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.

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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.

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