Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen

Are you a cleric?
Golly, no, I'm an officer
of the law!
Earlier this week, I wrote a bit of an editorial on my opinion on handling hirelings and low point allies. While writing that, it made me realize I had some opinions on Henchmen, the supplement that didn't really fit the point of the post, so today, I find myself with a bit of extra time, so here are some impressions on that supplement.


Table of Contents
Henchmen covers slightly lower level character templates than the standard 250 point templates, the likes of which you would find in Dungeon Fantasy 1 or many of the other later volumes. It's not brand spanking new, but it comes a little after some of the earlier volumes like The Next Level and Power-Ups so there is no expanded list of extra special perks and powers as of yet, though the templates in this book are meant to somewhat fit in the groove of the more expensive templates.
The book has a one page intro, 14 pages of 125 point templates (9 templates in all,) 8 pages of 62 point templates (5 in all) and 16 pages on mechanics related to them.
This is a pretty good balance of mechanical information and data in my opinion and the organization is pretty clear without a lot of fumbling back and forth to understand new concepts.
Under Recommended Books in the introduction, it is recommended that you have Adventurers, The Basic Set, Magic (for casters) and suggested that you also look at Sages, Summoners, Ninja, Psi, and Taverns. I think the best you can probably get away with is Basic Set - Characters, but it doesn't hurt to have the others.

The Templates

The point amounts for the templates are engineered to work with the rules for the Ally advantage, so they are proportional to the default 250 point character. A lot of the 125 point templates align well in concept with a particular 250 point character template from earlier entrants in the series, and a guide is given in an aside with the title Niche Substitution on p.5. A lot of the "bargain" 62 point templates do not line up as well, but that is because they are more designed as fulfilling a singular or small group of menial tasks for a stronger hero. As mentioned earlier in the recommended reading, you usually don't need the recommended books to understand most of the templates, but the templates that especially evoke a 250 point template from a book later than Dungeon Fantasy 1 will frequently use advantages and perks spelled out in those books. For example, The Killer template does not include anything that can't be found in the basic set, while the Sage template references several special advantages from Sages, as it is somewhat evocative of a low point alternative of either an Artificer or Scholar which both came from that installment.
The budget templates are neat if you are the type of person who likes having a large entourage of servants. These templates usually fulfill less combat and problem solving focuses, and act more like a pressure release by doing the important, but boring jobs that no one wants to do, like hold torches, or carry stuff.
The chapter is very well organized and makes sense looking through it. Some people don't like the classic "Wall Of Text" template format, but it is consistent, and it is what we get until someone can think of a way to better represent information dense templates in a way that doesn't waste pages (Though, maybe Steve Jackson can play with this idea now that they are printing less books?) The extra asides all have interesting rules in appropriate locations in ways that are easy to read. Altogether, this chapter is the meat of the book, and it performs its function well.

The Use and Abuse of Henchmen

The previous chapter was all (well, mostly) data without a lot of application or new rules. This chapter is about rules to keep in mind when actually utilizing the templates. 
The first application describes using the templates for PC allies. It provides helpful tables like on p. 26 that describe the cost of the Ally advantage at certain point breaks for different group sizes. It gives some useful alternative Frequency of Appearance mechanics that congeal more with the Dungeon Fantasy feel as well, and that I think are pretty good even outside of a dungeon fantasy setting. The chapter has useful rules for several of the disputes that might arise when involving henchmen in a game. It actually answers all the questions I had while reading it almost in perfect time. When wondering, how to address remuneration, a section on that topic explicitly came up, when thinking about what is the separation of responsibilities between GM and player, a section covering that came up. A very helpful section that goes above and beyond what I would expect.
The next section covers using the templates to stat out hirelings. A hireling, as opposed to an ally is someone the players pay for help, and it has a different dynamic than an ally, who is "bought" with character points. It has interesting rules to make sure that the hirelings aren't exactly cookie cutters each time, and rules for developing bonds of loyalty so that a strictly business relationship could shift towards being fast friends and true allies. The pay scale table at the end of the chapter is tremendously helpful, and a nice finishing touch.
After that, a short section presents usage of the templates for players or GMs that would enjoy a low power level or mixed power level campaign. The section is straightforward, but short, with an interesting conclusion with rules for Troupe-Style play, where one player controls several interrelated characters.
The next section is on using the templates and combining them with lenses to make a custom mix-and-match character, and is probably one of the most unique, novel, and reusable concepts in the entire book. It discusses ways to combine the 62 point templates, 125 point templates, and some 125 point templates allowing players to make a more unique character than what might be allowed by just using a 250 point template. To me, the most interesting opportunity that this presents is that it really makes the races added in The Next Level much easier to use for a new character, so players don't have to putz around with deleting advantages and skills, and double checking that the race templates aren't accidentally including the same advantages as a the profession template. That being said, advice on doing exactly that kind of pairing of cruft is given on p.39. 
My one complaint on organization in this chapter is that I feel like the 125 point lenses might have made more sense in the templates chapter. Though! I do say that the place where they are at instead still makes a lot of sense. The rules added in this chapter are great for Dungeon Fantasy, and are good even in a more serious campaign or in entirely different genres. The custom delver bit in the chapter has a lot of good advice for putting together the puzzle pieces in effective ways, so it doesn't feel like you are just staring at a menu with no idea how to pair wines and entrees. The entire chapter reads well, and never gets dry.

Other Thoughts and Closing

This book is a good inspiration for making low level characters and having more templates and lenses never hurts. Seeing what abilities a secondary or tertiary delver might have can help design NPCs as well. Even without employing allies or hirelings, the lenses can be used to give some new functionality to high powered characters, and, although the list is small, there are a handful of new perks and cheap advantages that are useful no matter how many points one might have. It makes a nice accompaniment and contrast to the animal friends, familiars, and servitors in Allies and the spirits, angels, demons, and elementals in Summoners. In all, it is more than just a catalog of templates. It is a substantial supplement that is a great help when mixing low and high power characters.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you liked the book. And thanks for doing the review.


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