This review has covered the five books in the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game boxed set, as well as the maps for the included dungeon adventure. The boxed set also includes a set of dice and cardboard printouts of adventurers and monsters to use on the hex grid; I haven’t reviewed these because I only have received the PDFs as of this writing.
Ultimately, the goal of the Dungeon Fantasy set is to get new players into GURPS with a ready-to-run game. How well does DFRPG accomplish that goal?
First, DFPRG is clearly one of the best best entry points to GURPS that SJ Games has produced yet. The challenges of character creation have been dramatically reduced through the use of professional templates in Adventurers, and the overwhelming rules options in Basic Set have been successfully reduced down to a manageable set. This is a game that new players can jump into and new GMs can feel comfortable running.
The included adventure is an important part of the starter set roleplaying box, and “I Smell a Rat” is a good introduction. There are some details that need polish, but the adventure makes sense for the genre, has a reasonable hook and plot line, shows off the diversity of skills and character options in GURPS, and walks the players through a difficulty learning curve that starts in an appropriate place before ramping up the challenge.
Dungeon Fantasy exceeds other box sets in providing a full gamut of character options and monsters so the excitement doesn’t end after the first adventure. Gaming groups have enough material to support full campaign arcs that can run for months or even years before they need to purchase additional materials (whether that be the Basic Set, DF supplements, or other GURPS books).
However, the boxed set also has some flaws. While GURPS is a great roleplaying system, and DFRPG is a much-improved entry point, it is still not a great RPG book. There are serious issues with organization and layout that impede the usability of the books, especially from the GM’s perspective. Graphically, the covers are wonderful, but the interior imagery feels cheap and perfunctory. Monster formatting is still a challenge, and for a genre that is so combat-centric, the lack of a combat rating system or concrete advice on constructing encounters is a gaping hole.
There’s two ways to compare the strengths and weaknesses of Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and both are fair. For people who are entirely unfamiliar with roleplaying games, this set is acceptable but not great. It’s a leap beyond the Basic Set, but compared to other giants of the industry it’s not as polished or immersive. On the other hand, it combines the benefits of a starter set (easy to build characters and an introduction adventure) with a full gaming product that can continue for campaigns to come, and the content of that gaming product lends itself to more flexible and richer gameplay experience than competing games. That’s a lot of value in a single box.
The suggested retail price for DFPRG is $59.95. With a retail price of $100-150 for the core rulebooks of the hack-and-slash genre, that’s a big cost savings—especially since this set also includes an adventure, which would cost another $20 in competing systems.
Bottom line: if you’ve been curious about GURPS or wanted to try but were afraid that it was too complex, Dungeon Fantasy RPG is the introduction point you needed to get over the hump. If you are an experienced roleplayer and love the hack-and-slash genre, DFRPG will excite you with a level of character detail and creativity that is hard to replicate in other systems. If you are brand new to roleplaying, it’s harder to make a recommendation. If you like the GURPS approach, this set will be a great value. Unfortunately, if it turns out that GURPS is not your cup of tea, then you’ll have spent more than you would on a test drive with a starter set from other games.
Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game demonstrates that GURPS is still a great choice for tabletop gamers. While there are still low-hanging fruit for improvement, this approach is a huge improvement in making GURPS accessible and relevant to a new generation of players.