Dungeon Fantasy RPG: The Notes (Part I)

ME the other day: “Good morning! Imma do so much today!”

SJG: “O Hai! I haz DFRPG in the mailz!”


Everyone around me: “…Hello?… You still alive?…”

Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is real, and it’s pretty spectacular. There are plenty of reviews of this GURPS-based, back-to-hack-n-slash offering from Steve Jackson Games; you’ll find a list of reviews here. I’m offering the lazy man’s variant of the review: an unwashed handful of disjointed observations.

Part I is small: thoughts on part of DFRPG‘s Adventurers book. Part II will wrap up that book with a lot of notes on skills, one of the key components of any GURPS/DFRPG adventurer. Part III and later will look at other books and other facets of the game.

(Abbreviations: “DFRPG” is the game in question; “DF” is Dungeon Fantasy, SJG’s “full” series of dungeoneering books for use with the regular GURPS Basic Set.)



Adventurers‘ list of advantages offers an example of the many wee differences that pop up between DFRPG and GURPS: Perks in DFRPG aren’t named “perks”; they’re just presented as advantages that happen to cost 1 pt. (GURPS fans discussing things online should take care to say “1-point advantage”, not “perk”.) That doesn’t change anything in terms of usage, and is fine as a way to keep things simple for newcomers – though I wouldn’t have objected at all to DFRPG keeping the term “perk”, what with its nifty correspondence to the term “quirk” that the game retains.

With a few sensible exceptions, talents in DFRPG appear to eschew the Reaction Roll mods GURPS normally uses, and instead offer the alternate benefits introduced in GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents. My own reaction to GURPS 4e’s introduction of talents’ reaction bonuses, way back when, was an immediate “meh”; I much prefer the newer alternate benefits. You made a good choice here, DFRPG.

Indulging in tangent for a moment: I don’t think talents in GURPS/DFRPG really need to have any sort of benefit beyond skill bonuses. Talents are already quite a bargain compared to the cost of buying skill levels. For some talents, the listed reaction bonuses and alternate benefits also strike me as a bit forced. For other talents, though, the bonuses and benefits feel perfect. And the bonuses and benefits always add a bit of fun, giving talents a “minor superpower” feel. All in all, I’m happy with DFRPG talents that include a fitting and fun added benefit.


There’s a nice selection of weapons in Adventurers. I’m glad to see that these hew to the revised stats from Low-Tech and other books, which mainly means higher damage for big axes and the like, and miscellaneous tweaks like higher thrust damage for shortswords. (I also like how the modified stats are generally a better fit for my own GURPS weapon creation system.)

DFRPG also includes plenty of ways to modify weapons, which is great. One odd omission: While the concept of cheap weapons pops up in the game, cheap doesn’t appear among the list of options you can go out and purchase. Maybe the assumption is that a mighty DFRPG adventurer may have to make do with a found or improvised cheap-o murder tool at times, but would never stoop to buying one?

The Armor Table is extensive – and looks a tad intimidating. But it wisely includes weights and costs for whole suits, so it remains easy to use for players who don’t want to build a suit piece by piece. (I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots, too, on how the weights are or aren’t realistic…)

The nifty trio of scholarly manual types—primer, textbook, and thesis—from Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages is not brought over to DFRPG. Rather, there’s just the manual (the textbook from DF 4) and the tome (the fine textbook from DF 4). Well, for simplicity’s sake, that’s good enough.

I like kits. All kinds of kits, whether collections of specific equipment items bundled for easy purchase, or vaguely-defined kits that abstractly aid some task. It’d be nice to see a single list of all the kits that DFRPG adventurers can buy (although a Will roll to shrug off Laziness for a few minutes would let me do that on my own). I’m all for more kits, too. A Hazardous Materials kit comes to mind: vials, tongs, gloves, goggles, apron, etc. (Then again, that sounds like an Alchemy kit.) And aren’t any kits needed for use of the Diagnosis and Veterinary skills, or for brewing up stuff with the Herb Lore, Pharmacy, and Poisons skills? (Maybe the game offers an answer for these, but I don’t see it.)

Some monsters suggest very specific kits. Surely someone in town will want to sell the delvers a pricey vampire hunter’s kit, with stakes, a mallet, holy water and symbols, garlic, and a mirror. Along with dire warnings about the vampire living in the hills. Which could even be real, not just a story to sell kits…

Look and layout

The professional templates look nice. They’re much easier to read than in DF, partly due to the use of color to make trait listings and other key info visually distinct. But how well will the format carry over to future black and white books? (I’d love to see SJG try it out; in those places where Adventurers uses color in templates, the use of gray in B&W books would be at least a minor improvement.)

My personal jury is still out on the way Adventurers removes some advantages and skills from the main catalogs of traits, and relocates them to the relevant profession write-ups. I can understand the thinking: Higher Purpose is exclusive to holy warriors and Breath Control is for martial artists only, so it’s convenient to see the traits’ write-ups as part of the professions’ descriptions. Yet players will want to check the details of regular, non-exclusive traits as well, so they end up flipping forward to the catalog sections anyway. Meanwhile, this thing keeps happening: “Isn’t there some advantage called Silence? Why isn’t it here in the “Advantages” catalog… Wait, was it one of those traits listed under a profession? Was it a martial artist trait? No, not there… was it thief? Ah, yes… Well, not quite, it’s sending me to the scout section…” (I think I’d prefer that all traits were kept to their respective catalogs. Or, at the least, if some are to be located under professions, I’d like to see name and page reference listings placed in the catalogs. Like this, in the “Advantages” section: “Silence: See p35.”)

Like full GURPS, DFRPG tucks a “Probability of Success” table into the “Skills” section. In either game, though, this is a slightly odd place and label for the table; the probabilities are apply to any “roll-under” check—attribute checks, control rolls, anything—not just skill rolls.

To no one’s surprise, Adventurers includes a character form. With twice as many pages as the US 1040EZ tax form download (i.e., four pages, though a PC can get by with just the first three). There’s no getting around it: a GURPS/DFRPG character is rich in detail. So it goes. 

One thing I appreciate greatly: the character form includes useful bits of game play info, like coinage notes, a mini Speed/Range Table, TH mods for hit locations, and a summary of typical PC living expenses. Including—right there on the character form—the cost to have a temple perform Repair Dismemberment or Resurrection. Yikes. This is portentous…

On to Part II.

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