Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Pyramid #3/76 Dungeon Fantasy IV

An old man wandering lonely,
Taking time's the only way he
knows.
As of writing this, this is the last Pyramid so far with the "Dungeon Fantasy" title, so apparently, I have caught up... if I write this. This is one of my favorite in the series so far, so I'm happy to review it. Let's take a closer look at what this issue gives us.

Overview

This is a teensy bit shorter than some Pyramid issues, but at 37 pages, what's one or two pages between friends, am I right? And really, this issue is quality over quantity, with 6 really good articles, and a fun Odds and Ends section. 
Lookit all them articles.
In terms of target audience, this is obviously an issue for Dungeon Fantasy fans, but it doesn't heavily rely on owning prior source material. All of the articles benefit from having existing books, especially Dungeon Fantasy 14 and Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 among others, but they aren't matter of fact a gateway to enjoying what we have here.
Overall, this is a really good issue, and I can recommend it to most Dungeon Fantasy fans easily regardless of how new or old they are, though it does seem most helpful for GMs rather than players if that makes a difference. Anywho, let's dive in even deeper, right?

Psychic Swords Against Elder Evil

This 9 page article, by Sean Punch delves into the mechanically shaky area halfway between power-user and brute, but manages to succeed at creating the Psychic Slayer professional template. A more physical alternative to Dungeon Fantasy 14's Mentalist, the Psychic Slayer has the power to conjure weapons with her mind, making her a good melee fighter who can lean back on psionics in a pinch. The article has a detailed Customization Notes section for the template, and includes my personal favorite, a Making them Useful section for giving the GM advice on how to make an occupational template awesome in unexpected ways. After that various useful power-ups in the form of statted out advantages, and while cool, most are simply variations on innate attack. As a fun bonus, the article ends with three enemies with static stats, and two build-a-bear format threats.
I haven't used this template, but the monsters are cool, and I can see good mechanical potential for this class in a way that borrows from, but without stealing thunder, from the already impressively distinct Mentalist.

Hidden Knowledge

This 9 page article, by Christopher R. Rice is a desperately needed guide for helping to craft new spells for the default magic system, with a special focus on high-end "secret" spells that are just a little bit more special and unique than the ones you find in GURPS Magic. The article starts with advice on how to modify existing spells to give them a unique twist that makes secret knowledge attractive, and then it comes with several examples showing useful ways to put the treatise into practice.
The second half of the article is full of cool caster power-ups, with several advantages, grimoire equipment modifiers, and something that looks like a precursor to Incantation magic.
Altogether fun, and I don't even like the vanilla magic system as a first choice if you can tell. I appreciate the advice on building custom spells for a system that doesn't give much guidance out of the box, so I almost consider this a must for GMs and players that enjoy the Wizard template.

Eidetic Memory - Living Rooms

This six page feature, by David L. Pulver, explores the ideas of exploring the anatomy of giants. I've seen it a ton in video games, and I always feel unnerved when I encounter it, but I really enjoy the thoughtfulness of the ideas presented here. The description is just as squicky as I'd like it to be for exploring the innards of a dead (or even living giant) and the writing is well paired with useful and usable hard mechanics, which discuss dealing with bodily fluids and organs, and the troubles and boons that go along with such a thing. Also cool, it comes with stats for two interesting types of monsters if you are the kinda guy who likes building up his bestiaries with lots of different examples. The article ends with several setting-building brainstorming seeds that are all inspirational.
I haven't exactly applied the content of this article yet, but I await the day with eager anticipation when I finally can, one of my favorite Eidetic Memory features for a Dungeon Fantasy issue yet, besides his really cool mini-dungeons.

The Magic Touch

This two page article by Matt Riggsby is a catalog of new "magic" items with the theme of being helpful for front line "kung-fu fighters." The author does a good job of coming up with several unique items that feel set apart from what a GM could easily make with Dungeon Fantasy 1's rules for converting energy cost into dollar amounts for permanently enchanted items, as the author is wont to do.

Dire and Terrible Monsters

This seven page article, by both Douglas H. Cole and Peter V. Dell 'Orto talks about new prefixes for turning weak creatures into brutal monsters. Prefixes introduced in Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 are similar to meta-traits or templates one can apply to a template to turn a, for example, "cute lil' bunny" into a "dire cute lil' bunny." As the title hints, the two main attractions are the Dire and Terrible prefixes, but that's not everything. It also includes several horrifying abilities, like death beams for butterflies, and mind control for cute things that pounce, or projectile very dangerous vomit. The article ends with 7 applications of the principles presented earlier, turning seemingly harmless, mundane animals (and plants) into brutal horrors.
A useful article just by itself, and entertaining in tone throughout.

Random Thought Table - Complications Made Simple

A fun two page brainstorm feature by Steven Marsh. The article is just a rapid fire list of crazy plot twists, each followed up with interesting way to take them all the way to 11. My thoughts totally line up with this one again, so maybe it is a case of preaching to the choir, but I really enjoyed this one.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

Hey, a Murphy's Rule comic, fun. The Odds and Ends adds about... half a page to the Random Thought Table with a few more thoughts on the same topic, so a fun bonus for a fun article.
I like that this issue doesn't rely on players owning a bajillion different books to make it work. I don't know why, but altogether, everything just gels together just right in a way that produces a coherent enjoyable issue. I rate it among the best of the Dungeon Fantasy pyramid issues to date. If that means anything to you, and you like Dungeon Fantasy, and you have Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 (and if you like Dungeon Fantasy, why wouldn't you have Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1?) then I heartily recommend this issue. It is a little useful outside the genre, but if you absolutely abhor dungeon crawling, it's probably better to skip it.

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