Thursday, 2 August 2012

Using Patrons in the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role-Playing Game

It is difficult to claim that any facet of the jewel that is the Dungeon Crawl Classics is shinier than any other facet, but there can be little doubt that patrons shine a bit more brightly for being new, interesting, and (perhaps) underrepresented in the core rulebook.  

Patrons are supernatural beings that are willing to bargain with mortals, trading magical power for service.  Potential new patrons repeatedly show up in Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures (both official and third-party publisher adventures), but as of this writing, none of these adventures include a full write-up for a patron.  I have been working on many patrons for the upcoming Angels, Daemons, and Beings Between sourcebook, and I have given patrons a lot of consideration in recent months.

It is important to remember that all patrons are unique.  When devising new patrons for your home milieu, consider making changes to how the Patron Bond and Invoke Patron spells work in relation to that patron.  For example, Yallafial, Queen of the Birds, has a wavering attention span that varies between automatic failure when she is invoked to a +6 bonus on the spell check roll!  Likewise, spells do not all have to be equally useful, nor do they all have to be useful in combat.  Flavour is the most important consideration here; the spells must match the patron.

The core rulebook suggests that every patron has three spells, one each of levels 1, 2, and 3.  This is certainly a way to go, and is a good way to create most patrons, but you need not follow this scheme slavishly.  Some patrons may allow more spells; others may allow less.  It is easy to imagine a patron with three 1st level spells in addition to one 2nd and one 3rd level spell.  All the judge need do is make certain that there is a cost somewhere else to balance out this generosity – for example, especially harsh spellburn results or patron taint.

If you are considering patrons to be just a “Wizard thing”, you are selling them short.  The core rulebook discusses using patrons with Wizards and Elves, and gives a nod to other classes in the text of the Patron Bond spell.  In addition it notes that powerful supernatural beings can affect the Luck of those who aid or oppose them. 

Patrons are among the supernatural beings meddling in the affairs of the world.  The judge is well advised to know what they want, if not how they intend to get it, and use patrons to spur adventures.  Even if no one in the group has a patron, these supernatural beings are interested in moving PCs and powerful NPCs like pieces on a multi-dimensional chessboard, seeking to win advantage against other equally powerful beings.  

The relationship between patron and adventurers need not always be the result of a PC Wizard or Elf seeking out the patron.  The patron may well seek out the PCs.  Indeed, the patron may direct an NPC Wizard to cast Patron Bond to tie willing PCs to that patron’s cause, whether they know the spell or not.

Likewise, PCs may find themselves opposing one potential patron while unknowingly aiding another in a game whose rules they don’t fully understand.  This sort of action happens quite often in Appendix N fiction, and is quite appropriate in the DCC rpg.

For more ideas on using patrons in DCC adventures, consider the following:

The Portal Under the Stars (Joseph Goodman):  core rulebook, pp. 452-456.  The entire action of the adventure, as well as the site itself, may be considered the result of a patron’s actions long ago.

DCC #68 People of the Pit (Joseph Goodman):   Includes the most fully developed “patron” outside the core rulebook at this time.

DCC #70 Jewels of the Carnifex (Harley Stroh):  Includes a potential patron (which must be developed by the judge to be used as such), and the action of the module revolves around higher supernatural powers.

SC-1 Perils of the Sunken City (Jon Marr):  Excellent use of an interesting potential patron, and the rivalry between patrons is directly responsible for the scenario encountered.  Again, the judge must develop the patron(s) involved before they can be used by PCs.

SC-2 The Ooze Pits of Jonas Gralk (Jon Marr):  Again, this module supplies the judge with the bare bones of two potential patrons, both of which demand more information, and the action is driven by their interactions with mortals. 

These are certainly not the only DCC adventures to deal with patrons, but they are adventures that show how it may be done in various ways and with interesting effect.  Frankly, if Purple Sorcerer Games ever decided to put out a Sunken City Sourcebook (with an overview, some adventure hooks, NPCs, and full patron information), I would snap it up in a heartbeat!

(From Purple Duck Games, look for Paul Wolfe's AL-2 Sepulchre of the Mountain God for two more potential patrons.  Somnos, in my own upcoming Through the Cotillion of Hours would also make an excellent patron, although he is not detailed in that form in the module....another task for a future post or product!)

In conclusion, try to remember that patrons are not just for spellcasters.  And try to make your patrons proactive as well as reactive within the campaign milieu.  As Elric’s foe, Theleb K’aarna, learned to his regret, it is not just casters who drop patrons – patrons also drop casters who fail in their tasks.  And Elric’s not being bonded to the powers of Law didn’t stop Donblas the Justice-Maker from aiding him in Nadoskor. 

The more fully realized your patrons, the more they influence your campaign world, and the more that world comes to life.  It’s part of the genius of the system, and a very bright facet among the many bright facets which make Dungeon Crawl Classics my personal role-playing game of choice.


  1. Thanks for the shout out!

    And I agree -- I've been using patrons for various "shadowy puppetmasters" even back in 1st edition. They are not just for Wizards/Elves...

  2. How do you imagine elves dwellings in tcc? Houses in large trees?Or castles surrounded by forests?

    1. For more on my view re: elves in DCC, you should check out The Revelation of Mulmo (and a new print version of this is coming out soon from Shinobi27) and Stars in the Darkness (Purple Duck Games). Between the two, I think I have tossed in a nod to every story featuring elves in Appendix N.

      The Curse of the Kingspire was a 4e adventure by Harley Stroh that I converted for Goodman Games. The version of elves described therein is followed up on in Through the Dragonwall (also Goodman Games).

      Overall, though, elf dwellings can be nearly as varied as human dwellings.