Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 10: Taverns

Taverns, you wonder how someone could fill a whole book on a topic that might be a footnote in many adventures and campaigns. I think the book is a victim of unfortunate naming, or perhaps framing. True to form, it is mostly about taverns, inns, and bars, but its real value comes from reading in between the lines. It's not exactly rich in rules or content, most of the special items in the book are modest in capability, but the thing of value that Dungeon Fantasy 10 brings to the table is making the "downtime" between "adventures" not just a bookend for the real game, but part of the experience itself. Let's take a closer look at this installment and see what we can take away from it.


Table of Contents
This is a 32 page book, with 3 pages devoted to the preamble title page, table of contents, and introduction, and a one page index. There is a 7 page chapter on the types of services and people you find in a tavern, 3 pages on bar fights, 16 pages devoted to 4 example taverns, and 2 pages with some free-floating flourishes to spice up your own.
This book's two main assets are guidance in the form of best practices for populating a tavern with useful and/or interesting NPCs, and content in the form of pre-organized taverns and several stat blocks for NPC templates, with some rules pertaining to special considerations for bar fights, and a little bit of flavor going with each of the preconfigured taverns.
As far as readability goes, the book is pretty well organized. We have a lot of pull-quotes, and standard faire illustrations, and nothing seems out of place or refuges in head scratching levels of obtuseness. In fact, the chapter on bar fights generously spells out some details from Martial Arts instead of doing some tedious page referencing. This book doesn't really depend on any other books, but probably works best with at least Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2. That being said, it's not so especially Dungeon Fantasy specific, that it could be integrated into other low-tech or fantasy settings without much fuss, and that being said, it could probably almost be used in a system agnostic context as the GURPS specific content is pretty easily translated. Let's dive into the book now.

Taverns and Tavernfolk

This chapter talks about the important fixtures and people you find in a tavern. We start with a little discussion on the prices of typical food, drink, and board, and explains, even with the way Dungeon Fantasy 2 typically prescribes a $150/week upkeep, why these might matter objectively and not in a character building way, not that there is anything wrong with having fun. The next section speaks to the generic character types you might see in a tavern, and includes GURPS stats for each of them. The especially nice thing about these stat blocks is that each of them includes some thoughtful prompts about them so that you can have a better idea why you might be throwing a Belligerent Drunk, Crooked Gambler, and Slumming Fop into this tavern instead of anyone else. The next section, Buskers and Bards speaks to making scratch as the live entertainment, and has one of the few canon references to the Erotic Art skill in the Dungeon Fantasy series, so there is something.
A special side note is that this chapter also contains the somewhat "joking/not-joking" Innkeeper template. This template is kind of a jack-of-all-trades, with a small bent towards being a social/money expert. It's a fun template if you don't mind the feeling of not being the best at anything, and is downright useful if you don't have any other "face" characters in a party already like a Bard. Basically, the Innkeeper isn't ever "great," but is always reliable, but it also has the potential to specialize, so it can become pretty good at any one or two things if you let it, or continue to be a dependable stop-gap in case the first-string sneaky/fighty/facey guy is out of commission.

Bar Fight!

Yes, the exclamation point is part of the title, my friend. This chapter is only 3 pages but is amusing and pretty useful nonetheless for those that want to incorporate slightly less lethal combat at home without changing the way GURPS works. It also encapsulates all of the satellite issues associated with a bar fight, like how to keep a fight from happening, or stop it after it has happened, dealing with the watch if they get involved, etc. Several of the techniques are applicable outside of just "bar fights" as well, so any Martial Artist character that doesn't want to peruse the possibly daunting Martial Arts might feel more comfortable starting here for special moves.
The chapter is surprisingly detailed and my head was swimming by the end, but I personally prefer having too much information and picking and choosing, then not having enough, and feeling underwhelmed.

The Sample Bar Chapters

The next four chapters, The Dancing Goat, The Cave, Pernel's, and The Broken Oar, all follow a similar formula of outlining a tavern and filling in the details to go along with it, so I'll speak to all four at once. Each tavern has an interesting collection of regulars and staff, some of these use the templates defined earlier, but some are wholly original. Each tavern includes some adventure seeds for making the tavern integrate in a more interesting way to the rest of the world, and each chapter is peppered with interesting asides with stat blocks for monsters and the like. Each Tavern also includes a hex map as well, in case you want to have a bar fight I guess, or just enjoy having a map to look at while playing to give a sense of where everyone is.
I have no especial complaints, but I kinda wish there were more, the format is pretty decent for establishing a tavern or really any other important hangout, not necessarily a bar, and would almost be a good format to emulate for a GM learning GURPS in my opinion, except for the overly verbose stats which might be a bit overkill; I'd probably just note "like Crooked Gambler, but with skill x and y." Each locale is suitably different, so it doesn't feel like a cut-and-paste job.

Behind the Bar

This chapter has some odds & ends to throw into a tavern, mysterious items left behind by travellers, trademark drinks, etc, to make each one feel even more unique, and to use as a barometer when creating your own example items. The items leave a lot to the imagination, but in turn, get the GM thinking about the types of things you could have happen in a bar. In a way, the list isn't interesting because of what it contains, but because of the way it makes you think.

Other Thoughts and Closing

This book is definitely a peripheral buy, but it isn't bad. I think people that immediately want more help with designing helpful NPCs or creating locations where interesting things can happen would greatly benefit from this book. Players that want to try a challenging, goofy, but surprisingly effective class might also want to take a look. If these two descriptors don't capture your feelings right now, I'd strongly recommend putting it on the backburner still. Even if the book isn't immediately useful, it is still entertaining, and it might be one to consider purchasing after getting others in the series.
I have a player that uses an Innkeeper NPC, by the way, and she does well with it, so I don't think it is a bad template at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...