Friday 10 August 2012

Everyone Else I: The DCC Core Rulebook

The community that has sprung up around Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game is an amazing one.  There are so many third-party companies producing products that I eagerly await, so many products I have already avidly consumed, and such goodwill, that I find myself afire with enthusiasm at times.  And even when I am not afire, the coals are always well banked and never go out.  Add to this the excellent adventures produced by Goodman Games to date – with more to come! – and I have at last found the system that fulfils the promise of Holmes Basic, which I first played Christmas Day of 1979.

The “Everyone Else” series of blog posts will explore what other people are doing with the DCC rpg, and will offer my own views on various products available.  I have been picking up everything I can, as soon as it is available, so I feel I can offer some insight to those who have yet to purchase some of these fine products.  I am a strong proponent of the Goodman Games licensing policy for DCC materials – it means that you know anything published with this logo is going to meet a high minimum standard of quality.  That might make some of these posts sound like a broken record, for there is much to praise.  So be it.

I am going to try to talk about these things in the order I got them.  This places the core rulebook first, and Harley Stroh’s Doom of the Savage Kings second.  Well, I suppose that technically the 2011 Free RPG Module would be first, but that material is reprinted in the core rulebook.  Subsequent posts will talk about Sailors on the Starless Sea, People of the Pit, DCC Free RPG Day module 2012, Perils of the Sunken City, Crawl! Fanzine, Transylvanian Adventures, Sepulcher of the Mountain God, The Emerald Enchanter, Attack of the Frawgs,  The Jewels of Carnifex, Alternate Occupations, and The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk….roughly in that order. 

By the time I have finished with those posts, I certainly hope to have more to add!  I’ll have to keep doing posts to update information on Crawl!, for instance, and I hope to have more to buy from these good publishers (Goodman Games, Stray Couches, Land of Phantoms, Purple Duck, Purple Sorcerer, Thick Skull Adventures, and IDD.  In addition, I am very much looking forward to the initial offers of Brave Halfling Publishing, Chapter 13 Press, Cognition Pressworks and Sagaworks Studios.

I will not be talking about my own work, except tangentially as these products relate to it. 

So, on to the Core Rulebook!

Because I pre-ordered, I received the core rules as a pdf long before I had the actual book in my hands.  Distribution in Canada is not always all that it should be, and it was long before I had a physical product to whack down on the table with joy.  Be that as it may, even in pdf format, the core rules are impressive!

I have spoken so often of my love for this system that the average follower of my blog surely need read no more of the same; indeed, he or she can probably not stomach more!  So I am only going to add to it a little.

Imprimus, last night I GMed RCFG for the first time in months, and had a lively discussion about which game was more fun.  I know which game is more fun for me; DCC wins hands down.  There was some discussion of having the RCFG characters transmigrate to DCC, and that’s where the real fun began.  First off, what level is equivalent between the two systems?  I think 1 DCC level per 2 RCFG levels, but that might not be directly correct.  Probably more like 1.3 DCC levels per RCFG level.  We’ll have to figure it out.   

More importantly, though, could their character concepts be ported between the two systems?  One of my players was certain that a fire sorcerer who manipulates odds mathematically could not be….but, as a result of the patron system, I was not only able to convince him otherwise, I was able to generate some enthusiasm for the project.

Secondus, I didn’t talk about the art much previously, and the art in the DCC rulebook is amazing.  When I devised my own series of Judge’s Screens for the game, I excerpted art liberally from the book using Adobe’s snapshot tool – there was so much great art that I made several multi-panel screens, and actually change them between adventures to highlight different illustrations.

Way back, in those long ago days when Holmes Basic and the original AD&D introduced me to the hobby, one of the really cool things about the game was how the artwork inspired me to devise encounters, adventures in which the encounters took place, and a world in which the adventures were set.  To each his own, but I seldom got that same sense from the artwork in the WotC editions, even when they were clearly homages from first edition AD&D illustrations.  The artwork of 3rd and 4th edition screams to me, “This is what these guys are!”  The artwork of 1st edition – and DCC – screams out “This is what these guys do!”

I find that I vastly prefer the latter to the former.

Tertius, the advice Joseph Goodman gives to aspiring judges is very much worth reading.  No game has ever made me want to create adventures that span planets and planes of existence the way this game does.  The art, the advice, and the rules all combine to truly recreate the feel of Appendix N fiction.  While I had been a fan of several Appendix N authors prior to my involvement with this game, certainly no previous game encouraged me to go so far out of my way to read or re-read everything I could on the list…..and there will be a series of posts about my Appendix N reading, too.

Quartus, while I had some doubts about creating monsters as part of adventure creation, most of these qualms are now gone, smoothed over by actual experience.  I fully intend to pick up the Creature Catalog from Cognition Pressworks, but more because (1) I’ll steal whatever I like to present in my home campaign, (2) I suspect the mutation rules and the stats for common animals are going to come in handy, and (3) I cannot get enough of this game.  But I don’t feel that DCC needs standard definitions for creatures.  It’ll be nice to have an idea what someone else thinks, say, a bear’s stats should be, but I will certainly feel free to differ from those stats, both for individuals and for whole species.  I had been doubtful about this, but DCC really has made monsters fun again.  As I discuss various adventure scenarios in this series of blog posts, I’ll try to highlight how the DCC monster philosophy makes these adventures better.

Quintus, I wanted to talk about adventures.  The core rulebook contains two adventures, largely reprinted from the Free RPG 2011 module.  These are The Portal Under the Stars, which I have already looked at a bit when discussing 0-level adventures and elsewhere, and The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad

I have now played through Portal twice, with wildly different outcomes.  I have mixed feelings about this adventure.  I really like all of the encounters, but something about the overall module seems missing to me still.  I think that is partly that I believe a 0-level funnel should include a chance for the players to show that they have grown, and I have only played it using the Beta Playtest rules.  Had I been using the XP rules from the full game, I might feel differently.   I need to introduce a new group of victims…er, players….to this game to explore Portal’s potential further.

I haven’t yet had a chance to play through Sezrekan.  Frankly, I have been saving it for when PCs in my home game reach the exalted 5th level.  The read-through is fantastic, though, and was an early introduction (for me) to the works of Harley Stroh.  It was only after falling in love with DCC that I realized Harley had written several other excellent adventures for other systems, including AD&D 1e, 3.5, 4e, and Call of Cthulhu.  Although this adventure is only three encounter areas long, it contains a full evening of fun, and I expect it is going to be even better in play than on the page.

Sextus, I wanted to mention errata and the index.  The first printing is unfortunately riddled with small editing mistakes that have required extensive errata.  The first printing also, unfortunately, does not include an index.  Both of these problems are being solved as far as possible in the second printing.  I agree that it would be nice had the first print been pristine and fully indexed, but I do not feel “ripped off” in any way, shape, or form.  The core rules are offered in a huge, beautiful book which is a bargain for its price.  Sure, I could have gotten an index had I waited, but it was worth it to play now, I will pick up a second print anyway, and, if one is to fear no rule, should one fear a typo?

Make no mistake, the core rulebook is not just a home run; the ball was knocked right out of the park.  If I take away half a star for the production problems, it still gets 4.5 stars out of 5, and the second printing – which is likely all you will be able to hope for by now – will be a solid 5.  

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