I make some GURPS content from time to time, and it takes me a long time to make it. So, since it takes me a long time to do that, I thought I'd start a blog so that my GURPS stuff would exist for all eternity. I plan on posting assets, conversations about complicated rules, session recaps, etc. I dunno if this will be useful to anyone, or only useful to myself, but here we go.
Friday, June 3, 2016
Review: Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3: Born of Myth & Magic
Monsters are fun, and a big part of Dungeon Fantasy is fighting things, or tactically figuring out how to get past things that are impossible to fight. Having more is always grand, and this book delivers in exactly this regard. It focuses on two categories, familiar mythical (of the mediterranean variety) staples, and some unique monsters as well. The collection is diverse and does well at being a list of things that aren't just "guy with sword, guy with big sword, guy with bow, and guy with magic." So let's take a closer look at this book.
Table of Contents
This book is 24 pages long, with the traditional 3 page preamble, and 1 page index, and consists of two chapters comprising the remaining 20 pages. The main chapter, the monster catalog, has "16" monsters across 18 pages, and the second, small 2 page chapter has some build-a-bear components for GMs to tinker with and enhance existing monsters or use as stencils for original creations. If you didn't fail a Per roll, you will notice I put the 16 in quotes, and by that, I mean that many monsters have a few lenses, so in effect, you have from 3 to 5 subtypes, stretching reuse quite far.
The book is mostly a catalog, but each monster has quite a good chunk of fluff and background information, and advice on non-conventional strategies for fighting or using the monsters. There is very little in terms of new rules, though, for the type of content in this book, that's typical, though there are some interesting new advantage modifiers and templates in the second chapter that come close to new rules. Indeed, this is a catalog book first and foremost, so the vast majority of the book is content.
The art is very consistent and looks like it might have been purpose made for this book, (the basilisk has copy/pasted legs and I am almost certain that it has the same head as the lava lizard, though, I'm more amused than bothered though.) Pull-quotes have a pretty consistent mythological theme and match the content well. Organization is good, but it is hard to mess up organization for "here's a list of cool monsters, listed alphabetically." I guess, the one thing I would consider is potentially a listing of monsters in terms of power level (not necessarily CER, but that's as good a tool as any) or maybe an appendix to look them up by certain interesting meta-properties (suggested habitats, suggested tactical scenarios [mobs, ambush, well-oiled symbiotic machine, etc.], etc, I went two levels of parenthesis!)
The book stands alone fine without any other supplements, but the monsters are geared for Dungeon Fantasy, and I feel like most of the monsters are meant for a better-than-new party, though, a team of combat monsters fortuitously fulfilling the right niches could beat the right enemies easily.
As of writing this, I haven't had a good chance to put the book to practical application (It's less than 48 hours old,) but I have read it back and forth and base everything on gut and instinct, and I feel that this book addresses a very specific need for interesting, reusable monsters.
This chapter, as it says on the tin, presents the monsters. It starts with a very light intro, and a crash course on reading monster stats. This quickly segues into the monsters themselves. Each monster has at least a page dedicated, which gives a lot of information on how to make the monsters more than just a bag of HP that does bad things to the party on a hex grid of mortal combat. This advice contains strategies for players doing battle and how GMs can play it out, and ways a GM can make a fight more interesting. For example, the Medusa, just like in mythology, can't be looked directly in the face, so the book makes plain the type of ways a player would typically circumvent this, and the types of penalties that might make sense to levy for dealing with these cumbersome workarounds.
The especially inspiring thing in this chapter is conversations on how to use these monsters in a not strictly combat situation. Lots of monsters have (and lots don't have) ways to negotiate, some have reasons they might help a pc, some blur the boundary between a trap, hazard, and an encounter, some do most of their worst damage outside of pure fisticuffs. It's a nice object lesson for me personally, and a good take-away for people who want to try making a monster a more real thing than an appearance on the random encounter table that exists solely for the players to roll dice at until incapacitated.
This chapter is short, but it is golden. It is a collection of pre-packaged meta-traits and advantage enhancements for putting together new monsters or improving existing ones. The Meld enhancement opens up a bunch of new ideas for powerful encounters that make one consider designing the terrain a higher priority rather than as an afterthought. Amorphous Stone has some interesting concepts in its components that allow one to extrapolate further interesting advantages and disadvantages, and plant is just a really helpful thing for designing plant monsters. Also, following suit from Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1, we have some new prefixes to add to the collection, and interestingly, though the ideas aren't especially creative or world-changing, the usage advice takes them much further than they would stand on their own. A very enjoyable chapter, I wish there was more content just along this line, maybe one volume in the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters line should just be a construction kit so one can "take 1 from column a, 2 from b, and up to 4 from c," add a few personal touches and make a ton of unique monsters from it.
Other Thoughts and Closing
There is a weird thought that bothers me when people say that they want more GURPS bestiaries. A lot of people say, "It's just easier to come up with stats that fit the mood of the situation and run with that." I don't like that dismissive argument when so many people wonder why others don't like GURPS, and someone suggests something they want that would make GURPS better for them, and then they are told, "no, you don't know what you want, this is what you actually want."
But even in a weird way, that might actually be correct that creating monsters can be fun. However, I like having an anchor or jumping-off point that I can look at and say, "here's how 5, 10, 20-some monsters are done, none of these capture exactly what I'm looking for, but these 3 come close, so now I can tear them apart, put them together, and now I have the perfect encounter for my game." Sometimes, I want to focus on just 1 to 3 star monsters for a cave, and don't want to spin wheels building up an entire convincing eco-system for a given backdrop or terrain type, because even if I come up with 1~3 cool monsters for a new area, that gets boring for me throwing the same guys at a party for a session or two.
So really, it might eventually be a good idea to spread their wings and fly a little, but some people want to learn to walk before they are dashing down the runway. In the same way all the options can paralyze a new player creating a new character, this is an even bigger burden for a new GM that needs to deal with often more exotic traits while creating an entire menagerie of characters. And yeah, you can "just ignore point values!" as the GM, but that's such a small piece of the problem I think. It's more like a symptom of the problem, "I need some reasonable constraints on a nigh infinitely modular system to help me be creative, and I don't know where to look for them." And I think awesome examples like in this book do a lot more towards helping with that problem.
In short, this is a must-buy for any Dungeon Fantasy GM, and a strong recommendation for anyone running anything else who wants interesting fantastic, mythical, or magical battle fodder.