Sunday, March 17, 2019

I backed the GURPS DF Monster 2 Kickstarter

I've never backed a kickstarter before (don't have a credit card) and while kickstarters have been shakey, I do believe the "kickstarter then PDF long tail" is the future of PDFs, and it's nice to see SJGames beginning to rev up into that direction, especially since the sense I get from SJGames is that the Munchkin bubble may have burst and their attempts to navigate the dawning era of whatever the 2020s will be for gaming has been expensive and dangerous, so hopefully they'll come out of this ahead.  So I backed the kickstarter. You can back it too if you go through here (assuming you haven't already).

So why am I posting this?  Well, to preen, of course, and to earn your admiration for my good deeds. But I want to make a few points about GURPS Dungeon Fantasy based on some comments I've seen elsewhere, try to explain some of my logic and to give you some context.

I backed the $95 version, which nets me a printed copy of the DF boxed set as well as a printed copy of DF Monsters 2.  If I'm honest, I could care about DF Monsters 2. I'm sure it'll be fine, but I can buy it in PDF eventually.  What really interested me was the reprint of the boxed set of DF, as I really regretted missing that. 

Why DF?

The internet often asks what my favorite dungeon-crawling fantasy RPG is, and I have a few answers, but the deepest and most correct is usually Dungeon Fantasy not just because it's GURPS, but because what I look for in a fantasy game, DF provides in spades. For example, I often complain that fighters in D&D aren't interesting enough ("I hit! I hit again! When I gain a level, I'll be able to hit three times!  So exciting!"), that magic is too focused on combat effects, and this can be said of a lot of the mechanics of the game, that races are too samey and not particularly nuanced, and that I have a hard time really differentiating my character and I feel I lack a good variety of options. Gaining levels feels pretty rote, rather than watching the organic growth of my character. And look, DF addresses all of this out of the box simply because it's GURPS: fighters get to play with techniques and a great host of highly specific combat options that make combat feel visceral; mages get tons and tons of non-combat options (and arguably lack decent combat options, which frankly feels better to me than walking artillery platform), I can build characters however I want, and blend together multiple classes how I want or just build a character from scratch, races have a ton of mechanical nuance, and I can shift the focus of my world however I want.

Having a DF boxed set makes it more of a pick-up game, which is really what I need to show some of the newer players how GURPS works, and GURPS actually works really well for new players, which will shock a lot of people who aren't a fan of GURPS, but it's true.  GURPS is hard to learn to run, but it's not especially hard to learn to play.  What you need most is something to focus on (rather than the deep oceans of "Anything you want!") and DF does that nicely, with a familiar arena. That makes it a great entry way to the rest of the GURPS world.

I've been interested in another game called Numenara for a bit now, ever since I picked up the whole set on Humble Bundle and I was looking at buying a copy of the basic books: Discovery and Destiny. These together came to $120, plus shipping and handling.  D&D 5e, if you want the player's handbook, the DM guide and the Monster manual, comes to $150.  $95 gets me the DF boxed set.  Oh, and Monsters 2.  It's a steal, so much so that I'm worried that SJGames may have undercharged for their product.  They seem to often underestimate the production costs of their products and walk away from successful kickstarters taking a loss, and I hope that doesn't happen this time.  Regardless, if you want a complete dungeon fantasy product, you're not going to do better, bang for buck, than DF unless there's some other dungeon crawling product that I don't know about (Dungeon World maybe?), certainly not at the level of detail and support that GURPS DF offers.

"But I like Science Fiction"

So this was the comment that made me re-evaluate my position in the first place (and seeing the boxed set available finally convinced me to take that last step).  Given that I haven't run Dungeon Fantasy ever, and that I've only played in a couple of games, why should I even bother paying for it, given my focus on Sci-Fi, one that isn't likely to change (not out of a lack of interest: I'd love to do some urban occult stuff too, but because I sense a void in the market that I'm trying to fill), why bother to fork over this kind of money.

Because you shouldn't think of Dungeon Fantasy as Fantasy, but as GURPS.

I'm a big fan of math and literature ("English") and I get frustrated when I see kids who ask things like "Will we ever use this in the real world?" as though unless the world were a series of tests (such as strangers lying in wait at street corners to pounce you with algebra questions), the exercise is useless (this sort of reflexive mindest can leak its way into gaming and it causes problems there too, but that's a post for another time).  In fact, math and language skills are tools.  The same people who ask if anyone will ever actually use algebra in the real world are the same sort of people who recoil from GURPS Vehicles as "too hard," not realizing that engineering a real world vehicle is even harder. The world is a sandbox full of possibilities that are easier to tackle if you have communication and STEM skills (determining the shortest route between two places; accounting and coding complicated things into your spreadsheet; working out why gambling is always a horrible idea, especially lottery tickets; dazzling a lovely lady with wordplay; articulating why people should follow your proposed policy; getting your kids to listen to you, etc).

GURPS is like Math and English: it's not there to solve a specific problem, but is instead a great toolbox to let you build your own solution to whatever gaming problem you have.  And just because it labels a particular product as belonging to one genre doesn't mean it's useless to you for another genre.  Let me list just a handful of books that aren't in the sci-fi genre that apply to Psi-Wars:
  • GURPS Action
  • GURPS Action 2
  • GURPS Action 3
  • GURPS DF 3: The Next Level (especially for its races)
  • GURPS DF 16: Wilderness Adventures
  • GURPS Powers: Divine Favor
  • GURPS Thaumatology
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Magical Styles
  • GURPS Thaumatology: Sorcery
  • GURPS Horror
There are quite a few that are, genre-wise, on the borders of generic enough, or I would start to get repetitive, but all of these have played fairly key roles in the design of Psi-Wars, which is a sci-fi setting.

"But is it really, Mailanka? Isn't it more space fantasy?"

Personally, I dislike the term space fantasy. I don't know why "space opera" isn't good enough anymore, but fine: the structure of DF has informed every campaign framework book that has followed it.  It provides numerous ideas on how to handle specific elements, like henchmen, races, power-ups and load-outs, in compact and useful ways, discarding superficial elements to get what you want.  I got started on this sci-fi kick by working on a GURPS Captain-and-Crew set up that has evolved into all of this, and I got started with that after seeing Dungeon Fantasy.

Yes, the line does eventually begin to get into more specifically pertinent material.  Rather than fantasy templates, you want sci-fi templates, rather than fantasy henchmen, you want sci-fi henchment, and so on, but the innovation begins with DF, which sells, and only after, does it spread to the rest of the frameworks, and even if it never does, all of GURPS is mutally compatible.  This is not The Fantasy Trip they're selling, or Munchkin, but GURPS.  Even if they never produce any more sci-fi than they already have, their DF line would continue to provide plenty of "how to" inspiration for you to build your own sci-fi game from it (and they will continue to build more sci-fi content).

So that's why I backed the kickstarter, even though it seems counter to my interests.  My interests are broader than just space opera and even if they weren't, they're still well served by GURPS continuing with DF.

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