Delving Into Worlds Of Dungeon Fantasy With GURPS
  • Delving Into Worlds Of Dungeon Fantasy With GURPS


    The new GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game is getting out into the wilds, and into the hands of gamers. This Powered By GURPS boxed set funded on Kickstarter just over a year ago. The standalone game is inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons school of fantasy role-playing (as the name implies) and spins out of a successful line of PDF and print products for Steve Jackson Games' fourth edition of their GURPS role-playing game. There is a lot of good, and a few not as good things to be found in this big, fancy box, so let's open it up and talk about what is inside.


    I don't think that any regular EN World reader needs to have the genre of D&D styled dungeon fantasy explained to them. There are a number of different genres that fit under the umbrella of fantasy fiction, and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy hits the familiar tropes of things like "Kill them and take their stuff," dungeon crawling adventures and combat-oriented characters. There's obviously a lot more to the genre of "dungeon fantasy" than just that, but those are some of the points of commonality to that style of campaign play. It is also easy to take the characters out of the dungeons with this game, and explore other tropes, and other styles of play.

    The Dungeon Fantasy boxed set is intended as an introduction to the fourth edition of the GURPS game system, and doesn't require any other GURPS books for play. You can, however, plug in any number of GURPS fourth edition supplements into your Dungeon Fantasy games. The rule changes between third and fourth edition (which are outside of the scope of this review) means that you won't be able to use materials for the previous edition without a bit of work. However, the fourth edition has been out for over a decade now and there is no shortage of material for the system, in both PDF and print.

    There is a lot in the game's box: cardboard standees, a set of three six-sided dice, an introductory adventure (I Smell A Rat) with maps, three softcover core rulebooks and a monster book. The rulebooks are Adventurers (the character creation rules), Spells (more in depth explanations of the magic rules and spell list) and Exploits (the mechanics of the GURPS rules).

    The rules in Dungeon Fantasy are the fourth edition of the GURPS rules. There is streamlining, and pieces left out of this game that are in the core rules, but the basic complexity of the game is the same as those core rules. If that is an issue for you, then Dungeon Fantasy probably isn't the game for you. A couple of the streamlining choices that were made for Dungeon Fantasy were puzzling to me. Both techniques and perks from the core rules were dropped for Dungeon Fantasy. I can understand moving away from techniques, as they do add a level of complication to skills that don't make a lot of sense for what is intended to be an introduction to the GURPS game, but perks can be a good tool for customization in a game like this.

    One of the more important things for players in a game is niche protection, the idea that each character has something that they excel at and that sets them apart from other characters in a group. Perks (for those who have never played GURPS fourth edition) are little 1-point "advantages" that give characters little benefits. This means things like a tolerance to alcohol, or fur. When properly utilized they can be little role-playing hooks that let similar characters be different from each other. To a degree, perks and techniques are worked into the optional special abilities of character templates, so they are sort of there in the game.

    If you didn't know, GURPS has a point buy system for character creation. "Starting," inexperienced characters utilize 250 points in their creation. The power level of characters can be scaled up or down from that baseline, depending on the type of game being run. Character creation is done by choosing a professional template for your character. Each of these templates is supposed to cost 250 points (if you pick it out at the basics, without any customization) and if you want to build anything beyond those basics, you will need to take some disadvantages to give your character some extra points. Each template is designed with popular D&D character classes in mind (like the Warrior, Cleric, Wizard and Thief) and other variations from fiction and history (like Barbarians, Knights and Druids). Picking a professional template gives your character all the attributes, skills, advantages and disadvantages that they will need to play. One top of the basics, there are traits that can be picked for characters, for further customization, at extra costs.

    The templates could be a bit better explained in places, as the text is a little vague in a few spots telling what is and isn't considered basics or customization. There is also a lot of text in these templates, which could be intimidating to some new players who aren't familiar with GURPS.

    Of course, you don't have to use all the templates in the Adventurers book. All of the advantages, disadvantages and skills are outlined in the book, so if you want to make a completely unique character you can.

    Does GURPS Dungeon Fantasy succeed as an introduction to fantasy role-playing? I will give this a qualified yes. There is an assumption that people picking up this boxed set will have some level of experience with the GURPS rules themselves. While the rules are well-explained and the text is clearly written, there could have been a few places where they could have stopped and thought about how new people would interact with those rules. It would also have been good to see a little discussion on the tropes of dungeon fantasy itself. I know that this isn't always the GURPS approach, but it is helpful to new players and it is why the Appendix N has become its own trope to dungeon fantasy games inspired by Dungeons & Dragons.

    I don't want this to look like I am being overly negative about GURPS or Dungeon Fantasy. I am a (slightly recovered) fan of the GURPS rules, and spent a number of years playing the game (mostly the third edition). One of the greatest strengths of the GURPS rules is that you get exactly the character that you want to play. There are no classes, or other aspects, that can put characters into a mold. If you want to play a character that has the background as a user of magic, while still demonstrating some competence with a sword, you can do that with GURPS. Yes, it can take some time to do this, and there can be a bit of math involved in the process. This is part of what the professional and racial templates work to streamline for Dungeon Fantasy. Like I said earlier in this review, if you were expecting Dungeon Fantasy to somehow not be what makes the GURPS rules GURPS, then you should probably look to a different fantasy game.

    If, however, you want a role-playing game that rewards attention to detail and system mastery, then you should check out Dungeon Fantasy. With Dungeon Fantasy you get a game that has everything that you need to play for months and years, and on top of that you get a system with GURPS that has hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of support that you can use to expand and enrich your games. Dungeon Fantasy is a well-designed game that is based upon many hours of play-based experience, which can be a rarity in tabletop role-playing games. The GURPS rules are a finely tuned play experience that gives what it says it will give. If you want a role-playing game that expertly blends the tropes of dungeon fantasy with the sensibilities of a well designed rules set in a colorful and pretty package, then you will want to check out Dungeon Fantasy. There are few role-playing games that manage to pull together the threads of fantasy and realism effectively, and the GURPS rules will always be at the top of that list.

    There are pros and cons to every role-playing game, and I think that the pros outweigh the cons for Dungeon Fantasy. With the right group of people, this is a game that will really sing, and that will give hours and hours of entertainment. With Dungeon Fantasy, the GURPS rules and Steve Jackson Games are actively back in the tabletop role-playing market, with a game that can once again be a player in that market. I hope that Dungeon Fantasy catches the eye of an audience and takes off because I would like to one day see a GURPS Horror boxed set that I can use to run my horror games.
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. Arilyn's Avatar
      Arilyn -
      Thanks for overview of the game. Have been curious about it, as I played many hours of GURPS back in the day. Will always have a soft spot and love their source books, but just can't get back into the game. Striving for too much realism leaves the game feeling too fiddly and less realistic. Breaking skills down into how difficult they are is problematic, and there are a ton of skills in GURPS. Forget making a doctor...Does the boxed set still do this with skills? Probably less of a problem with dungeon crawling, as the useful adventuring skills were cheaper than academic ones anyway.
      Not trying to be overly critical. As I said, I had a lot of fun with GURPS. But like old favourite tv shows or books, sometimes you just can't go back.
    1. Lord Rasputin's Avatar
      Lord Rasputin -
      “There is an assumption that people picking up this boxed set will have some level of experience with the GURPS rules themselves.” There is? Where is it?
    1. rknop's Avatar
      rknop -
      Perks are still there, it's just the name "Perks" that's not there. They're just 1-point advantages... which, really, is all they ever were. A number of the professions have a couple of 1-point advantages available to them.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      Quote Originally Posted by rknop View Post
      Perks are still there, it's just the name "Perks" that's not there. They're just 1-point advantages... which, really, is all they ever were. A number of the professions have a couple of 1-point advantages available to them.
      I mentioned that: "To a degree, perks and techniques are worked into the optional special abilities of character templates, so they are sort of there in the game."
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      250 points?

      I played back in 1st to 2ed edition. Back then, a 200 pt character was a superhero (literally a spandex wearing super hero.) 100 was the usual starting point for a beginning GURPS character, though you could go lower if you really wanted a zero to hero sort of set up.
    1. JesterOC -
      I picked this up. More of a nostalgia purchase really. I was hoping they would streamline it more than they did. Just can't bring myself to open the box. Luckily i bought the pdfs. If only we could get a combat attack down to one roll, I would give it a try.
    1. Ravenheart87's Avatar
      Ravenheart87 -
      Aside from some info about character creation and what's in the box I didn't learn anything about the game from this review.
    1. Barantor's Avatar
      Barantor -
      Quote Originally Posted by Von Ether View Post
      250 points?

      I played back in 1st to 2ed edition. Back then, a 200 pt character was a superhero (literally a spandex wearing super hero.) 100 was the usual starting point for a beginning GURPS character, though you could go lower if you really wanted a zero to hero sort of set up.
      This is a more "dungeon bash/crawl" setup with lots of powers. The characters end up feeling like 7-9 level D&D 5E characters, which is what I think they were going for. You can easily limit the points and still use the templates they provide for the classes though. This plays out of the box more like "epic fantasy dungeon crawl" than your normal low level starting PCs.

      I enjoy the box and with some tinkering and additions from other sourcebooks I could make up exactly what I want.
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      Quote Originally Posted by Barantor View Post
      This is a more "dungeon bash/crawl" setup with lots of powers. The characters end up feeling like 7-9 level D&D 5E characters, which is what I think they were going for. You can easily limit the points and still use the templates they provide for the classes though. This plays out of the box more like "epic fantasy dungeon crawl" than your normal low level starting PCs.

      I enjoy the box and with some tinkering and additions from other sourcebooks I could make up exactly what I want.
      Fair enough. I was just wondering if the base line had changed over the years. I can see how that could have happened as more and more advantages get added to the menu.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      Fourth Edition doesn't have a suggested starting point, they suggest tuning it to the type of campaign that you with to run. The 250 point characters are within the range of competent characters for the game.
    1. Koloth's Avatar
      Koloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Von Ether View Post
      250 points?

      I played back in 1st to 2ed edition. Back then, a 200 pt character was a superhero (literally a spandex wearing super hero.) 100 was the usual starting point for a beginning GURPS character, though you could go lower if you really wanted a zero to hero sort of set up.
      Don't know about changes from 2nd to 3rd but from 3rd to 4th, there was some 'points inflation'. So your 200pt superhero is probably more like a 400~500pt 4th ed character.

      Their iconic Dai Blackthorn character in 4th ed is a 250pt critter.
    1. Jiggawatts's Avatar
      Jiggawatts -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ravenheart87 View Post
      Aside from some info about character creation and what's in the box I didn't learn anything about the game from this review.
      Sadly I have to agree. As someone whos never played GURPS but would be intrigued by this product, this review felt like 1/3 nostalgia trip, 1/3 background info, 1/3 disappointment rant. I'm sure the author is a lovely fellow, but I was informed very little regarding the specific ins and outs of the actual product from this.
    1. JesterOC -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jiggawatts View Post
      Sadly I have to agree. As someone whos never played GURPS but would be intrigued by this product, this review felt like 1/3 nostalgia trip, 1/3 background info, 1/3 disappointment rant. I'm sure the author is a lovely fellow, but I was informed very little regarding the specific ins and outs of the actual product from this.
      Mini review:
      This version of GURPS has been slightly streamlined from the core rules. Concentrating on fantasy, and providing templates that act much like classes we see in Dungeons and Dragons as opposed to traditional GURPS where you have to build your character from the ground up. This template scheme enforces can character specialisation which allows each character a role in which they shine.

      The GURPS system has two features that set it apart from other many other RPGs.
      1) the combat is detailed. Hit location, weapon type, defenders skill, and the damage absorption of armor all come into play. As characters improve in skill, more options open up. As a general rule higher skill levels allow for better odds at called shots, so going for the puncture of the heart or eyes are viable options at high skill.

      2) advantages and disadvantages are boosts and banes.
      -Advantages are much like DnD class features, powers that are more inherent to the nature of the characters rather than based on skills. In regular GURPS any character can buy any Advantage, In GURPS fantasy dungeon, templates provide the bulk of the advantages and the player can pick from a thematic list. Makes things more thematic and role based.
      -Disadvantages are a role playing blessing from the gods. They are physical, mental, or cosmic flaws that have a mechanical effect on your character. These flaws lead to some of the best roleplaying. I just can't stress that enough.


      Hope that helps.


      Sent from my ONEPLUS A3000 using Tapatalk
    1. JesterOC -
      Post gone bad. odd double post.
    1. uzirath's Avatar
      uzirath -
      I received my KS bundle a few weeks ago, and the box set is a fantastic intro to GURPS for new players, especially those coming from other traditional dungeon crawl RPGs. I generally game with kids and newbs these days, and no one I've gamed with has had any trouble understanding the rules. New players love the way advantages and disadvantages make your character unique. It's easy to have two players choose the same template and end up with characters who are quite different in play.

      I'm looking forward to more support for this line!
    1. Cole Jenkins's Avatar
      Cole Jenkins -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jiggawatts View Post
      Sadly I have to agree. As someone whos never played GURPS but would be intrigued by this product, this review felt like 1/3 nostalgia trip, 1/3 background info, 1/3 disappointment rant. I'm sure the author is a lovely fellow, but I was informed very little regarding the specific ins and outs of the actual product from this.
      Here is a list of several reviews:
      http://forums.sjgames.com/showthread.php?t=151358
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