10 January 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG: Initial Thoughts

I received an e-mail message from Goodman Games last week (they seem to arrive every so often) which included a brief blurb describing their forthcoming 'Dungeon Crawl Classics' RPG . A quick visit to their forum uncovered this summary post:
What It Is, And What It Isn’t

What if Gygax and Arneson had access to the Open Game License when they created D&D? What if they spent their time adapting thirty years of game design principles to their stated inspirations -- rather than creating the building blocks from scratch? What if someone were to attempt just that: to immerse himself in the game’s inspirations and re-envision the output using modern game design principles?

That, in short, is the goal of the Dungeon Crawl Classics role playing game: to create a modern RPG that reflects D&D’s origin-point concepts with decades-later rules editions. For many years I have been a fan of old-school gaming, the history of TSR, and the lore of Appendix N, as reflected in many of the products I’ve published. When Dungeon Crawl Classics #1 appeared on shelves way back in 2003, Goodman Games and Kenzer & Company were the only publishers of “old-school” products. Over the eight years since, the “Old School Renaissance” has blossomed, and now a host of high-quality product lines and thriving communities offer “old-school” products. A subject of some controversy has been the proliferation and originality of “retro-clones”: is it enough to simply re-hash the past? Where my DCC modules once did just that -- dwell in a rosy-toned version of early-era D&D game style and art direction -- the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game goes much further. This is not a retro-clone: this is a re-imagining.

There is a lot to cover regarding DCC RPG, and in the next eleven months we’ll cover all of it. But let’s start with the basics. For those of you who have not read the various con reports and blog commentaries over the last year, this diary entry may be your first exposure to the game. Therefore, for this first designer’s diary, I’d like to establish the record on a couple basic facts. Here’s what the DCC RPG is, and is not:

It is not a retro-clone.

It is an OGL game.

It uses a rules engine derived from the 3E d20 system.

It is not compatible with 1970s/1980s D&D rules.

It plays like a 1970s OD&D session.

It is generally compatible with other d20-derived systems.

It does not include complexities like attacks of opportunity, prestige classes, feats, or skill points.

It does not utilize miniatures or a grid-based combat system.

It utilizes races as classes -- you can be a warrior, or an elf.

It utilizes six ability scores, including one called Luck.

It is built on the assumption that some characters will die.

It is built on the assumption that the strongest characters will provide long-term campaigns.

It is built for low-level, mid-level, and high-level play.

It does not require that you start at 0-level (though doing so is fun).

It does not use the traditional D&D spell system associated with memorizing spells.

It uses spellcasting rules influenced by the foundational authors of swords & sorcery.

It uses a Vancian magic system…if you use the term “Vancian” to mean “based on a reading of Vance’s original works,” not “what D&D does.”

It is grounded in the fundamentals of Appendix N.

It is a proud descendant of a long tradition.

It is an opportunity to showcase outstanding art in a classic fantasy style.

It is lots of fun to play.

It primarily uses the conventional dice suite: d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20. Most combat and spell checks are resolved with a d20 roll.

It also utilizes Zocchi dice. All of them. Including the d5, d7 and d24.

It is, in my humble opinion, a version of what D&D could have been, if the early pioneers had access to an existing, robust rules engine to which to adapt their Appendix N inspirations, instead of dedicating their energies to building the foundational blocks from scratch.

It is, as Harley described it early on, “pre-D&D swords & sorcery.”

That’s all for now. Next time: more on, pre-D&D swords & sorcery -- or, Brought to You by Appendix N…

Of most interest to me was the following item: "It uses a Vancian magic system…if you use the term “Vancian” to mean “based on a reading of Vance’s original works,” not “what D&D does.”" I am genuinely intrigued to see what the DCC RPG magic system looks like based on this comment alone!

Overall, though, it's not clear what niche this game is intended to fill. It explicitly is not another 'retro-clone' (which certainly is not something that the hobby needs now). Castles & Crusades already fills the 'd20-lite-system-that-is-old-school' niche. Hackmaster is another 'new' old-school D&D-ish game. DCCRPG (yikes -- what an unpleasant acronym) clearly intends to take D&D's roots in earlier 'swords & sorcery' fiction (Howard, Vance, Leiber, et al.) seriously (hence the 'Appendix N' reference). That's intriguing, but I'm not sure how much demand there is for such a game (and, in my own case, I suspect that the forthcoming Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea will satisfy this particular demand).

The 'old school' segment of the hobby looks pretty crowded now (all the retro-clones, C&C, Hackmaster, etc.), and promises to become even more crowded in the new year, with AS&SH, the re-release of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and now DCCRPG scheduled to appear.

A surfeit of options surely is to be preferred over a paucity of options. But I already have too many great games sitting on my bookcase to play. I'll certainly try to keep an open mind about DCCRPG and look at it when it comes out. Heck, I'll probably get a copy just to be able to sit down and read through the 'Vancian' magic system.

But I must confess that I don't feel especially excited about the DCCRPG.


  1. "It is not compatible with 1970s/1980s D&D rules.

    It plays like a 1970s OD&D session."

    Sounds like somebody wants to have their cake and eat it, too...

    I'll pass on this one. More fixing what ain't broke and WotCisms leave a bad taste in my mouth.

  2. I think this is basically Joe Goodman taking his shot at what he would have liked to see D & D evolve into, rather than filling any specific niche.

  3. I was initially really excited about this game until I read "It utilizes races as classes -- you can be a warrior, or an elf" and "It also utilizes Zocchi dice. All of them. Including the d5, d7 and d24".
    I know a lot of old-schoolers think that is the way it should be, but even as a kid I thought that non-human races as classes was a silly concept. That's part of the reason I don't play many of the OSR games. I also don't like having to buy dice specifically for one game.
    So while I was very excited about this game when I first caught wind of it last year and I hope it does well, I'm pretty sure I'll pass.

  4. "I also don't like having to buy dice specifically for one game."

    You do know that's not necessary, right? Here's a method for a d5 roll:

    1d10 -

    1-2: 1
    3-4: 2
    5-6: 3
    7-8: 4
    9-10: 5

    And so on.

  5. yes I do realize that. I do something similar when playing FATE or Ubiquity games.
    I actually misspoke with the "having to" comment. My point was that I dislike it when they game companies try to be unique or some other nonsense by using odd dice instead of the standard gaming dice all of us already own.
    As you pointed out, you can "by-pass" the use of odd dice. So why do they bother making a system that use them? It is just a personal pet-peeve of mine.
    It may be petty but since I game less now than when I was younger and I have a smaller budget to buy game books (teenage children and cost a lot of money), things like which dice a system uses can now cause me to completely ignore a product.
    Although I'm not completely dismissing the game yet, I will say the races as classes was the first major strike against the game for me. The Zocchi dice was just another thing that made it less appealing. I may end up buying a cheap copy off of Amazon to read, maybe. More than likely I'll end up spending that money on books for games I know I like and know that I will play/use.

  6. I've playtested it. 0 Level characters are a blast & thats the game's "skill" system, as well. So, I have Minstrel with a silk jacket; a Town Guard with a helmet & shield; a Sage with a book & pen & was literate; and a Farmer with a pony. The Minstrel & the Farmer lived. I'll be taking the Minstrel to first level as a Thief. The game screams Sword & Sorcery. Even though it runs on the D20 engine, its tuned to sound like OD&D. So, if you want to do something, Roleplay it. If you think your class or profession help, you might get to make an Attribute check (generally roll a D20 with Attribute Mod vs a 10). Keep in mind your lucky if your attribute mod isn't -3. This a 3D6 in a Row game. The magic system is awesome, as long as you keep succeeding at casting, you don't lose the spell from memory. The better the roll to cast, the better the spell performs. You can also burn Str, Con & Dex to power spells that you lost from memory. My favorite bit though? Thief Skills are a flat level progression & the progression is determined by your alignment. We didn't have the zochi dice. An we were good.

  7. Thief skill progression based on Alignment. Interesting. Unless you take the robbing and backstabbing as Chaotic and social skills as Lawful, I'm not sure where you can go with that. Neutrals might be better at acrobatics but they might just fall in between. I guess it makes a Lawful Thief less antisocial. It's an interesting way to split the class into subclasses/kits/whatever without actually increasing the number of classes.

    Kind of like how the Rules Cyclopedia has rules for Fighters of different alignments splitting off from each other at Name Level.

    But what do you do about someone whose alignment changes? Feels like a headache waiting to happen ...

  8. I have to admit I don't really see a particularly large niche for this to fill as many of the gamers that want 'old school' already have identified the rules that fit their own desires.

    Surely most classic Sword & Sorcery fiction is very light on non-human races as say Conan or Vance's Dying Earth only feature human protaganists, so I'm not sure where the demi-humans fit in.

    Surely for more S&S games a system like Barbarians of Lemuria is more suitable and if it is aimed at the D&D genre of RPG then it is hitting a hugely crowded market.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).