Remember the good old days, when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level? Those days are back. Dungeon Crawl Classics don't waste your time with long-winded speeches, weird campaign settings, or NPCs who aren't meant to be killed. Each adventure is 100% good, solid dungeon crawl, with the monsters you know, the traps you fear, and the secret doors you know are there somewhere. - Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics Website
Me on the left and Joseph Goodman DMing.
Photo by Phil McCrum.
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to sit in on a playtest of Goodman Game’s upcoming RPG Dungeon Crawl Classics. The game was run by Joseph Goodman himself, and was organized by the Dead Gamers’ Society meetup. Before and after the game I had a chance to chat with Joe about the game a little bit. Sooo… here I’ll try to lay out the scoop on DCC.
WHY PUBLISH ANOTHER D&D-LIKE FANTASY RPG?
I asked Joe point blank why he wanted to be the publisher of yet another D&D-ish FRPG, and how he thought it would fit into the current market which is already filled with a confusing plethora of retroclones, quasiclones, semiclones, etc. His idea is that DCC will be aimed at D&D 3e / d20 players who want a more simplified version of the out-of-print systems they enjoy. All of the feats, skills, etc. have been stripped out of DCC to provide a lean and easy FRPG. Joe said Goodman Games would probably not be specifically targeting the retrogamer crowd with DCC. I must say, though, the game felt and looked a lot like AD&D – Joe even said he is commissioning some of the classic TSR illustrators like Easley and Otus to do art for the game. He estimates the game will be formally released in about a year.
THE DEEPER MOTIVATION BEHIND DCC: APPENDIX N...?!?!
According to Joe, his personal motivation behind DCC is to offer an RPG that can, as closely as possible, emulate all of the books presented in the Appendix N of the original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. Joe said he is systematically reading every book in Appendix N in order to formulate the game mechanics for DCC. One specific example of this is turning. Joe replaced the traditional cleric’s turn undead ability with a more general turn unholy in order to more closely mirror turning as envisioned Poul Anderson and Lord Dunsany. Another example is the totally revamped magic system where the success and/or side-effects of spellcasting can be unpredictable:
From my playtest experience, it seems like the biggest difference between DCC and other similar RPGs lies in the spellcasting mechanics. Vancian memorization has been done away with and spellcasters have access to any of the spells appropriate to their level. When casting, however, the player must roll a d20 to gauge how successful the spell is. For example, a cleric needs a minimum roll of eleven (including modifiers) for a spell to work at all. The higher the roll, the better the spell works – and, yes, in the rulebook each spell is presented as a page-long table of effects-by-die-roll. The clever mechanic here is that at the beginning of a session the spellcaster starts with a positive roll modifier (e.g. my cleric started with a +4). Each time a spell is cast the modifier is decreased by one, so spells become less and less likely to be effective as more spells are cast. This turned out to be a cool system that was really fun to play. In fact, I might try to steal part of this system for clerics in my own home game!
I didn’t play a wizard, so I’m not totally clear on the specific mechanics for the class, but each spell cast by a wizard has potentially nasty side-effects that must be assessed at each casting. At one point in our game, for instance, a wizard cast a spell, rolled on the side-effect chart, and discovered he had to cut off a pound of his own flesh to sacrifice to a demon. The player decided to carve off one of his buttocks for this purpose. This is weird and grisly stuff… Hardcore self-mutilation. I found it to be kind of shocking, actually. I did notice that the wizard players started getting a little exasperated as the game went on, but I thought it was cool.
VARIOUS MINOR RULES NITTY GRITTY
DCC has ascending armor class as in d20; Six abilities (3d6 down-the-line): Strength, Agility, Stamina, Personaility, Intelligence, and Luck. Luck points can be burned to influence die rolls, but may then result in other negative modifiers as the game progresses. I wasn't clear on how saving throws worked - I just rolled when Joe told me to. A natural 1 or 20 during combat results in a roll on either a fumble or crit table of dramatic effects. The game has the typical FRPG classes (warrior, thief, wizard, cleric), each with its own specialized character sheet.
My cleric character inherited from an earlier session.
Note the spell tracking box in the lower right.
HOW WAS THE PLAYTEST?
Joe took us through a scenario called something along the lines of Castle of the Emerald Wizard. I think he was surprised how our group "won" the module in less than 2 hours. The adventure pretty much lived up to the DCC blurb at the top of the post. Based on the portion we mapped, it seemed to be a Type B Linear Dungeon, with a series of guardian monster battles leading to a climax at the end where you fight with the boss (The Emerald Wizard), rescue the prisoners, and march away with pockets full of gems. It was a little disappointing that there were no talking NPCs, no cool items or treasures (beyond gems), and no interesting mysteries. The only way the monsters interacted with the players was to fight-to-the-death. I was also surprised that Joe read room descriptions verbatim off of paper printouts - I've never seen an experienced DM do this before. All-in-all this adventure felt like a railroaded chain of combat encounters, which isn't really my preferred gaming style. We won the module fairly quickly by magically bypassing the main path to get to the end. [UPDATE: Red Joe's comments on this HERE]
The session was a lot of fun and I had a great time, but I think running sessions like this kind of undersells DCC. This is clearly a robust and exciting ruleset with its own unique flavor deriving from the interesting spellcasting mechanics. Given that Joe sees DCC as an Appendix N emulator, I don’t completely understand why he chose to run the type of adventure he did. When Joe was name dropping Poul Anderson and Lord Dunsany before the game I was getting pretty excited, but the experience he delivered was more like an 80s Nintendo game or AD&D as run by a 13 year old in 1983 (not that there's anything wrong with this, mind you). And I'm sure Joe would make no apology for this, based on the promotional blurb at the beginning of this post. I think, however, that this approach is what led one of the players to give a kind of back-handed compliment after the game "Well, I think this would be a great system for running quick one shots!" I actually felt DCC was much better than this. The novel magic system in DCC gave the game an unpredictable and sinister feeling that really was evocative of weird mid-century fantasy fiction. I suspect I'll pick up a copy of DCC when it's published, if only for the magic system, although I predict the whole game will be quite good - possibly outstanding.
Well, Joe knows the market much better than I do, so hopefully his strategy of marketing DCC to alienated d20 players as an engine for running combat-chain dungeon adventures works. There's a lot more to DCC than that, though, and it would be nice to see the game enjoyed by Appendix N fans who would appreciate it. No matter how good the game is, however, I predict it might be hard to get more literary-minded FRPG gamers to give the game a whirl with a name like Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Very cool to see a playtest report of this game, which I've been curious about since it was announced.ReplyDelete
I suspect that the scenario may have been intended as a simple, one-and-done kind of affair, but maybe it just wasn't very good. That doesn't mean the game itself will be bad. It sounds very interesting, mechanically speaking.
Any chance you can post a larger version of the character sheet? There doesn't seem to be a way to view a bigger, more detailed image.
Any chance you can post a larger version of the character sheet?ReplyDelete
Fixed! You should be able to click to see the full-sized image now.
I hope that the advice for building adventures in the final product don't mirror this linear "fight everything" model.ReplyDelete
This game sounds like it has potential, and I'd hate to see it fall in the same trap 4e did with "encounter design." (shudder)
I can see introductory playtests being linear combat fests. when playtesting I start out with simple combats, then onto more complicated combats and follow that up with elaborate scenarios. So a combat heavy playtest of the DCC rpg isn't alarming.ReplyDelete
I must say I'm darned curious how playing a MU is.
I can see introductory playtests being linear combat fests.ReplyDelete
Yeah, this makes sense. I am also assuming the verbatim reading of room descriptions was for playtest purposes.
It sounds interesting, but I'm skeptical about Goodman's plan to market this to 3E players since he's stripped out the feats and skills, which are features that fans of that edition enjoy. Furthermore, Pathfinder already offers the 3E crowd an in-print version of the game they love.ReplyDelete
It just seems odd to create a decidedly old school game that isn't aimed at old school gamers in a market that already has a proliferation of similar games that are, for the most part, free.
That said, I think a game that tries to emulate all of the Appendix N books is a very exciting idea.
It just seems odd to create a decidedly old school game that isn't aimed at old school gamers in a market that already has a proliferation of similar games that are, for the most part, free.ReplyDelete
This seems very odd to me too. I guess Joe thinks there's a demographic of d20 players for whom Pathfinder is too over-the-top. I've never met anyone who falls into this category, but like I said, Goodman knows the market waaayyyy better than I do.
The more I think about it, the more I like DCC. I'm actually pretty excited to see the finished product. I hope he keeps the weird wizard spellcasting stuff in the final version. I must say, though, that I have a hard time imagining how this game will appeal to anyone but old school gamers.
As far as the marketing stuff goes, I'll have to just shrug and wish Joe a very sincere 'best of luck!'ReplyDelete
I'm incredibly excited about him going to the trouble to read the N list. That's huge. I'm just guessing that the number of wotc staffers who've done this, or would even agree to it, could be counted on a couple hands. I applaud him just for the effort, and if it shows in the final product, it will indeed be a must-have.
The early 3.0 "adventures" (that were playtest previews of the as-yet-unreleased 3.0 rules) were showcases of the how the baseline mechanics worked, which sounds similar to Joe's approach: get you familiar with the rules vs. providing a cool scenario. So, you fell into a pit trap, you had to make some saving throws, you had a single combat encounter, you had a skill challenge, etc. The scenarios were terrible, but they did give you a flavor for how the rules differed from previous editions of D&D. FWIW, I assume that Joe's doing something similar with these scenarios.ReplyDelete
The scenarios were terrible, but they did give you a flavor for how the rules differed from previous editions of D&D. FWIW, I assume that Joe's doing something similar with these scenarios.ReplyDelete
Yes, I think this makes sense. During a playtest there's good reason to "force" crunchy situations like combat in order to get a chance to assess game mechanics. So I could definitely understand if this is what Joe was going for. On the other hand, the adventure lived up to the DCC promo blurb exactly - so maybe these ARE the kind of scenarios he'll be promoting. I guess time will tell.
A. "...when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level?"ReplyDelete
I honestly find this gaming philosophy somewhat boring, though that is a view which might be me pilloried. To me it narrows the possibilities of gaming down to something that is more or less a one trick pony.
B. "His idea is that DCC will be aimed at D&D 3e / d20 players who want a more simplified version of the out-of-print systems they enjoy."
I don't think it is going to work. Above and beyond my criticism I posted at the top of my response, I don't think there is enough to make this game stand out in a market place dense with more familiar, established and arguably more accessible games. It is just a minor variation on a theme and it is entering the market very late. I am skeptical.
The magic system sounds intriguing, and may be a little like what I have been trying to accomplish in my own Dark Dungeon 2nd ed game. Magic is also more unpredictable there, and much more freestyle. I hadn't thought of a progressively worsening modifier like this though. Maybe I'll start experimenting a little with that too :-)
just FYI if you're interested in my version of medieval magick - you can download a free lite version on my blog www.darkdungeon2.com
@grodog: The early 3.0 "adventures" (that were playtest previews of the as-yet-unreleased 3.0 rules) were showcases of the how the baseline mechanics worked,ReplyDelete
You mean those events held at Gen Con 1999, following the Big Announcement? Where they presented a rules skeleton with one tiny new rules element missing that they still wanted to keep secret, the "heroic feats" (as they were called back then)?
Gave me a completely wrong first impression of the game. I liked the stripped-down and streamlined mechanics, but didn't like the unwieldy finished product (ie, with feats).
Thank you for posting this. I was thinking about passing on this RPG, but now I'm intrigued and will give it a closer look.ReplyDelete
(holding up hand) I'm one of those people who play C&C because it allows my group to play in an old-school style. I find Pathfinder to be way over the top, though I like their setting material.
It seems we need to separate the rules from the adventure.
I've found Goodman's marketing of their adventures to be much better than the adventures themselves, which are quite linear. Perhaps their rules will be much better.
I'm an OD&D and C&C guy mostly, but I'm looking forward to the DCC RPG. I've been wanting a stripped-down version of 3E for around a decade now, and even started to do it myself several times, but never followed through to the end. Goodman has a good rep and I'm looking forward to what he puts together.ReplyDelete