Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Discworld Roleplaying Game Review

During the summer of 2016 across various social media platforms I engaged in discussion with other GURPS fans about ways to get more players playing GURPS. I always wanted an easy entry point product for players to get into the system, see how it works, and quickly get into playing the game. Dungeon & Dragons, and many other systems have an introduction boxset that players can buy into and start playing. GURPS has GURPS Lite but that’s a free PDF and really tailored, in my opinion, to experienced gamers. GURPS Lite doesn’t make it easy for players with limited or no experience find their way into GURPS. This leads me into the Discworld Roleplaying Game.

SJ Games released a 2nd edition of their Discworld Roleplaying Game at the end of November 2016. It is the first physical GURPS book release in a few years and currently buying the physical book is the only way to purchase it. The Discworld Roleplaying Game is a hefty tome coming in at 408 pages with a full glossy hardcover and black & white interior. I know that many times reviews will go through a book chapter by chapter giving an overview of what a player will find while including some criticism of what is found in the chapter. I’m going to take a different approach with this review and instead discuss the overall product, who will really enjoy the product, and finally, why I think this product is such a great entry point into the GURPS system.

The book introduces right way what roleplaying games are, what GURPS is (including a publication history), and is pretty much the standard introduction chapter we are all used to as experienced gamers. The book then goes into a brief introduction to the Discworld and it does a really good job here. Many times with licensed books like this it’s always a balancing act on whom to the aim the game for. Should it be for the diehard fans of the underlying property? Or should it be designed for both fans of GURPS and fans of the Discworld. I actually think that the Discworld Roleplaying Game can be a valuable product for GURPS players with no real interest in playing on the Disc, as well as Discworld fans that have no experience with GURPS and have never played a roleplaying game. The games author, Phil Masters, who has written multiple GURPS supplements, did a brilliant job creating a book that serves both audiences well.  One part of the introduction chapter “On the Back of Four Elephants” that I found useful is the idea of narrative causality. Which is easily explained that Dragons breathe fire not because of any technical or scientific reasoning but just because that’s what Dragons do. For fans of GURPS that are not necessarily fans of Discworld, we will hand wave the idea of narrative causality as being something that’s good for the story and one of my guiding principles as a GM is never to fudge the die rolls and the introduction to the book does a really good job explaining this principle for newcomers to the hobby as well as, for me, putting into words something that I instinctually understand but have never been able to properly verbalize. The chapter tells a story of the “Brave Peasant Lad Who Outwits the Troll”, and for many gamers we think if we fudge the rules it may make a better story, but the book warns players to be careful doing this. Because, the real story may be that he’s actually one of the “Twenty Poor Peasants Eaten By The Troll Before the Knight Comes Along”. Something I’ve always tried to articulate to my players both old and new is that the reason I don’t believing in fudging the rules is that the players actions and their results (influenced by player choice and chance) is what tells the story and if we use meta gaming tricks we may be cheating ourselves out of the story. The book moves through explaining the Discworld to players with and without experience with Sir Terry Pratchett’s fantastic fiction series.
The book then gives players a trimmed up version of the GURPS system, including:  character creation, the concept of tech levels, advantages, disadvantages, skills, and traits. One thing that makes this book a great as an introductory product to GURPS is that the skills, advantages, disadvantages, and traits are all paired down from the full list which can be found in the Basic Set. The Skills are well presented by being grouped into categories which makes it easier for players to find a specific skill by looking under the grouping. When I’ve talked to players with some experience to GURPS or familiarity with GURPS many times the reservations they have is that they think GURPS is too complicated. When, I’ve always found, that GURPS is quite easy to play at the table but can be daunting to create characters for due to all the options players have.

The second largest chapter in the book is entitled “Doing Stuff” and it gets into the nuts and bolts of how GURPS players. From success rolls all the way to the updated magic system. Like character creation this chapter streamlines what can be found in the Basic Set. One issue I found that could impact new GMs is that there isn’t any task difficulty modifiers which could make it harder for new GMs to build a framework on what penalties and bonuses to give. The combat system does a really good job of shortening what is found in the Basic Set and making very easy for novice GURPS players to read, understand, and enjoy. The biggest change for player used to GURPs is the magic system. The system used in the Discworld Roleplaying Game is more tied to storytelling than the system generally used by GURPS. The rest of the book primarily deals with the Discworld. Giving players what they need to get in and run a campaign within the world Sir Terry created. I have read most of the books and I found enjoyment from these chapters. If a player had little to no experience with the novels by the end of these chapters they will know enough to run a campaign within the Discworld and have a lot of fun.

Back to my discussion from this past summer. How can I get more players into GURPS? I’m a transplant of Northern California to Wisconsin. Being a GURPS fan without a GURPS group is hard. I have run demos at local conventions here in Wisconsin and when finished offering players a copy of GURPS Lite or recommending the Basic Set were all I could do. What I’m most happy about with this book is now for $40, a player gets a self-contained game book that teaches players the fundamentals of GURPS. By pairing down the rules why still teaching players the fundamentals if players completely new to roleplaying games (or novices) or for players inexperienced with GURPS become interested they have an easy platform that gives them a strong foundation to graduate into the full GURPS line.  I think the upcoming Dungeon Fantasy will be another great entry point for new players.  For someone that’s trying to build a GURPS community so I have more people to play with, I am eternally grateful for that.

Some final thoughts on the Discworld Roleplaying Game: the art while black and white is very well done. I tend to be a fan of simpler art than many modern games that can feature overproduced full color pieces. I think that sometimes simpler (while still very good) art can hold up longer and be more inspirational, at least for me. My copy of the book covers/pages don’t lie flat. I don’t know if it is an issue with the binding of my book, the thinness of the hardcover, or what. But if you have had some issues with your book please leave some comments and let me know. 

3 comments:

  1. Do you think the rules could have been further simplified? I am yet to receive my copy, so I can't comment on the final result, but I wonder if powered by GURPS in a narrative world was a real opportunity to make some trial changes to GURPS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure they could have but not retaining as much GURPS as they have. The slimdowned character creation, to me, is the biggest thing for novice GURPS players. Creating a Discworld character using the Discworld Roleplaying Game book is much more user friendly than the Basic Set. The core rules system was always modular even in the Basic Set.

      Delete
  2. Using the playtest notes character gen was still slow. GCA will no doubt speed this up once it has Discworld files.

    ReplyDelete