Monday 9 April 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics - I Have It, and I'm Impressed

So, last Friday morning, I was able to acquire my pdf of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG by Goodman Games, courtesy of pre-ordering.  Then I immediately drove away for the greater part of the weekend, leaving the pdf at home on my laptop so as not to upset family by spending Easter with my nose therein.  Afterwards, while I have perused, and read, and read other passages, and re-read some interesting bits, I have yet to sit down and do a cover-to-cover reading, so be warned that my current perspective is not grounded in having all the facts. 

First impressions? 

This is easily the most beautiful RPG book that I have ever had the good luck to peruse.  This is so obviously a labour of love that it is impossible to “flip” through the electronic pages and not imaging Joseph Goodman is by your side, nudging you with his elbow, and saying, “See that?  Like that illustration?  How about that rule?  Huh?”

And I mean that in the best possible way.  The love and enthusiasm with which this product has been produced is prodigious (say that three times fast).

This book is really a lot of fun to browse through.  The artwork is not all perfect, but it is all evocative of the mood being set by the game.  I don’t believe that it is possible to browse through this book without being inspired; in this way it will deserve a spot on my gaming shelf right next to Gary Gygax’s DMG and Goodman Games’ The Dungeon Alphabet.  Can I give higher praise?  I think not.

Second impressions? 

A lot of randomness, which I had expected from the Beta Playtest, but a lot of randomness that is probably very fun to experience at the table.  I had considered the difficulty in creating NPCs, especially spellslingers, in this system because of the level of randomness, but neither NPCs nor monsters need to follow the rules explicitly, which is a major plus.  Otherwise, the “homework factor” of the game would be like that of 3.5, which is not (IMHO) remotely desirable.

I note with great satisfaction that DCC RPG is truly behind its 3pp supporters, advertising not only the Goodman Games forthcoming material, but also material from Brave Halfling Publishing, Purple Sorcerer Games, Chapter 13 Press, Thick Skull Adventures, Lands of Legend Adventure Modules, Land of Phantoms, Crawl! Fanzine, and Fight On!  There are pointers to OSR blogs and forums, as well as other resources.  This is classy as hell, and points out the amount of support that the DCC RPG is already receiving.

And you will need that support, I am thinking, because the rules concerning spells, patrons, and gods all require that, sooner or later, you will want to create new ones.  It seems unlikely that there will be many generic campaigns using this system – the system demands a certain level of unique creativity on the part of the Game Master.

The section on Judge’s Rules could, quite honestly, be longer.  I wouldn’t mind more insight into Goodman’s thinking on how DCC RPG adventures should be structured.  The two adventures from last year’s Free RPG Day module are included, but it would have been nice to have included something new.

The game notes that the characters have no access to the Internet, and that information is rare and untrustworthy.  That is very good – in fact, it recalls something I wrote in my own system:

It should be recalled that knowledge in pre-modern societies (as occur in most RCFG game milieus) is not an exact thing. Although devotees of some branch of knowledge may refer to their branch as a “science”, this does not mean the same thing in most RCFG milieus that it does in our world. In most milieus, the scientific method has not been invented, and there are no true sciences. An RCFG character with Knowledge (Chemistry) should not be considered equivalent to a modern chemist!

On top of this, there is no equivalent to the Internet or the Encyclopaedia Britannica in most RCFG game milieus.   Knowledge is always uncertain, and there are many things that no one knows — unless someone is daring enough to find out, either through exploration or magic.

The Game Master may decide that any Knowledge check is impossible, if she believes that there is no route for the knowledge to get to the character making the check. For example, no Knowledge check can grant a character foreknowledge of an unexplored continent, or of the contents of a particular person’s pockets.

The idea of braving the unknown, of exploring the unexplored, requires as a prerequisite that things can be unknown and unexplored in the first place.  One of the major problems with certain modern systems is the inherent concept that the players should be able to discover just about anything, just by rolling the dice.

(And I am very glad that I linked to this document in a previous blog, because otherwise it would seem very much like I was simply parroting Joe’s wise words herein!)

But there are areas where I find myself at odds with the philosophy of Mr. Goodman.  One of these is the range of area over which a typical campaign should occur.  Making your world “very small” (original emphasis) may be well and good for starting play, but it doesn’t reflect the adventures of Appendix N characters like Conan or Elric.

This leads directly to another question:  Would the “campaign dungeon” model work well with these rules?  The campaign dungeon is a device that allows a campaign world to effectively stay small; there is always more within that area to explore.  But the DCC RPG reads as though it would be best run as a series of quests – and not all of those quests (even those quests described in the rules) seem to fit well within a “very small world” or campaign dungeon model.

Also, some of the quests described in the rules are going to require the GM to do a bit of homework.  When the PCs start looking for the Eldest Sphinx, you can bet that he doesn’t exist within the 100-square mile campaign area suggested!  One of my sandboxing rules, if you will recall, is that you should get at least 2 hours play out of every hour’s prep, and that means that sites should be reusable.  I am not at all sure how many reusable sites the DCC RPG model would have, if taken at face value.

As an aside to this, if you find yourself directed to seek a dryad in the forest to the east, after having been directed to the Portal Under the Stars, and are then perhaps directed to somewhere else by your cleric’s god, after which your wizard’s patron directs you to another place….that seems an awful lot of directions.  I find myself somewhat concerned that the magic system in this game will result in the player characters dancing like puppets on strings.

(Those calling on higher powers should find themselves in uncomfortable positions, IMHO, but they should not always find themselves so.  I prefer that, given options, the players are largely self-directed.  I am wondering what a DCC RPG sandbox would look like, and how it would play, with the materials in the book taken at face value.)

I also find myself ambivalent about the “No more orcs” mantra.  Yes, it is very good to have new and unknown monsters.  But those monsters are new and unknown within the context of a world where there are things that can be known.  In my own game system, I find myself straddling a line where there are common forms of monsters, and monsters can be easily modified, so that it is never certain that Orc A is like Orc B, but most orcs are just orcs.

Joseph Goodman also seems to accept the 3e-era mantra that the encounter is the metric of play, as the XP system is based on the GM gauging how difficult each encounter was for the players.  I don’t subscribe to this idea; IMHO the encounter area is the metric of play, and encounters are not necessarily discrete.  If the orcs from Room 2 hear fighting in Room 1, and come to help their brethren, is that one encounter or two?  If they flee into a third encounter area, and run into the denizens thereof, is that one, two, or three encounters? 

Design is done encounter area by encounter area, but play may not occur according to that design.  And I despise design created to force play to occur in discrete encounter areas.

Likewise, as in my own design, I think that there is a place for PC-controlled magic with predictable results (ala the SRD-based spell systems whose progenitors arise from Gary, Dave, and Jack Vance) and less predictable systems where PCs can gamble for greater effects and greater costs.

Although by no means unique to Appendix N sources, it is nonetheless true that Appendix N contains many “modern man thrust into unusual circumstances” stories within it.   This includes, but is certainly not limited to, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Pellucidar”, “Mars”, and “Venus” series; de Camp & Pratt’s “Harold Shea” series; much of August Derleth and H.P. Lovecraft, and books such as A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage.  It is a missed opportunity not to provide direct support for these sorts of tales, but with the amount of third party support, I will be surprised if this hole remains unplugged for long.


If you can read this book, or even leaf through it, and not want to be a player in a DCC RPG game, then you are no scion of Appendix N fantasy!  This is also a game that begs to be run, although I don’t imagine that it will replace RCFG as my go-to game.  As I said earlier, as an inspirational game I will be reading, and re-reading, this game for years to come. 

I will also say this:  RCFG is designed to meet my own personal needs/desires as a gamer.  DCC RPG comes the closest to making me forego the effort.  As I have the chance to examine more support materials, either I will be using this game to support my own design, or my designs to support it.  Right now, I lean to the former.  That may change.

I am very happy with this product.  I am very glad that I preordered it.  It is not my go-to game now, but it has the potential to grow into my go-to game in the future.  At the very least, it certainly is something that I will be using to support and inspire my gaming.

I now need to organize a DCC RPG Barrowmaze game (details will be posted here), and see if the system allows me to run said campaign dungeon in a satisfying way….links and details to be posted here.


  1. Some really neat observations about the game. I agree that the "modern man in a fantasy world" scenerio is a strong one, and hope that someone comes up with a module or support article for it soon. I suspect that there will be a lot of campaign material coming out soon, on the large and small scale, if the previews of the 3PP support is at all accurate. A single rulebook can't be everything, but this one does have a lot going for it.

  2. I heard nothing but good things about it from the players for whom Mr Goodman ran it at last summer's SoCal MiniCon, and the artwork I've seen so far is impressive.

  3. The more I delve into it, the more deeply I am impressed with Mr. Goodman's design.

  4. "The encouter area is the metric of the game" it's a very astute observation, Daniel. Given that the encounter area is such a volatile, adaptable concept, I often phrase it by saying that the map is the base game unit, but the logic is the same. I'm just glad to see many of us still understand.

  5. Thank you for your kind words!

    The more I delve into this game, the happier I am with it. I wish I had it on my shelf five years ago!

    (Actually, I wish I had it on my shelf now. My physical copy still hasn't arrived! I keep hearing great things about the production values, though!)