30 June 2016
DCC and Me - Where I REALLY Dig Dungeon Crawl Classics
Each player rolls up four 0-level characters. 3d6 in order. Each gets 1d4 hit points. Each rolls a random occupation, which gives them a weapon and a trade good. Most weapons are some sort of farm implement or tool, as most of these 0-level commoners are farmers, tradesmen and the like. No one has a class yet. You get a random amount of copper pieces.
The large amount of PCs are presented with a problem, quest or other adventure. They march into the teeth of adventure, mostly to die horribly and in great numbers while combatting whatever foe or foes are arrayed against their band. When the dust clears, hopefully each player has at least one 0-level survivor, who then becomes a 1st-level adventurer with a class. The classes are Warrior, Wizard, Thief, Cleric, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling. That's right, demihumans are classes not races, just like in D&D Basic.
I love this game. The idea was to create a game that plays like 1974 is said to have played. My take on it is this - John Boorman's Excalibur is what we wish Arthurian stuff was like. It was really more Roman-esque with rusty chain mail. House Kurita, in Battletech, tries to be so much like Feudal Japan that it's more like an idealized Toshiro Mifune film than real Feudal Japan ever was. So it is with Dungeon Crawl Classics. This is all the stories, legends and rumors of 1974 turned up to 11, Spinal Tap style.
Each class has some unique mechanics that set DCC apart from other D20-derived games and the OSR/Retroclone movement. But each of these innovative mechanics are designed to increase the feel the authors were going for. Warriors have the Deed Die, added to attack and damage rolls, that allows them to pull off maneuvers that are similar to Feats, but not limited in the way Feats are. The Deed Die becomes a larger die as the Warrior levels. Dwarves share this ability, and add others with Dwarven flavor. Elves don't get the Deed die, but can cast like Wizards. Wizards know a limited number of spells, but can cast them all day long- with one caveat. Each time a Wizard casts, the spellcasting roll determines the effect of the spell. A Magic Missile can do 1 point of damage, or 4d12, or many other things based on the roll. A failed casting roll means loss of the spell for that day- or worse. Corruption happens when unfortunate spellcasting dice are rolled. This means that arcane spell use is a trap leading down a path of eventual corruption. Wizards can also Spellburn - that is, burn points of ability scores to add oomph to casting. These points are gone until the PC spends a day without using any Spellburn. Then they begin to regenerate.
Clerics can likewise fail casting rolls and anger their deity. Each time dissaproval happens, the chance for it to continue to happen gets larger. On the other hand, turning undead and healing are constant powers that can be done repeatedly- at the risk of disapproval. Theives and Halflings get bonuses to their use of the Luck attribute, which can be burned to add to dice. While normal PCs add Luck to die rolls on a point-for-point basis and do not normally regenerate Luck once spent, Thieves and Halflings regenerate Luck each night, and add 1d3 or more for each point burned. Oh! Thief skills are front-loaded differently based on the Alignment of the Thief.
There are spell tables to determine what happens when spellcasting rolls are made. There are various critical hit tables based on the martial ability of various PCs. The tools at Purple Sorcerer Games are GREAT, as is their Crawler app for phones and tablets. These can help roll up characters, look up tables, heck the Crawler app puts most important rule lookups right on your phone.
Now, DCC does use some unusual dice. d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24 and d30 all make appearances. These dice can be purchased as sets from Goodman Games, and you can also find just the really odd ones from Koplow, among other manufacturers.
So, why am I so taken with this game? I'll begin by saying that the 0-level funnel is amusing, but it's not what draws me to DCC. What makes me love this game is the gleeful old-schoolness it encourages while having a relatively modernized rules set. The Deed Die is a great example. It allows Warriors to try just about anything. They pitch a Mighty Deed of Arms, an the GM tells them to roll - if the deed die comes up 3 or better and the GM doesn't think the player is overdoing it, the Deed comes off. More difficult deeds could have higher Deed Die targets, and plenty of examples are given in the book. The net result is encouraging players to be creative and dramatic while not making them pick 172 feats to be able to do what they do.
Each unique mechanical system reinforces this style of play. Mages and Corruption are very Conan-esque. Magic is a scary, unpredictable thing and even those who traffic in it with the best of intentions run the risk of falling to corruption. The way Clerical healing works is likewise evocative - different or opposed alignments are more difficult to cure. Heal someone of your own faith and it's relatively easy. Heal someone of an opposing one, and the healing is less effective.
I played this at North Texas RPG Con with Jim Wampler, who is currently running a Kickstarter for the Gamma-World/DCC mashup that is Mutant Crawl Classics. His adventure was a Sword & Planet style game very much in the vein of Gamma World, or Thundarr, or John Carter meets Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. My friend Aaron and I sat down to play - my first game of DCC as a player - and we had a blast. The character abilities were conducive to coming up with extremely creative ways to deal with problems. So creative that we found the "back way" into the adventure location and hit the boss fight first thing! It took every kind of twist and push of applications of our abilities to survive that encounter so early in the game, but survive we did (mostly) and solve the mystery thereafter. The style of play was GREAT. It was like an RPG set on the side of a 70s van painted with Boris Vallejo art... or maybe a Molly Hatchet album cover.
I asked myself if this would still be as much fun at home, so I purchased a DCC module that incorporated the XCrawl setting - Dungeonbattle Brooklyn. In XCrawl, you're basically doing reality TV competitive live-action live-steel D&D. I ran it on the evening of my 41st birthday. My players and I had a BLAST. Everything that clicked for me at the con clicked for me at this game from the other side of the GM screen. I couldn't wait to try running it again... and so I will.
I made myself a promise to expand my gaming horizons. To that end, I've started what I call Saturday Night Specials. I run my regular games for my game club at our meetings 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month. But when things wrap up, we grab dinner and I run another game session in the evening. The theory is I can introduce people to many different games this way, and break myself out of my rut. The first SNS was Marvel Superheroes by request - and it was a blast. The second, occurring in two days from this writing, will be DCC. I'll be running the same module I played at NTRPGCON this time - Synthetic Swordsmen of the Purple Planet. I can't wait.
This. Will. Be. Awesome.