Guest Post by +Alex Raymond
Dungeon Fantasy is, for many, a synonym for RPGs altogether. The whole concept of a skilled party that scourges through catacombs and bandits for a greater goal is no stranger to anyone slightly acquainted with roleplaying games. GURPS presents us with the blessed versatility and genericity that we all learned to love, and it enables us to go even further and expand those concepts to whatever you basically want (asparagus, anyone?).
GURPS also enables players to explore worldbuilding and creating scenarios, sometimes because years and years of old-school classic Dungeon Fantasy games can get us bored – and since the system allows us to go beyond, why not do so? Historical settings, futuristic campaigns, a story about your neighbours – you name it.
While I am a strong supporter of alternative settings (and had quite a handful of gaming experiments in the past 17 years), I reject the idea that Dungeon Fantasy obliges us to pursue other tropes in order to enrich the gaming experience. Dungeon Fantasy does not have to be shallow. It doesn’t have to be easy, or obvious. Characters needn’t adhere to strict templates, and the story doesn’t have to follow the classic templates of quest scavenging, loot piling, and monster bashing.
A memorable campaign I played a few years ago required the adventurers to reclaim a castle taken by enemies in a distant place. The mission went quite well, and we raised our banners at the end of the quest. Little did we know that this was the beginning of the real challenge. The GM then rewarded the PCs with titles and land, and that required the characters to actively manage and run their property, dealing with unimaginable tasks for an otherwise hack n’ slash party.
“The mine workers are fleeing with a certain frequency, milord. It seems that they are concerned that there is not enough pay for their labour. Also, the Crown delegate is arriving in a fortnight to collect the taxes. How would you like to distribute the profit between wages, taxes and profit?” says the assistant to the newly-appointed Baron, who’s a former thief with Greed and now runs a gold mine for the new province of the Kingdom.
This kind of dilemma creates tension and a certain excitement in seeing the consequences of the choices taken by the players. “The Church sends a missionary to evangelise your peasants to the Common Religion. The missionary is extremely influential with the King, but also a fanatic. He is preaching and convincing the peasants that mages are evil entities sent by the Dark Lord,” details the GM. How would the group’s wizard deal with an unfavourable political environment?
Philosophical, social, and psychological issues can be inserted into a Dungeon Fantasy plot to enrich and deepen the feeling of “belonging” to the world that players need to have. Knowing that their *other* actions can also influence the world is nothing short of amazing for players that have just discovered the new possibilities ahead of them.
Removing the obviousness and determinism from traditional Dungeon Fantasy games adds a new dimension to be explored by GM and PCs. Character development can be pursued in this new axis, which can be incredibly rewarding when done correctly. But, of course, unless the players really want otherwise, keep the classic elements alive and kicking frequently on your game. Don’t turn Martus Sharpblood, The Deadliest Dwarf in the Eastern Lands into a boring bureaucrat. But wouldn’t it be fun to see how he deals with negotiating a truce with the two largest mercenary organisations in the Capital?