of these over-the-top traps though and let’s be frank – traps based on carnival rides aren’t really out-of-place in Dungeon Fantasy. It’s also nice to see how the authors slipped some physics from standard GURPS in here without making thing cumbersome – e.g. gravity and acceleration. Christopher Rice had to point that out to me. I hadn’t really noticed there was a theme.

About a dozen traps are re-used from DF 16: Wilderness Adventures and “It’s a Trap”, but among these are classics like Deadfall and Poisoned Needle, which couldn’t have been left out in any case. The vast majority of the traps are intended for a regular dungeon, though some are multi-purpose and can be used outdoors and indoors. Specific outdoor traps are rare.

There’s only one rule one overall rule that’s completely new: mandatory complementary rolls – used for timing. That works nicely for time-triggered dungeons (sharp pendulums for example) and makes complementary rolls even more useful – a beautiful mechanic I am sure to steal for other things.

There’s not much that’s missing, but I wouldn’t have minded a box on how regular dungeon denizens interact with traps and how they (or multiple traps or traps and architecture) can be combined to make challenging encounters. We get a few hints, but as a DFRPG supplement a big splashy box wouldn’t have been amiss, in my honest opinion. Also, I want Hell Gnome stats, dammit!

Meat score: 8.5 (very good)

Cheese

Good dungeon encounters tell a little story and about half of the traps and most of the tricks presented here do that. Don’t expect some lengthy lead-in with a backstory, but the mechanics themselves usually suggest some mini-plot. Some traps like Gladiator Pit also set up mini encounters that the GM can tailor to specific party members. Of course, these little stories mean that not every trick and trap makes perfect atmospheric sense in every run-off-the-mill dungeon, but there are enough of them that this isn’t usually a problem.

Apart from the lead-ins to each trap/trick, there are a couple of paragraphs or boxes that offer further storytelling aids. Especially helpful is “Puzzling through riddles” that helps you give hints to characters to make a skill roll (most helpful is the most-often useless Poetry skill). There are hints for how to deal with spell-slingers circumventing your trapped room (“Transmute Trap to Joke”) and how to power you dungeon in a semi-realistic way (“Motive Force”). All of these are useful and help the GM build the atmosphere and deal with players taking short-cuts, but, of course, the book can’t be said to be heavy on the fluff side. As mentioned above, a general page on how to integrate monsters and traps wouldn’t have hurt either.

Cheese score: 7 (good)

Sauce

When I said this book looks more like a regular GURPS book, I wasn’t just talking about the contents. As mentioned, it is grey-scale and even though the illustrations (some duplicated from the DFRPG boxed set) are still good, they are far and few between. Nothing wrong with that, but it would certainly have been more interesting to illustrate some of the unique, complex or beautiful traps instead of the deadfall and the net. Yes, I know, it’s a relatively small book that was a kickstarter stretch goal, but looks are quite important for RPG books to sell.

Moving on to positive things, the layout is clear and legible with the trap stat block making it easy to find the relevant stats and the bold-print traits being easy to spot too. I wouldn’t have minded a nice easy indicator for lethality like a number of skulls in the trap titles, though. Right now you have to read the lead-in paragraph or be very good at deciphering effects. Apparently the authors thought about a challenge rating, but decided against it. I would still have liked some quick indicator, no matter how simple.

There’s also more tongue-in-cheek writing again and the “Speaking from Experience” boxes add more character to our two thief commentators than most of those in the DFRPG boxed set. Also, there are the trap names, some of which are straight-forward, but many are extremely punny or alliterative.

Editing is top-notch, meaning I didn’t spot any mistakes or wonky-looking stuff, but there’s no index, even though the book contains two pages of ads. That’s a bit disappointing, even if it’s not a huge problem in a book this length (especially not in a full-text searchable pdf). All the headings in the context page and all the web-links are hyper-linked and the whole pdf is bookmarked – as is standard for digital GURPS books. All in all, still above the industry average, even if it doesn’t look quite as sexy as those Pathfinder supplements.

Sauce score: 6.5 (clearly above average)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Given that this book is about traps for Dungeon Fantasy, it does actually have a lot of use beyond that. Even if some of the traps might be a bit above the top for standard fantasy (e.g. Rotating Room, Imprisment) most of them can be used for anything vaguely Sword and Sorcery. Even the damage level isn’t much of a problem unless you are playing the dregs of society in the Discworld RPG. What’s more, a lot of these rooms can be repurposed with little effort for Cliffhangers campaigns, some Monster Hunter campaigns, and even Space campaigns that deal with ancient precursor civilisations. Basically, everything that isn’t entirely social role-playing or rigidly realistic can profit. Even for ultra-tech Cyberpunk infiltration you might take the stats and just change the flavour text with fast acting poisons becoming nano-goo.

Speaking of generic use, there’s nothing keeping you from using these traps in D&D or some other games, as long as you can improvise rolls for detection, avoidance and saves, which does raise the usefulness a good bit.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7.5 (passes universal test)

Digesting Everything

DF Traps is a step up in complexity from the DFRPG boxed set. GMs who want to full use of it had better have a couple of sessions under their belt. It’s not a huge step, though. Just taking some of the simpler traps as is and putting them in a dungeon isn’t complicated at all. Christopher Rice told me – during a nice chat after I had already written most of the review (thank you Christopher!) – that the guideline for this book had been “don’t make it too complex – if you make it complex, make it easy to pull apart!” I think the authors managed to do that quite well.

The book is intended to complement DFRPG Exploits and it does that well, but even those two together don’t make a complete How to Build GURPS Dungeons – any takers to write that one?

Summary

This book is useful for those who want to drop some traps and weird tricks into their dungeons. It’s also good for templates to modify your traps. It’s definitely useful for newbies, but old hands won’t be bored either. It doesn’t supplant “It’s a Trap”, which offers some more variety and randomness, but it has considerably more ready to use stuff. If you play Dungeon Fantasy (or Fantasy with the occasional dungeon), there are few reasons not to buy this book (except that you can’t get it yet), but I’ve known GMs (and players) who really don’t like traps. In that case, move along!

If, on the other hand, you like what you see here and want to add some extra-nastiness Christopher R. Rice’s “Deathtraps” in the latest Pyramid has got you covered – incidentally David L. Pulver’s “Demihuman Dungeons” in the same issue is a good guide on how to build dungeons made by non-humans. That one is already available at least.

Total score: 7.725 (very good)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “cheesy” story- or world-building-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 6.3625 (good)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.

Accessibility: still excellent – start with the boxed set, play a couple of games and you’ll be ready to tackle this, old GURPS hands can dive right in


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.

Review: Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game – Powered by GURPS

Last updated on 25/08/17 with new information.

Oh boy, the Powers that Be really sent all us boys and girls who couldn’t go to GenCon a prime gift to make up for that. (Well, every backer at GenCon also got their gift, but I guess they won’t be able to read it electronic cover to cover until they get home. What am I talking about? The long-awaited Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game – Powered by GURPS, of course or DFRPG for short (don’t get confused by that other DFRPG – Dungeon Fantasy has been around for longer than that).

For everyone coming in from the cold, be it computer RPGs or some other games: This is basically GURPS D&D in a box. You get a lot more rules and options than GURPS Lite, but without the “all genres, all worlds” adaptability that some feel overwhelming on a first read of the Basic Set. It’s also made to be much more accessible to new players and contains everything you need to play a dungeon-centric fantasy campaign. Matt Riggsby calls it GURPS Medium and there’s some reason for that.

As this is of yet exclusive for backers of the Kickstarter, things – especially pricing, image and publication date are still subject to change. But that shall not deter me from trying to write one of the first possible reviews. As there’s currently only the DFRPG bundle available for pre-order I’ll stick to the DFRPG proper and the GM’s Screen for now. The other supplements will come later. So let’s go and have a look!

Product Image for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game

Facts

Author: Sean Punch (a.k.a. Dr. Kromm) with additional material by Peter V. Dell’Orto, Dan Howard, Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company), William H. Stoddard, Jason Levine (a.k.a. PK), Phil Masters
Date of Publication: 17/08/2017 (Kickstarter-backer-exclusive)
Format: PDF-only (at the moment)
Page Count: 474 (11 cover pages, 7 title pages, 6 contents pages, 7.5 index pages, 4 ads pages, 10 pages character/record sheets etc.)
Price: $84.90 (price is for printed copy as for now), $0.18 per page of content; Score of 8/10 (+1 for being a full-colour product)
Preview: none so far

Review

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. Clearly Dungeon Fantasy is all about stats, so this will be almost all meat.

Whew! Even counting pages on this monster took me a quarter of an hour (okay, maybe I got a little distracted now and then). At 418 pages the contents of the DFRPG box proper narrowly beat the already humongous Discworld Roleplaying Game. Hopefully, they will handle a little easier being spread out over eight different physical products. So, what exactly do we get? In the box, there are five booklets that shouldn’t feel completely out of place for anybody who ever played ‘that other game’. First, we get Adventurers, which is basically a player’s guide without all the spells, which makes a lot of sense at the table. One player or the GM can look up spells while somebody else is looking up skills and a third person is judging how difficult it will be to jump of that chasm. At 130 pages this is a bit chunkier than Exploits, which as the GM’s guide comes in at 108. Still a lot pages since we are probably not worrying about radiation, tech-levels and monsters in this cut-down version of Basic Set – Campaigns. Next we get to Spells, which is DF’s version of Magic and frankly the part where the prospective Dungeon Fantasy GM had, until now, do the most pruning, and – let’s be frank – bug-fixing. This one clocks in at a lean 82 pages, even though few colleges have been completely omitted (yeah, even Gate is in there, just don’t go looking for teleportation). Next we have Dungeon: I Smell a Rat and its maps. I assume the maps will be printed on both sides of two sheets in the actual product, but I might be mistaken. Anyway, there are four of them and they are of sufficient resolution to print out for direct play. The module itself is 26 pages.

But that’s not all! There’s also the GM screen. It’s the usual foldable thing that presents four pages to the players (this times all imagery) and four to the GM. And then there are the Character Cheat Sheet and the Delvers to Go booklets, which come in at 18 pages each.

All these come with gorgeous full-colour artwork that is miles above the usual GURPS fare (not counting outliers like Mars Attacks and the Discworld RPG). The same doesn’t hold true for the bonus PDFs, by the way. These are greyscale, even though the artwork is still great. I go into the details of how all the respective volumes are put together in the meat section, since the overwhelming amount presented here is crunch.

Meat

Adventurers

The first thing in the book is a page on skills instead of the usual blank end-paper. Given that RPG books are mainly about usability that is quite a useful innovation. The book proper starts out with the table of contents on a single page some short notes on role-playing and FRPGs in general, maths and dice (more about that in the cheese section). Within that section is a one-page mini-glossary that gives me the first surprise. There’s actually some world information, though it’s very basic like “Devil, The: Godlike boss of all Evil. Wants your soul.” The rules terms are more generally helpful, as is the section on gamer jargon. This section seems intentionally kept short and covers only the very basics. And then comes the first chapter appropriately called “Basics”. This is not very different from the info in the Basic Set’s “Creating a Character”, but condensed and streamlined. Also it gives clear limits on attribute levels and disadvantages. It also keeps the maths at a minimum, we get a table for move while encumbered for example in addition to the formulae. Also the two column-layout was infinitely more readable than the Basic Set‘s three columns – much to my surprise. And after six pages of this, the chapter’s already finished.

Next up is “Professions” and we revisit all the old templates from 2007. But not everything is as it used to be. For starters there are vastly more hints for building balanced groups, choosing off-template abilities, niche-protection and even backgrounds and quirks. And then the templates are very different to to look at. First-off all the longer lists of choices and skills are put into neat tables and separated from the rest of the text by orange font colour. This takes up a little more space, but it’s actually not much more. I didn’t do any cross-checking, but the templates in general do look very similar. What’s different is the customisation. For each profession, there are some traits that are specifically reserved for that character. For example, only the Barbarian can buy Discriminatory Smell, Lifting ST, Temperature Tolerance and Tough Skin. There’s a little overlap with the Power-Ups from DF11, but not much. These are things each profession can buy at the start of the game, not rewards offered later. Also all the special abilities like Bard Songs are right there next to the profession, not hidden in some other part of the book. And where DF1 had only roughly worked special abilities, here they are all in finished builds for the GM and players ready to use. There are some hints as to roles and archetypes for each profession, but the level of detail is far less than in the Dungeon Fantasy Denizens sub-line.

Looking through this huge chapter (29 pages) lets you find some interestingly reworked abilities, some repriced ones (Detect Good is cheaper than Detect Evil, because it’s less often useful) and some radical, new stuff like the Swashbuckler’s Every One’s a Critical, the Scout’s Multi-Aim or the Thief’s Expert Backstabbing.

Chapter 3 deals with the available fantasy races and it starts with a detailed explanation of how to correctly stack the templates. The races presented (cat-folk, dwarves, elves (one variety), half-elves, gnomes, half-ogres, half-orcs and halflings) are only a small selection from what we’re used from DF3: The Next Level and that’s frankly a little disappointing. I had hoped this would showcase the ability of GURPS to play an intelligent beetle, corpse-eating misanthrope, diminutive faerie, half-spirit or minotaur. As it is the selection is very D&D with added cat-folk – not much of an incentive. What’s also missing is a mention of choice and marginal professions, but with the limited it doesn’t matter as much. The races are changed a little to make sense with the reduced number of advantages, but otherwise close to their original versions.

Chapter 4 makes up this reduced list of advantages. It’s not very different from what we’re used to, even though it introduces maximum levels for advantages that are keyed to professions and other concepts. Some advantages were renamed, some were subtly changed like Very Rapid Healing and Signature Gear. Where it was very apropos extra info has been added that helps the player decide whether the advantage is worth it. One choice I don’t quite agree with is separating talents out into their own advantages. It makes things harder to remember if nothing else. All in all, the chapter is only nine pages long compared to Basic‘s 69 (not counting modifiers, which have also been dropped). Still, it gives more options than many other game systems and definitely way more things to take care of during character creation than that other game system.

Chapter 5 deals with disadvantages and is, at 14 pages, actually longer than the preceding one, which is good, since it showcases how GURPS makes characters different, even if they have the same profession, race and effective combat build. Also there are almost no profession-specific disadvantages explained in chapter 3, so there are still more advantages out there. New players are shown how disadvantages can be appropriate for a character and don’t have to be considered flaws or weaknesses. There are a couple of physical disads that are marked as Old War Wounds. Those are the usual suspects like Lame, One Arm, One Eye, One Hand and we get a warning about how much they can suck and a useful reference of how to get rid of them in Exploits. That’s something that comes up often, by the way. DFRPG is heavy on the referencing, which is needed, because the information generally follows the flow of character creation and you won’t necessarily know where you’ve seen that bit you needed if you’re not actively playing the character who has the trait you’re looking for.

Chapter 6 finally brings us to skills and this is likely the section where players coming from other game systems that are less skill-based will have the most problems. Thankfully, the templates in chapter 3 make sure everyone is at least somewhat competent, but figuring out how skills are bought and what the levels mean (and why they should be higher than the controlling attributes for the primary skills) is still somewhat complicated. Sean Punch does a good job of taking new players by the hand, though and things are considerably less daunting than in the Basic Set. There are numerous examples for using and increasing skills and sometimes then it feels a bit excessive sometimes keep in mind the target audience. What’s gone are the mandatory training costs and that’s a good thing in my opinion. There’s enough to get your head around without any extra shenanigans. Exploits has an optional rule to add them in again and that’s more than enough. Skills are basically unchanged with defaults and specialties, though everything has been pared down to the basics. Some skills have been changed somewhat to make them more useful (Connoiseur) or less specific (Current Affairs, Navigation), some got extra specialties (Fast-Draw, Hidden Lore) and all get dungeon-specific context and usage tips. Finally missile weapon and unarmed combat skills are grouped together like melee weapon skills, which makes for a lot less page-flipping. When everything’s said and done, there are a lot more skills in here than in the average RPG manual (27 pages), even exotics like Hazardous Materials and Poetry are covered. And there’s a section on removing and adding new skills without even needing the full GURPS rules for that. I don’t think most DFRPG players will miss anything.

Most of the rest of the book deals with “Cash and Gear” and again that’s a big chapter (24 pages) – dungeon-delvers love their toys. Sean Punch starts out by telling us general things about starting money, Signature Gear and Buying/Selling stuff. There’s also a wealth table and a money system that almost makes sense (20 copper to a silver and 20 silver to a gold coin). And then we get weapons and how to decide which ones to buy. The stats are explained with a short paragraph each and weapons are sorted as usual by skill. I am very glad to say that the good doctor has taken a leaf from Messieurs Stoddard, Dell’Orto, Howard and Riggsby and went with the Low-Tech stats that are much more sensible than the old ones. For missiles we get a nice table with a per pound number and cost and some options as to arrow points. And then we even more modifiers. Most of these are from older sources, but it’s nice to see them here together and with Cost Factor numbers – very nice and clear on one page. Shields get the same treatment but fit all one page with the modifiers. The stats are generic but in line with Low-Tech. The same can be said of armour, which is conveniently broken down into separate pieces for each type, though I am not completely sure how that extra 5% snuck in, though I seem to remember thinking that the groin area was missing in the Low-Tech treatment. Anyway, it may make for uneven numbers, but it’s more realism than you’ll get in RPGs most of the time. Next up is miscellaneous and there’s not much to say about that other than that it’s pretty dang complete – I’m only missing the awesome quick-release backpack from DF1. Also there are Concoctions (with instructions on how to use them), Power Items and various Magic Items including weapon and shield modifiers. A nice touch are the charged and universal scroll rules from DF4.

The book ends on two sample characters ready to play: a female half-orc knight and male human cleric with a vow of poverty, each with a portrait and some design notes. The layout here is much clearer than from previous sample characters thanks to the magic of the tabulator. Of course there’s also the index, which is only for this book though, unlike in the Basic Set. That could cause the odd problem in play when some actions are already explained in Adventurers, but it’s probably not too bad and keep the booklets more manageable (or so I would imagine). And there are character sheets at the very end. They’re four pages long, which makes them more interesting than the usual two-pagers, but they’re not fillable, meaning that they will see very limited use for most players nowadays. Maybe these could be included in a fillable format as an extra once the public version comes out?

Exploits

This booklet starts off with an end-paper on light and vision, throwing, falling damage and wounding modifiers – a bit eclectic perhaps, but certainly useful. A two-page table of contents shows us that the GM has much more on their plate than the ordinary player. A short introduction makes it clear that Exploits is a GM Guide in all but name. Sure, if your players are old hands at that-other-game, they will want to read up on combat some other things, and there’s nothing in here that is inappropriate to know for players, but in essence this book is for the GM. Though in this case GM Guide means a way to resolve actions and situations instead of counting every last gold piece and experience point and setting up encounters with exactly the right challenge level – that’s not really possible in GURPS and not actually the point either. The intro also tells players where to get more Dungeon Fantasy stuff without sounding like an ad.

Chapter 1 is appropriately called “Rolling the Dice” and is all about success rolls of different kinds. Dr. Kromm makes is abundantly clear who rolls when and how everything is calculated. It’s exactly how it should have been done 13 years ago, even though it does take up a bit of extra space. Complementary rolls are there on the second page as is a rule for mandatory all-party rolls like climbing together. I hadn’t seen that one before and it isn’t bad, but is a bit too forgiving for my taste. Narrative modifiers are mentioned too and they’re fun if a bit silly. Margins of success and failure, criticals, contests, resistance rolls. Fright and perception are also covered, but instead of a expansive fright check table, we get guidelines on mental stun and acquired disadvantages and how to keep everything fun and fair. Reaction rolls are more expansive with dungeon-typical modifiers. And the tips for Roll and Shout! are also solid. After eight pages the newbie GM should know most things about when to roll and what.

Chapter 2 – “Dungeon-Delving” – is larger and clocks in at 13 pages. It starts off with a section on town and how to make money, finding a quest and selling the spoils. Most of this can be found in earlier works, but the box on “Tavern Tales and Moldy Books” is an atmospheric addition designed to make the players gather intel before venturing off into the unknown. The expanded “Selling the Tale” is also a nice touch for cartographers like me. Getting to the dungeon and camping is dealt with in a short section – nothing like DF 16: Wilderness Adventures – but it has enough useful rules to cover the essentials. “In the Dungeon” is where it gets interesting for most players and GMs. Lighting, mapping, marching orders, scouting and signalling are dealt with in quick succession. “Dungeon Parkour” covers a lot of fiddly physical feats, while “Muscle” does the same for feats of strength. These parts come straight from DF2: Dungeons, but the rules on running away are new – unfortunately GURPS makes it pretty hard to run while wounded. The bits about traps are also from DF2 and more can be found in chapter 4. The rest of the chapter is about looting. Rest assured that most things you’re players will think about is covered here – including mutilating the bodies. Not much of this is new, though.

Chapter 3 continues with the gerund-based naming scheme and goes by the title of “Fighting” instead of combat. Unsurprisingly enough this takes up 33 pages, but surprisingly it does not start with combat, but with tips on setting the scene and making things interesting, which is a nice change and segues naturally into ambush and surprise situations. The rules given here are actually more involved than in the Basic Set and nicely descriptive at that. Next come combat maps (not optional this time), turn sequences and manoeuvres. Nothing of this is completely new, but everything is well explained and every manoeuvre has a lead-in sentence that makes clear what it tries to achieve. Even Wait doesn’t seem quite so complicated (but it does leave room for misunderstandings). The only thing missing are clear examples. Movement is much the same as in basic, but there’s a handy chart of the movement point costs. Attacking and defending are handled much the same as old GURPS hands are used to. You have to roll for each attack and defence and also for the damage you inflict. Thanks to the martial artist, unarmed fighting gets a bit clearer rules for getting parried and parrying weapons. Interesting is that the rules for explosions – one of the notorious culprits where players cry “Maths!” and munchkins sob about their explosive fireballs’ diminishing returns – are unchanged from regular GURPS. Special highlights in this chapter include close-combat rules on one page, attack options with cloaks and shields, hit locations almost on one page, but with a quite hideous version of the dummy from Basic, a much improved version of the box for damage to unliving, homogenous and diffuse targets a section called “Special Damage” that deals with delivery methods from Follow-Up to Blood Agent to Malediction. The whole thing is rounded off by “Non-Combat Skills in Battle”. These range from talking to acting to roguish tricks and acrobatics.

Chapter 4 breaks the mould and is called “Bad Things” in a certain shout-out to Munchkin. This is a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly deals with illnesses, injuries and fatigue and the things that cause them. First-off comes a box on temporary penalties that is a much needed summary of things mentioned elsewhere, then we delve right into injury. Especially nice is the expanded treatment of mortal wounds. It needs more than a Major Healing spell to get rid of one of those! Shock, major wounds, crippling (with a table that gives the thresholds by HP) and recovery are all covered including your insurance policy – I mean donations to temple in town. Fatigue, afflictions, irritating/incapacitating/mortal conditions are all there as are disease, falling and fire. The later is treated differently from what we’re used to and focuses more on what to do once you’re on fire than on whether this wooden chest is in that or yonder flammability category. Poison gets a full-page treatment and that doesn’t include the examples that are found in Adventurers. Environmental stuff is also covered and traps get some further love, though this section is still pretty basic, but I assume the volume on traps will more than make up for this – if I know my Levine and Rice.  All in all, most things that will make fantasy heroes cry are covered on the 13 pages of this chapter.

Chapter 5 is short (8 pages), but sweet as it deals with treasure. I think I see the hand of Mr. Riggsby in most of this, but I could be mistaken. Coins get some more mileage with interesting alloy variants, gems are there, of course, but new are the notes on luxuries and objects d’art that are popular in town. Proper identification is given some space as is disposing of the loot. Magic Items make up roughly half of the chapter. The whole section is quite well-organised and easier to parse than the respective section in GURPS Magic. Again this is somewhat basic, but we’re sure to get more in the respective booklet by Dell’Orto.

The final chapter (15 pages) deals with game-mastering proper and is the first chapter that’s very light on the meaty, crunchy stuff, so I’ll cover it in the cheese section. After that it’s tables of modifiers, manoeuvres, hit locations, speed/range, criticals, hit points etc. for eight pages. The text proper ends with a two-page example of play that’s also covered under cheese. The index and lots of forms – again unfillable – cap this off.

Spells

Next up is what I’d like to call GURPS Magic for the Dungeon. At 82 pages this volume is considerably lighter than the previous ones, but it still contains 376 spells to my best count. That might seem a lot to GURPS newbies, but this already represents a serious paring down from GURPS Magic‘s 839 and means players have fewer options than D&D 608 (source: SRD for 3.5). But let’s have a closer look at how the book is organised.

First, we get an end-paper filled with all the useful stuff you can imagine. Resistance, ritual, area, mana/sanctity/nature’s strength levels, critical spell failure and a handy look-up table for where to find the spell classes. There’s little to be left desired here. After the table of contents, the introduction makes it clear that this book is only about spells, that means “one ritual, one effect”.

Then the first chapter, “Principles of Magic”, delves right into the mechanical stuff. In GURPS spells are skills quite like all the others, only that they have some prerequisites need mana/sanctity/nature and immediately cost fatigue or similar energy. The tricky stuff here are the prerequisites, at least for wizards. Druids and clerics just need a certain level of Power Investiture. Wizards need a certain level of Magery (mostly 0) and further prerequisites. To put it simply you need to know how to light something on fire before you can shape fire or create fire from nothing and you need to know how to create and shape fire and have a certain level of Magery before you can learn how to cast a Fireball. This can get complicated fast and unfortunately, Spells does not provide a handy tree diagrams like the ones with have for Magic.

Next we learn about all the basics of spell-casting. We learn how clerical, druidic and wizardly spells are different, but can still interact and how dependent they are on their environment. The notes on mana/sanctity level and nature’s strength are easy to understand even for new players. The whole build-up on distraction, energy costs, rituals and energy reduction and so on are a bit long for somebody who just wants to cast a spell, but they’re well-written and unambiguous. In my opinion, it’s part of the GM’s job to parse that before they go through character creation with their players. Next up are the different classes of spells: regular, area, information and so on. It’s nice to see that jet spells get their own little sub-section, though I would have preferred them to be their own class and marked that way in the spell-book. All in all, the chapter provides a good enough introduction and overview to spell-casting in DF without standing out in any way. What it certainly doesn’t do is changing how standard GURPS magic works. There had been quite a few who had hoped that DFRPG would provide a huge overhaul, but that hasn’t happened. About the only change worth mentioning are that DF casters can learn any new spell within a week or instantly, when they are willing to sacrifice a scroll for the purpose.

Chapter 2 is the spell-book that contains the actual spells, sorted by colleges. Colleges are different schools of magic like the air, fire, body control or knowledge. To my great surprise, there were only two standard colleges from GURPS Magic missing: technology and enchantment. The first is a doozy, because it really doesn’t fit most fantasy. The second is a can of worms you don’t really want to open unless you want your wizard to take regular half-year vacations to make just the right magic item. The other big omissions are creation spells from the illusion and creation college and evil necromantic spells like making zombies. The mix of spells is what you’d expect from a fantasy RPG with maybe a bit more emphasis on things that are not immediately applicable to the dungeon. Even so, most of these spells have been removed. You won’t find Hair-cut or Dye and other such utility spells. All the border-line broken and exploitable spells like Enlarge are gone too along with everything that’s very complicated to explain and real death spells like Eviscerate. Still, there are more than enough spells in here to provide a real problems for selecting your basic ones. That is made worse by the fact that the wizard profession just has a few general hints instead of the suggested spell lists that were present in DF1. I don’t know why this was done when the cleric and the druid both get spell suggestions even if they don’t need an prerequisites beside Power Investiture.

As for the spell lists themselves, they’re quite a bit easier to parse thanks to the two-column layout. Spells are also sorted alphabetically within their colleges, which makes finding things considerably easier, even if you don’t find the very basic ones immediately and have to look where to start your chains. A note for the newbies here: if there’s not Time to Cast mentioned, it’s always 1 second. As all the colleges are compressed into one chapter and some pages have spells from two different colleges on them, the pages aren’t colour-coded by college, which makes quickly flipping through to find your college a bit harder, but that’s a minor point. As for new spells, there are none (unless you count Detect Evil, which is has been published before). Not even Land Mine, which had been presented as a preview during the kickstarter, made. While I didn’t expect oodles of new stuff I was looking forward to seeing a dozen or so new additions to increase the dungeonesque flair. Most of the other changes are down to balancing, wizards loose access to lightning to give druids some more chance to shine and similar changes. A few spells like Create Earth also get a bugfix to make them less exploitable, but generally the exploitable ones have just been cut. On the whole, that leaves the chapter mostly useful to newbies and those who actively want a reduced spell selection.

Next there’s a spell table (6.5 pages) of all the spells presented that keeps to the fundamentals: name, college, prerequisites and page reference. While that means it lacks a lot of information that’s present in the same table from GURPS Magic, I think this is a change for the better. Except for the prerequisites you normally go to this section just to find where the blasted thing is actually printed, because you rarely want to just check the casting time or such. The book ends with an index and an unfillable spell sheet that really would be no fun to fill out by hand as it lacks column boundaries.

All in all, Spells is the only volume that disappoints the old hand in some regards. I imagine these things don’t matter at all to the new player, but even those could have used a couple more pointers. For example, it’s nowhere said explicitly that GURPS doesn’t have high-level spells that quickly take care of your enemies. New players might quickly pick Earthquake and Geyser, because they sound flashy instead of settling for good old Stone Missile and Create Fire. In GURPS a powerful caster is one with lots of additional energy, not exceptional spells – although high skill level helps.

Monsters

Together with Dungeon, this is GM-only material and I try not to give too many spoilers, but you might still want to skip ahead if you don’t intend to GM. The book starts out with another quick look-up sheet with size of counters, size & speed/range table, facing, wandering monsters and quick page reference – all useful, nothing special. The introduction gives the GM and idea of why they need monsters and how to get the most out of the booklet.

Chapter 1, “Monsters in Action” (5 pages), deals with general stuff and starts off by presenting the delver’s point of view and what they can do to identify monsters, exploit their weaknesses and – if they really need to – negotiate with them. Then we monster’s point of view, which means tactics, manoeuvres and changes based on non-humanoid physiology (including swarm attacks).

The next chapter deals with “Monster Traits” (6 pages). It starts off with some comments on why you don’t build monsters with points and how their traits don’t have to obey normal restrictions. Most of the chapter is an abbreviated list of exotic advantages/disadvantages or those considered not useful enough for characters to appear in Adventurers. These mostly take up 3-5 lines and include only the most relevant information for making them interesting foes. New players should take note that these are all condensed versions of regular GURPS traits that are available to non-humanoid characters in non-Dungeon-Fantasy campaigns. The chapter ends with a list of monster classes, all well-described and with any special immunities/vulnerabilities explicitly called out – including whether they’re living or not.

Chapter 3 is “The Bestiary” and with 48 pages takes up the lion’s share of the book (pun intended and lions included). There are 77 headings that sometimes present a single monster, sometimes a small family of two to four related monsters and sometimes a veritable monster generator (Dragons, Slimes etc.). Each monster has a description, a condensed stat block (or a way to generate one) with attributes and secondaries, defences, attacks, traits skills and class. There are also notes on how to handle the monster in encounters and special tactics or qualities you might have missed. The length of the entries varies, but it’s a rare monster that gets more than half a pages. The various dragons almost get two, but the generator allows you to make up 16 different dragons.

The monsters are a mixed bag ranging from evil humanoids and animals to undead (from the common to the very exotic), magical beasts, demons, golems, elementals and things that could have sprung from Lovecraft’s imagination. On a quick read-through, most of the monsters from DF2 and first two Dungeon Fantasy Monsters volumes present with a couple of additions from Magic and the Basic Set (mostly undead and animals). We also get a – well-hidden section on making up your own monsters right before the zombie. Except for the placement that box is well worth the paper it’s printed on.

What’s notably missing are stats for human brigands, guards and so on. The DFRPG assumes that the opposition will be mostly non-human apparently, but these would have been useful fodder for inexperienced GMs. What’s also missing are the very useful monster prefixes from DF Monsters 1. Who wouldn’t want to rather fight a Berserker Elemental Orc Juggernaut than boring, plain, old Orc? The book ends with small sheets for your own monsters, traps and diseases. There will be some time before the beginner GM will need those, though. Monsters provides more than enough fodder for aspiring delvers to mow through, though it would have been nice to see some new material or present the old material in its original glory (especially the illustrations, which are notably inferior to those in DF Monsters 1) – I am still waiting for the Squirrel-pion and the Fae Reaver I was promised!

Dungeon – I smell a Rat

The 26-page adventure that comes with the box starts off with a plain rock hex grid in the end-paper – useful, but unexciting. It’s split in four parts: Setting the Scene, Dungeon, Rewards and The Adventure Continues. That’s about all you need to know, when you don’t intend to be the GM. Scroll on down!

The introduction gives some basic hints about dungeons, how to get the adventurers to accept the quest and how to scale encounters up and down – more of the latter can be found with each encounter . Chapter 1 (2 pages) gives you the basics of this town adventure. It can be set anywhere with a busy trade road. Funny thing, it seems to be about slaying giant rats in a road house cellar! Of course, there’s more to when the owner seems to have recently died and was wont to have funny rituals with his sorcerer friends in the cellar

Chapter 2 (15 pages) details everything that’s interesting about the dungeon. Players might be glad to hear there aren’t actually any giant rats to fight here until they notice the giant spiders. Enemy stats are generally not given in the text, but in a monster index at the end. Every little feature of the rooms is keyed to the maps, though, and many of them are destroyable! The first room has one way out that’s relatively easy to spot and one secret door. That’s important, because especially unimaginative players could think that the first room is the whole adventure if they don’t spot the easy clue. It might be good to make it more obvious if no high-PER character is in the party.

The adventure develops in seemingly typical old-school fashion. Each room reveals some more leads to even stronger opposition and the players are free to retreat to safety at most times. Still, the whole thing comes across as believable and each section is lovingly detailed. There’s also an immensely useful box on running combat encounters. On the whole, the layout is solid, but in some cases you might confuse the map excerpts on first sight – no biggie though. The story is pretty plain in the end, but the adventure is good for a couple of surprises. If anything, I would swap out one of the confined monsters in the cells for an untransformed, half-starved victim that is actually thankful (or even a helpful combatant if the party is down on their luck). Except for that, there’s little to improve this pretty straightforward adventure. Just remind the players that they can go back to town if they are too wounded to make it.

Chapter 3 presents a handy list of all monetary rewards possible. That’s a big improvement over having to flip through the module and re-read every little room description. I wonder why you rarely see that in D20 adventures. Everything including selling the furniture and sewer flotsam is taken care of. Character point rewards are also given with a detailed option, which gives +1 or +2 points for every encounter defeated. A maximum of 30 points is a bit much for my taste, though, even when it’s possible to spend three or four session on this with absolute newbies. There is instant karma for bad deeds like black-mailing the quest-giver, but that’s in-character for the genre.

Chapter 4 is just one page and deals with two things: players who love secret compartments with more monsters and more loots and alchemists who love reverse-engineering stuff. Both can be fun and useful with the right players. The adventure also contains high-quality maps with the worrying flaw that all secret doors and such are clearly marked. You basically have to cover part of the map to make things secret again. But more on the maps under the Sauce section.

Character Creation Cheat Sheet

At 18 pages this will be a very small booklet that can go from player to player while they finalise their characters. It starts with a useful end-paper on manoeuvres, movement costs, postures, size & speed/range table and the effects of accumulated injury and fatigue – useful to have during a game. It’s divided into Character Creation (9 pages),  Equipment (2.5 pages) and Completing Your Character Sheet (1.5 pages)

The first part reiterates the basics and gives a summary of the costs of attributes, secondaries, advantages, disadvantages, races and skills (complete with defaults and prerequisites). Spells get only a table on skill level benefits and then we’re already into money and expenses. “Equipment” lists all weapons, shields and armour with modifiers. There’s also a quick sample equipment loadout useful for everybody. Then it’s off to calculating damage, encumbrance, basic lift and all that. All in all, a nice little booklet to take you by the hand.

Delvers to Go

Another 18-page booklet, this one starts with an end-paper explaining all sorts of hex-based things movement, front and rear hexes, scatter rolls. Not quite the place I’d look for this, but good to have. The introduction here just points out what the booklet is all about explains all the sections of the character sheet.

Each of the 13 delvers is presented with a one-page write-up that gives all the stats and a short summary of their character as well as other important things that could be missed. Each gets a box with design notes and a character portrait too. The characters are presented in a similar manner to the professional templates with extra columns to make them long lists easier to read. The characters are nicely mixed and some go a bit against the stereotype: female half-ogre barbarian, dwarf druid, elf scout with no spells. There are no egregious errors, though one wonders why the orc-raised martial artist doesn’t know their language – must have been one of those modern cloisters! There’s not much more to say, except that these (along with the two sample characters from Adventurers) are the commentators who shared their wisdom all through the DFRPG books. Most players should find something they like. Each profession gets one character and thief and wizard get two to show off how they can be customised: silent backstabber vs. tinkerer and earth/illusions/knowledge/mind vs. body/earth/fire/meta/necromancy wizards.

GM Screen

The screen is all cover art from the booklets in the box on the player side (not sure it lines up correctly in one case) and the four GM side sheets provide information. What do you get? Attack and active defence modifiers, hit locations, size/speed/range table (up to 100 yards only), wandering monster rolls, fright checks, probabilities of 3d6 rolls, effects of injury and fatigue, critical hit, miss (armed/unarmed) and head-blow tables, scatter rolls, reaction rolls and a box on task modifiers. That’s quite a bit less than what’s on the standard GM’s Screen, but it’s all geared towards DF, where you won’t miss firearms malfunctions, fright checks work differently, a lot of modifiers are not relevant and reach is generally set. What could have been useful, but missing are posture, throwing, long-distance modifiers, basic damage tables and above all critical spell failures. I get the design idea that less is more and that art should dominate on the player side, but some compression might have been a good idea. Still, a very useful tool.

So, that leaves me to give you an overall meat score for all those deliciously crunchy bits that make a whole. Ordinarily I would be inclined to an even 9 for a very complete treatment, but there are some (minor) holes and a decided lack of anything really new that makes me want for just a little more.

Meat score: 8.5 (very good, but not perfect)

Cheese

Now this is where you would expect the DFRPG to loose points, but let’s see how it goes. There’s not very much in the way of fluff/cheese in Adventurers that’s true, less than in normal Dungeon Fantasy even. It’s basically page 3-4, little bits from the professions and races and sample characters. But Exploits is where GM-ing tips and storybuilding come into play and Chapter 6 does a really good job of introducing novice game-masters to their business. It starts off with the basics (and essential prep of the gaming materials updated for the 2010s – including cloud storage of character sheets) and then segues into different dungeon settings in the wider sense. Yes, this isn’t world-building in the traditional sense, it’s dungeon-building. There’s still some meat in the chapter, but the stats for doors and walls are there to further the story of and act as choke-points. Oh, and we finally learn the difference between concealed and secret doors. I never figured that out in that other game. While this section deals mostly with dungeons there is also a box that shows the GM how to go beyond that into wilderness, town and even other dimensions. Next come suggestions as how to build and balance encounters with monsters and the all time favourite of wandering monsters. We get the usual division between fodder, worthies and bosses and learn how to challenge all the characters without killing some of them outright.

After all that prep work we get to running the game and the simple instructions at beginning are worth to be repeated: don’t lean on rules, be fair, keep the action moving! Fun is the focus of role-playing, after all. The section on pacing holds advice that is just as useful, especially telling the players outright that they missed nothing. I wish I had learnt that one at the beginning of my career as a GM. We also learn what constitutes a successful session, adventure or campaign. Yes, there’s a lot of combat, but if you were into social-only adventures you should have enrolled at Worminghall! It’s exceptionally nice how this section effortlessly brings the GM around to the idea that world-building is maybe a good thing after all – not that the book explores this topic further. Game time vs. real time is also explored in detail, something a lot of newbie GMs have trouble with.

Next up is how to make everyone useful and that’s one of the things Dungeon Fantasy has always done better than most generic fantasy RPGs I’ve tried. Each profession is structured around things that are useful and fun and can’t quite be done as efficiently or in exactly that way by any other one. The next section is entitled “Keeping the Heroes Alive”, but it’s also about making dungeons more believable than early attempts of the genre and avoiding the “everything is evil and hostile”-trope. We also get tips on NPCs and hirelings. “Settling Rules Questions” and “Dealing with the Players” will be quite helpful for newbie GMs, who haven’t encountered these problems before.

The chapter ends with a couple of pages on character advancement offering the option to give out points in an old-school style (an example can be found in I Smell a Rat) or the usual 5 points a session. For spending points we get increased attribute levels and other specials for all the professions and also ways of getting rid of disadvantages. The chapter closes with traits gained in play whether through mundane slogging through bogs or divine grace. Much of this chapter is adapted from older sources, but it’s still good advice put plainly. The example of play is that comes at the end of the book is not particularly funny, but will prove enlightening to first-time role-players. Plus it uses the example characters from Delvers to Go.

There’s precious little that is not rules in Spells, but Monsters gives the odd bit of world information now and then, not enough to make up an ecology for the critters, but enough to keep up our interest. The Dungeon in itself offers a relatively straight-forwards story with only a couple of simple twists, but it is consistent and doesn’t feel far-fetched.

The Delvers to Go booklet presents interesting characters who don’t live in a vacuum, even though they aren’t tied into a strong background world. And you didn’t actually except world information from the screen and the cheat-sheet, did you?

Where does that leave us? The DFRPG is certainly not all about weaving complex stories and finding just the right motivation for your NPC, but it does give you the necessary tools to make up more than just brawls between murder machines. It does act as a valid if constrained replacement for the Basic Set where fantasy is concerned. And don’t get me wrong, you can use this to play other things than dungeon-delvers. It just takes more work to grab a copy of GURPS Fantasy and make up your own world. So, the cheese rating is pretty solid too.

Cheese score: 7 (not the main purpose, but way more than a passing grade)

Sauce

The thing that catches your eye is the full-colour, which is easily the best I have seen in a non-licensed product since Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1. It is a pity that they didn’t use the art from that volume for the Monsters booklet though. The art in there is not in line with the rest of the product – I guess there was either a licensing issue or it was impossible to get those illustrations in colour versions. Still, some colour, some greyscale would have been better than what we got in Monsters. There are far too few illustrations and what we got is often very flat and cartoonish. They’re not bad per se, but they make you realise that corners were cut on this part of the set. The eight pages (4 sheets back and front) of miniatures from Cardboard Heroes are certainly useful, but only for more or less normal-sized foes. Some of the illustrations are from the Monsters booklet and again these are easily the weakest and look out of place.

The writing on the other hand, is of high quality through and through and I noticed only one thing that could be an errata (old lighting table on page 45 of Spells). On the whole, there are far fewer tongue-in-cheek jokes like in regular Dungeon Fantasy. It’s easy to see why. Steve Jackson Games didn’t want this to be written off as a game of no consequence or worse as something that pokes fun at role-players’ favourite genre, but as a serious, less abstract alternative to that-other-game. However, for me at least, it does take some of the enjoyment out of the DF line. As always with humour and role-playing your mileage may vary though. There are also no vignettes of any kind, unless you count the example of play. The only in-character bits we get are the “Speaking from Experience” boxes and while these do contain good advice from the example characters, they aren’t exactly gripping and sometimes even come across as a bit bland.

Of course, the tables of contents are hyper-linked with the sections and the whole thing is bookmarked. The indexes aren’t hyper-linked, but I haven’t found an RPG yet where they are.

What’s really outstanding is the layout though. Especially the templates are much clearer than anything I’ve seen so far and not only in GURPS. I might niggle and nit-pick about the GM Screen’s wasted space and some other tiny things, but overall it’s great! Editing is top-notch as usual. I found just one mistake in over 400 pages and I am not usually bad at spotting likely candidates.

Sauce score: 8.5

Generic Nutritional Substance

Well, this is a box about people raiding dungeons and while I know some role-players for whom that statement summarises all RPGs I wouldn’t go that far. But even for those who prefer some more expansive fantasy games, this is a good starting point, especially when you are new to GURPS. It can be used as an entry point into fantasy role-playing that allows you to eventually outstrip its contents. There’s nothing here that makes the characters created with DFRPG illegal in standard GURPS and there’s no stopping the GM from playing a couple of sessions with DFRPG only and then deciding that they want to go farther afield and leave the limitations of the DFRPG behind them. That’s not completely anti-universal if you ask me.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 6.5 (goodish when it comes to being generic)

Digesting Everything

The DFRPG is streamlined a lot and for experienced players that is not strictly necessary, but even for them it’s great if they want to play a Dungeon Fantasy game right out of the box. For newbies this is a great way of tipping a toe into the GURPS ocean without immediately catching a cold (or a headache). I am not sure I like the removal of the “behind-the-curtain” stats block we had formerly seen in DF. It gave the more experienced players a guideline on how to build their own abilities. Granted, this box is marketed at new GURPS players and nothing in the box gives you the tools to do that much fiddling (no modifiers for once), but things being as they are I am quite sure it’ll be picked up at least as much by older hands. It would have been nice to give everybody some incentive to dive into the deeper GURPS waters.

As I said above, there’s not much that is really new, but in most cases the streamlining helped to make things go smoother like all delvers being Size Modifier 0 now – although that one might raise problems with armour-wearing barbarians. The clarifications, clearer restatements and the handful of new profession-specific abilities are nice, but they’re probably not going to be worth the price of admission on their own.

A couple of nice things I noticed were the very diverse cast of characters. The illustrations show us tough women muscling open portcullises, men and women of different ethnicities and generally doing stuff that isn’t necessarily coded male-only or female-only. The example bard is a guy for crying out loud! Players are told that it’s okay to play “other” genders and to play a female character when male (and vice versa). What wasn’t so nice, was one commentator talking about ‘the lesser races’, which had pretty ugly ring to it even in a world where fantasy racism is the norm. I would have wished, RPGs could avoid such language by now.

Summary

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is a good buy for…
1) those who want to try out GURPS, but feel slightly intimidated by the amount of options
2) those who look for a somewhat realistic fantasy RPG experience and haven’t tried GURPS yet
3) old GURPS hands who want to recruit new players who don’t know GURPS yet
4) old GURPS hands who want to have everything half-way decent with the GURPS name on it

It might not be the best investment if…
1) you already own most of the DF supplements and want new material
2) you are an old hand at GURPS and just want to see what the fuss about Dungeon Fantasy is all about without spending a lot of money (DF 1-3 are $24 and are likely to serve you better – unless you want to bring in new players or absolutely need paper versions due to dyslexia or the like)
3) if you aren’t particularly thrilled about the genre per se and don’t want to convince people to try out GURPS
But even then you still get a lot of good content for the money you spend.

Total score: 7.9 (excellent)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “cheesy” story- or world-building-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 7.95 (excellent value)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.

Accessibility: excellent – accessible to complete newbies


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.

Review: GURPS Hot Spots – The Silk Road

The long GURPS drought due to all the work on the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is finally easing and what does Matt Riggsby bring us? A desert! But this offering is most welcome as Mr. Riggsby takes us right into one of the most interesting areas, when it comes to cultural exchange: The Silk Road and especially the Tarim Basin. Yes, it’s a new GURPS Hot Spots volume and that means history nerd paradise with enough forbidden fruit to entice just about anybody.

Cover of GURPS Hot Spots - The Silk Road

Facts

Author: Matt Riggsby (a.k.a. Turhan’s Bey Company on the fora and twitter)
Date of Publication: 11/05/2017
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 54 (1 title page, 2 content pages, 2 index pages, 1 page ad)
Price: $10.00 (PDF), $0.20 per page of content; Score of 6/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0662_preview.pdf

Review

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. As a setting book cheese will be most important.

The Silk Road is a bit of an unusual topic for for a Hot Spots volume as even it’s central parts, which make up most of the book’s content, are more far-flung than a regular spot. The time frame (from the 2nd to the 10th century AD) doesn’t help to fix it any more to a specific point. What keeps the setting together is the flow of goods and ideas from East to West and vice versa and the fact that small groups (adventurers!) can make a difference in a region that lies at the margins when it comes to culture, civilisation and state oversight.

Ostensibly, the book deals with the reality on the ground in the Taklamakan, the Tarim Basin, the Hexi Corridor with some forays into further-off areas, but the setting’s feeling, the social interplay between the fringes of empires can be transferred to other settings. Riggsby manages to kindle the reader’s interest with the first few lines (artefacts!) and keeps it up until the bibliography.

There is no denying though that this is a historical supplement. I assume most people have at least some experience with those when it comes to GURPS. It’s not completely different from what has been offered before, but it is very accessible and well-done. Also it has some tantalising cross-over possibilities – indeed the crossover section takes up more than three pages, but let’s have a look at the overall structure.

After a one-page introduction to whet our appetites, we have the usual chapters on geography (twelve pages, with six pages of maps only) and history (five pages), then the book takes a detour from regular Hot Spots and omits notable people in favour of a gazetteer of the area (ten pages). This chapter includes towns and cities along with some other sites, interspersed with boxes on interesting myths, adventure seeds and notable artefacts, followed by an overview of the people, empires and religions of the area. This is similar to other such gazetteers you can find in many fantasy world supplements and serves much the same purpose. It paints a vivid picture of the setting and helps to distinguish places that would otherwise be just names on a map.

Chapter 4 (5 pages) is named War and Money and tells us a lot about the weapons and units favoured by the local powers as well as the trade goods that were shipped along the Silk Road. Stats are not the focus here and the next chapter: Life on the Silk Road (6 pages) shows us how people ate, what they wore and they entertained themselves. Buildings and the intellectual life are also covered.

Chapter 6 (8 pages) deals with the details of running a campaign in the area. The section on characters is relatively short. Campaign themes and cross-over ideas take up more space. A two page bibliography rounds off the whole thing.

Meat

Meaty and crunchy rules are not the focus of the book, but some rules slip in at different places. There is a concise, but nice passage of how to give the present religions the supernatural GURPS treatment. There are new rules for getting lost in the desert and for taking damage from sandstorms. We learn the terrain quality for travel and the environmental quality for hunting and foraging in the Tarim Basin. Tech levels are given in all relevant quarters. Matt Riggsby shows us what elements the armies of the region deployed. There is relatively little news on weapons  and armour, though. Most of these were influenced or even bought from outside and can be found in Martial Arts or Low-Tech. There is even a sourced price list for the most important trade goods and a listing of farther luxury trade goods.

Most meat is found at the beginning of chapter 6 with Cultural Familiarities, languages (including learning languages with more than one script), explanations of skills, jobs and one Craft Secret. Both the Guide and the Holy Mendicant are two interesting jobs that are a good fit for adventurers.

On the whole, there is little missing unless readers were looking for a full gear loadout or complete martial arts styles. The latter would have to be fabrication, because little is known from this area and time. For the fun factor we get a technique for throat-singing and a treatment of cannabis according to Low-Tech Companion 3.

Meat score: 6.5 (more than solid enough for a setting book)

Cheese

While The Silk Road does give a very good overview of its topic, it really shines at the small details where Matt Riggsby can show off his academic expertise. We learn that rope suspension bridges would have been useful, but were unknown in the old world. We hear some good old myths repeated and debunked in the same breath (Crassus’ legion in China). We marvel at wonderful artefacts like the Diamond Sutra (the world’s oldest dateable printed book) and wonder what else might lie hidden in the sands. In short, we find ourselves drawn into a world that was as rich in inter-cultural exchange as it was in danger.

Both the landscape and the history do get a very solid treatment in the book, but you won’t find singular rulers or a overriding passion for dates and battles. The history discussed here is that of the longue durée: slow processes that shape socio-economic development. The reasons that make exporting silk to the west a good strategy for China and much appreciated in the west are all present, while the recurring wars and changes in ownership are merely a background that doesn’t change the overall narrative.

Chapters 3 to 5 give the reader an intimate view of how life in the cities and on the roads of the Tarim Basin must have been. Where the archaeological record and written sources fail him, Matt Riggsby draws on contemporary custom to provide us with a picture (e.g. for food).  Chapter 6 discusses the most important ideas on how to make a campaign on the Silk Road. Apart from the merchants, missionaries and militants three-way split, we are also presented with a mapping on familiar settings. One of these is the Western – we are literally reading about China’s Wild West – the other one is Dungeon Fantasy of all things. After the first mental disconnect this even makes sense. The area features culturally less developed tribal people, fortified trading cities and ancient ruins and even dragon-bones. It’s not a far leap towards the Western as a genre and as we all know the Orcs are just more socially acceptable stand-ins for American Indians.

If there’s anything missing from the book, it may be a stronger link to the empires in the area. We are left with a general remarks on Chinese and Arab officials and customs, but it’s a bit thin for making up military and civil-servant characters. Of course, there is GURPS China to fill the gaps, but GURPS Persia and GURPS Tibet are still sorely missing and GURPS Arabian Nights is a bit far off in tone and content matter.

Cheese score: 9.5 (trying for perfection)

Sauce

After bells and whistles of GURPS Mars Attacks everything would be let-down, but for a historical book the illustrations are quite disappointing. I see that there’s vastly less in the way of royalty-free (or any other) artwork and photos about the subject than say Constantinople or Florence, but one or two authentically clothed and armed Sogdians, Tocharians or Göktürks would have really added to immersion, as would a view of one the mentioned cities or a typical house.

The maps, while useful and correct, could have been more impressive. I might have too high standards in this regard, but the mountain ranges look pretty artificial and the deserts are worse. The high-resolution, small-scale map of the Tarim Basin is the best-looking one and probably the most useful one too. The large-scale overview map of the whole area takes a bit to get used to, though. There’s also a map of a cave shrine complex that is a bit bare bones and would have been better without hexes.

Riggsby’s writing is engaging, interesting and colourful in the vein of the best Anglo-American popular histories. Jokes are far and few between, but this ain’t Dungeon Fantasy, after all. The style fits the subject matter perfectly.

Editing is good as always. I spotted only one minor pointer problem and the index looks fine too. Oh, and kudos for getting the German sharp s in Seidenstraße right!

Sauce score: 6 (give us some illustrations already!)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Generic usefulness is generally not the high point of historical supplements. The Silk Road remained the major route of exchange between China an the west for the better part of a century, though, so there’s a multitude of historical settings where it might crop up at least once. Matt Riggsby also goes to great lengths to present crossover opportunities and analogous settings. I feel Mr. Riggsby is now fully justified to present an expanded version with Zoroastrian Wizard templates as the default setting for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7.5 (absurdly high for a very ungeneric setting book)

Summary

Hot Spots: The Silk Road is a really enjoyable read that will give its readers many ideas for campaigns and adventures. It is not a book that I can whole-heartedly recommend to people who really hate historical reading, but anybody else can rest assured that this is a good investment if you’re looking for something a little different for the usual RPG fare, while still giving your characters enough agency and interesting opportunities.

It is probably best used for a setting where characters are more or less mobile. While Mr. Riggsby does give a couple of sedentary campaign options, these are often a bit on the mundane even for people who like historical realism like me – although the caravanserai campaign does sound like it could be a lot of fun.

Total score: 8.05 (very, very good)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (15%), Cheese (50%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a cheese-oriented book. A “meaty” tech- or rules-oriented book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 7.025 (hits the sweet spot of PDF length)
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


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