Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 9: Summoners

Title Page
Summoners! I am not sure what I want to say about this book, so it's a good thing that I don't just say, "this is good" or "this is bad" because my opinion is somewhat polarized on this book. There are some things that are pretty great, and a few things that feel pretty lukewarm. I guess lukewarm isn't the antipode of great, but meh! Let's take a closer look at Summoners!
Table of contents


So what do we have in this book? There's 39 pages of content, an introduction, and an Index. The first 16 page chapter speaks to 5 new 250 point character templates, the next 16 pages cover creatures to summon, the core mechanic explored in this book, and the final 7 pages is a mix of player and GM guidance for campaigns involving the previous two chapters.
Generally speaking, this book is pretty content heavy with lots of templates for players and their allies, light on new rules, but with a notable section on new customization options for the Ally advantage, decent in terms of guidance, and a little in terms of fluff and flavor in the last chapter. The book has a decent selection of pull quotes to break up text and the typical illustration faire. Organization is impeccable, and nothing seems out of place.
The only book I think that is really specifically needed to take advantage of this is GURPS Magic, but Dungeon Fantasy 1 (which you should already have if you want to run a Dungeon Fantasy game) and Dungeon Fantasy 5 (which is pretty good anyway) are also recommended in the introduction.

Spirit Workers

The first chapter is about the new templates introduced (Demonologists, Elementalists, Necromancers, and Shamans) but it starts with a segue on some novel customization options to make summoning unique from the typical usage of the Ally advantage. New limitations for Ally and a statted version of Jumper start the chapter.
The templates in this chapter have especially narrow niches. They are like hyperfocused casters, with a few extra benefits that can make for some unique advantages and drawbacks so they don't just feel like slightly nudged Druids, Wizards, and Clerics from Dungeon Fantasy 1. Each of the new templates follows the theme of being able to summon help, some have armies of weaker beings (The Necromancer), some rely on one especially powerful helper (The Demonologist), some have especially unique helpers that work well in specialized situations (The Shaman.) The Elementalist is an odd man out, and comes across as something of a mix of the ideas presented here, combined with some more dedicated casting features, and rolled up in a very customizable package.
The templates have enough difference in their power modifiers and abilities to give a nuanced variation to each, but they all seem like pretty tricky classes that require somewhat more system mastery than those introduced in Dungeon Fantasy 1, but perhaps, not as difficult to handle as those in Dungeon Fantasy 4. In a technical sense, the writing is straightforward and very easy to follow, and the amount of guidance given is ample. I would have liked a list of compatible races for each class, but probably it is easy to correlate the recommendations from Dungeon Fantasy 3, as a lot of these classes depend on the abilities that Clerics, Bards, Druids, and Wizards need, so a race good or bad for one of those, is also probably good or bad for any of the Summoners templates.

Spirits and Servitors

This chapter starts with a bit of a strategy guide for players on managing collections of allies, and introduces the new monster class, Spirit. The templates introduced here are meant to be helpful for customizing the type of allies any of the characters from the previous chapter might want. There is a lot of good guidance thrown around throughout the chapter, and it makes really good use of reusability and customization options, especially those for Elementalists. The roll-your-own approach makes it easy to come up with allies that match the theme of the character, but still have a good amount of individuality. A good blend of information altogether.

Dungeon Fantasy and the Spirit World

This chapter is basically one extra slab of guidance to finish off the book,  advice for players and GMs. There is content aimed at setting building, adventure seeds, managing problematic aspects of allies, important tropes to consider for certain classes of summonable servants, and more. It's a very soft chapter, with a teeny bit of mechanics, but a very enjoyable read nonetheless for a GM that needs help brainstorming the types of campaign details you'd associate with demons, angels, ghosts, spirits, elements, and the undead. This is probably the most valuable chapter in the entire book, regardless of what you think of the player templates and ally templates in the previous chapters, and I wish more books in the Dungeon Fantasy line had similar content.

Other Thoughts and Closing

I've mentioned this before, but the templates in this book are not very beginner friendly, and I wouldn't want a player to choose one unless they a) they already played a few adventures or campaigns with a magic user or b) I could trust the player to enthusiastically read through huge lists of spells, and have a thorough understanding of the vanilla magic mechanics, and the Summoners book. The second chapter includes a lot of fodder for creating interesting monsters, and the elementals has a really nice approach to creating purpose built elementals. I've used it in that very capacity in a Dungeon Fantasy campaign when players found a treasure that could summon air elementals.
Insofar as whether you should or shouldn't buy it, I'd say that players that want a challenging but unique and potentially powerful class would enjoy it, and GMs who want to have a very supernatural campaign or adventure would greatly benefit from the advice in the third chapter. In those cases, I'd strongly recommend it. For anyone else, it has a few niceties, but it is very optional.
Oh, and my favorite pull quote is the Charles Dickens one on page 2.

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