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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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)


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)


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?


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.