Thursday, September 29, 2016

My feelings on GURPS Dungeon Fantasy

You've probably heard about the DF kickstarter already from better blogs.  I've been silent on it, mostly because I've been very busy with life (I actually had a few half-finished blog posts on it that I just couldn't get worked out).  I'll also confess to not backing the kickstarter at all, but to be fair, I've never backed a kickstarter (I lack a credit card).  That said, I did make a point of buying a GURPS book once I heard that funds from that would go to the kickstarter (I picked up a digital copy of GURPS Religion, which I already had a hard copy of.  I'll make use of it in Psi-Wars iteration 5 and 6).  But since Douglas Cole is going to make a giant pull of every GURPS blog post, I wanted this sitting at the top of mine.

How Dungeon Fantasy Changed My World

I've been running GURPS since high school, so more than 20 years at this point, and I had a pretty standard way of running it that I expect most people had.  First, you'd sit down with the character creation books and talk to your players about what they wanted, and then you'd sort of hash it out together.  Then you just played, and you grabbed from whatever book you needed at the time.  The net result, especially if you had the sort of collection I had, were wild, wooly and largely unwieldy.

I found my tastes began to change.  I began to understand game development better, and how a game should work.  It needs focus, it needs interesting choices, it needs design.  The problem with many of my GURPS games is that they lacked this focus.  I cast about for a solution.

Then Dungeon Fantasy came out and it absolutely crystallized everything I was missing and needed.  I suddenly grasped how GURPS worked as a toolkit system.

Dungeon Fantasy picked a focus for its gameplay (killing monsters and taking their stuff), found the niches for it and filled them with templates that ensured you had all the skills you needed. Not just stuff like "Oh, I forgot swim and so now I'm drowning," but things like Mind Shield and Hidden Lore, which are pertinent to DF but aren't pertinent to other games.  At the same time, it removes skills you don't need (but might think you do), like Cooking.  It went further to emphasize forms of gameplay, so that a Knight had a purpose and a place a long side the Barbarian, and both played differently.

The second book, Dungeons, really rocked my world, though.  It focused gameplay down to the things that mattered, highlighting what you needed to pay attention to in a game, giving you special or simplified rules for unique situations, and discarding everything else that didn't matter.

I think the release of Dungeon Fantasy revolutionized GURPS and I think you could mark a calendar before and after. I'll even state, controversially I'm sure, that it did more to change how I play GURPS than the change from 3e to 4e did, because that amounted to a rule-change, while this amounted to a paradigm shift.

As an example of what I mean, Psi-Wars is a direct result of Dungeon Fantasy.  I draw my inspiration primarily from Action, but the premise of my design directly draws from DF.  This applies to more, though, as Cherry Blossom Rain had similar design, as do other campaigns like Heroes of the Galactic Frontier.  Even my non-GURPS games shifted with this fundamental understanding, such as how I look at Fate.

My Frustration with Dungeon Fantasy

I used to belong to an RPG group on Facebook, but I eventually ditched it because the feed was nothing but D&D people who seemed oblivious of all other games.  I don't mean that I was inundated with, say, people talking about D&D, but people talking about RPGs as though all RPGs were D&D, and all gamers were D&D players.    For a certain subset, RPGs and D&D are synonymous, which is especially irritating to me as a non-D&D player.

With the release of DF, I've found a similar sort of GURPS player evolving, for whom Dungeon Fantasy is GURPS.  The most common example of this are the perennial posts asking for Dungeon Fantasy to be "expanded beyond simple dungeon crawling."  They might want deeper social interactions, or perhaps sweeping, epic wars, or some material on setting building, or maybe even a setting!  But because none of the books I've mentioned bear the "Dungeon Fantasy" stamp, they don't count.  GURPS Dungeon Fantasy has 26 books and counting, but it's becoming something of a walled garden.  Because it provides default assumptions, writers can write to those assumptions, and because readers demand more books written to those assumptions, then we get lots of books written to those assumptions, and less need for those players to branch out and adapt existing material to their own needs.

But for me, GURPS isn't "the other fantasy game," it's a toolkit with which I can do anything.  Dungeon Fantasy should be a gateway into the larger GURPS world, not a dead-end into which a GM can hide from the larger, scarier world of GURPS.  A GM who wants to expand past DF can do so with any number of perfectly good supplements, and most of your veteran GMs do exactly that.  It's only this subset that seems so unaware of anything with the DF stamp on it.

In retrospect, though, perhaps I shouldn't be so hard on this group.  I've already noted that there seems to be a split between the veteran and the inexperienced.  Perhaps this comes down to Dungeon Fantasy attracting a new crowd who is intimidated by the totality of GURPS, but want to try it, and once they've finished with the kiddy pool, they're nervous about diving into the deep end, so they ask for additional help.  Fair enough.

My Experience with Dungeon Fantasy

None of this is to say that I don't enjoy Dungeon Fantasy.  I've only played it a few times, but this amounts more to a lack of time than interest.  I enjoyed it more than D&D or 13th Age or other "F20" games because of GURPS's concrete granularity over D&D's "gamey" abstractions.  You can fold the complexities of GURPS martial arts into the swashbuckler or a knight, if you wish.  I played a wizard, and enjoyed the sweeping and unusual power that afforded me.  And, of course, we definitely wanted a more detailed setting and simply built one with all the pieces GURPS gave us.

I tend to focus on sci-fi on this blog mostly because I feel it is underrepresented in the GURPS world. not because I prefer it to fantasy.  I have several ideas I'd like to explore, but for now I think DF has everyone pretty much covered, while those who like sci-fi are struggling to find something of similar power.

So, I hope DF the best.  I hope they succeed beyond their dreams and that DF shows people how great GURPS can be. I just hope that people don't get so lost in DF that they lose sight of the rest of GURPS.  By all means, enjoy DF, but realize that even if you have no interest in any other genre, there's lots of great GURPS material out there that doesn't have the DF logo stamped on it.
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