Pyramid #3/72 – Alternate Dungeons Review (From the Bottom Up)

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there’s plenty more where that came from, but let’s go with what we have.

I’ll be publishing this review one article at a time, but maybe more than one per day as I can find time. So check back!

From the Bottom Up ( +Matt Riggsby )

Summary: Matt literally turns the genre upside-down by placing the monsters in the starring role. The five-page article features four pages of templates (making it a monstrous analog to DF1: Adventurers) and the final page is campaign advice, pointing it loosely at DF2.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: I’m no fan of the GURPS stat block/character template format. I find it dense and difficult to read. That 80% of the article is basically dictated in style and execution by the SJG Formatting/Style guide does not help the ranking here. The intro paragraphs before each wall of statblock are evocative and well crafted (and funny in places – ‘paging Dr. Acula’ is worth the price of admission right there). 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  This concept says “tournament play” or “MIB GURPS Demo” to me more than suggesting a campaign I wish to run. Interestingly enough, it may be that handing out a bunch of monsters and facing down ever-increasing waves of PC-based Henchmen and core templates is a great way to give newbie players a good feel for each of the templates that they’ll eventually choose from, and giving a monsters-eye view for how to deal with its own attack modes and weaknesses will be educational for GMs and players alike. The page on Monster Campaigns (p. 26) is a decent stand-in for slantwise advice on DF monster tactics and things to watch out for. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  The templates are well thought-out, and the monster advice is solid. Obviously this is best suited to a new campaign or one-shot than an existing one, but if the “normal” PCs and some monsters must team up and save the world from The Squid Invaders, this would be a useful piece. Some of the templates feature adversaries that might not be 100% evil, either – Dragons can be of any temperament, Specters already have a Friendly Ghost subsection, and Scorpion-men needn’t be all bad, all the time. As a commenter reminded me, the templates can also be used in an existing campaign as bad guys, with the bonus of added variety to make them not quite cookie-cutter, which makes for a lot of drop-in utility. 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. This article really puts the Alternate in Alternate Dungeons. Not only are the starring roles the equivalent of the DC titles that are all from the villains point of view, but making the subterranean lair sensible from the monster’s perspective turns things about as well (perhaps a DF16: Wilderness adventure would require less gymnastics).

Would I use it? Probably not, but that’s largely because I’m more interested in the other side of things. As I said, though, even though I’d not use it, it’s eminently usable, and could be tons of fun, in certain circumstances. For example – a one-shot this Halloween where you play the monsters? Sounds like a plan.

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