Sunday, September 18, 2016

Opinions: Dungeon Fantasy 1 - Occupational Template

The foreshortening on the top
right sword is weirding me out.
Today, I'm going to look at the character templates from Dungeon Fantasy 1 and looking at them, but rather than the perspective of rating writing and clarity, I am going to be looking at them from a position on my subjective opinions of fun, usability, and difficulty. Without further ado, let's dive in.


Now, I don't like giving hard and fast numbers, so I won't give hard and fast numbers. Additionally, I haven't seen all of these classes in use, but I've seen a lot, so some of this is conjecture, some is based on experience. To me the important things are:
  • Is the template Mechanically Sound? That is, does it do a good job of making a character that can accomplish certain tasks? Or does it veer too wide (wishy-washy jack of all trades) or too narrow (one-trick pony?)
  • Is it fun? Totally a personal judgement call, and my opinion might be different than other people's, but mostly, did I or would I enjoy playing this occupation more often than not?
  • Barrier to Entry - How difficult would this class be for a GURPS neophyte? Does it depend on straightforward mechanics, and a short list of important abilities? Or will lateral thinking and familiarity with edge case rules be fundamental to successful application?
  • Skill Ceiling - A complement to the barrier to entry, does the class have a lot of expertise and high level nuance beyond what one needs to get started? Or does it stay pretty much the same from entry level to expert level?
  • Power-Ups - Are the extras in Dungeon Fantasy 11 (and possibly others) cool? Lame? Improve the character? Make it worse?
With those points listed, let's take a look at the classes.

Barbarian - Cathartic Fun

The barbarian has two big foci - Combat and survival. The template is well built for facilitating a character that is useful in those aspects, and it makes an interesting fun character while we are at it.
I find the barbarian to have a low barrier to entry. Outside of combat, the mechanics of her useful support skills are straightforward rolls against skills or quick contests. Inside of combat, the barbarian is a good melee fighter with a lot of damage dealing capability and can have decent defensive capabilities as well. That said, by default, they also have a low skill ceiling; they win low level battles with brute force, and higher level battles with large quantities of brute force. Support skills hardly become more difficult either.
In terms of power-ups, Barbarians have an entire supplement of cool extras in the way of Dungeon Fantasy Denizens - Barbarians. The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are appropriate, and Ragnar's Breath is amusing, but a lot of them feel either pedestrian, or so narrow in scope, it's a little meh. This makes the Dungeon Fantasy Denizens volume all the more useful.

Bard - Frustrating

This template is a little bit all over the place. While the main gimmicks are social bonuses and musical skill, abilities are split between too many avenues and one really needs to focus on one or the other to make it useful. To me, this makes later Powers based classes like the Psi, or dedicated casters like the Wizard, or even the mundane Innkeeper for a socially focused character a more pleasant experience, where the bard is a bit of an annoying wishy washy mix of the three.
The barrier to entry is a bit high because a player needs to have a keen understanding of the stated three mechanics and a good strategy for tackling character development. Does one focus on bardic magic, bardic abilities, or social prowess? On the other hand, I can picture higher level play being pretty deep as a consequence, with character point expenditures having profound impacts for the better or worse if used constructively or wantonly respectively.
The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are really cool, especially the Songs (if not a little expensive?), but he also has access to a lot of useful talents and abilities as well. Overall, some patience and a bit of experience are needed to get the most out of this class.

Cleric - Low-Key Fun

A more dedicated caster option than the Bard, but not a terrible front line second or third string fighter in a pinch either. Clerics always have something to do, healing, combatting evil, providing knowledge, but they rarely come across as the star, so it's fun if you like having something to do, but don't care about the spotlight so much.
The barrier to entry is a bit higher than some, but as far as casters go, they might be the easiest to use in the first Dungeon Fantasy installment, with a concrete spell list, and some survival ability. On the other hand, their support skills have amongst the most detailed mechanics listed in Dungeon Fantasy 2. I find the regular magic system to have a lot of confusing edge case rules as well, so while not as difficult and free-form as the wizard, this is still a bit of a source for mental strain.
That said, the spell list does lead to a moderate skill ceiling allowing players to approach the development of their spell list with some strategy as they cultivate all the abilities they will eventually need. The power-ups are a little meh, but there are some good ones too that address some of the more finicky issues of the class, like Dismissive Wave.

Druid - I'm grasping at straws

This one is really difficult for me to rate with no first hand experience as player or as a GM, and the specs don't paint a clear picture to me what a druid is capable of doing well. To me, they seem a bit lacking until the release of Dungeon Fantasy 5 gives them cool allies and transformation options. Without that volume, this template seems a bit dry, but with it, it seems like a big improvement.
In terms of barrier to entry, I'd say it's just a bit more difficult than the Cleric - it has the same kind of constrained spell list, but the spells require more creativity and lateral thinking to work well. The Druid also has a little less power to bring to bear in combat, but the support skills are a bit easier to use. The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are all suitably subtle and intriguing, but one crazy over the top ability would have been appreciated.

Holy Warrior - Jack of All Trades Almost Fun

I haven't actually played this class, but I feel like it suffers a bit from being pulled in different directions. That said, those different directions are somewhat complementary, but instead of focusing on solely physical or mental capabilities, they are split down the middle, causing a somewhat compromised design altogether, that still seems to work just a little bit better than the sum of its parts.
The Holy Warrior is just slightly trickier to use than the nominal melee combatant because part of her points are devoted to her holy powers. This extra variety presumably leads to interesting strategic options as a player adds points to her. Slightly out of scope, but I strongly recommend using the Warrior-Saint lens from Pyramid #3/36 Dungeon Fantasy if you have the Divine Favor book instead because it becomes more point efficient at mid to high levels than the default, and the slightly slower start seems worth it. The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 though seem a bit meh though.

Knight - Balanced Fun

The knight is somewhat of a compromise, melee wise between the straightforward strong Barbarian and the technically superior swashbuckler with a lot of added survivability on the side. The entire template is well constructed and paints a picture of someone who is both a tactical and strategic supporter as well as a more than able frontline combatant.
The knight, owing to higher skill and less damage has a little bit more complexity in combat than a barbarian, with the excess dexterity opening up some options for more finessed blows. His support skills though are still simple rarely requiring more than a simple roll or quick-contest, but slightly hampered by the mediocre default intelligence, but helped again by the very good default talent Born War Leader. The knight does have the ability to eventually acquire enough skill to pull off some impressive maneuvers in combat giving them a moderate skill ceiling. The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are an absolutely perfect fit, if not just a teensy bit boring.

Martial Artist - Expert Level Melee Frustrating Fun

A martial artist is difficult to leverage, and starts off a bit too thinly spread in my opinion with the Chi powers and wide variety of esoteric skills required, but can potentially be a fun challenge for an expert. Definitely not a class for a first time player.
A Martial Artist starts off with access to lots of cool powers and advantages, but not a lot of strength to leverage, meaning brute force will not work at all, sophisticated combat maneuvers like aiming for weak points, using evaluates, feints, and determined and defensive attacks will be needed to get the martial artist working from day one.
As a martial artist develops, it even becomes more adaptable; options include pursuing higher strength, power-ups for hitting weak points easier, or focusing on IQ and talent for useful esoteric skills, giving this class a very high barrier to entry and skill ceiling. The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 fit like a glove.

Scout - Sneaky Fun But a Low Skill Ceiling

Scouts are mostly ranged fighters with naturalist and sneaky skills. The template focuses very predominantly on the archer angle, but leaves room for a scout to be modestly competent at her support skills. In a different way, like the Barbarian, the Scout is a very relaxing and cathartic class because it can safely do it's most important thing well, and everything else it needs to do just fine, though I'd argue the support skills need a bit more love.
The scout is only a little trickier than the simplest melee classes like the Barbarian because the mechanics of shooting an arrow are a bit more involved than the mechanics of melee attack, but usually, a scout is in a position of safety (usually, eventually someone is going to put you in an uncomfortable position.) By default, the skill ceiling isn't very high, scouts get better at being sneaky and shooting further, but the power-ups offered in Dungeon Fantasy 11 open up a lot of really cool new options. Probably among the classes in Dungeon Fantasy 1, the Scout got the best deal in that book.

Swashbuckler - Deep, Not Wide, Fun

In a spectrum, you have barbarians as the warrior class that focuses on power on one end, and the swashbuckler who focuses on agility, finesse, and talent on the other. The template also has a bit of a finger in the people-skills pie as well with lots of advantages pointing towards charisma and reaction bonuses. Let's say that the label one trick pony is a little off; they only have one horse in the race, but that one horse has a wide spectrum of capabilities, leading to a class not of wide, but deep talent.
The swashbuckler doesn't get as much forgiveness for mistakes as the knight or barbarian in combat, but as long as you aren't making mistakes, the swashbuckler isn't much harder either. He is able to do a lot of damage with high quality weapons and as a weapon master even at a low strength, and he has the high skill needed to pull off lots of tricky advanced swordplay while he's at it. The swashbuckler can continue to develop his skills and become more proficient at his expertise as he accrues more character points, opening up more tactical options along the way. In a way, I'd say the swashbuckler is a beginner's martial artist with small speed bent, with a lower barrier to entry and skill ceiling, but a similar evolution mechanically. Finally, the power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are all good, neither being crazy awesome, boring, or too expensive to consider.

Thief - The "Easy" Support Class

Thieves are fast, sneaky, and light. The template focuses on abilities that allow reconnaissance and gives great dexterity and decent intelligence. Altogether, the template is flexible but still seemingly consistent. Being a thief in a stand-up face-to-face combat isn't fun, but if you are fighting that way with a thief, you are probably doing it wrong. On the other hand, a thief has enough intelligence and dexterity to be really good at any support tasks you need them for. Fun and usable even by beginners if they know to be careful in combat.
The thief's main support abilities are pretty straightforward, and she starts off with the stats to capitalize on them without difficulty. On the other hand, in a combat, a thief can't bring to bear the power or talent of dedicated fighting classes, so will need to depend on keeping herself safe until support arrives, or use tricks to even the playing field (which a thief has in no short supply.) All told, I'd say the thief has a low barrier to entry, but requires a player to realize she will get hurt if she bites off more than she can chew. Similarly, the skill ceiling isn't that much higher than floor level. A thief just gets better at all the things she is already very skilled at, with no particularly sensible options for branching out.The power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11 are pretty cool though.

Wizard - Analysis Paralysis?

A wizard might be the tactical opposite of a swashbuckler, very shallow, but incredibly wide, knowing how to do tons of things just good enough. The template is extremely flexible, but not especially focused. The spell list can be an absolutely overwhelming nightmare for new players, but there are a handful of spell packages to help move that decision along... though now the player still needs to know how to use 30 different spells correctly.
Support wise, the wizard's knowledge skills are pretty easy to use, and combat wise, the wizard's missile spells are only a little more difficult than any mundane ranged attack. The player might need to know complicated mechanics like the difference between normal range, long range, and short range abilities, the costing for area of effect, and multiplying for large positive size modifiers, giving a wizard a moderately high barrier to entry. At the same time, a wizard has an amazing wealth of growth options, with hundreds of spells to choose from to learn, giving them also a fairly high skill ceiling. Wizards have some very expensive cool power-ups in Dungeon Fantasy 11, but also keep in mind the generic Caster Power-Ups section before the occupational template section, which gives a lot more options at impulse buying prices.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Of these templates, the ones I have not yet seen in play are the druid and the holy warrior, but after looking over the holy warrior, I think a Divine Favor flavor one might not be a bad decision. Still on the fence about the druid. I believe I heard something about the new Dungeon Fantasy series revamping the Bard so I'm excited to see how that goes; my salty opinion must not be totally unique in that regard.

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