New Advantages in Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic’s Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smith doesn’t just bring lightning fast Dungeon Fantasy character generation for GURPS and DFRPG, it also introduces a bunch of advantages and perks you may want even if not using the character module system presented within. Some are imports from GURPS not previously available in DFRPG, some are new takes on familiar advantages, while a couple are brand new. All are useful!

But to me, it is even more important how some show that it’s perfectly fine to do some things which are often considered non-kosher by the fanbase, proving that the system is robust and can be further streamlined without breaking anything.

Expanded Bardic Talent

Not content with your bard only able to learn spells from the Communication and Empathy, Knowledge, Mind Control and Sound colleges? Take this instead of regular Bardic Talent and add one of Animal, Healing, Illusion, or Protection and Warning to the list!

Fevered Defense, Mighty Blow, Two-Weapon Training, Walking Armory

The former two perks introduce their namesake extra effort combat options to DFRPG, while the latter two are ports from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level and Gun Fu, respectively. Naturally, Walking Armory is adapted for the Dungeon Fantasy genre.

Herbaceous Mastery

This allows druids to brew healing potions and natural preparations using the Dungeon Brewmasters rules from Pyramid #3/82, briefly reprinted here and adapted for use in DFRPG. Essentially, it is a maximally limited Quick  Gadgeteer allowing druids to serve as solid party healers.

Heroic Spellslinger and Weapon Master (Missile Spells)

One of the long-standing complaints against GURPS Magic is missile spells taking forever to use in combat. With these two, mages are able to sling fireballs as quick as scouts shoot arrows. While it’s right and proper that they cost as much as the two equivalents for archers, there’s still a bunch of regular spells that can have at least the same effect on a battlefield in roughly the same time, and those don’t require you to invest 20-45 points in order to be able to do so. Still, this is as much as missile spells can be fixed without reworking the core of the magic system.

Rapid Switch

A simplified combination of the Reverse Grip and Quick-Sheathe techniques from GURPS Martial Arts in perk form, this lets you switch between different weapons as a free action, stowing away the old weapon and drawing the new one. It even allows you to switch between weapons not allowing for Fast-Draw as a Ready maneuver.

Master at Arms

Dislike the need to specialize in a single weapon to be an effective combatant? Sad that your players sell all the nice magic weapons you place as loot simply because they lack appropriate skills to use them? Unsure if weapon skill talents are fine? This talent is for you! It does have a solid prerequisite, but it adds +1 per level to all skills allowing attacks and active defenses, at a very reasonable price. Personally, I really hope this will encourage more GMs to allow weapon skill talents, and use more talents in their games in general.

Scroll Scribbling

This leveled perk is essentially a severely limited version of Gizmo allowing you to to prepare temporary scrolls. It’s too slow to use in combat and the scrolls expire rather soon, but anyone can use them!

Soul Warding

Don’t like how Holiness is only useful for some holy abilities? This import from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers for Holy Warriors is a great step in making Holiness more useful. It gives DR against attacks from demons, and you could easily build an equivalent for other thematically appropriate foes.

Vanishing Act

A pet peeve of mine was that Backstabbing could only be used at the start of combat in DF and DFRPG, while GURPS Action, Monster Hunters and After the End have expanded it to be usable multiple times during combat itself. This advantage finally backports this to DFRPG and reduces the penalties for doing so.

Wrestling Master

This is a port from Pyramid #3/111, including an adaptation for Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. I’m very glad Wrestlers were included in Delvers to Grow and otherwise feature prominently in Gaming Ballistic’s offerings. 

New DFRPG Kickstarter: Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic has launched a new Kickstarter project. Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smyth is a DFRPG supplement scratching two common itches: character creation taking too long even with the distilled ruleset and 250-point characters having too many moving parts for players inexperienced with the genre. Both have one thing in common: too many choices, and DtG reduces this down to just half a dozen major ones per character while still producing effective, flavorful characters at 62, 125 and 187 points fully compatible with the DFRPG profession templates.

Delvers_Mockup_SMALL
Art by Ksenia Kozhevnikova.

I had the privilege of running a bunch of playtests at the 125-point level, and I can confidently say that DtG delivers what it set out to do. It was a meatgrinder scenario where characters would die often and each player would create several different characters during a 4-hour session. Some players reported character generation time (including gear and spells) as low as 10 minutes, even complaining that half of that was wrangling with GCS or GCA. Now for first-timers this will likely be higher, 30 minutes seems to be an average. Even for those with no prior DFRPG experience whatsoever or those who get overwhelmed with too many options, it shouldn’t take longer than an hour and they’ll have a fully fledged character ready to throw some dice at the table.

DtG achieves this by having each character built from a base template (one for each of three categories of characters  – “strong”, “fast” and “smart” – at each of the three point levels), up to four 25- or 50-point profession and “upgrade” modules, and two -25-point disadvantage modules. Finally, each character chooses a couple gear packages and in case of casters, one of several spell lists available for each profession. Unlike the 250-point profession templates, you get no more than a couple choices within each of the base templates and modules, and many of the modules offer no such smaller choices at all. If this seems too constraining – it really is not, because the way you can mix and match the modules results in a wide variety of builds even within a single profession. You can always loosen it up if more customization is desired – DtG is simply a tool to speed up character creation, not a prescriptive rulebook to follow to the letter or else.

Aside from being a great DFRPG resource, DtG left an important impression with me. While the endless options and fine granularity of GURPS character generation are one of the main reasons why it’s my favorite game, over the last year or two I grew to like “profession” templates very much as a tool for illustrating character archetypes, effective builds and even setting flavor for any given game. I like the chunkier, simpler evolution presented in DtG even more and will seriously consider it for all my GURPS material going forward. And if anyone asks me what should be done to get more new players into the GURPS ecosystem, my first answer will be “this”. So much this.

GURPS Kickstarter Challenge Review Part 4

This is the fourth and final part of my GURPS 2020 Kickstarter Challenge review. The article series includes:

  • Part 1
    • Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides
    • Action 7: Mercenaries
    • Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides
  • Part 2
    • Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons
    • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star
  • Part 3
    • Horror: Beyond the Pale
    • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail
    • Monster Hunters Encounters 1
    • Reign of Steel: Read the Sky
  • Part 4 (you’re here!)
    • Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World
    • Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew
    • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World

The Broken Clockwork World is a small worldbook about the eponymous TL(5+2)^ steampunk world that recently literally broke apart, devastating its civilizations and revealing its underlying clockwork mechanisms. Transdimensional gates started appearing soon after the calamity, leading to a TL8 world much like our own. In that “unbroken” world the secret isn’t out yet, but both government organizations, conspiracy theorists and random people have already traveled to the other side and returned. That is also the central premise – inhabitants of the unbroken world exploring the fantastical clockwork one.

The broken world is is described in broad strokes, just enough to set the stage – its history, technology and culture are all covered, as well as the Breaking and the situation thereafter. The unbroken world didn’t need much explanation since it’s basically our own, so attention was primarily paid to how governments and other parties interact with the broken one.

The supplement mostly just gives a brief overview of various steampunk elements present in the setting but references GURPS Steampunk for details, although there is a section on several endemic clockwork automatons. It concludes with a section on running adventures in the setting, suggesting character traits, archetypes and activities.

Of all the supplements in the Kickstarter challenge, I’d say this one suffers the most from lack of available wordcount. There is simply not enough material present to run a game without investing significant effort into further developing the setting. It can certainly ignite the imagination of readers, but you’ll need to build your own setting on top of the foundations.

Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew

The most laser-focused of the batch, Starship Crew delivers a collection of character templates covering all the typical tasks required for operating a starship. They are 150 points apiece, in the familiar format from Dungeon Fantasy, Action, Monster Hunters and After The End. Each comes with a “legendary” lens increasing its core competencies for more high-powered games and a “multi-role” lens for applying to other templates when a single character should cover multiple areas of competence. The supplement concludes with a chapter on typical crew compositions and sizes, giving a nod toward popular tropes in spacefaring fiction.

The templates are very well thought out and while they’re oriented towards a campaign where running a starship is the primary concern, I’d recommend the supplement to anyone running a campaign where player characters are expected to operate a ship. Short, sweet and to the point.

How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

RPM is one of the systems in GURPS that I like very much but have abandoned due to various reasons. This supplement didn’t bring me back into the fold, but I appreciate what it’s doing and I’d definitively recommend it to anyone using RPM.

It opens up with advice on how to adjudicate various effects, such as the often asked question if something should be a lesser or greater effect, when to add the damage modifier, when to use altered traits, how to treat conjuring or modifying weapons, leeching spells, margin-based effects, etc. Special attention is paid to some of the most often abused or game breaking situations, such as suggesting limiting the number of active buff spells, introducing familiarity penalties for spells to rein in the Swiss army knife effect, or making monster summoning and mind control more difficult as well as better balanced between each other. I was delighted that a lot of advice in this section is flat out invoking Rule 0: if something breaks the game world or campaign, it can just not work, or even better, the GM should talk with the players and explain that it simply isn’t fun.

Two one-page chapters conclude the supplement. The first is “RPM Ultra-Lite”, basically a cheat sheet listing the energy costs of most commonly used spells, assuming some parameters such as a 10-minute duration or 100-yard range. If I were to use RPM again, I’d definitively make heavy use of it. And finally, there are the writeups for half a dozen spells which were used as examples in the previous chapters.

GURPS Kickstarter Challenge Review Part 3

This is the third part of my GURPS 2020 Kickstarter Challenge review. The article series includes:

  • Part 1
    • Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides
    • Action 7: Mercenaries
    • Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides
  • Part 2
    • Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons
    • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star
  • Part 3 (you’re here!)
    • Horror: Beyond the Pale
    • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail
    • Monster Hunters Encounters 1
    • Reign of Steel: Read the Sky
  • Part 4
    • Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World
    • Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew
    • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

Horror: Beyond the Pale

Another adventure, this one is intended for modern-day horror campaigns where players are investigators of the occult. Framed as a murder mystery, it can serve both experienced investigators and (with just a little bit of work from the GM, if at all) as “initiation” for those still mundane. The plot is interesting, contains some fun gruesome scenes, and presentation is top-notch (I don’t recall having to jump between sections of the adventure, or anything being unclear) except for a single small detail.

The antagonists are written up as a racial template instead as a full stat block. This was apparently inherited from GURPS Horror, but I’d much rather have full stats for any relevant critters in a published adventure than having to figure them out myself.

Otherwise, the only thing I can really lament is that it is rather short. I could imagine the adventure lasting for just one session with a team of players experienced in this kind of thing. Allowing for a bigger word count would have flat-out improved it.

That being said, I could see this used in many other contexts aside from the one it’s presented it. A Monster Hunters adaptation would be trivial, the GM would just need to beef up the antagonists a bit. Taking it down to TL5 would require very little effort, and not much more for even lower TLs; it could make for a fully functional and very fun low-tech mystery. I think even adapting it for higher TLs and setting it in space wouldn’t be too much effort, it’s right up the Doom or Dead Space alley.

TL;DR: sweet little investigative adventure you can use in any setting.

Hot Spots: The Incense Trail

GURPS used to have a reputation for well researched historical supplements back in its heyday, and this supplement is a continuation of that proud lineage. It gives an overview of the Arabian Peninsula in antique times focused on the eponymous trade route. It covers geography, history, economy and culture of the land before giving a short gazetteer of the most well known settlements. It concludes with giving advice for setting-appropriate characters and adventure ideas.

Since this is a historical worldbook its use is rather limited, but aside for its intended context I would also recommend it if you’re looking to represent a believable Arabian-themed land in a fantasy game. I don’t have any complaints about the supplement, but also can’t sing any praises because it’s really just a brief, decently compiled overview of antique Arabia without any extraordinary elements to wet my appetite.

Monster Hunters Encounters 1

This supplement contains two “encounters” for Monster Hunters campaigns: the first is about a bordello ran by vampires, the second about a hidden village of cannibal witches and lycanthropes in the woods. They can be straight up dropped in as “monster of the week” episodes into existing campaigns, or with some additional effort spun up into more encompassing adventures.  They are presented in a clear and concise fashion following the structure of monster hunting / investigation rules from Monster Hunters 2 with a lot of interesting and useful details. I love them.

The only complaint I can field, aside from “I want more!”, is that the second encounter features spellcasters (one of which has “dozens of prepared charms”) and explains what kinds of spells they could use against the players, but doesn’t write them up. I imagine it would take quite a bit of effort to come up with those spells, so this is yet another case where an extra page would have added significant value.

Similar to Beyond the Pale, I can see this being used in a wide variety of settings. The adversaries could be toned down for much lower point totals and the settings scaled all the way down to antiquity, or even adapted for use in space-bound campaigns. I’m personally considering using this for a Dungeon Fantasy oneshot. Can definitively recommend!

Reign of Steel: Read the Sky

As someone with only slight familiarity with Reign of Steel I must say that initially this adventure confused me, it wasn’t clear at all for whom the PCs worked for. Are they human survivors / rebels, or working for the local robot government? I kinda think it’s the former, but can’t confirm as I don’t have access to the 3e Reign of Steel book, and the 4e Will to Live doesn’t address it.

Otherwise, this is a nice adventure written on a “heroic but realistic” 200-point baseline with notes on how to adjust specific elements for running it with Action. The PCs are special operators sent to investigate a small town fallen out of communication, finding out that it’s been having problems with pirates. They need to get rid of them without stirring up too much of a scuffle as that would result in the robot overlords deciding that the town needs to be purged.

I was a bit disappointed that the adventure doesn’t really have much to do with Reign of Steel other than being set in the setting, as the involvement of robots is minimal. It’s just about avoiding their general attention from afar, and maybe getting to fight a single malfunctioning unit. On the flipside, this makes it very portable to other settings. It could be used with very little adaptation in most After the End games, and just with a bit more effort in any kind of TL5+ (even into Ultra-Tech levels) setting where checking up on a frontier settlement gone dark makes sense. It could even be reskinned into a Low-Tech adventure.

GURPS Kickstarter Challenge Review Part 2

This is the second part of my GURPS 2020 Kickstarter Challenge review. The article series includes:

  • Part 1
    • Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides
    • Action 7: Mercenaries
    • Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides
  • Part 2 (you’re here!)
    • Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons
    • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star
  • Part 3
    • Horror: Beyond the Pale
    • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail
    • Monster Hunters Encounters 1
    • Reign of Steel: Read the Sky
  • Part 4
    • Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World
    • Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew
    • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

Dungen Fantasy 21: Megadungeons

Similarly to Action 7: Mercenaries, this supplement is a genre book on running megadungeons in your Dungeon Fantasy game. It describes what a megadungeon is, how it differs from a “normal” dungeon and how it can be used as the central element of a Dungeon Fantasy campaign. Topics include placement (where it is in relation to town and what consequences that has), how to map a megadungeon, how to stock it (with monsters, traps and treasure), different playstyles, considerations on spells which could short-circuit a megadungeon campaign, and an experience point award scheme based on loot found.

A lot of the material can be used in contexts other than megadungeons. Placement and stocking is relevant for all kinds of dungeon, while the section on magic and the experience reward scheme could be useful in any kind of Dungeon Fantasy campagin.

Even though a lot of what this supplement covers could already be known by experienced Dungeon Fantasy GMs, I would definitively recommend it to anyone running a DF game. It offers useful insights applicable to DF in general. My only complaint is that I’d like for a genre book on such a seminal part of Dungeon Fantasy to be longer than 10 pages. It’s not that anything is acutely missing, but more material would be very nice.

Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star

Without going into too many spoilers, this adventure is a very neat concept if you like your Elder Things. Visit an exotic locale, kill some Elder Things, and get home in time for supper. It’s a fun and interesting romp I can heartily recommend…

… unless you have a druid in your party. They eat a -10 penalty to all spellcasting rolls for the whole duration of the adventure. I have nothing against low or no mana/sanctity/nature but it has to be used sparingly. I’d argue this would be too much even for wizards who routinely shoot for skill level 20 with their spells, but for druids where that mostly isn’t the case it’s simply no fun. It makes perfect sense given the setting and flavor of the adventure, so it really isn’t bad adventure design, it’s more of a “this adventure isn’t appropriate for you if you have X in your party”.

A couple further issues:

  • There’s no loot given out in the adventure. None. While this once again kinda fits the setting, I don’t really think “saving the world is its own reward” is how most people play DF. Aside from some junk, there are not even opportunities to find loot in the environment or among corpses of slain foes, something which would be very appropriate in this case.
  • Ok, the above statement isn’t strictly true. There is a single item potentially worth a massive pile of money, but there’s a good chance players won’t be able to retrieve it. Even if they do, there’s no discussion about its worth.
  • There is a hex map given for one of three very similar points of interest, and all three locations are keyed to it with somewhat different inhabitants. But to avoid all three locations looking the same, the GM will need to at least sketch out the layout of the remaining two locations himself.

None of this is a dealbreaker or even a significant problem, but they all have something in common. Please don’t make me do homework if I buy a published adventure! I realize that page count is limited, but this PDF could have really used an extra page or two to fill in these gaps. It would have made for a much better product that way.

GURPS Kickstarter Challenge Review Part 1

During the coming days I’ll be writing short reviews of the dozen new GURPS supplements released as part of the recent Kickstarter Challenge by SJG. The article series includes:

  • Part 1 (you’re here!)
    • Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides
    • Action 7: Mercenaries
    • Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides
  • Part 2
    • Dungeon Fantasy 21: Megadungeons
    • Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 3: Deep Night and the Star
  • Part 3
    • Horror: Beyond the Pale
    • Hot Spots: The Incense Trail
    • Monster Hunters Encounters 1
    • Reign of Steel: Read the Sky
  • Part 4
    • Steampunk Setting: The Broken Clockwork World
    • Template Toolkit 3: Starship Crew
    • How to Be a GURPS GM: Ritual Path Magic

Action 6: Tricked-Out Rides

I don’t think a 10-page supplement could be more chock full of goodness than this. If you are running any kind of modern game where you’d want to have a pimped out ride, look no further. Get this!

It starts by giving stats for a dozen categories of cars from subcompacts to big vans. But where it really shines is in the various CF-based modifiers you can apply to those cars to make them perform better, as well as in a catalog of other upgrades, gadgets and gear you buy for a fixed price. There’s no mention of motorcycles, but the two bikes from are enough of a baseline to which all of the mods which make sense can be applied.

It’s no VDS or even a Spaceships-style design system, but it covers 90% of use cases for customizing vehicles. With a bit of effort, it could even be extended into the Ultra-Tech levels, and downgrading it to TL6  is mostly a matter of removing available options.

Action 7: Mercenaries

I’d describe this one as a small genre book focusing on a specific flavor of Action. It gives various advice on how to run mercenary-themed military campaigns: creating appropriate characters, getting them employed and paid, equipping and moving them around… It describes the mercenary life as well as inner workings of mercenary companies.

There’s an interesting, rather abstract small system for resolving small-unit combat on a scale between individual and mass combat, cheekily called BATTLE. It has a lot of potential, but I can’t help and think that some parts of it could have been presented a bit better, it feel as if something has been cut from it due to word count. It could easily use a half or maybe even a full page extra to make it more solid.

And finally, there is a bunch of short opportunities and challenges ready to be sprung on the PCs, as well as a section on wrapping up missions and setting up new ones.

I definitively recommend this one for military-themed Action campaigns, even if you’re not running mercs but conventional military personnel instead. It even has some material (such as BATTLE) that can be used in other kinds of games.

Boardroom and Curia: Tomorrow Rides

Tomorrow Rides is an organization hiding behind a car service chain, renting vehicles to adventurers. The catch? You don’t often get exactly what you asked for, and sometimes you get something really impractical. On the flipside, you could get a prototype vehicle or something completely weird, and unless you get one of the most advanced vehicles in the org’s repertoire, you’re not expected to get it back in one piece. The price? None whatsoever, you must just report on how the vehicle behaved during your time with it. The more outrageous the purpose you need it for, the greater chance of you getting a better and more special vehicle.

This is a very sweet little supplement whose primary purpose is to provide a flavorful, thematically appropriate rent-a-car outlet for games featuring at least some kind of action. The company itself is described in enough detail to be usable as a major element of a campaign if so desired, with adventure hooks and even conspiracies possibly hiding behind it. It’s presented for the modern day, but it would require very little effort to make it work at any TL. Rent-a-horse? Why not. Rent-a-starship? Sure.