In RPG activities, Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (DFRPG) continues to dominate my attention and my table. When there’s always too little time for the hobby to begin with, it’s nice to have a slick, all-in-one game to fall into.
I jot down observations and notes born of playing/reading/character-creation/etc., thinking “hey, here’s something to play with later, or write about online.” This practice has left me with… a big useless pile of scraps in my Notes app. I’ll plop the scraps here onto a page for the possible amusement of passers-by. (There’s no particular theme or organization, so I won’t even call it a new entry in my DFRPG review (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6). This is just a bunch of thoughts.)
The page will grow, so stop by again in the future. Or leave notes of your own in the comments!
With that, some observations:
Some book sections have page border colors that mirror their Basic Set counterparts. In Adventurers, there are blue borders for the Advantages section (if in a different shade than GURPS’ section), brown for Disadvantages, and purple for Skills, to name a handful. It’s a welcoming touch for Basic Set owners.
This doesn’t seem to bother anyone else around me, but one wee little gripe I mentioned in my review still sticks: the placement of some traits under professions’ write-ups instead of under the Advantages, Disadvantages, and Skills sections. After all this time, I still end up searching and page-flipping.
Take the four advantages listed under “Special Barbarian Traits”. Only one is truly barbarians-only; the others also make appearances as racial advantages. It’d be easier on the user if all four appeared alphabetically in the Advantages section, with a simple note placed under the Professions section’s “Special Barbarian Traits” to highlight them. Like this:
Four traits are normally available to barbarians only, except where part of a racial template or where otherwise noted: Discriminatory Smell (p. XX), Lifting ST (p. XX), Temperature Tolerance (p. XX), and Tough Skin (p. XX).
Seems a no-brainer, right? Except… thinking about it, a lot of traits are strongly profession-limited, and would look odd if dropped into the catch-all sections. Like Bard-Song abilities, Chi skills, and many more: should those be dropped into universal catalogs of advantages and skills, when only the relevant professions can access them?
Hmm, perhaps my clever reorganization wouldn’t be such a great idea after all. Maybe things are as they are for well-considered reason. (And if I’m making too much of a tiny problem here, well, I suppose it’s because I can’t find any big ones in the game!)
(Side observation: Clerics and holy warriors have access to the same set of Holy Abilities, yet those abilities’ write-ups are divided between the two templates. That again adds page-flipping when building a PC of either profession. It’d be handy if the two sub-sets of abilities were grouped into one set. That said, I suppose the separation injects a bit of welcome differentiation between the two professions, simply by suggesting that, yes, both can access the same abilities, but these are a bit more cleric-oriented, while those are more at home in a holy warrior. I can live with that!)
Here’s another tiny gripe, but one I think I’ll stick to: I really prefer to see stat blocks depict the “naked” creature – that is, list DR and other stats without add-ons like armor.
It’s fine to list both in the stat block: “DR 3 (5 with heavy leather armor)”, “Dodge 9 (8 with noted armor and gear)”, etc. Monsters does note “naked” stats in its nicely detailed text bits, so there’s no big problem, at least where armor DR is concerned (I think GMs still have to re-compute “naked” Dodge on their own). And I know the book is just carrying on an RPG bestiary tradition here, presenting stats as they’ll most likely appear in play. (I get it; the hobgoblin at the dungeon entrance in scale mail with polearm, not the hob at home in sweats with nail clippers, is the monster.)
I just have a liking for “naked” stats as the base, with equipment and modified stats presented afterward. I like how doing that says, “Here are the stats for an orc and just an orc. We’ll suggest a load-out, complete with modified stats, for your convenience, but how to dress out this orc is your call.” That’s all.
An unasked-for bit of psych profile background that touches on that preference: As a kid, I liked my little plastic animals and dinosaurs as much as any other kid. I liked them in “neutral” poses, though, just standing there. Not sitting, or grazing with head to the ground, or combined with other figures into a single model, because, you know, why is this lying-down cow always lying down even when all the farm animals are supposed to be running away from my wolf figure? Even worse – my personal bugbear as a kid – were the creatures molded to some sort of base. I know, sometimes you gotta make a bird or dinosaur figure that way so it’ll stand up, but, ack, now this poor creature’s dragging a patch of ground and a plastic fern along with it everywhere it goes…
Okay, I don’t know that that’s relevant to much, and I don’t want to exaggerate the annoyance factor; that T Rex with the unfortunate rocks molded around its feet was still a cool figure back then, just as monster stats with armor and stuff “baked in” certainly aren’t an actual problem today. But thinking about stats above caused this semi-serious tangent to pop into my head, so there it is. Hm, maybe next time I’ll go into a psychological self-examination of my long-running interest in RPGs sensibly handling creature size, and how that all stems back to a childhood annoyance with toy tanks far too small for the green army men that were supposed to ride in them, or toy vehicle lines that made their motorcycles, cars, trucks, and even jumbo jets all the same size…
A very trivial thing: On first read, I thought it odd that Monsters doesn’t list Basic Speed in its stats. But then I saw that it does – it just writes “Speed”, not “Basic Speed”. That’s easy enough to figure out, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a newbie scratches his head for a moment over that. (My preference: Be scrupulous in naming things, like listing Basic Speed as “Basic Speed”.)
Such a lovely book (even if it’s a little jarring whenever I see its non-exclusive artwork pop up as portraits of other publishers’ monsters).
The tomb bug plays the ol’ xenomorph and wasp trick of implanting embryos in a host. Always a classic!
But wait a sec. The hatchlings that erupt are noted as Size -1, the size of a fair-sized dog, or a 10-year-old, or a grown gnome… with a human victim hosting ten such leggy tots. Decuplets. Each the weight of a foal. All out of one human host.
Yeah, I know, it’s fantasy… but talk about packing ’em in! The weight of that gestating brood would have to be hundreds of pounds. Or maybe the bug babies… I don’t know, burst out at a way smaller size, then instantly expand to SM -1, like those sponge dinosaurs that grow in water?
Or maybe the assumption is indeed that the corpse just prior to eruption (now at -5xHP) is hugely, grotesquely distended? (I’m trying to imagine this to describe it to players, and the term that keeps coming to mind is “Jiffy Pop”.)
(I think the easiest answer is to read SM -1 as the hatchlings’ size after a little post-eruption growth. Or this: Don’t think about it so much!)
As long as we’re talking size: Based on ST and weight, I’d say striges are SM -2, not SM -1. My guess is that the larger SM represents the increased target size due to their wings. That’s fine. But for what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of treating target size and SM as necessarily the same thing. As a big, game-wide rule, things like wings or blocky shape should certainly change size for target purposes, but not SM for other purposes (combat Reach, eyeballing of stats, etc.).
All of no great importance. On a separate, positive note: the strix is fine example of how DFRPG‘s author takes a rather generic-sounding beastie (“it bites and drains blood”) and makes it exciting with description, combat details, and adventure ideas. And as with all the monsters in the game, there’s a lot of work done for the GM in spelling out exactly what mods will go into the monster’s attack rolls, what ST to use for its grappling feats, and everything else needed for quick play.
Delvers to Go
Such a great little book. Every PC’s design shows a lot of work in the build and the notes.
The PCs’ stats don’t note SM. They don’t need to, as SM is a given for each PC’s stated race. But I’d prefer to see it noted all the same, just as it is in monster stat blocks.
I really like this book. Fun magic items, great (if not plentiful) monsters, and awesome villain write-ups, with new professions, races, traits, and much more, packed throughout like Easter eggs. (A fun exercise: Try building a PC by taking a villain and removing stuff until you hit 250 points and gear appropriate to starting wealth.) Any GM will love this book.
Note: Content that borrows from Dungeon Fantasy isn’t necessarily repeated as-is. Take the new Dark Elf race: it’s at first glance a renamed Shadow Elf from DF, but Companion 2 changes the template a bit. I think I’ll keep ’em both, as two factions of a wider breed (let’s call it “Creepy Elf”).
Trivial item: All of the book’s new monsters fall under the “mundane” class (or mundane-ish, if you think of “animal” as non-sapient “mundane”). I don’t think that’s an intentional decision, but it’s interesting to see a single monster class get this spotlight.
Magic Items 2
The artwork is interesting in that nearly all of the items look like old, musty, mundane things, not shiny, fantastic, “ooh-it’s-magic” items. Maybe there was no intent to give the items that consistent motif, but I like it all the same.
The GM Screen contains lots of info. Ideally, it’d contain even more. That’s an impractical wish, not a criticism! The screen of course has to narrow down what to cram into its limited space, and I think it does a fine job.
For fun, though, here’s a list of things that’d be handy on a second GM screen. (A screen which the GM would place… where, exactly?) Note that many of these already appear on the handy back-cover “cheat sheets” of books, so DFRPG is a step ahead of me.
- Info on walls/doors/metalwork (Exploits 82-83)
- Info on light sources
- Maneuvers/postures tables
- Falling damage table (Exploits 76)
- Thresholds for major wounds, crippling, dismemberment, etc.
- Modifiers for KO rolls (Exploits 60)
- Stealth mods for backstabbing (Exploits 57)
- Required time for long actions (Exploits 32)
- Rules for feats of lifting and throwing (Exploits 22)
- Critical Spell Failure Table (Spells 8)
The game in action
I love how DFRPG fleshes out the many things that PCs can do while in town. But how many of those many things can they attempt? The game offers guidelines, while keeping it vague. That’s fine. But a full week in town is far different from a simple overnight stay, and different again from a stay of several weeks (a thing that can happen when PCs fail to quickly find a quest). It’d be nice to have optional rules for counting out those in-town long actions in a way players and GMs alike can enjoy.
I’ve been working on something that adds a little more structure, while staying pretty rough and abstract. (I certainly don’t want any hour-by-hour accounting of town time!) I’ll try to post it soon.
The money game
DFRPG‘s money game is great. With its premise of “kill monsters and profit from the treasure”, the game understandably ladles more attention onto that first part, but it doesn’t skimp on the latter.
Is it worth it?
A few schemes leave me uncertain. Like “Selling the Tale.” Yes, the text points out the poor economics of using a $150 stay in town to maybe earn $100 (with a tiny chance of actual profit), and that’s fine. But what player wants to take on a near-certain losing proposition? So, I’ve assumed that the rule doesn’t require the PC to spend a week hunched over a desk; creating a work for sale is apparently meant to be a “freebie” thing the PC can do in addition to the usual buying, selling, quest-searching, etc., which makes it a minor but potentially worthwhile endeavor. (I’m not certain that that’s the intent of the written rules, but I’m guessing it is.)
So that’s been fine – through “freebie” means every PC has no reason to not attempt a roll. So I’ve pondered working up something with just a little risk baked in, i.e, the chance that a PC loses money by spending more on project expenses – vellum, library admission, “agent fees”, and the King’s new Author Tax – than the sold work earns back. But I haven’t put anything into play yet.
Then there’s the Teaching skill. It’s a perfectly legitimate skill that makes for fine character color, and stands ready to take on whatever clever uses players can find for it. Its only use detailed in text, though, is allowing a PC to teach a known skill to another PC while in town. The money-saving aspect of this hardly seems worthwhile. Teacher and student are required to “devote a week to sharing knowledge and nothing else”. In town, that’s a minimum of $300 in living expenses, all to save the student what would otherwise be $40 or $80 in training expenses. True, the $150 for a week in town would likely still apply if the student instead learned the skill at some nameless guild training center; in that sense, PC-to-PC schooling may remain the cheaper option for a cash-strapped student. But both student and teacher miss out on other lucrative town activities, if the GM is enforcing the “and nothing else” prescription.
The teaching bit could shine when the teacher and student are on the sidelines without much to do anyway during a town stay. Teaching could also be a good use of spare time when the group is away from town and its training centers, if the GM ignores the “only in town” rule. Either way, I’m just not seeing PCs make use of the Teaching skill, so I’ll probably try to devise some other ways to make it useful.
Pinching pennies the painful way
Healing in town costs $2 per HP. Recharging a power item costs $5 per point. Tip for the Miserliness crowd: From a monetary perspective, you’re better off burning HP than burning power item energy.
(Then again, burning HP creates skill penalties, and healing in the dungeon can cost a lot. Plus, you kind of want HP for things like, oh, staying alive. Hm, the game seems to have cleverly made this a choice with merits and demerits.)
A baton or short staff costs $20; a quarterstaff is $10. A tip for PCs with Greed: Buy a quarterstaff, cut it into two or three batons, and sell. Repeat and profit.
I don’t think a GM needs to fret over this scenario, but the prices are an oddity. I’d welcome some swapping of numbers in future editions. (The quarterstaff is a pretty great weapon in the game; no need to make it so super-cheap! And mages shouldn’t be spending more for a little wizardly wand than for a big wizardly staff!)
Slipped unobtrusively into Magic Items is a treasure that would shake worlds in any genre but dungeon crawling: Resurrection Oil. Slip this vial into a potion belt and you’ve got one resurrection on demand, with no need to drag a body to the temple (or even leave the room where the departure took place)!
This is possibly the best purchase PCs could make, once they reach the stage of “okay, so what do we do with all this money?” Until then, though, the price is certainly off-putting.
A thought: Imagine that the potion carried a far lower price tag – but also a strict “use by” date (a month?). What sort of delightfully suicidal behavior might that spur in PCs as the potion nears expiration? Or to make things even more interesting: What if the potion merely began losing efficacy after that “use by” date, much like the temple’s “good enough” resurrections when petitioners can’t pony up the full donation? Would PCs be willing to use Resurrection Oil that’s gone a bit off-kilter, knowing that the returnee will be somewhat diminished? Might they even risk using an off-brand, black-market alternative (Reincarnation Lard?) that’s easy on the budget but (allegedly) mass-produced by disgruntled goblin alchemists from bargain-priced herbs?
(I suppose “limited shelf life” and “possible side effects” would make for interesting bargain-basement cost modifiers for any potion, if the GM wanted to deal with these things.)
Traits and stuff
I’m not a big fan of talents that seem to just glom together stuff a player would want, rather than things plausibly linked by a specific aptitude. The elvish and dwarvish talents (okay, special traits, not “talents” per se in DFRPG) of Forest Guardian and Pickaxe Penchant have that munchkin-y feel. But… yeah, they’re fine. They show how talents can be used to mechanically flesh out a race (or anything else) in a really easy way to meet genre demands, without going through Powers-based gymnastics to make dwarves good at axe fighting and all that. As long as all PCs have access to similar bits of munchkin-y stuff, it’s all good.
(And no, the inclusion of munchkin-friendly offerings in the game doesn’t create a risk of the PCs becoming too powerful overall. Monsters can always do everything the PCs can, and more. When things get too easy for the adventurers, the GM just drops another elder demon into each battle. GMs are the real munchkins.)
Utilitarian Contingency Casting and Wild Magic
Contingency Casting and Wild Magic – you use these to cast a spell you haven’t learned, right? Yes, you use them for that – or to cast a spell that you have learned. (I was very slow to notice this, despite the Contingency Casting description pretty much stating it outright.)
The advantages let you cast any Hard spell at the 4-point level or any Very Hard spell at the 8-point level. Either is an impressive degree of skill – more skill than you may possess in your learned spells (especially if you favor the quantity-over-quality method of learning everything at the 1-point level). Spending a precious use of Wild Magic or Contingency Casting to cast a known spell isn’t exciting, but if you need the best roll possible with that familiar ol’ spell, and if the session is coming to an end anyway, go wild and call on that contingency!
Acupuncture for the win
Interestingly, DFRPG‘s three versions of the Esoteric Medicine healing skill follow a hierarchy of usefulness:
- Esoteric Medicine (Chi) > Esoteric Medicine (Druidic) > Esoteric Medicine (Clerical)
- Esoteric Medicine (Chi): Gets a bonus from mystical power (Chi Talent), and always works. (The bonus burns out if the martial artist loses yin/yang balance, but the skill remains intact.)
- Esoteric Medicine (Druidic): Gets no bonus from mystical power (i.e., there’s no mod for Power Investiture or Nature’s Strength), but always works (even when Nature’s Strength is nil!).
- Esoteric Medicine (Clerical): Gets no bonus from mystical power, and stops working in the absence of Sanctity.
It’s like “rock, scissors, paper”, respectively, except that here, paper doesn’t wrap around to defeat rock. In the world of woo-based healing, Chi beats Druidic beats Clerical, and that’s that. (That’s okay; clerics have a monopoly on full-on magical healing, while druids get a little boost from discount healing potions. It all makes for an interesting balance.)
Weapon skills worth avoiding?
Players should give their characters whatever weapon skills they feel fit the character’s concept. But it’s only fair to warn new players that some weapon skills may disappoint them on the battlefield.
Saber sounds perfectly fine as a fencing skill, but it’s let down by its available weapon choice: one weapon, the saber. Choose Rapier skill instead, and you get a choice of four weapons on the table – including the edged rapier, which does everything the saber does with the sole negligible drawback of an extra quarter pound of weight.
Two-Handed Axe/Mace is the real loser skill. It offers a fair number of weapons, sure, but most come with a huge disadvantage: that nasty requirement for a Ready maneuver after a swing (unless the wielder has massive ST). Taking Polearm instead seems a clear win. Polearm offers two-hex weapons similar to those two-hex axes/maces but with more versatility (swings! stabs!) and with no awful Ready requirement. Polearm also gives you even longer weapons that do suffer the slowness of Two-Handed Axe/Mace’s offerings, but with an awesome extra hex of Reach.
For those reasons, I warn players to think twice about investing in Saber or Two-Handed Axe/Mace skill. Hm, are there any easy fixes that would make these skills attractive? For Saber, I like the idea of cutting its Broadsword and Shortsword cross-defaults from -4 to -2 – and letting Saber use the cavalry saber at only -1 to skill. That makes the skill more versatile. For Two-Handed Axe/Mace… I don’t have something as simple. I think a fix would involve a deeper rethinking of weapon ST and speed (i.e., a reworking of that Ready requirement), and that’s a tall order.
I didn’t notice this right away, but the spell selections offered under clerics’ and druids’ “Customization Notes” aren’t just bunches of useful spells appropriate to the noted themes (“Buffs”, “Spiritual Warfare”, etc.). Each selection is exactly 20 spells, so it’s a complete, grab-and-go package. (This is an example of the work-done-for-you bits that are scattered throughout the game.)
For fun, I took a shot at making my own theme-based selection of 20 clerical spells. My theme is Smiting, covering offensive spells for whacking non-supernatural foes. The spells are:
Smiting: Thunderclap, Command, Light Jet, Flaming Weapon, Sunbolt, Suspended Animation, Curse, Earthquake…
…and, well, that’s where my attempt sputters out. I may have missed a couple of spells, but DFRPG‘s choices for pure “combat cleric” spells are certainly slim, especially at lower levels of PI. Well, if you finish up my incomplete list with a handful of battlefield-handy spells from each of the Buffs, Healing, and Supernatural Warfare themes, you’ll get a good all-round divine caster with a slight martial edge.
(That outcome is fine; magical artillery is a thing for the wizards, not clerics. All the same, a few more miracles in the “pillar of fire” vein would be welcome for would-be smiters!)
Given that martial artists are the monkish masters of physical conditioning (think “carry huge pot of burning coals under the Master’s watchful eye” and all that), ST 11 is a little disappointing for the profession. My guess is that the template would love to give the profession more ST, but is held back by a need to economize on points.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to add martial muscle. The martial artist template offers 40 points to play with – not a great amount, but it’s enough to (say) buy the much-needed Combat Reflexes , add either Fit  or Enhanced Parry , and still tack on two levels of ST. Or make that two levels of Striking ST (let’s consider this an option on the template!), with 10 points left over to get started on Chi abilities.
What spells are potentially available to a wizard for any given level of Magery? Unlike the case of clerics/druids and Power Investiture, the game doesn’t make this clear. Which is understandable; it’s a more complex matter for wizards. But a list matching wizardly spells with Magery level can still be useful at times, so I went and made one.
Big picture stuff
DFRPG vs GURPS
Anyone wanting to keep a running list of differences between GURPS and DFRPG will have a lot to work with. I keep discovering little differences from GURPS (though the two games remain wonderfully compatible).
A beginning list of items that may not be immediately noticeable:
- I didn’t realize this right way, but DFRPG‘s throwing distances differ from the rules found in BS.
- Hm, there’s no Evaluate maneuver in DFRPG. Is this a sign that the action isn’t terribly useful in GURPS?
- Mechanics for opportunity fire differ a bit between Exploits 43 and BS 390.
Future additions (?): More content I’d like to see
DFRPG is packed with GM advice. But there’s always room for more in the future:
- Matching monsters to PC power: DFRPG does what it can with good advice on getting encounter challenge level right. Still, it’s an ever-tricky business, so any additional future advice will always be welcome (including any thoughts by Kromm on which monsters fall into those helpful categories of “fodder”, “worthy”, and “boss”). (Along those lines, don’t miss this post by Kromm outlining which monsters are particularly deadly, whether always or under particular circumstances.)
- Reward level: DFRPG does a fine job of warning GMs against being too stingy with the reward swag, and offers pretty thorough advice on remedying excessive rewards. So it addresses “too little” and “too much” with aplomb. Between those extremes, though, new GMs can still feel very uncertain about how much is enough. (That said, the set’s inclusion of an adventure as an example, with rewards even summarized at the end, does help a lot!)
- Creating play maps: Once the maps for Merle’s basement have been played out, where does a GM get play maps for new, home-made adventures? That is, how do you turn a Room Record Sheet map into a play map? Buy big blank maps and draw on them? Tape together A4-sized printouts? Invest in erasable battle maps? Experienced GMs will of course have tried-and-true favorites, but newbies might appreciate notes on best practices.
Character creation advice
DFRPG‘s templates are great in walking a player through what to select, and the game offers plenty more advice scattered throughout. But there are a couple more items of advice that would be nice to see in future supplements:
- Suggestions for race + profession combos: I think DFRPG does a good job of making any combination viable, meaning players can feel comfortable in fielding whatever combo sounds fun. All the same, the “choice professions” and “marginal professions” advice that DF 3 notes for races would be a helpful complement to Adventurers.
- Suggestions for gear: Newcomers can expend a lot of time and effort picking out the right kit to boost a given profession or tackle a particular dungeon. (That’s okay; shopping is enjoyable, as long as it’s wrapped up before game time. And letting players take their best shot at what’s needed, learning from bad guesses the hard way, is all part of the fun.) But there’s so much gear in this game that any additional newbie-friendly shopping advice would be welcome. That includes experience-based guides to less-obvious uses for particular items. (Reminder: Even barbarians know that iron spikes are useful as door-stoppers and as crude pitons for climbing. But the spikes also serve as cheap chisels – and as cold iron stakes for the hearts of evil faeries.)
House rules-y stuff
Finally, little house rules-y bits that no one’s asked for:
Improving clerics’ Turning ability
The Turning advantage recreates the classic OSR ability of clerics to turn undead. It’s got one shortcoming, though: GURPS/DFRPG clerics don’t have a way to improve the ability.
We could add this with an extremely simple manner: a trained skill, with no need for anything new if existing skills would work. How about letting clerics replace their Will roll with Will-based Psychology (Undead)? Or use Exorcism? (The action of Turning isn’t exorcism per se, but driving off the Unclean would seem to be the point in common between the two.) Or even Intimidation, assuming the target isn’t Unfazeable?
Allowing the use of any of these makes Turning an improvable ability – and I like the idea that a cleric might focus on the skill that best fits the character concept, or commit to learning them all and choose the best for every situation. (Psychology (Undead) or Hidden Lore (Undead) should tell the cleric which skill would work best on a given nasty.)
(A little background on where this idea comes from: In the GURPS 3e days, I liked the idea that mages could roll against IQ + Magery for things like special wizardly insights into magic or magical inventions. But I was dissatisfied with the fact that experience – master mage vs newbie apprentice, and all that – made no difference in the roll. I thought some skill representing overall understanding of magic would be a better thing to roll against. We have that today in the Thaumatology skill, and it is good.)
Hold your fire!
Opportunity fire carries the risk of shooting a non-target who appears at the wrong time; a Vision roll prevents this. Visual acuity aside, shouldn’t rookie nerves vs veteran calm also affect the likelihood of an “oops, sorry” misfire?
To bring quick judgment into play, give the “instantly tell friend from foe” Vision roll a +2 for Combat Reflexes and -2 for Combat Paralysis (conveniently the same mods used for Fright Checks). (I don’t know whether trained skill should also be a factor; if so, letting Per-based Tactics or Observation replace the Vision roll seems reasonable to me.)
Just enough poison
Skilled poisoners can apply two doses of poison to a blade (-2 on HT rolls, x2 damage), or four doses (-4 on HT rolls, x4 damage). I think I can figure out the in-between case, for a player who wants to really finesse that dosage: 3 doses for -3 on HT and x3 damage.