With all the excitement about he DF Boxed Set, and even with my interview, there’s a lot of information +Sean Punch has put out there in the DF threat of the SJG Forums.

I’ve collected it here into one post. Hopefully it’ll help someone.

What is the DF Boxed Set

What This Is: A standalone roleplaying game, Powered by GURPS – a game created using GURPS as a toolkit. To create it, I had to rewrite big chunks of the GURPS Basic Set, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy (mostly the first three volumes), and – have no fear – GURPS Magic. I also had to write more original material than I realized back in January . . . Whether you’re a GURPS fan, a player of other RPGs, or a total newbie to gaming, there’s something in the box for you.

What This Is Not: An “update” or a “repackaging” of anything. This is not “all the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements and related Pyramid issues in one place for existing GURPS fans.” That would intimidate the living crud out of newbies, who we hope will buy the game! In fact, you don’t have to know what a “gurps” is to use this. (Depending on how many house rules you use, you might even be better off if you don’t!)

More on this in upcoming weeks . . . I’m still writing the Designer’s Notes articles.

How well does it mesh with the current DF line?

Well enough, but there will be adaptations needed. Those going from the box to the PDFs will get a wealth of extra stuff, but they’ll have to learn some annoying GURPS mechanics that I either pounded flat or swept under the carpet, and will notice that bards aren’t quite the same. Those going from the PDFs to the box will notice a lot of replication, but they’ll get some surprising new stuff and replacement rules for things that kind of suck in GURPS, and will notice that bards aren’t quite the same.

I’d say that (GURPS Fourth Edition + GURPS Dungeon Fantasy) and the box are more compatible than GURPS Fourth Edition and GURPS Third Edition, Revised. But the box is a bit like “GURPS 4.5, only for hack ‘n’ slash.”

Are bards not quite the same ?

Bards right now are spread thin over three areas of supernatural expertise (Bard-Song abilities, magic spells, and Enthrallment skills) and two Talents (Bardic Talent and Musical Ability); can use only three colleges of magic; and have so many points tied up in this situation that there’s nothing left if, say, you want to play a nonhuman. In the box, all of these situations will take a turn for the better.

Choices from other supplements (Low-Tech in this case)

Being a new game and not a GURPS supplement, the box has the luxury of picking one set of numbers and pretending the others don’t exist. It went with the GURPS Low-Tech numbers because they’re more recent, cover more sorts of armor over more body parts, and more obviously assemble into grab-and-go suits. This does mean armor costs a lot and, at lower DRs, weighs a lot for what you get. It also means that as you slide up the scale, armor becomes pretty efficient.

It bears pointing out, too, that between modifiers like fine and orichalcum, and the almost criminally cheap Lighten enchantment, those with money can have armor that approaches “stupidly light” if they want it. This is fantasy, where money is no object but heavy fighters traditionally clank until they finally get cool magic armor. It is not medieval Europe.

From reading the description and from reading various comments, it sounds as though the material in the boxed set will have some differences when contrasted with the current DF line.
Yes. For one thing, many newbie-scaring rules and concepts (e.g., enhancements, limitations, and techniques) aren’t there – though they’ll work as always if you opt to restore them. Almost everything else has had a touch of the editorial pen. Some content has simply been tweaked not to refer those things I left out, of course! However, other material has been clarified (e.g., countless spell descriptions), optimized for DF (still on the magic theme: spells conform with Wizardry Refined), adjusted to be less lame in DF (Outdoorsman . . .), or had game-slowing complexities removed. A very, very small number of things have been rewritten sufficiently that they might not feel like the GURPS you know; they might feel a little “GURPS 4.5.”

Will the profession templates be at different CP totals?

No. They are all at 250 points.

The starting power level supported by the stock character templates in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is 250 points. Is that high? Well, because power level is open-ended, “high” is relative. In GURPS Fourth Edition, starting characters in even very realistic genres have 150 points, so 250 points is higher than that . . . yet it’s in the middle of what the Basic Set calls “larger-than-life” (200-300 points), toward the bottom of what GURPS Supers calls “low-power” (200-400 points), and well below the 400-point starting level for GURPS Monster Hunters, which also about sword-swinging, magic-using heroes fighting monsters. I’d say that makes 250 points a “medium” starting power level.

Does the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game support other power levels? Not in its character templates, no – those assume 250 points. The box doesn’t offer ready-made 200-, 150-, 100-, or 50-point templates, nor does it offer level-ups in large chunks. It starts players off with heroes who can do something cool in practically any situation out of combat and on every turn in combat, and it encourages them to “level up” creatively in the areas they find fun, not in prepackaged ways. But if the GM wants to get away from templates, there’s the usual support for any power level desired. Everything has a point cost and there are pointers on how to keep people focused at power levels other than the default one.

Personally, I feel that starting characters will feel a lot like new heroes in modern computer and tabletop RPGs, and that because of this, 250 points will be seen as “low” by those who have never played GURPS. Only veterans of very old zero-to-hero games, and those who have played GURPS at a wide variety of power levels in many settings, will feel otherwise.

It is often difficult to afford both a racial template and a professional template.

I’ve taken pains to ensure that every profession can afford a nonhuman racial template, though one expensive racial template is still a reach for one professional template.

I want to teach new players how GURPS works, and I’ve found that 250 points can sometimes be overwhelming.

I’ve made a few changes to template presentation to help a bit with that.

Will the differences between the box set and the existing DF line be significant enough to warrant something like a “GURPS Update” PDF, to help existing DF players and curious box set players conform the box set to the line?

Reply hazy, ask again . . . someday. In the past, update documents came after the fact and were mostly the work of dedicated fans, though SJ Games laid them out and distributed them. Noting each change in a log slows down a project of this kind immensely. Game development is writing, and writing works best when you don’t stop at every section to make notes in another document. Thus, there’s no change log – and text rearrangements ensure that automated file comparison is unlikely to work. Any such thing would be an after-publication effort, probably by fans.

It’s important to realize that we see the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game as similar to the Discworld Roleplaying Game, the Hellboy Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game, and the Vorkosigan Saga Sourcebook and Roleplaying Game. It isn’t a GURPS supplement, so update, conversion, or bridging documents aren’t a priority.

All of which said, it’s extremely compatible with GURPS and most of the changes are organizational (e.g., “Let’s lower ST and add those points to the advantage budget, so a player who wants an agile warrior rather that a strong one can have that.”).

Could we get a list of changes between the boxed set and the original materials?  Just the highlights would do nicely.

Game development is writing and writing isn’t the same as, say, software development . . . pausing it to log changes is a time-consuming and hence costly luxury. I did not do that, so there is no official list of changes. If something felt “off” to me, I changed it and moved on. It’s possible that fans might eventually crowdsource such a list – and if they do, it’s conceivable (no promises!) that SJ Games might distribute that list semi-officially.

That said, I have written 3,750 words of Designer’s Notes articles. Keep an eye out for those, because they do highlight the biggest differences – though at the level of “lots of spells were changed for these reasons” rather than “here’s a list of spells that changed,” never mind “here are the changes to spells.” Spells are just one example. You could replace “spells” with “advantages” or “gear” or “combat options” or “modifiers.”

There are a lot of new players who are interested in something more serious and character driven than the DF ad copy implies.

This is true, but our goal in this specific case is to build a single (sub)genre game from our generic game system. As subgenres go, traditional hack ‘n’ slash fantasy has a surprising amount of game-mechanical overhead (tons of detail needed on spells, weapons, armor, combat, monsters, etc., plus detailed resource tracking). A deeper social dimension would mean adding social traits plus at least a rudimentary socio-economic framework in which those things would be relevant, with all that implies for arms control, sumptuary laws, cost of living, jobs, residences, retainers, etc. That would bring its own significant overhead. For the time being, then, we’re focusing on the first class of things.

Nothing says the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game has to stop there, of course. It does include significant noncombat abilities, even social skills. The question is one of developing their use in more story-oriented directions.

Phil Reed notes: If the Kickstarter project closes successfully, this is just the beginning.

How pitched to new players of GURPS is the writing?
Its bias toward new GURPS players is comparable to that of the Basic Set: It doesn’t assume you already play GURPS and it does take the time to explain basics such as “What is roleplaying?” and how dice-rolling works.
Will players be assumed to know how to play an RPG?
No, although I was realistic in that regard. Most people who come to roleplaying do so after hearing how it works from people who already do it. I’m not sure it has been a thing since the 1970s to just walk down Main Street, see a funky shop with colorful boxes in the window, buy cold, and try to figure out the game. So the pitch is slanted toward people who have at least heard of RPGs, if not played them.
How well will, say, a middle school student be able to understand the Dungeon Fantasy RPG?
Better than such a student would be able to understand the Basic Set, I think. There are zero switches and dials to adjust to get the genre you want – only traits and rules you’ll use in adventure fantasy are included. There’s significantly less on-the-fly math. Templates aren’t as dense and hard to read. The overall tone of the writing is lighter; GURPS strives to be informal, even conversational, but I’d like to believe I took it even further.
(Of course, a bad student with terrible grades in English and Mathematics won’t get very far with it!)
So, we can only hope to see a suplement covering this social issues in a distant future?
As Phil Reed said, “If the Kickstarter project closes successfully, this is just the beginning.” I can’t promise that additional coverage of social gaming would be a priority, but it is item #7 on my big list of “maybes,” which currently goes up to 16.
So… IF this project succeeds, we can hope similar “boxes” for other genres, like Space Opera and Supers, right? Can we look to have a full “4.5 Edition” (or even a 5th Edition) in a distant future?
Probably not, because one of the biggest problems GURPS is facing is a general lack of interest in generic RPGs. In a hypothetical future where other boxes exist for other genres (and we cannot promise that!), each one would run with one specific genre. Which means its “4.5” would be a genre-specific rules set slightly different from all the other “4.5s.” All would be built from Fourth Edition, so there would still be a universal game behind it all, but pulling them together wouldn’t be the best use of energy . . . it would use up resources that could give us quite a bit of other genre coverage to create a game that covers all genres and thus competes with those boxed sets.
But this is all extremely hypothetical right now, and if you quote that back at me in a year, I’ll claim The Devil hacked my account. 😉
Will you fold the new template layout into the main line (not just DF)?
Probably not. It’s pretty hard on space and production artists, so it’s something we can do for a fancy 
product that we can’t so easily do for dozens of PDFs a year. Also – and this is important – the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game and GURPS are relatives, not supplements for one another. Things in one aren’t supposed to wash back into the other . . .
Anyway, all this talk made me think… there will be differences in costs of the advantages and disadvantages?
Off hand, I don’t recall changing any costs. Of course, the day the box ships, somebody will call me on that! But in the interest of compatibility, I kept even weird costs that weren’t nice multiples of five. Lots of cases of Trait [15] being made into Trait (Modifier, -10%) [14] became Other Trait [14] so that the games would remain compatible at the mathematical level, even though some labels changed.
Ah, wait, I just recalled one cost change I made . . . for bards. That’s all I’m going to say. 😉
The pattern being assumed I think is a mirror of the 3E to 4E jump, where 3E went to Compendium because everything new was scattered all over, and then Compendium went to 4E in part because lessons learned weren’t able to be universally applied.
That case isn’t very comparable to the current one, though. The Third to Fourth case was “old edition of a generic game with lots of add-ons gets a compilation of add-ons, new edition of the same generic game assimilates those add-ons.” The GURPS vs. Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game case is more “generic toolkit is used to build a new game, which is an example of how the toolkit works.” The former situation is “I had a lot of hardware everywhere in my shop, so I created a system for keeping track of it all last year, and this year I just rearranged the whole shop.” The latter is “I had a lot of hardware in my shop, so I built a house to keep my family and friends happy.”
Personally I’d be afraid of greater fragmentation by going with a bunch of different box sets, each with its own “4.5” that undermines the notion of the G and U in GURPS, without folding it back in somehow.
If the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game were actually GURPS, I think that would be a worry. But it isn’t! It’s another game based on GURPS. The universal system already exists but is more system than game . . . what’s missing are actual worked examples of games you can create using the system. Creating those doesn’t affect the system – even if some of them need tweaks. It’s like the guy in my hardware example going out and buying some extra parts for his house, because they weren’t in his shop: That doesn’t make his shop less useful, and it doesn’t mean he needs to start cluttering up his shop with yet more hardware he needed for one specific project.
I have seen so many indies RPGs that I thought that the situation was not so bad […] today I think we have more, even if sell less.
The thing is that if there are a million customers and they buy 10 games, one from each of 10 big companies, each company gets 100,000 customers. If there are 1,000 games, each game gets 1,000 customers. Perhaps 1,000 games generate more interest and grow the market to 2 million people, 2,000 per game. But if the big companies used to 100,000 customers built their methods around having at least 10,000 customers even for total failures, 2,000 is 1/5 of a total failure. And if too many of those big companies throw in the towel as a result, the hype they generate goes away . . . and that hype is what the small and indie stuff piggybacks on. Each big company that goes away might take 1/10 of those 2 million people with it.
That’s a gross simplification, but it illustrates how you can have more interest, more people, and more products, yet less success. Indie really only works if there are a few big fish around to buoy awareness and invest in growing the hobby. Indies don’t have the spare assets to burn on those goals.
Who’s the author of “I Smell a Rat”? Or is this being kept secret?

I am the author of all the books. There will be “additional material” credits, and of course there will be credits for artists, production staff, marketing personnel, and so on, but I am the one who developed all of the written content.
And as a bonus: I Smell a Rat is a very basic adventure with one quest-giver and a single, fairly linear level. It starts at an inn, like so many old-school adventures do. It involves killing giant rats for rewards, like countless other intro adventures in countless other RPGs, both tabletop and computerized. Its primary purposes are to show GMs how dungeons are mapped, stocked, and described, and to give players a chance to learn about combat, tricks, traps, and looting. Of course, there are ways it could be expanded to bigger, flashier things . . . and for all I know, some enterprising author will come along and do exactly that.
Quarter of a million words is no joke. Yikes.

I got to reuse a lot, but that was rarely verbatim. The real work was making sure it was start-to-finish 
consistent, with no pointers to nonexistent sections or external supplements, and with all rules tweaks propagated to even the darkest corners of the text. Whether you find setting up, stocking, and organizing a shop easier or harder than building a house is a matter of personal skills and tastes, but doing the latter isn’t easy work just because the former is hard work.
Will the revision to the magic system go beyond Wizardry Refined + readability?
The magic system in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is the one in GURPS Magic with these major changes:
  • I made everything in “Wizardry Refined” (Pyramid #3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III, pp. 4-14) standard, not optional, and left no clue that things were ever any different.
  • I added Protection from Evil and Sense Evil, from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11.
  • I removed all Enchantment and Technological spells. (Enchanted items are still part of the game, but enchantments aren’t described as spells for PCs to learn and cast.)
  • I removed spells no PC is ever likely to cast, like Resurrection. (Just as with Enchantment spells, the effects still exist, but they’re now “stuff to buy in town,” not “stuff to learn and cast.”)
  • I removed over-complex, fussy, and/or wordy spells. I’m looking at you, Divination and Linking Spells.
  • I gave spells that made the cut a once-over for game balance (e.g., Stench is no longer the ultimate death spell, and Bless now has clear terminal conditions), consistency (e.g., to resolve the Great Sunbolt Damage Type debate), clarity (e.g., what are the actual rules for Earthquake breaking stuff?), and length (e.g., Sunbolt again). I rewrote those found wanting as much as I felt was needed.
  • I reformatted spell write-ups slightly to accommodate differences in clerical, druidic, and wizardly prerequisites.
It’s still possible to break the game, but not by giving all your friends triple-DR essential armor and unending Bless spells, or by learning half the Healing college as a wizard and making the cleric feel redundant, or by bringing everybody else’s fun to a halt while you enchant stuff.
This is a pretty cool product, but frankly if I were to do Dungeon Fantasy again with my current gaming group, I’d use the Sorcerer template + the Saint lenses and tell people the Basic Set magic system is off-limits.
I didn’t dismiss that out of hand, but as compatibility with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2 was a design goal, and as we wanted to offer hundreds of spell selections, I went with standard magic in the end.
Yes, this does mean warriors with lots of attacks, fine weapons, Striking ST, Weapon Master, etc. are simply better at damage per second than casters, while casters excel at pre-combat buffing, in-combat support, and post-combat recovery. But given that casters with Magery 6 and big Energy Reserves can create 18d Explosive Fireball spells, recover fully, and walk around with 18d hand grenades, I don’t feel too sorry for them.
Did you clarify magic items so it’s clear when a given item is always on, when it requires casting, etc etc?
Just about every item is the kind that doesn’t involve casting anyway, but yes, I think I made that a lot clearer. Bear in mind that removing Enchantment spells included removing most Item blocks. Magical treasures exist, but they’re mostly things like always-on weapons and armor. Mostly.
No wands (of fireballs or otherwise)?
No wands for now, no. We have to leave something for the future. But that future will definitely go with charges, yes. I cannot imagine anybody really wanting to pay FP if there’s a wizard who can do that, but I can easily imagine somebody (even a wizard) wanting limited-use magical pew-pew.
Is it Basic Set, Low Tech or something new hit locations?
Nothing fancy with hit locations at all . . . you get the Basic Set approach. Breaking them down more than that gets excessive, especially since just about all monsters are too weird to need the distinctions added by later books (or even the ones in the Basic Set, really).
Are there any load outs?
No. While I respect Matt’s work on those, my feeling and experience is that most gamers prefer to customize their gear. In fact, I’ve never had a player be happy with pregenerated gear. One of the game’s selling propositions is that you can customize your gear, so filling pages and pages with non-custom loadouts would be an iffy use of space.
Do SM>0 monsters have clear hex grid shapes?
“Combat Writ Large” was used to translate SM into hex sizes, yes. As the Cardboard Heroes are TBD right now, I cannot comment on how the counters for specific monsters will be shaped. That’s getting away from the part of the project that I control, and into graphics and physical components.
Please remember with questions like these that we’re aiming the game as much at people who’ve never seen GURPS as at people who measure their GURPS in gigabytes and shelf-metres, so we have to walk a line between “enough stuff to sell the game” and “so much stuff that people freeze up.” As Phil Reed said, if this gets backed, we’ll follow up with more. For instance, magic items (like those fireball wands) are #2 on my big list of 16 things I’d like to do.
Did any of the SM clarifications make it into the combat rules?

SM to hexes and a clear statement that SM affects even melee? Yes. Incidental collisions? Only indirectly, in the sense that there’s a statement that a multi-hex creature passing through your hex can overrun you. Reach? Built into monster stats already. All the rest? Not really . . . the general approach here was to simplify.
Is there clarification on how an encounter starts? Like who detects whom first and when there is surprise (partial, obviously), and what the distance is.
Yes! There’s a Calm Before the Storm section of rules reminding the GM to set distance (this is left to fiat and room size, but the reminder is there) and determine footing, talking about adjudicating what the PCs were doing when combat broke out, and saying a lot about surprise attacks.
Was there also an effort made to cut / revise blatantly under-powered spells?
Tons of spells were cut, and spells that didn’t really do much were early targets for the axe.
Gauntness is a great example of a silly spell I left out. Wither Limb . . . I’m not sure by what measure it’s anything but overpowered, as most of the Q&A I get about it amounts do, “Wait, does this basically inflict permanent dismemberment no matter how many HP the target has? Yikes!” So it hasn’t changed much. YMMV, but in my games, withering the legs off targets with huge DR that nobody can penetrate, so that the monster is left there immobile, has always been a favorite tactic.
By virtue of having fewer disadvantages and spells, this game can be clearer. Wither Limb now causes “permanent crippling” and refers to the rules for that, those rules spell out that a crippled leg inflicts Lame (Missing Leg), and Lame (Missing Leg) is very clear on “you’ve lost a leg.” Don’t rely on the Basic Set’s terminology in your judgments of this game.
What about awesome dragons?
Comparisons to everything in GURPS aren’t a good measure of “awesome” here, because new gamers will be comparing only to PCs and the 80-some other monsters in the set. But . . . my dragons start at ST/HP 25 and around 3d damage, with flight, area-effect breath, and multiple attacks, and go up to ST/HP 50 and around 7d damage, with faster flight and even more attacks. They also have DR comparable to good metal armor (yes, even over the eyes), and are almost the only monsters to keep stupidly high HT so you can’t just knock them down to -HP and watch them die. Notes recommend adding Magery (up to 6), Energy Reserve (up to 50), and spells. Further notes add the option to tack on even more stuff: Extra Heads with even more attacks, Danger Sense to avoid surprise, Terror, etc. As written, ST isn’t even the most meaningful measurement of dragon power – that would probably be “casting multiple save-or-lose spells from a near-bottomless energy supply wile flying at a safe distance over a group stunned by Terror and burning from large-area fire breath nobody could dive far enough to avoid.”
Loin cloths are absolutely awesome and must be bought

That particular abuse was anticipated, don’t worry. There’s no separate neck, torso, vitals, or groin armor . . . too fussy. It’s all just “body.” Those hit locations do still exist, but now 9-11 is all “torso,” and “groin” is a high-value sub-target, like “vitals.” I’m not that easy to fool. 😉
About that dragon  . . .
It’s made up for this game. I wrote quite a bit of new content, but it’s so integrated into the game that I don’t think I could list it all. However, I definitely remember writing up the dragon de novo!
I want to point out that giving monsters hundreds of HP is seldom actually any fun in play.
Agreed. I kept HP in the 1-50 range for monsters. The notes on a couple let you super-size them to HP 100 or even 150, but that’s mostly for static, gooey things that serve more as obstacles to hack apart than as foes.
That said, don’t forget that a HT 15, HP 50 creature is likely to suck up 300 points of injury (from +HP to -5×HP), or 550 with Unkillable (from +HP to -10×HP), and that DR, Injury Tolerance, and Regeneration can make it hard to get a monster there. In GURPS or the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, ST/HP isn’t by itself the best measure of toughness . . . I’d rather face ST/HP 50, HT 10, and no special powers than ST/HP 10, HT 16, Unkillable, and a 5d withering Malediction that ignores my armor.
Is this going to include psionics?
Definitely not. It isn’t going to include much GURPS Dungeon Fantasy content outside of GURPS 
Dungeon Fantasy 1 and 2, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and 2, and some nonhumans from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3. This means it omits most of the series and all of the Pyramid content other than “Wizardry Refined.” The idea here is to engage new players and avoid bamboozling them, not to drown them in subsystems and variants.
Is this 100% compatible with all existing GURPS content?
It’s 90-95% compatible, if you want to put a number on it. The Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game and GURPS Fourth Edition are at worst half as far apart as GURPS Fourth Edition and GURPS Third Edition, and probably considerably closer. But the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game is a standalone game built to bring in new gamers first and serve longtime GURPS fans second, not vice versa.
For the point costs of powers, if the trait exists only as part of a power, it’s explained in full with that power, with its own name and point cost, not unlike the abilities on pp. 136-151 of GURPS Powers; e.g., “Analyze Magic [19]” rather than a fussy Detect variant that refers to a generic Detect ability. There is no ability-tinkering, power-buiilding mini-game built into the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game.
I cannot emphasize enough how the character-design part of the game just is. Existing fans who want to tinker aren’t going to get extra tinkering power out of it . . . they’ll get some new monsters, an adventure, a bunch of cleaned-up spell descriptions, several variant rules, etc., plus a game that might actually let them recruit new gamers. However, the rules are heavily GURPS-compatible, which means that tinkering in GURPS can be plugged back into the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and that new gamers who learn the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game can jump into GURPS without significant difficulty.

When I heard that there was going to be a big SJG project, and given that I have a certain amount of contact with Sean and the SJG team thanks to being an author for them, as well as doing the fairly well-received GURPSDay compilations, I volunteered to conduct a series of interviews with the SJG team.

+Phil Reed is a busy guy. CEOs are like that, in my experience. While I usually try and do interviews on The Firing Squad, which allows me to dig deeper and probe with follow-ups, that simply wasn’t going to happen.

Phil graciously answered a few questions on the Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set via email. I’ll be following up in a more content-driven conversation – on video – with Sean next week (though it’ll take a bit to get through my post-production, and then transcription, though the vid will go up before the transcript is ready).

My questions are in bold. His answers are in plain text. Continue reading “Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set – Q&A with Phil Reed”

Steve Jackson Games has made a major announcement about the Dungeon Fantasy product line.

They will be launching a Kickstarter (tomorrow! September 1) to fund the development of a five-volume boxed set with extra pieces and revised content. Lots of support in the box to help new players get into the game, too.

One of the most intriguing things to me about the cover art? Powered by GURPS.

I always thought PbG was a great idea. I still do. That they’ve brought it back (PbG was a thing for the 3e WW2 sub-line, and a few other projects) gives me some hope for other ideas I have as well. 

There’s more to this post than a repeat of  other news, though. I will be conducting a written interview with Phil Reed on this topic, and welcoming Sean back to the Firing Squad (my video interview section) next Wednesday to discuss the content of the game in detail.

So watch this space! Exciting things are afoot for GURPS. Two hardbacks and a boxed set in one year. Oh, and I’ll say it anyway, because it needs to be said

If you have observed, stated, complained, or otherwise noted that you do wish support for GURPS would increase, you need too back this Kickstarter. This is almost certainly the weather balloon that SJG is sending up to see which way the winds are blowing. And with all the extras in the box, with the five-volume treatment, and Sean spending a LOT of time doing far more than simply compiling already-issued content, the production values will be there.

So back it, review it, play it, share it with your friends. Don’t let it languish or flop. Success breeds future product. Want a GURPS Action boxed set? Steampunk? Monster Hunters? Space Marines/Bug Hunt? Great. Fantasy games are about 20x the market of all other genres combined, in dollar terms. So if you want those others, support this one.

There are a couple hot threads over on the SJG forums right now about where to take GURPS in order to expand the revenue base, which would turn into more product, higher quality product, and the kind of exponential growth (though that too would saturate eventually) that you need for a bit to have an RPG line stand neck-and-neck with a hot brand like Munchkin.

Though as Steve Jackson notes, if you have to choose between a meteor dropping on the D&D wing of Hasbro vs. the Magic the Gathering wing, you will probably hope and pray it hits D&D, since it’s the collectable card games and Munchkin-like sales that keep retailers afloat . . . at least for those that still shop in such places.

Here are some of the threads:

So, I love me my GURPS, I do. It’s the primary system for which I write, and I like dealing with the company, and love dealing with Sean, Steven, and especially with the co-author pool that I interact with. I feel like there are very few topics Peter, Christopher, and I couldn’t make awesome. Christopher provides the inspiration, I’m a structure and metasystem fiend, and Peter has a feel for playability that can’t be beaten by many.

That being said, if I’m currently going to get drawn into a game by other, dollars to donuts it’s D&D, and these days, that’s more likely to be OSR than not, but also D&D5. Other than the various D&D-derived systems simply being the 800-lb gorilla on the market, there’s a few things that make for smooth entry.

Good things about Basic D&D, S&W, and D&D5
One of the nicest things about the Basic D&D and S&W sets (and I feel this way just as strongly about the old WEG Star Wars RPG) is that you can sit a half-dozen or even a dozen people down at a table with nothing, and be playing in less than an hour. Perhaps much less. Even with limited copies of the rules. 
The Basic D&D game I played in yesterday came with the direction to go find one of the online generators that exist for the older versions of the game (and some of the new ones, too). Smoldering Wizard has collected quite a few.
Add in a bit of world-inspired background, and you’re ready to rock.
With Star Wars/WEG, you get the same basic thing, and I once took about fifteen players through chargen with one or two sets of books in about an hour. 
What are the keys there? I think there are a few of them, and (much like another recent post), some of this is obvious as soon as you write it down. It’s a lot like business school, really – there are very few things out there that are that off-the-wall bizarre or inherently hard. But getting them laid out all at once? There’s value there, enough to differentiate those with MBAs or the equivalent training from those without one (I got my B-school training from McKinsey and Company via the ‘drink water through a firehose’ method – three weeks in the Netherlands with fantastic faculty).
But back to it. What are the keys?
  • Easily assimilated, shared assumptions
  • Enough choices to allow differentiation
  • Few enough choices that speed is possible
  • A good mutual model of how to turn imagination into action
  • Results that meet expectations and do not break suspension of disbelief
WEG Star Wars

One of my favorite game system engines ever. I think, in retrospect, that one of the reasons is that it so easily fit most of the five criteria above.
Star Wars was (and is again, more than ever) a universe that nearly everyone that is likely to be roleplaying is familiar with. This was even more true before the LotR movies came out than the usual D&D tropes would be. Nearly everyone geeks, jocks, or anyone, had either seen it or heard of it. So when it came time to gather players, explaining the game was easy. “We’re going to be playing as if we were part of the Star Wars universe. Here’s the background: [a few particulars about the starting scenario].”
Boom, game on.
The next criterion, which is enough differentiation, was met by the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek template system that WEG used. There were more than a dozen, but fewer than two dozen basic templates in the back of the book. Each of them was built on a common model: you had 18 six-sided dice (at three pips to the die, so 1d6, 1d6+1, 1d6+2, 2d) to divide among six main attributes, and if you want to be a force-sensitive character, there were three such attributes – Control, Sense, and Alter.
So if you wanted to play a Brash Pilot, a Laconic Scout, a ruthless Bounty Hunter, a Gambler, or a Quixotic Jedi, you could grab a template and get going. You could then take the template and by assigning extra pips and dice – common to all – boost specific, finite sub-skills. As an example, Strength included Brawling, Climbing/Jumping, Lifting, and Swimming. If you had 3D (average for a hero, above the 2D Joe Average score) in Strength, you had 3D in all the sub-skills. But if you allocated some of your spare dice/pips to one of the sub-skills, you could be particularly good at that thing. So you might have 3D Strength, but have Brawling at 4D+1 if you were a scrapper. 
It was pretty balanced – if you were good at one thing, you were less good at another. Jedi paid for their Force abilities by cannibalizing their six other major scores. So if you were to be a strong starting Jedi with 2D in each of the three Force abilities, you were going to average 2D in the six primary attributes – on the average a full die lower than your companions in everything but “be a Jedi.”
Granted, a strong Jedi with a lightsaber was still a (ahem) force to be reckoned with . . . but he did pay for it.
But still – the character sheet was the same for all, with the same nine attributes and a few dozen sub-skills. An example I found onlne of a completed sheet shows how quickly it can go. Especially since equipment was pretty bland, with only a few items listed per template (though I remember the Bounty Hunter, I think, whose equipment list was something like ‘blaster, big blaster, thermal detonator, knife, another knife.’). So you spent a few minutes on your character, wrote down a couple of items to get going with, and boom. Start playing.
In terms of turning imagination into action, it was easy. You say what you want to do. The GM sets a target number, which was something like counting by 5s (easy task was ‘roll 5+ on your dice, medium was 10, and really, really difficult was 30 or something, so you needed 9D or so to get there). If you wanted to do two things on your turn, you subtracted 1D from everything. OK. Great. Go play.

And in terms of suspension of disbelief, the only time that ever got pinged was the first time, in high school, that I shot a Stormtrooper . . . and he didn’t just drop. His armor actually did something. I remember arguing with the GM about that. Good times. But really, Star Wars is such a heroic, wonderfully cinematic game that it was very hard to break suspension.
So a near-perfect game, where you could get going, immerse yourself deeper in the genre, and have some great adventures. Very few complex mechanics (the wounding system was the most complex, if I recall; maybe some of the force powers took a bit, and there were some mechanical oddities about lightsaber combat).
Basic D&D

Roll 3d6 in order or 4d6 drop lowest. Either write ’em down or if your GM is feeling generous, arrange as you like. Pick a class for which you meet the prerequisites. Get a bit of gold and some equipment. Maybe shop. Definitely write down your spells, unless you’re a poor sop of a 1st level cleric and then it sucks to be you, because is all you can do is “hit him with my mace.”
If you’ve gamed at all, you’ve probably played D&D. Orcs are bad, kill on sight. Kobolds? Kill on sight. Ogres? Kill on sight. Dragons? Kill on sight, but if you see him, he probably sees you, and will try and kill you on sight. Sorry, you’re a 1st level Elf with 3 HP. You get killed on sight. Good thing it doesn’t take long to make a character. Life in Basic D&D is cheap, and character sheets are plentiful.

The mechanics are mostly fairly simple, and when they’re not simple they’re at least chart-based. Still, I’d forgotten how many different types of tests there were. Roll high on d20 for hits and saving throw. Roll 1d6 for some things, and d100 for others. Sometimes you open doors or whatnot by rolling low on 1d6. That sort of thing.


Not to much to say about this one, because a lot of it applies to Basic D&D as well. The game has evolved a bit, but it is, especially in this latest incarnation, not so far removed from Basic D&D as to be a wildly different game.

Decide what you want to be, roll stats or (for even easier and more level-setting time) take the standard array, assign as you like, pick equipment, spells, some background, and go play. 

It is definitely a more . . . deep . . . set of rules than Basic D&D was. Skills, backgrounds, flaws, and other details. Race is different than class, and which you choose matters if you want to be a specialist or a generalist. 

On the other hand, unless you biff it completely, every class has something to do both in and out of combat, so unlike Basic D&D, where my elf might get killed if someone accidentally sneezes in the next room, by and large you can expect to be a tetch more robust. That’s good for bringing a new player into the game, since “you’re about to experience the joy of your fifth character tonight!” doesn’t necessarily bring new blood to the table in an era of Save Game.

How does this relate to GURPS?

A lot of words have gone by since the beginning of this post. And now coming back to it. How to increase the revenue base of a game – in this case GURPS – that’s been in existence for quite a while now?

Make it easy to hit the five points above.

Easily Assimilated Shared Assumptions

While GURPS’ flexibility to do any genre, any power level, any time period, any character is its core competency, from a “get people playing” perspective, that is all air through the engine, to paraphrase Captain Tightpants. 

So what we need is something that nearly any player will be able to nod and say “yeah, I get that.” That leaves us with still quite a lot of choices, so let’s take a look.

A widely popular property

Most people know that SJG has the licence to Discworld. And despite me poking at Phil Masters in this post of one of the threads linked above, Phil (the Discworld RPG author, whose book is on hold right now due to market conditions) is correct that this series has sold 80,000,000 or so books. That ain’t nothing. But I get the feeling that the discworld is one of those things that’s ridiculously popular with those that have read it, but has little reach or influence outside.

It’s not Star Wars, It’s not Battlestar Galactica. It’s not Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or one of the major video games, such as HALO or Fallout (the game that was almost GURPS-based, until stuff happened. You can Google that one yourself).

Harry Potter would be a spectacular fit for GURPS. The students are basically regular people, except they’re Wizards. The Wizarding World can be played as the weird place it is for those steeped in the movies and books, or for new people, they can play magically talented muggles, experiencing things for the first time just as we experienced it alongside Harry through the books and movies. As it turns out, the skill-based spells that the students studied are a rare exact match for GURPS’ native magic system. And the franchise has made about $25 billion worldwide, and has spawned theme parks, conventions, and all sorts of stuff.

Star Wars is big, immersive, and about to break out. But I don’t think that it’d be a great fit for GURPS, even if you could get the licence. Oh, sure it could be done, but I think it’d squeak too much around the edges, since GURPS tends to support mostly-quantifiable play, while Star Wars defies quantification in many respects, and falls flat (cough midicholrians cough) when it tries.

HALO, now, would be an excellent fit. It’s a gun-heavy game, and GURPS does guns as well or better than any system out there. Five games and a $3 billion dollar franchise, with efforts being probed to explore alternate media – though initial efforts haven’t gained the traction sought after. That might be a good thing, from an RPG perspective, in that licencing might not be crazy-town. Someone once mocked up – complete with stealng SJG trade dress – a GURPS HALO book even. I won’t post that picture – it’s easy to find if you look, though.

Battlestar Galactica, which has its own game (as do many of the others on this list) would be, with its slightly more modern-accessible tech, be in its own way a better fit for GURPS than Star Wars or Star Trek. BSG has big ships and big dogfights in space, but otherwise is missiles and guns and normal folks without any funky superpowers or magitech other than hyperdrive. While BSG was pretty good, it’s not an ongoing property the way that Star Wars is, so there’s limited appeal from a ‘grow the game along with the audience’ perspective.

Are there others? Sure. Most people would have heard of King Arthur, of course, and fantasy gaming is 800-lb gorilla of the RPG world. There is no licence to be had for a tale that old – you could just do it.

One fun option might be to get in on Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. +Sean Punch has already written the magnum opus on Zombies that could be mined for details, +Peter V. Dell’Orto and Sean also already have all the martial arts you would ever need for such. A setting book where you get to stomp on Victorian Zombie Ass would be a nice compliment, and having read the book and having every intention of seeing the movie, would be a nice, lightweight introduction to the game. It would probably be very conducive to a Dungeon Fantasy/Action style of play as well: rules-light, fun-heavy, trope-filled.

Finally, I’ve always thought that a good fit for GURPS would be the Aliens universe – specifically the Colonial Marines. Someone should write that. Hmm.

Another one that would work fairly well is Pirates of the Caribbean. (It always takes me three tries to spell Caribbean for some reason. It’s my Kryptonite when it comes to spelling). Again, leverages the very strong Horror/Zombies offerings already in print, limited character templates but with strong variety within those templates, and a high-fun, low-fidelity attitude that invites replay.

Getting away from space, pirates, and zombies . . . how about GURPS CSI or a TV property? GURPS Castle? The game has the chops to do procedurals and investigative work fairly well, and they both have the advantage of . . . 

Right here, right now

One solution to the issue of having everyone understand the genre and assumptions is to have everyone living the genre and assumptions. To me, that means modern-day adventuring . . . which for a game like GURPS, lends itself best, I think, to either military or police action. This could be more Lethal Weapon movie style, or it could be Black Hawk Down. Or The Expendables, to go over the top. But “you’re playing soldiers in the modern day” is something that people can get. You can use Google for maps, leverage the fact that the internet exists, and otherwise make it easy for the GM and players to not worry about hidden game assumptions – up until you spring The Surprise on them, if there is one.

Enough for Differentiation/Few Enough for Speed

This is where GURPS needs to approach a starter differently than it does today, I think. Right now, if you want in on GURPS, you either go Lite (which is not a great starter product, though it is a great streamlined ruleset – the two are not the same) or you buy the core books.

That’s not where I’d go. I’d hearken back to the Powered by GURPS attempts, but bring in some differences.

The first is to look at the successful Spaceships line, which basically said “pick 20 mass slots, and you’ve got youself a ship.” If you don’t get crazy (and you can get crazy), you can very rapidly make an endless variety of ships by making no fewer than 20 choices.

So should it be with intro GURPS. Reach immediately for a treatment in the style of +Sean Punch‘s Pointless Slaying and Looting, from Pyramid #3/72. In it, Sean avoids the trap of potentially making 250 individual choices in a Dungeon Fantasy game (if you spent all 250 points one at a time) by making a selection from a much smaller set, with no points to speak of. Each selection does basically come in something like 20 or 25 points equivalent, but allows you to get descriptive about selection rather than accounting-based. +Christopher R. Rice followed suit in Pyramid #3/83 with Pointless Monster Hunting and gave that much more point-intensive genre equal treatment (characters are based most commonly on 400 points).

This would allow people to build flexible characters by picking from a list of descriptors, which also happen to have game mechanical value. Archetypes are 100 points, Major Abilities are 20 points, and Minor Abilities are 10 points. But in reality, you’d phrase this as archetypes are 10 slots, major abilites two, and minor abilities are one slot. A DF character might be allocated 25 slots. A Monster Hunters hero would be 40 slots. A more mundane but still heroic character might be 15 slots . . . and the archtypes toned down to be 6-8 slots instead of 10. 

This means, much like spaceships, you make fewer than 20 choices, all with nifty descriptions, to make your character. Then you get playing.

This same approach should be done for equipment loadouts, with a few pieces of specific gear provided, and then something like my Schrodinger’s Backpack article (also from Pyr 3/83) to handwave away the “shopping trip” that can stand between game start and play start.

If you’ve never looked at the “Pointless” articles, they’re worth your time. I’d absolutely, 100% follow this path on all genre-specific treatments in a future GURPS line rollout, and a notional 4.5 edition or 5th edition would have an entire chapter detailing how to create slots, with lots of examples (take the two articles already written, and blow them out a bit more). This would also make for great fan-fodder, as people could come up with as many variations on slots as they’d like.

Imagination into Action

This is already GURPS’ strong suit, and at the core, there are very few actual game mechanics to worry about. A roll-under skill roll. Effect rolls (the most common is damage). Defense tests and contests – with a unifying mechanic if possible (I thought of one earlier today that I’m definitely going to refine). Maybe even redefine the reaction roll to roll-low instead of roll-high, so that influence skills and reaction modifiers are unified.

There might even be ways to simplify some of the tracking even further in some places – I’ve got some ideas percolating for injury and fatigue – and that’d be to the good. There are few enough individual mechanics that game play should be easy to assimilate. The basic 3d6 probability curve is easy to understand, look up, or memorize, so you will know instantly how frequently you expect to succeed in a given test. That’s important – it gives a feel for risk-reward. You know if you need a 15 to hit AC 4 in Basic D&D then you’ll hit one time in four. You know if you’re rolling Sword-10 in GURPS that you’ll throw a blow worthy of defending against 50% of the time, and your foe of equal skill will parry one time in four, or about one in three if he retreats. 

Don’t Break Suspension of Disbelief

Again, since GURPS is based in real-world units, with real-world expectations, by and large this isn’t a problem for the game engine itself. The basic system has being hit by a sword or shot by a gun suck mightily for the victim, so players will rightly fear being hit and act accordingly. When GURPS is centered in mostly-real stuff (such as modern or near-future combat, men vs zombies, and traditional fantasy games) it shines here, and few things break the suspension of disbelief o’ meter hard enough to ruin fun (though watch out for dodging laser hits – that one can be tricky).

Parting Shot

GURPS is a fine game engine. But it, at the moment, is not a fine introductory game experience. If you know most of the basics about RPGing in general, you can be fairly easily guided through the character generation process, but for newbies (or even newbies to GURPS) this can take a long time. Hours with paper and pencil, and not that much less, necessarily, with GURPS Character Assistant or a similar game aid.

GURPS tends to be “front-loaded” in terms of effort. You do a lot of work and write a lot of stuff down in the beginning, and after that, mostly what you need is on your sheet or an easy GM/friendly player reference (not always, but mostly). That again isn’t something that drives assimilartion and uptake, but it is something that rewards system familiarity and mastery. It’s like the art of building a 15th level Pathfinder character from a blank sheet of paper. There are lots of ways to do it, and lots of ways to do it wrong (since the Feat trees in Pathfinder reward system mastery). 

What GURPS needs to grow is easy entry. I think this can be amply provided with the right vehicle, and by leveraging innovations that have been brought to the table (mostly through the excellent GURPS expansion system that is Pyramid Magazine, but there has been innovation via PDF release as well). It doesn’t have to be a huge, big-name, expensive licensed property. The point of a licence is to provide shared assumptions and a knowledge base. Heck, if one could play GURPS in the Pathfinder Golarion world (which I’ve done), or borrow from the worlds being populated by D&D5, that might work too (but maybe not; that’s not ‘bring new people into the hobby’ so much as ‘hope that in a month/year that Primary Game doesn’t have a release people will spend those dollars on GURPS). 

Right now, I suspect GURPS doesn’t do as well as it could because of the first three of my “easy in” requirements. The game itself is the engine, Infinite Worlds requires too much research to understand easily, and the front-loaded nature of character generation is a barrier to entry.

Ease these, and it would be a lot easier to expand the total available market of gamers – specifically gamers that spend money.

More than GURPS

While my thoughts are, of course, geared to GURPS because of the active discussions going on in the forum threads linked above – which have seen enthusiastic and honest participation by SJG CEO +Phil Reed as well as insiders and oft-published notaries such as +Matt Riggsby (author), +Sean Punch (GURPS Line Editor), +Andrew Hackard (Munchkin), and the aforementioned Phil Masters (author). But they also lay out some useful criteria for game design as well as sub-system design. 

Designing, say, a new grappling system for a game? It better have a good body of shared assumptions, not make all fighters the same, not take forever to detail someone skilled in the system, be fast to take from concept to in-game action, and not break reality. Same thing with overarching rules design.

Two items from Steve Jackson James.

Yesterday was release day, with an actual release: GURPS Zombies: Day One. I know for a fact that the pipeline is crammed full of stuff, having seen some of it. This one (and many of +Sean Punch‘s projects) go under the playtest radar, so I did not get a peek at this one. Sean’s work rarely needs a lot of testing, and doubly so with this volume, which is a break from the usual for the GURPS line – a book of adventure seeds and campaign settings.
There are several for TL8, at least two for TL3-4, and one high-TL setting. They are designed to be mixed and matched into existing campaigns if possible, as well.
I haven’t read it in detail yet, but I will. Market wise, go buy this. Buy it twice. This is the type of book that would open up a stream of related material that would fill a nice gap between “create it from whole cloth your own damn self” and “here’s a fully fleshed-out scenario that will almost certainly fail to fit into your existing game.”

Car Wars Kickstarter

Not exactly gnu gnus – actually, this is sort of gnu gnus. The Car Wars Classic Arenas Kickstarter is not the Car Wars Kickstarter promised when Ogre went on a rampage. That’s a separate project, per the FAQ.

It’s got 26 days to go and I think started in the last week or so. The base tier is about 80% funded right now.

I probably won’t be backing this one, but not because it’s not worthy or anything. I like that SJG is funding development on Kickstarter, and I like that they are clearly learning from the Ogre experience (read the disclaimer under Risks and Challenges: It’s a hoot).

I just don’t have anyone to play with yet. Youngest takes up too much of my usual in-house gaming partner’s time, and oldest isn’t really Car Wars age yet. A few more years and she’ll probably be mopping the floor with me in Ogre. But not today.

Work has been a Terribly Dire Polar Bear recently, and today most of all. Fortunately, SJG comes to my blogging rescue by releasing something that was pretty darn interesting in playtest.

GURPS Boardroom and Curia is a book all about groups of people. In a word: Organizations. 

It’s a PC-facing guide to what organizations, from street gangs to multinational conglomerates to multinational conglomerate street gangs (and given the global reach of some gangs, this isn’t really an exaggeration!). From Wayne Enterprises to Intergang to the Peace Corps to the Green Lantern Corps, you can probably figure out what to do.

I had an interesting time on this one, because I’d just threw down quite a long post on this topic thanks to my daughter being precocious. 

This manuscript got a lot of love and attention in the playtest – all of it geared (successfully, based on the revisions brought forward by the irrepressible +Matt Riggsby, the supplement’s author) to ensuring that the manuscript was even more player-facing (and GM-facing) than it had been before.

Organizations – from the merchant’s guild to the Illuminati, from the LiberDemoPublican party to Anarchists United, and (more seriously) many of the organized religions that have and continue to play important roles in politics and society in both reality and fiction – play a defining role in the human world. Every time you shop, go to the bank, go to church to pray, contribute or read something from a political party, you’re interacting with an organization. When you have to deal with the Infernal Revenue Service to straighten out a bit of a problem with your yearly Soul Return, you’re dealing with the people in the organization. Every time you’re stymied on the phone and say “I will speak with your manager, now” you’re interacting with the rules presented in the book. 

Thanks to Pelgrane for JUST the right tone

More importantly, when you need to get the Army to send a squad of gunships to die messily attacking a Lovecraftian Horror – you’re dealing with an organization, and the book will help you do it.

I haven’t re-read it in full yet. But I will. Not only that, but I fully intend to use it to scope out Oliver Enterprises, the fictional megacorporation helmed by my NPC Patron Wayne Oliver (yes, yes, derivative, but deliberately so, and he even makes Tony Stark jokes about himself) for my on-hiatus Alien Menace campaign. 

So check it out – I think it’ll be worth your while. And if not, you can speak to my manager.

Munchkin Treasure Hunt. I finally found one. A bit hard to find, but thanks to my eagle-eyed 5yo, we spotted it in the games aisle of Toys R Us – which has exclusive rights to sell the game.

It was smaller than I figured it’d be. That wasn’t a problem, but it did throw me when I went looking for it. Technically, it could have been smaller still, since the board is much smaller (at least 2-3″ shorter then the square box) on either side; that might have been handy, actually, since it’d be easier to pack away.

Unboxing and setup were a snap, though the bases for the figures were a touch on the too-large side, and some might easily come out. There’s so much room in the box, though, that it would be a trivial thing to glue the bases onto the stands permanently, no harm, no foul.

The play of the game is simple. Roll a die, move spaces, and either do nothing (blank space), roll again (a colored die space), pick up a random treasure (treasure chest space), fight a monster via teleportation (monster space), or traverse a room, in which case you fight the monster in that room.

There are only six monsters to fight, which means there are no real surprises (not a bad thing since I was playing with a precocious 5yo). You have a base power, and you add one or more draws from the Monster Card deck, and possibly a die roll. Then you take your own die roll or rolls (you might get cards from the treasure deck for that) and any extra bonuses you can get, and if you equal or exceed the monster’s total, you win and draw a bunch of treasure cards.

These are the skills that were apparent to me

Simple Rules

  • Roll dice, move squares
  • Turn order
  • “Special” events (run away means you move, but don’t follow the usual pictures)
  • Roll dice, read result on the on-board table in the Entrance Room
  • Distinction between permanent and disposable items
  • Special re-roll and rules exemption cards (sticky fingers)

Math Skills

  • Simple addition of numbers from 1-6
  • Adding potentially large quantities of small numbers
  • Comparison of “which is larger”
  • Basic probability – what are your odds of beating the monster

Decision Skills

  • Basic decision tree: blank, fight, reroll
  • Risk-reward: Take a single treasure with no risk, or a fight with a larger reward
  • When to ask for help
  • Return on Investment: spend how many cards/points
As promised, the game lasted for about an hour, though we weren’t rushing nor were we lollygagging. The game ended with a draw: 49 gold each.

The short version is we had fun, and my daughter enjoyed fighting monsters, and was jealous of my giant really sharp sword (or whatever). She built up a commanding advantage in Permanent items early on, and basically got all of them, winding up with +6 in permanents “in play,” and nearly all of the other ones in her hand. I got two +1 items, but wound up with a lot more valuable one-time cards.

She can add well, but the board and cards distracted her. So I had her close her eyes, and her “math facts” popped right back into her head. She very, very much wants to roleplay with me (score!) one day, and started by asking “is this a board game of roleplaying?” to which I replied “yep.”

With only two players, it’s easy to drive a commanding set of cards and powers, since you’re basically working through the deck and there are no limits to the max cards you can have in your hand (a good choice).

There is also no real downside to just laying the cards out on the table; the game doesn’t end when you get to Level 10 or 20 or whatever, and the amount of help you can get from others is limited by proximity (they have to be within six squares of you). You also don’t play cards to help the monsters, so there’s no real surprise value to keeping them hidden that I could tell.

This is a game that can be used with real success to teach simple math facts, structured turn order, and of course the wonderful +John Kovalic art and amusing descriptions (+5 “That Look from Mom” was an instant success, as were the +5 Full Diaper and the Wadded Up Used Tissue, which I think was a +2) provide the right level of humor for the age range.

It would have been interesting to use 10-sided dice, though, if only for the completeness of adding 1-10 more than once, to give the full range of addition a chance. But there are so many “add a bunch of small numbers” together opportunities that I felt her math skills were appropriately pushed.

With only two players, the game rewards an early slow burn, followed by fighting as many high-level monsters as possible to eat lots of cards. Still, that can be risky and you can burn through a lot of your cards unless, like my daughter, you’re rocking 1d6+6 on every roll from the start. Wenchlet.

With many players, I have to think that the “good” cards will be much more distributed, and the ability to rack up enough bonuses to simply thrash the Troll or Dragon each time will be limited. That will drive more need for help, and a lot more running away. Both of us sought out fights as soon as we had the cards and points to do so, as you would almost always get more for the fighting than you’d spend.

I see high replay value on this one, and it’d be an especially good game with 1-3 adults paired with the balance of kids. Certainly a larger number of slightly older kids could play, and the absence of anything brutally cutthroat like the “buff the monster” behavior found in the Munchkin card game means the odds of table-flipping or tantrum behavior are somewhat limited.

A good time. Glad I got it, and I’m sure my daughter will ask to play again.

The Words of Short Stack Herself:

So how about we ask my daughter what she thought?

What was your favorite part of the game?

Tying with my dad at the end.

Did you enjoy fighting monsters?

Yeah. I especially enjoyed beating the dragon.

What did you think of the math? Was it hard?

Cool. It was not hard at all.

If you could make the game better, how would you make it better?

By being able to answer [the math] right away.

Would it be fun to play with your friends? Why?

Yeah. Because they might like it. Because you might win.

I interviewed +Steve Jackson, who of course wrote and published the game system for which I write, GURPS. +Jeffro Johnson said nice things about the interview.

Steve and I covered a lot of ground, much of which could have elicited an even larger response than I made during the interview itself.

I’m going to excerpt parts of the transcript, and say what comes to mind. Hey, it’s a blog. That happens

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I’m going to rewind a bit. I’d alluded to SJG being one of the longest going concerns in roleplaying, and referenced an interesting story about how Gary Gygax was in, and then out, of TSR. That was this: The Ambush at Sheridan Springs, by +Jon Peterson. It seemed pretty rigorously documented, and didn’t read to me like axe-grinding. Regardless, it is an interesting tale of how creative control in a company with shares can be held and lost.

+Steve Jackson‘s annual Report to the Stakeholders (2013) always starts with the same line:

Steve Jackson Games Incorporated has one stockholder: me. (Steve Jackson)

I have to wonder whether one of the reasons to keep total creative and ownership control has to do with industry collective memory over D&D. On the other hand, Steve Jackson Games has always been Steve and his employees, from what I can tell, and the Wiki page, if correct, shows Steve had his own reasons to keep total creative control.

Honestly, it’s one of the reasons why I wrote what I wrote when I penned the post Joint Ventures, Licencing, and Pit Traps. Or, in the words of the immortal philosopher Major Vic Deakins:

I put these boys together because they are highly trained, and they are motivated – like me. This is what I do, Mr. Pritchett! And this is battle. Battle is a highly fluid situation. You plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. One thing you don’t do is share command. It’s never a good idea.

None of this changes the basic fact. Steve Jackson Games has been around as a going concern, under the same commander, since 1980. Whether you like or hate Steve’s methods, games, or shiny Tesla . . . to paraphrase another movie: He is still here.

Doug: What would it take to revitalize the tabletop face to face roleplaying scene . . . I would include Google Hangouts – almost all the gaming I do these days is over Google Hangouts, video chat with four or five people You’ve got the Roll20s or the Fantasy Grounds, Maptool or whatever.
What do you think would need to happen to …I don’t know if we’ll every see 50, or 100 thousand-copy print runs if you ever did. What would it take to make it more viable to expand a roleplaying game instead of maintain it.
Steve: Well it’s not like I haven’t given that thought.
Certainly really good virtual table-tops are going to help a lot. I’ve been thinking about virtual tabletops for oh, maybe 20 years? And a couple of times I have gotten set up with people who were working on projects like that, but they’ve always cratered usually before they were worth talking about in public.
A really really amazingly good VTT, even if it were only for D&D, would help roleplaying a lot – although it wouldn’t necessarily help D&D’s competitors, it would tend to inspire those competitors.

One thing that was clear to me through our conversation – he likes the concept of the VTT, and he returned to it more than once in the discussion. Or I did. Maybe both.

There are, of course, several good VTTs out there, and I interviewed several of their creators (Epic Table, Fantasy Grounds, MapTool, and of course Roll20). There are also several other creative aids, such as Syrinscape and RealmWorks
I’d be curious to know what Steve as a man and as the head of SJG thinks about the four VTTs that I talk about above. I’ve played deeply in three of them: Roll20, MapTool, and Fantasy Grounds (which I use to run my Alien Menace game). All of them are capable of running GURPS in them one way or another. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I playtested some things for a Technical Grappling DF game in Roll20. +Nathan Joy and Emily use MapTool – I suspect largely because Em is a script-goddess and she can do things easily and very GURPSy with MapTool. Fantasy Grounds is pretty gorgeous and will flourish running GURPS.
On the other hand, all of that is “within your own gaming group” stuff, because to encode the rules is to encode someone else’s IP and give it away for free. That’s, bluntly, a big no-no.
Phil Croft asked a question on the GURPS G+ group about interest in a GURPS VTT, based on this interview. He also started an unfortunately pessimistic (not his fault) thread about a GURPS VTT in the SJG Forums. 
I figured that I’d offer up my own thoughts on this matter, in one spot.
GURPS VTT: Breaking it Down
I love the VTT, and I especially like it over a channel that allows video calling. Hangouts is, so far, the very best at this, and the implementation of Roll20 within Hangouts it the best of all. 
What you need to do is have the following features, I think – because SJG protects their IP with admirable vigor, and also because the GURPS fanbase (and staff!) are an ornery bunch each with their own interests and feeling on what is a perfect game.
IP Control: you need a way to tie the rules being used to the collective purchases of the group playing. This means that you’d want to sign in to your hangout, launch the GURPSVTT application, and likely have to sign in to your Warehouse 23 account. The program would access your physical and electronic purchases, and enable the rules modules for each game supplement you bought.  I’d probably do it such that only one person around the table had to have a copy of each book (that’s how social reality works in a face-to-face game as well), but if one of you didn’t own a copy of Tactical Shooting, you would not be able to use any automated features for rules, styles, or encoded equipment.
House Rules: There would need to be a scripting language that would allow users to write and test their own house rule modifications. In order to comply with the IP Control, it may well be that you can only run such modules by hosting them on a SJG server and accessing them through there – with a list of all the W23 people who can use it. That way, a troll can’t script up a complete version of the Basic Set, and make it available for free.
The IP protection and house rule capability should go a long way to ensuring that the automation of rules that got at least one implementation in Fantasy Grounds fairly deeply de-GURPSified would stay under SJG’s control.
Character Sheets: I’m a big believer in a playable character sheet for these games. The character sheet in the game of Fantasy Grounds I played in was really cool, for example, and has a lot of neat functionality. That could have been unique, though – I got invited to a one-shot by a scripting expert for the game.
In any case, even if there isn’t a formal character sheet (though there should be), there needs to be a module written to take GCA sheets and export them in a format that can be easily digested by the program.
Finally, there should be internal support for quick-and-dirty NPC and monster creation. I mean clicking a “Create NPC” button, being able to toggle or edit basic attributes, drag skills over from a list, and say “go.” Simple tokens and monster stats should be easy to plunk down, so that you don’t have to bust out GCA and stop the game utterly if you want a quickie improvised encounter.
No Path Dependence on Object Tracking: One of the frustrating things about Fantasy Grounds, much as I enjoy it, is that it’s primary focus seems to be the Encounter Tracker. Or maybe it’s some sort of event thing. But it’s definitely not the map. In order to get a bunch of guys down on the page, one needs to do things, and one must do them in a very specific order. 
This is not friendly. If I put an icon on the map, everywhere else it might be needed (the turn order/initiative list, the list of PCs and NPCs available, whatever) it should be duplicated. If I create an NPC, I should be able to put a token on a map, and have it automatically be available (if not in order) on an initiative list. I should be able to center the map on a clicked NPC from the NPC sheet OR the turn order list. Etc. Basically don’t make any one function THE key to getting icons in there. But if you must, make it be the map. 
Abstract Map Support: For those who simply don’t use tactical play, it still might be good to have a default abstract “battle map” that might look a lot like the Conflict Action Map from the Ancient Odysseys RPG (thanks to +Erik Tenkar for finding it for me). 
Now, I might have some suggestions on ways to make this a bit more GURPSy or friendly for different genres – but the fact remains that this “map” inserted as a default option in a VTT package would make a lot of things really easy to do when it comes to quick and dirty encounters. Or you could simply allow a tool to be used to group fighters into encounters – a sort of instant Venn diagram of death.
Multiple Monitor Support: Please. For the love of glob. Please. 
Native Posture Support and Multi-hex figures: It can matter in GURPS whether your lying down or standing up. This support wouldn’t have to be fancy. A primary token for a human might be a simple one-yard hex with a guy in it. Like the dude to the right.
If our alien is two hexes long when he lays down, then I would like the icon to switch to something like the one to the right. It needn’t be a full-on graphic – though it could be – but a setting that notes that a lying-down guy is 1×2 yards wide x long would be awesome.
The Basics: You need tokens of some sort, some basic rules coded in (start with target select and a size/speed range penalty table, for example). A turn-order tracker is nice. A way to note states and damage. A die roller.
Awesome lighting effects are not necessary, but GURPS in tactical mode has a very real and very important facing dependency that needs to be captured, and doubly so in Technical Grappling, where facing can matter even within close combat (the same hex).
Nice to have would be extendable weapon tokens or some demarcation of reach weapons, etc. 
The VTT Parting Shot
Ultimately, you’d want something that started, likely, with a robust scheme to ensure that SJG could feel safe that a marginal product line from a profitability standpoint were not further marginalized by making piracy the go-to way of experiencing the game. Remember – there are people’s lives and livelihood at stake here. This isn’t “oh, Paizo can afford it if I pirate this one book,” since that’s (a) bullcrap (b) criminal no matter the scale, and (c) misses the point completely. 
By Steve’s own comments, GURPS is still out there because a small but loyal following can ensure that the staff time spent to work it is recouped, and that’s probably about all. Bite into that, and you probably kill the game. 
But make no mistake: I think (and I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am) that SJG would get behind the right VTT if it was proposed by a professional, in a professional way, with the right viewpoint on the project. 
Programmers, for all the algorithmic and mathematical awesomeness that can be involved, in my experience are a bit like the stereotypical creative genius. Interested in a project’s start, but not its finish. Feature creep is the rule, and bug fixing and documentation are torture and not interesting. So wrapped up in the nifty architecture diagram of how the network/structure/input-output flows should work that the user experience is neglected. And so very convinced that their way of coding is the only right way that they might as well be die-hard one-true-system gamers as well (and probably are).
Are you a programmer whom I’ve offended. I’m mostly sorry. But the above matches my professional experience over two decades now (and today is my birthday, so there you go) with many programming projects. Steve gives that a brush pass as well: “And a couple of times I have gotten set up with people who were working on projects like that, but they’ve always cratered usually before they were worth talking about in public.”

I think a GURPS VTT would be awesome. I think Steve would think that one would be awesome. But the programmer would have to be dependable, predictable, a true expert, and willing to be guided and directed by someone who has kept a firm hand (death grip?) on his company since its founding in 1980 and is unlikely to let go short of retirement. 
Sales would likely be decent – GCA was the top seller on e23 before we lost the ability to track sales – but you’d likely not be selling 100,000 copies at $5 (to the writer) a pop. So this super-professional project would likely be a labor of love – the way GCA has been.
That being said, with the right program, I think it would get enormous fan support, including scripting and coding modules. Look at how GCA is supported – and while I have issues with the program, creator support isn’t one of them. I asked once if my little article on half-stat defaulting could be coded in, and in a day or two, it was done for me.