Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics
I really didn't want to get into Dungeon Crawl Classics for a couple of reasons.  Firstly I just didn't want to deal with another OD&D revamp.  I mean this is the Beacon blog and Beacon is what I thought d20 should look like, I mean that's the whole reason I wrote it right?  I did like what I was seeing from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I thought that it was good enough that I wanted a copy of the hard cover, especially with the production quality it promises to have.  I also gave Adventurer Conquer King a try because it looked interesting and I'm an open minded kind of guy - always looking for new things to poke around with.  There's some good stuff in ACKS and LotFP, some stuff I might use in a campaign (domain game tables and charts) and some stuff that is very cool take on an idea but but which I probably wouldn't use (the LotFP skill system).  There is also stuff I certainly don't like about these systems and so I would probably use Beacon for any gritty Fantasy game and tack on bits from these others.

However, I stayed away from Dungeon Crawl Classics because I didn't think it had anything to add to the equation.  I flipped though the book and I thought it had too many charts and special rules and I really don't like that kind of game.  My biggest problem with ACKS is the proficiency system and the fiddly classes and DCC looked to take that even further.  It looked like a pile of disassociated mechanics and charts and probably something you'd have to house rule the crap out of to play a decent game with.  If you read this blog you'll recognize Mike (if you read this blog there's 33% chance you are Mike...) from his unreserved praise and zealous adulation - nay near worship - of Beacon, so it was a little surprising when he started toting around the DCC book and talking excitedly about how great it was and getting animated about all these luck rolls and corruption charts.  Really I felt kind of bad for him.

So then I played DCC.  It rocks.

I got roped into playing DCC as a funnel Mike ran for our kids. It was a lot of fun and ha ha it's a funnel and your guy gets killed by a mud man.  It seemed like it was a pretty solid game but I wasn't convinced.  I think people focus on the killing part of the funnel without understanding what the funnel actually does, but I'll get back to that.  It wasn't until we got a couple characters to first level that the game really became interesting to me.  The classes have interesting mechanics, the charts are many and varied but they work well.  The charts which I expected to hate I actually like because they aren't rule mechanic look-up charts you need to reference and memorize, they are modifier charts to make the game go places you wouldn't think of going.  The other big thing people remark on is the special dice and I, like a lot of other people, just thought that was a gimmick - and it is - but it's a good gimmick because dice substitution is a lot more fun than adding up bonuses and to do that right proper you need more granulation in the dice.  So in stead of getting increasing bonuses to hit as your warrior levels up, you get an extra dice and that dice goes from a d3 to d4 to a d5 which is way cooler and less unbalanced than simply adding +1's until you cannot miss.  This concept is used every where and it's consistent enough that once you get it, half the complexity of those tables goes away.  You aren't looking up rules, you are quickly referencing a die roll.

I'm so jealous of that idea.

I like the magic system too.  Push your luck mechanics are interesting and having the ability to cast away until you blow a roll and then pay the price is a greet mood mechanic that you just don't get with spell slots or spell points, or even a simple fumble table.  Teach you to cast that utility spell instead of getting the thief to do it, now you have an anus on your forehead...

As for the funnel - well it's fun to see characters die and all but I think the real value of the funnel is that you don't have folks coming to a campaign with a story already set up in their head.  More importantly you don't have 4-5 special snowflakes coming to the table with incompatible stories and then getting all butt-hurt when those stories don't progress or mesh well.  What you have is a story emerging out of the actions of these random characters who have learned to work together and seen their comrades die in interesting ways that make stories for them to talk about.  Those are some great stories.

I don't know how I'll like DCC once the higher levels kick in, and I don't know if I'll still be liking it as much a year from now or if something will pop up I'm not happy with, but I'm truly enjoying the game we're playing now (and not all due to the system, Mike can take some credit for being a good DM).  I haven't really felt a need to change a rule or disliked any design choice yet which is pretty good coming from me.  If I wasn't picky I'd still be playing AD&D probably.  We've started a DCC campaign now with our regular game group and after playing the kids game and getting a taste of classed characters, I'm really eager to see how this game works with a bunch of cantankerous and clever grown ups.

I'm still going to run my games in Beacon, but I might be willing to run something in DCC if I was filling in for the regular GM or the players already had characters or something.  Or maybe if someone was interested in trying it out - purely to examine comparative mechanics you understand.  Or if I had a good idea for a session...  That's pretty funny because I told Mike back in November that I might consider playing DCC, but I'd never run something with it.


  1. Muuhaahahahahaaahhaha!

    I'm pretty sure I would have exploded if I hadn't got to run this thing.

    Seriously though. If I were to design a D20 game I think it would look very much like Beacon (I'd split magic points out from hit points though). To me Beacon represents close to the ultimate rationalization and distillation of all the things I find useful in D20. It makes sense, cuts the crap and is built to run. For me it's got the same vibe as the original Traveller LLBs (which I love).

    I would never have made a game like DCC. I wouldn't even have looked at it if you hadn't mentioned it was down at the comic book shop. But there it was and I bought it because I liked the the guy in the funky striped pants and the Peter Mullen art inside (I can be easily amused). But as I read it I realized the rules (which are actually pretty straight forward) dripped with atmosphere, the charts were stories waiting to be told and the DM's advice was poetry (there shall be no standard monsters...). It had all the best bits from D&D, Warhammer, Rolemaster and even Gamma World and Call of Cthulhu wrapped up with a viking mustache on the front. I was never into the whole "nostalgia" rpg thing, but this thing scratched an itch I didn't know I had.

    So yeah - we'll see where the campaign goes and see if it keeps on delivering. And I'd very much like to have someone else run this thing too. I got a couple of radish farmers just dying to go through a funnel.

  2. Great insight into the funnel. Very, very cool. I'm hoping leveled-play holds up as well.