Sunday, April 15, 2012

Actual Play Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC)

I’m interrupting the series of articles about my trinity of old school gaming for a review of Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (or DCC RPG), more specifically for my first impressions and observations after running the introductory adventure for “15-20 0-level characters” (Hint: Not all of them survived.). I hope I'll get around to writing an in-depth review at some point.
I pre-ordered the game back in March and apparently it’s off to the printers now, as Goodman Games has sent out its delightful pre-order bonus: the PDF of the complete book. I would have been willing to pay extra for the PDF so this bonus makes me very happy indeed.

It’s inevitably going to be pirated but I think it’s a good strategy nonetheless. On the one hand, I suspect that old school gamers have considerable disposable income and are willing to spend it on good product. On the other hand, I’d wager that Goodman aims to make money mostly by selling modules.

In fact, the massive support from Goodman Games is one reason I picked this up. I’m usually strapped for time these days and look forward to plenty of ready-to-play modules.

Anyway, on to the review:

I haven’t got the physical book yet, but the PDF looks great. It’s chock-full of old school art, ranging from full-page illustrations to little cartoons at the bottom of a page. All of it evokes adventure modules and fanzines of decades past and if you’re into old school art even a little bit, the book is worth getting on that count alone.

The layout is a bit cluttered as a result, though, and the spells, which take up a good portion of the massive 488-page file, unfortunately share pages in some instances. I don’t mind the occasional spell taking up more than one page, but I’d have preferred some white space or another illustration. The way it is, printing out individual spell books is less than perfect.

Joseph Goodman’s comments on running DCC and the OSR in general are very interesting and well-worth reading. I especially like his advice on “making monsters mysterious” (by avoiding easy labels such as “goblin” or “orc”, among other things) and his call for new game designs with Appendix N (rather than D&D) as a starting point.

I’m not going to comment on character classes and spells, as I haven’t run a game with these yet. The first introductory adventure at the back of the book is for 0-level characters which have access to none of these. I printed out about a dozen pages of the massive book and that’s all we needed.

The adventure, called “The Portal under the Stars”, is a classic dungeon crawl and sports a compact and beautiful dungeon map that immediately made me want to run it. My gaming group was at half strength on account of the Easter holidays so we put our Warhammer campaign on the backburner for a week for this DCC one-shot.

Each of my four players rolled up four characters, for a total of 16 PCs. Character creation was a breeze and did not just provide stats, but also occupations and some equipment (such as a pushcart that became an invaluable makeshift siege engine).

The dungeon turned out to be excellent: It’s got a pulpy backstory and evocative monsters and contraptions; more importantly, those traps are dangerous and logical and can be avoided (or their effects mitigated) by smart play. My players were shocked when the first casualty occurred after about five minutes of play and after a few more deaths, they really pulled together and started to think.

They largely neutralized the next couple of threats, got cocky, and lost a few more characters. In the end, 5 of 16 made it to the secret treasure chamber where intra-party conflict took another two lives. Everyone agreed we’d had a blast, though some were doubtful about the viability of a long-term campaign.

Some further observations:
  1. The adventure fit perfectly into about three-and-a-half hours of gaming.
  2. The traps have limited ammunition and fuel. A nice touch and a shimmer of hope for delvers.
  3. The dungeon is designed to be partially demolished and dismantled. This was great fun.
  4. The Luck stat proved invaluable to handle the large group of characters. I only bothered with precise positioning once all night. The rest of the time clues from general chit-chat, Luck scores and the dice determined who got attacked by a monster first.
  5. The character funnel (i.e. the idea of starting with a huge party and whittling them down to a few survivors) worked brilliantly. The names of the dead were mostly forgotten by the end of the night, but the survivors’ stars shone the more brightly for it.
In a nutshell, the introductory adventure is excellent and the DCC rules make it easy to dive right in.

I’m itching to run DCC again so that’s a preliminary 4 out of 4 stars from me.

1 comment:

  1. You convinced me to buy a copy. Very thorough review. Thank you!