Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers

The Player's book for
Dungeon Fantasy
I mostly deal with Dungeon Fantasy on this blog, though I kinda play a bit in the murky borders between the more esteemed Fantasy and the more fun Dungeon Fantasy, mixing in the bits I like, throwing away the rest (a fun thing about GURPS.) Dungeon Fantasy is one of the more popular GURPS lines. This being the first book in the line, and being a popular series, and you being the type of person to read my blog -- all these things add up to a type of expectation that you probably have and read this book. This review is probably a bit more like a retrospective then.
In short, this book is definitely a pillar of a Dungeon Fantasy game, and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to play a game of "Get strong, get treasure, get powers, get money." And not merely because it's compulsory either. The majority of the templates as experienced in actual play are solid, fun, and really speed up starting a game that should be able to start fast.


Table Of Contents
This book is a little short, well, medium really for a Dungeon Fantasy installment. It's got almost 30 pages of content split over 5 chapters. The first chapter has 11 templates over 10 pages. The second chapter is something of a guideline for dos and don'ts on developing characters. The third very short chapter is a list of spells for the three main spell caster templates and a few rules on them.  The fourth chapter, also very short, covers 4 types of powers. And the last chapter, the other big piece of the pie at 8 pages covers special weapons, armor, items and customization options especially appropriate for a pastiche fantasy setting.
The book mostly requires Basic Set- Characters to make sense of the advantages, disadvantages, and skills of each character, and optionally the Magic book to understand the spell lists. 
In hindsight, a lot of expansions have been made that make small improvements here and there, and some don'ts have been overridden with optional dos, but altogether the book is solid, and the organization is good with no confusing back and forth.

Dungeon Fantasy Templates

This chapter is all about describing different templates for characters. Exactly what it says on the tin. Very little new rules, a surprising amount of advice, but mostly pure data.
What I like about these templates, and a tradition that I am glad they continued is that each template has a set of customization notes at the end. Templates are tools to deal with analysis paralysis and are good for kind of creating a ubiquitous idea of what it means when Player x and GM y describe a Thief character. Inside of each template though is still some wiggle room for decision making, and the customization notes help pull together some coherent concepts from what may seem noise. I especially appreciate the listing given for spells for the wizard in three different archetypes that can help newbies deal with the overwhelming magic tome.

Indeed, the format of the templates themselves are very pragmatic and save space, but can be a little difficult to read because of that, but that is standard fare for templates in GURPS as of now. I believe I've said it elsewhere, but since Steve Jackson Games has transitioned away from printing so much material, you might think that they could be a literal more liberal with the page real estate, but, meh, even if they did go that way, they wouldn't update an item this old. In this regard, the only big problem I have with this chapter is that the spell listings are a bit too terse and can make writing out a character sheet a pain without an automatic tool like the GURPS Character Assistant or GURPS Character Sheet software. I mean, no one would steal the secret sauce if spells were listed with Page references, mana costs, and all the other fields the character sheet asked for. Oh well.

Dungeon Delvers' Cheat Sheet

Was it written simply to prove
this chapter wrong? Nah,
it's pretty good though.
It is often suggested that a good GM might write out a list of all the advantages, disadvantages, and skills that are setting appropriate. This chapter is the manifestation of that advice for the Dungeon Fantasy line. It is a list, 5 pages long, of every one of those things. This is why I don't do this personally, and though a useful reference, is a monument to the hubris of the naive advice to "just list the things your players can do." A few new advantages and wildcard skills are also given throughout the chapter.

I have really nothing to say about this chapter, but it is kind of an interesting artifact. A lot of the rules that are established in this chapter are broken, but a lot have also held steadfast. I mean, for example, it discusses how things like status or rank might not be appropriate for a game of hack and slash, but now we have the Dungeon Fantasy 17: Guilds supplement that doesn't care about that. Still, the chapter is a pretty good foundation for building new custom templates, but it's also just guidelines as there are several developments, of course, that have come that ignore many of the shalls and shall nots, But hey, at least the "250 points, 50 points of disadvantages" holds... no, Henchmens happened too.


This is again, a pretty cut and dry catalog chapter consisting mostly of lists and data, capped with some "shalls" and "shall nots" for the wizard template which is a little more free-form.

Really, I don't have anything interesting to say here but I would like to reiterate that leaving off all the information except for the spell names makes filling out a character sheet manually a real drag. Again, only because this is retrospective, a lot of things have changed since this was written. Wizards originally had a "Just choose whatever you like, except for these few things, and the things that are for clerics and druids" kind of thing written up for them, but Pyramid #3/66 gives a discrete list of spells for Wizards. Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups has a few expensive unusual backgrounds for big game changer spells that are normally listed as off limits as well. Pyramid #3/36 introduces the Saint version of the Cleric which uses the better distinguishing Divine Favor power system to give a bigger gulf of mechanical flavor as well so Clerics don't have to be "Wizards that dress like priests."


This section is a catalog of advantages using the power modifier mechanic as described in GURPS Powers. Most of the power modifiers are pretty bog standard, with the unusual exception of the more constrained Bard-Song. Many of the spellcaster talents have two different versions of the talent advantage. One that simply acts as a power talent, and one that includes spell casting abilities.

Many of the power advantages here feel a bit lukewarm (Except the Chi ones, those ones are cool.... but Martial Artists don't have enough points to devote to the super awesome ones!) and are more like empty vessels waiting for the player or GM to add some flavor. Some of that does happen in later installments, like The Next Level, Allies, and Power-Ups though. Besides the descriptions of the Power Modifiers, this is really the weakest chapter of the book in my opinion. At the same time, because of the description of the power modifiers, it remains one of the most consistently important chapters of the book.


The second longest chapter of the book, and the one with the most lasting importance. Again, this one is catalog of equipment, but it goes above and beyond with some stuff that is a little more imaginative than the standard "camping gear from Basic Set"... though that is also there.
This chapter is pretty interesting because by including this stuff, it kind of sets the stage in a way. It's kinda saying, "Hey, Grapnels are a thing you might need players, and oh, GMs, set pieces that can take advantage of grapnels are a good idea."

The most lastingly useful section of the whole book (besides the really good templates in the first chapter) Are the modifiers for customizing weapons and armor. It lends a certain amount of flavor to the setting that a lot of GURPS franchises didn't really dare to yet (Though, Dungeon Fantasy is, I believe among the earliest to start the tradition in 4th edition, and After The End seems to be a bit more flavorful maybe as a response to that reception.) didn't really dare. We have modifiers like Elven, Dwarven, and Orichalcum that speak to the kind of world, environment, and setting to expect from Dungeon Fantasy as a whole, without saying a thing about Dwarves, Elves, or nigh otherworldly metals. I also like that notes are left for players that want to reverse engineer the equipment and create more following the same rules- something of a predecessor to the later "Under The Cover" asides. The list of cool and more fanciful modifiers is expanded in Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables.


It's kinda neat how much of the book has been consistently useful over a period of nearly 8 years, and how much of it has been over-ridden by later supplements patching or improving it. Overall, it's great with one major gripe that the spell lists could have been done better. If you aren't a magic user, coincidentally, that means the book is perfect! If you are, that means a lot of annoying page turning! In play, I've seen the Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Martial Artist, Swashbuckler, Thief, and Wizard. Wish I'd have an opportunity to see the Knight, Holy Warrior, and Scout in action too. I think the people I play with can't see at a glance how powerful the Scout can be, and don't get the subtle nuanced utility of the knight who isn't just a hulking tank... maybe I should play a knight the next time I'm a player? A knight with really good social skills, and applying the content from Guilds could probably be pretty fun.

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