We’re finally at the last volume of the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game boxed set. This post reviews the Dungeon book, which contains the “I Smell a Rat” adventure. It is a 26 page PDF written by Sean Punch.
The boxed set also includes two double-sided maps for this adventure. In the PDF version, one of the map pages is 30″ x 30″, while the other is 20″ x 30″.
For those who are worried about spoilers, this review will be mostly spoiler-free. I will mention some mechanics that show up in the game, but when they show up or how to use them will be left a secret.
Covers and Front Matter
The front cover depicts a party of adventurers underground, surrounded by a pack of rats. The art again contributes to the world-building; throughout this boxed set, the covers have communicated a consistent tone of excitement, danger, and uncertainty.
The back cover is a blank 9 by 10 hex grid. The grid is a nice GM aid, but on its own the grid has too few squares for combat that involves much movement. It will suffice for quick sketches or close quarters fights, but most GMs will outgrow this space quickly. In future games, it may be worth considering putting adventure quick references on this cover: plot hooks, key stats for NPCs, or a brief flowchart of the adventure. The obvious disadvantage to this suggestion is that the back cover is exposed, so having spoilers in that material may not work. But, the advantages of a quick GM reference may outweigh the consequences for players with wandering eyeballs.
The Introduction notes that this book is for GMs only—players who read this book risk spoiling the adventure! There is a sidebar with two chunks of helpful advice: suggestions on how to encourage players to take the narrative hook for the adventure, and some guidelines for scaling encounters in the adventure.
Setting the Scene
The first chapter takes two pages to get the adventure started. It provides some background information on the nameless town where the adventure occurs, explains how the adventurers can learn of the quest, and provides an initial hook for the adventure. The hook works for drawing in characters that are looking to make money through adventuring (i.e., Dungeon Fantasy PCs), and there are some good suggestions for the skills to use in order to kick off the quest.
The biggest criticism I have for the Dungeons volume is that it reads like a novel, rather than a GM guide. Instead of starting with a high-level overview of the adventure so the GM has a framework in which to interpret the details they read, the presentation starts from the premise of the adventure (hunt rats for money) and then walks through each room of the dungeon in order. This chapter would have been the perfect place to step back and share the big picture with the GM. For a relatively linear dungeon like this, a flowchart would have been a great way to provide a visual structure to organize the GM’s thinking, but a written overview would also work well.
The meat of this volume is the 15 page chapter on the dungeon itself. The last page of the chapter is a full-page map of the dungeon. This map reproduces most of the content in the standalone maps; there are a couple of areas in the standalone maps that are designed for the stretch goal adventure, and so do not appear in this book.
The adventure itself is well written. There’s plenty of detail for GMs to describe what’s happening and respond to the players’ actions. The adventure plays to a variety of PC skills throughout the scenario, showcasing GURPS’ skill system as well as the unique characteristics of the party members. The challenges are combat-heavy, but not exclusively combat-related, and the diversity in the combat opponents makes the game feel dynamic. There’s also an interesting twist that the PCs discover during the adventure, which gives an in-game justification for the more unusual opponents that the heroes face and creates potential plot hooks for follow-on adventures.
There are a couple of ways that this chapter could have been organized more effectively. In keeping with the goal of giving the GM a high-level overview before diving into the details, the map should have been at the front of the chapter instead of the back. There are a lot of details in the paragraphs describing each area; it would be easier to scan for the details by putting mechanical notes in bullet form.
The standalone maps are a great addition to the set, but unfortunately they are not designed for player use. There are letters that mark areas of interest on the maps, cueing the players to investigate those spots, and the maps give away a few secret doors because those doors are marked on the map. It would have been better to leave those indications off the full-size maps and only put that information in the Dungeons book.
I haven’t run the adventure yet, so I can’t speak from playtested experience. It looks like the adventure will follow the plot easily and there certainly is an escalating difficulty curve to the adventure. I worry that the final confrontation may be too unforgiving of a challenge, but again I haven’t playtested it and may be worried over nothing.
After surviving the dungeon, the adventures deserve a nice profit, and this three page chapter describes what they can salvage from underground and how much they can get for it. It also includes guidelines for character progression, with suggested values for earned character points based on what the PCs accomplished in the dungeon.
There’s not a lot to say about this chapter. There’s plenty of loot to be found if the PCs are thorough, so exploring the dungeon is definitely worth the risk!
The Adventure Continues
The last page of Dungeon lists a handful of suggestions for expanding the adventure by adding secret rooms, encounters, or a side quest. Although the idea of extending the adventure is nice, the actual suggestions feel tacked-on. The side quest is the most novel idea, but it boils down to a single skill roll; there should have been more heft to the suggestion.
Dungeon is a solid starting adventure for new or new-to-GURPS players, as well as roleplaying veterans. There is a solid hook with a straightforward plot, and the adventure showcases the depth of GURPS characters and rules.
The presentation could be improved in a couple of areas: providing a high-level overview for the GM to get their bearings and having player-facing maps are the two biggest opportunities. There also could be greater depth in the side quests, extra hooks, or follow-on adventure suggestions. Overall, though, this volume accomplishes its goal of getting players playing as soon as possible.