Carpe Blogiem: When Is a Dungeon Fantasy Campaign No Longer A Dungeon Fantasy Campaign?, Part I

Oddly enough, running Dungeon Fantasy demos are my local game store and my hacked-together version have given me a bit of insight into the series like nothing else ever has. At first, Aersalus was just supposed to be a straight-up Dungeon Fantasy campaign with all the normal rules and races and the beer and pretzel approach. This is what my players requested and this is what we did…for a while. About five sessions in (sometime around when I began to throw notes together for the world), one of my players remarked that they wanted to create their own deity for the campaign world. Being as I’m just fine with players helping me with world-creation work I let them go at it. I think that was the beginning of the ending of Aersalus as a “typical” Dungeon Fantasy campaign.

Soon I was being asked more and more questions about the world itself rather than what place could be looted next. It set off a chain reaction that culminated last week into a several hours-long serious discussion on worldbuilding and how the players wanted to approach the campaign. It was not what I was going for. It wasn’t even close really. But there is one thing I’ve learned in 20+ years of being a gamemaster: You give the players what they want. I suppose I would have been a bit upset if I had put more thought into the campaign and the players signed up for that and then wanted to change it. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, they weren’t asking for changes of any particular concept, but more of what they’d already seen.

This led to a conversation with my friend, Scott “Rocketman” Rochat about the evolution of a campaign. It boiled down into what I’m going to call Rochat’s Law: “The longer a beer and pretzels campaign progresses, the more likely it is that it is no longer a beer and pretzels campaign.” Sometimes it only takes a few instances (in my case), sometimes it takes longer. Basically, the longer you run campaigns in a particular setting, however ill- or vaguely defined, the more likely it is that you unintentionally build up the world so that it is more than it started as. Now, for some campaigns this is an accepted byproduct of playing – and a commonly wanted one as well. Unchanging campaign settings eventually become quite boring. But for intentionally “simplistic” games…this could become a burden.

So when is a Dungeon Fantasy campaign no longer a Dungeon Fantasy campaign? As written, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is intentionally tongue-in-cheek, it’s “silly” in that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a place where dwarves and elves hate one another because of “ancient grudges.” Where Heaven and Hell are taken to extremes. A place where finding a magical sword only requires you venture into some moldy dungeon. Really, it’s “All about that loot, about that loot (no shiny pebbles!)” Strangely enough, most Dungeon Fantasy campaigns I’ve seen run are not run this way. People run them like they used to play their old Dungeons and Dragons games. They took a system that they loved, but wasn’t really meant to do all the things they wanted to do (e.g. social interaction, politics, etc.) and made it do what they wanted. Doing this in GURPS is so much easier than it ever was in the various iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. You essentially just put the items you want in and bam! You’re good to go.

What boggles me the most is those that play Dungeon Fantasy as their focus campaign setting (not as an introductory tool or for one-shots) tend to do the exact same thing: they use Dungeon Fantasy as more a framework, rather than “playing it straight.”

Next Part: I talk about the sort of changes I’d do to make Dungeon Fantasy more “General Fantasy.”

Posted in Carpe Blogiem and tagged , , .


  1. You see this progression on genre TV as well. It starts out with "monster/alien/bad guy of the week" and typically only stays there long enough for people to become invested in the characters and willing to care about a longer arc.

    I think the same thing is true in gaming – the tipping point is when players start caring about characters other than their own.

  2. There's two reasons why I have yet to buy any of the Dungeon Fantasy books:

    1) Too many things in front of it. (Martial Arts, City Stats, Social Engineering….)

    2) I don't want dungeon fantasy. I just want a world with dungeons. And orcs. And wilderness adventures. And cities. Just, a world. With all of those things in it, but none of them are sufficient in themselves.

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