Monday, May 23, 2011

School’s Out Week: Dungeon Crawl Classics

I’m going to start off S.O.W. by talking about Goodman Games’ upcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. That’s a bit of cheat because, while DCC is based on the d20 mechanic, its design DNA falls much closer to that of “old school” games than it does to later versions of D&D. Nevertheless, the elements of 3.5 are obvious to all with even the slightest familiarity with them.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I obviously have some connection with Goodman Games through the Dungeon Alphabet and I maintain a good relationship with Joseph Goodman. And while I’ve not been asked to sign any NDAs, I’ll avoid getting into specifics regarding the DCC system as I’m not sure what Joseph wants revealed at this stage and the rules continue to be improved and modified while playtesting continues. I’ve been involved with the later stages of DCC’s development in a tertiary fashion, helping to playtest the system and contributing suggestions as to how to improve it.

Let's get down to it in plain terms: I predict that DCC is going to turn heads when it becomes available for open playtesting and after being commercially released. You heard it here first. Joseph and Harley Stroh had a luxury in developing DCC that Gygax and Arneson did not have: a preexisting rules base to work with. “Big deal,” you might say. “So did Monte Cook, Jonathan Tweet, and Skip Williams.” The difference here is that Cook, Tweet, and Williams were looking to redesign D&D. Goodman and Stroh aren’t.

DCC’s strongest selling point for old school gamers is that Joseph and Harley went to the same source material that inspired Gygax and Arneson and sought ways to use the existing game system to recreate the feel, look, and expectations of the classic pulp sword & sorcery tales. Everything from cover design to the way magic works in DCC draws from those stories—and it does so very, very successfully. This is not “You’re Conan and I’m Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula.”[1] This is “You’re Kane and I’m the Gray Mouser. We team up to storm the Tower of the Elephant, steal the jewels of the Overlord of Lankhmar, fight the priests of Cthulhu, and engage in pacts with the Lords of Chaos to do so.”

Now this is great for us old-timers, but what about those players that came along in the post 2nd edition epoch? How are they going to react? I won’t lie: There is going to be some acclimation required. The lack of skills and feats in DCC and the lower abilities scores on average means that you can’t grab a Pathfinder adventure and expect to run it "as is" with DCC. But the good news is that those players who are used to the “kewl powerz” bells and whistles from later editions aren’t going to be disappointed. They’ll still be able to play a mighty warrior capable of doing outlandish actions in battle. Players with a penchant for wizards and clerics are undoubtedly going to go ape over a magic system that allows spellcasters to employ magic more often and with more spectacular effects than even 4th edition provides for. DCC just may very well hit the elusive sweet spot the appeals to both old and new gamers alike. That’s no bullshit, people.

Are there tradeoffs to this melding of styles, preferences, and expectations? Of course there are. As Rob Conley mentioned in the comments of a recent Grognardia post regarding DCC, spellcasting is table-intensive, which might not be to everyone’s liking, but neither is it insurmountable. There are also various charts to add color to battles and help adjudicate some of the crazier events that occur in combat. These are again subject to game master preference, but if the final layout of the book is well done, accessibility and placement should help speed their implementation. And no matter what, there are going to be those who bitch about having to buy special dice just to play.

Like any roleplaying game, Dungeon Crawl Classics’ success at the gaming table is going to rely on the referee running it and the players participating in it. The rules place a lot of emphasis on becoming familiar with the "old ways" and the inspirational sources that birthed the game. Hopefully this will encourage players and judges to either dust off their copies of the pulp classics or to pick them up and read them for the first time. Even if they don’t, Goodman Games is currently working on several adventure scenarios (two of which will be available in the Free RPG Day release) that almost literally drip with pulpy goodness. The ones that I’ve had the pleasure of playtesting with my group featured supernaturally mutated beast-men, hideous subterranean gods, cursed tombs, chaotic towers, lumbering brass constructs, treacherous double-dealings, and sorcerers bound by infernal pacts with the hoary hosts of Chaos. And that, my friends, is heady stuff when using rules especially designed to foster that kind of atmosphere and gaming mindset. Even if you have no interest in any fantasy roleplaying game published after 1981 or so, I suspect that you'll find things to lift from DCC for your own games. It's just that good.


James said...

Well, I was really hoping for Wraeththu, but DCC will be ok, I guess.

With all this praise, coming from so many highly respected grognards, I'm getting excited about this game, myself. :)

James Maliszewski said...

I have a feeling that DCC is going to be a sleeper hit and will be widely borrowed from and outright imitated in game designs, both old school and new school, that come after it. It's definitely one of those "I wish I'd thought of this first" kind of games.

Jim said...

Michael, your post has really piqued my interest in this game. Thanks so much. I'm really looking forward to this now...

Anonymous said...

So why are you all avoiding the DCC rpg forum ?

get yourselves along, represent!

David said...

Like others have said, this wasn't something I was really too interested in, but I'll have to take a gander at it.

DRANCE said...

Sounds interesting, of course. I, like many others no doubt, are wary of yet another game system. But who am I kidding, I am always a sucker for new shiny. Gamer ADD is the best friend of RPG publishers! ;-)

Andreas Davour said...

So why are you all avoiding the DCC rpg forum ?

Because I have already signed up for more web forums, and forgotten both the password and to log in again, than I have fingers?

Forums are a hassle.