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Delvers to Grow - fast character building for Dungeon Fantasy RPG and GURPS DF

Taking a break from my daily dose of discussions about immersion, story-now, gm notes, and prevarication, I thought I'd mention a new Kickstarter for a book that I was lucky enough to be able to playtest recently. The book is Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smyth, who also wrote Hand of Asgard and Norðlondr Folk for Gaming Ballistic's Norðlond setting. The book supports the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game which is a dungeon-fantasy-focused GURPS variant. It has two primary features: a lightning-fast modular character-building system and the ability to build characters at lower point values than the 250-point standard.

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The book is intended to help players build characters for GURPS by only making a few quick choices. The GURPS character generation system is, in my view, a beautiful thing, but it is overwhelming for new players; there are simply too many choices. Choosing a genre, like dungeon fantasy, helps narrow things down, but there are still a lot of options to consider. Delvers to Grow narrows this further, allowing you to choose to be Strong, Smart, or Quick. That sets your starting stats and a few basics. Then you choose a few modules from there, depending on your point-value target and character vision. Modules range from basic packages, like "Swashbuckler" and "Druid," to upgrades like "Witty Duelist" and "Beast-Tamer." It includes equipment load-outs and thematic spell-lists to round out the characters. You can literally whip up an interesting character in five to ten minutes and dive into an adventure.

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The second focus of the book is to create PCs (or NPCs) at lower point values. Characters for DFRPG and GURPS DF typically start at 250 points. In D&D terms, this is often likened to at least fifth level. They're competent and skilled, ready to tackle difficult challenges. In a nod to the "Universal" aspect of GURPS, it makes sense to be able to start with characters at the greener end of the spectrum. This fits with the "zero to hero" motif that many people enjoy. It's also easier on newer players because, again, they don't need to digest as much of the system prior to their first session. Delvers to Grow provides three starting tiers: 62 points, 125 points, and 187 points.

Finally, although the book doesn't aim for every combination to be power-gamer-optimized, the author has worked hard to remove anything subpar. There are no hidden "gotchas" in here that a new player might miss.

As a proof of concept, Kevin Smyth and Gaming Ballistic released an early draft to folks who were interested in playtesting it. I spent some time creating characters to see how it worked. Then I joined up with an online group (none of whom I knew) running what they called "The Meatgrinder." The point was to use Delvers to Grow to generate characters at the start of the session and then play through a grueling siege where characters were likely to drop like flies. That is indeed what happened. I lost my first wizard within the first 30 minutes of play. So I created a new, different character and jumped back in a few minutes later. Some of my fellow players were even less fortunate, creating three or more new characters during each four-hour session. Actual play notes from the two sessions I attended are here and here. (I was "Dalin" in the scenario... Dalin the Wizard, Dalin the Knight, etc.)

This is not my usual sort of scenario. I haven't tried to create a character mid-game since, um, the early 1980s? But it was fun and the system in the book totally worked. If I were playing in a "real" campaign, I would probably tweak and customize my characters more, but it was surprisingly easy to create unique individuals both in terms of their core skills and their roleplaying potential. (I love the GURPS disadvantage system from a roleplaying perspective!)

The Kickstarter runs until Tuesday, May 25. Check it out. If you're new to the DFRPG system, there are pledge levels that get you the basic books and/or PDFs too.

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woefulhc

Explorer
I am so excited for this. I showed it to one of the players in my face to face group that should resume meeting at the end of the month. He had a Chun Li wanna be character built in 5 minutes. He did this with a general understanding of how GURPS works, but having never built a fantasy character in either GURPS or DFRPG. The host for Roleplay Rescue indicates he had a character built 14 minutes after receiving the copy the Doug sent him. I have used it for building a about 85% of a 250 point character.

A note on the pledge levels for this. The $35 pledge gets the five books of the campaign as pdfs: Delvers To Grow, one book of characters built using the system for each of Fast, Smart and Strong and an adventure tuned for 4-6 125 point characters. Higher pledge levels include physical copies and/or other items from Gaming Ballistic's catalog. (The catalog options also have the choice for just pdf or pdf & print). All the stretch goals for this campaign are based on backer count.
 


A note on the pledge levels for this. The $35 pledge gets the five books of the campaign as pdfs: Delvers To Grow, one book of characters built using the system for each of Fast, Smart and Strong and an adventure tuned for 4-6 125 point characters. Higher pledge levels include physical copies and/or other items from Gaming Ballistic's catalog. (The catalog options also have the choice for just pdf or pdf & print). All the stretch goals for this campaign are based on backer count.
Thank for pointing this out. I'd forgotten that I would be getting five printed books for $70. I'm pretty happy with that price!

This is one of those products that will work best in print, at least once F2F gaming fully resumes. I'll probably end up with more than one copy, especially for my middle school gaming club, so that many characters can be made in parallel. Even in the playtest, I was wishing that I had printed my draft PDF out to make it easier to flip through it.
 

I love this! I've always prefered starting as lower level heroes. And as an into game I think it's better to have new players start a bit smaller and get a handle on things before moving on to higher point values.
Yes, this can be a great way to do it. I enjoy low-level play.

Douglas Cole, the publisher of the book, just posted this blurb to the GURPS discord:

This is an absolutely game-changing book for those who like GURPS and the Dungeon Fantasy genre, but find that the 250-point expectation is a higher-power campaign than you like to play, or find that you and your players get frustrated with Character Creation.

Kevin has penned a system that allows chargen in Powered by GURPS to be fast. TFT Fast. OSR fast. 1st level D&D fast. Five to 15 minutes to a playable, robust, interesting character with only a few decisions required.

It's the best on-ramp to GURPS that has ever been written. You can do pick-up games at conventions or your FLGS with this book and have each newcomer make a character on the spot. Despite a "Nordlond" flavor to the art and examples, this is 100% exportable to any DFRPG and most DF games with no alteration.

Yes, I think it's that good. I hope you do too.

Delvers to Grow (Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS)
 

woefulhc

Explorer
Doug was just on the Steve Jackson Games live and indicated there will be support in both GURPS Character Sheet and GURPS Character Assistant for this. To clarify this (for other dummies like me) this means the modules will be available for those programs so you can use which ever of the two you want to Build a Bjorn. About half the time I spent building characters so far has been finding the stuff or making the stuff in GCS. They support files for the character programs may not be available when the pdfs ship, but they will be provided.
 


woefulhc

Explorer
My understanding is provided this "market test" does well, Doug will publish additional material for lower end Dungeon Fantasy. (In other words, "back this.") From a GMing standpoint, it means fewer enemies and enemies with fewer special abilities. IMHO, that along with lower competency on the PC means it is easier to scale threats.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I admit I've never played a GURPS fantasy campaign before. The appeal to me is when I create a campaign I could actually factor in the type of fantasy I wanted to go with that world. So vary up how magic works etc... The combat is a bit clunking has always been my biggest hesitation on the game.

I'm wondering if these rules and Dungeon Fantasy in general address some of this stuff.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I admit I've never played a GURPS fantasy campaign before. The appeal to me is when I create a campaign I could actually factor in the type of fantasy I wanted to go with that world. So vary up how magic works etc... The combat is a bit clunking has always been my biggest hesitation on the game.

I'm wondering if these rules and Dungeon Fantasy in general address some of this stuff.

They do. The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is specifically geared toward a particular type of fantasy. It is compatible with (and "powered by") GURPS, but it also cuts out and modifies some of the stock GURPS rules to better fit the theme of Dungeon Fantasy.

Note: There are a series of Dungeon Fantasy pdfs and a Dungeon Fantasy RPG. The pdfs came first. The boxed set came later and had the changes added to create a stand-alone GURPS product.

The pdfs are still a great resource, but they aren't required to play DFRPG. One of the values of the pdfs are they have a lot of worked examples to show how to build something. For example, one of them shows how to make clerics/paladins function a little more like what people might expect from D&D: with auras and powers rather than a list of spells. I'm away from books at the moment, so I'm unsure which one that is offhand.

In contrast, the DFRPG (boxed set) already has many of those options built into the respective classes (which GURPS calls "templates").
 

Do any of you have advice for how to bring the overall scale of Dungeon Fantasy down along with the PCs?

I'm curious about which scale issues you're thinking of? Lower point values tend to reduce the scale of just about everything. Skill levels won't be astronomical. Characters won't have as many spells (and those spells will be at moderate skill levels). It's easy enough as a GM to choose from the more basic monsters and have fewer of them appear.

I regularly run one-shots using low-level D&D adventures that I convert to DFRPG (usually on the fly). A recent favorite was "Into the Feywild" from EN World EN5IDER 100 (and recently reprinted in the Into the Fey Wilderness compilation). But I've run Saltmarsh, Keep on the Borderlands, a bunch of 4e Chaos Scar adventures, Sunless Citadel, Phandelver, and a few of the introductory adventures from Rime of the Frostmaiden. All of these are scaled down from the 250-point DFRPG default.
 

I admit I've never played a GURPS fantasy campaign before. The appeal to me is when I create a campaign I could actually factor in the type of fantasy I wanted to go with that world. So vary up how magic works etc...

This is definitely a feature of GURPS. Everything is built to be customized. I often hear people refer to GURPS as an RPG Toolkit rather than a single RPG. (Though it does have a number of fully fleshed out genres like dungeon fantasy, action, post-apocalyptic, etc.) Despite playing GURPS for decades now, I haven't invested much time into the customizations. The primary draw of GURPS to me is the way the mechanics support building characters of all sorts. I like the way disadvantages and quirks can round out a character for role-playing purposes.

I know there are lots of people who customize the magic system, though. I've played in campaigns where there were multiple magic systems in parallel, each extremely different from the others. Cool stuff.

The combat is a bit clunking has always been my biggest hesitation on the game.

I'm wondering if these rules and Dungeon Fantasy in general address some of this stuff.
This is a fair hesitation, but it need not be an obstacle. The default combat system in DFRPG is simpler than full GURPS (especially with all the optional expansions from Martial Arts and similar books), but it can be simplified. I played GURPS for years in the '90s without using hit locations, for example. This reduced the number of tactical choices and brought it closer to D&D's hit point attrition model, but it also sped things up for a group of mostly new players. I've also often run it "theater of the mind" without using a combat map. (Though with VTTs during COVID, I've become fonder of using a battlemap.)

My players and I have been experimenting with ways of adjusting the granularity of combat to suit the scene. Dropping into "bullet time" for moments of high tactical drama and then zooming out to simpler combat when battling hordes of mooks and whatnot. It's an easy system to tinker with.
 

Argyle King

Legend
I'm curious about which scale issues you're thinking of? Lower point values tend to reduce the scale of just about everything. Skill levels won't be astronomical. Characters won't have as many spells (and those spells will be at moderate skill levels). It's easy enough as a GM to choose from the more basic monsters and have fewer of them appear.

I regularly run one-shots using low-level D&D adventures that I convert to DFRPG (usually on the fly). A recent favorite was "Into the Feywild" from EN World EN5IDER 100 (and recently reprinted in the Into the Fey Wilderness compilation). But I've run Saltmarsh, Keep on the Borderlands, a bunch of 4e Chaos Scar adventures, Sunless Citadel, Phandelver, and a few of the introductory adventures from Rime of the Frostmaiden. All of these are scaled down from the 250-point DFRPG default.

I'm of the impression that the creatures are built to expect facing 250-point delvers. Likewise, the world around the delvers is built to expect a certain amount of capability on the part of the delvers. I am well aware that GURPS does not have levels in the same way D&D does, thus some of the power scaling issues of the latter are not a concern. At the same time, a baseline orc built for a game assuming 250-point delvers looks a bit different than what you see in Banestorm or some of the other products which are geared toward other styles of fantasy.

Edit: I am completely aware that points do not necessarily equal power in GURPS. GURPS -as said already- does not have levels in the same way D&D does. In a melee, it's wholly possible that a 100-point warrior easily defeats a 500-point basket weaver. But I am curious to hear what advice those who have more experience with DFRPG have with running and scaling the game for the players. In the context of point values, part of this question comes from realizing that -in Dungeon Fantasy- things typically are built in a way which is related to the ability to engage in a more-direct method of conflict resolution.

You mention scaling the adventures you've run down. What are some of the changes you made to the challenges faced by the players?

Also, if I were someone who wanted to stick with the lower power curve and have a game which advances (for a lack of better words) more horizontally (as in the man-at-arms becomes a knight with social advantages and such) instead of vertically (the +1 sword becomes a +2 sword) and stay more in the realm of what D&D might call "heroic tier" for a story, are there adjustments which should be made to DFRPG products to meet that goal?
 
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I'm very excited by and backed this product. I think having a good framework for lower point play, and a simple way to build lower point characters, is just great. It will really expand the things that can be done with GURPS. To address a few points:
  • Insofar as GURPS/DFRPG is concerned, the system is really great. Having played TTRPGs since the mid 1980s, starting with Basic D&D, this is my preferred and favorite system. I still play D&D (1e and 5e) several times per year, but DFPRG is a good 25x-30x per year for me these days. I love it.
    • One commenter thought that perhaps the monsters were geared towards 250 point characters. That's not really accurate--they are all over the map. Depending upon party composition, tactics, etc., a group of 15 goblins could be a total cakewalk for five 250-point delvers or could be a TPK if the party is ambushed, they have major mismatches in some areas (e.g., goblins have missile fire, party has none), etc. You can totally play DFRPG with lower point characters; as the GM, you just need to be cognizant of the opponents. Mismatches in numbers (15 vs. 5, for example) is often far more deadly than a "tough monster" as a solo. Having delvers have to make multiple defenses each turn increases the likelihood of failure, etc. And if the opponents are making only one defense (or none) each turn, that also makes things harder.
    • Anyhow, I think that the companion product included, Crypt of Krysuvik, will be very helpful for purposes of running a 125 point game, and understanding how the baddies stack up against lower-point delvers. Personally, I think that adventure (and future products like that) are really what we need going forward, because technically the DFRPG and DF Fantasy line is "light" on adventures (although there are, frankly, plenty if you look in Pyramid issues, etc.). But that was always a real strength of D&D: all the damn modules that came out in the late 70s early 80s that made it easy to pick up and run with a group instead of demanding creativity and work from the GM.
    • I've played in Peter Dell'Orto's Felltower campaign for years using DFRPG. It's great. Feel free to read some of the delve write-ups at www.dungeonfantastic.blogspot.com. I would say Felltower is on "hard mode," which I think is lots of fun, but as a GM, you can run it has hard or easy as you like.
    • I've been running Forbidden Caverns of Archaia (which is a 5e/S&W product from Greg Gillespie) for at least a year now (probably 20+ sessions) with DFRPG. It has worked out pretty great. Obviously there are tweaks that can (must) be made, but it's not that difficult once you have a good idea of what challenges players at various point levels.
      • Interestingly, if Delvers to Grow existed before I started that campaign, I would have used that. A lot of the early stuff in Forbidden Caverns of Archaia are geared towards 1st and 2nd level D&D characters, so challenging 250 point delvers required a decent amount of work (and I am quite sure I did not beef it up enough, but it's been fun, so who cares).
  • All of that is to say: don't hesitate to jump into DFPRG/GURPS. Personally, I think the DFRPG boxed set is great because it really elegantly slims down the info from the GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Magic to those that apply to fantasy role playing (since GURPS is a toolkit that can work with any genre).
  • And all of THAT is to say that if you are taking the plunge with DFRPG, then I highly encourage people to also get Delvers to Grow. Because if you want a "zero to hero" kind of progression and feel, Delvers to Grow is going to make that really sing (from what I know).
    • Adding one other point: DFRPG at 250 point play is tons of fun. But I do also want to play as a lower-powered delver as well. That's why this product is, in my opinion, so great.
 
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Douglas Cole

Explorer
I love this! I've always prefered starting as lower level heroes. And as an into game I think it's better to have new players start a bit smaller and get a handle on things before moving on to higher point values.
In a nutshell, this is the mission of the entire project.

Take a bunch of beginners, which may include the GM . . .

. . . get them ready to play the game in roughly 10-20 minutes (if they all have the books, that's TOTAL not each) . . .

. . . and give the GM tools ease into the game quickly, with limited mental overhead from dealing with four to six action heroes' capabilities from the get go.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it's true: I am not usually given to hardline self-promo, preferring to let the work speak for itself. But this is the fastest, easiest, and most effective on-ramp and recruiting tool for GURPS and the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Period.
 

You mention scaling the adventures you've run down. What are some of the changes you made to the challenges faced by the players?

I probably should have said "scaled up" because I was taking mostly low-level D&D adventures and using them with more capable 250-point DFRPG parties. I often run games for new players, though, so PCs are rarely run optimally. (A 250-point combat monster played by a veteran is much scarier than one played by a novice!)

In Saltmarsh, I recall beefing up Sanbalet to have a wider selection of spells. In the caves, there were more foes with better weapons, armor, and tactics. I also added ledges above where difficult-to-hit archers could rain pain down on the party.

When I'm scaling the other way, I tend to reverse these types of moves. I might remove ranged attackers or make them easier to spot. I reduce the number of opponents, or reduce the damage resistance of their armor, or give them weaker weapons. That last is a useful technique in any GURPS variant because cutting and impaling attacks can quickly kill a lightly armored PC. So a "low-level" monster might have a club (or just its fists) instead of an axe or spear.

For traps and such, it depends on the expected lethality of the campaign. In general, though, I avoid traps that would likely insta-kill a PC if they didn't notice it. So I'll avoid traps that would do enough damage to force most otherwise healthy PCs to make multiple death checks. I adjust this according to the skills of the group and, again, the expected deadliness of the adventure. If they're taking on the Tomb of Horrors, they get what's coming to them if they get too curious about that demon mouth.

Like @InexplicableVic, I'm looking forward to the release of Crypt of Krysuvik and subsequent "low level" adventures to provide worked examples of these ideas.
 

Douglas Cole

Explorer

We're Almost Funded​

As I type this, we have $670 before we fund, with eight days to go. That could legitimately get knocked down by a single Retail pledge and one more person selecting the PDF level.

Right now, the "backers not yet converted" plus "pledged" backers total 580 people, with BiggerCake predicting 450-475 total backers when we finish.

I hope that we can all take to the ether over the next week or so and help push this a bit. I'll be on a few more shows this week:

  • God Dammit Zach today at 7pm Central
  • Crit Academy Wednesday at 6pm Central
  • Nerdarchy Live at 11am on Thursday
This is an absolutely game-changing book for those who like GURPS and the Dungeon Fantasy genre, but find that the 250-point expectation is a higher-power campaign than you like to play, or find that you and your players get frustrated with character creation. It allows Powered by GURPS to be fast. TFT Fast. OSR fast. 1st level D&D fast. Five to 15 minutes to a playable, robust, interesting character with only a few decisions required. It's the best on-ramp to GURPS that has ever been written.

If any of y'all happen to be friends with Wil Wheaton . . . he posted on his social media accounts a "shelfie" featuring a big slab of GURPS books and a nostalgic reminiscence. Wouldn't it be fun to get that sort of notice?

Behind the scenes, there's been some really good progress.

Delvers to Grow: Clocking in at 40 pages​

Kevin gave me his final manuscript for the basic book. I did an editing and formatting pass. Then, as I tend to do, I put it into layout so that I can start art direction. I make a habit of sending my artists the actual spread they'll be working on, so that if they want to get creative with composition, they know how much room they have.

In any case, the layout works out great at about 40 pages. Given that even with the modular presentation, a book like this can get very "wall of text," I made an effort to ensure the various blocks have room to breathe.

I'm going to spend time today putting in some art I already have, and then it's time to commission the new pieces.

Crypt of Krysuvik: Updated Final Draft Today​

Peter and Marshall gave me their draft for Krysuvik a day early, and I quickly turned around a few corrections. Mostly pretty minor stuff, and I expect a final version this evening. I'll do a formatting and editing pass, and then get that into layout as well.

The first thing that will get turned into art are the maps, and then a few key bits of art that need to be pretty specific. These don't need layout to know what to draw.

For the rest, we're almost certainly looking at 24 or 28 pages, depending on how things plunk down. But that manuscript is in hand.

Example Books: Character Concepts​

The always delightful Ksenia Kozhevnikova knocked it out of the park again, with "sketches" for the 12 characters that shall be detailed in various stages of their development. I say "sketches" because while technically true, her version of "sketch" is orders of magnitude more impressive than, say, my version.

You'll see more of these guys in a bit...but for now:

6479a72be59d306fad86595fd0cd465a_original.jpg

Six Years Ago...​

This blog post from 2015 shows that I have been thinking on the Delvers to Grow concept for quite a while.

Delvers to Grow on Kickstarter



 

woefulhc

Explorer
...And it has funded. At this point there is essentially no risk in backing it. $35 gets you five beautiful (electronic) books, with relevant vtt and software support. The art is beautiful. Character creation is FAST. If we can get to 600 backers, we get a sixth book.
 

If we can get to 600 backers, we get a sixth book.
Why set our sights so low? With 1000 backers we get four more books! I'm especially excited for Ready to Raid: Spellcasters at 750 backers. Casters make great opponents (and allies!), but building a spell list is a fair amount of work. It will be great to have a resource to help with that.

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I know it's a stretch, but I'm a dreamer!
 

Argyle King

Legend
I probably should have said "scaled up" because I was taking mostly low-level D&D adventures and using them with more capable 250-point DFRPG parties. I often run games for new players, though, so PCs are rarely run optimally. (A 250-point combat monster played by a veteran is much scarier than one played by a novice!)

In Saltmarsh, I recall beefing up Sanbalet to have a wider selection of spells. In the caves, there were more foes with better weapons, armor, and tactics. I also added ledges above where difficult-to-hit archers could rain pain down on the party.

When I'm scaling the other way, I tend to reverse these types of moves. I might remove ranged attackers or make them easier to spot. I reduce the number of opponents, or reduce the damage resistance of their armor, or give them weaker weapons. That last is a useful technique in any GURPS variant because cutting and impaling attacks can quickly kill a lightly armored PC. So a "low-level" monster might have a club (or just its fists) instead of an axe or spear.

For traps and such, it depends on the expected lethality of the campaign. In general, though, I avoid traps that would likely insta-kill a PC if they didn't notice it. So I'll avoid traps that would do enough damage to force most otherwise healthy PCs to make multiple death checks. I adjust this according to the skills of the group and, again, the expected deadliness of the adventure. If they're taking on the Tomb of Horrors, they get what's coming to them if they get too curious about that demon mouth.

Like @InexplicableVic, I'm looking forward to the release of Crypt of Krysuvik and subsequent "low level" adventures to provide worked examples of these ideas.

Thank you for the advice.

I'm pretty familiar with GURPS in general, but hearing how other people approach things is helpful.

A while back, I wrote up a few rooms for the Megadungeon thread over on the SJ Games forum. Sometimes I'm curious how the ideas I've written out are (or aren't) similar to how others play the game.

I've been working on prepping for an upcoming game for which I believe using Dungeon Fantasy may be the best option.
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I'm backing the project.
 

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