Sunday, September 4, 2016

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasising


Guest Post by Hal "Wavefunction" Batty

I have a confession to make, I’ve never played or run a session of Dungeon Fantasy, and yet I own every single book and Pyramid article on the subject. That’s partly because I’m an obsessive GURPS hoarder, but I do have a particular fascination for Dungeon Fantasy. I’ve read each book several times, and I’ve created countless characters that will never be played. Frankly I don’t even think I’d enjoy a "standard" Dungeon Fantasy game, I love playing social characters, and I dislike combat if I don’t feel like there’s a good reason for it, I need more than "for the loot!" if I’m going to get into it.

So why do I have this fascination for a game that has not a drop of social interaction in it, and no drive beyond the greed of the characters? I think it’s because there’s more to GURPS as a game than playing a character or creating a narrative. I asked a friend recently, "What’s your favorite thing about GURPS?" and his answer really got me thinking. He said something along the lines of, ‘Because I like building things, and building a character in GURPS is interesting.’

That was fascinating to me, because it made me realise that I too really enjoy the process of assembling a character. I like to make things, put them together from hundreds of complex parts, and produce something working, that extends to character creation. The thing is, I don’t think the ideal system should work like that. In the ideal system you’d create a concept in collaboration with the GM that ties into both the story and the world, then magic would happen, and you’d have a functional character.

I know from experience that I don’t enjoy actually playing the characters I’ve built like a machine designed to perform a function, rather than concepts I’ve carefully woven. I still like making the sheets though. Dungeon Fantasy lets me live vicariously, it gives me a starting budget, a few constraints, a list of templates and power-ups, and sets me free to design the most optimised character I can.

Is it possible to reconcile the two? I think so, but you need to separate the ideas of concept, and character sheet. Having a good concept is what’ll make the character enjoyable to play, having a good character sheet is what’ll make him enjoyable to build. So, first you create the concept, you figure out how you want your character to play, how he thinks, where he comes from, etc. This really should be done with the GM and ideally the other players, it’s important to know that the character will fit the setting, the group, and the story. That said, a good GM is flexible and will make allowances if you’ve got an idea you’re really keen on.

Then there are some decisions to make. You and the GM should decide on the traits that are essential to your concept, traits that fit well, those that don’t fit, and those that are diametrically opposed. You then make the following adjustments
  • If a trait is deemed essential then the character has it for free. For skills you should specify a certain level, i.e., Sleight of Hand up to IQ +1. Alternatively you could set a point limit, i.e. up to 20 points in Animal-related skills are free. However, if the trait is disadvantageous, the character has it, but doesn’t gain points for it and cannot buy it off.
  • If a trait is a very good fit then the character can buy it at a discount. I’d recommend sticking to ½ or ⅓ price, but other kinds of discount are possible, like 10 points off, or buy one get one free. If the trait is disadvantageous the character has it, doesn’t get any points for it, but can buy it off.
  • If a trait is a bad fit then the character can buy it at a mark-up. This lets the GM be a bit more flexible than just forbidding something, by making it double price or similar. A disadvantageous trait can be taken but only gives you half the points it normally would.
  • If a trait is diametrically opposed then the character can’t get it. End of story. This counts for both advantageous traits and disadvantageous ones equally.
Once that’s done you give the character a point budget and let him spend those points on any trait that isn’t outright banned. This encourages a player to build to his concept, get things he perhaps normally wouldn’t, but still have the freedom to create his own build.

Getting back to where we started, could you use this with Dungeon Fantasy? Yes, in fact Dungeon Fantasy kinda already does it with templates, it tells you what you can and can’t by, and specifies traits that you must have. That doesn’t mean you can’t go further, especially if you plan on producing a Dungeon Fantasy setting with a bit more depth to it. You might give a knight Status, a swashbuckler Gambling and Sleight of Hand half price, or a Cleric Religious Rank, if it’s part of the concept. Another use might be to give a weaker template a bit of a boost, if you think the unarmed monk will struggle, give him some Striking ST (Unarmed Only) or DR (Tough Skin) for free. The thing to be careful of is niche protection, you can make a player as powerful as you like within his role provided he doesn’t overshadow another player, and note that a sufficiently powerful wizard can fill just about any niche.

All that said, it’s been worth getting the books, and reading them through, even if I’ve never run or plan to run a Dungeon Fantasy game. Each book has interesting ideas, a lot can be used in other games without any adjustments at all. Even if you never use anything in the books, which I find highly unlikely, buying them helps to support GURPS in general, and I think we can all agree that’s a very good thing indeed.

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