Friday, August 26, 2011

Old School? Really?

Another good time at the Mox last night. It’s always a good night when you don’t get fragged by your fellow player characters (well, truth be told, it’s often a pretty good night when you ARE fragged by your fellows…so long as you get in on some of the fragging yourself!).

However, good time or not, I am starting to get disenchanted with DCC.

I think Luke (our game master) is doing a good job of moderating/ref’ing the game, but it’s just not wowing me as a game. And I can point to a couple reasons why (gripes I don’t think I’ve aired till now):

1. Too many random tables.

Not only does the sheer bulk of tables cut down on the search & handling time of the game (i.e. it makes game play slower), it feels so, well, random at times. Now understand there are benefits to random tables, and I can think of several good reasons for a designer to include them:
  • It prevents “boring” same-old-same-old game play by changing up the possible result of any given action.
  • It provides the impartiality of a random roll, as opposed to leaving the craziness of low rolls or “fumbles” up to GM fiat (the latter of which might lead to hurt feelings).
  • It provides real surprises (both good and bad).
  • It showcases the designers’ creativity.
But it’s still too much random for my taste. Everything in moderation, right?

There are very few random tables I use in my own games. Um…like none really (really? Yeah, I guess not). Even the placement of treasure and monsters is done “by hand;” I suppose I do use tables for wandering monsters on occasion (it’s rare that I use wandering monsters at all, actually), but that’s about it. My random dice rolls are left for the frenzy of combat, the resolution of negotiation, and the riskiness of saving throws.

Everything else is pretty un-random in my games.

Sure, character generation has its random elements, and I’ve made my own random tables to aid in quick-building characters (random hats and peer associations for example). However, character creation is (generally speaking) PRE-play activity; once we call Game On, there won’t be a random roll until we need to check surprise.

With DCC, you roll randomly every time you cast a spell, or fumble, or crit, or invoke a clerical ability. Hell, we had to roll randomly for how well we CAROUSED last night…apparently, some of the characters party better than others.

Even if it wasn’t distracting looking up tables in the rules, I think “random” still gets tired pretty quickly.

2. Too much fiddly.

At what point does a game go from being Old School with D20 sensibilities to simply “D20 Light?” Is DCC supposed to be Old School just because it has some random tables and dwarf is a class instead of a race?

Maybe it’s supposed to be Old School because it has the terms “Dungeon Crawl” and “Classic” in the title?

I don’t know, man. But here’s what the blurb at Goodman Games says:
"Blah-blah-blah…your character is a treasure hunting rogue, etc...THEN:

Return to the glory days of fantasy with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery. Fast play, cryptic secrets, and a mysterious past await you: turn the page…"

Okay, let’s take that 2nd paragraph apart a piece at a time.

“Return to the glory days of fantasy…”

Not sure which glory days Goodman is referencing, but I note that it says glory days of fantasy, not glory days of fantasy role-playing. That’s a fairly important difference.

“Adventure as 1974 intended you to…”

Again, what does this mean? When I first glossed over it in my reading I thought, “oh, it’s some kind of return to OD&D, right?” But maybe what they are really referring to is fantasy in the year 1974 and not fantasy role-playing.

Why? Because I can’t for the life of me how they figure OD&D intended people to adventure like THIS.

I’ve been rereading my Little Brown Books a bit lately…they’re a solid reference for anyone designing fantasy heartbreaker…and they look a LOT different from DCC. They are incredibly abstract, often incomplete, certainly open-ended. If they “intend” anything, it would seem they intend people to design and adventure in their own fantasy world with little to guide them but the roughest of rule outlines.

DCC is full of specific fiddly bits as well as specific systems for doing things…even if those systems are nothing more than “roll on this random table.” I mean, wow, it took a long ass time for the guy next to me to write up his 1st level elf (even with me helping) just because there are so many BITS. Action dice, attack dice, crit range, crit table, crit dice, initiative modifier, ability modifiers, saving throws, luck modifiers, luck type, luck dice, spells known, spells manifestation, mercurial magic, blah, blah, blah.

In 1974 you would have rolled six ability scores, picked a class, rolled gold and chose equipment, and then given your dude a name and alignment. I don’t think anyone could claim the game designers in 1974 intended the chargen (or game play) to be this specific.

“…with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery.”

I think THIS may be the key part of the blurb. Modern rules (read “D20” or post-WotC certainly) coupled with the dark, weird, pulpy fantasy of the original literature: Smith, Leiber, Howard, Lovecraft. The choice of literary background/flavor is great and very different from the usual heroic inspirations: Dragonlance, Eberon, Forgotten Realms, whatever. And maybe it is this inspirational source material that requires the extensive use of randomness (in order to mimic the psychedelic craziness of old school S&S).

Then again, didn’t Raggi manage a “weird” version of D&D while still using a true Old School chassis for his game?

“Fast play, cryptic secrets, and a mysterious past await you…”

I really, really don’t know what this is supposed to mean. I mean, is it totally disingenuous or what? Play is fastER than D20, capable of handling 7-8 players without slowing to a glacial pace. But I certainly wouldn’t call it “fast.” We spent a long hour (plus) on our single combat encounter last night, and the battle included both area effect spells and truly weak-sauce opponents (scrap-metal automatons).

“Cryptic secrets?” The only real secret is how XP is supposed to be doled out…well, that and what the actual page count for spells will be in the final version (the Beta uses a single page for each spell…it spends 33 pages and only covers 1st level spells. Could the full book have 150+ pages for 5 levels of spells?!).

“Mysterious past?” My character last week was a pig herder. Any mystery was added by Yours Truly. This week’s character was a former indentured servant-turned-warrior. I suppose it’s mysterious how he became skilled with all weapons just a couple days after being barely proficient with a cudgel.

“Turn the page…”

I assume this means the reader is supposed to close the chapter on other games (like Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D) and start a new one with DCC? Personally, I don’t mind the pretention and DCC isn’t terrible…especially when compared to the fiddlyness of PF and 4E.

But, man, after three weeks of play-testing, I am pretty sure DCC won’t be replacing B/X for me. It feels like it wants to be fun in a beer & pretzels kind of way, but just like HackMaster it’s a little too mentally intensive to allow that kind of play. Even cutting down the number of characters-to-players (none of us brought more than one this week), even having a couple-three weeks of practice with the rules (four weeks for some players), even with each of us having our own copy of the Beta rules right at hand (many having it on their eBooks)…even with ALL that AND a GM who was completely sober, even then


I guess I just have mixed feelings. We (*I*) did have a lot of fun, BUT a lot of that was the company and the chemistry and, let’s face it, the constant flow of the liquid libation. And when you’re having fun, you can have a lot of patience for the failings of a game.

Until you run out of patience, I guess.


  1. Although I have not run my group through this, that's the same conclusions I drew just scanning through the download. If I wanted to run a game that had class level + a lot of random charts, well, I have the entire run of Rolemaster on my shelf. I also play in a Hackmaster 4E game. This is more of the same.

    There are some nice concepts. I like the idea of 0-level characters and the funnel, at least as a change of pace. I like the tone of the background: "You’re no hero. You’re a reaver, a cutpurse, a heathen-slayer, a tight-lipped warlock guarding long-dead secrets. You seek gold and glory, winning it with sword and spell, caked in the blood and filth of the weak, the dark, the demons, and the vanquished. There are treasures to be won deep underneath, and you shall have them."

    I guess dark fantasy has always had a fascination for me. But if I want Dark Fantasy there's Elric/Stormbringer. If I want Dark Fantasy with a progression of sorts (from pig keep to warrior to witch hunter for example) there Warhammer FRP (1E).

    I don't know. I really wanted to like this one. I think it's a "kitchen sink too" game though.

  2. I've played and refereed in several sessions since the Beta's release using 5th level characters. The 2 spells per round for wizards made it totally gonzo and the corruption was piling up - but the wizard's players wanted to keep on casting spells. In the end we switched to played fighters and thieves only to do heist-like missions which was fun,we like burning luck and MDoAs - but I think we could've used a much less imposing minimal ruleset like Searchers of the Unknown.

  3. Here's the real secret they don't want you to know:

    There has never been a better version of D&D that the 1981 B/X version. Period.

    Sure, you can add really screwed up dice (d7 anybody?) and random tables beyond all reason, but the basic game hasn't changed: Explore the environment, grab the loot, and come out alive.

    All else is rubbish.

    Sure, I had fun playing DCC. I had fun playing B/X. I expect to have fun Sunday night playing AD&D. But here's the secret:

    In every case, I'll be playing D&D. Screw the editions, modifiers, whatever. I'll be playing the game Gary and Dave gave us, and all else is rubbish.

    And that's all there is to it.

  4. Speaking of random tables, I've put two of yours on my "Excellent Links" section for Old School Hack on my blog. Because they are excellent links, and not based on a specific rule set. Thanks for sharing!

  5. You know what? What you are doing is acting as if marketing speak is the same thing as design notes. It's a different beast, altogether.

  6. @ Andreas: Ha! I suppose I am...but I'm a simple-minded guy. When I want to know what a game is about, I like to look at the designer's description for a clue. Pretty naive of me, I guess!
    : )

  7. It can work, depending on context. :)

  8. You can ask Luke, but I think the carousing stuff was using Jeff Reints' Carousing Mishaps rules, not something included in DCC. I thought it was fun, since it was entirely "opt-in".

    I'd have to say I have about an equal amount of dislikes with DCC and B/X, just for different things. Both systems also seem to have equal opportunity for fun.

  9. First of all, thank you JB! Thank you for taking the time to peel back the hype veneer of DCC. You've touched on some of the major beefs I've had with this thing since the beta came out.

    Second of all, "Adventure as 1974 intended you to"...a calendar year wants me to play an RPG? Just stupid phrasing...

    Sorry if I sound harsh. I'm prepping for whatever Hurricane Irene might be sending my way out here in South Jersey. I'm kinda grumpy.

    But suffice to say, once I've had my fill of C&C, I am planning on running some B/X, probably via Labyrinth Lord. Mostly because of your influence!

  10. Very good points. I haven't actually played DCC yet, but it does seem like it requires too much book/chart reference during play.
    No one here seems to have mentioned the similarity to Warhammer Fanatsy Roleplay first edition. It seems to me they took Basic/Expert D&D and worked in some bits from WHFRP. Critical hit/miss, corruption, mundane career backgrounds, etc.
    While it does look like it *could* be fun to play and I most likely will pick it up, I will most likely just use some of the ideas in a Basic D&D game.

  11. P.S. I normally try not to pimp my own blog, but thought someone may be interested on my really basic overview of the attributes and charater classes. When I get some time, I intend to actually play the game and write about that as well.

  12. @ Nemo: WFRP isn't the only RPG with nasty random tables...1st edition Stormbringer (which also has mundane professions) and DragonQuest are two more with which I am very familiar. And corruption in WFRP is much more...mmm...abstract than what is listed in DCC. That is probably why I don't mention it.

    But MOST RPGs published these days draw from a variety of inspirational wells, and I don't fault them for doing so. Just part of the biz.
    : )

    @ Heron: The carousing thing wasn't "un-fun"...but in a game that already requires many rolls on many random tables to operate (at least if one wants to play the game "as written") it seemed like an extra bit of unnecessary fiddly. And yes, I appreciated the "optional part" (since it allowed me to opt out!)...I don't have any complaints about Luke's GMing.
    : )

  13. DCC I found much too complicated, with all of the tables.

    I found it to be useful for mining out ideas. I like the idea of the meager characters and character funnel, but I'd rather use it with a classic D&D version or pre 4e d20.

    Some great ideas, painful implementation

  14. I ran a few sessions, and it wasn't that great exactly because of all the charts that enter play. AND I LOATHE with a passion the Zocchi dice.
    I expect I will use some ideas for my BECMI games; I like the backgrounds for the funnel and the effects of Luck (which will be a sort of "hidden" stat, giving the PCs some boon at char gen.)