The Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS

DFRPG and Superheroes: Power level and simplicity

Just a thought about a thread kicking around on the forums. I don’t have a lot of time for this sort of thing these days, but I did want to note something. The thread is about whether DFRPG characters feel a bit like superheroes. This can be taken two ways: that they resemble such because of a special-forces-like division of labor and skills (or, as Kromm notes, Jungian archetypes or close to it). It can also be taken as “you’re nearly at ‘name level’ in a D&D game, and you’ve avoided ‘the grind’ of getting there.”

I wanted to offer a slightly different take, which is that the DFRPG is designed for introductory play. Now, building a GURPS character is pretty much where all the “pain” is, or at least the activation energy. A 250-point character could conceivably involve 250 choices (in practice it does not, but it’s usually a fairly large number). The template system used in Action and Dungeon Fantasy and the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is designed to bound those choices to only a few, to get folks playing.

But wow, 250 points. That’s a lot. Superhero, right?

No, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not that such characters aren’t powerful. They are. It’s not that they aren’t tough and name level and whatnot. They are.

But it’s a power level where every template starts more or less capable of doing effective work without during-play complicated choices or attack/defense options to stay effective.

Let me quote from my own melee skill levels post from long ago:

Skill-18
Attack: Ah. Sweet victory. This is an utterly achievable skill level for entry-level DF characters. The Knight can get there pretty fast, and even well beyond given things like Weapon Bond and Balanced and choosing DX over ST, you can easily push a single skill to 22.

Still, at Skill-18, you can now hit the Brain better than 50% of the time, and use a Committed Deceptive Attack to the Vitals (!) to give -2 to your foes defenses and skewer him 83% of the time. Might want to only DA down to Skill-16, though, to preserve the extra chance for a critical hit. You can target arms and legs and either hope for the 10% chance to crit, or “only” accept a 90% chance at hitting and impart -1 to the foes defenses. Leg-chopping for fun and profit is viable here. More importantly, on really tough foes, you can target Chinks in Armor, dividing DR by 2, at 50% success rate . . . more with various Attack Options stacked up.

Defense: Base Parry/Block is 12, and you’re probably sportin’ Combat Reflexes too. You’re now looking at base Block/Parry with the +2 DB medium shield of 15 – now your foes have to start throwing Deceptive Attacks just to think about getting to you. And that’s without you really trying hard. With the right kit (such as a +3 DB shield) and Defensive Attack (+1), you can Riposte with a net defense of 14 and bequeath your foe -2 to defend against your own next attack, reserving your offensive bonuses for target location or soaking other penalties.

Forget all the numbers for a moment. At Skill-16 to Skill-18, both “I whack him!” and “I whack him in the face!” are both entirely viable saying nothing else but that. You’re going to hit nearly 100% of the time for the first, and between 2/3 and 5/6 of the time for the second. On defense, especially with a shield, “I block!” is looking at Skilll/2 or 8 or 9, probably combat reflexes for the +1, and the base +3. Minimum you’re defending on 12 or 13 . . . and then you toss in +2 DB for a shield. That’s 14-15 for the line. Unless you choose to be daring and give up some defenses, “I use my shield to not die!” is, again, something you can just say.

This makes the game newbie-friendly, which was a primary design goal. Much less than Skill-16 to Skill-18, and one needs to have rules mastery to fight and win. This was on full display in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG demo game at GenCon 50. The demo was super-streamlined and effective, maybe even eschewing either attack or defense rolls, I can’t recall. But really, what the skill level (call it a warrior type with a DB +2 shield and Skill-18 with a sword) does here is allow a newbie to “spam” the I attack and I defend buttons with no more rules mastery than that and have a good time playing. They can watch their friends go for Deceptive Attacks (lowering your attack percentage in order to lower your foe’s defense percentage), Feint, or other things and then say “I want to try that!” But they don’t have to start that way. They can hear “Oh, I want to target the arms, or the vitals, or stab through the eye!” and learn that the first is entirely viable, the vitals is easier than the face but better armored, and the eye is only 50-50 at Skill-18, or a bit worse, but that the sweet, sweet x4 to injury can make it worth it.

But until that point: “I whack him” is a viable tactic. With (say) an axe or dueling glaive, whose high adds to swing damage make for a powerful force multiplier, cutting damage to the torso is entirely viable.

Ultimately, I think that’s one of the reasons 250 points was chosen for the sub-line and the stand-alone RPG especially. You can be awesome at your primary combat job, and not suck at several other things. The on-ramp is smoother, and merging into optional rules requires less driving skill.

3 thoughts on “DFRPG and Superheroes: Power level and simplicity

  1. The ease of play at that point level makes sense, I just happen to be fond of entry level games, which is why I ran a 75pt game recently. A few of those builds had skills of 17, but most were topping out at about 14.

    1. Yeah, and that can be a fun way to play. For a system with a rep for high barriers to entry, a tendency to analysis paralysis due to option overload, and the micro-tactical viewpoint engendered by one-second task resolution, though, having a newcomer’s experience be that they have the skill to pretty much do standard things at high percentage chances of success is, I think, a better introduction than “well, you can defend OR attack,” or “no, you don’t really have the skill to bop someone else in the nose, sorry” or “well, sure, you can all out attack, but now you’re a sitting duck for everyone else on the field. Sorry, you’re dead fluff-butt!” (Zootopia reference)

      I think there’s a great “you can win, with planning and patience” zone in the 100-200 point range even in a DF-style game. But asking for that level of planning and patience right out of the gate can potentially be off-putting, and runs into issues of expectation mismatch.

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