Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 – Born of Myth & Magic

Not one of the new series Kromm and PK have been hinting strongly about, Peter V. Dell’Orto’s newest oeuvre will be very much welcomed by Dungeon Fantasy players and other GURPS fans alike. It’s close in style and content to Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, but whereas the former volume had a lot of unique, original and lesser-known monsters, the current one deals to a large degree with classic ones. The title is right on the money and if a monster is not connected to myths, it’s sure to have some magical slant to it (actually the mythic monsters are also magical).

Cover Page of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 - Born of Myth & Magic

Facts

Author: Peter V. Dell’Orto
Date of Publication: 02/06/2016
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 24 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index/ad page)
Price: $5.99 (PDF), $ 0.29 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG37-0338_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.

Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 follows the format established in DFM1: Each of the 16 monsters presented gets a page with game stats, description, GM advice and (in most cases) possible variants. Only the notoriously hard to run Doppelgangers get two pages. Apart from the introduction, there’s a short section explaining how to read the monster stats, two pages on meta-traits not in GURPS Basic (two of them brand-new) and new prefixes. There’s nothing especially surprising about all that.

The same can be said of the mythical monsters. Basilisk, Cockatrice, Doppelganger, Dryad, Harpy, Manticore, Medusa and Phoenix are old standbys in fantasy games, but it’s good to see full game stats for all of these. It would have been nice to see non-western myths represented, but you really can’t argue about the sheer iconic value of this selection. Some less expected monsters like Giant Ant, Lava Lizard, Phase Serpent, Rock Troll and Shadow Warrior to provide variety. But my favourites are the weirdos, of course: Living Pit, Octopus Blossom and Rot Worm are surely going to provide hours of fun for your players – or painful seconds of death more precisely. A special mention goes out for the myrmecoleon – an ant with a lion’s head from medieval mythology.

Meat

As would be expected from a Dungeon Fantasy supplement, the diet is leaning towards the meat side of things, though not as much as the recent Power Items. We get the expanded stat block that has become the standard DF notation and notes how everything works in play (read: combat). There are some boxes on special combat rules, where warranted – note the large number of gaze or sight attacks. Variant round this off. We get four different Basilisks (not combinable), two different Cockatrices (not combinable), three types of ants (workers, soldiers, queens) combinable with six variants (some of which can be combined for even more fun), Sirens as variant Harpies, scalable Living Pits, five variants of Manticores (free to mix and match), six Medusa variants (stackable), six Octopus Blossoms (some of them combinable), rules for making variant Phase Critters, five different kinds of phoenix (only one burns), guidelines on using prefixes on Rot Worms and rules for making different Shadow Beings (Shadow Warriors already can be modified by race).

The two new meta-traits (Amorphous Stone and Plant) are very useful, the prefixes (Flying, Furious, Holy and Phase) a bit less so with Phase being the most interesting one. Rules for fighting monsters without looking at them, for attacks out of phase, falling into monsters and a decapitation Achilles Heel for Unkillable 1  round off the rules-side of things. All in all, the book comes through for all those who cherish stats and rules.

Meat score: 8.5 (deliciously roasted monster meat)

Cheese

Despite the rules-heavy outlook of the book, there are also roleplaying hints for all creatures, though those are often on the short side of things and sometimes solely confided to tactics and whether they are able and willing to negotiate. The exception is a very good treatment of what to replace with your Doppelganger adversary.

Cheese score: 4 (none of these monsters are giving up any milk)

Sauce

Except for a rather boring composite of interior art on the title page, the inside art is quite good. While it’s certainly not up to DFM1 level, it’s a clear step up from most GURPS offerings nowadays and gives off a cool medieval bestiary vibe too. Peter V. Dell’Orto also manages to capture the tongue-in-cheekiness of Kromm’s Dungeon Fantasy.  While he doesn’t quite reach the master in all cases, I laughed out aloud at least once and chuckled many times. Whispering tree gossips, pit-fighting, death by weasel, chibitrice and the dreaded leaping ethereal dungeon shark are among the funnier concepts I read in RPG supplements lately.

I did manage to find three spelling mistakes, which is abysmal for a GURPS supplement, but still stellar for regular RPG products. I’m not marking the book down for that.

Sauce score: 7 (pity there wasn’t a chuckling variant for the Cockatrice)

Generic Nutritional Substance

The monsters presented are optimised for fairly high-powered fantasy, but many wouldn’t look too shabby in a Monster Hunters campaign or any urban fantasy with a couple of tweaks. Indeed, there is a nice range of power levels present in this volume. Prefixes and especially the new meta traits are pretty dang universal. I can’t believe we didn’t have the Plant one before now. The extra rules are also useful for fighting any weird foes and will come handy in many unrealistic campaign settings.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 8 (a true bestiary)

Summary

On the whole, there is only one true criticism I have for this book: It’s too short. Even another four pages with non-western monsters would have been nice, but with this topic I could have seen a full eighty-page treatment – though that would have necessarily overlapped with 3rd Edition’s Monsters. A pity most titles on the GURPS wishlist are for 30 pages or less.

Total score: 7.45 (my favourite title for the year so far, barely edging out After the End 1)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a meat-oriented book. A “cheesy” setting- or drama-orientied book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.725 (just at the right length to get a positive price rating)
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: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 – Icky Goo

This thing went right into the category “How-did-they-come-up-with-this?”, of course. It’s a classic weird GURPS book, although one with a lower-case w. It doesn’t have the quite same weirdness level as GURPS I.O.U. or Weird War or even Bunnies and Burrows, but its right there with classics like the Creatures of the Night series and Hotspots – Renaissance Florence.

Featured image

At first glance you might wonder why Steve Jackson Games publish things like these, but if you think about it for a while, you realise it’s actually pretty logical. And no, that’s not because the line editor can damn well publish anything he likes. It’s because nobody else is publishing these. They might not find more than 500 buyers, but those 1800 bucks are apparently enough to pay author, editor, layout team and publishing costs while building up brand reputation for GURPS.

GM: I need a system that has a realistic representation of all kinds of fantastic slimes I can let loose in a detailed representation of 9th century Byzantium only all the player characters are adolescents bonded to alien bio-suits that they think are manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Game shop clerk: Er, you know what? I’m going to give you 20% off the GURPS Basic Set and Powers if you promise never to talk to me again.

As this is my first review on this site, I’ll explain some of the terms I use a while I go along. These paragraphs are in italics.

Facts

Author: Sean Punch (Dr. Kromm)
Date of Publication: 2015/06/04
Format: PDF-only (Warehouse 23-only)
Page Count: 22 (1 title page, 1 content page, 1 index page (+special goo index), 1 ad page)
Price: $5.99 (PDF), $ 0.33 per page of content; Score of 4/10
Preview: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/gurps-dungeon-fantasy-monsters-2-icky-goo

Review

This book is part of the Dungeon Fantasy line (more specifically it made Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 finally worthy of the numeral), so it’s mostly addressed to the folks who play DF or – as many do – use the line as a quarry for useful rules, monsters and gear. It’s, however, quite a bit more focused than a normal DF supplement, DF 12 – Ninja comes closest in terms of unity of content and also in page count, though DF 14 – Psi is actually more linked thematically. I think I won’t spoil anything if I mention that some of those slimes might be elder spawn.

For those of the readers who have read and enjoyed DF Monsters 1, the book on hand might come as something of a shock as the structure is very different: Instead of handy 1-page write-ups for each monster (including an atmospheric picture), we get a section each of for fungi, jellies, moulds, oozes, puddings, slimes and spore clouds. Each of the seven is two pages long and starts with monster stats for a generic specimen, but that’s where the similarity stops. Some sections list differently coloured specimens, some give different modes of attack and others describe at length what makes the gooey enemy in question different from all other gooey enemies described.

These sections are framed by a page of general gooey characteristics and two pages of how to GM for goo. Of especial importance is the caveat of when not to use – few players enjoy fighting disgustingly tough foes that don’t have any treasure. And that’s where I stumbled: Why start of your cool series on monster types with a book on oozes? Sure, it’s original, but that’s about it. A GM, possibly still at school, who spent six bucks on this book will want to use it, but it’s really easy to over-use gooey foes in any context. Even in a swamp or river dungeon the players are going to groan after the third encounter with weird slime. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, but that doesn’t detract from the books usefulness. And that’s the meat of the matter.

Meat

The meat is the heart of most RPG splatbooks, what’s generally referred to as crunch. Basically rules that can be used by players and GMs. For a GURPS book – barring historical and fictional setting books – that is usually the meat of the matter. So I’ll call it that. Some books are less interested in rules and that will be reflected in the scoring.

DFM 2 contains a host of useful crunch. If you count all the variants there are 36 different fungi, 2 kinds of jellies, one of them deliciously adaptable depending on its latest meals, 27 variants of moulds (admittedly a pretty passive hazard), 1 type of ooze that scales heavily with total mass, 6 types of puddings, 15 types of slimes and 36 types of spore clouds.

Now most of these are just minor modifications, but it’s still an impressive array and enough to confuse even those players who quickly buy up supplements and try to memorise them. I’m not sure these exist, but I grew up with Knights of the Dinner Table and try to be on the paranoid side where it’s fun.

All the monsters are ready-to-use for Dungeon Fantasy and the ones with double-digit numbers of subtypes even feature tables to roll on for extra randomness. The GM tips are more extensive than in DFM 1 – simply because there’s more space for each type and general information is on the introduction page. There are good hints on how to make things more interesting for the players.

On the whole the information is dense, while easy to use, but it doesn’t quite reach the nice at-a-glance nature of DFM 1.

Meat score: 9/10 (very hearty – solid GURPS rules crunch, albeit very specific)

Cheese

Now everybody likes meat (I’m joking of course), but what we really appreciate is the cheese (not joking any more – cheese is great). Folks generally call setting details that don’t impact rules very much fluff. I find the term (along with its sibling crunch) a bit annoying, so I’ll go with cheese instead as a synonym for all the good things that make life worth living.

DFM 2 doesn’t offer a whole lot. This lack of fluff is typical and intended for the Dungeon Fantasy line. It’s supposed to plug into any vaguely Tolkienesque fantasy setting.

Here we get just some hints about what scholars think of the whole gooey business and some ideas of how the everything relates to certain elder things. And of course, there’s habitat information, but that almost veers over into crunchy meat territory. That’s basically it. Oh and barbarian culture uses umlauts while dwarves g0 heavy 0n the apostrophes and limericks. Not a ringing endorsement, I know, but fluff is really not the focus here.

Cheese score: 3/10 (nothing to see here folks)

Sauce

You could see the sauce as superfluous, but don’t be fooled, nice art, good pull quotes, complete and correct indices and above all well-written prose are what makes reading books fun. And if they’re not fun to read, they’re often just skimmed. And that often leads to annoying mistakes.

The writing style is a no-brainer in this case as the good doctor’s skill level in writing is well above professional level. Even the description of game mechanics are pleasure to read and everywhere you can find the tongue-in-cheek humour that makes DF the Munchkin among GURPS products. Especially of note are the cringeworthy box headings (from “Goo Things Come to those who Wait” to “Breaking the Mould”). There’s even bonus poetry content: a dwarven limerick on the content page and a bona fide sonnet in the glossary. If you want nothing else to do with this book you still owe it to yourself to check these out. They are part of the free preview.

Unfortunately, the art is a step back from DFM 1, no make that three steps – DFM 1 was the first 4th Edition book with really great art. Now, it doesn’t matter too much when we’re talking of slimes and stuff, but the spore cloud art is basically a sphere of dots and the others are not much better. The picture of the pudding in the preview is actually one of the better ones. While it doesn’t quite reach the depths of GURPS Magic‘s poser art the art is really weak.

Pull quotes are fun, proof-reading is top-notch and the index is useful with an extra goo index that covers goo from other books. The only mistake I could notice is that the Slime bookmark redirects to the last page on Puddings. Not that you really need bookmarks for a book of this length.

Sauce score: 6/10 (great writing, uninspired art)

Generic Nutritional Substance

Given the generic nature of GURPS it’s quite important how adaptable the material is for other settings. That depends mostly on things like subject matter and relative power levels.

DFM 2 is pretty good in this regard. Actually, the material presented here almost seems more appropriate for a weird SF or supers campaign. Most goo is definitely a tough challenge for DF groups, because of its Injury Tolerance. For supers with area or explosive powers that don’t cost FP the GM might want to add Injury Tolerance: Damage Reduction, but for most space operas explosive weapons are dependant on an ever short supply of ammunition. All in all it’s easy to port the material to other settings that are at least border-line weird. Moulds and even fungi might make an appearance in campaigns that are only mildly cinematic. None of the critters in here are suitable for a thoroughly realistic setting, though.

Generic Nutritional Substance score: 7/10 (pretty generic if specific)

Summary

A really nice GURPS supplement that is fun and useful, but suffers a bit from the specificity of the topic matter, the lack of interesting in-world fluff and good art. Still a good buy for Dungeon Fantasy GMs and everybody interested in things gooey.

Total score: 7.2  (really decent stuff for those who like it, but not necessarily everybody’s thing)
Total score is composed of a weighted average of Meat (50%), Cheese (15%), Sauce (20%) and Generic Nutritional Substance (15%). This is a meat-oriented book. A “cheesy” setting book would turn the percentages for cheese and meat around.

Value score: 5.6 (slightly average for the 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.