Designer's Notes: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers

by Sean Punch

There are times when you simply don't have enough hours to tackle something big. That statement applies in two very different ways to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers.

Toward the end of November 2007, I finished my edit of GURPS Thaumatology and found myself with perhaps a month left before my scheduled end-of-year vacation. My thoughts turned to an outline for a 240-page book called GURPS Dungeon Fantasy -- an outline that had been sitting on my hard drive since 2004. Here was a book that I had always wanted to write but never had time even to start . . . and now I had an opening. Unfortunately, that opening gave me a few weeks, not the few months that I'd need to write a full-length book.

Around that time, I noticed several threads over on our forums asking about stats for archetypal dungeon adventurers in GURPS, and how to convert abilities from other fantasy RPGs. To be honest, I could see why; GURPS hits gamers with a lot of information. Even a hack-and-slash fantasy romp means poring over the GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Magic and GURPS Powers, looking for skills, spells, powers, and gear. It was clear that many people still had a place in their heart for old-school dungeon crawls, but lacked the time to tackle character templates and special powers.

This is when Paul Chapman, Phil Reed, and I got the brainstorm that we could address both my lack of time and that of GURPS players by having me create Dungeon Fantasy not as a massive tome -- which would worsen the "information overload" problem -- but as a series of PDFs. We decided that the first two PDFs would be Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers and Dungeon Fantasy: Dungeons, in keeping with the Basic Set split into Characters and Campaigns.

What It Is

Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers focuses strictly on what you need to create stereotyped dungeon explorers in the spirit of old-school RPGs, roguelikes, and their more polished descendants. It's a crib sheet for GMs who can't justify spending hours immersed in their GURPS library, jotting down powers, equipment lists, and notes on allowed traits just so that their players can create PCs for one-off dungeon crawls. It's also a time-saver for players who don't want to put a lot of effort into designing hack-and-slash heroes who might get eaten by ice weasels in the first game session.

It took me 60-65 hours to pull everything together, check the math, and come up with "house rules" that let you skip most of Characters and get right to "You meet in a tavern." Granted, I spent half that time editing and polishing, but still . . . that's 30+ hours that you don't have to spend on this stuff. Not having to do all that work should make beer-and-pretzels dungeon hacks a lot more attractive to gamers who love the genre but feel that GURPS is too much game for the job.

What It Isn't

Appropriately enough for a minimalist supplement, Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers is defined as much by what it isn't as by what it is.

First, it isn't a standalone game or even a half-step between GURPS Lite and the Basic Set (would that be GURPS Medium?). You still need the Basic Set for the advantage and skill write-ups, the combat system, and so on -- and you'll probably want Magic for spells, unless you seriously believe that you can run a dungeon crawl without goodies like the Rain of Nuts spell. This PDF is an excellent player handout and a real time-saver, but it doesn't cure cancer and produce infinite free energy.

Second, it isn't all of Dungeon Fantasy. At minimum, there will be a Dungeon Fantasy: Dungeons that does double duty as a GM's crib sheet for dungeon design and as a players' crib sheet for common tasks and activities down in the dungeon. There may be other PDFs, if people like the first two . . . monsters, traps, treasures, maybe even complete dungeons. We'll see.

Finally, it isn't serious. It is by turns cheesy, silly, and munchkin. If you're the sort of gamer who likes everything to be proper and by the book, or who believes that fantasy should always be serious, you might just want to skip this one. But where's the fun in that?

What's In There

The main components of Dungeon Fantasy: Adventurers are:

Other useful tools include a set of new wildcard skills, explanations of how various spells and powers interact, and a few quick hacks that replace the standard rules for Wealth and Powerstones. Packed in around all of this are bits of advice on how to handle "training expenses," social traits in a genre where society consists of "town, where we buy, sell, and steal things," and disadvantages in a game where they amount to a way to tell Ed the Barbarian apart from Joe the Barbarian.

It's actually a lot of crunch squeezed into a small package.

As I hinted above, nothing here is exactly new, or much better than what any experienced GURPS GM could create with a couple of weeks of work. Except that you don't have to be experienced or do a couple of weeks of work to use it. And of course everything is consistent, and will remain consistent with later Dungeon Fantasy installments -- and also with your memories of good ol' hack-and-slash.

Article publication date: December 28, 2007

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