Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Review: Pyramid 3/36 Dungeon Fantasy

Dungeon Fantasy!This is, for me, a highly anticipated issue.  I purchased several Dungeon Fantasy titles back when they were first coming out, but shelved them because they were just a little more complicated than what I was ready for at the time.  Then a couple of things happened to inch Dungeon Fantasy back up to the front burner:

1) I played a lot of Labyrinth Lord for one thing.  I was shocked to find out that it could take five or six sessions to get a character up to level two.  Death rates could be exceedingly high and having a few hirelings in the game was essential.  On the other hand, with combat simplified as much as it is, the game tends to become one of exploration and resource management more than anything else.  While a simple set of rules is really useful for a novice GM and casual players, over time I found myself bending and fudging things in order to tell a different story than one that could strictly be derived from the actual rules.  This was the point when I finally had goals of my own to guide the process of picking and choosing from among the vast number of options that are codified in the GURPS Fourth Edition line.

2) On the space gaming side, I ran the old adventure from GURPS Humanx by forum post.  This gave me plenty of time to look up the rules for every single thing that came up.  It was a lot of work at first as I’d look at the adventure, look at the rules, look at my setting that I was developing on the fly, and then look back at what the players were doing– for a while every single ruling forced me to iterate through all of that a couple of times.  But by the last few scenes of the game, something clicked… the rules, the setting, and the adventure… they all became internalized and I didn’t have to force my brain to process each bit of game-related information.  This was the point where GURPS went from being an intimidating monster game to being an extremely well organized encyclopedia– one that I could go to for whatever I needed as things came up.

More gaming followed.   The fear of whether or not I was doing things “right” disappeared.  Most importantly… the energy it took to mine those rulebooks and apply them to my games was repeatedly shown to be well worth the effort.  And that brings up to today where I have a new issue of Pyramid in my hot little hands….  Let’s see what’s inside:

From The Editor: Steven Marsh points out that a lot of things that are now traditional in dungeon games started out just as something that someone thought would be cool.  He then spins Pyramid as being the “ultimate extension” of the freewheeling, anything goes spirit that was common in the early days of gaming.  I’m not too sure about that.  With articles covering realistic underwater rules, an analysis of cash crops and subsistence farming, and advanced move-by-move grappling rules, Pyramid is occasionally on the level of an academic journal in terms of depth and complexity.  I just don’t get the sense of the magazine being just a few notes on cool ideas from one GM to another– Pyramid authors tend to be several orders of magnitude more sophisticated than that…!  (If you want random crazy ideas from one GM to another, go read Fight On!)

The Demolisher: Just the other day I was saying how Dungeon Fantasy templates are exactly the sort of thing I look for in an issue of Pyramid.  This one is pitch perfect: a specialized dwarf “class” that can shoot things and blow things up.  The template is pretty flexible allowing for mainline warrior, dungeoneer, and sniper/scout overtones with personalities ranging from good guy, to cold-hearted capitalist, to evil trickster.  Guns are something that play particularly well in GURPS, and having a decent list of fantasy-adapted firearms is nice.  I’d really like to turn this type of character loose in The Caves of Chaos and see what happens the first time an “open doors” check is failed.

Dungeon Saints: This hefty, crunchy article shows how to adapt the special prayer rules in Divine Favor to Dungeon Fantasy.  Not having the former, I can’t use or understand this type of material all that well.  However, being able to sample supplements like this before buying is one reason I pick up Pyramid.  This article is one more reason to shell out five clams to get some extra chrome for clerical types.

The Musketeer: Honestly, the Demolisher really steal’s the Musketeer’s thunder– it’s a shame that they had to be featured in the same issue.  All the same, who’s going to argue with more guns adapted for a fantasy type game…?  Even better… this article explains how to handle other professions’ ham-fisted attempts at using the things.  The new Compulsive Dueling disadventage detailed here is liable to make its way into a GURPS Autoduel campaign… and the Musketeer himself is likely to get reworked into a pirate when we get around to running the Isle of Dread.  While you don’t have to have Gun-Fu to use this template, this article does point out how to work in details from that supplement as well.

The Horrific Dungeon: No matter how good the rules might be, how broad the genre information is, or how intricate suggested scenarios might get… at some point… someone has to pick and choose from among all the available options and make a game work.  I, for one, really like to hear about this part.  (If I don’t hear much about this… I start to get a little suspicious….)  Pulver’s choice of rules here includes secret hit point tracking, hit location tables, no tactical map, and (surprisingly) no fright checks.  I’ve blundered into some of these ideas in some of my sessions, but it’s really useful to hear an experienced game master confirm and expound on these things.

Powering Up Imbuements: I bought the Imbuements supplement back when I was picking up Dungeon Fantasy PDF’s and never got around to actually using it.  We already got the Mystic Knight to showcase imbuements back in Pyramid #13, but this article details how to give some of the other professions a chance to show off these abilities.  While Bards playing music as a way to introduce “Imbue Other” is not my cup of tea, I am glad to be reminded that we have rules for Monks to play that “Flying Sleeves!” move from Iron Monkey.  Imbuing spells seems like a really good fit for spellcasters as do “vile” imbuements for the evil cleric.  I’d never really thought to add imbuements to spells– the gist of this was nestled in a sidebar all along, but still… this general guidance on how to apply them is really welcome.  I just don’t always immediately see the implications of generic rules, which is one more reason I depend on magazines like Pyramid to help me get a game together.

Historically Rich Dungeons: This article details some dungeon design techniques that every game master should know.  It is fully generic with no references to literature or classic adventures.  Moria would be the canonical example this: a dwarvish city built in times of elf-dwarf friendship, destroyed when the dwarves dug so deep as to awaken something that existed only in early drafts of the Silmarilion, retaken by a recent dwarf expedition that is subsequently overwhelmed by orcs.  To see these layering techniques applied by a true master of dungeon design, see Stonehell mega-dungeon.

All Charged Up Over Magic Items: Not something I ever noticed, but evidently GURPS Magic couldn’t really handle magic items designed to have a limited number of charges.  This short article extrapolates some of the Spell Stone rules to cover this omission.  It’s more detail that what I’d need for a one-shot or short campaign, but if you have players that are making their own stuff, this is something you might what to know.

Random Thought Table: This column truly lives up to its name this time.  I’m shocked to discover that Steven Marsh– to all appearances, an all around cool cat– loves Second Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  (TSR lost me with the Monstrous Compendium, personally….)  Marsh also references off hand.  Looking at the site, I find it completely bewildering– is the information on that site so freaking awesome that it can’t fit into a PDF?  Moments like this, I wish that Space Gamer had stayed in Steve Jackson’s hands permanently– it’s just so hard to figure out what’s worth my time without a good selection of in-depth and capsule reviews.

Odds and Ends: Oh my.  An exasperated Mitt Romney, a Newsweek-cover style Michelle Bachman, and… a zombified Ron Paul put in an appearance here.  Honestly, the 2012 campaign the last thing I want to think about when I read about gaming.

Summing up… this issue hits one out of the park twice with my favorite type of Pyramid articles: immediately useful templates that look fun to play, and immediately useful articles that help me get more and better use out of GURPS supplements I’ve already purchased.  The not-so-usable articles at least inform my purchasing plans in a useful way, and the rest of the issue is rounded out with some decent high-level game mastering advice and perspective.  This is a solid gaming value– and even better, it makes me excited enough about Dungeon Fantasy again that I’m willing to do the necessary prep work to get a game off the ground.

Really, a game or game line isn’t really real to me until it has ongoing magazine support.  (What would CAR WARS have been without Autoduel Quarterly?)  So count me among those that would like to see special Dungeon Fantasy issues of Pyramid become something we can count on coming out every year along with the special Thaumatology issues.  Probably the only serious criticism I have is that there is no adventure in the issue.  There really should be a “one page dungeon” as an ongoing feature, especially in the Dungeon Fantasy issues.  (Michael Curtis’s work is, in my opinion, the best example of how this should be done.  A free sample is  here.)


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