Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups

Lots of Roman theme art
on the cover?
It's not an especially meaty book, and it isn't a paradigm shift or anything, but Power-Ups nonetheless has some good stuff. It's got bunches of abilities and ways to buff up characters and spend points, and do so without  ruining niche specialization for any occupational templates. Let's take a close look at why I like this book and figure out if we can get a straight answer.


Nearly Square Table of Contents
This book is 44 pages, and subtracting the 3 page pre-amble, and 1 page index, that leaves us with 40 pages of content. The first six page chapter discusses what makes a power-up and how to introduce them to your campaign, and the remaining 34 page chapter is the power-ups. Cool, two chapters! Why use more than you need?
The first chapter is mostly guidance, and the second chapter is mostly content, very little in the way of new rules are introduced (except for those one might derive from modifiers attached to advantages in this book) and next to no fluff (I say next to no fluff because some of the power-ups do make some inference about the capabilities and lore of the races if you look for it.) Honestly, this book is mostly a catalog of appropriate advantages and perks and doesn't really try to do anything else, and that's just fine. To me, it's interesting because catalogs of abilities aren't usually my favorite books, but I find myself enjoying this one especially.
This book mostly stands on its own, but of course, it's tailored for Dungeon Fantasy, so any game in that vein benefits from the content in the book, but that doesn't mean it needs to be constrained to that series either. Indeed, according to the lineage in the Publication History part of the book, abilities are drawn from 7 different supplements across 6 lines. That being said, the content still feels unique and not at all recycled. Organization is about as sensible as it can be for a catalog style supplement, and pull-quotes are pretty entertaining. The art this time throws me off though, some is really detailed, and some is really flat, and the styles clash, also, as I put on the caption for the title page, that Roman theme is a little unnerving when you notice it.
Anyway, let's take a deeper look.

Power-Ups in the Campaign

This is a surprisingly helpful chapter in an otherwise straight shopping menu type of book that give guidance on creating new power-ups, and advice on distributing power-ups. We start off with a bit of an editorial on what goes towards making a power-up unique and interesting. On p.5 we have an interesting table of maxima for each of the races introduced in Dungeon Fantasy 3. Nothing particularly Earth-shattering, and most of the information makes sense, but I like it anyway for some reason. I think it's a helpful tool for designing custom races. We then go into more discussion on how to make the power-up origin interesting. Can the player just plunk down points to get it? Should the player go on a quest or solve some riddle to unlock it? Well, it has that kind of advice on how to make it more than just a transaction between player and GM.
I really like this chapter a lot, and it's a great way to start off an index of power-ups. I enjoy tinkering within the boundaries that GURPS defines and making up new things with those constraints, and this guidance from an author that probably has a lot of authority on the subject is captivating in that regard.

The Power-Ups

This chapter is more organized by utility rather than by type of advantage, perk, or technique, and it sits fine with me. We start with General Power-Ups that might work for anyone, then go into Professional Power-Ups, which has especially appropriate abilities organized by templates so far introduced, and then finally, in a similar way, Racial Power-Ups.
I don't have much problem with the Power-Ups given, and the information is all enjoyable to read, but I think a few races and a few templates get the short end of a stick. For example, the Innkeeper hardly has anything unique, and the Coleopteran race has a downright disappointing list of power-ups. Most however have a great variety of power-ups that emphasize strengths and shore up weaknesses, and bolster trademark capabilities. In this respect, the book feels like a useful thing to emulate and more than a catalog, it feels like a tool of inspiration that just begins to get you started on coming up with new things. Recycled perks, techniques, and advantages sounds like a rip-off, but they are definitely very thoughtfully coordinated with the genre, and even though I have all the original source books, this one still feels like a surprisingly good complement to me. As a side note, all of the asides are full of interesting ideas and good clarifications, and add to the enjoyment of the book.

Other Thoughts and Closing

I'm surprised I like this book so much, but I do, so that's that. I can't really be upset about it I guess. That just means it exceeded my expectations, and I'll take that over something that meets my expectations, given the choice. Like I said, I find this book somewhat inspirational for cranking out my own abilities and similar, and reading between the lines on many of the Dungeon Fantasy books is a great way to extend the life expectancy of the material. Finally as to whether I would recommend this book, I do. If you liked Dungeon Fantasy 3 and want something that takes it even further, or if you like the idea of the 40 Treasures but prefer abilities to items, then this book is great. It isn't a paradigm shift, but I found it surprisingly enlightening. 
I think I used the word "surprise" too many times.

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