Bite-sized Review Hall of Judgment – Powered by DFRPG

last updated 07/10/2018: forgot to say something about the sample characters

It’s been a while since the release of the first licensed DFRPG product and I know this review is late to the crowd, but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to give you a look at this. Full disclosure: I backed this on Kickstarter at the “A Thegn of Your Own!” level – which is why you have the Blind Mapmaker in there as a sample character. So, yes, I might be a little biased.

 

Cover of Hall of Judgment

 

Facts

Author: Douglas H. Cole
Date of Publication: 09/08/2018
Format: PDF and full-colour softcover (available on W32 and Gaming Ballistic)
Page Count: 120 (1 title page, 2 content pages, 1 backer list , 1 index pages)
Price:
$12.50 (PDF), $0.11 per page of content; Score of 10/10 (best score yet!)
$24.99 (Softcover), $0.22 per page of content; Score of 8/10 (adjusted by +1 for full-colour softcover)
$30.00 (PDF & Softcover Bundle, only at Gaming Ballistic), $0.26 per doubled page of content; Score of 7/10 (adjusted by +2)
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/GBL0005P_preview.pdf (17 pages, go check it out!)

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.

The book is divided into three broad sections comprising of setting, adventure and rules stuff. Before the adventure proper we have a one-page glossary with (sometimes very tongue-in-cheek) definitions and a one-page foreword by Sean M. Punch (Dr. Kromm) that lets us hope for more licensed products. The two-page introduction by Doug H. Cole is itself already giving setting and adventure information, but 17 pages of setting information make the Norðland and the town on Isfjall come alive. Then it’s right into the adventure with 1 page still in town and the other 44 on the trail and in the Hall itself. This is followed by 4 pages on dungeon grappling (simplified Technical Grappling for DF), a 35-page bestiary and 22 pages covering 16 sample characters. The rest is index.

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


Meat

Appropriate for a Viking-flavoured book, there’s lot of meat here. The town section is not quite as detailed as in DF Setting – Caverntown, but more than enough to send your players on a shopping trip and make them not fall afoul of local customs. Especially useful is the pack animal table.

The journey section has encounter matrices that include include especially prominent weather and extremely detailed tables for temperature and precipitation that are useful in a number of northern environments. Would be neat to see this expanded into a comprehensive global weather table (pity it’s only in Fahrenheit, but even so it’s easy to use). The encounters are generally handled in one paragraph and use the monsters in the bestiary, when it comes to combat. The players are guided by an overland map.

The first big encounter site are the ruins of the temple complex and village at Logiheiml. In this locale overrun by undead each site is divided into a description of the obvious, the present challenge, concealed contents and alternatives/reward (if any). Again all the creatures are in the bestiary. Rewards are given with all the necessary stats. There are maps of the village and the funerary temple complex, including a cutaway of the fortification. Battle maps are not provided though. Make sure to mention the ruins beforehand, because they can be easily missed depending on which path the players choose.

Once the characters get to the valley of the Lost Hall itself, there’s another overview map supported by many encounter level maps. The general layout of each site is the same, but they are sometimes very detailed with many, often magical options explored in detail (e.g. the rope bridge, climb/sacrifice gate). Enemies in the valley are mostly fae of various kinds, but getting lost on the way to the hall is not very easy if the GM hands out the player map of the area (included in the PDF version). The entrance to the Dómstóllin (the Hall itself) is clearly visible there, so this might not be the best idea since it makes this section very linear, even more so than the rest of the adventure.

The Hall itself is also represented by battle maps, but again it is a very simple matter and was a little disappointing after all the build-up. So, unless you’re pressed for time I would make sure to let your players explore the valley extensively. The demon boss for the adventure is something of a rarity in GURPS as it is a singular creature, albeit one with an extra attack, extreme Regeneration, multiple free abilities and powerful grappling. Also this Krabbari (love the name!) sits in a no-mana zone (fortunately one that allows magic weapons to function). If your PCs are weak grapplers and rely on spells for everything, they’ll be in for a fight. You should make sure your group is ready for this encounter.

Almost more challenging than the boss fight are the two bonus areas in the form of Norðalf warrens that teem with enemies. Only overview maps are given for these two elaborate sites and the combination of many enemies and little time to rest and (possibly) no escape route can make these quite deadly.

After the adventure comes what is no doubt even more interesting to many players: a detailed Norse bestiary. There are lots of fae and animals (though why we’d need both mountain goats and mountain sheep is beyond me), some undead and human adversaries and a few others (the crushing worm and the awakened trees are especially nice). Each entry has at least one illustration. The stats come complete with control thresholds for Dungeon Grappling and are all that you need. Point totals are not given, though that might have been nice for the companion-able animals at least.

The sixteen sample characters are a varied lot, but as most of them were made by backers they are not all made for the adventure. The druid is the only one with Survival (Mountain) for example. Still, all the templates from the DFRPG are present. Although this is probably the only character gallery this size that has a two non-human wizards lacking an eye. Well, that’s an accepted symbol of wisdom, at least.

All in all, there’s lots to like and not much to miss here.

Meat score: 9

Cheese

As mentioned before the adventure is quite linear and GMs whose groups are less beer and pretzel might need to expend a little effort to make it palatable. Most of that can come in at the beginning. Maybe Logiheiml has to be located for a vital clue first and the whole twistakn (token of Tyr) thing might be explored some more. It’s a bit of a pity that the backstory that was in the OGL version has been left out. Even if the players won’t ever hear all of it, it certainly helps the GM to get into the right mindset.

What’s great is the large section about Isfjall. There’s more than enough material to make Isfjall the home base for a larger campaign. The overview map also helps with that. Not only do we get a general sense of the town, there are also some rivalries set up and long list of festivals that will help players to get into the mood for more Norðland adventures. I’m in two minds about cutting out the name Tyr and all that implies. Sure it makes things more generic, but it’s always easy to cut something as the GM and the tips in the OGL version were more than enough to make this a bit more accessible.

The encounters at Logiheiml are in a way the high-point of the adventure since the ruins show the players what could happen all over the Norðland and the whole area breathes atmosphere down to the last commuting undead.

The random encounters are all well thought out too, but take a little preparation to pull off. Some are a bit deadly, but it helps to have players who do not simply attack everything and everyone. It might be useful to predetermine some of the most atmospheric bits like (the starving Jarl’s ghost, circling ravens, drinking companion of Thor etc.)

Exploring the valley can be lots of fun, but except for the bridge and a couple of ambushes there’s not much that absolutely has to be done there. A bit more preparatory questing would have been nice, but it’s not exactly hard to include with a little prep work.

The fact that the real reward here is the knowledge recorded in the hall is nice, but it’s spoiled by the Lady of the Harvest appearing and handing out magic weapons and golden hairs that turn into artefacts. If you want to end this in a monty haul, at least make it Tyr appearing himself and use his golden beard hairs or something!

All in all,  a very good effort that fits in well with Dungeon Fantasy expectations

Cheese score: 8

Sauce

Art is where the book really shines. Most of the illustrations are at least on the level of the better DFRPG boxed set ones. Don’t judge the book by its cover art! That is, unfortunately, one of the weaker pieces. Additionally, there are two gorgeous overview maps, three very nice site maps and seven more workman-like, Campaign Cartographer style battle maps. The Kickstarter had all these available as high-resolution graphics files for use with virtual tabletop software and I assume they are included in the PDF version too.

The editing is pretty good without any glaring mistakes. The writing style is mostly okay, but the jokes are a bit blunt and not as subtle and hard-hitting as in the best of Kromm (a high bar, but that is what characterises DF for me). Still, it fits in with the beer and pretzel theme.

Layout is somewhere between regular GURPS and DFRPG. The bestiary stat blocks are nice and easy to read with colour helping a lot. Bold print indicates traits and capitalisation indicates book sections. The font size is generally a bit larger than regular GURPS (more akin to Pathfinder, especially with the columns), but goes down to something smaller than usual in the bestiary and sample characters section. That’s also where the nice layout breaks down in parts with stat blocks going up to the decorative frame and boxes spilling over it, but than stems from the author’s understandable desire to cram as much information in as possible.

Sauce score: 8.5

Generic Nutritional Substance

As an adventure based in a specific culture there’s only so far Hall of Judgment can go in terms of genericity. The Norðland is generic enough to be dropped in most DF settings, but some aspects like the powerful, evil fae might not fit in well with a specific world. Also not every Vikingesque culture might have a strongly law-aspected god. Thinking of my own campaign it wouldn’t be an easy fit, especially as there’s already a Norse culture. But well, it’s an adventure/setting and they’re not meant to be completely generic anyway.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 5.5

Summary (No Spoilers!)

Douglas H. Cole delivers an outstanding product that is proud addition to the Dungeon Fantasy line and makes one hope for more from this licensee. The adventure is pretty linear, but atmospheric and puts the characters against foes supernatural and natural without neglecting the realities of mountain travel.

It is a satisfying read and a good way to introduce new players and GMs to GURPS without having them lament the quality or the lack of the illustrations. Thanks to both the author and SJGames for making this possible!

Total score: 8.05 (third place of all time)
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.

Value score: 9.025 (PDF, best value ever!), 8.025 (softcover), 7.525 (bundle); getting the bundle is advised if you want to run the game online and offline!
Value Score is composed of the average of Total and Price.


GURPS and DFRPG are registered trademarks of Steve Jackson Games. The art here is copyrighted by Gaming Ballistic. All rights are reserved by SJ Games and/or Gaming Ballistic. This material is used here in accordance with the SJ Games online policy.

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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.