Thursday, April 10, 2014


"You’re no hero. You’re an adventurer: a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen-slayer, a tight-lipped warlock guarding long-dead secrets. You seek gold and glory, winning it with sword and spell, caked in the blood and filth of the weak, the dark, the demons, and the vanquished. There are treasures to be won deep underneath, and you shall have them. Return to the glory days of fantasy with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery. Fast play, cryptic secrets, and a mysterious past await you: turn the page…"
-Goodman Games

For the last several months I have been DMing the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and loving every second of it. The party has stormed a goblin stronghold, fought vampires, negotiated a treacherous forest, and taken possession of a teleporting wizard tower. They have lost adventurers to bear traps (nasty double-mastectomy),  venomous spiders, fire, goblin attacks, dark sorcery, and an unfortunate encounter with a city thieves' guild. Having ran about a dozen systems, I can say firsthand that this is by far the most dangerous system I have played for PCs. Beyond that, the game embraces a sense of danger and randomness that most games seem to avoid, and does so masterfully.

The DCC RPG is a role-playing game in the spirit of dark, gonzo pulp fantasy. Your character will die. That's why you make several of them. Hopefully one of your characters will stay alive long enough to reach first level. In any case, when they do die, the rest of their party will take their stuff, forget their name, and move on. Most likely, the ones who survived the fight ran away dragging your corpse. Or half of it.

DCC is based on free-use 3rd edition DnD rules, but has no feats, skills, or prestige classes. Races and classes are the same thing (sound familiar?), so you could be a wizard or a dwarf, but not both. Wisdom does not exist. Instead the game uses a "Luck" stat that characters can permanently burn to reroll things, and which affects their position on various critical hit charts.

I love Luck as a stat in games whenever I see it, and replacing Wisdom with Luck actually works rather well. Skills like "Listen", "Search", or "Sense motive" can be written down to luck easily enough, since they are as much the result of the other character's failure as they are your character's success. You were lucky enough to find the hidden door, or to hear the thief stumble, or to catch the odd expression on the thug's face during interrogation.

My favorite thing about the game is magic. Playing Dungeons and Dragons, one of my biggest complaints is that magic is either overpowered, pointlessly limited, or both. Magic in DCC is weird and scary. Depending on how high they roll, there are many degrees of success with any spell, which each produce a better result than the last. A flight spell, for instance, might allow the caster to fly for a few seconds, or allow an entire party to fly for a day. A wizard can keep casting the same spell over and over again until they fail, and if they roll a 1, terrible things happen. Permanent things. After adventuring for a few sessions, a wizard might have become horribly corrupt from their failed castings, and have a muttering face on their back, a tentacle instead of an arm, or one leg that's longer than the other. Each spell has it's own wonderful chart full of bad things (modified by the Luck attribute) that can happen on a poorly-rolled casting.

To get started, players each create 2-4 level 0 characters (peasants who have never held a gold piece) at the start of the first session. These characters start with "weapons" relevant to their trade (farmers get pitchforks, cooks get cleavers, hairdressers get scissors, etc) which are hopefully swapped out for more useful gear later on. Most of these characters will quickly die horribly, as they roll 1d4 for hit points. Character creation takes about 50 seconds, and involves rolling a d100 to determine your profession, then rolling 3d6 six times (randomly distributed) to generate your ability scores, in order. Players roll some additional starting gear and then a random luck effect, and are basically ready to play after slapping a name on their new walking corpse.

The newly created party of nine or fifteen townsfolk go into a simple dungeon designed to thin their numbers, and the survivors get to level up and choose a class. The classes are Fighter, Rogue, Cleric, Wizard, Elf, Halfling, and Dwarf. From there they aren't safe, as the outside world has dangers of its own...

This game uses weird dice. In addition to the "normal" d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20 (most tabletop role-playing gamers already have these dice) this game uses d3, d5, d7, d14, d16, d24, and d30. These weird dice are often referred to as "Zocchi dice" and can be found online pretty easily. I bought some from The Dice Shop, because I don't like the pricing at other sites. Personally I find it hard to believe that the d5 and d7 are 100% balanced, but I use them because I like weird dice.

Suggested substitutions for Zocchi dice:
d3: roll a d4, reroll 4's.
d5: roll a d6, reroll 6's.
d7: roll a d8, reroll 8's.
d14: roll a d20, reroll high numbers.
d16: roll a d20, reroll high numbers.
d24: roll a d3 and a d10, reroll high numbers.
d30: roll a d3 and a d10.

The internet is a wonderful place. I got my copy of the book from Amazon. There's also a quick-start guide available here for free if you don't want to pony up the money for a real book. You can also support your local game store (if there still is one nearby) and buy the book there. Unlike a lot of systems, you don't need to dedicate a session to character creation, although the DM should put together a dungeon for the party to explore ahead of time.

DCC isn't for everybody, but it's really easy to pick up if you already know a d20 system, and is an excellent breath of fresh air. If you're new to RPGs altogether, it doesn't have as much crunch as any edition of DnD, which makes it easier to learn/play. Go forth, and check it out.

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