RPG.Lab – Dungeon Crawl Classics

Yeah. I’m actually doing this. An Old School Renaissance (OSR) fantasy RPG is the subject of this lab report. That being said, there’s a lot of talk about which D&D is real D&D these days and, frankly, it’s whichever version have REAL fun with. Period. The entire idea of authenticity in this department is largely the domain of grognards who just want to sit on their gaming laurels rather than embracing both the old and the new and perhaps having a great and unexpected way to play.

I have to say, there is no game I’ve played recently that does a better job at this than Dungeon Crawl Classics. It’s one of the game’s many slogans – “Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery.”

And here we go…

THE SETTING

Where is the setting book? Isn’t there a book that’s just all the setting info? In short, no. The setting for DCC is largely represented by the flavor of its gods and other powerful beings. Clerics deal with gods (everything from Persian dragon gods to Cthulhu), Wizards and Elves deal with magical patrons (like the King of Elfland and the insane magus Sezrekhan). Beyond that, the game’s setting is largely represented by the stories and settings of its slim but awesome adventure modules.

The modules are loaded with hand-drawn art (no computer art here, folks) and even include the visuals of such early fantasy RPG masters as Erol Otus himself!

All in all, the setting occurs in the playing, revealed by the modules you use and the concealed in the ones yet to be run.

“I enjoyed (the setting) immensely. Can’t think of anything I would change. Bought the book after finishing this RPGLab, so that’s about the highest praise I can give this.”

“I’m a huge fan of pulp fantasy, and I think it captures that vibe pretty well. The dangers are all pretty unique. I like that there is little opportunity to game the system (“This is a beholder, it should have X hitpoints and hit us with eye lasers”) because everything is wondrous and strange.”

CHARACTER GENERATION

Balance. It’s the bugaboo of all RPGs these days. The implementation of point buy character generation, carefully figured methods of equalizing every power against every other has created a sort of weird entitlement to being on equal ground with everyone else.

DCC balances play with the same method that real life is balanced – absolute chaos and chance. The extreme to which DCC takes this idea is really lies at the center of its unmitigated glory. DCC begins with a type of adventure called a “funnel”. Every player randomly generates a set of three to four utterly worthless peons that begin at zero level. You are a classless upstart with dreams of vorpal weapons and nothing more than a prayer and a dream to get you there. Starting professions include such glorious beginnings as pig farmer, halfling chicken butcher, and elven glassblower. You have three crappy pieces of equipment, and with that, it’s off to the funnel dungeon – where you die in droves until only the strong remain. Once you have your last peon standing, you will be rewarded with a class and proper gear opportunities and it is at that legendary moment that the world becomes your bloody, instant death laden oyster.

Personally, as a DM, I LOVE the funnel experience. Slaughtering droves of characters and describing their ludicrous ends in splatterpunk comedic fashion is entirely rewarding. Players embrace the doom with great descriptions and, in the end, really treasure their remaining character.

“The standard 3d6 in order is quick and painless, and the random occupation is great too. The lucky roll, however, seems mostly useless; Most characters won’t be able to utilize luck due to having a mediocre score, and some of the lucky rolls are just junk.”

“Having never done a “funnel” type of creation before, I was very curious on how the process worked. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The pre-generated stats, careers, and basically life of the 0 level characters was actually fun, what with rolling for everything, and having to develop a character from whatever you end up rolling. The wanton destruction of said characters was also a plus in my eyes, as it was more of an act of just surviving rather than trying to advance as fast as possible, which was a refreshing change of pace. I ended up with just one character surviving (not the one I wanted to survive), but some other players had multiple survivors, which then led to the agonizing problem of who gets to move on and who doesn’t.

The only thing I would suggest is that it is definitely easier if somebody in the game is an experienced player, either playing or DMing. The sheer amount of characters (we had 20 total) running around at the zero level would seem to be a tough start for a new GM. Our gaming group had nothing but experienced players, so the game ran like clockwork, whereas I think it would be a little tougher (but doable) for a less experienced group.”

THE SYSTEM

Fans of Dungeon & Dragons 3rd edition’s more elegant mechanics will find a lot to love in DCC’s system. It’s largely d20 driven and Armor Class and hit rolls do not resort to nostalgic crap (and I DO mean crap) like algorithmic AC and Thac0.

The weirdest element of the game (and perhaps its most baroque mechanic set) is it’s insanely detailed magic rules. Whether divine or arcane, the spells of DCC all require a check that is somewhat of a push your luck mechanic. If your effort is insufficient, the spell will fizzle and you will lose it for the day. If your effort is too mighty, you may get more than you bargained for in your result gone huge. If you really crap the bed, you will very likely end up with magic deformities or a disappointed deity.

“Works well. The whole system has been simplified from all the THACO, Armor Class, and the myriad of other stats that you need to keep track of for some other systems. The “vibe” of the system still feels like a true old school RPG, even though it is simplified. I think, with some slight modifications, this could work with just about any of the “sword & magic” style fluff used in other systems.”

“The system itself seems to lend more towards heroic fantasy than I imagined. Being able to use stat points as a currency in some situations, lots of crazy things happening with crits and fumbles… it feels very fun and cinematic, with a splash of extra gore that takes it to PG-13 or beyond. It’s still very much meat-and-potatoes Dungeons & Dragons. The system totally excels at crawling around in ruins, but will probably groan under the stress of gameplay not related to combat or exploration. Luckily, the setting is plenty focused on combat, weird monsters and ancient ruins.”

IN CONCLUSION

Now don’t get me wrong, If I’m going to sit down and play a serious narratively driven version of D&D with carefully plotted NPCs and enormous amounts of story prep, I would likely choose something like Pelgrane Press’s 13th Age.

However…

If I want a raging nightmare of gods and crazy battles against things that have razored tentacles hanging out of both ends while a motley crew of badasses hack their way to treasure, traps and heaps of weird magic, it’s absolutely going to be Dungeon Crawl Classics.

This game is THE retro-OSR experience that many folks are talking about when they describe the D&D of their childhoods.

“Playing DCC in RPG lab was excellent. Better than other organized play experiences and most pick-up games.”

“RPG.LAB is a great notion that should be bigger. People are going to teach me how to play a game that I already have an interest in but maybe my fellow players are unwilling or not ready to step away from their comfort zone. . . . Seems sweet! There should be more publicity for this and people should flock to the opportunity.”

“Totally enjoyed both our host and the fellow players who survived this adventure. You guys (and Gals) really brought out the spirit of roleplaying during our sessions and made it great. Can’t wait until the next one I’m picked to be in. Thanks to the staff of G&S for continuing to run this event. I highly recommend both this game and (if you are into or curious to try roleplaying) to get into one of these sessions. You will not regret it!”

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