Friday, June 24, 2016

Review: Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1

A prophetic title
Bestiaries have monsters and this book is a bestiary with monsters. It's not as big as some bestiaries for some RPGs, but each monster is unique instead of being "Level 2, 3, 4, and 5 versions of that thing that attacks a certain way with incremental stat improvements." It is a fairly big book by Dungeon Fantasy tradition, and each monster is well described. Let's take a closer look at this book that, even though it belongs to a "spin-off," line might be considered truly integral to the Dungeon Fantasy series.


Table of Contents
This is a 41 page book, and subtracting the preamble and index, we have 35 pages of content. The vast majority of the book is the first page, a list of monsters, 31 pages long, with 30 monsters, and then we get a fun 4 page chapter on customization options to further transform these adversaries into something unique or more powerful.
Obviously, the vast majority of this book is content, as it is an index of monsters, but each has a great deal of fluff and guidance as well. Almost nothing in the way of rules are introduced, though chapter 2 does explain some advantages (which I can't recall if they are new here, or just restated, because I think I've seen them in Powers.)

The book is organized alphabetically and the illustrations are great, and totally on topic. There are not as many pull-quotes as I'd like, but the ones that are there are pretty good. For the most part, this is written with Dungeon Fantasy in mind, but there is nothing keeping these monsters from being used in any other setting where reasonably powerful supernatural monsters might be encountered. It stands alone without requiring any other Dungeon Fantasy books to interpret or use it, but the intro does have a nice callout that explains other sources for monsters (Books 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, and 10 specifically.)
Overall, everything this book introduces is interesting enough that I consider this book to be part of the required "canon."

The Monsters

This chapter starts off with a short overview of how to read the stats and a few clarifications on assumptions, but if you have played GURPS before, nothing here should be novel, except for potentially the Class attribute which is also explained first in Dungeon Fantasy and might be thought of as a few racial features about certain characteristics (can I ever negotiate with a plant? What monsters are susceptible to banish?)
Each monster has, of course, stats, followed by an illustration (all of them evocative and appropriate,) a bit of guidance on how the GM might use them beyond "Put it on the hex grid and see who's hit points run out first," and a few extra details to think about, like weapon stats, interesting customization options, non-linear player strategies, player character templates, and more. The monsters do a good job of running the gamut from nuisance to terror, thankfully, so it's pretty useful at all power levels.
The only complaint I have is the "phone-in" on the lich specifically, but many casters in general. The abilities list just basically says, "choose whatever spells you think work well," and maybe it only bothers me, but how about you give me a list of spells as a default, and then I can adjust it from there? I don't know the Magic system well enough to know "these spells are all the ones a Lich would want."

Monster Traits

This chapter explains some of the more important unique abilities of monsters, and has a few new advantages (which I believe I've seen in other GURPS sources, by the way.) The Monster Prefixes section introduces an interesting concept of associating a power-up template with a certain adjective, giving a monster a new set of abilities. Bored of Dire Wolves? You have guidance here to make Distorted Dire Wolves now. There's 11 customization options here, and I find all their twists to be enjoyable suggestions, though I haven't gotten a chance to apply them yet.

Other Thoughts and Closing

There is a handy index on p. 39 that tells you where to find more monsters in the series, which is nice. The artwork is especially higher quality than more recent books, I feel.
I've already said it, but this is a must-have for Dungeon Fantasy GMs, and I don't hesitate to say it is in a top tier in terms of necessities and flat out usability.

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