Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Dungeon Fantasy Encounters 1 - The Pagoda of Worlds

Cover is 50% title,
12.5% art, and not a
recommended daily source
of fiber.
This is the inaugural entry into a new line in the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy franchise - Encounters. What are encounters? The concept is something less than a full fledged adventure, but with some mechanics behind it to make it more substantial than pure fluff or setting information. So, a book about a geographically and narratively agnostic set piece that does a lot of the lifting for you, without pigeonholing itself too much in a way that makes, perhaps a full fledged adventure more difficult to incorporate in a long running campaign. Overall, I found the book amusing and potentially helpful, if not directly for its content itself (which I think is absolutely fine,) then for the idea fodder it generated. Let's take a look then.

Overview and Introduction

Crooked table of contents.
This is a 17 page pdf, and accounting for the title page, table of contents, introduction and a one page ad at the end, we have 13 pages of hard content. This is distributed between 10 pages describing the titular pagoda, monastery, and the surrounding wilderness in chapter 1, and 3 pages to describe 6 unique monsters. I was a teensy bit surprised about the lack of an index at first, but I think it makes sense for a book so small and well organized. I can imagine random page flipping for tables or maps won't be a big issue since all of those are aggregated together instead of scattered through the text. The encounters and tricks in this book are tailored for a brand new party of 250 point Dungeon Fantasy characters with some advice for scaling up for more experienced parties (though none for scaling down.)
The introduction gives some ideas about how someone might apply The Pagoda of Worlds to an adventure, and explains some special terminology relevant to the book. One abbreviation that occurs several times through the book, "CM," is not explained though, and for a second, I thought I was having a brain fart. In fact, it is explained for the first time on page 9, so at least my brain was working, but I think they could have explained it a little earlier.
The book has a lot of prerequisites, for predominantly GURPS players, you should at a minimum have The Basic Set, Dungeon Fantasy 2, and Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 & 3. For Dungeon Fantasy RPG players, of those, the only you probably need is Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 3 because most of the relevant content of the other books is condensed in the main DFRPG books, though every now and again there are some slight "translation issues" as you run into things like differently named traits on GURPS monsters, though they should be mostly intuitive. Further recommendations are Dungeon Fantasy 4 (there are optional rules for a new type of manual, but it is explained enough here to be useful by itself) and Dungeon Fantasy 8 (a few of the treasures are referenced on the roll table. It's a good book besides, but you can mostly make do by rerolling any results that don't work.)
With all that said, let's look at the content of the chapters.

The Pagoda Complex

This chapter is the majority of the Encounter content. It describes the monster infested wilderness surrounding the monastery, which encapsulates the pagoda. The monastery is huge, but largely generic, with tens of dorm rooms all roughly similar, but differentiated by random roll tables for treasure, monsters, and encounter conditions. A handful of scattered rooms have contents of especial worth, but a party that can weather the constant battle of attrition against the evil that infests the monastery are modestly rewarded. The random treasure table has a few novel elements that I like pertaining to a new special type of manual and reconstructing books piecemeal. The earlier mentioned CM mechanic is also an interesting solution to a problem that I've had before regarding "when do I know a huge heap of stuff is tapped of everything possibly useful for adventurers?" and is greatly appreciated. The capstone of the encounter, the pagoda, is an otherworldly place where lots of weirdness occurs, and as the summary suggests on the warehouse23 page, gateways to entirely new locations and worlds. The Pagoda has much more unique architecture than the monk domicile, with each floor having a special theme, and different monsters to battle.
The content of the chapter hits a sweet spot for me, giving enough information to let me fill in the blanks so I could easily slot this into a given Dungeon Fantasy campaign, while keeping it somewhat brief without leaving me floundering 


This chapter consists of 6 new enemies, among them a few entries in some of the more sparsely populated categories like constructs and divine servitors. It also includes two random monster tables with some interesting combinations. The new monsters are actually pretty well thought out and don't feel like generic hit point sacks that need to be poked full of holes before they poke me full of holes, with some thoughtful interactions of certain background information (eg, consider what Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 says about Eyes of Death and Spheres of Madness. A somewhat short list, but what is there is really good stuff.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I like all the parts here, everything is pretty interesting, but I'd want to add onto it if I used it, and that seems to be the point anyway. You have the stage, the actors, and the special effects, you just plug in some story, maybe a crescendo, climax, or a boss to pull it all together, or expand on any of the plot seeds that are available for future adventures, potentially making this pagoda into an important or recurring fixture in an adventure or across a campaign.

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