Wednesday 16 January 2013


I recently got myself a copy of Dungeon Crawl Classics - a replacement for my duplicate gift that the people at IGUK were very good about. I might post a review at some point, but I will say several things.

1) The game has atmosphere. To quote Russ Abbot, 'what an atmosphere!' The writing, the art, and the rules all combine to produce a unique, distinctive vibe - all without relying on encyclopedic setting information. There are flavours of older editions of D&D in there, and not a little WFRP1e, but DCC is very definitely its own thing.

2) The rules for magic, which take up half the book, are the best that I have yet seen. They appear to make concrete the idea that magic is powerful, but is a dangerous, corrupting force. Something like this is what the WFRP1e setting promised but the rules failed to deliver.

3) Critical Hits! Yes, we've got kneecap smashing, head cleaving action built into the game, with different tables for the different classes/levels, and separate tables for monsters and dragons.

4) A non-'mechanical' experience system. XP are not won by getting gold of killing monsters, but by engaging in adventuring activity - mortal combat most of the time, but other kinds of activity might also provide an XP or two. XP rewards are tied to the power of the PCs - so a difficult encounter, which might result in a fatality, for example, is worth 3 points - and the XP intervals between levels grows wider as PCs grow more powerful.

5) Indeed, the first level interval, between levels 0 and 1, is just 10XP, which works out at 5 'typical' encounters (a challenge, but no fatalities or significant losses would be expected), is just one session's worth of adventure. And that is 'the funnel': four 0 level PCs per player, with the survivors achieving classed PC status and all the power and survivability that comes with that. Now, I'll no doubt run a funnel adventure at some point in the future, but doubt that such a bloodbath would be the best way to introduce my players to the real charm of DCC.

6) A chapter titled 'Skills'. That is two pages long, providing GM advice on handling non-combat activities - summed up as, largely Old School, based on player skill, but don't be afraid to roll some dice now and again.

But the first page of the 'Judge's Rules' contains Joseph Goodman's 'Admonitions', which, after the usual advice to house rule the game, are 'always roll your dice in public' and 'let the characters die if the dice so dictate it'. Over the past few weeks I have been idly looking advice on running fantasy RPGs from books published in the late 1980s and the 1990s, and that advice was the exact opposite; the standard instructions to the GM seemed to be that it didn't matter how much you fudged the dice or railroaded your PCs, just so long as the players didn't know and 'the plot' was preserved. So it is refreshing to read something that points out that the very essence of an RPG as a game comes from the idea of challenge, of the possibility of failure.

And with that in mind, I would like to point anyone who has not read it already towards Courtney Campbell's A Guide for New Dungeon Masters. New DM or not, it is still good advice. His articles on player agency are also very interesting. 

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