Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja

Cover. I'm really struggling
to think of a fun caption.
Going into this book, I had some reservations, thinking that the content would be a little redundant, that it is a kinda revised and fluffed out thief template with a Japanese bent. Happily, I am wrong, and it is definitely a more interesting concept overall. Unfortunately, from a pure mechanical standpoint, the stars of the show, the Ninja and the Assassin templates seem at odds with themselves. I might not have given it a fair shake, but they both look like very challenging templates to use, with some very intensely focused strengths giving way to some broad weaknesses. That said, let's take a more in-depth look at this supplement.


Table of Contents
This is a 20 page supplement, but it weighs in at only $5.00, so you aren't getting ripped off. You have the standard 3 page preamble, and 1 page index, giving you 16 pages of hard content. These are evenly split into an 8 page chapter on how to build a Ninja (or Assassin, a more "kill things" than "sneak around things" bent on the same theme) character, and just as important to the ninja concept, an 8 page chapter on equipment, the critical defining gimmick that differentiates Ninja from the other classes.
Art is on point in this book, and the pull-quotes are great, and we have some Real Ultimate Power references strewn about. The organization is very straightforward, and there is no back and forth flipping. The book stands on its own without extensive cross-referencing to existing books, but has a few callbacks to exotic equipment in earlier Dungeon Fantasy installments, and has some repurposing and/or simplification of some content from Martial Arts. On the flipside, the book has a very niche focus, and delivers exactly what it says on the tin. If you need help developing exotic Ninja characters or NPCs, this is a useful tool. I actually haven't, so it hasn't been especially useful to me... yet. I think I am coming into a good opportunity to apply it soon. In terms of the type of material delivered, the book is first and foremost a catalog of content; abilities and equipment for the two templates introduced. It has a lot of expository flavor text for introduced elements making it a very enjoyable read. The guidance element is not especially apparent, but there is a decent amount in regards to build advice, on what can be a difficult but rewarding class to master.

Ninja Secrets

This chapter is advice on how to build a Ninja or Assassin character. It includes a new power "Ninja Training," which gives an especially appropriate flavor for the exotic abilities a cinematic ninja might have. We get an interesting list, a full 2 pages of unique abilities that this power unlocks, many exotic and often unavailable to other Dungeon Fantasy power sources, giving a good bit of niche protection and giving a good amount of power-ups to continuously look forward to, a good thing because this supplement came out right after Power-Ups. I like the customization notes that come with the Ninja template, because the template by itself can be disorientingly broad. That's not really a weakness, it's more a symptom of the concept of the cinematic ninja meaning so many different things to different people. To me, it looks like it is critical to pick one of the main foci (death, stealth, missiles, or tools) or potentially be spread too thin to be effective.
The section includes lenses for "dual-classing," and following suit from Dungeon Fantasy 3, it includes the list of at-a-glance choice and marginal lenses which I very much appreciate. I wish the Assassin template came with the same volume of advice that was given for the Ninja template, but as it's a bit more focused than the Ninja, it is a little easier to wrap your head around it without a helping hand.

Ninja Gear

This chapter is like a lite fantasy ninja version of the equipment section of Martial Arts and a really enjoyable read. Every weapon and tool has a decent sized blurb spelling it out, and all of it is evocative of the type of stuff I think of when the subject of fantastic ninja comes up. The Ninja Suit section is especially interesting, but I would have appreciated a "behind-the-scenes" look at how the CFs were derived (even if it is something as simple as, "they felt right to me.") The careful selection of equipment and suit modifiers is just as important as the allocation of points for a ninja. Other classes, if you "accidentally" buy a sub-optimal sword, it's a small thing to buy a better one in a dive or two (at least, the way I run games,) but Ninja gear is real expensive. I can imagine a real nice catharsis and satisfaction when you finally manage to round up the tens of thousands needed for the ultimate, custom-fit suit.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Is this book bad? I think I might have given that impression earlier, but it isn't so much that it is bad, in fact, for what it is, I think it is objectively well written and a great package. If what you want is the ability to make a really cool Ninja, this book does no wrong. However, the book isn't very usable (even with some of the suggestions given in the introduction) outside of that application. I haven't had a particular need for Ninja so it hasn't come up for me. I am a completionist though, so I couldn't stand that gap between Dungeon Fantasy 11 and Dungeon Fantasy 13 on my computer. Besides, it probably has the best pull-quotes in the series thus far.

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