This is the fourth issue that is devoted to Dungeon Fantasy.
No surprise – it’s the most popular sub-line, having spawned at least 16 or 17
books, and of course, since it occupies the same turf as the most popular game
today (D&D in all its flavors, be it D&D5, Pathfinder, or the various
OSR or D&Derived versions).
This issue is quite eclectic in its coverage, and some of
the articles are downright . . . well, somewhere between odd and squicky, but
in a *I have to put that in my game* kind of way.
So, let’s delve in.
Psychic Swords Against Elder Evil ( +Sean Punch  )
Summary: Sean reviews the history of psionics and mentalists
in DF3:The Next Level and DF14: Psi, and decides that what is needed is more
cowbell. In the form of psychic lightsabers. Which is, of course, true.  The natural enemy of the mentalist is the
Elder Thing, and this article adds the Psychic Slayer (and several variants) to
the Template list. These psis are of a more physical bent, and their weapon of
choice is the psychic sword.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Sean’s always an
engaging writer, and this particular template – and there’s only one – is covered
in many different ways and facets. Still, and this is where my biases show, I
cannot read through a template word-for-word without my head psychically
exploding all over my movie room. 1 point.
Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  The template is cool and well executed, but
this one gets full marks because of how comprehensively the topic is covered.
Sure, you’ve got a full template. That’s expected. Only one? Hrm. But the
Customization notes, which span a full page (and in Pyramid, that’s a lot of
words), really hit home all the different flavors that you can scoop into your
sundae with this concept. Not content there, we get “Making the Psychic Slayer
Useful” as a C-HEAD, which serves a model to consider the utility of all
templates in DF (or Action or Monster Hunters, for that matter). 3 points.
Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  If you’re playing DF, this template is the
definition of drop-in. A template, some powers, a whole table of psychic swords
with alternate stats, psychic defenses, and a pointer to where psychic monsters
live in print, plus a bunch of new
stuff to fight and kill. 4 points.
Overall: 8/10. A ready-made template and copious advice on
how to use it. This one stands well on its own.
Would I use it? Yes. This is a fun template and a solid
alternative to other first-line fighters. Much like the Holy Warrior or Warrior
Saint, you can make a competent combatant that is simply indispensable against
monsters in his “must kill X” niche. The monsters section is useful regardless
of whether
Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you’re approaching the
article as not-me.
Wall of Text Alert: I’m on record as finding the templates
very, very useful but also very, very hard to read in print. If you use GCA to
code these in as menu-driven choice lists, the overall article feels like it
might pick up a point (ish) each in both writing and inspiration. That would
make it a 9/10 . . . and I think given the strength of the monsters section and
the comprehensive coverage, it’s probably close to that.
Upper-Lower bound Rating: Overall, this one is probably 8-9
overall. It’s a neat concept, well and thoroughly executed. If your GM/Campaign
doesn’t have psychics or elder things, it’s probably still 5/10 because it’s
engaging and hits the “how do you think about a character archetype and its
utility in game” angle in a definitive way. If you love these things, it’s
probably 9/10. Maybe higher – this is more or less a psionic Jedi, so there you
go.

Over on the forums, a poster asked another about a comment made that the writer used a simplified version of both Technical Grappling and The Last Gasp. The first poster noted that TLG was “complicated,” and asked for what simple rules were in place.

While I think I might take exception to the complicated thing, I did wonder what I’d do if I needed to completely and massively simplify The Last Gasp to put it within reach of anyone, easily.

Actually, some parts of it work really well.


Long-Term Fatigue

There may be some changes buried inside this post; just roll with them.

Long-term fatigue, in GURPS and especially with The Last Gasp, is regular fatigue, tracked with Fatigue Points.

The Chips are Down


When you start play, you will need some tokens or poker chips. I will assume that you have them available in four colors: red, yellow, blue, and green.

Take red chips in an amount equal to your HT. Take yellow chips equal to half your HT, rounded up. You will get green chips equal to 1 plus any extra FP you bought. The remainder are blue, such that your yellow, blue, and green chips add up to your HT+FP.

Example: A warrior is HT 11 with 3 extra FP. He will take 11 red chips and 6 yellow ones. He will get 4 green chips (base 1, plus the 3 he bought with extra FP). That leaves 4 blue.

These represent your store of FP that you can spend. Each time you spend one, you move a chip to the “spent” pile, green first, blue second, yellow third, red last. When you recover FP, you recover green first, then blue, then yellow, and red last. 

The Cost of Being Tired

For simplicity, spending green tokens costs you nothing. 

The moment you spend a blue token you’re at -2 to DX, HT, and IQ, and -20% to ST. 

Spend your first yellow token, and you’re at -4 to DX, HT, and IQ, and -40% to ST. 

Spend in the red, and all your stats are halved (-5 to DX, HT, and IQ; -50% to ST), and every red chip also costs you 1 HP of injury.

I Got Better


Recovery takes longer. Your base recovery rate is 20 hours/Starting FP (including extra FP).

Blue and green chips recover at 1 chip recovered per 1x your base rate
Yellow chips recover at 1 FP regained per 4x your base rate
Red chips recover at 1 FP regained per 12x your base rate.

Example: With 14 FP to start, our hero will recover at a base rate of 1 FP each 1 hr 25 min, which is close enough to 1.5 hours that we shouldn’t care. So he’ll get back his green and blue chips at one per 1.5 hours, his yellow will take 6 hours each, and red are 18 hours each.


Willpower and Perseverance

There are pretty cool rules in the article for making Will rolls to continue doing stuff every time you spend a FP, representing your body shouting at you to Just Stop. Ignore them for the simple rules here.

Short-Term Fatigue (Action Points)


The entire point of The Last Gasp is to try and make lulls and flurries happen organically in combat. To make conditioning matter in the game, and to make the Rope-a-Dope (exhausting your foe) a valid strategy.

More Tokens


You start with black tokens equal to your HT. In this simplified treatment, you get no bonus AP for training, you can’t buy extra AP, or anything else.

Really Simple AP Accounting


Use these simplified AP costs.

  • Attacks and defenses each cost 1 AP. So do Feints and the use of combat techniques.
    • If you took All-Out Defense as your maneuver, your first defense is optionally no cost.
  • Any use of a step or retreat also costs 1 AP. Yes, if you step and retreat in one turn, that’s 2AP. If you took All-Out Defense and also retreat, you still pay the retreat cost.
  • Movement beyond the step costs a flat rate: 2 AP for up to a half-move, 4 AP for up to a full move. Once you have started sprinting, these costs drop to 1 AP per turn as long as you maintain the sprint.
  • Getting injured costs you 1 AP for every HP/10 you take, drop fractions.
  • Ready actions cost 1 AP. This includes drawing a bow. Might want to say that moving around anything more than BL/10 (so 2 lbs for ST 10) costs 1 AP. Drawing an arrow (0.1 to 0.25 lbs) or a pocket pistol (the Kahr 9 is 1.6 lbs loaded) would be 0 AP.
Example: yes, this means step-and-attack costs 2AP, and that Move-and-Attack, a full move as part of an All-Out Attack and similar combinations of moving and hitting will cost you 1 for the attack, one for the initial step, and 4 more for the full move (6 AP total). All-Out Attack (Double) and Rapid Strike are each 2 AP, since you strike twice.
Recovering AP
Turns you spend doing pokey things can regain AP.
  • Do Nothing: Roll HT+4, recover AP equal to Margin of Success (minimum 1), up to your max.
  • Wait or Evaluate: If you pass the turn and don’t do anything that costs you AP, roll HT and recover AP equal to margin of success (minimum 1).
If you have advantages or disadvantages like Fit or Unfit that modify HT, you do get this bonus (or penalty) when rolling to recover AP.

Other Actions


While I might have missed something, basically if it’s not exhausting like an attack, defense or move, nor really passive like an unused Wait, Evaluate, or Do Nothing, it neither costs nor returns AP.

Spells and Powers


By and large, powers and spells that cost FP and are supposed to be combat useful should probably be transitioned to AP at a rate approximating 8:1 to 10:1. 

Burning FP for AP


If you have 0 AP you can’t take actions that cost AP. Period. If you must do something, you have to first burn a FP to recover some AP, and you do that by getting back AP equal to half your HT (not including any extra FP!), rounded up. If spending those FP impose penalties, they happen right away. You may not burn FP unless you’re at 0 AP currently, or the action you intend to take (mostly movement) will take you to 0 AP or below.

Willpower Revisited


One option that occurs to me is to make the Will roll mentioned as ignorable under the long-term section above before you can spend the FP to get AP back. That’s quick, requires no bookkeeping, and is self-enforcing. 

NPCs


There’s a box on p. 13 of the article that gives a no-bookkeeping way to deal with a horde of NPCs and mooks using without driving the GM mad. Go read it there. 

Parting Shot


The article itself covers things in more detail, with more options, and finer shades of meaning. Regeneration, the effect of high skill on AP and FP use, lots of stuff that those that like details will say “yeah, but . . .” and I tried to cover it. 

If you find yourself taking exception to the simplifications made here, you might find that it’s worth your time to go look at the full version.

The overall point of The Last Gasp is to drive an action economy. So that attack-attack-attack-attack-attack with defenses and movement in between in a few seconds of frantic combat isn’t the go-to model for all of GURPS.

That’s a pace of action thing. Clearly it’s possible to wail on a heavy bag for multiple punches per second for many seconds. But it’s freakin’ tiring. Imposing a cost for sustained action will tend to moderate the average pace of combat, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) will actually allow more teamwork and “I’m coming to your rescue!” actions.

The Last Gasp is a neat concept, and those that play with it have appreciated it. Using tokens to represent your expendable resources is a nice, tangible, and easily visualized way of managing these quantities without resorting to erasing holes in character sheets. Applying penalties for Long-Term Fatigue based only on the color of the chip you just spent is, again, a nod to minimal book-keeping, though it does make it less of an “every FP spent counts” event.

While I’m sure I’ll follow my narcissistic tradition of doing a full-issue review of Pyramid #3/76 – Dungeon Fantasy IV, I did want to drop in and note that yes, I do have an article in it, which I co-wrote with +Peter V. Dell’Orto.

This isn’t a designer’s notes post, but I do want to talk a bit about how ridiculously fun it was to collaborate with Peter on this one.

I can’t remember where it started – I think it was a series of comments about a Dire Yorkie or something. But we started with a fart or crap joke, I think, and ran with it to terrible places. Probably during one of +Erik Tenkar‘s Swords and Wizardy games.

So maybe that was the origin of the Terrible power Not Cleaning That Up. Maybe it was something else. But poop jokes sound about the right level for a game that features +Tim Shorts, so I’m going with that.

Still, one thing led to another, and pretty soon we had an entire series of really awful jokes masquerading as powers and monsters.

And then +Steven Marsh asked for more. And boy did we have fun with that. The article was an odd size, and so we could either cut or add. He asked us to add, and so we did, and the Terrible Foliage and Terribly Dire Wolverine were born. More and better bad jokes were made. Plus references to both Into the Woods and Transformers, which is just win/win.

If you play Dungeon Fantasy, I think you’ll like this article. Seven ready-made monsters that will rock worlds. Plus, of course, the opportunity to go buy Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and get more.

But ultimately, I hope you have a least as much fun reading it as I had helping to write it.

I finally finish up my review of this issue, Alternate Dungeons, with +Steven Marsh‘s Random Thought Table.

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. Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways.

The previous reviews for the issue are:

Pointless Slaying and Looting+Sean Punch )
Dungeons of Mars (Phil Masters)
From the Bottom Up+Matt Riggsby )
Eidetic Memory: Good Dungeons+David Pulver )
Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming +Christopher R. Rice )

and of course . . . 

Random Thought Table: To Conjure the Unknown ( +Steven Marsh )

Summary: Steven looks at how to shake up a bog-standard dungeon crawl by taking a bit of a mutually-exclusive and comprehensively exhaustive look at how to alter the concept. Bring something new to the table. Add something that wasn’t there before. Take something away that usually is, or take a trope and tweak it hard.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The style is conversational and a good bookend to the issue. The execution is solid, covering the relevant parts of the topic mostly by example. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  Comprehensively covers the topic of how to make a standard dungeon crawling campaign feel not-so-standard. The examples he chooses come from a variety of game systems as well as concepts, so there’s a deep well here. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  In a way, this can’t really be “drop-in,” in that there are no real worked examples and most of the advice covers campaign preparation and worldbuilding. The sections on additive and transformative game tweaking, though, could be applied to the next episode of a campaign, though – so it’s not completely “do it from scratch or forget it” – there’s a real possibility to take some of this stuff and weave it into the right game. 1 points.

Overall: 6/10. The rating doesn’t really do the article justice, and that’s an artifact of the point scale having 40% of the weighting being stuff you can rip off and just use. This is a fun read, and rounds out the article nicely: if you’re going for an “alternate” dungeon, how can you make it feel differently than a normal campaign beyond the usual “we’re using X magic system instead of the usual Y” mechanical trade-offs.

Would I use it? Yes. Were I planning a dungeon crawl campaign that was a bit different than the usual, this article makes a fine guidepost.

Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you’re approaching the article as not-me.

  • Lack of Proscriptive Options: It wasn’t really the point of the article, but if you’re looking for someone to tell you “if you want an alternate dungeon, do X, and here’s a worked example for GURPS,” then you didn’t find it here. That would bump Writing/Execution down to 0 points (well written, solid, but neither distracting nor particularly engaging), and maybe Inspiration down to 2-3. 
  • Inspiration is Drop-in Utility: I give utility ratings based on what you can pretty much directly pluck from the article and start using immediately. If you are often planning new campaigns or have easy entry to different ideas and are only lacking some inspiration, then this might be 2-3 points.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: As low as 4/10 if you really have to have worked examples given to you to make it sing. As high as 8/10 if the inspiration makes it drop-in for your gaming needs. 

I finally return to Pyr#3/72 (after Pyr#3/73 is already out!) to finish up my review of this issue, Alternate Dungeons.

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.

Dungeon Fantasy Video Gaming (+Christopher R. Rice )

Summary: Christopher goes for a two-fer, in that either the Imitator template or the video game achievements sub-sections are basically complete article concepts as stand-alones. The Imitator concept takes multi-classing to a mechanical extreme, allowing selection from a number of templates. The video game sub-section presents several (more than 10) plot devices from games and implements them mechanically in GURPS.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The Imitator template, powers, new power-ups, and detailed full-page under the hood box make me almost give up my default distaste for the GURPS template format as a nod to how complete it is. Almost. The other video game tropes are short and to the point, but clearly understandable representations of the desired ability. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes were my favorite part of the article, as any of them might make a good “oh, you’ve come from a video gaming background, we can emulate that style with . . . ” switch. The Imitator concept is interesting, but one can get the breadth needed simply by waiving the need to build from templates; if the GM says “templates mandatory” approach, consider this a cheat code. Even if you don’t like the concepts themselves, the rigor with which the powers and abilities are designed is worthwhile. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  The video game tropes section contains rules switches that are utterly drop-in. The Imitator template might only be available at the start, but between the under the hood box and the detailed workup of the base Imitation power and Emulation ability, this can be obtained piece by piece if needed. All of them can drop into an existing DF campaign. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. Two articles for the price of one, almost. All of the concepts presented can be found in some of the video games that inspired the Dungeon Fantasy series and concept even more than Dungeons and Dragons. Being able to borrow explicitly, rather than implicitly, from these progenitors is an interesting take on the genre, and new to me since I was never much involved with those games. The template is well presented (my own biases aside) but a concept made necessary only by the usual enforcement of “must use templates” for Dungeon Fantasy. The ten-or-so other mini-tropes are each of them interesting, and I really need to revisit the soul eating thing. That one is a fascinating alternative to character points that would take a game in an entirely new direction – and yet still fall within both the DF genre and respectful to the computer games from which it sprung (and which co-exist with it on PCs and consoles today).

Would I use it? Mostly. The Imitator template and power set isn’t for me, but that’s because I use templates less as niche protection and more as cheats to save time. If someone wanted to free-form design a character, I’d probably let them. Three of the tropes (the mini-map, leveling up your sword, and the supremely cool soul eating section) are good choices for how I like to play games. That’s more than enough to make this a worthwhile read for me.

Biases Aside: I’m going to start adding this to my reviews. This is an alternate scoring if you’re approaching the article as not-me.

  • Dislike of Template Format: I more or less loathe the GURPS Template presentation style (though I’m very, very fond of templates as implemented with GURPS Character Assistant; I just can’t stand reading them). I cannot think of a better way to execute a template concept as it’s presented, other than +Sean Punch‘s Pointless Slaying and Looting that is found within this very issue. If you love templates and your eyes don’t glaze over reading the giant wall of stats, the writing score would go up to 1 point.
  • Mandatory Templates: If you run a game that enforces templates, as I would not, then the drop in utility of this article goes to 4 points. 
  • Limited Selection: Of the video tropes section, there are three I love, and the others I’d probably not use. If you also don’t like templates and are disinterested in some of the options, you might hit Background, Inspiration and Eiphany and Drop-in as 2 points; I can’t see how you go lower than 3 on Drop-in; everything in it is available for this purpose.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: As high as 9/10 if you don’t share my views on things, or as low as 5/10 if video game emulation or stealing ideas from it are not your cup of tea.

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!

Eidetic Memory: Good Dungeons ( +David Pulver  )

Summary: David takes a look at dungeons that might actually be filled with sweetness and light. In order to liven up the usual dungeon trope, he looks at strongholds of good (or at least not-evil) beings and why a dungeon might exist with their names on it.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This is presented in a matter-of-fact style. Each section is very nearly stand-alone, and invokes or investigates a different possibility for why a “good” dungeon might exist. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  While it might not cover every aspect of good dungeons, there are more than enough here to make the prospective campaign or episode designer salivate with possibilities. From person-based (good wizards or mighty benevolent dragons) to culture and race-based (Dwarfish strongholds and Elven citadels) to religious temples and crypts, David walks the reader through many ways that a dungeon can not simply be a festering pit of evil. I really enjoyed the bits about elves and dwarves, and a GM that wanted to play up the fey nature of Elves rather than just a group of pointy-eared gorgeous folk that are Just Damned Better Than You could really make hay with the concepts here. This really worked for me. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  While not strictly “drop-in,” any of these concepts can be easily worked in as inspiration to an ongoing campaign. Using this article is as simple (and as complex) as making one of these points the focus of the next mini-arc in an ongoing campaign. 3 points.

Overall: 8/10. A thorough exploration of a concept that really didn’t occur to me until David wrote about it. It covers the material very well and provides locations, hints of personalities, and even some motivations for why good PCs might raid a “good” dungeon. A fine effort.

Would I use it? Yes. This is a treasure trove of ideas to be liberally sprinkled into any fantasy campaign, much less Dungeon Fantasy.

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.

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!

Dungeons of Mars (Phil Masters)

Summary: An essay on using the Dungeon Fantasy tropes and techniques to enable the planetary romance genre. The article is part retrospective, but the majority of it is dissecting the elements of planetary romance and relating them to the usual care-abouts in a DF game. An example is worked in through the text, and some minor game mechanical help is given along the way.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This article is both thoughtful and thought provoking. By analyzing one particular genre or idea against the things that are needed, provided, or asked for in DF, Phil enables you to ask that series of questions about any prospective treatment. The writing is engaging and interesting, and it reads like the essay it is, rather than the more crunch-laden works often found in GURPS publications. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The core of this article is all about background and inspiration, with the epiphany coming from the extension to other treatments (left as an exercise to the reader). 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: While a few of the passages contain game-mechanical help in the form of templates and stats, this is not drop-in material. It, on the other hand, is not supposed to be. 1 points.

Overall: 7/10. The score is biased downward by 40% of the grade being meted out based on what you can drop into existing games. This is, of course, not the point of the article and it seems almost unfair to judge it that way. That being said, Anything in the top half of the scale (6-10) will find a home somewhere, and I heartily recommend the content of the piece for brain food.

Would I use it? In a way, this is a funny question for this article, which is as much essay and (short) dissection of a topic than something you “use.” One can argue (and I will), that by being exposed to the concepts of planetary romance with a DF lens on, not only might I use it, but I have already done so. The purpose of the article was to expand my horizons, and in that it was successful regardless if I can now drop a new character class into my existing game.

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!

Pointless Slaying and Looting ( +Sean Punch )

Summary: Sean (sort of ) throws points out the window, and reduces character creation in Dungeon Fantasy into a small number of choices from a fairly large menu. Somewhat limited choices are made from an archetype, abilities, skills, and limitations in the equivalent of large-point-value chunks, reducing character creation to what should be a matter of minutes. Point-quibblers and munchkins need not apply.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: It’s hard to make a giant menu of items exciting. Sean does his best, of course, which is very good indeed. He concisely describes the thought behind each selection, and provides guidelines for GMs and tinkerers to create their own. The articles suffers a bit from the menu-driven approach (not that one could do otherwise), and it’s possible that eyes glaze over a bit when presented with (say) three or four pages of nothing but wildcard skill collections. This is significantly offset by the amused insertions into some of the entries, such as the section on Heroic Flaws, each of which begins with “Disaster results from . . . ” Some of these are hysterical, such as the entry for Nervous or Saintly. While the huge walls of text, in character block format, are off-putting, this is simply the required format for this in a readable fashion fit for a magazine. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: . This is, quite simply, the d6 Star Wars, FATE Accelerated, or Swords and Wizardry of GURPS Character Generation – and I mean that in the most flattering and complimentary way possible. Each of those systems make it possible to generate a starting character in fifteen minutes or less, and so it is with this article. Make a dozen or so choices, and you have a fully functional, realized character that is basically a 250-point “starting” hero. None of the munchkinry that can happen when you’re dealing with a system discretized to single-point quanta. The “under the hood” boxes are concise and appropriately dense. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is the ultimate drop-in, so long as you’re starting a campaign or character. The menu of options is extensive enough to fit nearly any bill, and the guidance for making even more choices right there in the text. While this is customized for Dungeon Fantasy, the applicability to other genres is obvious. 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. This is like FATE Accelerated and GURPS Spaceships got all drunk and had a really athletic, smart, irritatingly good looking child. The good news is that this person wants to date YOU. Seriously, this is the way future genre treatments should be presented. 

Would I use it? Yes. Yes I would. This is too good not to use, and I hope it makes itself a permanent feature in future GURPS publications. It’s a polite judo throw to the face for the argument that GURPS chargen takes too long and is too complicated. You can go from zero to hero in fifteen minutes with this concept, and it’s worth replicating.

I’ve been published nine times in GURPS Fourth Edition. One major work (Technical Grappling) and eight articles in Pyramid. 

Having just reviewed Pyramid #3/70, I thought I’d go back and revisit my old stuff, using the same format, and applying the same scale. Granted, I could be pretty biased – but that’s what blogs are for.

A decent article with enough background to get the point that inspires a few ideas, that can be dropped into a reasonably popular genre with little fuss, and doesn’t leave you scratching your head wondering what the author was talking about would rate about 5/10 on the scale presented here. Anything more than that, in the range of 6-8, is going to likely please its target audience very much. Something that’s in the 8-9 scale will delight it’s target audience, and be a fun, entertaining, illuminating read for everyone else. I’ve never given a 10 yet.

So, here we go:

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling

Summary: A replacement for the current grappling rules in GURPS+Sean Punch wrote a very kind blurb when it was published. You can find many blog entries about it in these pages, of course. Ultimately, TG replaces the current Contest-based grappling rules with the attack-defense-effect roll paradigm dominant in every other aspect of GURPS combat. The effect is called Control Points, and they have the result of lowering the ST and DX of your foe. There are other things you can do with them, such as spend them, leveraging (see what I did there) a loss in overall restraint for a one-time effect.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. I’m actually going to ding myself here a bit. The rules are dense and technical, and there are nearly fifty pages of them. It’s a book that could have benefited a lot from more examples and a few test fights. -1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: TG can be used to vastly amp up the coolness factor of grappling in combat. In real games, such as those run by +Peter V. Dell’Orto+Christopher R. Rice, and +Jake Bernstein it has been used to great dramatic and mechanical effect. The errata’d bite rules provide a nice way of getting critters to grapple well, and once you wrap your head around the basic concepts, things become pretty natural to describe in terms of control points. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: It is possible to drop this in to an existing game, and that has been done. However, it’s much more useful if you start character creation with it and then use it from the get-go. Once you twig to the way to go, your games will be more fun. 3 points.

Overall: 6/10. It’s a shame I can’t give myself more credit here, but I think that wordcount concerns rendered this one a bit over-dense. While I did amplify a lot over time, on the blog and a bit in Pyramid #3/61, the book does take a bit to incorporate into games. This is also because it re-uses a lot from the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts, which is good . . . but replaces some as well, and with so much out there, not all of the interactions are crystal clear. The basic mechanic of control points and spending them is extremely worthwhile, though – and can be ported to other games, even.

Would I use it? Well, yeah! I of course use it, or a simplified version of it, in all games I play these days. The underlying mechanic is, as I noted, just better than the one it replaces.

By Default (Pyramid #3/65)

Summary: Replacing the standard STAT-X defaulting mechanism with STAT/2 basis instead. This makes it harder to become good at everything simply by buying up DX or IQ, effectively costing 40 points per +1 to skill instead of 20. 

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. The writing is clear and doesn’t get in the way. Sufficient examples are provided to get the point. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: A solid exploration of what the current STAT-X rules do, and what the STAT/2 rules do and don’t do instead. The benefits and pitfalls are explored well. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is not a drop-in article. The concepts may or may not be good, but they will completely rewrite an existing character’s capabilities, often for the worse if character points are concentrated in stats rather than skills, like many Dungeon Fantasy characters.  I’m gong to say that the “drop-in” utility of this is basically a 0, 1 point at best if you’re starting out a campaign. The good news is Eric Smith whipped up a GCA file do do this for you, so I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and give it the higher score. 1 point.

Overall: 4/10. Not a strong article overall, especially relative to others. However, for those that (a) use GCA (see the file above), (b) are starting a campaign, and (c) think that stats are too dominant in GURPS as written . . . the concepts here may well be quite compelling. A niche article.

Would I use it? Probably not. I had the opportunity to decide to use this in my Alien Menace game, and decided against it. Every rule in GURPS is written with the existing stat/skill structure as the background. This is an edition-level change, and maybe not even one for the better (doubling the cost of DX and IQ might get the same thing done, and more cheaply, for example).

Takedown Sequences (Pyramid #3/61)


Summary: I did a content-based review on my blog previously, but not using the ratings format I came up with when I decided to do more Pyramid reviews. Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior is the issue accompanying two Martial Arts-related PDF releases. My own Technical Grappling, and David Moore’s GURPS Martial Arts: Yrth Fighting Styles. Takedown Sequences is a how-to guide for translating real-world grappling moves and positions into the lingo of Technical Grappling. The article spends some time on positioning (fundamental to grappling), and then gives a set of “first roll this, then that” type sequences for things like moving from a clinch to a takedown, or executing a classic arm bar. The emphasis on this article is on offensive moves.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. The writing is clear and doesn’t get in the way. Sufficient examples are provided to get the point. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: For non-grapplers, the article talks about why you do certain things; for grapplers it talks about how. The moves are discussed in game-mechanical details with explanations on what’s happening in the real world. It’s a good “how-to” background on TG concepts and making them work in game. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of this is high. Nothing needs to be changed, and if you’re already using TG (the target audience for this), you figure out what you want to do, and then follow the steps. Two optional rules (Positioning Move and Destabilizing Strike) are provided as well. 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. If you want to do grappling with TG and are a bit fuzzy on how, this is a good article. If you want to emulate particular real-world moves using TG, this has several key explanations on what’s going on. While not quite as detailed as +Mook Wilson‘s combat examples, it’s a good reference for those wishing to use TG in a game. 

Would I use it? Yes. That’s a little misleading, in that if you already know the sequence of pulling off moves in TG, you probably don’t need some of the article. The process of going through the sequences is illustrative, though, and will help get you into the TG mindset.

Coming to Grips with Realism (Pyramid #3/61)


Summary: These are the Technical Grappling Designer’s Notes; it’s also the first (and only, thus far) time I have two articles in one issue. The article talks about common tropes about grappling and how they’re right and wrong. It explains the overall mission of the book – “can we hew to the core GURPS rules and mechanics while providing a more variable effect roll for grappling,” and explains the origin and function of the core concept of TG (Control Points). It also calls out what’s new, expanded, and clarified when using TG over the RAW grappling rules. Finally, it provides some alternate rules and outtakes from the original manuscript. It also contains two grappling-centric critical hit/miss tables for use with TG.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: More casually written than most of my articles, I think the conversational tone works for a Designer’s Notes article. I think it’s a good read, personally. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: How the book was written, why, and what feel it’s supposed to invoke. The guts “behind the curtain” on some of the rules and concepts. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of this is mostly absent by design, though there are a few rules nuggets in there to use if you like. 1 point.

Overall: 6/10. This article is nice for those wanting to understand the motivation and inspiration behind a book that is mechanically dense. If you will use TG, you don’t have to read this, but it might be fun.

Would I use it? Barely applicable. Most of the article doesn’t involve “use.”

Dodge This! (Pyramid #3/57)


Summary: This article takes a comprehensive look at the GURPS Dodge mechanic, and breaks down what’s happening, why, and when you get to roll or use Dodge in the first place. While it’s directly applicable to gun combat first and foremost, extensions to unifying the parry, block, and dodge rules for all weapons are also provided.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The article hits on out-of-game and in-game viewpoints for each concept presented. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Even if I do say so myself, this is a very strong article in this category – maybe my best. It takes a long-extant issue with the perception of how GURPS rules work and addresses it from many angles. It looks at non-problems as well as issues that aren’t rules issues but are suspension-of-disbelief issues. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Several different ways to address both game-mechanics and suspension of disbelief are presented. They involve more die rolls but low bookkeeping. Mechanical methods are presented to extend rules to cover all weapons, not just guns. 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. Honestly, this may be my strongest article to date. It takes an issue that comes up in games (it first reared it’s ugly head for me when playing in a session GM’d by +Jeromy French where so much laser fire was dodged that people were willing to just quit) and knocks it down in several ways. The solutions presented are not complicated and present a balance between additional rolls and no bookkeeping. 

Would I use it? Yes. I wrote it to solve issues that happened for me, at my own table. I think it’s a good way to solve those issues, and I’ve gotten good feedback from other people that they work quite well. If you do gun combat, or even more, lasers, you’ll want to pick this one up.

Delayed Gratification (Pyramid #3/52)


Summary: The article provides an alternative to the Feint mechanic in the form of a delayed deceptive attack called a Setup Attack. Sean described the article as such:

GURPS offers many ways to lower your opponents’ defenses: Deceptive Attack, Feint, and so on. But if you want Delayed Gratification, try the Setup Attack. Based on realistic fighting techniques, this new combat option gives you a way to launch an offensive that may cost your opponent his Hit Points and his defenses.”

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The article take a simple concept and hits it from many angles, trying to anticipate most questions. While it’s not lyrical prose, I think this one qualifies as very well executed. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The strength of this article is really in the exploration of the various rules. If you’ve been unsatisfied with Feints in your games, this might twig to why, and provide thoughts as to how partners can fight well together, and drive some more satisfying behavior into fights, because even a “feint” will be potentially dangerous to the foe. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This one you can drop in to an existing game, as-is, and not even ditch the current Feint rules (though you may want to). 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. Those who have used Setup Attacks in their games report that they’re quite satisfactory, and a preferred mechanic over the Feint. I find the same thing, and the article explores this in many ways, from many angles. While honestly I think Dodge This is better, it’s solving a different problem. 

Would I use it? Yes. These replace the Feint in my games where melee matters, full stop.

The Last Gasp (Pyramid #3/44)


Summary: The Last Gasp presents two different ways to deal with fatigue in GURPS. The first is to simply make recovering from fatigue last longer, with more severe (and gradual) consequences. The second introduces the concept of Action Points, a complimentary set of rules designed around short-term fatigue, lost and regained on the scale of seconds. In effect, these are two related articles that can be used together, but need not be.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The Last Gasp is another article that’s mechanically intensive. While well executed, there’s a lot to digest. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The exploration of fatigue points and how to make their use and recovery more dramatic is good but not earth-shattering. The action points mechanic is (even as the author) inspired and radically changes the dynamics of a fight, often for the better. The SJG Forum poster Mailanka used AP extensively in his martial arts campaign called Cherry Blossom Rain, and found it added lulls and flurries to combats organically (a design goal). The concepts here radically change how fatigue impact the game, making it both more important and more dramatic. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This one is “two articles in one,” and the rules for longterm fatigue can be dropped in to an existing game as-is, with few changes. A few new die rolls, and a new appreciation for spending FP. Spell casters will not be pleased; though, if the mana reserve drains FP, since casting a spell in combat will be pretty debilitating. The Action Point rules have less drop-in utility, since they will change how each character fights, and also require bookkeeping from turn to turn. Physical tokens help this a lot, but AP are mechanically intensive and for the GM, who might be tracking a horde of creatures, potentially painful (a handy quick-resolution table is provided in the article, so this isn’t a problem in play). 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. The alternate rules for long-term fatigue make spending down your FP painful each time you do it. The Action Points rules radically impact fight dynamics. It’s a really variant approach that can have high payoff handled well – but it doesn’t suit all genres and all games. 

Would I use it? Sometimes. The complexity burden of AP has to coexist with other rules, and as such can be the straw that broke the camel’s back for games that use a lot of house rules. In Alien Menace, I chose not to use them, since they wouldn’t impact games with gunplay much, and the punitive costs for movement (which I’ve reworked on this blog) exacerbate what I call the ‘immobile battlefield’ problem.

 Armor Revisited (Pyramid #3/34)


Summary: An exploration of the various penetration and injury mechanics used in GURPS, with suggestions for how to tweak them out in various ways. This contains the “official” published version of Armor as Dice.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The concepts involved are explained thoroughly and help give greater understanding of the underlying mechanics. Makes the subject more approachable. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: I’m going to quote Jeffro +Jeffro Johnson here: 

This is a fascinating article.  On the one hand, it is a concise set of designer’s notes that explains the foundational premise of the GURPS firearms rules.  On the other… it provides two additional dials that can be applied the the weapons and armor stats in the game.  As a bonus, these are explained in such a way that it is clear when and why to do things in the alternate way.  A big part of running a game depends on being able to visualize what is happening before the players begin to interact with it.  This article explains what the core combat rules actually mean in such a way that a GM that understands this can better improvise his rulings on the fly.  This is surprisingly interesting given the technical nature of the ideas. 

Based on feedback like this, I give myself: 4 points.
Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Any of the concepts here can be dropped into an existing game, in some cases making it better, in other cases no change. Only in fantasy and low-tech games with lots of melee combat and hand weapons do the principles suffer a bit – oh, wait. That’s the most popular genre. Oops. 3 points.

Overall: 8/10. Short but informative, this presents a good behind the curtain style exploration of how to approach penetration and injury in GURPS. A worthy read for those interested in the subject.

Would I use it? Yes. Armor as Dice appears in all my firearms-heavy games, and the rule is a good option even in lower tech stuff.

The Deadly Spring (Pyramid #3/33)


Summary: A nearly-ridiculously mathematically intensive treatment of bows and similar muscle-powered ranged weapons in GURPS. It’s primarily a design system for bows and arrows, but includes about a dozen worked examples. The new system puts arrow penetration on a scale more resembling that of firearms.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The bulk of the article is nearly a physics paper, which would normally qualify for -2 points . . . but it also ships with a set of spreadsheets (one generic one, and one more for each sample weapon) that take all of the math out of it for the user. I’m going to call that a wash . 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Even if I do say so myself, this is probably the most thorough treatment of bows in a roleplaying game, ever. The article of The Defense Acadmy Warbow trials even gave me a smile and nod in private communication. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is about as far from drop-in as it can get, save for the examples. Even if you do use the spreadsheet, you need to be prepared for an iterative process that does require an understanding of how bows work, and what tweaks are required to bring a bow into the realm of “actually works.” Still, with the spreadsheet and examples, it’s not a total loss. 1 points.

Overall: 5/10. Definitive and comprehensive, but without a doubt the crunchiest article to ever appear in Pyramid. If you like the subject, and can handle the math, you’ll rate this more like a 6-7/10 but for most people, it’s something that has a few nuggets to make it interesting, but overall you might just skip it.

Would I use it? Yes. The math doesn’t scare me, the spreadsheet is functional, and in any game that’s not super-powered, it puts a lot more believability into games, especially when co-existing with guns. However, in genres like Dungeon Fantasy or supers, where larger-than-life is the rule and Imperial Stormtroopers can be riddled with Ewok arrows, you should drop this like a hot rock. Drama is more important there.

Parting Shot

So, those are all of my contributions to GURPS Fourth Edition so far. At least in writing. If you’d like to take issue or comment on any of my self-biased scoring, please do!

Beyond my own written and published boosts to Fourth Edition, I’ve got a bunch of playtest credits, including Lead Playtest for +Hans-Christian Vortisch and Shawn Fisher’s High-Tech and Hans’ Tactical Shooting. The Tactics rules called out in Sean’s Ten for Ten article was a playtest suggestion of mine!

Forthcoming, +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have collaborated on two articles currently in a bit of limbo, but both dealing with fighting, and both suitable and directed at Dungeon Fantasy. Three more submitted articles are in +Steven Marsh‘s capable hands for mechanical treatments of various topics. Plus some other projects I can’t talk about yet or are still in the discussion-with-collaborators stages.

GURPS Fourth Edition was, and remains, my go-to game. That doesn’t mean I don’t play others! I have enjoyed the heck out of Swords and Wizardry with +Erik Tenkar as GM, and the new DnD 5th Edition impresses me enough to want to play it. I’d love to play in a Night’s Black Agents game with a competent GM to try it out; after talking to +Kenneth Hite I think I’d be a much better player for the GUMSHOE system than in the past. Actually, what I really want to do is take that book and do a GURPS supplement treatment for it, a conversion. I think it would fill a void for high-action but not-superhero monster stuff that’s more Action! and less Monster Hunters or even +S. John RossBlack Ops, still one of my favorite third edition supplements.

Oh, and I’m interviewing Steve Jackson himself tomorrow for the Firing Squad. Look for that in a couple of weeks.