Friday, February 2, 2018

How well does the DFRPG do dungeon fantasy gaming?

I recently read some newer and older posts talking GURPS & dungeon fantasy gaming.

I've played a DF and DFRPG campaign for 97 game sessions (mostly in the 8-10 hour length range) and going on our 8th year (we started in 2011.) So I think I have sufficient experience to back these opinions.

I'm going to structure this as a series of counter-arguments to things I read.

Is DFRPG suited to long-term gaming?


I've seen comments that it - DF, DFRPG, and GURPS in general - is not.

Based on . . . ?

I'll repeat - I've GMed 97 sessions. It will be 98 as of this Sunday. No one has mentioned 98 or even 100 being the last session. We just keep playing, and it doesn't get less entertaining than it was to start with. I simply can't take the argument that seriously. I'm sure people have run short, good campaigns, and short campaigns that petered out or died off for all of those reasons game die. But not suited for long-term campaings?


You can absolutely do long campaigns with DFRPG.

You can do short ones, too, just like with any other system. It really comes into its own in longer games, in my experience. And I've heard a lot of people like D&D in the "sweet spot" of mid-level play, with low-level being risky and high-level losing some of the savor of mid level play. While I actually found I liked higher-level AD&D play (we had plenty of games that went into the low double digits in PC level), I get why people might like the mid-level play the best. But the DFRPG ticks along well at the starting power level and hundreds of points higher than that. It's actually well-suited to long campaigns and steady character growth. There really isn't a "high level" end-game, just harder challenges for more powerful PCs. The linear nature of character growth has something to do with that.

How is the power level?

Some people say PCs start out too powerful in DF and the DFRPG. 250 points is significantly more than typical "heroic" characters according to 4th edition GURPS rules (150.)

From a taste perspective, this can't be argued. If you just don't like powerful PCs, and want PCs to start at lower points and lower power levels, then you're right - the PCs start out too powerful.

But that's taste.

If you look at it from a play perspective, starting DFRPG characters are powerful and effective within their niche. But they aren't too powerful. They're challenged, often challenged quite severely, but the monsters the game features. It's trivially easy to make the game powerful enough that even 4-8 250-point characters are wholly inadequate to defeat the enemy. They stay fairly vulnerable, and in constant need of upgrading, re-equipping, and of consumable help for a couple of hundred points afterward. You may not want to play this way, but it's a valid choice and the system does well with it.

For new players, the idea is that low-point guys are "easier." I don't actually find that to be true. It's easier to play a character who is good than one who needs to eke out every benefit to survive. I've done both, and while powerful characters do have more abilities, the very addition of those abilities make their options greater and their margin for error wider. That's a lot friendlier to new players, even those new to role-playing gaming, because their characters are much more capable.

Does GURPS do high-powered gaming well?


GURPS certainly does handle the 250-500+ point level we've been playing at. It does those levels well. At these levels:

- the PCs are quite powerful and can accomplish really spectacular and interesting successes

- but the PCs are never so powerful they can fully relax, even against threats that just don't quite reach the level of a serious threat.

While DFRPG characters are largely past the end of the bell curve, circumstances push their skill rolls down. You have great skill and ability, but face challenges that need those skills and abilities.

Why GURPS? Why not D&D?

I'd ask right back - why D&D? D&D is the original dungeon fantasy game. But it's not the only one game that does dungeon delving - it was the first, but it wasn't alone for very long. Other old-school games like Tunnels & Trolls and Rolemaster do dungeon fantasy - would you ask "Why plan T&T (or Rolemaster) when you could play D&D?" There is also a bewildering variety of D&D out there - original D&D, original plus Greyhawk, Holmes Basic D&D, B/X D&D, BECMI D&D, AD&D, AD&D 2nd edition, 3.0, 3.5, 4, 5th . . . plus retro-clones! DF and DFRPG are designed for dungeon fantasy. The DFRPG strips out everything that isn't dungeon delving fantasy from GURPS.

Still, there is a good point embedded there - there is a lot of support material for D&D. There is less for GURPS. But if you're generally rolling your own dungeons and monsters and whatnot, you don't really need a lot anyway. There is significantly more available than the original D&Ders had to play with. It's more convenient to play D&D-based games from a GM perspective, but once you start in on making your own stuff you're faced with the same work load.

So the DFRPG is designed to do dungeon fantasy. It's what it's for. So why not DFRPG? This is the genre it's meant for, why not consider it for play?

Ultimately, I find that enjoying GURPS for dungeon fantasy gaming is like enjoying any other game for dungeon fantasy gaming. If you like the way the game models the genre, and enjoy what it does well (GURPS and combat, for example, and AD&D strong niche protection and resource management, and Rolemaster with spectacular criticals and terrific spell failures), then that's the game for you. If you like a different power level, yeah, this might not be for you.

But it's an effective tool for the job of running fun, long-term, interesting fantasy gaming. It does what it is designed to do well. It may or may not be for you, but it is what it is - a good ruleset for dungeon fantasy gaming.


  1. Why DFRPG instead of just drop a 10ft stack of GURPS books on the table and have at it?

    That part I'm curious, as a moderately experienced (from 2001 or so) GURPS DM and player I've run some GURPS and have now played some DF, but I don't entirely see the draw of running a DF game . . . . Part of the draw to GURPS is getting away from strict classes, and DF puts those in

    As a note, I have never felt overpowered playing DF, my first DF character at 250pts perfectly mimicked level 1 DnD fear of housecats, and others have certainly felt not powerful

    I think even the gods quail when they hear 'grappling' and 'close combat'

    1. My short answer would be: so everyone doesn't have to be familiar with, and/or own, a 10' stack of GURPS books. Just saying "just the books in the box, I'll provide any additional rules we add to that" is very easy. It's convenient and it's solve a lot of the issues with finding rules, knowing what applies, and knowing what doesn't apply. It's the stuff in the box, plus some extras. Much simpler - and I'd be fine with "just the box" for a campaign, too.

    2. "Part of the draw to GURPS is getting away from strict classes, and DF puts those in"

      Kinda. Even in DF 1 Adventures it says, "Real munchkins may shun templates, opting to create and optimize dungeon-crawling PCs by hand."

      Which was it's ham-fisted attempt at being funny while saying "go ahead and break away from templates if you want you, and here's all you need to do that and still stick to the more streamlined feel of DF".

      I've a handful of DF characters and only one was made sticking strictly to a template.

      "I think even the gods quail when they hear 'grappling' and 'close combat'"

      Funny enough, GURPS is the one game where I've never disliked the grappling or close combat rules. They're sensible and easy (even if DFRPG makes CC a really bad option for any character not designed to handle it).

    3. Yeah, it's still GURPS - you can ignore or change templates. It's trivial, because costs are all obvious and points provide a choice-balancing mechanism.

      I prefer to run very strictly to template, but that's a choice, not a requirement for the game to work.

  2. I have run DF at 125pts and 250 and it handles both well; I would be willing to play 75pt characters.

    1. I was actually thinking of your lower-point DF games (and of DF15, as well) but I figured I'd stick to my own personal experience for this post. It's why I didn't mention any other long-running games.

    2. I admit I just couldn't imagine doing a lower point DF game without running it with the expectation that failure is the norm and that the party is going to be eaten by wandering housecats. Starting 250pt DF characters feel entirely weak and 'starting character' enough out of the gate. They seem to need pretty decent infusions of both CP and also looted gear before they seem like stalwart adventurers.

      Your classic DF fighter (who could be built off say a Knight, a Swashbuckler, a Barbarian - Savage Warrior, or probably other templates) has a general desire to A - actually hit things, B - Make things realize theyve been hit in meaningful fashion, C - Try to defend against being hit

      A - usually say high skill, so you can deceptive attack, or attack through penalties like SM or bad conditions. If you can't land blows, the things won't die
      2 - Make things realize they have been hit. ST and Weapon Master together are good for this, gently love tapping foes for feeble damage generally does not encourage them to die. Some things are quite meaty, and hitting them in the 4d+9 or so range only helps slowly guide them on the path toward dieing.
      3 - Active defenses are lovely, if you can get them high enough. Your starting character is unlikely to be able to have them anywhere near high enough (and if they do, its probably because they hit with all the power of an anemic mosquito as they put all their stuff into raising active defenses). Enemies love hunting in packs and deceptive attacks and such, so thinking 'Hey, I can defend once a round at 14!' is . . . not necessarily going to get the job done etc

      So the starting DF character feels like they have a VERY perilous existence where they hope to live long enough to come into their own (and get shinier gear!)

      Of course, once the characters get more CP and better gear etc the DM will probably throw cooler foes at them, so there existence will still be terrifying and fraught with peril . . . . but it will be because 'we are facing the awesome' not because 'we are not yet ready for the big leagues'

      Still not quite as fragile as starting characters in some other systems, but hard to feel any sense of 'high power'

      I have run a level zero inspired game inspired by DF 15 at 62 points, though I didn't use DF templates and things (though one character was inspired by the guard template some) . . . . . it has gone pretty well, though it had the definite expectation to start that failure was always an option, often a very very strong option

    3. Not sure I phrased that well, so another attempt. Basically, from my experiences playing DF, starting DF characters feel 'not powerful' and feel basically like they are struggling to overcome their own feeble nature.

      After certain infusions of CP and gear and such there is a shift, so that the characters while they still struggle mightily, they now are struggling mightily to overcome the awesome of the enemy

      If you throw a deceptive -4/-8 swing and the foe dodges, well cool, he is good at dodging! Epic Ninja Foe! If your swing is only deceptive -1/-2 and the foe is dodging, well, maybe you shouldn't be in the dungeon if you can't swing a sword/axe/whatever any better than that?

    4. 250 point characters threatened by housecats is hyperbole, unless you're in the house of magical giants. Running DF with 125 point guys would just mean some moderately tough fodder are worthy, not fodder, and only the weakest fodder (mostly animal types and dinomen) are still fodder. Worthy foes would be more like bosses, and bosses unthinkable until you've moved up the power rankings.

      But it's hardly suicide - it's just you have to adjust what you expect the PCs to handle to a lower power scale.

    5. My reply was not meant to dismiss your comments, I'd like to point out. It's just I think if you're thinking "lower points, same obstacles" you're naturally skewing things towards failure as a norm. If you lower both the obstacles and the power level of the PCs, you're going to get a similar success/failure ratio, just with different foes.

  3. "... hitting them in the 4d+9 or so range only helps slowly guide them on the path toward dieing."

    I think your GM has been doing you a disservice if every beast is so durable that 4d+9 feels on the low end of damage.

    My Sage does 1d+3 with his Staff and that's never felt particularly weak... of course we aren't fighting dragons either. Just cultists, demons, Boom Children, etc...

    1. 4d+9 can and will power through every published non-diffuse DF monster. Some more slowly than others, but it will get past the DR.

      1d+3, though, is pretty light for DF. Even 2d+2 to 2d+4 means you'll regularly have difficulty with moderately-high single digit DR, and need to hit locations with better injury multipliers. If the game skews towards low-DR foes and fodder, it's fine. I've found you want north of 2d+5 and much more often into the 3d range to really harm the full gamut of DF monsters.

      And since I keep adding DF monsters, I'm probably skewing things towards the damage levels I expect . . .

    2. I should note that in my lower-powered game, Mayhem the Vertically-Challenged Barbarian, who's at 228 points and ST 15, does 2d+4 cutting with an ordinary great axe. It isn't that tough to get the damage up there.

  4. I was without any difficulty whatsoever able to make (My second ever template based character) a 250pt DF character who did 1d-1 damage. It is partly due to lack of system mastery and especially inexperience with templates but I very well pulled it off.

    So I very much had the 'going to be eaten by housecats' feel.

    As for 4d+9 only being a slow road to victory, the DF DM has recently found giant apes and silverbacks from DF, who require a tremendous beating to die from HP depletion

    1. I admire your ability to nerf a 250 point DFer. ;)

      "DF DM has recently found giant apes and silverbacks from DF, who require a tremendous beating to die from HP depletion"

      Well, yes, but if you're beating up monsters by taking them to -5xHP, you're taking the hard road. If every monster needs to be beaten down to failed HT rolls against death, and you're just accumulating damage on them, I can see combat feeling like a slog that requires very high damage. Maybe consult the Stunning and Knockdown rolls and try to force as many rolls at -5 (face, vitals) to -10 (skull, eye) as possible on targets vulnerable to that. Those apes are one of those!

  5. Wood Elf Mystic Archer. I ended up with ST 10 and a regular bow (not enough money for a composite bow and not enough ST for a longbow)

    Your friendly silverbacks and friends are meaty enough to be hard to force major wounds onto

    The eye shot is very cool though, my swashbuckler actually in action 1, round 1 of a fight dropped a silverback with a thrown sai to the eye

    1. I've never had a Mystic Archer (I don't use the imbuements or prayer-based templates), actually.

      But yes, it's hard to force major wounds onto high-HP foes. You still need to try to do it, through vulnerable locations. Grinding HP to -5xHP or a failed HT roll for unconsciousness or death is really playing counter to what GURPS really lets you do well. Shots to the eye, or vitals, or the neck, for high-skill lower-damage fighters - or anyone fighting high-HP creatures - is the way to go. Those specific high-HP creatures you mentioned have normal mundane vulnerabilities - you need to exploit them to avoid grinding. And grinding plays to the "eventually, the GM rolls a critical hit" risk.

    2. Yeah, eye-shots are the one thing my Ogress Barbarian Wrestler fears. Even with 36 HP an eye shot from a 1d-1 arrow could easily take out an eye.

      Her secret terror, not being able to see her foes she needs to grab and ripe the heads off of.


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