Dungeon Crawl Classics Is Fun

So I’ve been running a game for some friends in Dungeon Crawl Classics. And you know what? It’s been quite a good time. Actually, it’s been one of the better games I’ve been able to run in a long while.

Before we go any further, I should point out that the book itself is so jammed full of incredibly enjoyable old school style art that it’s a joy just to flip through the thing. With full-page mood-establishing pieces alongside 1e AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide type humor spot cartoon bits, and plenty of smaller illustrations throughout, the book is basically a masterpiece of RPG art. In fact, it was seeing all of the illustrations in the PDF that caused me to snap and buy the physical book. The players (below) have all remarked favorably on the art as well and at least one of them picked up a copy of the book because of it as well.

Who’s Playing

The group consists of me as GM and three players, Lomax, Parker, and Saul.

Lomax is a dear, close friend I’ve gamed with off and on for 20-odd years. He’s not a serious RPG player when compared to dorks like me who read and write about RPGs with some (varying, of late) frequency. But he’s been around the block more than once.

Parker is a great guy and a good friend of the past 10-ish years who is a serious RPG player. He’s the one who was running the Call of Cthulhu game for the past year. We’ve played in quite a few things over the past five years and he really digs into the meat of gaming.

Saul is a relative newbie, both to RPGs and to my circle of friends/players. He’s a bright guy who really gets into the spirit of muderhoboism, which isn’t necessarily what DCC is about, but it fits.

High Tech Fun

I’ve been running the game almost exclusively from my tablet, referencing the rules and adventures electronically. All three players have also purchased the PDF and have it on their tablets at the table as well. Several of us have also been beta testing the very handy Crawler’s Companion by Purple Sorcerer Games. Most of the 0-level characters we’ve used were generated using the 0-Level Party Generator, also from Purple Sorcerer. Those not-cheap physical books are getting plenty of use, too.

About Those Funky Dice

One of the complaints I hear (and had myself back when DCC was in beta) was that it required the funky Zocchihedron dice (d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, d30). In practice you don’t really need these, since those number ranges can be pretty easily reproduced using standard dice and clever rolling. But I sought out a set of the funky dice because I’m a dice nut. And they’ve been fun to have. They get shared around the table as need be and it’s not been a problem.

Oh, speaking of dice, I’ve done all of my combat rolling in the open and I’ve enjoyed it. Actually, most of the rolling (except for rolls to notice secret doors and stuff) has been in the open. This is pretty contrary to how I’ve played for the last 30-odd years, but it’s worked well within the context of DCC. I won’t likely import that behavior to other games, but here and now, that’s how I roll (pun intended).

The First Session – The Funnel Under The Stars

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
After a bunch of dithering on my part – because I wasn’t terribly interested in the funnel and wanted to get straight to the nifty class mechanics like Mighty Deeds of Arms and Corruption and such – and all three players expressing a desire to give the funnel a try (Parker in particular was hot for it, but Lomax sold me on the move with his observation that it shook things up and made the game more improvisational), we went with the dreaded 0-level funnel of death. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was very enjoyable.

I ran the group – with four 0-level characters apiece – through the 0-level adventure in the DCC book, The Portal Under The Stars. I won’t divulge anything about the adventure itself since there’s always a chance someone out there hasn’t played it yet and I don’t want to be the spoiler guy. But I will say that there were a reasonable number of deaths (mostly in amusing ways) and an unexpected amount of badassitude and heroism. They conquered the dungeon and escaped with four newly-minted 1st level characters among them (Lomax had two, Parker and Saul each had one): two warriors (Saul, Lomax), a dwarf (Lomax), and a wizard (Parker). We bashed through this relatively short adventure in about five or six hours, from rolling up characters to handing out experience and leveling up.

Observations On The First Session

  • None of the characters are particularly powerful in any kind of traditional D&D sense. I think the highest attribute on a surviving character is 16. There was a dude with two 18s, but he had only 1 hit point, and you can guess how well that worked out for him.
  • The luck of the dice, at least at 0- and 1st level, decides almost everything. The players aced what should have been the toughest encounter in the dungeon, with no fatalities and just a scratch or two, all thanks to a string of exceptionally lucky rolls. Then they lost a character to an absurdly unlucky roll in an easy encounter.
  • The above statement is true if there’s not a lot of planning and cleverness on the part of the players. Situations that are approached with caution and intelligence can generally be passed with a minimum of suffering. At least as long as outright combat is avoided whenever possible.
  • Completely random 0-level schlubs begin to take on personalities very quickly and people get attached to such characters more easily than you might expect. Some of this comes from working to keep characters with good stats alive so that they might live to level up. But, at least with these players, there’s a natural tendency to imbue even the weakest character with some semblance of life.
  • We used lego minifigs for laying out positioning and stuff for this session and it was great fun to see grown men moving their little dudes around and having them talk to one another like we used to do with action figures when we were kids. This was even more amusing when it was one guy making two of his characters argue.
  • I may never have had a more enjoyable first session of a game system or campaign than this one. It really was that much fun. The people involved were surely the meat of that, but the system didn’t cause any problems (as so many often do), so points for DCC there.

What Follows

The players, after surviving this adventure, have a goal. And that goal means they must leave their crappy little village and set out into the wilds in search of the witch who resides in the hamlet of Hirot (yes, that’s foreshadowing). Sessions 2 and 3 (and 4, though it hasn’t been played yet) see them beset by terrible swamp dragons and chased into an ancient, cyclopean ziggurat. They are joined on this journey by a few more recruits from their village, and rescue still more potential PCs captured by the denizens of the ziggurat within its walls.

I won’t say much more since this adventure (which is homebrewed, fyi) hasn’t wrapped up yet. But I will say that the game has continued to be fun even as the death toll has increased and the challenges have gotten more perilous. The leveled-up warriors and dwarf have succeeded in several Mighty Deeds of Arms and the wizard has cast a few spells to great effect. She (for it appears that Alfred is actually a woman) has also had to rely on Spellburn to cast a few spells that she would have otherwise lost access to due to failed casting rolls. So we’ve gotten to see a bit more of the DCC mechanics in action, and those game bits are truly gems.

Sadly, schedules have remained out-of-whack enough that the next session (wherein they should conquer the ziggurat, or die) is probably a couple of weeks out yet. But once they meet or defeat their fate, I’ll provide an update.

A Premature Conclusion

DCC is, as the title of this post suggests, fun. Big fun. Serious old-timey RPG fun. I’m still itching to see more of the game system in action, since we haven’t had an Clerics, Elves, Thieves, or Halflings make it to first level and start doing their special schticks. We’ve also only had a few meaningful fumbles, which as the GM makes me sad. But we’re getting there, and I’m very hopeful that we can continue this run long enough that the rest of the great tastes of DCC can be sampled.

In the meantime, I can say that you fine folks out there in RPG land could do a lot worse than DCC for your gaming experience. It’s definitely D&D in a lot of key ways (classes, levels, etc.), so if you don’t like that particular aspect of gaming then you’re not going to really appreciate DCC. But if you don’t mind such things (or even actively like them) then by all means give DCC a go. Just be prepared for deaths in the party and for the random nature of the game to be felt pretty strongly. I consider these things a plus, personally, but they’re definitely not for everyone (or even for me all the time).

Postscript

We’ve been playing to a soundtrack of quality hard rock and classic heavy metal. It hasn’t exactly been immersive, but it has (for me, at least) helped with the mood and spirit of the game. If nothing else, hearing Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden in the background helps remind me that this is a game that, in some ways, harkens back to how I played when I was a kid. Anything goes, life is cheap, and the next encounter could well be your last. Rock on.

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6 thoughts on “Dungeon Crawl Classics Is Fun

  1. G-Man

    V.P., thanks for that in-depth peek at your DCC sessions. It looks like some of the things I didn’t think would translate into ‘fun’ from the Beta turned out to be high points.

    Does the lethality risk drop a bit when you get higher level or is it pretty much nail-biting all the way through, a la BRP?

    I’m not surprised about players wanting to play warriors with this system. Often, fighter-types are considered vanilla, but this RPG seems to give warriors their due.

    1. the venomous pao Post author

      No problemo, G. I said I would, so I did. I’m (mostly) a man of my word.

      I was definitely in the “this doesn’t really look fun” camp after the beta, too. But the final version of the game has sold itself to me quite nicely. Will it replace BRP, BoL, or any of my other games of choice on a more permanent level? Probably not. But for this group at this time, it’s definitely the way to go.

      I can’t really say about the change in lethality just yet, I’m afraid, since we’re still looking at a bunch of 0-levels and a few 1st levels. I presume that it must go down at least some, since the HP increases are there like “regular” D&D (as opposed to largely static values like BRP). But some of the critical results are so intense that I’m pretty sure even a mid-level fighter type (or high-level wizard/thief) could be dropped by one blow.

      The development of 1st level warriors in this group is largely coincidental based on the stats of the characters that survived the initial funnel (as opposed to intentional), but you’re definitely right about DCC at least giving warriors a chance to be more than “I swing, I hit/I swing, I miss” boring. If I were playing DCC rather than running it I’d want to play either a warrior or a thief, since the special abilities of those classes speak most to me.

  2. Nathaniel

    Good stuff, VP. I am one of those who want to give this a try, but I want to play it, not run it.

    I would play in a straight up version of it, and I would like to steal the Mighty Deeds of arms bit, and possibly the spell system, for ACKS, but the rest is too chart heavy for my poor, time-crunched, DM life-style.

    How easy would it be to mix those two, do you think?

    1. the venomous pao Post author

      I don’t know ACKS specifically, but given that its core is supposed to be B/X (or is it BECMI?) I should be able to say something at least remotely intelligent…

      I don’t see where yoinking the MIghty Deeds whole cloth would be a problem at all. It’s a great little open-ended stunt mechanic that gives the fighty types something interesting to do any time they’re in combat. Thumbs up from me.

      I’m not sure how you can implement the spell system without the charts, which are your complaint. I supposed you could just go with a roll to cast and wing the levels of success and fumbles and such. The main purpose with this, I’d guess, would be to allow casters a chance to hold on to spells for longer than a single casting.

      I don’t quite understand how the charts are a problem for being time-crunched, personally. You roll the dice, you look up the result. Done. But I’m sure you’ve got something specific in mind that I’m not grokking. Just don’t bother with the charts you don’t need (e.g. almost any of the spells your characters don’t have access to).

      Maybe it’s the fumble charts that are bugging you? If so, you can always just not bother with them. But you’d be missing out on some fun if you went that route. These are also something you can only reference when you need to, as opposed to something that has to eat your time.

      Anyway, I don’t think you can go wrong using all or part of DCC with your base system of choice, amigo.

      In other news… the new Sword album is officially out today (on iTunes, at least, I don’t the record stores will have copies in until Tuesday, which is normal). Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

      1. Nathaniel

        I guess I’ll just have to grab it eventually. The main reason I haven’t is because the PDF is ridonkulously expensive. May as well grab the hardback, which is a pretty good deal for the money, if still expensive. But first, the new Sword album: IT MUST BE MINE!

        Totally off subject, but I couldn’t tell you through email as my computer died and ate all my email addys, I’m working on the BoL boardgame now. Should be in a prototype stage by mid-December. I’ll send you a copy of the prototype files when I’m done so you can give it a whirl.

        1. the venomous pao Post author

          Sword first, DCC second. I totally support that order of operations.

          Speaking of our mutual favorite band, there’s a new “lyric video” up: http://www.revolvermag.com/news/the-sword-premiere-new-lyric-video-eyes-of-the-stormwitch.html

          Note the tour dates at the bottom of that page. Denton soon, Dallas in December.

          You can also “unlock” all of the songs for streaming listening at swordofdoom.com. Worth the effort if you can’t snag the album right away.

          I’m definitely down for the BoL boardgame prototype when it’s ready. I’ll drop you an email so you’ve got my address handy.

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