09 June 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta – Some Impressions

Yesterday Goodman Games released the free ‘beta’ version of its forthcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-playing Game (you can check it out yourself here).

This is how Goodman Games describes their ‘old school’ RPG:

Glory & Gold Won by Sorcery & Sword

You’re no hero.

You’re 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…

Rules Set: DCC RPG, an OGL system that cross-breeds Appendix N with a streamlined version of 3E.

It is one day later, and Ye Auld Skül blogosphere has been flooded with ‘first impressions’ of the beta version of DCCRPG.

A sample:

Bat in the Attic

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Unto the Breach

The Fantasy Game

Retro-Role-playing

Grognardia

Tenkar’s Tavern

No School Like the Old School

Strange Magic

Greyhawk Grognard


Well, I certainly do not want to be left out of the fray! So here are my initial impressions:


Positive:

1. I very much like the art. (Perhaps there is too much? It is almost overwhelming. But it creates a wonderful overall ethos for the game.) Here is a sample piece by Pete Mullen:

2. I like that the game is dedicated to the recently departed Jim Rosloff (a fine artist from TSR's early days, whose work influenced some of my earliest impressions of D&D). Here is one of Rosloff’s pieces (from page 7 of the DCC RPG beta):

3. I dig the critical and fumble charts (they bring back some good memories of my MERP and Rolemaster days!). Not sure how well they would work in practice, obviously.

4. I like that magic is unpredictable, but I think that it may be too unpredictable. (The consequences for Wizards if they roll a natural '1' when casting look to be pretty dire [see pp. 97-99]. I suspect that higher-level wizards frequently will have beaks, bull’s horns, scales, gills, etc.)


Negative:

1. I dislike the ‘funnel system’ for creating player characters. Apparently, players are expected to start with four 0-level PCs, which subsequently are ‘culled’ in an initial dungeon adventure. Now, it might be cool to have this as an option for beginning players, but these days I prefer to let players choose what kinds of characters they want to run.

2. There is a certain haughty 'old school machismo' tone that runs through much of the text that I find grating. (E.g., all ability scores must be rolled randomly and in order; most of your 0-level ‘peons’ will be killed in their first adventure; the brutal 'corruption' spell failure chart; etc.). The tone reminds me of the ‘grumpy old man’ character that Dana Carvey used to play on Saturday Night Live. (“Back in my day, our 0-level characters died every twenty-minutes by impaling themselves with their own pitchforks while fighting house cats – And We Liked It!”)

3. The game, overall, seems to have a very specific interpretation of what 'old school' role-playing is like, and this interpretation has been hard-wired into the rules. Unfortunately, it's not my view of what 'old school' role-playing is like (but then maybe I'm getting too soft in my old age).


Overall:

Based on this skim, I doubt that I'll ever play this game, but I'll likely get a copy of the core rules simply for the art. However, this is only a beta release, and I haven’t read the rules fully, so perhaps I’ll change my opinion in the future...

14 comments:

  1. My initial impression are much the same as yours. I love the artwork and the fumble charts but some of the other things I was a little ify on.

    Though I will most likely pick up the final version.

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  2. overall, seems to have a very specific interpretation of what 'old school' role-playing is like

    D&D 4e was apparently those designers interpretation of what an old school RPG is like... so there's definitely some differing opinions. And ultimately that's a good thing. :)

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  3. I've heard a lot of hardcase "tude" on the net about how real old school gaming involves frequent pc death. Been playing since 80 and have yet to meet these mythical players that will tolerate marching their characters into a meat grinder game after game. The assumption of risk in D&D is good for tension--periodically somebody needs to get turned to stone or sucked into a vortex to keep the edge; on the other hand, a design that basically says, "class look around; the guy across from you won't be here next quarter!" is a non starter in the real world beyond the handful of grognards and masochists who eat up that sort of abuse.

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  4. HAven't read DCC but your review makes a lot of sense given what I have read. I don't like the emphasis of zero level culling and "tough" game play either. That wasn't really my "old school" experience, and I don't really have a desire for it, though I see how it might appeal to others.

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  5. I also find that players only have so much appetite for the "meat grinder" style of play. While such a game occasionally makes for an amusing distriction, most of the people I game with are kind of into the idea of playing the same character for a long time and having a reasonable chance of being able to do so. Meat grinder games end up in one of two ruts:

    1. It takes the players thirty minutes of real time to open a friggin' door because each and every object they encounter is treated with bomb-squad levels of precaution, or

    2. Everybody knows their characters are expendable red shirts, so they just charge headlong into everything because they know they aren't going to make it to 2nd level so why effing bother?

    Personally, I don't like either of these two ruts, so DCC is currently holding limited appeal to me. Of course, this goes for any version of D&D run in that style.

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  6. Yeah, not really picking on this new game per se. I just hear a lot of chatter that corresponds to the ol we used to hike uphill bnoth ways to school and loved it! I know some people enjoy the "my pc is the thimble in Monopoly" style of play, but I don't think that's particularly relevant to OSR or gaming in general.

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  7. We used to (and I still do) like a challenge in my games, and bad choices (or bad luck you don't compensate for with good choices) can result in a dead PC. That's not the same as a total grinder where nothing you do will stop 3/4 of the PCs from getting shredded. That was for Convention games / Tomb of Horrors kind of stuff.

    If I was going to play DCC we'd likely try the 0-level thing a couple of times but then start characters off at level 1+.

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  8. "(or bad luck you don't compensate for with good choices)"

    +1

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  9. Glad to see I'm not alone in not equating 'old school adventures' with 'meatgrinder adventures'!

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  10. I don't agree with Raggi very often, but I think he articulates the essence of my feeling re: misconceptions about what old school is or isn't when he talks about DCC:

    "I get a Hackmaster vibe from the whole thing. "This one goes up to 11" and the hard-coding of certain styles of fun into the rules. More charts, more tables, more emphasizing old schooliness as a gimmick instead of a byproduct of other priorities."

    Again, not to knock Goodman or any other game. I loved 2e and had plenty of fun with 3 and 3.5. Got a groove on with Amber Diceless a time or three. My players have lost their share of characters and seen others scale the heights of fantasy rock stardom. I guess I just resist the notion that OSR is at heart about sandboxes, meatgrinders or any other particular trapping or theme. Old school goes a lot deeper and encompasses a broader spectrum than that for me.

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  11. I'm enjoying my read-through of DCC. The game has promise.

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  12. I was excited after giving DCC an extremely breezy glance, but when I sat down and started reading it with a little more care, I grew disappointed. The attitude you mention is particularly silly. I agree that there isn't one core experience that old school rpgs are supposed to offer at the gaming table. More than that, there isn't one core genre, or sub-genre, they're supposed to capture. DCC touts itself as being built around Appendix N. But a casual look at Appendix N reveals that there isn't so much as a family resemblance tying all those works together. It's all over the place, as one would expect from what that list was presented as being: a collection of inspirations behind the game. It's no surprise that the early modules included not only Tomb of Horrors and White Plume Mountain, but Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. And that's all in one series! Never mind the delightful weirdness of Castle Amber, or the sleuthing of The Assassin's Knot, and so forth. DCC, at first blush, seems to be promoting one and only one style of play, and I anticipate that style to be embraced with adventures of one and only sort. Too bad.

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  13. Yes, the championing of "Appendix N" fidelity is somewhat implausible. The diversity of books listed in Appendix N is considerable.

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  14. Dimly remember Dana Carvey doing grumpy old man, but Monty Python scooped him by 20 years. Try to find their skit if you can.

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.