Delving dungeons four ways with GURPS

The Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, powered by GURPS, is coming! It promises everything you need to game tales of monsters, melee, and magic. You know, the kind of story where a half-dozen pseudo-medieval adventurers sneak into a medusa’s lair, then stumble out the next day to hammer out a five-way divvy of gold pieces, jewels, and . . . uh, a super-cool bard statue they, er, found. (Tough break, Cailean Keen-Eyes! We’ll get a good price fo– I mean, take care of – your lute.)

You don’t need to wait for DFRPG to tackle monsters in abandoned ruins, though. There’s already the growing GURPS Dungeon Fantasy series of books, which cover the same ground and then some. But even the Dungeon Fantasy books aren’t a requirement for dungeon-delving; GURPS offers older, broader works that will help you build and game all sorts of fantasy adventures. Yet even those shouldn’t be strictly necessary, if the GURPS Basic Set alone is truly the do-anything toolkit it claims to be, right?

The way I see it, you can view GURPS as supporting four levels of dungeon-flavored fantasy. Labeling them Level 1 to Level 4 (like dungeon levels! How clever!), they go from the broad and wide (“Here you go, the basic basics for dungeon-delving… and, uh, rifles and spaceships and secret agents, too”), to the deep and narrow (“Here’s the concentrated essence of dungeon adventure, and nothing else”).

Like this:

Level 1 – Broad and Shallow: Basic Set only

Basic Set: Characters

Basic Set actually does what it says on the tin: pretty much everything (at least a little). If you want to play fantasy, its two tomes truly handle the minimum basics, from lots of low-tech fightin’ skills and tools, to a smattering of sample foes, basic treasures, and wizard spells. Pluuuuus… tons of stuff you won’t need. (“I don’t care if it’s not an edged weapon, your cleric cannot have an Uzi.”)

Before you can hit the dungeons, though, Basic Set will leave you with lots of work to do on your own: build character types, churn out a bunch of original magic items and monsters, and, of course, work up your own adventures. That’s for starters. In fact, Basic Set‘s sketchy notes on fantasy tropes and gaming (especially on the narrow dungeon fantasy sub-genre) may leave you scratching your head over how to best build and game common fantasy elements, unless you can bring in lots of experience from other fantasy games and a willingness to hack out your own GURPS conversions. It can be done, but you’ll need to roll up your sleeves!

Level 2 – Focus on Fantasy: Basic Set + fantasy-related supplements

GURPS Fantasy

Now we’re talking specific genre support. You’ll still have to skip over lots of non-fantasy stuff in Basic Set, but you’ll find that easier to do when genre-focused supplements like Fantasy and Magic take up much of the workload. (The Martial Arts and Low-Tech series are also great aids, if not genre-specific ones, and you’ll find a peck of magic-related supplements under the Sorcery and Thaumatology headings.) These supplements help with the groundwork of world building, offer ready-made (and in some cases, dungeon-ready) character types, and fill out the ranks of monsters and magic spells. Fantasy even offers some advice on the dungeon sub-genre (if not delving much deeper than a peek down the steps).  

Level 3 – Into the Dungeons: Basic Set + fantasy-related supplements + Dungeon Fantasy series

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers

Down into the narrow depths! Level 3 here is pretty fuzzy, as there’s a difference between using just the first two or three must-have Dungeon Fantasy books and the full lineup of 30+ releases. Further, you might or might not use the fantasy-related supplements mentioned in Level 2. Dungeon Fantasy doesn’t demand that you use those books (though Magic is essentially a must if you want effective spell-casters), but those supplements do add a lot, especially if you want your dungeon raiders to foray into a broader fantasy world once in a while.

However many books you choose to use, though, the Dungeon Fantasy series offers a truly deep dive into the dungeon fantasy sub-genre – GURPS-style!

Level 4 – The Whole Dungeon and Nothing But the Dungeon: Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game

Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game

DFRPG is not the Dungeon Fantasy series in a box. It’s all the stuff you need, extracted from Basic Set, key fantasy-related supplements like Magic, and the Dungeon Fantasy series, with added tweaks and simplifications of its own. The result is a stand-alone, all-in-one, GURPS-powered game for streamlined dungeoneering, without the need for Dungeon Fantasy, other fantasy-related supplements, or even Basic Set!

DFRPG is all dungeons, all the time. It has none of that extra GURPS Fantasy stuff for realistic medieval economies, or Basic Set stuff for cyborg psi superhero gunfighters in the 26th century. Still, DFRPG promises to be massively compatible with the rest of GURPS. If you’re playing DFRPG and decide you want to broaden your games outward from its narrow sub-genre, just add stuff from the levels above, in reverse order. Add Dungeon Fantasy books for greater sub-genre detail, then GURPS‘ various fantasy-related books for even broader genre support, and finally, Basic Set for anything still missing. (“Behind the oaken door you see . . . a cyborg psi superhero gunfighter . . .”)

Bonus +0.5 Level: Published settings

GURPS Banestorm

A published GURPS fantasy setting is . . . hmm, maybe like a mezzanine level that takes one of the above Levels a bit higher (and thus the fantasy a bit deeper). These settings include Banestorm, the Roma Arcana setting in Fantasy, and a few others here and there (including the Madlands setting of Fantasy II, although that’s not so much going deep and narrow into the genre as just off the deep end of it : ).

As of now, there’s no published game world explicitly for the dungeon-y setting espoused by Dungeon Fantasy and DFRPG. On the other hand, the concept of “setting” arguably takes on its own meaning in stock dungeon fantasy. The blank-slate Town where you buy stuff and hire monster fodder henchmen, all surrounded by the bog-plain Wilderness where random beasts and undefined bandits roam, is a setting of sorts. It’s arguably all the game world that the sub-genre needs!

But, yeah, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from building or buying a “proper” fantasy world, with named towns and real-ish wildernesses, in which to house your smash-and-grab dungeons. (Maybe there’ll even be family members to mourn the inevitably devoured PCs and henchmen. Now that’s verisimilitude!)

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